Top 5 Things to Do in Shangri-La (Zhongdian), China

10 Dec

Shangri-La, a small town high up in the Himalayas that for some is the beginning of a journey into Tibet, for many the end of a foray into Yunnan and for others just a taste of Tibet (if they don’t plan on going on any further). For me personally it was a mix of end of Yunnan and a taste of Tibet, coz as Indians we need additional permissions to enter mainland Tibet. And my own first impressions of the town itself were quite disappointing as all I initially saw were numerous commercial buildings and a very sleepy touristy town. However I soon realized that the way to explore Shangri-La is to keep it as a base and explore the beautiful landscape all around it.

Mountains near Shangri-La,   Tibet, China

Mountains near Shangri-La, Tibet, China

And based on our own experiences and learnings, please find below the top 5 things that you should do in Shangri-La –

1. Pray at the Songzanlin Monastery – This is an impressive monastic institution on a small hill very close to Shangri-La town. Modeled after the “Potola Palace” in Lhasa, this monastery has the typical Tibetan gilded copper roof, numerous prayer halls, magnificent idols and beautiful frescos (with Buddhist tales and legends) drawn all around in the halls. And no matter how crowded the place, inside any of the prayer halls it’s really quiet and peaceful.

Monastery

Songzanlin Monastery

My recommendation – visit around late afternoon and just wander through the huge campus, interact with the local monks to learn more on Buddhism and post that just sit inside one of the prayer halls to imbibe the positivity and spirituality from your surroundings. Post that photograph the stunning vistas of prayer wheels against the setting sun and the vibrant sky. Read more on my own visit here –Adding a dash of spirituality to our Yunnan trip – Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, Zhongdian

2. Drive around the countryside and experience the scenic landscape – Shangri-La is strategically located amidst beautiful mountain ranges and alpine forests, and a drive through it’s immediate countryside is a treat for all city folks like me. There are beautiful mountains some green some white, multicolored fields with red & green bushes, green pastureland lightly populated with many yaks, sheep and goats, temples with the traditional prayer flags and a few meandering streams to make the perfect picture.

Gorgeous Mountain ranges all around

Gorgeous Mountain ranges all around

My recommendation – pack a nice picnic basket, books and games then drive around till you find your perfect spot to lounge around for the day.

3. Visit the Pudacuo / Potatso National Park – This is the first national park in mainland China and mainly comprises of the Bitahai and the Shuduhu Lakes and the Militang Pastures. It is part of UNESCO’s natural heritage sight of the Three Parallel Rivers region and also functions as a natural reserve. The environment here is very well-preserved with mountains, marshes, lakes, forests, brooks, springs, and rare fauna and flora. All major spots are connected by walkable planks, boats and buses. Read about my own trip here –Visiting China’s first national park – Pudacuo or Potatso National Park

Natural masterpieces created by dead trees and their roots, Pudacuo National Park, Shangri-La

Natural masterpieces created by dead trees and their roots, Pudacuo National Park, Shangri-La

My recommendation – Visit the park early to avoid the crowds. Then just walk leisurely to soak in the atmosphere and read the useful information listed about the local flora and fauna.

4. Explore and dance in the Old Town – Like all old towns across the globe, this is a fun place to generally walk around through the small cobblestone alleys packed with all kinds of touristic souvenirs and western cafes and pubs. You can also walk up the hill and visit the local hill temple, enjoy the nice views and see the huge prayer wheel. I wasn’t able to enjoy much of the old town as there had been a fire in January this year that pretty much burnt everything down. A lot had been already rebuilt but still there was a lot more to be done.

Dancing in the Old Town Square, Shangri-La

Dancing in the Old Town Square, Shangri-La

My recommendation – In the local town square dance with the locals (dressed traditionally) in the evening and scout the surviving shops for some unusual souvenirs.

5. Visit a local Tibetan Village – There are numerous small villages at the outskirts of Shangri-La and a visit to one of them to experience the local Tibetan way of life, is a must. Their houses are built-in a traditional fashion and in many cases the main source of income is farming. And if you visit just before winters, you can see huge drying racks with all possible vegetables etc drying for winter consumption. Read more on my own trip –Photo Essay: A glimpse of the Tibetan Countryside

Local Farms and Drying Racks

Local Farms and Drying Racks

My recommendation – Visit one of the private homes in the village and interact with the locals to understand more about their lifestyle and their own unique culture. For a small fee, you can enjoy a meal with them (also try stuff made from yak milk), try a hand at farming and also horse riding on the local Tibetan horses.

Tips for the trip –

  1. Reaching Shangri-La –Shangri-La has an airport, Diqing Airport (DIG) with connections to many Chinese cities. You can also reach here via a 4 hour drive from Lijiang.
  2. Shangri-La is at quite a height and hence many people feel dizziness, nausea etc due to low oxygen. Please carry your medications for the same.
  3. Food is not a problem here for vegetarians, as there are numerous cafes and restaurants around that provide veg options.
  4. In terms of things to explore around, our hosts recommended a trip to Shika Mountain / Blue Moon valley. But we had done something similar earlier and hence dropped it. Another activity that locals recommend is cycling around Napa Lake. We did this and can safely tell people to drop this for a couple of reasons – There are no birds or a lake here, the path is not exactly meant for cycling and the fee is pretty steep (RMB 600). All you can do here is enjoy the views, which frankly you can do from anywhere around in the area.
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29 Responses to “Top 5 Things to Do in Shangri-La (Zhongdian), China”

  1. Tom Schultz December 10, 2014 at 20:40 #

    Thanks for this. I always thought Shangri-la was just a mythical place in the novel, Lost Horizons.

    Like

    • getsetandgo December 14, 2014 at 15:52 #

      I thought so too before I started planning for this trip 🙂

      Like

      • Tom Schultz December 14, 2014 at 22:38 #

        Actually, I remember reading that during World War 2 President Roosevelt was asked where American planes came from in a certain raid. Since he couldn’t reveal their real origin, he told reporters, “They flew from our base in Shangri-La.”

        Like

      • getsetandgo December 16, 2014 at 18:09 #

        Wow… Thats quite an interesting piece of info… Let me look up more on this… Thanks for sharing…

        Like

      • Tom Schultz December 16, 2014 at 18:11 #

        I believe it was the 1942 raid on Tokyo, led by Colonel James Doolittle, if that helps.

        Like

      • getsetandgo December 16, 2014 at 18:13 #

        Thanks and it does…

        Like

    • getsetandgo December 14, 2014 at 15:52 #

      I thought so too before I started planning for this trip 🙂

      Like

  2. nomadandfreebie December 10, 2014 at 20:56 #

    A well described travel plan to Shangri – la,that will be on my wishlist

    Like

  3. Nussaibah December 10, 2014 at 21:13 #

    Ditto to thinking it was a mythical place! Thanks 😉

    Like

    • getsetandgo December 14, 2014 at 15:53 #

      🙂 The Chinese Tourism agency named this town such to boost tourism.. And I guess it has succeeded 🙂

      Like

  4. renucas December 10, 2014 at 22:42 #

    Beautiful. Shangri looks like such a paradise. I love places with immense natural beauty and monasteries add a charming mystic to the whole atmosphere.

    Like

    • getsetandgo December 14, 2014 at 15:55 #

      Thanks Renuka and it has its own unique charm and beauty 🙂

      Like

  5. lulu December 11, 2014 at 01:15 #

    You have whetted my appetite for Tibet.

    Like

  6. rodi (Rob and Diane) December 11, 2014 at 04:44 #

    Nice to know Shangri-La really exists, although it doesn’t really sound like it lives up to the reputation of what people think of when you say Shangri-La. Looks very nice however

    Like

    • getsetandgo December 14, 2014 at 15:56 #

      There is not much in the town per se, but the surrounding countryside is gorgeous….

      Liked by 1 person

  7. christianzanella84 December 11, 2014 at 13:45 #

    Well done!!!!

    Like

  8. manonplatje December 11, 2014 at 21:35 #

    Great tips!! I would absolutely love to visit this region some day. I heard that is a little difficult to get around by public transport when you don’t speak Chinese. My friend and I were thinking about traveling from Sichuan to Yunnan by bus, visiting a few mountain towns along the way, including Shangri-la and Yading Nature Reserve. What are you’re recommendations about the language problem?

    Like

    • getsetandgo December 14, 2014 at 15:58 #

      Its not easy but if you plan intelligently, its not that tough either… Language is an issue but we found 1 or 2 people in each town who spoke english and helped us with our travels… I also downloaded the translator and managed in many places with it…

      Like

      • manonplatje December 15, 2014 at 04:38 #

        Oh that’s good to hear 🙂 thanks for the reply!

        Like

      • getsetandgo December 16, 2014 at 18:11 #

        No worries and please feel free to write to me in case you need any info 🙂

        Like

  9. velveteencockroach December 13, 2014 at 13:11 #

    A great post, would love to visit this place, thank you!

    Like

  10. mhairig December 15, 2014 at 16:58 #

    Hi there, thanks for stopping by my blog recently! And love the tips here, sounds like an amazing visit 🙂 Have only had a bit of a taster of Tibetan culture in northern India myself and must be fascinating to experience from China itself

    Like

    • getsetandgo December 16, 2014 at 18:13 #

      Thanks for visiting my blog and the kind words… China was fascinating and I loved the varied experiences that I had there… Shall keep sharing them 🙂

      Like

  11. Thuan Nguyen April 12, 2015 at 17:07 #

    Luckily I found this post after reading about Pudacuo National Park 🙂 For the 5th thing to do 5. Visit a local Tibetan Village, can you suggest name of 1 village?

    Like

    • getsetandgo April 20, 2015 at 10:33 #

      Hi, you can reach out to your hotel to arrange for one. Our driver took us to a small village near the Pudacua National Park but we didnt ask for the name..

      Like

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