Sunday 15 May Lijiang to Shangri-La

This morning, we woke to an overcast and cooler day and after saying our goodbyes to our wonderful local guide, Cindy, we boarded our coach and travelled towards Zhongdian, now called Shangri-La. We travelled on a good highway out of Lijiang for about an hour, passing lots of farmland and getting our first glimpse of the Yangtze River. Several farms were burning off the stubble from the wheat crop that they had just harvested adding to the low cloud and slight drizzle, making it hazy and difficult to take photos. As we travelled, it started to lightly rain, which continued for the whole day. We crossed the Yangtze River on a stone bridge, leaving Lijiang behind and entering the Shangri-la area and also left behind our nice highway. We stopped for a comfort stop and they had a little street stall set up selling fresh fruit etc.

As we drove towards Tiger Leaping Gorge, we were treated to some lovely views of the landscapes of the Yangtze River with the mountains in the background – this would have been stunning if it wasn’t raining. We stopped at the Downtown area and picked up our local Guide, Anna and drove to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. This magnificent canyon is carved through the mountains by the Jinsha (or Yangtze) River and is is one of deepest gorges in the world at 3,900m.

The Yangtze River is called the Golden Sand River in Yunnan. There is an ancient legend about Tiger Leaping Gorge – near the mouth of the gorge, there is a rock in the middle of the river called Tiger Leaping Rock. People say that the tiger used this rock as a stepping-stone so it could leap from one side of the gorge to the other, which is how the place got its name. The distance the tiger would have had to jump is about 25 metres. The Gorge is about 15 kilometres long, with 18 rapids and the cliffs overlooking the section where we were, are steep and looked quite dangerous.

The carpark and the first of the observation areas are set high above the river. We walked down about 100 wooden steps with handrails to a large wooden observation deck, where we could see down the gorge in both directions and down to Tiger Leaping Rock. For the more adventurous, another 400 steps led down to the river, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to do this. We were interested to see that there were a group of locals who were offering to take people down the steps and/or back up again in a chair on poles that two men carried on their shoulders.

From our viewpoint, we could see the river twisting and turning and crashing into the rocks and into the mountainside, creating waves and froth and it was vey loud. The view from our side of the river was fantastic and we looked out towards the other side of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, but unfortunately, because of the inclement weather, we were unable to see very much of it.

The views were breathtaking and we could just imagine how spectacular they would have been in the sunshine.

From there, we were taken back down to the Tiger Leaping Gorge Downtown area to the Jixian Restaurant, where we were served a traditional meal of fresh local farmers’ food.

After a lovely lunch, we boarded our coach and headed towards Shangri-la. Our journey took us along the twisting Yangtze River, steadily climbing to 3,000 metres. We saw several power stations and marveled at the rugged mountains that we climbed through on roads that seemed to hang on the very edge of cliff faces. We also saw large amounts of the new highway being built up to Shangri-La. Some of the views down to the river below were absolutely stunning, despite the rain. As we got higher into the mountains, we climbed into the clouds and lost our awesome views. We stopped at a viewing platform for a comfort stop and some photos overlooking a Yie Village, but our view was limited. Apparently, in the sunshine this is a spectacular viewpoint over the whole valley.

As we reached the mountain plateau, the vegetation changed from forest to grassland, which included beautiful azalea bush trees. We saw some traditional Tibetan farming communities, with wooden racks for their harvested grasses that were dried for the animals to eat during the winter months. We also saw some Yak and Dzo, which are a cross between the yak and the cow.

We arrived in Shangri-La at about 3.30pm. Shangri-la is a Tibetan word meaning land of sacredness and peace. We were taken to the Old Old Town – 1/3 of it burnt in a huge fire recently and they have already started to rebuild it in the traditional Tibetan style. We saw the enormous Fortunate Victory Prayer Wheel in the heart of Shangri-la Old Town. It is the largest Tibetan prayer wheel in existence in the world. The golden structure shows China’s 56 ethnic groups working together in harmony. Apparently, it takes a number of people to turn this huge wheel. We wandered through the Old Town streets in the rain with our local guide, Anna, before being taken to our hotel.

The Shangri-La Hotel is absolutely lovely and we are on the 9th floor with a magnificent view over the city and the Old Town and the mountain ranges.

We joined with our fellow travellers in a separate section of the beautifully furnished restaurant for a buffet dinner that incorporated local Tibetan dishes, Chinese dishes, as well as many Western dishes. We thoroughly enjoyed our delicious meal, chatting to Anna and Chris – we were the last ones to leave the restaurant! The four of us wandered through the hotel lobby and lounge area, stopping to listen to a vey talented young man playing the guitar and singing and then we wandered through the Handicraft Centre before tearing ourselves away to go back to our rooms.

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