Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shangri-La - Yunnan, China

5th - 9th Aug 2014: 

We arrived in Shangri-la early evening, conveniently dropped off in the courtyard of Tina's guesthouse Shangri-la which isn't so conveniently located.  It was easy enough to flag a cab and tell them to take us to the old town (gu cheng/lao cheng) for a 10RMB off the meter short trip (taxis start at 5RMB here, that's just 50p or under a dollar it's almost charity! with dad being a cabby I had no problem paying a minimum of 10 especially when they ran the meter as they should).  We traversed the old town where although calmer than Lijiang, hostels were less numerous and as a result little more pricey. We finally found a bed in Shangri-la International hostel (YHA) but checked out the next day after a chilly night in a hard bed in a place that didn't feel very clean. 

Shangri-la's center-piece

Courtyard of the YHA. Layout is better suited for warmer climates.

We found our second lodgings at 517 guest house, also in the old town. Zoe the landlady was extremely helpful when it came to general advice or booking trips, with perfect English. The double was comfortable with a hot shower for around 130RMB (they had variously priced rooms).  

A large part of the old town was unfortunately leveled in a fire in January 2014 which means that many of the information you can find about hostels and restaurants etc is unfortunately redundant.  We also found ourselves trudging across a construction site at least once a day to get around town.

Fire damaged Old Town
The streets of Shangri-la are similar to Lijang, expect cobbles, souvenir shops and deceptively new architecture (the whole town is less than 10 years old, purposely built for tourism). Unlike Lijiang the streets are now overcrowded and the place serves well to relax those who visit rather than raise the blood pressure. The main focal point has to be the temple just off the main square, with the highlight being the massive prayer drum (go on give it a spin), the largest in god knows where and great for photos. At night the square comes to life as locals engage in rotating dance routines en mass, tourists are more than welcome to partake. You can rub shoulders with the local minorities and you should definitely try to interact or learn some of their lingo before sticking a camera in their face. I found most had a great sense of humour. 

Local minorities

Dancing kicks off in the square

Kate helping to turn the prayer drum

This lady served us up our first Yak meat kebab!

Yakety Yak

On our first full day we visited the local temples, the highlight being Bai Ji Si or White chicken temple. Less crowded than the one off the main square, you can hang out with chickens, rabbits and pigs in a beautiful setting with great views of the town.  I managed to step on a shard of glass which went through my flipflop but we had the first aid kit on hand to clean it up pretty quick and there wasn't any harm done. 

View of Shangri-la from Bai Ji Si

Bai Ji Temple

Is this THE white chicken of Bai Ji Si?

Arguably, the best things to do in Shangri-la are actually in the surrounding area. We arranged a trip to Nixi village via our hostel who took us to where the private drivers hung out. After some banter we organised a driver for the two of us in a minivan for 160RMB. After walking around the deathly quiet village we stumbled across a residence where they were making pottery (hei tao), watched the potter make teapots and bought two as souvenirs and were given a third as a gift from his live-in apprentice 'Yuan' who had taken a shine to us. 

It even made it back to Zhuhai!

Master potter going about his business

Yuan learning the trade
We got peckish whilst in the village and the only shop we could find was near a schoolyard in which two 13 year old girls were drilling children aged 4-13. We bought some instant noodles from them and used the kettle in their home to add hot water. It was bizarre, we asked where their parents were they told us that dad is out working as a driver and mum was up the mountain picking song rong mushrooms (valuable at around 90RMB or nine GBP for half a KG) as it was the season. We gave them a little gift of Jersey pound note each and proceeded to give the kids an English lesson free of charge whilst a village elder watched over from the back of the basketball court. 

Children teaching children

In the home to add hot water

Happy boy

Group photo with teacher Kate

Our new friend Yuan took us inside the Tibetan home she was staying in whilst studying the art of pottery and it was truly stunning. The iron stove, hand crafted wood and elegance and detail of the interior was enough to warrant the home to be classed as a museum. The Buddhist prayer room was especially impressive although it is forbidden to take photos. We left Nixi village very relaxed and satisfied. 

Visiting the Tibetan home

Cooking equipment in the home

The views on the way weren't too bad either

9th Aug 2014:

On the Saturday we decided to visit Bai Shui Tai or the white water terraces. A windy 3 hour drive there and back is possible when you book tickets via the main bus station in Shangri-la. There is only one possible day return with this bus if you take the one leaving at 9.10am (the only other leaves at 14:10) and the only return being at 14:30. The road here is good albeit windy and not well trafficked so hitchhiking may be a problem. Booking the return is recommended and even so we ended up sharing the small bus with locals picked up along the way and crammed in so as they were practically on our laps! All good fun. 

Cramped bus

The long journey took us through rural Yunnan

Whilst we would have preferred slightly more time the terraces, two hours is a reasonable amount of time to absorb the sights spread over a small area. After a bit of an incline (there are plenty of good looking horses on offer although unnecessary for anyone of average fitness) you get to a point just below the terraces. We found them extremely beautiful. Here you will come across a Naxi Dongba Shaman who will bless you and expect a small donation which is well worth it for the experience (we gave him 20RMB and he seemed well chuffed). You can then reach the peak of the terraces where you can seen them in all their splendour as you walk across the trickles of mountain water, feeding the terraces with its minerals. 

Naxi Dongba dude 

The Bai Shui Tai Water Terraces 
The Bai Shi Tai Water Terraces

The views are tremendous. At the top we came across another Dongba, Naxi fellow. We went with him and he showed us where the best picture could be taken. He took our camera and climbed a tree for our picture, he was also selling rocks from the terraces. He then lead us to two more Naxi dudes who were chilling by the most beautiful, secluded blue pool which although small had a certain magic about it. We were blessed again and drank from the pool, by this point we were practically out of small money so could only give them a pittance but they were absolutely cool and invited us to break bread with them. 

Our pictures taken by another Dongba, Naxi dude

For a small tip you can be blessed by this legend

The magical pool we drank from

We took the windy road home feeling very blessed and fulfilled although it is a lot of travelling for two hour's sightseeing so understandable if you pass if running against the clock. 

Local villagers spotted on the route back to Shangri-la

Snow Mountain

If you're that close you might as well make friends

10th Aug 2014: 

We arranged a homestay with a Tibetan family through a contact we found via Wiki Travel. His name is Andrew from Detroit in the United States and he has lived in the region for around ten years during which time he set up his own travel company and made some great connections with the locals. The village we stayed in was called Ha Mu Gu in the Napa Hai/ Yi La Meadow only a twenty minute drive from Shangri-la, chauffered by Andrew. When we arrived the village was quiet but for a few chickens clucking around. At the house were two children along with their grandfather and Buddhist uncle. It wasn't an especially warm welcome but we were shown our room which had plenty of blankets and we were left to our own devices. Having brought along some small toys, we handed a couple to the kids and we were instantly in their good books. So much so that when we went out for a walk they asked us if we wanted to go together, so sweet!

The courtyard at our homestay
Our room

Not quite sure what to call this room

We went, or more appropriately, we were lead through the village up a nearby hill all the while being toyed with as the children 'Dan Zi Yi Jin' and 'Dan zi Li Dan' would run ahead and hide only to jump out and scare us. It started to rain so we headed back to the house. 

Having a rest from all the hide and seek

and it begins again! 

We had a quick walk around the area, aiming to follow the nearby river but we both suddenly felt ill probably from something we ate at breakfast. We stayed in the field until we felt better and headed back to the house but before long we were heading out again with our little buddies to find a nearby shop where we could buy water. During the walk we showed the children how to use the camera and offered piggy backs to make the whole thing more fun. At the little shop we got to try some local yogurt an we bought some fried potatoes for everyone to share.

Give that kid a tissue

Piggy-backs became order of the day

Having fun

Nearby piglets having some lunch

Little buddies trying the camera
Granddad was milking cows when we got back and the whole village came to life as animals were being herded to their stables and pens by villagers old and young. When mum came back from picking mushrooms she immediately set about preparing a delicious dinner for everyone. The uncle showed us around the house which was similar to the home in Nixi, with great woodwork and interesting furniture. At some point gran had returned and joined us for dinner whilst uncle sat to one side to eat his. After dinner mum laid out her haul of mushrooms of various sizes, altogether just under a kilogram. Dan Zi Yi Jin was enjoying playing with a kitten that couldn't have been more than a few weeks old. Over dinner mum told us that dad was with the eldest son of 13 chopping trees and building a house up on the mountain. I felt we were all starting to bond by the time we went to bed. 

Kate offering to lend a hand

The various dishes on offer

Mum preparing dinner

Around the dinner table

Mum inspecting the mushroom harvest
Breakfast was great, granddad was using a wonderful looking contraption to make cheese from the fresh milk and we were served traditional Tibetan butter tea amongst other delicious food. Mum had already left to climb the mountain and pick more mushrooms. As we weren't feeling 100% and wanted to get somewhere a little more comfortable, we had to cut the stay a little shorter than we would have liked and Andrew came to collect us before the afternoon. I felt bad as the previous day the children were asking us when we would go and I told them not until the afternoon but they got a few more toys out of us so weren't too upset. By the time we had left, I felt the ice had been broken and we were sad to go.

The milk and cheese machine


Saying goodbye
Andrew (for homestays, trips and general advice): 18687645054

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