For most people, the name, Shangrila, might summon up images of the famously high-end luxury hotels around the world. (Interestingly enough, Shangrila was originally known as Zhongdian, but was changed to its current name to increase tourism in 2001). After traveling to Shangrila in China’s Yunnan Province, I now think of prayer flags, barren stretches of wasteland, mid-autumn foliage, clear skies, curious Tibetan school kids, and one particularly angry cow.
Shangrila’s Old Town is a highly concentrated area of backpacker hotspots set amidst a backdrop of desolate farm villages. Arriving at night, we wandered down the cobblestone path to the town center, right in time to see the nightly dance performance. Part of the local tradition is to perform this dance every evening in the public square. It was a lot of fun to watch, photograph and even join in on the performance/ impromptu dancercise class.
Old Town is a fun place to explore for 1-2 days, but becomes a bit repetitive if you decide to stay much longer than that; you end up seeing the same “authentic” Tibetan souvenirs, backpacker hostels, European-style cafes, and hot pot restaurants down every single lane. After two days there, we were ready for a change of scenery.
Taking off early in the morning of our third day, we began a 2-day hike to the village of Ringha, one of 6 small villages outside of Shangrila. Ringha was surrounded by a couple of mountain ranges, a few peaks away from the central hub of Old Town. (I downplay how far away Ringha actually was, but to be entirely honest, I was ready to roll down the side of the second mountain by hour 4 of the hike.)
Regardless of how physically challenging the trek was, this was probably my favorite day of our entire 2 week trip. Surrounding ourselves with nothing but open air, hills, and valleys for miles, gave us a much different, but as distinctively beautiful landscapes as in Jiuzhaigou. The fact that we also had an entertaining and talented Tibetan hiking guide showing us around (Sonom could not only yodel, but could also rap in Tibetan) didn’t hurt either. However, the best part of that day was meeting a small group of village kids on their way home from school. They immediately ran up to us, grabbed our alien-looking sunglasses off our faces, and took turns chasing the lucky wearer-of-the-moment. It was a great moment of our trip – unplanned, unpredicted and unbelievably endearing for us both.