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Shangri-La -- The Lost Horizon

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/11/23; November 23, 2001.]

By Xing Bao, Shanghai Star. 2001-11-22.

In the southeast tip of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau,there lies what some believe is a dreamland for many adventures 

The Songzanlin Monastery resembles the architectual style of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

IN the novel "Lost Horizon" British writer James Hilton described an eternally peaceful and quiet place among the mountains in the mysterious East.

Here, people lived to be more than 100 years old in peace and harmony with nature and each other.

The place was called "Shangri-La," meaning sun and moon in the heart.

In September 1997, the government of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province declared that they had found Shangri-La.

Diqing is near the border of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet. It is four hours drive from the town of Lijiang, which is famous for its well-preserved history and snow-capped Yulong Mountains.

Yangtze's First Bend

The four-hour drive is not boring because there are two exciting stops on the way.

The first is the First Bend of the Yangtze River in the Shigu (Stone Drum) Town. From Tangula Snow Mountain in the northern Tibetan Plateau, the swift Yangtze River makes a splendid turn at Shigu. First flowing south, then north, the river has shaped a dramatic triangle with an area of about 50 square kilometres. 

The beautiful, ancient Shigu was a town of vital military importance. It is the point where the river was crossed by Zhuge Liang, considered the most intelligent strategist in Chinese history, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and the Red Army led by Mao Zedong.

Shigu now attracts a lot of tourists. Local vendors assemble in this area to sell various fruits and local produce.

Tiger Leaping Gorges

Situated to the northwest of the town of Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, with its splendid view of the swift, turbulent current of the Jinsha River, was created through constant erosion by the waters between the Yulong (Jade Dragon) Mountains and Haba Snow Mountains.

About 17 kilometres long, the gorge drops about 300 metres in a series of 18 rapids, and is divided into the Upper Gorge, the Middle Gorge and the Lower Gorge. The water surface is about 1,800 metres above sea level and the snow mountains on both sides soar as high as 5,600 metres.

Walking down the narrow path to the rapids, views change from time to time. Once you get close enough, the roaring and mighty rapids will leave an indelible impression in your mind and remind you of the many adventurers who tried to raft down the rapids but failed and died.

Ethnic Yi and Tibetan girls in their colourful costume await you in various spots to pose for a picture for 2 yuan, while men are busy carrying tourists up and down in sedans for 40 yuan ($5) one way. Many city folks today just cannot walk.


It takes another three hours from the Gorge to Zhongdian, capital of Diqing Prefecture, but a traffic accident halted us for one more hour.

At an altitude of 3,300 metres, the clear, azure and big sky presents a beautiful picture of the prairie at dusk. We were rushed to the Napahai Grassland to enjoy a horseback ride before dark. Two of our party galloped along on horseback while most of us sat on horses led by Tibetan men and women on a slow ride.

After nightfall, we went to a party in a traditional Tibetan home. Young members of the family entertained tourists with local dances and songs. They were soon joined by tourists dancing in a circle. The roasted whole lamb and Tibetan delicacies, such as a wine made from highland barley, made the dinner unique.

Songzanlin Monastery

The next day, we went to the Songzanlin Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhism monastery in Yunnan Province.

The monastery, built 300 years ago, is about 5 kilometres from Zhongdian County. During its heyday, there were more than 3,000 monks in the temple.

With a commanding view of the surrounding area, the monastery has many treasures. The most famous ones are the eight gold-covered sculptures of Sakyamuni.

The monastery is a good reflection of the rich spiritual life of Tibetans and the blend of different cultures in this region.

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