Mellifluously named Déqīn (that last syllable seems to ring, doesn’t it?) lies in some of the most ruggedly gorgeous scenery in China. Snuggly cloud-high at an average altitude of 3550m, it rests in the near embrace of one of China’s most magical mountains, Kawa Karpo (梅里雪山; often referred to as Méilǐ Xuěshān). At 6740m, it is Yúnnán’s highest peak and straddles the Yúnnán– Tibet border.
A true border town, Déqīn is one of Yúnnán’s last outposts before Tibet, but from here you could also practically hike east to Sìchuān or southwest to Myanmar (Burma). Díqìng Prefecture was so isolated that it was never really controlled by anyone until the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) arrived in force in 1957.
More than 80% of locals are Tibetan, though a dozen other minorities also live here, including one of the few settlements of non-Hui Muslims in China. The town, though, is seriously unattractive and a little rough – the local police impose a midnight curfew. Confusingly, Déqīn is the name of the city and county; both are incorporated by the Díqìng Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (迪庆藏族自治州).
Most people make immediate tracks for Fēilái Sì. All buses and minivans hang around the main street that runs through town and the bus station is just a little office on the hairpin bend.
For Shangri-la, buses leave three times daily from Déqīn (¥56 to ¥68, six to seven hours) at 8am, 9am and 12.30pm. There is also a daily bus to Lìjiāng (¥258, 10 to 11 hours) at 7.30am and to Kūnmíng (¥258, 18 to 19 hours) at 11am.