Introducing Zhōngdiàn (Shangri-la)
Shangri-la (also known as Zhōngdiàn) is home to remote temples, rugged scenery and the start of the Tibetan world. And while travellers have beat their way to northern Yúnnán’s other ancient villages, this remote town hasn’t shown up on many people’s radars in the same way.
Officials declared the town (and by extension the rest of the country) the location of British writer James Hilton’s fictional Shangri-la, described in his novel The Lost Horizon. Poo-poo-ed as a cynical gimmick to drum up tourism, the thing is, it’s actually worked and has got everyone from backpackers to tour groups interested in visiting.
Principally a Tibetan town (its Tibetan name is Gyeltang or Gyalthang) the main reason to come here is to visit the monastery and to get a taste of Tibet if you can’t make it to the real thing.
Plan your visit to this neck of the woods between April and October. There is no point coming here during winter as the city is practically shut down and transportation is often halted completely by snow storms.
In mid-June Shangri-la plays host to a horseracing festival that sees several days of dancing, singing, eating and, of course, horseracing. Another new festival – usually in September – features minority artists of southwest China. Accommodation can be a bit tight around these times, so you may want to arrive a day or two early in order to secure a room.