(English version from the text posted in Jun/2014)
The city, where clearly dominates the Tibetan culture, was in its origins named Gyeltang or Gyalthang but changed to Zhongdian under Chinese influence since the 50’s. But it was when it was recognised its tourist potential, with the old zone formed by an intricate and narrow set of streets, with its houses showing the traditional architecture of the region, in stone and richly carved wood that starts to be called Shangri-la. The name came from a novel from the British writer James Hilton, that apparently placed the story in this city, conferring to this place a mystical atmosphere, synonymous with paradise.
On arrival, after the short bus trip from the bus terminal to the old part of the city, Shangri-la show a completely desolate scenery, with a big area damaged by a fire that in January of this year destroyed part of the old city. The landscape is now occupied by the scorched debris and by the machines and trucks that clean and rebuilds the old city, giving to the place an apocalyptic atmosphere.
In spite of this initial vision, the stay in Shangri-la (Zhongdian) was pleasant, with the days spent between visits to the temple that dominates the old part of the city, next to which there is a gigantic prayer wheel. The gold that decorates the prayer wheel stands out among the grove that covers the modest hill. Strolling through the streets of the old city and making some inroads into the modern part of the city, of Chinese layout and architecture, but where you can find a strong presence of people from different ethnic groups, proudly wearing their traditional costumes often combined with western clothing.
The negative impression from the first sight was dissipating, and the fact that the fire destroyed part of the city’s patrimony also caused it to remove the commercial and excessively touristy atmosphere that previously existed, and that somewhat de-characterizes the cities of Dalí and Lijiang, visited before.
Here you can begin to feel the effects of altitude… insomnia, headaches, shortness of breath, and heart beating each time you climb a ladder or a steeper slope.
Elevation: 3270 m