Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)… reality or fiction?

(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.


parte antiga da cidade destruída por um incêndio no inicio deste ano, oferendo uma imagem desolada de Shangri-lá
old part of  Shangri-lá after the fire
Parte antiga de Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
 Shangri-lá (Zhongdian) old town
Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
Gigantesca Roda de Orações situada na colina junto da praça central, onde se encontram mais dois templos budistas, um de arquitectura tibetana e outro, mais moderno de arquitectura chinesa
Prayer Wheel
Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
Roda de orações e templo budista que encimam a pequena colina à volta da qual se desenvolve cidade antiga de Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
Prayer wheel and Buddhist temple at Shangri-lá (Zhongdian)
Mercado de Zhongdian
Zhongdian market
Mercado de Zhongdian
cooking dumplins at Zhongdian market
Stupa situada num dos cruzamentos da cidade poupados ao incêndio, mas cuja área envolvente foi praticamente destruida
Stupa in on town
Templo budista localizado numa colina a sul de Shangri-lá, um pouco mais afastada do centro da cidade que é conhecido por “templo das galinhas” visto situar-se numa zona mais rural
Buddhist temple called “chicken temple”
Rodas de orações no exterior do “templo das galinhas” em Shangri-lá
Prayer whell from the “chicken temple” in Shangri-lá
“chicken temple” in Shangri-lá
“templo das galinhas” em Shangri-lá
“chicken temple” in Shangri-lá
“templo das galinhas” em Shangri-lá
“chicken temple” in Shangri-lá
documentos contendo escritos sagrados que são geralmente envolvidos em panos e que se encontram frequentemente nos mosteiros e nos templos budistas
Buddhist holy scripts
Pinturas em estilo “tankha” com informação relacionada com a medicina tradicional tibetana que recorre ao uso de plantas e minerais
“tankha” paitings
Templo no museu dedicado à cultura Tibetana existente no centro de Shangri-lá
Tibetan culture Museum in Shangri-lá

Population: 120.000

Elevation: 3270 m

Leave a Reply