Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Real life fantasy

Ah. Now we find yaks. Not agreeing on what they looked like, we kept mistaking hairy water buffalo for them on our way north. Until our journey led us to the legendary city of Shangri-la where we beheld them at last, grazing in the scrub hills, back-dropped by blue, snow-capped mountains. Sounds like something out of a storybook? Well, technically it is. A few years back the Chinese government unilaterally decided that the city of Zhongdian would be renamed to Shangri-la to spur tourism. There is no such place.*

Still, that didn’t stop us from going. Equally intrigued by the name as much as tales of yak butter tea and Tibetan monks trained in French wine-making techniques, we hired a car along with two Brits to get there. Didn’t end up trying the butter tea or the wine, unfortunately, but we did manage to find a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery that transported us to the set of Seven Years in Tibet: medieval-looking buildings with thatched roofs, long set of stairs leading up to the main temple, blackbirds circling overhead, brightly (almost gaudy) murals, expansive views across a majestic landscape, and a very big Buddha. Not all has remained as it was years ago; the monks could often be seen chatting on mobile phones and had cars parked next to their straw and mud brick buildings.

Danielle inhaling oxygen for altitude sickness
At 3,300m altitude it took us awhile to make it up the stairs and every time we spoke for more than a few seconds we had to take a deep breath… and continue. Luckily, Danielle had started taking altitude sickness pills the day before and had a miraculous recovery; just in time to explore the winding, cobbled roads and exquisite artisans of Shangri-la’s old town.

* - It’s actually based on the novel, Lost Horizon, by James Hilton

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