Shangri-La was my first stop in the Yunnan Province. It is the gateway to the ancient Tibetan kingdom.
I was tired, and all I wanted was to have a warm bath and a comfortable bed.
The jeep crossed the empty stone-paved streets of the old town of Shangri-La.
Luckily the hotel was just 20 minutes from the airport.
I came to the Yunnan province to experience some of the Songtsam lodges, and Shangri-la was my first stop.
Songtsam has established a series of luxury lodges in five carefully selected locations, and each lodge provides a distinctive experience.
Three of the staff members were waiting for me at the lobby, once I stepped foot inside the hotel. I felt the warmth coming from the chimney. Quickly they offered me a ginger tea and homemade cookies, and they made me feel at home right away. The decoration of the lodge was Tibetan rather than specifically Chinese.
The walls were decorated with tapestries showing the figures of different Buddhas. There was beautiful hand-painted Tibetan furniture and a square rice paper lantern hanging from the ceiling. I felt like I was in a traditional Tibetan dwelling.
The Songzanlin Monastery is located at the foot of Fopingshan Mountain. It is 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles, North of Zhongdian (the old name of the city, until it was renamed Shangri-La in 2001, after the James Hilton novel Lost Horizon). It is in the far northern tip of Yunnan Province at an elevation of 3,380 meters (11,090 feet). So if you visit the area, you may have altitude sickness, if you are not used to the high elevation.
The 300+ year old Tibetan lamasery hosts many precious cultural and religious treasures.
The area where Songtsam Shangri-La is located is absolutely breathtaking! The hotel is located in a wide valley, surrounded by soaring, snowcapped peaks, amidst a primeval forest, and across from a pastoral lake, adorned with porcelain blue skies.
This magical land is located along China’s Southwestern frontier, the Tibetan highland frames its Northwestern fingers. Tropical rainforest and volcanic plains cross by some of Asia’s greatest rivers, the mighty Yangzi, the untamed Salween, and the free-flowing Mekong.
Shangri-La’s golden fields are populated with Tibetan farm houses which have sloping walls, elaborately painted beams, and shingled roofs weighed down by stones. Families live above their livestock. Within the golden fields, barley and turnips are dried on distinctive wooden racks, and women balance large wicker threshing baskets on their heads.
My local guide, Sonam Gelek, is one of Shangri-La’s secret treasures. He took me on a side trip to Shibaoshan Mountain, near Shaxi, to see its grottos, which contain unique eighth-century Buddhist carvings. We visited the 17th-century Sumtseling Monastery, and strolled through the old town.
You can find stores with home sculptures made of polished stone from the Cangshan Mountains in Dali, handmade silk slippers, Tibetan carpets from Shangri-La, and Lijiang yak’s horn combs.
My next stop in this land full of endless adventure and soulful self-discovery was Songtsam Meili, a 5- 6 hour drive from Shangri-La. The drive was spectacular! It provided magnificent views, right from the start.
The new G214 HWY crosses high mountains and deep valleys. It is a gallery of amazing natural views, old history, religious sites, and unique ethnic groups. It traverses the chilly 4000+ plateau, and winds into the dry valleys. G214 crosses the origins of five great rivers: Yangtze, Yellow River, Mekong, Salween, and Hong River. The gorges are undoubtedly the most amazing ones in China. On my way to Meili, I crossed the Baima Mountain Pass at 4.292 meters.
The lodge is located away from tourists, in a tranquil village inhabited by only five families. It hovers above 3,600 meters, overlooking the majestic mountains.
I felt under the spell of the place, and during my stay, I maintained an almost ecstatic tranquility of mind. My guide, Sonam, took me to the best day-hiking trips I have ever experienced, with stunning views, beautiful nature, waterfalls, and pristine creeks.
My third stop was Songstsam Benzilan, nestled in an intimate green valley by the Yangtze River. The lodge is surrounded by beautiful gardens and authentic white-walled Tibetan homes.
The nearest town is Benzilan, just 10 minutes away, and the Dongzhulin Monastery, which has several “living” Buddhas , is also close by - about 40 minutes by car. Some of the most pristine Tibetan villages can be seen while driving to the monastery.
Songstsam Benzilan is an ideal place to experience tranquil village life and absorb the well-preserved local culture and traditions.
Out of the five lodges, I have chosen these three because I was interested in experiencing the holy mountains and doing some intense hiking.
I highly recommended it!