"If you have time for but one
  province in China, Yunnan should
  be it.
"
           
- Lonely Planet
 

 

Volunteer in Kunming, Yunnan,
a city with year-round Spring weather. Trips to 26 cultures &
5 nearby countries.

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Shangri-La


Shangri-la remains one of few pure lands with authentic minority cultures and well preserved natural ecosystems. This region features impressive snow mountains, great canyons, vast grassland, beautiful highland lakes, dense primitive forests and unique ethnic customs.

Shangri-la is directly translated from the Tibetan language, and is also translated as "Xiang Ba La" which means "the sun and the moon in one's heart". In its original language, it refers to a utopia paradise. The British writer James Hilton coined the English word "Shangri-la" in his novel Lost Horizon published in 1933. Ever since, people have been yearning to find what James Hilton described in his book.

It was in the 1990s that more and more people recognized that there are great similarities between Hilton's portrayal of Shangri-la and Yunnan's Diqing Tibetan region. Finally, Diqing County, then the capital city of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was renamed Shangri-la County in 1997.

For a long time, Shangri-la has been known as the Grand Garden on the Mountains, the Kingdom of Fauna and Flora. Once, this was an important transit stop for the famous Old Tea-Horse Caravan Road in southwest China. More recently, its natural beauty has been recognized globally. Diqing Tibet Autonomous Prefecture is one of the most important integrated parts of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas which has been enlisted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee. Baima, or White Horse Snow Mountain, is categorized as the State Nature Reserve. 

Located in the triangle of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet, Shangri-la has always been an appealing place for tourists. The County site is 659 KM (410 miles) from Yunnan's provincial capital, Kunming. You can arrive at Diqing from Kunming in just about 50 minutes by air. Buses from Lijiang and Dali are commonly chosen transportation.

There are more than 13 ethnic minority groups which live here, including Tibetan, Lisu, Han, Naxi, Yi, Bai, and Hui. They also follow different religious beliefs. Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism and animism constitute its multi-faith communities. Maintaining their uniqueness, peoples from different ethnic groups with different beliefs have lived peacefully in this region generation after generation. 

It has been listed as one of China's eight most popular tourist destinations. Now beautiful Shangri-la has been attracting more and more visitors to this amazing place.

Famous attractions in this region are Bi Ta Hai Lake, Gui Hui Monastery, Whitewater Terraces, Meili Snow Mountian and, Napa Hai Lake. 

Bi Ta Hai Lake is extolled as a magnificent place with great variety of flora and fauna as well as marvelous landscapes just like those seen on Chinese prints. In the local Tibetan language, Bita has the meaning of "land that feels like cattle hair". At 3,539 meters (2.1 miles) above sea level, the lake claims to have the highest altitude of lakes in Yunnan Province. It is about 32 KM (19.9 miles) away from Zhongdian County and you can take buses from Shangri-la.

Being praised as Pearl on the Plateau, the lake is enclosed by lavish vegetation in the nearby mountains which will surely provide an astonishing experience. Densely scattered azaleas plants can be seen on surrounding mountains.  In late spring and early summer flowers are in full bloom and the hillsides glow with red, and together with green and the crystal clear lake water, present a picture-like scene. There is a rare occurrence in the lake, so called "fish getting drunk by azaleas''. There are plenty of "Bita hai Double-Lip Fish”, which are believed to be one of the ancient species that have survived from the Fourth Glacial Age. During later May of each year, azalea flower petals fall into the lake sometimes because of the heavy rains, and fish in the lake eat some of these flower petals. Actually azaleas contain a small amount of toxins, hence after eating the flowers, the fish float on the surface of the lake as if they were intoxicated. The Admission fee is 110 RMB. 

Napa Hai (Napa Lake) Napa Hai Natural Reservation (elevation of 3270 meters, or 10,728 feet), about 8 kilometers northwest of the seat of Shangri-la, is a Yunnan provincial reservation. Among other species, Black-Necked Cranes, China's first class national protected rare wild fowl, is the best known protected animal here. Being the largest grassland in Shangri-la, it is one of the tourist attractions that best represents the distinctive plateau characteristics in this county. 

Northwest of the lake is the ruin site of an ancient Buddhist Temple, the Guqin Temple. It was built in China's Ming Dynasty, more than 400 years ago, but was destroyed in the Qing Dynasty 200 years later. What is left now are but rubbles and debris, only the still-standing lush ancient trees remind you of its formal glory. Standing on the ruin site, you will have a panoramic view of the Napa grassland in its tranquility and quiet beauty, which you could only experience here. The Admission fee is 30 RMB.

The Guihua Monastery
 
Also called Ge Dan Songzanlin Lamasery in Tibetan, the monastery is about 5 KM (3.1 miles) north of Zhongdian County seat. It is among the largest Tibetan Buddhist Temples in Yunnan Province. Following the designing and structure of the Potala Palace in Lhasa in Tibet, it is regarded as the "Small Potala Palace". The history of the Guihua Temple can be dated back to 1679, when Emperor Kang Xi of China's Qing Dynasty approved and authorized the fifth Dalai Lama to the construction. Later Kong Xi's successor, Emperor Yong Zheng, granted the Chinese name "Guihua Temple". The affirmation from government extolled its role in Tibetan Buddhism, and is one of popular monasteries in the Tibetan area.  It is the holy land for devote Tibetan Buddhism followers. The Admission fee is 30 RMB.

The White-water Terraces
 

Within Baidi village, the White-water terraces are about 90 KM (56 miles) from the county seat of Zhongdian. The site is at the foot of Haba Snow Mountain in Baidi Village. The whole site is 140 meters (153 yards) long and 160 meters (174 yards) wide, with half of the platform pool is surrounded by white limestone on top. In the past, the spring water here was carbonic, containing a great amount of calcium and carbonate elements.  As the spring water streamed downwards over a long period of time, it made one terrace after another which became an extraordinary scene just like rice terraces. Legend says that it is here that the Fairies of Heaven taught Naxi people to cultivate rice on terraces. Admission fee is 30 RMB. 

Not only is Baishui Terrace a beautiful place with marvelous views, it is also regarded as the cradle of the Naxi culture. It is said that the founder of Naxi’s Dongba religion, Xi Ba Hui Lou, was passing by Baishui Terrace after finishing his Buddhism study in Tibet. Amazed by the beauty here, he decided to stay and preach what he had learned. Ever since then, Baishui Terrace has been honored as the holy land by Dongba’s followers.

On the eighth day of the second lunar month, people from around this region come here and celebrate the traditional annual festival “Er Yue Ba” (or the eighth of the second month). Poultry is slaughtered and the blood is dotted on trees to show reverence to mountain deities. After the religious ceremonies people return to sing and dance, and sometimes the celebrations extend overnight which presents a very impressive occasion.      

The Meili Snow Mountain
 
Located in the renowned World Natural Heritage the Three Parallel Rivers Region, the Meili Snow Mountain is about 10 KM (6.2 miles) away from the seat of Deqing County. Its main peak, the Kagebo peak, 6740 meters (22,112 feet) above sea level, is the highest mountain in Yunnan. For a long time, Kagebo peak has been regarded as the patron saint of Ningma, one school of Tibetan Buddhism. Also known as the Mountain of the Snow Mountains, it is one of the most important holy mountains in Tibetan regions. Every year religious Tibetans and devote Buddhists from Yunnan, Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu come here to pay pilgrimage.   

Other than its religious atmosphere, Meili Snow Mountain is also known for its spectacular glaciers and moraine. The most famous one is the Ming Yong Qia Glacier. It covers an area of 73.5 square KM (28 square miles), from as high as 5500 meters (18044 feet) above sea level to an altitude of 2700 meters (8858 feet), where the earth is covered by forest. It is one of few contemporary glaciers in the marine monsoon climate region of low latitude in the world. Its natural beauty also makes it a pilgrimage site for mountain climbers. It might be because of its holiness, that Kagebo peak is one of very few mountains, if not the only one, that has not been conquered by human beings.

Dongzhulin Temple
 
Also called Gedan Dongzhulin Temple, it is 105 KM (65 miles) away from the county seat of Shangri-la. It is very easy to access as the Yunnan-Tibet Road passes right in front of the temple. With good road conditions, people can get into the temples all year round as there is no snow blocking the way. It was originally built in 1667 during Emperor Kang Xi's regime in China's Qing Dynasty. In its history, the Dong Zhu Lin Temple served as one of the thirteen most influential Tibetan Buddhism Monasteries in the Tibetan region, but later on it was destroyed in warfare. It was not until 1985 that the Chinese government reconstructed the site which became the present temple and was opened to the public. Because of its abundant Buddhist relics, it has been ranked as Yunnan's Key Provincial Cultural Relics Protection Site. Ever since October 1987, the annual Buddhist Monk Festival is celebrated here.  A grand Buddhism ceremony is observed, and Buddhists and laymen alike from Tibetan regions come here for their pilgrimage. 

Cizhong Catholic Church
 
There is a Catholic church in a village called Cizhong which is unlikely to be found anywhere else. It was built by French missionaries in the 1900’s. With typical gothic architectural characteristics, the church building integrated local characteristics, like that of the Tibetans and the Hans. In a place like Zhongdian where Buddhism is prevalent, people from around Cizhonag village, who are from different ethnic groups like Lisu, Tibetan, and Naxi come to Cizhong Catholic Church to attend Mass, where the Tibetan language is used throughout the service.

 

 

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to people in the western world to help children in Yunnan, China

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