No matter how you look at it, it had been a tough three days of hiking for us in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. That’s why Shangri La (香格里拉) was supposed to be our “rest stop” for this leg of the travels. (pun not totally intended)
In 1933, British author John Hilton wrote a book called “Lost Horizon”. In the book, Hilton wrote of a mythical, near-utopian valley called “Shangri-La”. Ever since, thousands of Chinese villages near the Himalayas have staked their claims that their village was the one that Hilton based his book on. I don’t think it mattered to them much that Hilton had never been in the general area before (By area, I mean “China”). Wanting to capitalize on the commercial success of neighbouring Lijiang, the municipal government of Zhongdian (中甸) managed to petition the Chinese government for them to change their name officially to Shangri La in 2001.
In any case, we’ve heard from other tourists that Shangri La was still relatively unspoiled by tourism because it is just too damn far from “civilization”. It’s supposed to be a good place to relax and many of the sights can still be enjoyed in near isolation.
Also, there are hot springs.
That’s why one of the first things we did when we were there was to pamper our exhausted legs by going on an EIGHT hour bicycle tour on the outskirts of high altitude Shangri La. Cue Whitney Houston and insert your own pun for “taking our breath away”.
If you were to ask me now why we did not wait for a day (or five thousand) before we did something this stupid, I can only say that it was ALSO not the smartest idea to want to go to an outdoor hot spring when the average day time temperature was 0°C.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the ride IMMENSELY, the thing that got to me was… the cycling. I know that I probably would’ve enjoyed the ride A LOT more if I had not been so tired, but it was still an awesome ride nonetheless. The one word that keeps popping into my head for that day was “AMAZING”.
Being something of a city slicker, it never ceases to be a wonder to me that there can be so much land and empty space out there.
For me, the second biggest highlight during our long cycle was stumbling across this “eco” guest house in the middle of nowhere. Lao Shay’s Guest House (老谢车马店) is surrounded by gorgeous snow peaked mountains on one side and a vast field (complete with neighing/galloping horses) on the other.
We took the chance to catch our breath (and a beer) at Lao Shay’s. I told the owner (who I presume to be 老谢) how wonderfully secluded his place is. His reply was “yeah… that’s what drives all my customers away”.
I would’ve gladly moved into 老谢’s if we had not already paid for three night’s accommodation in the Old Town… and ermm… I was kinda put off by the thought of a cycle two hours to town and back again.
So maybe 老谢 was right!
Of course, the ULTIMATE highlight of our day of cycling was when Jo’s bicycle broke down on our way back. We had been cycling for six hours and we were kinda lost. It was the perfect moment for the gears of the bicycles to refuse to shift into gear.
This meant that we can only ride the bicycle downhill… on the almost strictly uphill ride back to town.
The good news was that at the end of the day, my legs were not tired from the Tiger Leaping Gorge anymore.