February 19, 2009
Zhongdian in China is a cultural Shangri-La
For repeat travelers to China, or for those who enjoy more off-the-beaten-track cultural travel, I often recommend Zhongdian (“Shangri-La” or “Gyalthang”) in Yunnan Province. Zhongdian is located near the Tibetan border and is populated by ethnic Tibetans, so the food, architecture and culture are Tibetan, and quite different from what travelers experience in the rest of China.
Zhongdian offers the perfect combination of rich cultural touring and luxury since this region has a deluxe resort, the Banyan Tree Ringha, which is located outside of Zhongdian in a tiny Tibetan village. Our China tours include this gorgeous property that is comprised of beautifully converted wood and stone Tibetan farmhouses overlooking a peaceful river valley. There’s also a great spa, and I love the restaurant’s traditional hotpot.
The journey to Zhongdian usually begins on the drive from Lijiang. The altitude slowly increases as you pass through tiny villages and by wondrous mountain and Yangtze River views, stopping en route at Tiger Leaping Gorge for lunch. (Our vehicles come equipped with oxygen for any travelers who might experience the effects of the altitude.) At the outskirts of Zhongdian lies Songzanlin Monastery, a breathtaking–and enormous–Tibetan lamasery that seems to rise like a mirage from the surrounding plain. Our private tours of Zhongdian are led by local guides who are especially knowledgeable about Tibetan Buddhism–this makes for fascinating touring of Songzanlin.
We also arrange for our travelers to explore Zhongdian’s lovely old town and smaller, nearby Tibetan villages where they can visit local homes and sample yak butter tea, a regional specialty. Zhongdian has a variety of other touring options that we arrange, including hiking and visits to nature preserves, touring of temples and other Buddhist sites, and attending a traditional dance performance in town that is done by the local residents at the end of each day.