General Information about Shangri-La (Zhongdian)
“Shangri-La” is a name come from a novel, the Lost Horizon by James Hilton in 1933. It is a wonderland of amazing landscape and Utopian wisdom. People live there are full with happiness. In Yunnan Province, China, there is a Shangri-La as well, which is not fictional but exists indeed. This place is Zhongdian city.
Located in the northern part of Yunnan, Zhongdian is contiguous with Tibet. So, it becomes an important gateway city to Tibet Autonomous Region. The breath-taking scenery, coupled with the geographic connect of Tibet, Zhongdian is no doubt to be a hot tourist destination for travelers all over the world. With time flies, people would prefer to call it “Shangri-La” over the original name Zhongdian. The original population of this region is Tibetan. In the Tibetan language, Shangri-La means the sun and moon in the heart.
1,300 years ago, Zhongdian was one of the stops on the famous Ancient Southern Silk Road, which was from Tibet to India. Tea was the commonest commodity of Yunnan to be traded to Tibet. Then it might be exchanged with war horses or other products which imported from India.
Travel in Shangri-La (Zhongdian)
So far, there is no train station in Zhongdian. Thus, you can only travel to Shangri-La by air or by car. The main tourist attractions are Pudacuo National Park, Songzanlin Monastery,
Ganden Sumetseling Monastery, Dukezong Old Town, Bita Lake, The White-water Terrace located at the foot of Baha Snow Mountain, etc.
With an average elevation of 3,300 meters (10,827 feet), Shangri-La is surrounded by three rivers and many mountains. That’s why the majestic mountains and the alpine lakes are the most natural attractions you can visit here. It is really a great place for trekking and doing some botanical research.
Zhongdian is a traditional Tibetan town because most of the residents are Tibetans. When traveling in Shangri-La, you can explore Tibetan culture as well. But, after all, it is out of Tibet Autonomous Region, many Han Chinese have been living here for years. The Tibetan and Han culture affected each other already. So, you can feel a Chinese culture while seeing many Tibetan people dressing up in their traditional clothes.
How to Travel to Tibet from Shangri-La (Zhongdian)?
Travel to Tibet from Shangri-La By Air
A small airport named Diqing is located in the suburb of Shangri-La, about three kilometers away from the city center. Because there is no shuttle bus, you can only take a taxi to the airport, which usually costs 15-20 CNY. China Eastern Airline offers a daily flight to Lhasa at 9:15 in the morning. The price is USD230 more or less for a one-way journey and might increase a little during tourist peak season. It takes about two hours to arrive in Lhasa from Shangri-La.
Travel to Tibet from Shangri-La By Car
Up to now, travel to Tibet from Shangri-La (Zhongdian) by car is usually chosen by Chinese. Because, foreigners must book a Tibet tour first and follow the fixed itinerary to do this Shangri-La Lhasa overland tour, plus, accompanied by a tour guide always. Many Tibet travel agencies offer a 7 or 9-day private tour for foreigners, including the Tibet Travel Permit service. The tour cost is normally USD615-920, using a jeep or a land cruiser.
If you choose this way, please be aware that the road from Shangri-La to Lhasa is a high-altitude highway with underlying dangers. Once you are in the car, please do not distract the driver.
Travel to Tibet from Shangri-La By Train
Some friends asked about if we can take a train to Tibet from Shangri-La. Unfortunately, as it’s said before, there is no train station in Zhongdian right now. But if you insist on traveling to Tibet from Shangri-La by train, you can go to Lijiang by bus first. Lijiang, 170 kilometers away from Zhongdian, is the nearest railway station where you can take the train to Tibet. The railway from Lijing to Zhongdian is under construction already, which is assumed to start a business in 2020. At that time, you can take the train to Tibet from Shangri-La directly.
According to the regulations, foreigners are requested to provide the original Tibet Travel Permit when boarding the flight or train to Lhasa from Shangri-La (Zhongdian). So, please engage with a reliable Tibet tour company and make sure you can get the original permit in advance. Normal tourists can get the permit through a travel agency, except for diplomats, journalists, and government officials, who have to apply for it in person through the Tibet Foreign Affairs Office.