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City Guide -- Zhongdian

Travel Guide of Zhongdian (Shangrila)


The town is split between Tibetan and Han Chinese residents, as well as a fair smattering of Naxi, Bai, Yi and Lisu, with the surrounding countryside entirely Tibetan. While the crass name change in 2001 was a sign of the desire for increasing mass tourism a la Lijiang, the town has got nowhere near Lijiang's crowds, and it's still possible to experience the area's Tibetan heritage and see gorgeous countryside in near isolation.

Zhongdian was renamed Shangrila for marketing reasons. Signs in bus stations still use Zhongdian. There is also a third name in Tibetan, used by many of the locals. The original Shangrila, inspiration for the book and movie, was clearly much further West, possibly Ladakh or in Hunza Valley.

Zhongdian, known as Gyalthang in Tibetan, perched on a plateau at an elevation of 3300 meters, dotted with beautiful hills, flowers and alpine lakes. The region of Zhongdian offers great possibilities for trek, botanical exploration, as well as discovery of Tibetan culture. The picturesque Tibetan villages on the outskirts of Zhongdian still keep unique customs and traditions, attracting many independent travelers. Most travelers stay in Zhongdian for one or two days, but some would stay there for a week.

In order to protect the local natural resources, several nature reserves have been designated in the region, such as Bita and Napa Lake Nature Reserve, Haba Snow Mountain Reserve. Zhongdian County was also included in Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, which was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2003. A report made by WCMC (World Conservation Monitoring Center) on this wonderful park concluded that “This is an area of unparalleled biological diversity, unusually explicit geological and landscape variety and great scenic beauty.”

Best time to visit: In May and June the region is alive with enchanting wild flowers. From Mid-October to Mid-November the region is covered with marvelous autumn colors. July and August is a high season for tourism as well as rainfalls. Winter is dry and cold, with average temperatures below zero(C).


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