A trip to Shangri-La

Chatteris' own Caroline Lengyel gives us a glimpse into her trip to mainland.

Above: An inn in Lugu Lake- Pauline booked it specifically for this photo.

This Christmas I took the train to mainland China. It was my first major journey beyond the familiar borders of Hong Kong and I alighted at Guangzhou Station, alone, damp with terror. I changed my SIM card. Tried to open Facebook — it didn’t open — assumed the SIM wasn’t working. Bought a new SIM. Realized my mistake and slunk defeatedly to Starbucks, where I managed to contact my friend and savior, Pauline.

Above: Pauline- we’ve been friends since high school!

Pauline led me to Guangzhou city center, along a steel-grey, immaculate thoroughfare that struck me as ludicrously big after half a year in the bike-lane sized streets of Hong Kong. The whole place is big. Big trees. Big buildings. Big cars roll to a big horizon. It was beautiful and alarming.

Above: In a characteristic move,  I forgot to take any photos of Guangzhou except this blurry shot of a mall

The next morning we flew to Kunming, and from there to Lugu Lake. Lugu Lake is a secluded spot in the Yunnan mountains, home of several ethnic peoples, soon to become less quiet as the site of a new Chinese reality TV show in which — Pauline informed me — superstar celebrities run a lakeside inn.

Above: Posing on a boat (not sure this was allowed).

Our next stop: Lijiang. I adored Lijiang as soon as I saw it. In Lijiang old town, ancient buildings huddle over cobblestone streets. Canals crisscross the town center. We ate rose pastries and strolled over arching bridges. It was all very romantic and I was dismayed I had to do it with Pauline instead of a Lijiang love interest (Pauline ignored my complaints).

Above: Lijiang old town, one of the most romantic spots in China!

Two days later we hopped in a van for Shangri-La. Yes, it is a real place — named after the fictional one. Tibetan prayer flags flap in the wind, strung along highways and through trees. On the road to Shangri-La, everything is under construction. Luxurious restaurants stand half finished beside gas stations. Chandeliers dangle behind glass doors and above half opened boxes.

Our first destination was Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery; a Tibetan Buddhist monastery perched 5 miles above the city of Zhongdian.

Above: Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery. We wore sunscreen to protect against high-altitude rays.

But my favorite stop in Shangri-La was Potatso National Park, the first national park in China. The ground glittered with ice and the sunbeams looked mystical.

Above: Chilly spiritual awakening vibes

After a quick trip to Pauline’s home city, Zhaoqing, I was back on the bus to Hong Kong.
It feels good to be home, but I’m glad I ventured across the boarder. To anyone considering a mainland journey, go! And don’t hesitate to veer off the Guangzhou-Shanghai-Beijing beaten track. The mainland is ultramodern and run down, urban and rural, crowded and sparse, as diverse and rich with contradictions as America or Britain or Hong Kong. It’s a fascinating place to spend time.


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