Shangri-la Travel Guide

Written by Vivian Updated Oct. 13, 2021

The word "Shangri-la" first appeared in James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon; the story of three American pilots who, while flying over the Sino-Indian air route during World War II, crash-land in the midst of Paradise. This place of tranquility and peace is described as having "snow-covered mountains, grasslands, and red soil plateaus, populated by Tibetan people, with three rivers traversing the landscape". A half a century of research has determined that the beautiful "Shangri-la" described in "Lost Horizon" is, in fact, the city of Zhongdian, located in the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (also known as Diqing) of Yunnan Province. What a coincidence that "Shangri-la" means "Sun and Moon in the Hear" in the Tibetan Language while in the hearts of the Tibetan people, Zhongdian is Paradise. Degen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is situated in the northwest Yunnan Province, with Tibet to the west and Sichuan to the east.

Starting from Dali, driving north about 315 kilometers along the Yunan-Tibet Road, you will arrive at Zhongdian, the county seat and capital of the Degen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Zhongdian is 659 kilometers away from Kunming, a short 50-minute flight.

Diqing means "the place of good luck and happiness" in the Tibetan language. It is located at the southeast edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the eastern part of the southern section of the Hengduan Mountain Range, and the hinterland of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Province. Due to its remote location, the scenery is spectacular. It is a harmonious blend of snow-covered mountains, gorges, prairies, lakes, and virgin forests. The remote location has also preserved local customs much as they were hundreds of years ago. It is a famous scenic spot excellent for photographers, nature lovers, hikers, and adventurers. There are countless snow peaks including Mount Kang Karbo, the highest peak in Yunnan Province. The Zhongdian region has 470 snow-covered mountains with an elevation of 4000 meters. Many gorges provide the opportunity to stop and enjoy the scenery. The most famous among them, Jinsha Tiger Leaping Gorge and Lianchajiang Gorge. The vast prairie, boundless virgin forests, and countless mountain lakes are mysterious, quiet, and delicately beautiful.   

More than 13 minorities such as Zhuang, Lisu, Han, Naxi, Bai, Hui, and Yi, etc. live in harmony while enjoying their unique lifestyles and customs in this region.

Scattered like jewels, visitors have been treated to the rarest and spectacular glaciers and snow-covered mountains in the Diqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture a land of tranquil, ever-changing scenery.

The highest peak is Kang Karpo, 6470 meters above sea level, one of 13 continuous peaks in the Meli Snow Mountains. It is a holy place of pilgrimage for Tibetan Buddhists and the first of the Eight Great Divine Mountains in the Tibetan region.

Because of its changeable climate, the Meli Snow Mountains are fraught with danger and remain unconquered even today. Between the snow-covered mountains, there are many meadows and plains, places for people of Diqing to live and work. This region has countless lakes such as, Bitahai Lake, Napahai Lake, Hehai Lake, and Shouduhai Lake which are some of the most beautiful.

The saint monasteries are the most telling witness of this freedom kingdom—the small Potala Palace Gadan Song Zanling Monastery; represents the perfect Garden of Eden in people's dreams of Shangri-la.

Best Time to Visit Shangri-la

Spring and summer are the two best seasons because flowers are blossoming throughout the region with a comfortable climate. Besides spring and summer, the period after mid-autumn is a very nice time for tourists to enjoy the fantastic plateau scenes of Diqing

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