Shangri-La is situated 3,200 meters above sea level, and is divided into a modern section and an old quarter. The old quarter, known as Dukezong, burned for 10 hours in January 2014, but has since been restored to its ancient appearance. The 2014 fire destroyed 242 houses, almost a quarter of the 1,084 houses in Dukezong. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some great places to visit around the old town. Despite the tragic loss of a large amount of the town, the locals remain positive.
Shangri-La is a county-level city in northwestern Yunnan province, in the Dêqên Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Until December 2001, the city was actually called Zhongdian but was renamed Shangri-La (after the fictional place in the 1933 James Hilton novel Lost Horizon) in an attempt to boost tourism.
Shangri-La has an airport called Diqing, and it’s one of the biggest in northwest Yunnan. There are flights from Kunming, Chengdu, Lhasa, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. There are currently no railways linking Shangri-La to other places; however, a bullet train is being built to connect the town with Kunming.
One of the city’s best-known attractions is the Zhuang Jin Tong, the biggest prayer wheel in the world, located next to Guishan Temple. At least six people are needed to make this 21-meter high wheel spin. The Zhuang Jin Tong has 100,000 small prayer wheels.
Traveler’s looking for a more quiet setting can head to Baiji Temple, or One Hundred Chickens Temple, for the best views over Shangri-La. There are as few as three monks in the temple, and countless chickens.
The outskirts of Shangri-La are home to some of its best attractions, such as the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa, which is Yunnan’s largest and most important Tibetan monastery. The Sumtseling is an essential stop for any visitor to Shangri-La. The Ganden Sumtseling was established by the fifth Dalai Lama in 1679, and once housed 2,000 monks. While much of the monastery has been rebuilt, Tibetans explain that since the fifth Dalai Lama chose it for a reason, it remains a sacred place. The 300-year monastery makes for amazing pictures at any time of the day or night. It has three temples, the most important of which is dedicated to the Maitreya, a successor to the present Buddha, who will come to Earth to teach the pure dharma.
About seven kilometers northwest of Shangri-La, in a large meadow, lies Napa Lake. Between September and March, rare species of birds such as the black-necked crane flock to the area. During the rest of the year, yaks and cattle come to graze in the meadow.
Ten kilometers away is the Great Treasure Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Yunnan.
Further away, fifteen kilometers from Shangri-La, is Tiansheng Bridge hot spring resort, famous among locals for its supposed health giving properties.
Twenty-five kilometers away is Potatso National Park, the first in China to meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature Standards. Created in the summer of 2007, the park includes the Bita Lake Natural Reserve and the Duhu Scenic Area.
In addition to trekking and pony riding, people can go back to Shangri-La and unwind dancing the evening away at Dancing Square, a favorite local pastime.
Due to its high elevation, Shangri-La has a monsoon-influenced humid continental climate. Winters are sunny but cold, averaging -3.2 degrees Celsius during January. The summers are also cool, with an average temperature of 13.5 degrees Celsius during July and with frequent rain. More than 70% of annual precipitation falls between June and September.