One of the advantages of traveling in a group of five is you can hire a taxi-van to take you all the way to Shangri-La in half the time and twice the comfort.
Ezra, who had arrived in Shangri-La the day before, took us to N’s Kitchen to enjoy the best burger in China. The burger cost more than our lodging, but it was worth it. It was a yakburger, and my first yak meal.
Just about all meals that involve meat in this part of the country are yak-based. And don’t believe the saying, “Once you go yak…” Delicious as the burger was, after 48 hours in Shangri-La, I would be all yakked out.
The highlight of the day: we climbed the steps to the monastery adjoining the central square.
Our mission: to turn the massive prayer wheel. The wheel is so heavy it takes at least ten adults to budge it. If you can spin it a full three revolutions it’s good luck. Nine is great luck. Marieka, the little laowai that could, tried moving it by herself until she was blue in the face, hands, and feet. She didn’t succeed on her own, but she managed to inspire a group of Chinese tourists to gather around and spin it the full nine times.
In the central square we explored a museum memorializing how the army moved into and gained control of this part of the country. I don’t know how the Tibetans felt about this museum, but then, they no longer make up a majority of Shangri-La residents. The city is now equal parts Tibetan and Han, with a smattering of other minorities, and they’re growing ever smaller.
One of the benefits of officially renaming the city Zhongdian “Shangri-La” in 2001 was that the boost in tourism begat jobs, and with the jobs came a reverse migration. Now many Chinese are heading west to work in this tourist paradise in Tibet.
Only it’s not in Tibet. Yes, in Lost Horizon Shangri-La was set there, but here Shangri-La is located in Yunnan Province. Which is fortunate because we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near Tibet.
We took Alain out to dinner before he caught the night train. He had wanted to travel further northwest to Deqin, which was supposed to have some amazing hiking, but the road was closed on account of weather, construction, politics, or a combination of all three. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Since we couldn’t get closer to the real thing, “I came here to get a feel of Tibet,” Alain explained, “but I don’t feel it here.”
In the center of the square between the museum and the monastery stood an unfortunate yak, on which, for a small fee, tourists could climb and take their picture.
“Do you want your picture on a yak?” we asked Ezra.
“Only if they pay me fifty yuan.”
“That’s the punishment for bad yaks,” I explained, “standing in the square and having tourists take their picture on you.”
“No, the punishment,” Jeff corrected me, “is being a yakburger.”