Zhongdian - Yunnan/Tibet Border

Last July I was up near the Yunnan/Tibet border in China at a glorious place called Zhongdian, for all intents and purposes it is Tibet but for the border drawn up by somebody. It is actually within Deqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It is located in what is now Shangri-La county (Chinese: 香格里拉县) formely Zhongdian County (Chinese: 中甸县) but renamed in 2001 by the Chinese authorities in a bid to promote tourism by labelling it after the fictional land of Shangri-La. In Tibetan, Shangri-La means a place of good fortune and luck. And to be in this place surrounded by lofty peaks, forested mountainsides, clear blue skies and with nature at its most untouched one could quite rightly believe as much.
Zhongdian town itself is built in the new modern Chinese style,
But the characters in town are a heady mix of rag tag, tatty suit wearing tibetan blokes, (quite rough looking some of them like wild banditos from the tough old days), traditionally clothed San Su minorities and Tibetan women.
And of course Han chinese everywhere, yet still its not overpopulated.

The beautiful old town, small as it is, still exists consisiting of cobbled streets, wooden buildings with tiled roofs, chortens and tibetan prayer flags. The buildings themselves many of which have been renovated in typical Tibetan style still retain an air of authenticness, thankfully, with a lovely big Buddhist Chorten in the middle of the old town, tibetan prayer flags blowing in the wind, wood tiled rooftops and ethnic souvenir shops and restaurants for the visitors who make it this far......

Early one morning I walked up a hill that overlooks Zhongdian old and new town to a place where sits a Tibetan buddhist temple. Here also stands a huge golden Tibetan prayer wheel that has bars around the base for which to grab hold of and push it around, as i walked around pushing the great thing i counted 30 strides, which roughly equates to 30m round!!!!!
The height of the thing was pretty tall too, I have never seen a prayer wheel so big! It was ornately decorated with depictions of Budhha and Boddihsatvas, the Potala at Lhasa and Mandalas.

Only 1 to 10 people are turning at a time but constantly throughout the day it never seems to stop revolving. And despite what people (outsiders) believe about tibetans or buddhists not being permitted to partake in religious activites here can be seen the opposite as the time I spent there Han Chinese were also coming up to the Prayer Wheel for a spin along with local tibetans!

Cycling out just a few kilometres (which I found to be quite breathtaking, literally due to the lack of Oxygen!) the surrounding villages i found made me realise what the area was really all about.
Full of Tibetan villages none the less and with a real Tibetan feel to it.
Big dark foreboding mountains surround, surround the plateau that sits at 3000m above sea level. It's one huge meadow during the summer months (although it can still get a bit chilly when the winds blow at such altitude), full of stunning wild flowers and saturated yellow rape fields. Ponies and wooly Yaks graze freely, tibetan women can be heard in the distance singing their tibetan folk songs (sweet music to the ears) and more whitewashed Chortens and Mani prayer stones litter the countryside.

Drying apparatus for crops in tibetan village

The tibetan houses are huge, the size of a mini sports hall with 3 main walls and the frontage quite open, all is supported by huge pillars, tree trunks in fact resting on circular cut granite bases. (no wonder there are no trees in the area and deforestation is at its peak!!)
As the rain came down i took shelter in a house that was being built while the tibetan guys cut the ends off of 30/40ft logs, tidying them up, ready to be erected.
It was quite a surprise when 40/50 Tibetan women came out of the canteen shall we say in traditional dress laughing and joking ready to resume work:-
shoveling a big pile of mud/clay, filling their baskets that were slung over their backs and then lugging them two (big) storeys upto to the roof top to smear on the surface.
It was a sight to see them laughing, joking and happy as they go.

It appeared to be some sort of collective where everybody helps build the new house for a certain family and then they move on to the next until the whole village is freshly kitted out with new and traditional Tibetan houses.I could only guess how the whole thing worked as the language as usual was a real barrier, still the Tibetan guys welcomed me whole heartedly and we sat and laughed  and gestured whilst they took their break.
Back in Zhongdian I could'nt help but notice the shop signs on the high street, something that would give any native speaker of english a side splitting laugh, at least it brightened my day on several occasions.
The signs have Tibetan script at the top of the signboard, Chinese in the middle and along the bottom goes the english translation. Have a look at a few of these corkers!

In Zhongdian new town food can be limited but i found myself for some uncanny reason frequenting a Hui Muslim restaurant (local to a tee), drawn to it by the baskets of bloody yak back bones and legs outside and dried meat hanging on the walls inside along with yak skulls, horns protruding.
What's a veggie (me) doing in this kind of place I asked myself, I came to the conclusion that it was one of those rare places (Inns of yore) that one may never get the chance to visit again and besdies the owners were extremely friendly and we could say the place certainly had a lot of character, just like the whole of Shangri-la County.
A place I would recommend to any adventurous traveller.
Happy travelling......

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