Shangri-La After tiger leaping gorge and the 1600 meter each way climb and descent we found ourselves 2 days later in agony. Thighs and calves were burning and shaking. Walking up stairs or squatting to get something from our bag was murderous. Jill has decided that she wishes to head to Tibet to hit the northern base camp of Mount Everest….just to say she did. Everyone who goes here gets altitude sickness it is just a question of how badly. Altitude sickness strikes randomly with no rhyme or reason. 20 year old marathon runners can be debilitated while 70 year olds may only have a mild headache. We headed up the mountains to test the altitude and specifically how I held up at altitude.
The two previous times that we went up the mountains I was ill but they were both in India and at least one of these was food related. So how I would react was a little unknown and the Tibet trip would be expensive so we did not wish to waste the money if we would be crook the whole time. So to test this we headed up the heights. The northern base camp of Everest is at 5150 meters (16,900 feet) which is obviously considerably higher than anywhere else I have been. There is a southern base camp on the other side in Nepal. For context Mount Kosciuszko the highest Australian point is at 2228 meters (7,310 feet). Darjeeling was 2045 meters and Shimla was at 2200 meters. Shangri-La took us up to 3200 meters (10,498 feet). Got here…not an issue for either of us…it was the dodgy Indian curries that got me…not the elevation.
Shangri-La was renamed in 2001, from Zhongdian, after the fictional land of Shangri-La in the James Hilton novel Lost Horizon, in an effort to promote tourism. The town had a massive fire in January this year which destroyed about 2/3 of old town…where we were staying. Looking at the buildings it is no surprise as everything is wood and one stray spark will start the inferno. This is being rebuilt as we speak but the place is fairly well decimated at the moment.
There is a fantastic monastery right next to the square that is stunning. It has a fully functioning Tibetan prayer wheel that is about 30 meters high and is in glimmering gold. Every evening at 7 pm the locals dance around the square in traditional gear and co-opt anyone who stands still for too long. After a while there are hundreds of people prancing around in a circle trying to copy the choreographed moves of the locals. Quite a sight to see. a bit further down the road is the main monastery of the area which is both huge and hugely impressive.
After Shangri-La we did an 8 hour bus ride to Dali which is one of the major tourist destinations of Yunnan province. Thankfully we did it in a faster time because I had a small screaming child behind me…accompanied by his grandmother who shrieked more than the child…and beside me I had the bus-sick woman who vomited at least 6 times and continually spat into the bucket in the aisle between us. A charming ride. It was minus 3 degrees when we got on the bus in Shangri-La and was 28 degrees when we got off in Dali. We were rugged up and sweating like pigs.
Dali was an absolute pleasure…good accommodation…great food…well priced…lots to see. We arrived just in time for the Bai Festival (one of the 32 Chinese ethnic groups) which meant the place was packed and totally nutty with bedlam aplenty. On Easter Sunday we walked to the 3 pagodas just down the road (3.1 kms) from us…to take a quick photo. Upon arrival we found it was an entire complex and not just the 3 pagodas. So we paid and entered what was about a 3 km long complex of temples, pagodas and funky parks and buildings. Added to this distance was in excess of 2000 stairs (which of course we walked them all…and I counted) and then walked back.
Feeling tired and thirsty we popped into old town for a cold drink and a meal…after this we found the fish feet person. For the uninitiated there are fish tanks where you put your feet and little fish feast upon all the manky bits. Bec Ballinger and Jill were planning to get this done in Hong Kong but missed out…Tickles like hell but was kinda fun. The next day Jill signed us up for a Chinese cooking class. We met the lady outside the bad monkey bar at 10am and then proceeded to wander the markets as she explained certain items to us.
We did the slow wander up the hill to her house where she set us up for our cooking class. We made a dried tofu salad, fish flavoured eggplant and Gongbao chicken. Myself and the Israeli guy also doing the course tripled the amount of chilli in the chicken dish. We spent a really nice five hours cooking and learning how the various ingredients combine together to make the dishes. Believe it or not the Tofu dish was the nicest of the lot.