Shangri La

Once upon a time, a Chinese student named Gaohan came all the way to the Netherlands to do some science with Michiel. Three years later, he and his girlfriend, Sunhuan,  flew entirely from Shanghai to Kunming to meet again and guide us around Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province in China. Cool, it’s just a small 2000 k’s ! The Jiuxiang Scenic Spot and the Stone Forest were observed by joining 2,3 million Chinese tourists (and three other Western long-noses as they’re used to calling us). It was really really nice and extremely handy to have them holding our hands !

By far, the biggest challenge in China is communication. It’s pretty difficult to get things done. It must be part of the fun (which it is often), but when trying to get touring bikes on Chinese public transport, it takes more than two Chinese friends speaking the language fluently. Chinese security guards seem as flexible and creative as their political system. Altogether, we did not succeed to get them on board and in short: it was very unpleasant ! So we decided to hike instead of biking. We changed quickly our means of transport, bought some cheap made-in-China-backpacks (one did not last a full day !) and went absorbing Chinese culture and scenery in the Yunnan province. Apart from all that, it was an honor to be taken care of by Sunhuan and Gaohan. True guides and true fantastic people !

Our first (independent) destination after Kunming was Lijiang. It was the start of our urge to find Shangri La, the Asian utopia possibly located somewhere in one of the regions Tibet, Yunnan or Sichuan. Lijiang has a great backdrop called the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, but the serenity and landscape did not match with the description by James Hilton in his great novel ‘Lost Horizon’ (‘The Classic Tale of Shangri La’). So, we had to move on. The Tiger Leaping Gorge, just north of Qiatou, was next on the list. The Yangtze river has made a very deep canyon over the years just at the backside of the ice-bound Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Although, beautiful, massive, and fearful, it couldn’t be the paradise we were searching for in our eyes. A decade ago, the city of Zhongdiang was renamed Shangri La ! So, it seemed a pretty straightforward plan to head for this place next. When arriving, it looked like another 250,000 Chinese are now living in this ongoing construction project. In addition, the scenery was not even fairly close to the one described as it lacked serious mountainous skyscrapers. Dali was the last place we could consider on our Chinese quest. It was a nice place to be, but we have to make a simple statement here: Shangri La is, for now, located in the Canadian Rockies and we call it Canmore !

With the greatest of pleasure, we say ‘bye’, S&M

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