known as Gyalthang in Tibetan, recently changed its name to
Shangri-La. Perched on
a plateau at an elevation of 3300 meters, dotted with
beautiful hills, flowers and alpine lakes, the region of
Zhongdian offers great possibilities for trek, botanical
exploration, as well as discovery of Tibetan culture. The
picturesque Tibetan villages on the outskirts of Zhongdian
still keep unique customs and traditions, attracting many
independent travelers. Most travelers stay in Zhongdian for
one or two days, but some would stay there for a week.
In order to protect the local natural resources,
several nature reserves have been designated in the region,
such as Bita and Napa Lake Nature Reserve, Haba Snow Mountain
Reserve. Zhongdian County was also included in Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected
Areas, which was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage
Sites in 2003. A report made by WCMC (World Conservation
Monitoring Center) on this wonderful park concluded that “This
is an area of unparalleled biological diversity, unusually
explicit geological and landscape variety and great scenic
Best time to
visit: In May and June the region is alive with
enchanting wild flowers. From Mid-October to Mid-November the
region is covered with marvelous autumn colors. July and
August is a high season for tourism as well as rainfalls.
Winter is dry and cold, with average temperatures below
the old town, the museum and Sumtseling
Monastery. Get relaxed and adapted to high altitude. (Half
- Hike in Bita
Lake, visit Shudu
Lake. (One day, rent a mini bus or taxi, Y150 - Y180)
lake and nearby Tibetan villages. (One day)
Little Zhongdian. (One and two days, rent a car)
- Go to
Niru. You can either reach there by car from Luoji, or hike to
Niru from Shudu Lake.(One or two days)
- Baishuitai: Y30. A
popular site. High season. One bus service between Zhongdian
- Birang Gorge (Shangri-la Gorge). Y20.
(One or two days trip, rent a car)
gave Zhongdian a two-star rating based on my short two-day
journey in September 2003. I would like to return to Zhongdian
once again either in May or in later October to discover more
undeveloped areas around Zhongdian, such as Little Zhongdian,
Niru, or other Tibetan villages as well as Haba Snow Mountain.
Maybe these areas are worth a higher rating.
|Old town and
The local government intends to transform the old
town of Zhongdian to a Lijiang style site, filling it
with souvenir shops, hostels and restaurants. For the
moment, it is still a local people's residential area.
Many beautiful Tibetan houses and monuments have been
protected from demolition. (see left photo 5 and 6). The
museum displays local costumes, botanic specimens and
photos of the region.
Comments received from Haiwei
Trails (March 2004):
"We're based in the old town in Zhongdian and
I'd have to say over the last couple of years since
the issue of it's development has been mooted, I'm
(happily) surprised at just how much resistance there
is at all levels of govt to turning it into going down
the Lijiang disneyfication road, might be kinder to
characterize it as in the midst of a battle for it's
soul rather than, subject to local govt plans for
souvenir shops etc. Ironically, the photo number 6 may
indeed be demolished because it was constructed
precisely with these motives and many locals (govt
included) find it kind of tasteless (apart from being
Sumtseling Monastery (Songzanlin Si) 松赞林寺
The monastery is located 5 km north of
Zhongdian.(see left photo 2). It costs Y10 to visit the
main gombas. Other gombas are free. However there is one
gomba confined to men, women are not allowed to
Take the bus no.3
for Y1 which passes in front of Yongsheng Hotel and
Youth Hotel, and terminates in front of the monastery.
It costs Y10 by taking a taxi.
My first impression of the
monastery was not a favorable one. Shops, tourists,
peddlers, vehicles as well as constructions make the
area in front of the monastery terribly chaotic,
contrary to those peaceful, and more colorful
monasteries I had visited in Sichuan which had not been
touched by tourism.
Walk along the kora path, you
will find a white chorten and mani
piles (see left photo 3) at the east end of the
monastery. From there you can admire the beautiful Tibetan farm houses (see
left photo 1) scattered in a golden valley dotted with
sheep and yaks, as well as the amazing blue sky. Such a
blue can only be found at an altitude higher than 3000m.
- Located 25km northeast of
Zhongdian, at an elevation of 3500m, surrounded by dense
- Best time to visit is in late October to
admire the amazing autumn
||The lake has three
entrances: Most tourists
go to the south entrance, located only 2 km to the lake
and 200 meters higher than the lake. The second choice
is the west entrance, 8 km to the lake. It is heard that
the undeveloped trail accessing the lake from the east
is 15 km long. I don't have any information for east
entrance and shall appreciate it if anybody who has
hiked this trail writes us about his
The best way to
enjoy the lake is to walk down to the lake from
the south entrance, take a boat to the ferry near the
west entrance, and hike 8 km (easy walk, around 2 hours)
to the west entrance. Follow the main trail which is 2
to 3 meters wide, you would not get lost. I happened to
walk the opposite way. The 200-meter-high ascent from
the lake to the south entrance was fairly tough,
especially after having walked for two hours from the
west entrance at such a high altitude. I suffered from a
1) Official price for
the boat trip to the ferry near the west entrance: A
motorboat: Y50 per person, takes 10 minutes. Rowing
boat: Y30 per person, takes 45 minutes. (Negotiate the
price, we paid Y100 for five persons.)
2) The whole
journey takes 4 hours, excluding lunch time. So when you
rent a car in Zhongdian, tell the driver to send you to
the south entrance and ask him to wait for you at the
west entrance. The driver might charge Y20 more than if
you enter and exit from the same entrance which costs
from Y150 to Y180, including a further trip to Shudu
3) Horse trek: There are horses for rent at
both west entrance and south entrance. I don't think
it's necessary. From the west entrance to the lake:
round trip costs Y65, single trip costs Y45. From the
lake to the south entrance: Y25.
newly developed site. Easy to visit as the parking is
close to the lake.
Too many tourists. Worth a visit
in late October. (see left photo
4, a photo copied from the entrance
Hot spring: Few hot springs in China have reliable
sanitary conditions. I prefer to recommend you to
discover one more beautiful Tibetan village instead of
taking a bath in the local hot spring, which is not
accessible by public bus.
Napa Lake 纳帕海:
Y10. Located 7 km
from the town. Worth a visit in May and June when the
plain is covered by wild flowers. Take a Benzilan or
Deqin bus to go to this lake, or go there by bike or
taxi. For the return, wait for a bus along the main
road. On your way to Deqin, you can get a better view on
this lake while the bus climbs higer along the slope.
|Hiking: There are a lot of hiking possibilities
around Zhongdian: |
||Shangba-la Folk environment
Association organizes trek or visit in the Shangba-la Farm Nature Reserve.
Contact Mr. Zhaxi Duoji at Tibet Cafe for detailed
information. Tel. 0887-8230282. E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.shangba-la.org/.|
an easy hike from its south entrance to the west
entrance. Admire well-preserved forests around the lake,
wildflowers and green meadows.
||Gyalthang Dzong Hotel organizes nature
walks, botanical tours, tour guide
||More aggressive trek: Start from a village in
Little Zhongdian, hike to Baishuitai, Haba Village, and
Tiger Leaping Gorge. (5 - 7 days). This route is
reserved for experienced hikers. |
|A hiker from Taiwan posted the
following itineraries at Naxi Family
||Shudu Lake - > Niru 尼汝
(6 hours) -> Luoji 洛吉
(10 hours). A good adventure for those who want to
explore the real country, less influenced by modern
society and tourism. Niru is a beautiful, isolated
place. I don't have information for local
||Trek to Yading in Sichuan: Langdu
-> Geka 各卡 (6 hours) -> Yading 亚丁
(2 days). (see local map for
|Who can help you rent a
car, horses or find a guide and lodgings:
||Wandou at Youth
Hostel , Zhaxi Duoji at Tibet Cafe, Gyalthang Dzong Hotel, Haiwei
|How can you find other
travelers to join your hike in order to share the
expenses of a guide and a car:|
||Post your itinerary on the notice board of Youth
Hostel. There are few bus services between Zhongdian and
the above mentioned region. |
Yongsheng Hotel, Youth Hostel and Gyalthang Dzong Hotel have bikes for
||Suggested routes : 1.
Lake and nearby Tibetan villages.
2. Ride to the
west entrance of Bita
Lake by bike (two to three hours) and further to Shudu
Lake (45 minutes). This journey is quite tough,
including a four-hour hike and a six-hour ride.
AirGetting there by bus: see Tiger Leaping Gorge,
daily flights from Kunming to Zhongdian (Y640). During high
season, two flights are added from Zhongdian to Chengdu (Y890)
and one to Lhasa (Y1270).
The airport is located 6km from
Zhongdian. Taxi to the airport costs Y10.
Getting away by bus:
Timetables for buses leaving from Zhongdian
has only one bus station: phone 0887-3501822.
|Kunming 昆 明
||11:00, 13:00, 14:00, 16:00, 18:00, 19:00,
km, 15 hours, around Y140|
7:00 to 17:00
7:00 to 19:30
|Qiaotou 虎 跳 峡
can also take any Kunming, Lijiang or Dali bus|
get off at Qiaotou.
|Jinjiang 攀 枝 花
km. also called Panzhihua, located in Sichuan Province.
|North direction to
km, Y100, 8 hours to Xiangcheng, 12 hours to
Bus can be canceled at any time due to
rockslides or not enough passengers.
5 hours. |
||7:20, 8.20, 9:20, 12:00
km, 6 hours. Y35. Lunch at Benzilan, further climb a
path more than 4000 meters high with a splendid view on
the Baimang Snow Mountain and its glaciers. In Deqin you
can find a bus to Tibet. |
take the Deqin bus. |
||7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00
Sichuan border. |
Diqing Tibetan Area International Youth
Hostel is no doubt your first choice if you want to spend
several days in Zhongdian.
Bunk beds: Y15 per person.
Double room: Y50 per room. Tel: 0887-8228671. Fax:
A cute two-floor Tibetan style hostel. Clean,
hot shower, washing machine, restaurant-bar, Internet service,
bikes for rent. Location: near the old town, 30 meters to
Yongsheng Hotel, 100 m to the Tibet Cafe. Taxi to the bus
station: Y5. Travel books available at the bar. Good travel
service and advice. A home for backpackers.
first at Yongsheng Hotel (Tibet Hotel) which was
recommended by many guidebooks. Their double rooms (Y30 on the
second floor and Y40 on the first floor with TV) are less
expensive than doubles in the Youth Hostel. However, the
bathroom and WC are all on the ground floor. Going back to my
second floor room from there takes too much energy, due to the
altitude of 3300m. The beds are clean. But water for the
shower is not hot enough even at a night in September.
Forget about their standard double rooms (Y150 - Y200),
with a terrible bathroom.
There are many midrange
hotels in the town, with the price for a double room starting
from Y100. I can't give any recommendation because such hotels
deteriorate quickly mostly due to poor management. Always
check your room first and try those newly opened
There are many upmarket hotels springing up in
the past two years. Among them, Gyalthang Dzong Hotel is worth a
recommendation. This hotel makes a comfortable western style
holiday possible in addition to the discovery of local Tibetan
culture as well as one of the most wonderful natural treasures
in a remote, undeveloped region. The hotel offers ecotourism
programs: such as hiking, botanical tours. From November, the
hotel gives a discount up to 50%. In the beginning of
November, the region is still covered by amazing autumn
colors, much more beautiful than the summer high season. Visit
their website, you will find more information about the region
and this hotel. http://coloursofangsana.com/gyalthang/facilities.htm.
I haven't been to this hotel. I appreciate very much if
anybody having stayed at this hotel and joined their tour
provides us a comment.
Tibet Cafe: nice location. Good travel
advice. Contact for Shangri-La Folk Environment Protection
There is a restaurant offering noodles,
delicious dumplings at the opposite side of Youth Hostel with
Before Zhongdian: Lijiang,
Tiger Leaping Gorge.
direction : Deqin, Meili Snow Mountains, and the route
2) North direction to Sichuan : Daocheng, Yading Nature Reserve, Litang, and
the route to Tibet.
3) Southwest direction : Weixi, Liuku,
Nujiang Valley, and Dulongjiang Valley.
*Visa to Tibet. Tibet Cafe can help you obtain the visa
If you fly from lower plain to Northwest Yunnan, you'd
better start your circuit from Lijiang instead of Zhongdian
due to Zhongdian's high altitude.