Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La, China


At Tiger Leaping Gorge, ooking at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain,

At Tiger Leaping Gorge, looking at 18,000-foot Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Our first stop after departing Lijiang was Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons in the world.  As the legend goes, a tiger once jumped across the river at the narrowest point, hopping across the big boulder in the middle, in order to escape a hunter. Hence, the name.

Statue of legendary tiger, with his boulder in the background

Statue of legendary tiger, with the boulder in the background

We climbed down hundreds (thousands?) of steps to get close to the torrent of muddy water at the base of the gorge. The mountain views and descent into the deep, narrow canyon combined for some stunning scenery.  We were all surprised at the power of the water once we got close enough to appreciate it. When we asked if anyone had successfully rafted through the gorge, we were told that a group of four attempted the run in the 80’s and were never seen again. Then, in the ’90’s, a group of nine adventurers attempted it and eight of the nine died — not surprising to us once we got up close and personal with the river!

Scenic landscape from the top

Scenic landscape from the top

Hundreds of steps leading down to the bottom of the gorge

Hundreds of steps leading down to the bottom of the gorge

Gloria and Caden manage the steep descent together

Gloria and Tristan manage the steep descent together

Near the bottom of the gorge, the noise of the water was quite deafening

Near the bottom of the gorge, the noise of the water was quite deafening

Looking away from the gorge, down river

Platforms along the river provide great viewing for the many tourists (mostly Chinese)

Enjoying the views and proximity to the powerful river

Enjoying the views and proximity to the powerful river

Climbing back UP the steps was altogether a different experience from the journey down. With the thin air and warm sun, we all huffed and puffed our way to the top. Thayer and little Caden Sciutto got a lift from some well-placed porters at the bottom of the gorge. Easy livin’!

Schuyler begins the long slog back up

Schuyler begins the long slog back up

Thayer and Caden, enjoying their climb back up!

Thayer and Caden, enjoying their ‘climb’ back up!

From the Gorge, we said goodbye to Gloria and her crew, and headed north to the town of Zhongdian, newly re-named “Shangri La” by the Chinese government (purportedly to attract tourists) which means “place of complete bliss and delight and peace.”  Along the scenic drive, we stopped to take in some views and had fun with some local Yi minority children.

The views just kept getting better!

The views just kept getting better!

Thayer approaches local children her age for some

Thayer decides to make some friends

Doing the splits is often a good ice breaker if you are six.

Doing the splits is often a good ice breaker if you are six.

Zoe gets excited about the selection of meat

Zoe gets excited about the selection of dried meat at the our scenic stop

Doesn't get much cuter than this...

Doesn’t get much cuter than this…

EXPLORING SHANGRI-LA

Panoramic in Shangri-La

Panoramic in Shangri-La

Shangri La is a Tibetan enclave in Yunnan, and boasts the striking Songzanlin monastery that is apparently reminiscent of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The local villagers here speak Tibetan and much of the culture is Tibetan, including burgundy-robed monks and a lot of options for yak meat and yak cheese dishes. We stayed outside of the main town, up in the hillside near the large monastery, and enjoyed a few days of high altitude exploration – nestled in the mountains at over 10,000 feet, we were instantly out of breath if we tried to move faster than a turtle’s pace! 

Buddhist prayer flags adorned many scenic backdrops in Shangri-La

Buddhist prayer flags adorn many scenic backdrops in Shangri-La

Monks on their way to the stupa for prayer

Monks on their way to the stupa above our hotel for prayer and meditation

The girls stop to rest and catch their breath while climbing up to the nearby stupa

The girls stop to rest and catch their breath while climbing up after the monks

In front of the stupa above our hotel

In front of the stupa above our hotel

The girls circle the stupa and turn the many prayer wheels along the way

The girls circle the stupa and turn the many prayer wheels along the way

Tibetan gentleman joined us as we circled clockwise around

This Tibetan gentleman joined us as we circled clockwise around

Flanked by prayer flags… big smiles on a sunny day

Flanked by prayer flags… big smiles on a sunny day

SONGZANLIN MONESTARY

Songzanlin Monastery

Songzanlin Monastery

We spent our first day in Shangri La touring this bedazzling monastery and the nearby ancient Tibetan village. While photos of the glorious Buddha statues within the temple walls were strictly forbidden, we managed to snap some striking shots during our exploration of the huge property.

In front of one of the monastery's many temple doors

In front of one of the monastery’s many temple doors

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A young monk had just wandered through this lovely old doorway before Blair snapped this photo

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Within the Monestary, ornate wood carving and gorgeous painted beams and ceilings

ZOE:  I’ve been to a lot of temples now in Asia, but this one was definitely the biggest and had the most beautiful Buddha statues of them all. Being up on the roof was pretty awesome because I could see all of Shangri-La. Climbing up definitely was tiring because every time we took a step we were panting, but we made it! 

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From the roof, an expansive view of Shangri-La

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Group shot up on top!

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Looking down over Shangri-La and the surrounding towns

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Before moving down from the Monastery to the Tibetan village, the girls take a snack break in front of one of the main temples

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Along our stroll into the nearby village…

Front gate of a Tibetan home

Front gate of a Tibetan home, a baby cow/yak mix

Wandering the village streets, so tranquil!

Wandering the village streets, so tranquil!

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Inside a local Tibetan home, bright colors and warm fires

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Jeff stops to talk with and admire some local wood carvers, a father-son team

Peeking through the outer gates, we see a Tibetan woman doing some washing in her courtyard

Peeking through the outer gates, we see a Tibetan woman doing some washing in her courtyard

A grandpa proudly displays his pride and joy to us

A grandpa proudly displays his pride and joy to us

SHANGRI-LA OLD TOWN

Like many of the towns in Yunnan (and perhaps in much of China), Shangri-La has a charming, ancient “Old Town” and then a very bustling and industrial newer town. The Old Town traditionally was the main tourist attraction here and had all the charm of ancient China with a palpable Tibetan vibe. Sadly, this past January, much of the Old Town burned to the ground – over 250 ancient buildings demolished by a blaze that ripped through between 1:00am and 6:00am. Due to frozen water pipes, fire trucks had to be called in from Lijiang, at least a four-hour drive south from Shangri-La. By the time they arrived, so much had been lost. We had a Tibetan lunch in what remains of the Old Town and then walked among the rubble, feeling as though we had entered a war zone.  The Chinese government, in true form, has already begun reconstruction and the town will likely reappear in no time whatsoever, but the authenticity of the “old town” feel is surely lost forever.

**As a side note, we have noticed that everything seems to be under construction in China. Everywhere you turn there is scaffolding or cranes, or local builders making cement by hand and hammering nails into wooden beams. Roads, bridges, buildings, monuments, high rises and massive housing units are erected lightening fast here, and you can almost feel the pace of modernization and change that has besieged this country. Finding quieter, older or more authentic versions of “China” has been a quest for us and Yunnan provided some opportunity for this type of cultural experience.**

 

Wandering the recently burned Shangri-La Old Town

Wandering the recently burned Shangri-La Old Town

Not much remains now, other than a few burned out structures and a lot of rubble

Not much remains now, other than a few burned out structures and a lot of rubble

One of the few unscathed streets in the Old Town

One of the few unscathed streets in the Old Town

The girls found these fantastic hats and asked to bring them home. Then we were told they were DOG FUR, and they opted to leave them behind. Save the Dogs!

The girls found these fantastic hats and asked to bring them home. Then we were told they were DOG FUR, and they opted to leave them behind. Save the Dogs!

After the gloom and doom of the burned town, our afternoon brightened when we climbed up to see the “largest prayer wheel in the world.” So large is this wheel, it requires about 10 people just to get it moving! We spent quite a while enjoying the challenge of getting the wheel to turn, and recruiting local worshipers to join us.

The wheel stands above the burned Old Town. Apparently the wind changed just as the fire was about to engulf this spiritual relic.

The wheel (gold, on left) stands above the burned Old Town. Apparently the wind changed just as the fire was about to engulf this spiritual relic.

Climbing up to the prayer wheel we were flanked by prayer flags

Climbing up to the prayer wheel we were flanked by prayer flags

Schuyler attempts to get the wheel turning

Schuyler attempts to get the wheel turning

Many worshipers joined our quest to turn the wheel

Many worshipers joined our quest to turn the wheel

A family affair

A family affair

ZOE: I almost insisted that we should go up to see this giant prayer wheel, and so we did! It was one of the most fun things we did in Shangri-La.  I thought it was so cool because it takes more than one person to function the wheel. In fact, it actually takes over 10 people. Sometimes people turning the wheel would complete three laps and then be done, so someone else would have to jump in and help or else the wheel would stop. It was kind of like one big family up there, everyone helping each other. Whenever I would go sit down to rest, the wheel would stop and I’d have to come back out to help people turn it again. It was really nice to see everyone helping each other and having fun, but it was also very sacred so we had to be respectful while participating. Don’t get me wrong, I really wanted to sit on that bar and ride around in circles, but I had to be respectful. 

On our second sunny day in Shangri-La we didn’t have any plans, so we took a long walk around the (almost dried up) lake near our hotel and around our local village. Fresh air and a stray dog that the girls basically kidnapped for the afternoon (despite the many lectures we given them about the dangers of stray dogs in China) made for a relaxing afternoon in the mountains.

The girls head out of the hotel for our walk

The girls head out of the hotel for our walk

As we started out, a small dog (far right) adopted us, or vice versa

As we started out, a small dog (far right) adopted us, or vice versa

Zoe cracks up at Thayer's persistent dog-calls, keeping "Ginger" along for the walk

Zoe cracks up at Thayer’s persistent dog-calls, keeping “Ginger” along for the walk

Selfie! Monastery in the background

Selfie! Monastery in the background

Scenic snapshot on our stroll around the lake

Scenic snapshot on our stroll around the lake

Zoe and Blair explore a stupa along the way

Zoe and Blair explore a stupa along the way

On our way back to our hotel, through the tiny village

On our way back to our hotel, through the tiny village

Once back at the hotel, the girls formally adopted "Ginger" and gave her a doggie spa day complete with bath, food, water, and a lot of pats. That's one lucky stray dog!

Once back at the hotel, the girls formally adopted “Ginger” and gave her a doggie spa day complete with bath, food, water, and a lot of pats. That’s one lucky stray dog!

THAYER:  Ginger was the best part of our stay here! I miss her sooooo much!  I wish I could stay with her instead of leave. She was the best dog ever!

SCHUYLERI was really excited to take this walk as a family around the wetland.  On the way to the boardwalk, I turned around and saw Thayer petting this little dirty dog. I panicked at first because we’ve heard that the stray dogs here aren’t that friendly. This dog was very small and an apricot color and had shaggy long fur, maybe some kind of mix breed.  Thayer thought it was so cute!  We kept walking and the dog started following us. Thayer was SO happy and she kept calling it to stay with us. The dog ended up staying with us for our entire walk, and we really started to bond with her. She was so friendly and we could pet her, and she loved exploring as we walked (so we had to wait for her a lot). Every time she would leave the track we’d get sad because we thought we’d lost her, but then she’d reappear and we’d shriek with happiness. At the end of our walk she disappeared onto some big farmland and we were sure we’d lost her forever. Mom and Dad told us that we had to leave, but Zoe and I persisted and followed the dog out into the cow-poop fields and kept looking for her. All of a sudden, she appeared again and we were so relieved!  She came all the way back to our hotel with us and we fed her in our courtyard, gave her some water, and brought out our hair conditioner and a hotel comb and we gave her a full spa treatment. By the time she was done, she was glowing, and we named her Ginger. We gave her a cushion to sit on and we sat and patted her for a long time. It felt so nice to do some pet community service! Finally, we could help a stray dog. It was a great day!  I’m so glad we had that experience – it will be a great story to tell down the road. 

BLAIR & JEFF: We, as somewhat travel weary parents, would like to take this moment to formally thank “Ginger” for a providing much-needed distraction from us  for our children.  For well over an hour, we strolled around a beautiful park with nary a “I’m thirsty,” “Did you bring a snack?” or “Is there a toilet around here that actually as a SEAT on it?” from our kids. We were left alone, completely and peacefully, while the girls somehow enticed a Tibetan-speaking dog to follow them around the lake and convinced her to answer to “Ginger.”  The biscuits may have played a role in the dog’s miraculous language skills. Also you should know that Ginger clearly pulled a fast one on the girls with the whole “stray dog” act.  We are quite sure that she left her hotel cushion at the end of the day and returned to her warm, toasty Tibetan home in the village and probably ate some nicely grilled yak meat and snuggled in someone’s lap as she drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the three weird looking children who she duped into spa treatments and fresh pork from the hotel kitchen. But the girls were happy, and the parents were even happier.  Thank you Ginger!

NIXI POTTERY

Our last activity in Shangri-La was a tour of the nearby Nixi village that is known for it’s black pottery.  The ceramics are fired in a very specific way here, under huge piles of black coals and dirt, and for a certain amount of time which renders the final product a jet black color.  We watched two men making some tea pots and Jeff spent quite a while discussing their techniques and traditions with them. At the end of the visit, we went to their little shop and picked out some small pieces to bring home. 

View on the way down into Nixi Village

View on the way down into Nixi Village

Potter working on the small details of his pot

Potter working on the small details of his pot

Watching the potters in action

Watching the potters in action

ONWARD… Leaving the peace and tranquility of Shangri-La was bittersweet for us. We won’t have many more truly “rural” experiences along our journey now, and we all find that our time outside the big cities can be preferable to the pace of a big metropolis. But life at high altitude was not without discomfort, from sleepless nights to the need to constantly drink water, and often feeling like you can’t quite get enough air into your lungs! Beijing will offer some familiar comforts, Western food options, and hopefully clean enough air to breathe depending on pollution levels. We are excited to spend more time with our friends Gloria, Tristan, and Caden Sciutto, and to explore Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and of course, the Great Wall.  See you there!

Thayer playing along our favorite Stupa

Thayer playing under our favorite Stupa

 

 

 

Categories: ASIA, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La, China

7 comments

  1. Dear Blair & Jeff, your honest comment on Ginger and the effect it had on your day and that of the children is pure poetry. My day has started with a huge -understanding- smile !
    Klaas

  2. Each experience you’ve shared in your blog has its own unique qualities. After so much traveling, one could start to blur everything together, but you have all managed to keep your eyes wide open, and appreciate a world that is probably completely different from what you’re used to. Another thought I’ve had while following your journeys, is about food. I’m sure you’ve been in situations where the food is nothing like what you would normally eat. Congratulations to all for conquering the “food factor”!

  3. Yogi wants to know if you will be going to Shanghi?

  4. I love the prayer wheel, tibetan flags and views!! Great pics & story again! Thanks for sharing!
    x Linde

  5. Hello From Brackett Lane!

    Let’s see…. the Little Harbor streets are green and shady now that all the trees are big and bloomed! The sound of lawns being mowed buzzes up and down the streets. Pollen covers our entire porch (until Bryan sweeps it all away). The dogwoods by South Pond are bloomed and beautiful! Sunday mornings are busy with people coming and going to the Farmer’s Market. Egg Sandwiches, the funny little band Louis still likes to dance to and DONUTS! The Lown’s pool is open and we can hear kids splashing away! Aaaaaaand — THE SURF CLUB IS OPEN!!! (forget that its in the 40s today), we have spent some lovely, warm evenings there – Louis has gone skimming and in and out and in and out and in and out of the pool! They built this HUGE fireplace at the club, its more of a smokestack!

    Like China, you will feel right at home…. when you come home… b/c there is construction EVERYWHERE. For. real. Takes twice as long and twice the distance to get anywhere, it seems. And, you will LOVE that your neighbors the Clews have a chicken coop in their yard now!!! AND a NEW PUPPY! A little adorable Bernice Mountain Dog. Awwwwwwww! Just waiting to be pet by all the Demers girls 🙂

    A couple random comments — we’d like to request a home cooked meal, something you learned on your adventure? Is that asking too much? Blaire, I totally was impressed with your Chinese Ink painting! Can you also teach me how to do a cool Birthday Scavenger Hunt, I mean, that seems so fun! I saw that big Boar’s Head in the Village Square Butcher photo…… nice. Photos, who is the professional photographer you just happen to have traveling with you? Schuyler, I totally feel the same about horseback riding, so nerve wracking! Can we have a Cut-Jeff’s-Hair Party??? My Aunt & Uncle are avid MahJong players, did you play?

    Bryan is out of his “air cast” (yaaaaaaayyy, clap, clap, clap!). Louis is graduating from the Toddler Room in just a couple weeks! Angelo is one big smile and loves to toss balls. I, while, I am just keeping the Pappas Empire afloat…. which is really hard work. Okay, that’s it for now. I gotta run, its nap time here!

    We love you and miss you all and can’t wait to give you a big welcome home!!!

    Love, Lindsay & the Boys

  6. Dear all

    I think that one of the things I like the best when reading your blog is seeing and learning about the “hands on” experiences the girls have enjoyed in the last year. I have written this before, but with each new blog they are all making something or weaving or gardening or cooking or savoring, etc. I suspect that what they have learned experientially will stay with them long after specific memories fade. It is all quite remarkable.
    It will be nice to have you home on U.S. soil. I can’t wait!
    That pig’s head is stunning. How would you cook it?
    As for sweet Ginger, what a nice day you gave her!!

    Love to all from Hailey, Idaho “where the deer and the antelope play”…and the eagles, the horned owl, the eaglet and the fox with its kit and the elk and the moose and the fawn with spots and teetering legs… they are all here in my own little corner of the world which is so special to me! (Jeff, can you braid your hair? )
    Juan

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