Shangrila (香格里拉, Xiānggélǐlā; སེམས་ཀྱི་ཉི་ཟླ, Semkyi'nyida; formerly Zhongdian 中甸 in Chinese, and Gyalthang རྒྱལ་ཐང། in Tibetan) is in Yunnan Province.


A major fire wiped out most of the Old Town On January 10-11, 2014. Since this area has most of the tourist facilities, visitors are likely to find everything disrupted for some time to come.


Historically, this area was part of the old Tibetan province of Kham but the Qing Dynasty made it administratively part of Yunnan Province in the 18th century. Today, the town is split between Tibetan and ethnic Han residents, as well as a fair smattering of Naxi, Bai, Yi and Lisu, with the surrounding countryside almost entirely Tibetan.

While the crass name change in 2001 was a sign of the desire for increasing mass tourism a la Lijiang, the town has got nowhere near Lijiang's crowds, and it's still possible to experience the area's Tibetan heritage and see gorgeous countryside in near isolation.

Zhongdian was renamed Shangrila for marketing reasons. Signs in bus stations still use Zhongdian. There is also a third name in Tibetan, Gyelthang. The original Shangrila, from James Hilton's novel The Lost Horizon, was a (fictional) hidden paradise whose inhabitants lived for centuries. Hilton (who never went to China) located his Shangri-La in the Kunlun mountains which form the border between Tibet and Xinjiang near the southern branch of the old Silk Road. The Hunza Valley in Pakistan claims to be "the original Shangrila".

Elements of Hilton's story were apparently inspired by National Geographic articles about various places in eastern Tibet, written by an American who lived in Lijiang, hence China's rationale for claiming the name. Local Khampa Tibetans claim that the name Shangri-la was most likely derived from their word for paradise "Shambala," by Hilton through exposure to Rock's writings on the region.

Get in

By plane

There are daily flights to Shangrila (the airport's name is Diqing, airport code DIG) from Kunming Lhasa and Chongqing.

By bus

Shangrila is the important stop for the journey from Yunnan to Tibet (G214), with regular buses to Lhasa and Chamdo. see also Overland to Tibet.

Contrary to what the Lonely Planet guidebook says, it is relatively simple to get to Chengdu from Shangrila. Firstly, a sleeper bus to Pan Zhi Hua(攀枝花) at 17:10, with dinner break, arriving at 05:00. A 25 minute taxi journey (¥70-80 for 1 to 4 people; which bus driver almost push you) to the train station to catch a midday train to Chengdu (there is a bus 64 stop near station but don't know if it allows to go to train station and at what time it starts). No 08:00 train, next 12:00. This arrives at 23:15 and costs ¥82 for a hard seat. All in all, 31 hours from Shangrila to Chengdu at a cost of ¥315. While waiting at Pan Zhi Hua, I found 2 internet shop, one opposite to police station (¥3/h, no wifi, didn't accept that I plug my computer) and one near the market with a metal platform (named something like 'lo san', 1st floor, ¥3/h, no wifi, accept plug my computer).

Public bus

Destinantion Price (¥) Departures (HH:MM) Duration (HH:MM) Comments Last Update
Deqin 53.00 07:20, 08:20, 09:20, 12:00 5-9:00 Depending On Weather YES 24 Jun 2012
Xiangcheng 85.00 08:00, ? 8:00 Yes 23 May 2011
Pan Zhi Hua 143 17:00, ? 12:00 Sleeper 26 August 2011
Daocheng 139 7:30 10:00 Yes 18 April 2015

Get around

The main area of town runs along the north-south running Changzheng Road. The old town is at the south end of Changzheng Road, and the bus station is at the north end of town.

By bus

The bus costs ¥1.

By motorcycle

Turtle Mountain Gear & Outfitters offer motorcycle rentals (dirt bikes of 200 cc) as well as 110 cc minibike adventures. Another motorbike tours and rental service is available at Kersang´s Relay Station .

By bicycle

Renting a bike is a great way to see Shangri-La, the old town and the surrounding attractions. A decent mountain bike will cost ¥20-30 per day to rent. One warning to cyclists, some of the rental stores in the old town can be dangerous to rent from, as they refuse to provide tire repair kits and spare tires. If you get a flat tire they also will not pick you up, saying it is not their problem, then when you return they charge you to repair the flat. When asked to call for pickup they wanted to charge ¥200. Enjoy cycling but beware of the first rental store at the corner of Dawa Road, called 枫星户外 (FengXing Outdoor). The rentals from Yak Bar next door are a good choice though, and the boss there is quite friendly (just across from the Old Town parking lot and main entrance).


Songzanlin Monastery

The third floor of the Tsongkapa Temple has a small room with a resident Lama giving blessings to worshippers.

Away from the large Tsongkapa and Sakyamuni Temples are two smaller ones which are worth visiting. If you are facing the main temples, they are just to your left down the hill towards the large white chorten.

The one closet to the chorten is a Bon temple, the religion which predates Buddhism's initial acceptance in Tibet during the 9th Century A.D.. Bon emphasizes the protective forces of nature, especially of mountains, and includes Shamanism and elements of black magic.

The second has some of the best artwork in the Monastery. From the second floor, you can access the roof for a commanding view of the area. There is a Bon temple on this floor as well with some fairly dark demonic images. In the courtyard lies a very old Tibeten Mastiff who has lived there since he was born in 1994!

The chorten itself is worth a walk to and is arguably one of the more important places for local people to worship on the Monastery grounds. It was built in 1981 in honor of the 10th Panchen Lama's visit to Shangri-la for the opening of the newly restored Monastery which had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. For local Tibetans the 10th Panchen Lama is considered one of the most important religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism. You can see his portrait throughout the Monastery. Take a walk around it clockwise, spin its prayer wheels, and have a fabulous view of Shika Snow Mountain from its west side.

On the way down the long stairs leading to the main entrance/ exit of the Monastery are several smaller temples. They are quite interesting and few tourists visit them, especially the one to the right as you descend the stairs towards the entrance. Look for its beautiful rose garden.

Bus 3 goes direct to the Monastery, filled with pilgrims. For foreign passengers the bus driver will stop at the ticket office and gesture wildly for you to buy a ticket and may not let you continue onwards unless you do. Monks claim the ticket revenue goes to tourist company and not the Monastery. ¥85 (¥55 for students aged under 25).



The city is famous for Tibetan jewelry, yak tails, Nixi pottery, Yi lacquerware, Dried matsutake mushroom and Tibetan medicinal herbs. Very good Tibetan incense. For shopping the new town is better than the old, cheaper prices. There is no problem to find an ATM (one near the "entrance" of the old district).





Several budget guesthouses can be found in the old part of town, prices for a double should be in the region of ¥50 per night (low season). Heating is not provided even in the winter months, but additional blankets are happily provided and electric blankets are common.



Be aware of the risk of altitude sickness. Zhongdian is at 3,200 m vs 2,000 for Dali or Kunming. Plan your trip to allow time to acclimatise.

There is a cheap laundry service in dawa lu near old district. Costs ~2-3¥/piece.


Stay safe

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