Shangri-La

This morning we went to Potatso National Park. In some ways this is a good time of year to visit – the cold winter is over and the rainy season hasn’t started. However, the land looks very barren and dull as the grass has not yet started to grow. This park is supposed to be home to a great variety of fauna and flora, but the rhododendrons aren’t in bloom, I can’t imagine orchids surviving the grazing by yaks and horses and we only saw a couple of ducks on the lake. The alpine meadow must look lovely in the height of summer, but currently it is a desert.

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Poor Shangri-La, being lumbered with that name – even though they fought for it – it sets expectations that cannot possibly be met. The climate and altitude are not conducive to pretty trees and flowers and the fire has ruined the charm of the old town.

This afternoon we visited the Songzanlin Tibetan Buddhist monastery, the largest in Yunnan and established by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1679. It was desecrated during the Cultural Revolution but was rebuilt and repopulated in the 1980s. It is an impressive site, with golden rooves and intricately decorated interiors, with massive statues of the Buddha and other deities. Sadly, though, it feels spiritually hollow and inauthentic. It seems designed mainly for tourists, though apparently 450 monks are in residence. One sign said “respect ethnic cultures and beliefs”. Quite. I’m sad that this is the final attraction on my trip – it would have been good to end on a more positive note. Still, overall it’s been a great trip and I have very much enjoyed visiting Yunnan.

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