Spinning a giant wheel and learning a Tibetan dance in Shangri-la

After our fiasco of a cycle the day before, we woke up in our cosy beds (complete with electric blankets) and took advantage of our empty dorm room to have a very long, well needed, lie in. 

We dragged ourselves out of bed to find brunch and then spent a lazy early afternoon cleaning the bike, doing our washing and generally having a sort out. 

It was a beautiful sunny and crisp day – a bit like those early spring days you get back at home – so after we were done we headed out to explore Shangri-La and do some shopping. This is what I have to wear on washing day… Paddy laughs at me a lot on these days.


Shangri-la (formally known as Zhongdian) is the gateway to the truly Tibetan part of northern Yunnan. At an altitude of 3200m it was a good place to get acclimatised for the week ahead which will eventually see us climb to nearly 5000m!

A devastating fire in 2014 burned a lot of the enchanting old town to cinders and there is still quite a bit of building work taking place but you get a sense it’s slowly recovering, although it’s nothing compared to Lijiang or Shaxi.

It’s been getting colder and colder as we’ve climbed and I was in need of an extra jumper – here I am in my new fleece. 


After a quick lunch we climb up to the main temple which boasts great views of the town and also has the worlds largest prayer wheel (it contains 100,000 smaller prayer wheels inside).

It’s a fun way to meet other visitors as it takes 8-10 people to get it turning… 


It’s a beautiful object, covered in Tibetan writing which is very different from mandarin, related much more to the sanskrit languages.


The temple overlooks a big square where people are milling about. 

Here is a yak who was on show for tourists outside the museum which we had a look round.


In the museum there is an interesting collection of medical documents and drawings, some of the treatments are very bizarre and, from what we could gather, tended to involve doing various things with different human fluids! 

Back in the hostel we pack up our stuff before heading back down to the square with the hostel owner, who tells us that the daily communal dance is about to take place.

Everyday, from 7-9pm, between 100-150 local people will come down to the square to take part in a group Tibetan circle dance. A music track blasts out from the corner of the square and women, men, young and old form (generally) two large circles. They all know the dances and newcomers are welcome to take a turn at learning too. 

The dances are quite slow and, I guess, ‘courtly’ although Paddy and I struggled with the unusual offbeats and by the time you think you’ve got hold of a move they are on to the next one.

The temple all lit up sets off the scene nicely and its a great communal atmosphere. Its amazing how many people have come down, presumably after work, to take part and keep this part of their culture alive rather than head straight to their homes to escape the biting cold.

Onwards then to experience even more Tibetan culture – it will be a solid week of cycling to get to Litang over the border in Sichuan province. 

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