Way up in the Hills

Travel to the far north of China’s Yunnan Province and you enter an intoxicating new world. As you climb higher, above 3,000 metres, your senses sharpen in the thin air and the cities and towns of the lowlands give way to isolated villages surrounded by green pastures in which yaks graze. Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the wind, while white chorten, or stupas, dot the landscape. And in the distance, soaring to 6,000 metres or more, are the majestic mountains that mark the border between Yunnan and Tibet.

Welcome to Shangrila, home to some of the most stunning scenery in all of China. In this exotic and remote pocket of northwest Yunnan, the namesake city of Shangrila is the only significant settlement. Outside it are untouched lakes and valleys that are home to rarely-visited villages and monasteries housing Tibetan lamas. Vast, rolling meadows of green are everywhere, offering the tantalising choice of epic hikes or horse rides through a land that has changed very little despite China’s rapid modernisation in recent decades.

 

Shangrila has a unique, heady atmosphere — partly due to the altitude and the glorious clean air — and feels very different from other parts of Yunnan, mainly because of the large numbers of Tibetans in the area. The dark-skinned, smiling men in wide-brimmed hats and high boots and the women with plaited hair in their traditional dress are a reminder that the border with Tibet is only a few hours drive north. You’re as likely to hear ‘tashi-delek”, the Tibetan for ‘hello’, as you are “nihao”, the Chinese version, while yak butter tea, rather than the green tea grown lower down in Yunnan, is the staple drink.

 

Time to climb higher and enter an intoxicating new world: