Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding from Shangri-la

Awake to a perfect sky - blue with just the right amount of cotton wool clouds - and all aboard the bus to Genden Sumtseling Monastery, just north of town. It was established in 1679 by the Fifth Dalai Lama and is the largest Tibetan monastery in south west China. Beautiful place. There used to be 2,000 monks here but it's dwindled to around 500 now. Our guide does his best to explain the intricacies of Dalai and Panchen lamas, living buddhas, the cycles of life, mandalas and other amazing murals... but it's difficult to get your head round it all.

After that we visit a Tibetan home (dark, pungent smell of yak butter and surprisingly roomy), and then off to Shika Snow Mountain, just to the west of town. There's a 40 mins cable car which takes you all the way to the 4,500m summit, past a nomadic village and swathes of yet-to-bloom rhodedendrons. Snowy and cold but beautiful views stretching as far as Burma to the west and Sichuan to the east.

Back in time to catch the Royal Wedding on Dragon TV. There is something very strange yet almost fitting about watching this piece of British pageant high up in the Tibetan foothills, as Westminster Abbey becomes Will & Kate's own personal Shangri-la for an hour or so. Anyway, we toast the happy couple with glasses of Dali beer.     

In the evening we visit the Old Town which is a bit like a smaller version of Lijiang and without all the tourists. Lovely cobbled streets, wooden buildings and in the square people dancing in a giant circle. We hook up with Amy, a curator friend of Caroline's, for dinner at a fabulous Tibetan restaurant called Karma's. Dodgy name but the best food we've had all holiday. And after that we slip across the lane to what could almost be described as a pub to drink Tibetan wine and listen to a Tibetan musician. His ambient singing, little cymbals and feintly-touched drum sends the girls off to sleep and we have to carry them to two waiting taxis.       

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