Yunnan Tour – Shangrila Day 6 (11 Days 10 Nights November 2015)

It was freezing cold when we got up in the morning after we left the comfort of the electric blanket in bed. So we put on our cold wear and went to the lobby café for breakfast. We pick our table near the fireplace that was heating up the place nicely with kettles placed on top to keep the water hot. We ordered western meals for breakfast consisting of eggs and toasts plus French fries. Coffee was good. We were really grateful for the hot meal on a cold day.

We had already booked a visit to the Shika Snow Mountain with Bodhi Inn the day before. We would be setting off slightly after 9 am. We were told it would be best to be up on the mountain late morning where the sun would be up and it wouldn’t so cold and the wind not too strong. As such, we returned to our room after breakfast to get ready for our day trip. We notified our children about our hike and then wished them a great day ahead.

With the reconstruction work of the Old Town on going, the hotel was informed that power would be cut off during most of the day and would only be turned on again in the late afternoon. So it would be a great time to get out of Bodhi Inn to avoid the freezing cold with no power supply available other than the standby power supply from the generator to power up essential services.

We headed back to the lobby and the hotel manager, Xiao Long was already waiting. He led us out of the hotel and we walked carefully through the dug out trenches and streets outside the hotel towards the entrance of the Old Town where the van was parked. We also brought along with us the oxygen canister the hotel loaned us just in case we needed it up on the mountain above 4500 m. Of course we were well prepared with water and with adequate cold wear.

The air was cool outdoor but with the sun up in the morning, it wasn’t as cold as our room. It was a bright and sunny day which would be great for our outing up on the mountain. The hotel charged us 220 CNY per person for tickets and transport to the base of the mountain and would pick us up after our visit. The cost for this tour would be much cheaper than going up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang.

Xiao Long started the van and soon we were leaving Old Town and headed towards our destination. After about 45 minutes, we arrived at the base of the mountain. He told us to request the staff at the office to call the hotel to arrange a pick up and he would drive over to get us. Having given us instruction and shown us the way to the cable car station, he left us to enjoy ourselves.

Surprisingly, there were few visitors going up the mountain on the day of our visit. The building of the cable car station was practically empty with the staff sitting around having nothing to do. All those chairs there meant for waiting passengers were empty. We got through the office and went to the cable car station launch site and not long after we were ushered into a cable car. My wife and I had the whole cable car to ourselves which was fantastic.

The ride up the mountain was great with trees on both sides of the mountain. The ground below the cable car was covered with some snow. As we looked down below, the hills were still green and the open grazing area was a little brown. Animals could be seen in the open having their leisure activity eating and enjoying the warn sunshine.

Not long after, we reached the top of the first station and we had to change cable car to the very top of Shika Snow Mountain. At this middle mountain range, we could venture out to see farm animals like deer, yaks and boars. But we decided it would be best to head to the top of the mountain first before coming back down to explore this place later.

Soon, we boarded another empty cable car like the first having the whole cable car to ourselves. The ride was more spectacular now with the trees and farms below getting smaller from our view. The top of the mountain soon emerged its rocky terrains and fewer trees left around the surrounding mountains. We finally arrived at the top of the mountain and entered into a restaurant where hot food was available.

There were tables and seats for those who wished to dine there and look out to enjoy the mountain top experience. Inside this restaurant, it was very comfortable but outside this building would be a different world altogether. We had already eaten breakfast earlier and this wasn’t the place we came for so we left the restaurant and went out to the open area to enjoy the top of Shika Snow Mountain.

Once we stepped outdoor, we were swept by the strong wind which was very cold and chilling. We had sufficient cold wear so it wasn’t a problem. With the sun shinning brightly on a cloudless day, it was perfect for such an outdoor adventure. Nevertheless, the ultraviolet rays were rather strong up on the mountain. The air was fresh and we felt jubilant we made it up above 4500 m.

However, as my dear wife was already affected with altitude sickness the day before, she was having a bad headache and had difficulty breathing outdoor with the strong wind blowing. She had to cover her face with her scarf and walked very slowly on the broad walk on the mountain top. We had the oxygen canister but she preferred not to use it yet. After a short while and without spending much time walking much further, she decided to return to the building and rest in the restaurant.

So I was left alone to explore this beautiful place up on the top of the world. It was so nice to keep walking along those erected wooden platforms. There was very little elevation to climb other than some steps and stairs up on the mountain. The terrain up here was rocky and with some snow flakes remaining on the ground after the sun was up.

The whole area was just great and the views of the surrounding was simply magnificent. At one point I nearly collapsed as I walked too fast due to the excitement of such an experience and under the thin air with lack of oxygen above 4500 m, I nearly blacked out. I had to hold onto the wooden railings to rest and catch my breath. I was literally breathless, and I understood then what out of breath really meant up on the mountain top. My head was spinning and my eyes could hardly focus. It wasn’t funny at all. I felt my heart could stop any moment and it was scary. I was glad my wife wasn’t taking this walk with her present condition.

Having recovered sufficiently, I continued my walk at a leisurely pace looking out to the horizon where all I could see was distant mountains meeting the skies. I could also make out the famous Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang from my vintage point. It was so enjoyable up on the top to enjoy unobstructed views of the surrounding. The clear blue sky on this lovely cloudless day was really a bonus for my venture up here on Shika Snow Mountain.

With almost no visitors up here, I had the whole mountain to myself. It was simply awesome. So I continued my slow walk along the the raised wooden platforms stopping from time to time to take in deep breath and to soak in the amazing views of the distant mountains and towns and farmlands below. This would be the best experience I ever had up mountain hiking. It was really a great experience indeed.

Since there was almost no elevation to climb, it was quite an easy walk around other than the lack of oxygen that could be dangerous. I didn’t carry the oxygen canister with me as my wife would probably needed it more than I so I took it really easy exploring this outdoor site on top of Shika Snow Mountain. I imagined, this whole place would be covered white with snow when winter fully set in and it would be another amazing sight to behold up here.

The barren mountain commands a beauty of its own. The rocky top looked like some ritual site with stones piles at certain places that perhaps resembled some burial ground. A shrine was erected up on the mountain as well. From the top we could see mountains after mountains all around. Certain parts of the mountain top could be dangerous and it would be foolish to venture out away from the wooden platform because of the steep drop down from the mountain. Falling off the mountain would certainly guarantee the end of physical existence and trouble for those who need to retrieve the body.

Having nearly completed one round around the walking path, there was an empty stone building that provided a nice place for another lookout to the open horizon in the distance. This building also provided shelter from the strong wind that could be quite uncomfortable when the wind was cold. From here, it wasn’t very far from the main building where the restaurant was located. So having enjoyed my walk, I returned to the main building and entered the restaurant and found my wife sitting comfortably waiting for me.

I related to her what was really out there in the open and showed her the pictures I had taken. I managed to encourage her to head up to the stone building which was not far away to explore. Perhaps she had rested enough and was ready to venture outdoor again and this trip up the stone building wasn’t much of a problem although we had to walk very slowly to prevent ourselves from getting breathless.

Once we reached the stone building and shielded from the strong cold wind, we settled down to enjoy ourselves out here looking out and taking plenty of pictures and selfies. The sun was very strong and we had our sunglasses fitted nicely to protect our eyes from the sunrays. My wife was glad she was out here at least to see a little more outdoor on top of this gorgeous mountain. After we had enough of this outdoor experience, we returned to the main building to descend to the middle level to explore the ranch.

Once back into the restaurant, we headed straight to the cable car station. Soon, we boarded a cable car and were on our way down the mountain enjoying the views descending to the ranch. It was a great day indeed to experience what it was like up at 4500 m and we were leaving behind memories of our great time up there and now on the way down to the middle of the mountain.

It was around 12.30 pm when we arrived at the ranch. It was also rather empty with few visitors during our visit. We could walk around to look for animals over here. We saw some black boars roaming around the restaurant area apparently not afraid of human contacts. They simply go about their own business while we carried on on our own.

On the distant grassland were yaks resting midday. It was quite a distance to walk over and we were also getting hungry so we decided to give these yaks a miss. We had seen beautiful yaks up in the mountains in Scotland and Northern Ireland a few years back so we were not really so thrilled to check out these yaks here in Shangrila. Besides, it was after 1 pm and we were getting hungry.

So we went back to the cable car station and took another cable car down to the base of the mountain. Not long after, we arrived at the main building. First thing was to head to the ticket office to request help from one of the staff to call Xiao Long at Bodhi Inn to come over to pick us up to return to the hotel. The kind staff obliged and called the hotel for us.

After that, we went out to explore a little and waited for Xiao Long to come over. At the carpark were shops selling souvenirs as well as a restaurant catering to visitors that might want to eat something. We decided to wait for Xiao Long to bring us to the city to get lunch. While waiting, a tour bus came in and many tourists alighted. The tour guide led them to the shops to buy oxygen canisters and they rented the long coat to wear up to the mountain top.

All these tourists apparently complied and they looked like walking Santa Clauses in their bright red coat which was rather clumsy and funny. Some were elderly and many were rather young. Some young people already started using the oxygen canister at the base here where it wasn’t really necessary. In fact, we didn’t even use our oxygen canister up on the mountain top. So it was good business for the stall vendors and lesser trouble for the tour guide in case some one might urgently need the oxygen canister up in the open area of Shika Snow Mountain.

Soon Xiao Long showed up and we boarded his van and were on our way to the city. We requested Xiao Long to bring us to a bakery in town as we missed such food and we were not so used to the food here. So we arrived the city and Xiao Long parked his van outside a popular bakery and we went in to buy some pastries, cakes and bread. Then we returned to Bodhi Inn.

The trip organized by Bodhi Inn was really value for money. This was one of our best experiences travelling all these years although there were challenges of altitude sickness to deal with. The height of 4500 m was the highest we ever went so far and it was an achievement for us especially surviving without the aid of oxygen where we could wear as a badge of honour. Those tourists on packaged tour would probably have no choice but to buy and use the oxygen canister and rent the outlandish red coat to head up the mountain top. We were also glad there were so few visitors when we were up on the mountain.

Bodhi Inn was right. The best time to visit the mountain would be late morning when it was not so cold with the sun already up and the wind not too strong as well. Otherwise, it would be very difficult to enjoy the outdoor experience up there. A number of years back while we were up on Mount Titlis in Switzerland during winter, we encountered a blizzard and it was impossible to remain in the open. We had to remain indoor to escape the painful wind and snow hitting our face. So it was a mission accomplished this day and for 220 CNY that covered transport and cable car ride and entry fees, it was really a deal.

Back in Bodhi Inn, power was not restored yet. So we went straight up to our room to enjoy our lunch from the bakery. We took the free hot ginger tea from the hotel and started to devour our lunch. This simple lunch was really good. This was food familiar to us and we didn’t feel nauseous at all.

However, back in our room was pretty cold with no electricity to power the electric blankets. My wife was having headache again so she preferred to stay in bed with her winter wear to keep her warm to rest for the rest of the afternoon. With no power supply and no wifi in the hotel, it was rather boring. At 3.45 pm, I decided to venture out to explore the Old Town as it was still bright and lovely outdoor.

Dirt and dust greeted me once I stepped outside Bodhi Inn. Trenches with cables and pipes were all over the ground. They were laying pipes and rewiring this part of town so power supply had be to cut off. I went back out to the main road where we headed out to the city and took a left turn to explore the Old Town area.

Construction works were still on going and evidently the previous fire to this Old Town was quite devastating. The streets were pretty dusty as a result of the restoration work but shops and restaurants were already open for business and they seemed to be nicely done up. So I continued my stroll into the Old Town. The architecture of the buildings were traditional Tibetan style. It was interesting to see some bare wooden structures of the buildings being rebuilt.

Though rubbish and debris were left on the streets in some parts of the Old Town, it was an interesting sight-seeing trip. The sun was still up with clear blue sky and it was a great time to be out exploring rather than staying indoor. The sun glare cast shadows all over and at times it was difficult to look up at certain interesting objects in town. It wasn’t cold at all venturing outdoor under this bright sunny condition and no strong wind was blowing here which was great as the dirt from the reconstruction work would bring out dust storm should the wind start blowing.

So I was enjoying myself exploring the Old Town in Shangrila with beautiful weather condition and the Old Town actually looked lovely. It would be a great place to visit once it had been completely restored and would rival the Old Town in Lijiang. Pity my dear wife who was unwell due to altitude sickness up 3000 m in this part of the country and not getting used to the food added to her misery. With no power supply to Bodhi Inn not helping to alleviate her discomfort so her best option was to stay in bed to rest.

Not long after, I reached the middle of the square in the Old Town. It was a huge open area with the monastery up on a hill. The sun was shinning strongly behind this tourist hot spot and some tourists were up there spinning the prayer wheel. The square was an interesting place to hang out with interesting sight to behold. Owners with furry huge animals were there waiting for tourists to ride their lovely beasts and take pictures of their adventure. It was a picture perfect day outdoor and a really lovely stroll around town.

Street vendors were around the town square with shops and restaurants surrounding in the vicinity providing essential services to visiting tourists. The town square also served as a huge carpark with cars and tour buses parked here waiting for visitors to return. However, it wasn’t crowded during my visit.

After spending awhile at the town square, I headed towards the main entrance and took a left turn to walk back to Bodhi Inn instead of retracing my steps back through the Old Town seeing the same scene again. Walking along the perimeter of this Old Town, I noticed the buildings here were already completely restored and they were quite different from those small low buildings I walked past earlier. These were solid stones and bricks buildings which would stand better chance against fire and other natural disaster should they strike.

Soon I reached the end of the street and I continued keeping left so I would eventually head back to Bodhi Inn after making one complete round around the Old Town. However, the scenery of the Old Town had turned into a modern neighbourhood that looked like a residential area with a pretty river running along this part of town.

Of course I also ran into a very big and nice hotel, the Holy Palace Hotel, with a façade that is of local origin. There were also some lone policemen here and there around town. I crossed some bridges and walked through tall buildings and thought I was lost. Asking people in town seemed to be talking to aliens. Perhaps they didn’t understand Mandarin or I didn’t know how to tell them Bodhi Inn correctly in Mandarin. No one could provide proper directions back to Bodhi Inn in the Old Town.

Anyway I kept walking and keeping left which I was sure would lead back to the Old Town. From the direction of the sun when I came out and observing its position while walking, I wasn’t too troubled because I had not been turning left or right in a haphazard fashion during my stroll into the Old Town. When I left Bodhi Inn I turned left and so keeping left after exiting the Old Town around its perimeter should lead me back to the hotel.

So I kept walking but the sun was also fast setting and it was getting a little colder now walking in the shadows of taller buildings. As I walked on I soon reached a junction that looked familiar with debris and construction materials left on the ground. This was the junction where Xiao Long drove us back to the hotel and parked the van along the road. Thus I managed to find my way back to Bodhi Inn.

The whole adventure took under two hours which was a great stroll around town. It was a great way to spend these two hours rather than to remain in Bodhi Inn with no power supply, no wifi and no TV to watch on top of the cold indoor without sunlight to keep us warm. The Old Town in Shangrila would no doubt be a great place to explore once it had been nicely done up. Should we ever return to Shangrila, we would still stay in the Old Town for the convenience of enjoying its ambiance and facilities.

Back to our room, my wife was still resting in bed. I went to get more hot ginger tea to keep us warm, hydrated and comfortable. I shared with her my adventure and the pictures I took and kept her spirit up. She would have joined me had she realized that the rest of the Old Town was already partially restored. In addition, out under the sun was much better than staying indoor but her persistent headache was hindering her from enjoying her stay in Shangrila.

The power supply was still down but remaining in the room wasn’t really a great idea. So we went to the lobby to sit by the fireplace to relax and enjoy the heat and the charm of this little boutique hotel. The lady at the front desk was minding her business waiting for electrical supply to be restored. Another family was also sitting at the lobby having already checked out waiting to head out to the bus station for their onward destination soon. We chatted and exchanged travel experiences before they were finally called to leave the hotel.

So we just sat around and sipped hot ginger tea to keep warm. Though electrical supply was cut, Bodhi Inn wasn’t in complete darkness. Standby generator provided essential services to keep the hotel going but could not cater for all the electrical demands of the entire hotel. So we did some light reading to while away time. Eventually, power supply was restored and everyone was jubilant and went about their usual routine.

For us, we returned to our room. With power supply restored, we were able to use wifi to connect with our children back home. We were so excited to share with them our adventure conquering height above 4500 m earlier in the morning. We also watched some TV programs. We were also able to shower after power supply was restored and it was great.

Finally, after 7 pm, we decided it was time to head back down to the café for dinner though we were not really hungry nor had the appetite to eat. We imagined we couldn’t go through the night without food which might cause gastric problem that would throw a spanner into the rest of our travel itinerary. Back at the café, we looked through the menu and decided to order only a plate of French fries.

We tried the local food and it wasn’t to our taste buds. We tried the pizza the previous evening and we couldn’t finish. So we thought the best and safe option would be a plate of French fries. Our fries came and we were glad we had hot food first time since breakfast. My wife didn’t complain of the food this time and could eat a little more. So we consumed the entire plate of fries and that was our dinner that evening.

The hotel staff were still gathering around the fireplace having a great time. They were really like a family working together. After dinner, we went over and sat with the boss Tashi by the fireplace and had a nice chat. He was English speaking and of course he could speak Mandarin too. He had also resided in Scotland for a few years quite some time back. He shared with us about the running of this little boutique hotel. He had personally stayed at the 5 star M-Gallery Hotel outside the city near the monastery to learn about hotel management and hence the deco of this hotel and its services.

We told him we were Accor members and were actually interested in staying at the M-Gallery Hotel. However, due to its distance from town, we decided to stay in the Old Town instead for convenience. Little did we realize we would end up in a warzone like environment when we arrived Bodhi Inn. Tashi explained that the authority had wanted to restore this area much earlier but he requested them to postpone this work until the low season that was when we incidentally arrived. It had to be done some time some how anyway so they just had to bite the bullet during this time. They remained open during this low season while many hotels in town were closed. The good news was that this was the last part of town to be restored and once the work was over, they would go into full swing again welcoming visitors in the coming year.

We had a great time sharing travel experiences as he was also a vivid traveller and sometimes led visitors out on tour as well. He was well travelled and the experience he accumulated helped him manage his hotel business very well. His staff were friendly and services oriented and they work together as a family. These staff stayed in their accommodation on the roof level above the second floor. So when we finally had to go to bed, we asked if we could go up to the roof level for a look at the open skies and he warmly welcomed us to do so.

Up on the roof was a little dark. But the skies with the multitudes of shinning stars were lovely. How often do we get an opportunity to look up into the skies to enjoy the stars at an elevation of 3000 m? However, it was also getting cold up in the open with the sun already down. So we returned to our room after a short while enjoying the splendid night skies in Shangrila.

Back in our room, we did some packing to get ready for the next day’s departure back to Lijiang where we had a wonderful time two days ago. Having chatted with the children and bidding them goodnight, we also tucked into bed blanketed by the heat from the electric blanket. We would not want to get up from bed unless absolutely necessary. It was so comfortable cocooned in the heat of the bed in the cold night in Shangrila. Thus our adventure in Shangrila came to a conclusion.

Continue to Day 7

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