In January of 2014, Shangri La was devastated by a fire that ripped through the “Old City” where the narrow streets hindered the efforts of the fire department. This fire lasted for more than ten hours and completely wiped out building after building. Our Hotel, the Eight-Symbol Lotus was extremely lucky and survived the ordeal and now has a front yard that is rubble that used to be neighboring buildings. Our accommodations at Eight-Symbol Lotus were fantastic with a rustic feel and an extremely nice staff. Breakfast was included each day and they did their best to communicate with us and help us out with anything we needed. The area we were in had a much more laid back feel than what we had been experiencing in the rest of China. Being so close to Tibet and so far away from major cities, the people just had a much calmer demeanor and put off a good vibe.
We stayed clear of the main part of town and stuck to our little area of “Old Town”, walking the streets and checking out a couple of good restaurants. We also decided to splurge and go for a private tour of the area since we hadn’t done much lately and we had a good feeling about the area. Our hotel arranged for a driver that took us outside of town to the base of Shika Snow Mountain where we caught a gondola to the top of the mountain. It was very windy, but the views were beautiful and we even got to see a little snow. The Chinese haven’t figured out how to orderly do much of anything, so it was organized chaos as usual, so we just sat back and laughed as we watched the confused tourists and workers get people on and off of the gondola. At the midway point, you got off to switch chairs or walk around the high plateau farming area where locals cared for livestock and grew some unusual looking crops. Heading up to the highest point we enjoyed wonderful views of the valley below and got really wind burnt while watching the Chinese pose for pictures as their oxygen bottles blew out of their hands. At 4,450 meters (14,600 ft.) the air was a little thin and this would have been a good time to use their oxygen, but most were using it down by the parking lot and didn’t have much left when they actually needed it.
After leaving the mountain, we headed back towards town where we enjoyed lunch at our drivers house who was Tibetan and got to see what a typical Tibetan house was like. All of the homes are absolutely huge (close to 3,000 sq. ft.) and must be for entire families. We wanted to ask our driver what the purpose of such a big house was, but he didn’t speak any English. We enjoyed some steamed buns, yak butter tea (more like a soup), laping, which is a cold jelly noodle dish, and some homemade barley wine that was both delicious and potent. He then took us outside to see all of the animals such as chickens, ducks, rabbits, dogs and pigs. After lunch, we drove out to Napa Lake (kind of funny since we’re from Napa) to see some of the farm country and the popular lake. Before getting to the lake, we pulled off into a parking lot where there was a ticket agent trying to sell us an entry ticket so that we could proceed to drive around the lake. A donation would have been fine, but they wanted 60 yuan/person, that’s $20usd for the two of us! After declining to buy we pulled out of the parking lot and our driver took us around the lake anyway. It was pretty even though there wasn’t much water in the lake, but certainly not worth $20. We had a nice day with our driver and getting away from the city. The entire tour cost us 880 yuan ($140), which included our driver, lunch and the tickets for the cable car which were 220 yuan ($35) each. Although definitely more than we wanted to spend, sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it or you’ll end up sitting in your hotel room all day working on a blog post.