Friday, April 29, 2011

DAY 2 : SHANGRILA (The Old City)

Monday 11 Apr 2011

It was an early morning checkout out from Kunming hotel and checking-in at the airport bound for Shangrila. It was roughly an hours flight, too short for a full meal on board. Only mineral water was distributed to the passengers. 

The moment we stepped out of the airport in Shangrila, the air swept us cold. We were at 3,200 metres above sea level, a gain of 2,000 metres from that of Kunming. Walking out of the airplane, we could see mountains in the background. The whitish peak meant they were snow-capped and that translates to what I termed as "staying in the freezer". 

The airport facade bore the familiar Tibetan style architecture. Built 5 years ago, it is a relatively small airport. It was not at all busy. This was not Tibet but it was obvious that the populace identified themselves as Tibetans. This became more obvious when we arrived in the city. 

Jackson, our tour guide, a young man in his early 20s welcomed us. He spoke English and French. He spoke pretty good English but I have no standing to comment on his French. Said he went to India to learn the language. I can understand learning English in India, but French?? Mind you, he did not speak English in the familiar Indian accent though.

The journey to the city centre was a short one, under 15mins. Our program for the day would be the visit to the ancient and the new city.

We would have 3 days here in Shangrila, pronounced "Shangga rila" by the Tibetans. We were brought to a hotel in the old city. Only motorbikes and bicycles were allowed into the old city. Just as well since the cobbled roads were too narrow. 

We walked about 200 metres to the hotel. The facade of traditional Chinese design greeted us. I was wondering whether our beds would be solid wood and heating would be wood-fired. I dared not think of the toilet. We were after all in the old city!

Hotel Facade
But the trappings of modern living instead greeted us. We had heating from the air-conditioning unit and an electric mat underneath the bedspread, and hot water in the bath. We were very thankful for these modern trappings. Without them, I would be cold salmon, rigid and tasteless !!

We were still fresh and early, i.e. too early for lunch. Jackson would take us on a tour of the old city. We would walk and by now we were in the thickest of our clothing. We were glad we had prepared for the cold, to a certain degree. Indeed, to a certain degree we were. But as the "degrees" kept dropping in the days ahead, I wished I had brought my long johns and wind-breaker pants.

The old city certainly held its charm and was a pleasant change from the bricks and mortars of the modern cities. Kudos to the Chinese government for retaining the charms of old, while utilising the modern convenience such as electricity and piped water.

The old city obviously had the tourists in mind. Within the confines of the classic shops, all kinds of items were on display.

There were shops selling souvenir items and dresses. 

Two Malaysian ladies eyeing from a distance
This "Lucky Dressing" shop though was not so lucky with my wife. But it would not have cost us an arm and a leg. Perhaps it was the variety, the color, the style, the material that just did not jive with the prospective customer. So, a pose in front of the shop and free advertising for Lucky Dressing.

There were many shops catering for those seeking warm adventure gears of renowned brands, at ridiculously good bargain. On the third and final day, I offered myself an excuse to purchase 2 travel pants and 1 jacket, all for only RM200.00 equivalent. Back home, I would be paying in excess of RM500 for the same product and brand. I felt good postponing these purchases from a shopping mall back home! 

An interesting observation I made was the market square. It was a market by day and a dancing square by night. Just like markets anywhere, there were stalls selling food, vegetable, souvenir, hardware and whatever one could imagine in a typical market.

These two ladies captured my attention. They were selling ornaments that ladies love to wrap around their wrists. I believed my wife bought two, very harmless in respect of cost.

At night, these two ladies plus many others, including bystanders, me included, joined in the swaying to the rhythm of the music. This is a daily routine lasting an hour, ending at 9pm. The dancing, in a circle, is a very harmless activity. Anyone and everyone could join in. Most of us would try to follow the footworks of these two as they tapped and turned in perfect harmony, something "poco-poco" like. Practise makes perfect. They were also there on the subsequent nights, so was I and my small entourage.

Tourists joining in the dancing
I also captured this lady in a rather unique square hat with a bamboo pipe in her mouth. The square hat reminded me of the hat one wears at a graduation - and I suppose the bigger the hat, the higher the degree!! She looked rather happy and contented, and that's because she knew how to keep her head cool. We fast-paced creatures should learn a thing or two from this lady. Ha..ha..

Life in the old city was slow and quiet. Even the motorcycles were electric. Most people walked or idled their time with friends and the loved ones.

I waved, so baby waved
Oblivious to onlookers, the two carried on with their Chinese chess
I have also noted the authority's recycling efforts. At strategic locations, recycling bins were strategically placed and I must add that the ancient city was clean, and there were no rubbish strewn all over.

As in any cold countries, daily baths are not the norm but hygiene would still be maintained. Brushing ones teeth in the street is not unusual

and washing your laundry in the open is also a norm. This young man was literally washing dirty linen in public. I wished our Malaysian politicians will also just washed the dirty linens in public the way this young man does!

The young man seemed curious why I should take his picture . Hot water was available through the public pipe stand, hence they took advantage of the facility.

We were brought to visit a monastery up on a hill with a pretty good number of steps to climb. I did not count the number of steps but it was enough to give us a good leg and heart exercise.

Do not be fooled by this couple in the traditional wears. Like us, they were also tourists and they rented the costume for a photoshoot. Hj Khailani and his wife decided to "tumpang sekaki" and why not.

When It was time for lunch, we were assured that Halal food is available. I was confident that there would be, based on my first visit to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. So, there it was, a Muslim restaurant with the familiar jawi scripture on the signboard.

Entering the small restaurant, we were greeted with dried Yak meet hanging by the ceiling. There was no foul smell though the meat had been hanged for months. No flies either. It was really a cheap way to preserve meat, no expensive refrigeration needed.

Could we have the appetite to eat the Yak meat? Just look at the smile on our faces.

After lunch, we would tour the modern part of the city.


Al-Manar said...

Reading Shangrila brings my memory back to the mid 50's when I read a novel about a plane crash there. The place seems to leave in me an impression of a place deemed 'sacred', isolated and very beutiful. You are lucky.

ARZ said...

Pak Cik,

If I may, I must say you have a memory of an elephant. Shame on the younger and not so young generation.

Good to be back exchanging comments in each others' blog.

Reading your writings always left me with regrets - regrets for not keeping all those documents and writings when I was in my teens.

Al-Manar said...

James Hilton's 'The Lost Horizon' is the book

ARZ said...

Pak CIk,

With the marvels of the internet, discovering the author and the book was a breeze. Googling the tile, there is now an ebook version at this link.

You may want to revisit the book and who knows, may rekindle some fond memories of yesteryears.