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Shangri-La: The Sun and the Moon in One's Heart
In 1933, James Hilton published his captivating novel Lost Horizon, which ranked first among the best sellers of the year. Later, he won the Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature. In 1934, Hollywood invested US$2.5 million to make the novel into a film. The film's theme song The Beautiful Shangri-La spread across the world.

Shangri-La, or Shambhala in Tibetan, means the sun and the moon in one's heart. According to a British encyclopedia of literature, James Hilton's greatness lies in his literary creation of Shangri-La, while the biggest contribution of the novel is the introduction of a new English word, Shangri-La, meaning utopia on earth.

In 1971, Robert Kuok (Hock Nien), an overseas Chinese residing in Singapore, and a business tycoon established an international group of hotels and resorts named Shangri-La. On September 14, 1997, the People's Government of Yunnan Province solemnly announced that Shangri-La is located in the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan.

At the foot of the Meili Snow Mountain, there are many areas of marshland and flatland. Scattered on the rich and fertile land are flocks of cattle and sheep. With tranquil lakes, sacred shrines, and the honest Kangba people, this peaceful land looks like a paradise on earth, and is called Shangri-La.

Shangri-La is situated in northwestern Yunnan Province, bordering Sichuan Province in the north and the Tibet Autonomous Region in the west. Preserving an excellent ecological environment and the traditional ethnic culture of the region, it enjoys a reputation of being the Garden on a Plateau, the Kingdom of Plants and Animals, and the Kingdom of Nonferrous Metal. Starting in the city of Dali and driving northward 315 kilometers along the Yunnan-Tibet Highway, visitors reach the county of Shangri-La, capital of the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The county is 659 kilometers away from Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, and there are scheduled flights between it and Kunming.

Rich in grassland and livestock resources, Deqen is an important pastoral area in Yunnan. It has over half a million hectares of grass slopes, averaging nearly 2 hectares per person. In addition to being made up of rich, fine-quality grass, the natural grassland in Deqen produces alpine medicinal materials, including Chinese erpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis) and bulb of fritillary (Fritillaria thunbergii).

Shangri-La possesses 24 famous scenic spots, natural and man-made, and is one of China's eight golden tourist destinations.

According to a local saying, people can enjoy the customs of the Tibetan ethnic group in Deqen without going to the Tibet Autonomous Region. The prefecture has snowy mountains and canyons as well as the customs of the Tibetan ethnic group. Shangri-La, 3,280 meters above sea level, is an ideal place for visitors to enjoy the natural wonders and ethnic customs of the region, and there is no need to worry about altitude sickness.

Lijiang, an Ancient Town

Officially designated as a town between the end of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Lijiang is an ancient town that preserves the traditions of the Naxi ethnic group. Among China's famous historical and cultural towns, it is the only town without city walls. Since Lijiang has preserved its appearance from the Song and Yuan periods, the Chinese State Council has placed it on China's list of historical and cultural towns. On December 3, 1997, Lijiang was included on the World Cultural Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

In this town, more than 350 bridges, varying in shapes, span the Yuhe River that flows through the town. Lijiang overtakes the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province in terms of the number of bridges per square kilometer. The local people of the Naxi ethnic group make good use of water resources, and have built many three-tiered ponds. The upper ponds supply drinking water, the middle ponds are for washing vegetables, and the lower ponds are for washing clothes.

Wuhua Street paved with colored pebbles is full of bumps and holes, marking the age of the town, while old Sifang Street is permeated with a peaceful and stable atmosphere. Streams, bridges, and typical houses of the Naxi people form a beautiful image.

The Tranquil Shudugang Lake

Shudugang Lake is 35 kilometers away from the county seat of Shangri-La. Ravines and rising mountain peaks surrounding the lake have dense primitive forests growing on them. On the eastern bank of the lake is a forest of white birches, which turns golden yellow in autumn. The dragon spruce and fir forests are the haunt of rare birds and animals, including musk deer, bears, clouded leopards, tufted deer, Tibetan snow pheasants, and lynxes.

In spring and summer, the banks of the lake, with plenty of water and lush grass, are dotted with flocks of cattle and sheep as well as sheds. Listening to the melody of reed pipes and admiring the beautiful scenery of the blue mountain peaks and green waters, visitors can experience the leisurely and carefree nature of highland life.

There are transport facilities to Shudugang Lake. Departing from the county seat of Shangri-La, it takes one day to go to the lake and come back.

The Meili Snow Mountain

The beautiful Meili Snow Mountain, mentioned in Lost Horizon, towers in Deqen County in the northwest of Shangri-La. Separating Yunnan Province and the Tibet Autonomus Region, it is the highest mountain in Yunnan.

The Meili Snow Mountain is famous for its lofty, magnificence and mystery. In the 1930s, an American scholar praised the mountain's Kagebo Peak as the most beautiful peak on earth. The mystery of the mountain is strongly appealing to mountaineers and scientific explorers from China and abroad. In the past years, many mountaineers and explorers, including the Sino-Japanese Mountaineering Team, have done their utmost to ascend the summit of the mountain; but none of them have succeeded.

The mountain is a natural treasure house containing fascinating glaciers, glacier falls, alpine lakes, lush, primitive forests, and rare species of plants and animals. With monasteries scattered everywhere, the mountain has become a shrine for the local people who believe in Tibetan Buddhism, or Lamaism. Along the paths to the monasteries, there are piles of mani stones inscribed with the mystical, six-syllable mantra of Tibetan Buddhism.

(China Pictorial June 17, 2003)

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