Lost Horizon

Nicholas Quirke was feeling oddly emotional on 29 April 2021 when the early morning flight he was on descended through the mountains and clouds to safely touch down on them tarmac of Shangri-La airport. He had read the James Hilton novel, seen the Frank Kapra movie and fallen in love with the reviled musical adaptation by Burt Bacharach and now, through it was not the remote beautiful imaginary place where life approaches perfection, ‘Sun and moon in the clouds’, he was now treading on landscapes that inspired the novel. Since 2001 Zhongdian in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province has officially gone by the name and it was the closet he would get to Tibet at this time where the fictional utopian lamasery was set. It remained though a beautiful ancient city with an important history as a hub of the The Tea Horse Road, a network of caravan paths winding through the mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet in Southwest China. Sichuan and Yunnan are believed to be the first tea-producing regions in the world earlier than 65 BC and from around a thousand years ago, the ancient trade link spread out from Yunnan. They had arrived at their hotel by 8.30 and after checking in made for a local restaurant for breakfast where under the scrutiny of a fascinated Tibetan boy he ate noodles and barely bread. They then began their your of their ancient city that their hotel was located in. First stop was the magnificent chinese Buddhist temple on Great Turtle hill from which, the roads of the city radiated like an eight-petal lotus. Aside from its colour and beautiful architecture it was home to the worlds largest rotating prayer wheel and there were a couple of people trying to spin the huge and heavy structure he lept in and other joined and the faithful began their mantra. It was a wonderful feeling to be part of the universal effort. In the town square where they encountered a white yak and to chinese mastiffs they moved on to another small temple which also housed the museum in praised of the Red Army, which was fascinating and was the first of many images chronicling the hardship endured during the long march and the salvation they bought to the the Tibetan people. After tea in a fashionable number one cafe they went to find what Nicholas believed to be the distinctive White Pagoda that dominated the skyline , Shangrin-la inner harmony stupa of pagoda the 2nd most visited temple in the city but when they found themselves on a dirt track he questioned the billing the tiny rundown temple they were at was given. There had to be some mistake. It had turned into a blistering sunny day and the colours of the town, the temples , the prayer flags and the celebration of Tibetan culture that dominated was completely beguiling and non more so than than the Gandem Sumtseling Monastery, a magnificent, colourful and sprawling citadel. Exploring the various halls Nicholas found himself climbing a staircase and emerging out onto a beautiful terrace where he encountered a party of Chinese tourists who each wanted their photographs with him, in return he got them to pose for a group photographs for him. He had lost Peng who eventually discovered him and they explored the top floor of the great hall which no one else but the monks seemed to bother with. It took a couple of hours and exhausted by all the walking they had done they called a DiDi to take them back to town and to have supper before retiring to their hotel room for the night to relax and get some sleep.

Leave a Reply