UPDATE: I just found some very sad news that in January 2014 most of the Old Town where we stayed in ShangriLa also known as Zhongdian or Diqing had a major fire which destroyed most of the area. You can see more updates in this thread. If anyone has visited recently I would love to know more about your experience.
After several hours in a minibus that took us to the start of the Tiger leaping Gorge to collect our bags and then up through the mountains we arrived at Shangrila after dark. It was immediately clear that we had gained quite a bit of altitude as it felt slightly harder to breath and the temperature had dropped to what felt like minus something degrees.
We had booked in a place called Ns kitchen together with various people we met during our trek. After some scouting we found the place in the old town. When we came in the girl behind the counter told us to follow her and walked outside – she kept on walking through the old town for a some minutes after which we arrived to what looked like a different hotel, which looked very closed. She then showed us our rooms which looked ok and told us to call her on the phone that was in the empty lobby bar area if we wanted to leave so she could open the front door of the lobby and lock it behind us.
It turns out that the pipes in Ns kitchen itself where frozen so they had struck a deal with a hotel that was closed for the winter to put us up there. There was no-one else staying in the hotel.
We kicked off the NYE celebrations with a Yak meat hot pot dinner washed down with several Dali beers from a local restaurant. Before heading back to the hotel where we claimed the bar/lobby area for ourselves and the other travellers to have our New Year’s Party in front of a log fire.
After new years the hotel slowly drained of people. In the 4 days we had after new years, we did some small excursions around town and outskirts. We didn’t get that far however as the altitude (over 3200Meters) and the cold made it tiring to get around. It was very quiet around town and the atmosphere felt desolate but also a bit magical.
As Shangrila is close to the border with Tibet, the population in the Shangrila area is over 80 percent Tibetan and prayer flags and temples are abundant. The lack of tourists also made the experience feel more real to us (few tourists make it out to Shangri-La around late December/January and many hotels close due to the very cold weather and possibilities of closed roads around).
We flew out of Deqen (Diqing) Shangrila Airport to Kunming. It must be one of the highest airports in the world with an elevation of 3280m.
The view from the plane was extraordinary. Pastel peaks of the Himalaya protruding from the mist.