The Shangri-La Hiking Tour Of Discovery The “Songtsam Circuit” Embracing The Abundant Natural And Cultural Heritages In The Yunnan Tibetan Region
The word ‘Shangri-La’ originated from Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. There are two ‘Shangri-La’s’ in the world. One refers to the Shangri-La Hotel and Resorts, whereas the other refers to Shangri-La city in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province. As the only Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, Diqing is home to thirteen ethnical minorities, such as Tibetan, Han, Naxi, Bai, Lisu and Yi. Diqing has long been the main artery for people entering Tibet; the capital Shangri-La being the key pass on the ancient Tea-Horse trading route. Each year, the abundant natural and cultural heritages in Diqing attract thousands of tourists who come here seeking their own ‘Shangri-La’ at heart.
Songtsam Lodges is a boutique hotel chain threaded on the travel circuit of Shangri-La, Yunnan Province, boasting six hotels in Shangri-La, Tacheng (Weixi), Cizhong, Meili (Deqin) and Benzilan. Songtsam Linka is the biggest one among the six hotels with 75 guestrooms, while the other five hotels have ten guestrooms each on average. Each hotel is situated in a unique geographic location and is the perfect accommodation choice for guests to discover Shangri-La.
The ‘Songtsam Circuit’, the tour to discover Shangri-La, starts from Songtsam Lodges Shangri-La which is located in Kena village under the Songzanlin Monastery at an altitude of about 3,300 metres above the sea level. Songtsam Lodges Shangri-La only has 22 guestrooms and is the first and the flagship hotel among the Songtsam Lodges. It has been the home of thousands of travellers on their tours. It is adjacent to Songzanlin Monastery, the largest monastery of Tibetan Buddhism within the Yunnan Tibetan region and the most famous monastery of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Guests can live like locals, go for a stroll along the ritual walk path of Songzanlin Monastery, become acquainted with the local’s beliefs and culture while being immersed in the serene landscape.
Development layout of Songtsam Lodges’s Yunnan-Tibet Circuit
Shangri-La Green Valley Hiking Tour
Departure time: 10.a.m.
Duration of the tour: 3 to 4 hours
Highlight of the tour: Hiking in Tibetan valleys (including tour guide service and a back-hill picnic)
Guests can not only enjoy the landscape of the rolling hills and green valleys but also keep check out the Songzanlin Monastery and the Shangri-La city. While on their way back, they can not only see some Tibetan villages, farmland, the holy lake of ‘Na Pahai’, but also a stretch of less traveled ancient Tea Horse trading route. The hiking tour finishes with the ultimate tradition of the Tibetans – ‘Burning the aromatic mulberry wood for smoke to consecrate the almighty Mother Nature’. Guests will also hang the prayer flags of the wind-and-horse pattern and pray for peace, safety and good luck.
Xiaozhongdian Flower- Viewing Picnic
Departure time: 9.a.m.
Duration of the tour: half day, starting in the morning
Highlight of the tour: Enjoying the blooming azaleas and other various wild flowers; paying a visit to the home of a Tibetan local.
Xiaozhongdian located 25 kilometres to the south of the county town, it’s famous for its flower viewing in all four seasons. Guests will arrive at the first village in Xiaozhongdian after only half an hour’s drive. From there, guests will go across the beautiful farmland by foot where highland barleys, potatoes and bright yellow rapeseed vegetable are grown. Guests can enjoy the colours of the different blossom seasons in all four seasons and watch the locals labouring in the farmland.
Qianhu Mounatin (Ram Dong Zo) Hiking Tour
Departure time: 9.a.m.
Duration of the tour: half day, departing in the morning
Tips: It takes 45 mins driving from the hotel to the foot of Qianhu Mountain. Guests will then hike for 3 hours to reach the mountain top (guests can also choose to ride horses as an alternative).
To fully enjoy the journey of nature, guests will first go across a lush primeval forest and then enjoy a spacious summer pasture of the Tibetan nomads and a boundless stretch of azalea bushes, whose blooming season is from late May till mid-June. Guests will also see holy lakes adorned among the flowers and the bushes.
After a three-hour drive from Songtsam Lodges Shangri-La, guests will arrive at Songtsam Lodges Tacheng located in Qibie Hada village, which is home to ethnical minorities such as Tibetan, Naxi and Lisu. Songtsam Lodges Tacheng has only 9 guestrooms, an outdoor swimming pool and a large beautiful wheat field. Tacheng lies between the Lancang River and the Jinsha River, where tourist attractions include Bodhidharma Cave and the Tacheng Black Snub-Nosed Monkey National Park.
Bazhu Village Sightseeing and Mountain Hiking
Departure time: 10.a.m.
Duration of the tour: The tour takes about 5 hours. After a half an hour’s drive from the hotel, guests will go sightseeing in the village for one hour, and hike for 3 to 4 hours after lunch.
Tips: The first one hour during the hiking takes place on a relatively flat terrain with the last two hours on a downhill slope featuring jungles and paths.
Unlike the Naxi villages where the Songtsam Lodges Tacheng is located, Bazhu Village on the mountain is an authentic Tibetan village. The shop next to the village committee remains what it looked like thirty years ago when it was a cooperation. Villages are scattered across the route with Tibetan villages, white towers, chanting rooms and monasteries along the way. Guests will see rapidly changing landscapes with lush jungles featuring lofty oaks and green mosses halfway through. The colourful Blue irises, pink Chinese Quince, rosy fragrant roses and other wild flowers roadside can be seen in spring and summer.
Guests will pass through Cizhong Village on their way from Tacheng to Meri Snow Mountain, which is a prosperous village beside Lancang River. Songtsam Lodges Cizhong sits against an old white tower in Cizhong village, overlooking Lancang River with its ten boutique guestrooms. It was built in the local Tibetan watchtowers and consists of a main watchtower and an annex, boasting a magnificent view of river valleys. The best things to do when staying over in Cizhong is to go strolling along Lancang River ending with a picnic in Badong village.
Valley Sightseeing and Picnic in Badong Village and Lancang River
Departure time: 9.a.m.
Duration of the tour: It takes about 1 hour from the hotel to the destination. Guests will go hiking along the Lancang River valley and picnic in Badong village.
Highlight of the tour: Guests will visit vineyards, enjoy the landscape of the Lancang River valley and picnic with a touch of the local religion.
Stroll along Lancang River in the early morning to enjoy the best time of day. Badong Village is a typical example of cultural integration in Cizhong region. Guests can visit the local Catholic Church and the small monastery of the Kagyu Sect situated next to each other, experience the harmonious life of people with different religious beliefs and walk around the villages built against the mountains or picnic in the terrace of a local’s home. Surrounded by clusters of villages and houses, Cizhong Village is located in front of winding valleys and contiguous vineyards.
Soaring between Lancang River and Salween River, Meri Snow Mountain (also known as Taizi Mountain) boasts 13 peaks with an altitude above 6,000 metres, also known as Taizi 13 Peaks with Kawagarbo as its highest peak. Songtsam Lodges Meili is located in the tiny village of Gejinong, a village home with only five households at an altitude of 3,600 metres. Songtsam Lodges Meili consists of two buildings and has a total of 17 guestrooms. Each of them allows guests to enjoy the magnificent view of the pure and holy Meri Snow Mountain, thanks to its fantastic and untouched location. There are two first-class hiking routes in this region, including the Baima Snow Mountain hiking tour and the Meri Mountain hiking tour. The two tours take place at an altitude of above 3,500 metres necessitating a certain degree of physical strength.
Baima Snow Mountain hiking tour
Departure time: 9.a.m.
Duration of the tour: 5 to 8 hours. After a 45 minutes’ drive from the hotel, guests will go hiking for 3 to 5 hours or 8 hours, depending on guests’ physical strength and weather conditions.
Highlight of the tour: Visiting the natural preservation area.
Tips: The hiking tour features downhill slopes onwards and uphill slopes backwards at an altitude above 3,500 metres.
Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Preserve is located between the lofty mountains and high ranges in northwest Yunnan Province with vertically distributed and various vegetation due to the complex landforms. Since the preserve rarely sees people, it remains in pure condition and is the last home to wildlife like the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey. Guests can hike among the fine scenery of valleys and in the alpine pastures in summer to enjoy the magnificent view of the snow mountains, grassland and glaciers.
Songtsam Lodges Benzilanlies in a concealed valley. Situated in Bairen Village where the altitude is about 1,900 metres, the stone-piled Tibetan buildings are in perfect harmony with the surrounding white-walled and quaint cottages with wooden roofs. A two hour drive from Meili by car, the must-visit or must-do around Benzilan includes Dongzhulin Monastery and the relatively easy primeval forest hiking tour.
Songtsam Lodges Shangri-La Exterior
Hiking in the Niding Primeval Forest and visiting the local Tibetan villages
Departure time: 10.a.m.
Duration of the tour: 5 hours. After a 45 minutes’ drive from the hotel, guests will reach the 2-hour hiking starting point
Tips: The unsurfaced road from the hotel to the hiking starting point is bumpy and winding while the unsurfaced hiking path becomes relatively flat after guests enter the primeval forest.
Niding Village is situated at an altitude above 3,000 metres. Niding is a Tibetan word that means ‘somewhere in the bottom of one’s heart’. Guests will walk along the path from Niding Village into the mountain, follow the old horse route and cross the azalea forest. There are lofty and bushy pine trees, cedars and oaks with usnea hanging on their branches along the smooth and unsurfaced paths, – which becomes the treasured land for matsutake hunting during the rainy season. Guests can also pick mushrooms to later enjoy at dinner.
Guests will reach the Songtsam Retreat M Gallery after a 1.5-hour’s drive from Benzilan. Uniquely designed, Songtsam Retreat M Gallery has 24 stone blockhouse-style buildings and a total of 75 guestrooms and suites in Tibetan style. The view of Songzanlin Monastery, valleys, lamaseries, Tibetan villages and distant mountains can be enjoyed through the windows and balconies in all rooms. Dukezong Old Town, which is not far away from the hotel, survived a fire in 2014 and features a huge Guinness World Record prayer wheel. Among all of the tours organized by the hotel, the tour to visit theblack pottery craftsmen in Nixi town is the most popular. The craft of black pottery making in Nixi town has a history of over a thousand years and the black pottery is made of the mixed red soil and white soil that can only be found in Tutao Hill, Tangduidu Jigu Village, Nixi Town and Shangri-La city. The pottery after firing presents a complete dull-black colour with a bright, clean and smooth texture.
The Songtsam Lodges’ signature ‘Songtsam Circuit’ tours are led by local Tibetan guides who speak fluent English. Guests will be transferred by exclusive vehicles and personal drivers and stay in one of Songtsam Lodges’ boutique hotels. The driving time between each hotel ranges from 1.5 hours to 3.5 hours. The circuit covers all major attractions along the ‘Three Rivers in Parallel’ conservation area in Yunnan Province and the journey takes from 6 to 9 days or longer if guests wish. Mr. Baima Duoji, the founder of Songtsam Lodges, founded Songtsam Lodges as a medium to carry and preserve Tibetan sceneries, culture and spirituality as ‘living Tibetan Museums’.