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    Posted June 11, 2013 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Life in China

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    Shangri-La reinvented


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     ouzoliny was traveling through China in April 2012 when he stopped over in Zhongdian, China, per multiple recommendations. There, he snapped these photos of the awe-inspiring temples and buildings, all 'beautifully decorated with a natural sense of detail.' His sixth image was featured as CNN's Travel Photo of the Day for January 23, 2014.
    - jccarp, CNN iReport producer

    Mystical and harmonious place hidden away from the troubles of the world by a ring of Himalayan Mountain range. A sanctuary, where all the troubles of earthly life supposedly seize to exist, unreachable by us, ordinary, proud and power-hungry creations of modern society.

    Maybe not precisely the way Shambhala is described in Buddhist texts, or even in Hiltons novel Lost Horizon according to which the name Shangri-La has come to life. However, that was my image of the legendary spiritual kingdom. All the more was I surprised to get off the bus, after a perpetual 6-hour journey of less than 200 kilometers, and find myself amidst newly built mix of concrete and tile — an unfortunate character of the new China.

    Anyway, it would not be very romantic to get to the long lost paradise simply by taking a bus, even though filled with a cigarette created mist of mystery fuming up the small interior. One needs to take another, less crowded while smelly all the same, to reach the Chinese Shangri-La, a city originally known as Zhongdian and renamed so as to claim to be one of the seven sacred places of the Buddhist refuge.

    Entering the old part of the city had an impression of setting foot to an ancient kingdom of tranquility, compared to the hustle bustle of the new town. Hardly an intention of "new era" architects, but an effect of the old vs. new contrast which serves the unintentional purpose perfectly. In an instant I felt relieved and content, as if given a well deserved reward for the struggles endured on the way.

    Set in a plateau surrounded by mountain tops reaching high above the city one must admit the fact it does resemble the description. Whether it once was the "pure land", explorers have been searching for since ever, remains a mystery. Admittedly, it possesses a certain touch of spirituality, although I could not but feel the spirit being suppressed by the new Chinese approach to life, where money has gained a dominant importance.

    Be it as it may, the monasteries with no monks to reside and sing mantras in - a sight sadly too frequent all over todays China - does not seem to be that apparent in Zhongdian. Wandering the streets filled with small art galleries, pubs combining a sensitive mixture of Jamaican reggae-style decor with that of a Buddhist one, teaming with local residents donned in native costumes somehow makes up for the feeling of spiritual emptiness.

    Whatever the truth is, finding Shambhala is an individual journey one needs to undertake and endure for oneself. Simply pinpointing the location would defeat the purpose. So why couldn't it be right here in Zhongdian, hidden away and surrounded by the outer layer of concrete, living its own life and prevailing the little spirit it has secured from the days long gone.
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