We felt rejuvenated after our hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge and continued on by mini-bus through Yunnan to the tiny village of Baishuitai. Literally translated, Baishuitai means “White Water Terraces”, and it was these terraces that drew us to this secluded part of China.
The idyllic limestone terraces are formed by fresh mountain water that trickles down from Haba Mountain. Deposits from calcium bicarbonate in the water took form over millions of years, giving us the pale stepped landscape you see here.
Somehow we missed the entrance to the terraces, which turned out to be immediately across the street from our guesthouse. As a result we tramped through a farmer’s field complete with cows, thorn bushes and plenty of patties. Our trespass did save us the entry fee, though. Even if the official pathway to the terraces is crumbling from neglect, the terraces themselves are spectacular and pristine. All in all an enjoyable side trip, although it’s definitely out of the way.
From Baishuitai we braved one final 8 hour bus trip through some of the most beautiful and unforgiving countryside in China. Sadly, the complete lack of road maintenance prevented us from taking any photographs on this extremely bumpy ride.
Next up was Shangri-La. Described by author James Hilton in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon, Shangri-La has become synonymous with an earthly paradise. It conjures images of a Himalayan utopia — an isolated and permanently happy land where people live for hundreds of years.
The town itself is criss-crossed by hilly stone pathways leading to restaurants, stores with Tibetan jewelry and crafts, and the central square where locals and tourists dance every evening. Shangri-La is also home to the world’s largest prayer wheel. We were able to turn it with the help of about two dozen other people.
We splurged one evening on a Tibetan hotpot, which is a hearty meal of yak meat and vegetables. Shangri-La also has a local brewery with very decent beers to wash it all down.
Unfortunately, the reality is that this Shangri-La was so named for tourism purposes in 2001 and doesn’t quite live up to the paradise that Hilton described. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place to visit. Western-style restaurants abound (at least in the touristy old town) and it’s quite clean and well maintained. But again, it lacked the authenticity were were searching for.
Will we ever find a true, untouristed Chinese town?? Stay tuned as next time we head further into the Himalayas in our quest to find authentic China!