Ever since Lost Horizon came about, people cannot get enough of the legendary Shangri-La that is further mystified by the images of deep gorges, flowing rivers, and sacred mountains. Perhaps you can experience it for yourself once you visit Yunnan Dechen.
Diqing is part of the Yunnan Province and is located on the northwest. It is found within the Tibetan Plateau, just like Qinhai Province and its capital, Xining. However, this is an autonomous prefecture, which means the province in which it belongs to does not have complete control over how it is being run.
Unlike Qinhai, which is very large, Diqing is small at less than 25,000 square kilometers. It is composed of only three counties, namely, Shangri-La, Diqen, and Weixi Lisu, which is also autonomous. All these places have their Tibetan name equivalents. The biggest among the three is Shangri-La, which covers more than 11,000 square kilometers. It is also the seat of the prefecture. This is then followed by Deqen at around 7,000 square kilometers and Weixi at 4,500 square kilometers.
It also covers the very huge Yunnan protected area and features the famous Three Parallel Rivers. These are Mekong, which flow toward Laos and Vietnam (to name a few places), Yangtze, and Salween, which feeds the waters of Myanmar (formerly called Burma). Around the area the many mountains and gorges, one of which is the Leaping Tiger Gorge, said to be the deepest in the world with a very steep incline of around 70 degrees from the peak. Its nearness to Tibet makes Diqing the only way to reach the former through Yunnan Province.
Very little is known on the history of Diqing, although it is belived to be inhabited as early as 6,000 years ago. Most of the people came from Tibet, and they have maintained their way of living ever since. By the time the Qin Dynasty was formed, the ruling covered the area. Many have also associated Diqing, especially Shangri-La or Zhongdian, to the novel Lost Horizon, which was written by James Hilton, a British national. It was published sometime in the 1930s. There, he mentioned a very beautiful and mystical place named Shangri-La, filled with lakes, gorges, and mountains with overflowing snow. This, nevertheless, is being disputed by many experts for a number of reasons. One, the book is fictional, and as such, the place could also be a product of imagination. Two, some believe Shangri-La refers not to a specific place but to a region that is made up of several areas. Besides, Shangri-La County was formerly called Zhongdian until it was changed to increase tourism in the area. This does not undermine the fact, though, that the county is picturesque.
So far, there are more than 300,000 people living in Diqing, across all three counties. Most of them are in Shangri-La. It is also composed of different ethnic groups. The biggest of them are the Tibetans, which account to over 30 percent. They are then followed by Lisu, Han, Naxi, Bai, and Yi. The Hui, derung, Nu, and Miao make up the rest of the minorities.
The people are deeply religious, and a lot of the sights are considered to be sacred to them. An example is the Mingyong Glaciers. The glaciers that form in the area come from the mystical snowy mountains of Meili. In fact, many trek to the mountain to pay homage. Many, however, do not get to reach the Kagebo Peak, which has remained a virgin today.
The climate of Diqing is very interesting. It is located around 3,380 meters above sea level, which explains why the air is very cold. However, because of its low latitude—it is found near the Tropic of Cancer—it can also be warm. The temperatures can also be quite different among the counties. The highest point is Deqen County, which is also the farthest in the Yunnan Province. It is even a lot closer to Tibet, which is around a hundred kilometers far. The best times to visit the prefecture are during summer and autumn because of the brilliant colors all around.
Getting in and out of Diqing is not a problem since a lot of options are available. There is an airport in the region, and many of the roads have already been paved. Even the attractions themselves can be reached by a public or a mini bus. A horse ride can also offer you a very pleasant and memorable experience. Nevertheless, those who seek adventure should consider trekking. The walk can last for days, but it also rewards you with excellent views of nature, making all the challenges worth it. It also helps to follow directions religiously and, to save you the trouble, travel with a group organized by a tour agency.