Into Tibetan territory
We eat a simple, quick lunch in a small, poor village of the Chinese Naxi minority, and then we go higher and higher, first conquering a 3500 metre pass with our bikes, then one of 3700 metres… and suddenly we are in Tibet! Large pompous houses like fortresses of mud line the street, full of rich wooden ornamentation; many herds of yaks grazing in the high meadows on the “Roof of the World”. And great wooden shafts, used for drying hay, stick up into the heavens like gigantic chairs without seats. Shortly before Shangri-La it gets cold and rainy, but a fire awaits us at the Kersang Relay Station, where you can warm up, dry your motorbike gear and drink Tibetan butter tea.
Soot on the house wall is a hint pointing to the fire of two years before. The fire wiped out the Old Town of Shangri-La but spared the guesthouse. Meanwhile, the city has been rebuilt beautifully, true to the old style.
The name Shangri-La goes back to James Hilton, who described a utopian paradise in his novel from 1933. It was located in the Himalayas, where the residents lived a life in denial of civilisation’s haste, did not get sick and attained life spans as long as those in the Bible. In the temple in the Old Town, we turn the biggest prayer wheel in the world and think: reaching a biblical age is not bad, but the special experience of motorbike riding on this trip is incomparably better.