“When he rose in the morning and saw the soft lapis blue of the sky through his window, he would not have chosen to be elsewhere on earth,” wrote English author James Hilton in his novel, Lost Horizon, from which the utopia of Shangri-La originated.
Set among the mountains of Tibet, the novel follows the adventures of British man Hugh Conway, who finds paradise, inner peace and a sense of purpose in the highland idyll, where horses and yaks roam fertile meadows, dream-like cloudscapes are mirrored in shimmering lakes and snowcapped peaks reach out to touch the sky.
Visitors to Shangri-La Resort – which is located in the heart of modern-day Shangri-La City, the capital of the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and so-named because it boasts all of the redolent mysticism of its fictional forbear – will find themselves equally enchanted by the warm welcome offered at the hotel, not to mention its spectacular surroundings and the cultural, epicurean and natural adventures that abound.
Imagined as a contemporary iteration of a traditional Silk Road caravanserai, Shangri-La Resort’s design is sensitive to both its Tibetan and Yunnan influences. The lobby ceiling soars to dizzy heights, making way for a contemporary sculpture and water feature symbolising the nine levels of consciousness in Buddhism, while two Tibetan chimneys flank it on either side. Indeed, local culture and customs are celebrated throughout the hotel’s public and private areas – with an elaborate yak butter sculpture hand-crafted by monks at the entrance, prayer flags that adorn the popular hot pot restaurant and fabrics and design motifs native to Yunnan province present in all of the rooms and suites.
In a departure from standard hotel design, at this resort the beds point not toward televisions but towards the windows, which boast stunning views of the property’s public gardens, the town and the temples and mountains beyond. Because, really, it is for these remarkable vistas that most people travel to 3,300 metres above sea level, where the air is thin and temperatures drop – they too are in search of Shangri-La.
Luckily, it lies, both physically and spiritually, just beyond the hotel’s boundaries and any of its staff, or ‘ambassadors’, will be happy to show you around. A short wander will take you into the 1,000-year-old Dukezong Old Town (much of which was tragically devastated by a fire in 2014, although it is being carefully rebuilt and not all of its charm was lost in the blaze), or you can borrow mountain bikes and head off to explore the lakes and meadows on two wheels.
Those wishing to venture slightly further afield can explore the Potatso National Park on horseback, which is home to more than 20 per cent of China’s plant species and around one-third of its mammal and bird species, or get lost inside the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, which dates back to 1679. What’s certain is that whichever corner of this elevated wonderland you choose to traverse, you won’t forget the awe that it inspired, nor the warmness by which you were welcomed into it, in a hurry.
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A version of this article originally appeared in our November 2017 issue and has been updated to reflect the latest information.