Sparkling Shangri-La, Tibet

I mentioned in my last blog that stepping into the old-town streets of Shangri-La is like stepping into a fairy-tale.

Arriving at this magical city on a day with soaring blue skies, cool mountain breezes and bright sunshine, probably has something to do with defining that impression. The longer I stayed, the more I decided that Shangri-La is way more than special.

I found so much to inspire me during my stay. Read on for my highlights!


The ARRO KHAMPA Hotel where I stayed is located right at the foot of Dukezong Temple, which marks the entrance to old-town, Shangri-La. Wandering from here along the curved cobblestone streets is a feast for the eyes because the shop fronts are decorated with rich colors and elaborately carved wooden doors. I have never seen such exquisitely beautiful carvings.

I was so inspired by the craftsmanship, and recognized the obvious time that was invested to create such beauty. Even one single panel must have taken weeks to complete! I collected color notes for my sketchbook and picked out several cafe’s to come back to later on.



With the help of sweet Tsomo (one of Arro Khampa’s fabulous staff members) I had the opportunity to try on a traditional Tibetan dress in the most stunning shade of azure blue. I asked my photography instructor Douglas Beasley to work with me on some image collaborations right outside the Arro Khampa Hotel, with the Dukezong Temple in the backdrop.

Afterwards, Tsomo let me wear the dress for the rest of the day as I explored Shangri-La. Wearing this dress gave me a deep appreciation of the women of Tibet and I felt a little bit like Cinderella in this fairytale town. So, imagine my joy when Tsomo helped make arrangements for me to bring this gorgeous blue dress home with me. I am so grateful for this precious treasure!

Jenna wearing a traditional Tibetan chupa dress in Azure Blue. Photo collaboration with Douglas Beasley

Jenna wearing a traditional Tibetan chupa dress in Azure Blue. Photo collaboration with Douglas Beasley


On my first afternoon in  Shangri-La, I rested and drank ginger and brown sugar tea which is a remedy to soften the effects of altitude sickness. At 10,000’ it is expected that visitors need some time to adjust, and we were cautioned to take it easy. This was my first time experiencing altitude of this height, and I was intrigued by the heady sensation of breathing the thin air.

Doug encouraged us to explore a special photo assignment: Go out and make images about breath, without being literal.

Here is one of my favorites from that assignment.

Where My Breath Pools and Eddies │gazing on the healing properties of water and copper│Arro Khampa Hotel, Shangri-La, Tibet


The most memorable shop that I visited in Shangri-La is the yak bell shop where hundreds of handmade bells dangle from the ceiling and the walls.  When I first stepped inside the threshold, I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to try ringing the bells. The shop-keeper must have read my mind, because he approached me right away and demonstrated how to ring them, using a small piece of horn.

I spent an hour browsing the bells and ended up choosing a medium-sized brass one, hand hammered and heavy, with a voice clear and melodious as the day is long.


If you know me, you’ll know that I love trying new cafe’s and coffee shops wherever I go. After looking over a menu that included espresso, lattes and mochas, I ordered and sat down at a small table that had a window overlooking the courtyard. A small shelf by the window had a small display of artisan-made yak milk soap bars, and soap made with local honey.

While I sipped my mocha, I observed a small group of friends gathered around the wood-stove in the center of the cafe. I thought about how the hearth is traditionally the center of a house and the source of warmth, food and light.

Isn’t it one of life’s simple pleasures to warm yourself by a fire, while you enjoy a hot drink?



A short bus ride brings you to the Songzanlin Monastery, where 700 monks reside on a mountain hillside.  It is the largest Tibetan Buddhist lamasery in China and a vibrant center of prayer and study. This is where you can experience the local culture as you observe monks going about their daily routine.

I climbed the 146 stairs up step, by, step, and thought again about breath and what it means to be on a pilgrimage. When you reach the top, you can see views stretching for miles. The faraway ridges are dotted with shrines and prayer flags that flutter in the breeze.

View from the top of the stairs at Songzanlin Monastery

The monastery halls are so magnificent, photos just don’t do them justice. I felt humbled in their presence. I handpicked three mala bead strings to bring home, which were blessed by a monk before I went on my way. 

On my way down, I took some side streets instead of using the main stairs. I wandered and made photographs.  I even found another large spoon which was full of soul, just like the one I had found in Zhoucheng.

Spoon Gifts at Songzanlin Monastery / Shangri-La, Tibet

Spoon Gifts at Songzanlin Monastery / Shangri-La, Tibet

Soul Spoon from Temple in Zhoucheng Village

Soul Spoon from Temple in Zhoucheng Village

Images made during my walk down from the Monastery.


One of the best meals I had in China was the last dinner we shared together at the KARMA CAFE. The building is an ancient Tibetan house, with dining rooms on the second level. Beautifully atmospheric with colorful table settings and fresh flowers, our menu included Karma’s signature yak steak with mashed potatoes. Paired with sides of delicious and crisp veggies…every bite was heaven.



A highlight moment in Shangri-La was joining in with the community in a large circle dance at the city square. As Tibetan music poured out of the speakers, and stars sparkled above, we all moved in clockwise unison, stepping and twirling, with arms raised high. One man broke away from the group, to leap and spin at the circle’s center, modifying the dance in his own way. His joy was infectious and I marveled at how full of life he was. Caught up in the energy of the circle, I danced until I was out of breath.

Walking home afterwards, I stopped just outside the Arro Khampa Hotel, and said a prayer of thanks while I gazed at the shining Dukezhong Temple, glowing bright against the night sky. I knew that in a few minutes, I’d be getting settled for the night in my warm and cozy room. Still…I remained there for a few moments longer, soaking in the ambiance of this sparkling city above the clouds.

Far away, at the very limit of distance, lay range upon range of snow-peaks, festooned with glaciers, and floating, in appearance, upon vast levels of cloud.
— Passage from James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon


Founder & Lead Travel Ambassador for OPEN AIR PLACES.  

Every step I took in Shangri-La inspired me, and I hope you’ll put this place on your list of cities to see! I definitely plan to go back and stay at the ARRO KHAMPA HOTEL.

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