Captivated By The People & Places of Yunnan

Captivated By The People & Places of Yunnan

Hello Friend!

Last week I told someone that retreats are the BEST part of my life. I love taking them, I love planning them, and I especially love sharing why I think they are a must for creatives.

You may have seen my popular blog post “Top 10 Reasons Why Photo Retreats Enrich My Life” which is a illustrated list of why I keep signing up for photography retreats.

Today I am pleased to have the opportunity to elaborate on reason #4 on that list: Meeting Like-minded People.

Sparkling Shangri-La, Tibet

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 fairytale. 

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!

Shangri-La's Stunning Gem: The ARRO KHAMPA HOTEL

Shangri-La's Stunning Gem: The ARRO KHAMPA HOTEL

Stepping into old-town Shangri-La, Tibet is like stepping into a fairy tale.

As I mentioned in my last blog, Shangri-La (formerly known as Gyalthang or Zhongdian in Chinese) is a 1,300-year-old Tibetan community, which was selected by the Chinese government in 2001 as the location of the mythical Shangri-La from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. I couldn’t wait to see this sanctuary above the clouds.

First Glimpse on the Roof of the World

First Glimpse on the Roof of the World

A three hour drive from Shaxi along curving mountain pass roads brings you to the Tibetan plateau and it’s first major trading site - Zhongdian. The city was renamed Shangri-La, after the Utopian Tibetan location described in Jack Hilton's novel, Lost Horizon.

Along the road north, we stopped at two rest stops. The first was a stunning overlook where you can see the bend in the Yangtze River after its long southeast journey from Tibet. It felt good to stop here and enjoy this magnificent view with the yellow canola fields in bloom along the river.

48 Hours in Shaxi: On The Road to Shangri-La

48 Hours in Shaxi: On The Road to Shangri-La

When I started this blog I intended to begin with one of my favorite photos from my travels through Yunnan - it’s a snapshot of me riding a fluffy white yak, with blue sky and the Himalayas behind me standing as a stunning backdrop.

However, doing that would require me to fast-forward my journey along the Ancient Tea and Horse Road past a delicious 48 hours I spent in a sleepy little town called Shaxi.

Shaxi is a historic market town in Yunnan, known for its famous Sideng market square which was added to the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in 2001. I was lucky to arrive on market day, and got to experience the sights and sounds of this unique place where the local people come from all over the mountainsides to trade and buy their local goods.

However it wasn’t the market day that made this place so memorable for me - it was special because of instead of going along on the day-trip excursions that were planned for the day, I decided to follow my intuition and stay in Shaxi so I could wander, collect color notes, rest, try some restaurants, make photographs and really…..just soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful gem of a town along the road to Tibet.

The Flavors of Yunnan: Cooking Class at the LINDEN COMMONS

The Flavors of Yunnan: Cooking Class at the LINDEN COMMONS

A ten minute walk from the LINDEN CENTRE through the streets of Xizhou, brings you to the LINDEN COMMONS: Yan’s house. This iconic mansion was built in 1928, and opened for guests in 2018 after being lovingly restored by the LINDEN CENTRE’s owners, Brian and Jeanee Linden.

The hotel and grounds are nearly double the size of the LINDEN CENTRE, and are perfect for large groups and retreats. With 14 rooms decorated with traditional Bai-style antiques, the hotel also features dining areas, a gorgeous cafe/bar, conference facilities, a library, gym & yoga room, massage area, boutique gallery and last but not least, a cooking school complete with flower and vegetable gardens.

Journey Up to Weishan + Tea on Weibao Mountain

Journey Up to Weishan + Tea on Weibao Mountain

My travels along the Ancient Tea & Horse Road led me to Weishan, which is a two hour drive south of Xizhou, where the LINDEN CENTRE is located.

Weishan was an important and prosperous trading place during the 8th and 9th centuries and the old-town village is very picturesque, with friendly and laid-back shop merchants lining the streets. I was lucky to be here on the last day of the famous Weishan Snack Festival, which draws people from all over Yunnan once a year to gather together and eat all sorts of unique snacks.

Indigo Dreams at Zhoucheng Village

Indigo Dreams at Zhoucheng Village

On my artist walks though Xizhou, I couldn’t help but admire the stacks of gorgeous blue and white textiles that dotted many of the sellers stalls. It reminded me of my days planning fiber art workshops with Shibori artist Yoshiko Wada. The blues range from a soft cloud blue, to deep indigo and are similar to the pool of layered blue hues that I am working with right now in my painting studio.

SOUTH OF THE CLOUDS: First Stop, The Linden Centre

SOUTH OF THE CLOUDS: First Stop, The Linden Centre

JENNA here, writing this travel diary from beautiful Yunnan, China. 

This place has long been a bucket list location for me, stemming from my college days pouring over books that described Asia’s art history objects, calligraphy scrolls and landscape paintings which captured my interest and resonated with me in a powerful way.   If you aren’t familiar with the area, Yunnan is also known as South of the Clouds and is home to some of the most diverse cultures, ecology and landscape in China.