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On the way to Deqin--Benzilan

    One of the highlights of Shangri-La is the 114-mile trip to Deqin. A bus takes about 6 hours but you lose the chance to stop at all the places that make the trip so gratifying, cost is 56 Yuan one way. A private car (an SUV is not necessary) takes about 9 hours with all the stops and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the villages, people, temples, scenic views and lunch along the way. A two-day/one night roundtrip fare, Shangri-La to Dequin should run about 800-1000 Yuan. Each additional night should be about 400 Yuan, plus the cost of lunch and dinner with your driver but not his or her accommodations. The extra money is well spent if you have the funds available. 

    The first brief stop out of Shangri-la is Nixi town famous for its pottery and blackened cookware. Just before getting to the town you will pass Shangri-La’s Ski area lifts and hotel.  December through February is the best time for skiing. About 2 ½ hours out you find yourself driving along the Yangtze River on your left. After another 30 minute or so you arrive at the town of Bengzilan at a very breathable 6,500 foot elevation. Filled with stores and restaurants it’s an excellent place to stop for lunch. Though you are in Yunnan, when you look across the river that divides the town you are actually looking into Sichuan Province. As you leave Bengzilan on your right you will see fields of grapes and wineries. After a 10-minute climb out of the valley you will see a large mound with six poles jutting out from the road. It’s at this point where “Tibetan Celestial Burial” rights are performed. Bodies are cut into small pieces, which birds eat and carry away. At about the half way point in the trip you will come to Dong Zhu Lin Temple the second largest monastery in this area. 

    An hour later you’re at almost 15,000 feet and Bai Ma Snow Mountain comes into view. Finally at almost the end of a 9-hour journey at 12,000 feet you catch your first glimpse of Mei Lei Snow Mountain on your left. At this point you begin your descent into Deqin, an uninspiring city if there ever was one. Nobody stays in Deqin. Expect to continue on for another 15 minutes (30 if there are landslides

covering the road) to Fei Lai or the “Temple Area”. The Temple is actually a small temple which you will pass also as you come to a row of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants that look like they are on the edge of the universe directly across from the best view of the Mei Lei mountains. There are a range of accommodations from gloomy to high design. If you can afford 200-280 Yuan there are no better views or levels of comfort then the JZ Inn (telephone 13988722755 or sillybear_lee@yahoo.com.cn an English website is to be launched soon). The sunrise on a cloudless day is nothing short of spectacular. The snow capped mountaintops turn an amazing golden color.    Be warned some people wait two weeks for this day and some still leave disappointed.

    From this area, it’s 62 miles to the Tibetan border. Yubeng is a popular 6-hour hike to a mountain village along the way. The road to Tibet is better on the Sichuan side but expect mostly desert scenery, the Yunnan road may be as good within about 3 years but the scenery is more beautiful. The average length of stay in this area is 3 days, 5 days minimum if you are going to hike to Yubeng. There are occasional checkpoints along the way between Shangri-La and Deqin, they are low key and friendly, the Department of Homeland Security could probably learn some manners by making a visit, but you should keep your passport at hand during the trip. 

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