Songzanlin Monastery in Yunnan Province

In the year 1993, James Hilton described an eternally peaceful and quiet place among mountains in the East - "Shangri-La" in one of his novels for the first time. In the novel "Lost Horizon", an English diplomat Conway and his brother Gorge scattered the English citizens and helped them leave the dangerous region. On their way home, their plane was hijacked and fell down into the mountain in the Tibetan region. Some lucky survivors were taken to Shangri-la where Conway found lots of fantastic things in such a state founded nearly 200 years ago, in which the local people lived up to more than one hundred years old and lived peacefully and harmoniously with the other people, animals and everything here. The place was called "Shangri-La" by the local folks.

James Hilton located "Shangri-La" in a mysterious valley which was surrounded by snowcapped mountains; near where there were snow-clad peaks, blue lakes, broad grassy marshlands, and lamaseries, Buddhist nunneries, mosques, Catholic Church; the human beings and the nature were in perfect harmony, several religions and varies of nationalities exited at the same time; Baishui terrace, the temples looked splendid in green and golden; though people contacted the outer world by caravan for a long time, many foreign experts and scholars had come here to investigate and remained much relics.

Obviously, that is not only a beautiful scenery, but also a kind of artistic conception. With the novel and the film coming out, Shangri-La became very famous in western countries. Later, a Chinese named Guo Huonian used the name of this place and set up "Shangri-La" Hotel Group which has become one of the most successful hotel group in the world.

At the same time, people didn't give up looking for the legendary Shangri-La. Up to the end of this century, they finally have found--After inspecting and proving on many aspects, people found that Diqing Prefecture, the only Tibetan region in Yunnan, China, has striking similarity with what's described in the tale regarding either on natural scenery or people's way of living. Therefore, the name of "Diqing-Shangri-La" spreads worldwide.

Gedan Songzanlin Monastery, also called Guihua Monastery, is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan province, as well as one of the 13 large lamaseries in the Kangzang region (the joint area of Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan). The monastery is 5km from the seat of Zhongdian County. Construction began in 1679 and was completed in 1681. In 1724, during the reign of Emperor Yongzheng in the Qing Dynasty, the monastery was renamed the 'Guihua Monastery'. During its time of greatest prosperity, there were more than 3,000 monks in the temple. Built along the mountains with a magnificent facade, the present monastery is a faithful imitation of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Covering an area of 33.35 hectares, the monastery has solid walls and five gates. Two main lamaseries, Zhacang and Jikang, command the highest position in the architectural complex. Also listed among the 13 large lamaseries in Kangzang region, they are both Tibetan-style watchtowers and are surrounded by eight sub-lamaseries and the dormitories or the lamas. A five-story Tibetan-style building serves as the main hall in this monastery. Seen from the distance, the gilded copper stupa at the top of the structure and the gilded copper tiles seem to shine eternally in the plateau sunlight. The lower tier in this structure is supported by 108 giant pillars, an auspicious number in Buddhism. The 16 colorful pictures hanging high in the hall are said to have been painted by renowned lamas with golden liquid given by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Brightened with numerous butter-oil lamps, the hall can hold 1,600 lamas sitting in meditation or chanting the Buddhist scriptures. The monastery has many treasures. The most famous are the eight gold-covered sculptures of Sakyamuni, fashioned between the time of the Fifth and Seventh Dalai Lamas. In the early Qing Dynasty, the rulers of Lijiang, the Mu Family, presented the monastery with dozens of bronze sculptures, the 'Ganzur' scriptures hand-written in liquid gold, scriptures written on pattra leaves, gold lamps, and many exquisite gilded silver incense burners. Every morning, noon and evening, the solemn tolling of the bells and the sound of the drums from the bell and drum towers can be heard several kilometers away.