Shangri-La: Mei’s Inspiration Travel

Unlock the Mysteries of Shangri-La

When the flight arrived at Zhongdian (also called Shangri-La) in the middle of July, 2009, there were only a few suitcases at baggage claim, suggesting that this corner of China’s Yunnan province remains a quiet spot for visitors.

We were greeted by our tour guide, a brightly dressed “Zuo Ma” (Tibetan for “young woman”). Then we quickly squeezed everything onto the bus—kids, bags, grandparents—along with a desperate urge to dash out to see everything that has Shangri-La intrigued the world since 1933 when James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon” was published.

This trip to Shangri-La had been in my dreams for many years. Ever since reading the book in high school, I had had this itch to travel by myself with a backpack to explore this “paradise” in peaceful solitude.

Instead, I had not only gathered my family but our extended family as well. Including grandparents, an uncle, an aunt and some of my closest friends, our little entourage turned into a group of 18 ranging from 5 to 80 years of age.

They won’t believe this back in Beijing

Due to its altitude of more than 15,000 feet, Shangri-La is cool in the middle of summer. We stopped to outfit everybody with warm jackets, raincoats and hats, as well as two bottles of oxygen for each as some of us already felt breathless.

The bus pulled out of the National Park and we were on our way. In contrast to what one sees in the coastal cities of China with nothing but seas of people, here, finally, was land kept green by constant rain, cool from its closeness to the sky, and achingly beautiful in a rustic, untouched way.

Grassland stretched miles and miles in all directions, dotted with black and brown wild horses lazily playing with each other. Birds, large and daring, stopped right in front of us to check out the rarely seen invaders. Herds of water buffalo, running so quietly despite their large size, paused every so often to peek at us. The cold, blue lakes reminded me of those high in the Swiss Alps.

Most amazing of all was the quietness. Not a deadly silence, but a natural quiet devoid of the sounds of planes, of cars, of loud human chatter. Underneath the quiet is a liveliness that is most primitive, as if all creatures have established a code, a code to keep this place as tranquil as it is serenely breathtaking.

Mom, are we there yet?

After four hours of hiking, we re-boarded our bus and headed to the city of Shangri-La where we were to stay in a lodge owned by a poet. However, well before we reached our destination, the driver stopped to talk with the Zuo Ma. She turned and explained to us that the narrow, cobblestone roads made it impossible for the bus to go farther. She apologized and said we would have to hike the rest of the way—kids, grandparents, bags and all.

In just a few steps, we understood the difficulty. The streets, no more than 10 feet wide and made up of very large cobbles, seemed best suited for horses. After many turns and endless pulling of kids with one arm and suitcases with the other, we saw the lodge—a beautifully refurbished house with wooden double doors, a stone courtyard and eight bedrooms individually designed by the poet and his wife.

Ring-ring, magnificent splendor calling

As we settled into bamboo chairs and sipped traditional Tibetan su yo cha (tea made with yak butter), we suddenly heard the sound of the bell ringing in the nearby Tibetan Buddhist temple.

I ran to the temple with the sound of the bell still ringing in my ears, and was so taken by the sight I came upon, and the lack of oxygen, that I leaned on the temple’s large wooden door to collect myself.

In front of me was the most amazing array of colors, textures, aromas and sounds I had come across in Shangri-La.

Yellow walls with red clay roofs stood against a brilliant turquoise sky. The monks’ hurried to afternoon prayers, their sienna-colored robes moving like meadow flowers in the breeze. The air was fragrant with incense. Prayers echoed throughout the openness of the temple. Graphic symbols of the ancient religion decorated the stone walls, wood panels and drapes. Every surface rang out with color and texture, every moment with scents and sounds unlike any others.

Later we strolled the many squares and lanes of old-town Shangri La and saw those colors over and over again, in hand-woven wool shawls, turquoise and silver jewelry, and magnificently stitched table runners and pillow cases.

As I closed my eyes that night, the green and untouched paradise we hiked and the colorful, ethno-chic streets we strolled came together in my mind to form the single, unified impression of Shangri-La that would become the inspiration for our newest destination collection.

Paradise found in a luxurious yurt

To my delight, I found an antique Tibetan prayer wheel among the woven shawls, embroidered textiles and beautiful jewelry of the old market. With its bright enameled colors, etched metal and textile lining, it is a trend board in itself. It has inspired our product developers to achieve an incredible vision of a modern Shangri-La filled with colors, textures and scents of paradise.

Imagine a rustic pillow of woven raw silk next to a colorfully embroidered, smoke gray pillow. Picture a medallion so bold, it runs off the duvet cover and pops up on the shower curtain. Lift the candle jar lid detailed in fine metalwork and breathe in the Dolma Cedarwood fragrance. Lay back on a rustic, faux-yak Sherpa throw and pillow and gaze at the patterns tossed across the wall of your luxurious, secret yurt. This multi-layered collection is made to dazzle the senses and help you create the ultimate in modern, relaxing Shangri-Las.

Enjoy paradise.

Mei Xu
Creator & CEO