I just met with Xuan Ke again, the larger than life character from Lijiang who was instrumental in the name change of Zhongdian to Shangri-La back in the late 1990s after reading a copy of Lost Horizon by James Hilton. Xuan is half Tibetan and half Naxi (pronounced Na-Khi) and is something of a local hero among the Chinese, especially in Yunnan Province. Famed for being outspoken on the issues facing the ethnic minority Naxi, Xuan has travelled the world with his Naxi Orchestra which is based in the Old City of Lijiang.
I was in my element sifting through old & rare National Geographic magazines from the day when Xuan’s father was a translator for Joseph Rock back in the 1920s and 1930s. His father also assisted General Stillwell in the translations needed for the Stillwell Road project in Burma (more on that later) and knew Peter Goullart, the Russian Toaist Doctor who recounts his time in Lijiang in his book, Forbidden Kingdom. The book is a great read, taking the reader back to how market life would have been like back in the day and gives a very different view of life in Lijiang than the one portrayed by Rock.
Where to next?
Xuan gave me a lead in Zhongdian, a Government official who I must visit. The official may have some information on the movements of Shambhala teachings from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) through to Yunnan in and around what is now the known as “Shangri-La”. I’ll be leaving north for the small village of Baisha tomorrow morning and visiting Joseph Rock’s old “National Geographic Headquarters”. From here I’ll head north on a little used track (again, Google Maps shows only the first 60km of 180km) to Tiger Leaping Gorge (and work out how to get across with my bike!) before climbing in to Zhongdian and finally seeing the real “Shangri-La” for myself!