Hotel survives fire that razed ancient town

The hotel I stayed at in Dukezong survived Saturday’s fire, which destroyed most of the ancient town.

“We were very lucky, our hotel suffered little damage,” said Matthieu Lelievre, who owns Kersang’s Relay Station hotel with his wife and her family.

More than 80 percent of the buildings in Dukezong, located in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, were destroyed in the fire. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that local officials said the blaze was caused by an electrical problem that ignited a curtain inside a guesthouse. Continue reading

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Sometimes what’s old deserves to stay up

A 1,300-year-old town I visited last summer in southwestern China’s Yunnan province was razed by a fire on Saturday.

According to CNN, the fire raged for more than 10 hours, destroying two-thirds of the 240 houses in the town of Dukezong. No casualties were reported.

The narrow, cobblestone streets that gave the ancient Tibetan town part of its charm made it difficult for firetrucks to maneuver. Arson has been ruled out, according to the report, but an investigation into the fire is ongoing.

The ancient town of Dukezong, as it looked in June when I visited.

The ancient town of Dukezong, as it looked in June when I visited.

The town’s well-preserved wooden houses are the latest in a long line of historically significant Chinese structures to disappear, many at the hands of man. Continue reading

Sitting on top of the world — almost

On my last day in Shangri-La, I hiked to the top of a hill overlooking the city. The incline wasn’t steep, but every 20 paces or so I had to stop to catch my breath. The city has an altitude of 3,200 meters, and my body still hadn’t completely adjusted to the elevation.

Along the hike, I passed several tombs that had been dug into the hillside. Some were very elaborate, with sculptures of lions and carvings of people dressed in ethnic attire. I assume families chose this spot as their loved ones’ final resting place because of the view. From the hill you can see a giant golden prayer wheel – the largest in the world – and rows of mountain peaks that grow taller as you look farther into the horizon. Continue reading

Cries of a child left behind

The screaming started before sunrise. A boy with a high-pitched voice was crying uncontrollably and yelling for someone. I couldn’t make out what he was saying — it didn’t sound like Chinese. I just wanted it to stop so I could fall back asleep.

This continued for the next two days I stayed at a Tibetan hostel in Shangri-la, a city in northwestern Yunnan province. Like a rooster greeting the morning sun, at around 5:30 each morning, the boy would begin screaming, shouting out the same word over and over again until he drifted back to sleep. Continue reading

A walk in the clouds

“It’s cold up there,” the young man in front of me said. “You should rent a coat.”

I was in line for the cable car at the bottom of Cangshan Mountain in Dali, Yunnan province. It was sunny and around 80 F, and I was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and shorts. How cold could it possibly be at the top of the mountain?

“I’ll be fine,” I said. Continue reading