Shangri-La, a mythical Himalayan valley where people do not age, a mountainous utopia that is isolated from the outside world. The general idea is that you do not set out to find the valley, it finds you. But should you choose to leave you will not, legend has it, ever find your way back again. As a cyclist, I live for the exquisitely painful feeling that can only be achieved on the last 3km of a 16km climb, with the gradient never dipping below 9%. Why? I do not know, but I know that I am not alone in searching for cycling nirvana. The legend of Shangri-La has clear parallels to this kind of cycling, and the film draws this out beautifully.
Shangri-La is an actual place these days, a town in Yunnan Province in south-west China. Formerly known as Zhongdian, it was renamed Xianggelila (the Chinese approximation of ‘Shangri-La’) in 2001 by the Chinese authorities. It is a mainly Tibetan town, perched on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, at 3,200m above sea level.
Xianggelila is not easily accessible from the outside world, requiring at least two or three plane journeys within Asia alone. It is a huge province in a vast country, so distances between towns are very large and often made on soulless highways. But we found our Shangri-La, nonetheless, and I encourage you to go out and do the same.