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Work commences on Lijiang-Shangri-la Railroad

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The Sumtseling Monastery outside of Shangri-la
The Sumtseling Monastery outside of Shangri-la

If all goes according to plan, travelers will be able to reach Shangri-la from Kunming by rail, albeit six years from now. Ground was finally broken on a long-planned train track connecting Lijiang to its northern neighbor, with the ultimate goal of one day linking Kunming to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

First announced in 2001, the 1,600-kilometer Kunming-Lhasa Railway (滇藏铁路) was originally expected to take ten years to build. Plans have changed significantly since then and the line is now being built piecemeal — from city to city — instead of all at once. Next up for engineers is the 140-kilometer section of track connecting Lijiang to the city renamed after a mountaintop utopia from the 1933 James Hilton novel Lost Horizon.

The Lijiang-Shangri-la project's 10.4 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) price tag represents construction costs of 74 million yuan (US$12 million) per kilometer. Such expenses are due to the mountainous terrain through which it will pass. In total, 73 percent of the line will consist of tunnels or bridges as it winds its way north and crosses the Jinsha River.

When finished in 2020, the Lijiang-Shangri-la Railroad (丽香铁路) will accommodate both passenger and freight trains. Provincial planners say it should further expand access for travelers while also opening up mineral-rich areas to further development. These somewhat divergent objectives will "speed up healthy and sustained regional economic and social growth".

The era of slow but steady rail network expansion in northwest Yunnan began in earnest when the Dali-Lijiang Railroad (大丽铁路) opened in 2009. At that time, work was expected to commence immediately on an extension to Shangri-la — a city once known as Zhongdian. Unexplained delays postponed construction for nearly five years and now Shangri-la is in the process of a wholesale rebuild following a devastating fire earlier this year that destroyed most of its historic old town.

The extension of the Kunming-Lijiang rail line to Shangri-la brings an eventual connection to Tibet once step closer. However, no timetable has been announced for when work on tracks connecting Shangri-la to Deqin, and eventually the Tibetan cities of Bomi, Linzhi and Lhasa, is expected to commence.

It could be quite some time, as China has exercised tremendous patience regarding rail connections to its second-largest administrative region. Originally proposed by the central government in 1950, railroads into Tibet began running more than half a century later when then-president Hu Jintao became the first man ever to arrive in Lhasa by train.

Top image: Heather Hall via Ferreting out the Fun
Bottom image: Baike

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As nice as a train option to Shangrila would be, it's not worth spending a billion rmb x10.

Just returned. If all goes well, the high speed rail (HSR) from Kunming to Shangri-La is scheduled to run next year.

In the second to last paragraph, it's difficult to imagine any trains would run through Deqen ["Deqin"] given its challenging mountain terrains and its "godly mountain" (神山) reputation given by locals. Townsfolk are wary of the environmental degradation caused by over-tourism in the event of a HSR station perched along their sacred Deqen mountain range. Although Shangri-La to Tibet HSR is planned which seemingly passes through that NW direction. An update on that would be appreciated.

Between Shangri-La and Deqen is Balagezong Shangri-La Grand Canyon National Park, This 4-starred attraction opened to public just last year with deeper mountainous road accessibility than ever before. The grand canyon view near the summit is spectacularly surreal. FIY, for 70 bucks more per day, local guides will take you further than park shuttles normally traverse by hiking special paths.

GoKunming (or affiliates) should definitely do a piece on Balagezong. The local hero/entrepreneur who spent a decade depleting his entire fortune (~40M) and borrowing hundreds of millions to connect his remote mountainous village to the world ought to be featured.

i wont assume holy mountain will stop them. last year there was talk of a tunnel under mount everest., big and holy.

I stopped short of naming it "Holy Mountain" as that would carry Abrahamic connotations. Sacred Mountain probably has a better ring for the Tibetan Bon & Buddhism motif.

RIP to 11 victims of Mt. Everest just last month. They need stricter regulations on the south Nepal side.

I feel the need to contribute to the community on Shangri-La. I carry fresh, lingering regrets for not coming to the aid of this foreign, solo female traveler who was asking unlicensed taxi drivers (or 黑车) for a ride to the popular Sumtseling Monastery (featured photo above).

The drivers' asking price was 200 rmb to take her there by car. She smartly walked away. However, they called her back and their conservation ensued inaudibly. I believe she negotiated her ride down to one hundred or so. Still a rip-off.

The Sumtseling Monastery can be reached via public Bus 13 for a 1 yuan fare. Bus station is 50 meters across the street from Shangri-La Old Town (north entrance). That was where the lady stood alone with her backpack.

The bus route sign direction is incorrect. So take the bus on the right side of the street (Northbound), not the opposite left side. Bus 13 will take you the town's ticket lobby and parking lot. It is the terminal stop (终点站). After purchasing entrance ticket (100-120rmb), a park shuttle will take you higher grounds to the foot of the Temple entrance.

Leaving the temple grounds is easier. Bus 13 awaits just outside the grand entrance at the foot of temple across the public restrooms. No shuttles necessary en route back to Old Town. Bus 13 starts at 7:30am.

For those who wish to visit the Napa lake/protected wetland nature reserve. For 2 rmb, just hop on Bus 12 (green) on aforementioned opposite side across from Old Town starting at 8:30am. Or just wave to approaching Bus 12. They normally slow down or honk to pick up perceived tourists along their +30km drive through town and around the brim of the protected Napa wetlands, but not before first passing the foot of Shika Snow Mountains. Some areas along the bus route have official fence openings where visitors enter without fees. Enjoy a picnic on dryer grass to soak up the high UV sun. To get off Bus 12, just ring the bell or call out to the bus driver (politely call them shifu (师傅) to stop anytime along the route. Last bus is 4:30ish.

Local women and grandmas adorned in colorful attire will ride around the lake too. Bus 12 turns into a giant sightseeing karaoke box. Even the bus driver would join in on their indigenous folksinging like James Corden's carpool karaoke. Their spirit is so carefree. Good times.

Thank you for this info. Always on the lookout for inexpensive ways to get around in Shangri-La. Last time I used a local driver for a morning drop off at Shika Mt, with a pick up in the afternoon for 50rmb.

Next time I'll look into bus 12. I'm wanting to hike up rather than take the gondola ride at Shika, stay overnight at Consonance Lake (灵犀湖). I'll probably have to doge the gondola people, who kept telling me, you can't hike here, you can't hike there.

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