China #19: The Grasslands of Shangri-La (香格里拉大草原)
Sights: Potatso National Park (普达措国家公园) & Napa Lake (纳帕海自然保护区)
Region: Shangri-La County, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan
The grasslands just outside Shangri-La city is part of a 660 square kilometres nature reserve called Napa Lake Nature Reserve (纳帕海自然保护区) at 3,270m above sea level. The nature reserve is seasonal and has different scenery in each of the four seasons.
In summer, water from the nearby mountains will fill up the wetlands and turn part of the reserve into shallow lakes. Lush green grasses will cover the grasslands. In autumn, the grasses will start to turn golden brown and water bodies will start to shrink. In winter and spring, there will be smaller pools of water and the area turns into a large feeding ground for herds.
Apart from Napa Lake Nature Reserve, another natural attraction in the wide grasslands of Shangri-La is Potatso National Park (普达措国家公园) to the east of Shangri-La city. The beautiful scenery of Potatso is also something worth seeing, especially in summer and autumn.
Although different seasons present different scenery, winter and spring are the low-peak season with drier grounds and few rainfalls — it does not always snow in winter.
Where I Stayed
After returning form Meili Snow Mountain, we continued to stay at Shangri-La Lao Shay Youth Hostel (香格里拉老谢车马店) in the prairie. The following photos were taken outside the hostel.
And the road to Shangri-La city. We were about 4Km from Dukezong Ancient City (see Story #17).
From our small group of 3, Xiaohui flew home to Shanghai after returning from Meili Snow Mountain. That left Xiaoqi to travel with me. She was interested in Nuodeng Ancient Village (诺邓古村, see Story #13) and would like me to bring her there — I didn't mind going back since there were more places that I had not explored.
Potatso (Pudacuo) National Park (普达措国家公园)
Potatso National Park is located about 24Km to the east of Shangri-La city. It is a very huge park with several scenic sites. The entry ticket was CNY190 with no discount in the low-peak season. Internal buses are available to ferry visitors from one site to another.
We visited the park on the day before going to Meili Snow Mountain when Xiaohan and Xiaohui were still in our group. The scenery was still reasonably attractive but summer would be better.
After entering the national park, we strolled along the road to Shudu Lake (属都湖), taking in the scenery along the way.
Bita Lake (碧塔海) was mainly a big lake with a small island in the middle. There were cedar trees, pine trees, etc, on the island.
We walked on the pathway beside the Lake to Mili Tang (弥里塘), a highland farm with grassland for cows, sheep and horses.
Somehow, we missed Tianbao Snow Mountain (天宝雪山) in the park, one of the seven tallest snow mountains in Shangri-La — probably because we went to Bita Lake first and walked back to Mili Tang, which brought us further from the snow mountain.
The best time to visit Potatso National Park for lush green scenery and more water in the lakes and streams will be in summer and early autumn.
Napa Lake Nature Reserve (纳帕海自然保护区)
Together with Xiaoqi and Tommy, who returned from his trip to Yubeng, and another girl from the same hostel, we went cycling around Napa Lake. We did not intend to go into any of the tourist spots in the nature reserve since it was low-peak season.
Napa Lake is not just a lake but the name given to the nature reserve since the ecosystem of the grasslands centered around the many water bodies in the area.
To cycle around Napa Lake was easy, just follow Huanhu Road (环湖路 — meaning "round the lake" road) to the nature reserve and around it.
Check out the sights along the road.
There were farmlands for cultivating qingke (青稞), or highland barley. Wooden racks with dried qingke could be seen everywhere.
A wide view of Yila Prairie (依拉草原).
There were several long stretches of uphill roads and very strenuous for most of us. We had to get the bicycles to walk up the inclined road stretches several times.
It took us a full day to complete the loop around Napa Lake.
After 2 days in the grasslands, Xiaoqi and I moved to another youth hostel in Dukezong Ancient City. With 7 days left on my 2-month tourist visa, I extended for another month at the visa office in Shangri-La. The waiting time was another 2 days and we spent the time visiting Dukezong Ancient City (see Story #17) — it was the first time for Xiaoqi.
After my visa extension was approved, we left Shangri-La the following day. I spent a total of 10 days in paradise!
Our next stop was to be Lugu Lake (泸沽湖) on the Sichuan-Yunnan boundary. But, due to impassable mountain ranges between Shangri-La and Lugu Lake, we had to travel to Lijiang Ancient City (see Story #16), stayed for a couple of nights in Shuhe Ancient Town before heading to Lugu Lake.