Pray for peace: Riot of colorful prayer flags in Shangri-la

by China

Shangrila, formerly Zhongdian, is a village in the north of the Yunnan Province in China. Tibetan in culture and people, it is known as Gyalthang in Tibetan. For marketing reasons, the name was changed to Shangrila in 2001, but it still remains unvisited by many. The city at an oxygen-limited 10,400 feet in elevation is an enchanting piece of Tibet in China north of Lijiang.

The subject: On a small group tour, where most had fallen ill a couple of days prior, our three days in Shangrila were taken slowly (p.s. Three days is just not enough in Shangrila dare it be said, especially if you have a little explorer blood in your veins and want to head out into the hills). On our last day, the HI Travel Tales duo was itching to head up a hillside and poke around on back streets. The group was given a two-hour break “to rest,” and we leaped at the chance to head out.

The inspiration: Most tourists end up on the Shangrila main square where the huge golden Prayer Wheel and glittering Golden temple sit. Amazing, yes. But I had been eyeing a small temple I could not quite make out on a low hill on the edge of town. “What is that?” I kept asking and never quite got a satisfactory reply. Michael and I headed up and out of town on our break, thinking we’d just explore a little bit. “We’ll never make it up there and back in time,” we thought. But there was a glint in our eyes and as we drew closer, we realized we were so close there was no stopping us.

And fantastic this little temple was. Without any real roads up, tourists were non-existent. In fact, there weren’t many visitors at all. We were in awe of its perch on a small hilltop with views out over the city on one side (you can see it through the pagoda in the photo) and the high mountain peaks on the other. Later we found out it was called the Baiji Temple, or Chicken Temple. And yes there were indeed chickens running all around it.

But it was this small pagoda in the photo on the trail back to town that was covered in such a riot of prayer flags flapping in the wind that was a jaw-dropper. Traditionally, these prayer flags are meant to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom, with the wind sending these wishes for goodwill all around. Beautiful.

Artist’s tools: My Nikon D90 has served me well for many an adventure, as does the 18-105mm lens f/3.5-5.6, both of which I got when I returned to photography after about 25 years! What I like about this focal length on a lens is its ability to capture almost everything for me without fiddling with changing lens or being draped with several cameras with different lenses. I’m a simple photographer like that. I was set at a 1/400th of second at f/11 with a wide focal length of just 18mm, pushing the edges of this lens. I also try to avoid over-processing so this has only the simplest of touches to bring out prayer flags in the shadows and add a few highlights here and there. Yes, the prayer flags looked just like this. This was taken in May 2016.

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Therese Iknoian

Co-Conspirator at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian now focuses her writing and photography talents on travel. Fluent in German, Therese also runs a translation business (ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. She's a French speaker, and loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication. Therese is an award-winning member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.
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