Friday, June 25, 2010

Shangri-La, China

Originally called Zhongdian, Shangri-La was renamed in 2001 in a effort to boost tourism. A gateway for travelers into Tibet, the cobblestone-lined old town offers a charming look into local life, which is as close as you can get to experiencing Tibet without actually being there.

A mere four-hour drive from Lijiang and six from Dali, Shangri-La is an excellent hub, conveniently located near attractions like the Songzanlin Monastery, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Pudacuo National Park, Napa Lake, Xiagei Hot Springs and Haba Village.

Despite the rustic, mountain-town atmosphere, Shangri-La has a number of cafes, bars and hotels that cater to foreign visitors, offering mixtures of local and Western food and simple or extravagant amenities.

  • History

Archaeological evidence dates human existence in this area back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1050 - 771 BC). For hundreds of years the area was home to several tribes. During the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD) Shangri-La finally made contact with Central China. Today, the town is more Tibetan than Han Chinese with Tibetan architecture, customs and most of the 130,000 population who celebrate New Year according to the Tibetan calendar. As tourism continues to increase, Shangri-La will continue to develop at a rapid rate.

  • Climate

Shangri-La is about 3,300 meters above the sea level. The weather has a tendency to be humid with temperatures varying both at night and during the four seasons. Winters are cold with lots of snow and summers are the rainy season. The best seasons to go are spring and autumn, specifically May to July and September to October. Although visits during Spring Festival are not recommend as temperatures are generally quite low and indoor heating is still somewhat hard to find in Shangri-La.


Shangri-La has a pretty low-key scene. The area is famous for its natural beauty and outdoor attractions rather than a hopping nightlife. However, there are some worthwhile festivals in spring, a few nice pubs and a dance hall where you can check out some Tibetan cultural dance.

  • Bars & Clubs

Try Shangri-La wine. The bottle has an image of a church on the label and costs 30 RMB. Jovial French missionaries taught the Tibetans many things, one of which was wine making. It seems the religious education didn't stick over the years, but the secular one has paid off with bottles of wine that are actually palatable. Unfortunately, the French failed in teaching cheese and baguette making, but no one can fault them for choosing their battles. If you fancy a drink, the foreign-owned Cow Pub in the old town is the most atmospheric option set in an old Tibetan house. The Raven is cheaper and also foreign-owned but has less atmosphere. The cafes and pubs are a place to pick up information about what is happening in the area, most have notice boards and function as informal travel bureaus. As of yet, there are no clubs in town.

  • Performing Arts

Beside the folk song and dance performed by Diqingzhou Song and Dance Ensemble, the Black-necked Crane Dance Hall is an interesting place to check out. Exhibiting the culture and customs of the Tibetan nationality, the dance hall holds many sing-a-long events and events for different ethnic groups. It also offers laser films, karaoke and a skating rink with entrance fees ranging from RMB 30 to 50.

  • Festivals & Events

The Tibetan Horse Racing Festival (May 5th by the Chinese lunar calendar) is held in the nearby pastureland at an altitude is 3288 meters above sea level. During the festival, people go out with other family members, set up tents at the foot of mountain and have picnics. At the beginning of the festival, people will come to the broad grassland to see a parade and performance by the riders from each region. There are various competitions, ie. for speed, agility, jumping, capturing the flags, etc.

Xianzi Festival (May 7th to 9th by the Chinese lunar calendar) take place when the surrounding towns and villages send folk art and literature teams to participate in an art and literature performance and a costume show in Deqin Town. The programs include such activities as Xianzi, Reba and Deqin folk dances, songs of the pledge and general folk customs and national culture.

Dunbar Festival (July 15th by the Chinese lunar year) is defined by everyone dressing in their best clothes to worship the mountain god and chant Yumani Scripture to get rid of bad luck.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Napalm cave in Russia, Icicles of red brick

These are the consequences of the use of an alternative to napalm by Russsian army back then. It was done as a test inside of the brick houses. The temperature was so high that it made bricks to melt and form such icicles.
This abandoned Russian fortress is one of the creepiest places we’ve seen. The reason it looks this way is that the Russian army used the abandoned fortress to test the influence of Russian alternative to napalm inside of the brick houses. Due to very high temperature of napalm the bricks started melting just like ice melts in the spring forming the icicles, however these icicles are made of red brick.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Predjamski Castle

One of the most visited castles in Slovenia is the Predjamski Castle. The castle was integrated into a natural rock arch high in mountain.

The castle was first mentioned in year 1274, then named Luegg, when Aquileian patriarchs built the castle in gothic style. The castle was built under a natural rocky arch high in the stone wall to make access to it difficult. It was later annexed and re-shaped by family Luegg, also called Predjama knights. Erazem, who was the owner of the castle in 15th century, and a renowned robber, later joined king Matthias Corvinus, for which the current Emperor ordered Gašper Ravbar to assassinate him. After a long siege of the castle, Erazem was finally killed in 1483 by being tricked. The castle has fallen under Oberburg and Purgstall power.
In 1567 archduke Karel leased the castle to baron Philipp von Cobenzl, who bought off the castle after 20 years. He annexed the castle as early as 1570 and built a renaissance building, pressed next to a vertical cliff under the castle. The castle remained in such form until today. Count Michael Coronini von Cronberg inherited the castle in 1810 and it was property of family Windischgrätz from 1846 until the end of World War II. After the war it was nationalized and is now used as a museum for showing the life of medieval lords.
A secret natural shaft leads out of the castle, which Erazem ordered to be enlarged, and leads into Postojnska jama. This shaft allowed Erazem to secretly supply the castle with food in the time of the siege; he also used it to continue with his robberies.

Predjama Castle was used as the castle featured in the 1986 movie Armour of God by Golden Harvest starring Jackie Chan. It was also investigated for paranormal activity in a 2008 episode of Ghost Hunters International on the Sci Fi Channel.
Things to do...
  • Balista

This is not the ballista that killed Erasmus but a reconstructed model. Every year, at the end of August (we missed it by a week), there is a Medieval jousting tournament in front of the castle with costumed characters, etc more about the tournament

  • Coat of arm

On the front of the castle, the date of 1570 is painted. This is when the castle that we see today was rebuilt in Renaissance style by baron Philipp von Cobenzl.

The coat of arm of the Coblenz is painted on the front of the castle. It is divided in four quarters. The pair diagonally opposed bears a wild mountain goat while the other pair bears an eagle.

  • Predjamski Grad: interior

The visit of the castle is interesting. You can see see some rooms with ancient furnitures and paintings. In some rooms you can see manikins that help you to understand the life in that epoch. Very nice is the Pietas that you can see in the church. From the terrace on the fourth floor you can have a great view over the valley. An unicum in the visit is the Castle in the cave: here crossing a drawbridge you can see a cave which is also called Erazem's den.

On the facade of the castle you can see the coat of arms of the Windischgrätz family.

  • Dolls

There are many man-sized dolls in the castle, representing various occasions in life in castle.

  • Armoury

I was disappointed because of lack of weapons and armor there, however....

  • Cave

Under the Predjama Castle there’s also a nice cave. Every second person gets a torch light as there’s not electricity in the cave. It’s a complete different feeling do walk around in a cave with those torches, I loved it! Also in other caves you rarely can see bats as they avoid those illuminated parts, but here you could see lots of sleeping and flying bats. If you did lighten up a sleeping bat, it first started to turn, then the bat opened the eyes and suddenly flew around you! Very funny!

The guided tour takes 40 minutes, we had a tour in English.
Tours are at 11:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 17:00, only from May to September.
Admission: 1100 SIT (Package of the castle and cave is 2000 SIT).

  • Pivka & Črna (Black) cave

This is a very nice cave which is part of the Postojna cave system. Actually this are two separate caves, but are visited together. It’s fortunately less touristy than the Postojna cave – we’ve been only four persons at the guided tour. So our tour could be in German, but the guide also spoke English. The cave is situated at a camping place. A nice camping place, by the way, with bungalows and a pool, situated in the forest with lots of place (and trees) between all the motor homes.

In the Pivka cave, you first go along the river Pivka, on a path that sometimes gets flooded. That’s why they only open in summer and do special tours at the other times if the situation permits. You’ll see some small halls with lots of nice dripstones. In the Black cave, all dripstones are black from soot, as formerly people went there with flambeaus and made fire inside the cave. Both caves are connected by a tunnel.

The guided tour takes about one and a half hours. 20 Minutes of this time are the way back to the camping as the exit is somewhere else.
Guided tours are at 9:00, 13:00 and 15:00 (May to September).
Admission: 1690 SIT (20% rabate with ‘Show your card’). Tickets at the camping reception.
  • Castle

Built into the cliff, in a beautiful valley this is a charming, picturesque, castle. Once you cross the bridge over the motte you feel like you went back 1000 years back in time. From within the castle you have great views of the valley and the river below.

See more images of the castle and the valley in the travelogue.

The castle is built above a cave which you can explore. A visit to the cave lasts 45 minutes.

Castle Time Table:

Jan-Mar, Nov-Dec: 10.00 - 16.00
Apr, Oct: 10.00 - 18.00
May-Sep: 9.00 - 19.00

Cave Time Table:

Jan-Apr: Closed
May-Sep: 11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 17.00
Oct-Dec: Closed

Phone: +386 / 5 / 751 60 15
Directions: Near the village of Predjama, a few km west of Postonja.
Website: (see link to castle on the left)
Other Contact:

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