Zhongdian, which in the Naxi language means Yak Plateau, is nowadays usually referred to by its Tibetan name - Shangri-La. It is located at a lofty altitude of 10,500 feet (3,200 metres) on very edge of the Tibetan plateau. Tibetans make up around a third of the population with another 12 minorities constituting the balance. It is home to one of the most important Lamaist monasteries outside Tibet, the 300-year-old Sumtsenling Monastery, which is home to around 600 monks. Tibetan stupas, prayer wheels and prayer flags all add to the colour and atmosphere of this spectacular monastery.
There are intermittent flights from Shangri-La to Lhasa in Tibet and visiting Yunnan before continuing to Tibet is a perfect way of acclimatizing to the altitude or a great alternative if Tibet is for any reason closed to travelers.