Though we have yet to find the utopian place Shangri-La described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, we can visit the real-world Shangri-La City in southwest China’s Yunnan Province.
The city will soon be connected to the country’s high-speed rail network as the Lijiang-Shangri-La section of the Yunnan-Xizang Railway entered its testing phase in early November.
This section is one of the hardest to construct and will likely bring a large number of travelers to the city and the amazing scenery around it.
“It’s exciting to know that we are going to Shangri-La on rails,” Chen Yingwu, a director of the construction project, told People’s Daily. “The countdown to the official launch has started.”
Hard effort behind the rails
It took about nine years for the 20,000-people team to build the section, which goes through extremely complicated terrains.
A total of 34 new bridges and 20 new tunnels were built for the railway, covering more than 70 percent of the trip.
One of the tunnels goes through the Haba Snow Mountain, the deepest part of which is over a kilometer from the mountain top.
“The crustal stress is as high as the water pressure 237-meters deep in the ocean,” said Liu Zhenwei, a manager of the project, adding that his men were almost killed in a tunnel collapse back in April 2021.
“We were reinforcing the tunnel with shotcrete,” Liu told People’s Daily. “One of the workers noticed a kind of powder falling from the wall rock and we called for an emergency retreat.”
Less than two minutes later, the tunnel collapsed, destroying a 100kg machine they used, Liu said.
After the incident, the team conducted another round of detailed examination of the tunnel and found the correct way to reinforce it.
“This is the last and most difficult tunnel of my entire career,” said Li Decheng, head of the project’s tech lab who postponed retirement for the rail. “Now I can unburden myself and have a good rest.”
New hope for tourism
The new railway will connect Shangri-La City with other tourist destinations like Lijiang and Dali, thus is welcomed by the local tourism industry.
The Shangri-La City sits beside famous natural scenery like the Yulong Snow Mountain and the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The area is also home to many people from the Zang, Yi and Bai ethnic groups.
“My hotel business will flourish,” said Duan Shuying who owns an agritainment place near the Tiger Leaping Gorge. “I’m looking forward to the visitors coming by rail.”
“Things will be even better in the long term,” said He Lan, who runs a travel agency in Lijiang City. “Thanks to the rails, all major tourist destinations are getting interconnected.”