Known as Shangri-La for marketing purposes, Zhongdian lies on the border with Tibet. (Tibetans know the area as Gyelthang.) It is home to the Rhingha Temple and the Zong Gu monastery, site of the world's largest Buddhist prayer wheel. Nearby is Pudacuo National Park and Tiger Leaping Gorge.

The town is an interesting ethnic mix of Tibetan and Han residents, with smaller populations of Naxi, Bai, Yi and Lisu, and surrounded by Tibetan villages. Unfortunately, the old town is being rapidly redeveloped as a major tourism center, replete with ubiquitous outlets selling fake tiger skins and North Face jackets, while "ethnic" dancers don their traditional get-ups to woo tourist dollars. Nightly dancing begins in the main square at 8 pm; anyone is welcome to participate in this popular tourist attraction.

Remote Lands, a New York-based tour operator focused entirely on Asia, provides tours to Zhongdian and other less-familiar destinations in China. Phone 646-415-8092. http://www.remotelands.com.

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