Paradise found

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Publish Time: 2019-10-06 Author: Fang Aiqing From: China Daily

The Napa Lake is one of the biggest draws for visitors to Shangri-La, Yunnan province. [Photo by Fang Aiqing/CHINA DAILY]

An ethnic Tibetan has continued to develop new ways to showcase Shangri-La's traditional culture to visitors from around the world, Fang Aiqing reports.

Arro Khampa boutique hotel is located in Dukezong town in Yunnan province's Shangri-La. Its founder, 49-year-old ethnic Tibetan Dakpa Kelden, and his team ceremoniously greet guests with khata-silk scarves traditionally presented to visitors-to the soundtrack of a xianzi (a two-stringed bowed instrument) strummed by one of the employees.

The hosts start singing and dancing long before their guests arrive. It's natural in Tibetan communities, where a saying goes: "If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance."

It's so commonplace that outsiders often join in without reservation, even though they don't know the lyrics or moves, he says.

Dakpa Kelden is positioned between tradition and modernity in every sense. His hotel is located in an ancient quarter of the town (known as Dhokar Dzong in Tibetan)-an area that has been rebuilt in its original style after a 2014 fire incinerated several city blocks-while he wears a suit jacket over Tibetan attire, contrasting with his long hair and leather riding boots.

But he also stands at another crossroads-one where international cultures intersect.

He was born in India in 1970 and lived there until he relocated to Shangri-La at age 17. He later studied in Austria and the United States. Dakpa Kelden speaks Mandarin, Tibetan, English, Hindi, Urdu and Nepali.

This helps him to realize his mission of guiding people from various places and backgrounds around the scenic settlement named after the paradise British author James Hilton describes in his book, The Lost Horizon.

Dakpa Kelden's hotel is located in the ancient quarter of Dukezong town in Shangri-La, Yunnan province. [Photo by Fang Aiqing/CHINA DAILY]

An early mover

Dakpa Kelden started guiding foreigners around Shangri-La's Tibetan villages and natural landscapes in the 1990s, long before it became a tourism hot spot.

His foreign clients later helped him get to Salzburg, Austria, to study hotel and tourism management, and then to the US to take classes on small-business management.

These experiences not only helped him learn more about other cultures but also his own.

"When I was learning about foreign cultures abroad, I realized how precious my own culture is and became even more interested in knowing more about it," he says.

He left the US before finishing his studies, but he retained connections with stateside travel agencies.

After he returned to Yunnan in 2001, he began to arrange trips for foreigners to Shangri-La and the nearby Meili Snow Mountains, Lijiang and the Hutiao Gorge in the Yangtze River's upper reaches.

He once guided a group of seven for a weeklong trip and earned 100,000 yuan ($14,100)-a small fortune back then.

Dakpa Kelden has honed his formula over the past two decades. He brings travelers to villagers' homes, enables them to sample local food, and takes them hiking and camping.

His guests, in turn, have taught him lessons, such as the importance of environmental protection. Some Japanese visitors, he says, carry all their garbage with them as they travel.

In addition to his boutique hotels in Shangri-La and Lijiang, Dakpa Kelden has also turned his old residence, a three-story Tibetan-style house surrounded by grassland, into a hostel in partnership with travel writer Zhang Jinpeng.

"I saw the yaks and snowy mountains in the distance from the balcony of the third floor and decided to start the hostel with him," Zhang recalls. "It reminds me of A Lai's novel, Settling Dust."

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