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February 25, 2003 -- Everyone has a private Shangri-La, whether it be a summer resort, a cozy chair or a purely imaginary hideaway. But who hasn't wanted to visit that real Himalayan retreat, or, at least, the locale where James Hilton seemed to have placed it in his novel, Lost Horizon. Though Hilton never set foot in China or Tibet, the province of Yunnan has laid claim to ShangriLa. There is even a legend propounded by authorities there that the story is based on a true story of an American Army Air Corps plane crash in the city of Zhongdian in 1944, and that Zhongdian is, indeed, Shangri-la (though that makes it difficult to explain how Hilton published the book in 1933).

Regardless, one thing we know to be true is that visiting Shangri-la has traditionally been expensive, but prices have been dropping steadily as evidenced by these packages featuring Tibet.

The first, Ritz Tours, is a long-time specialist on China, and we've reported on them often for package tours and Yangtzee cruises. Its offer is a 17-day/15-night Tibet Highland &Yangtze River Cruise itinerary for departures April through October, 2004. (If you book by February 29, 2004, you get an Early Bird discount of $200 per couple.) The price begins at $3,199 per person, based on double occupancy and for departures from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Out of New York, the price is only $100 more. Add-on prices for other gateways start from $200 per person.

This splendidly-organized routing begins in Beijing (three nights), then goes to Lhasa, capital of Tibet (three nights), and continues to Chengdu (two nights), Xian (two nights), and a cruise on the Yangtze (three nights), followed by a stop in Shanghai (two nights). Lodgings are five-star or "local best", and the package includes airfare, domestic airfare, many attractions, meals and nighttime entertainment per the itinerary, and guide services.

You'll see the highlights in each destination including:

  • Great Wall, Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in Beijing
  • Potala Palace, Johkang Lamasery and Barkhor Street in Lhasa Panda Zoo, Marquis Wu Shrine and Wangjiang Tower Park in Chengdu
  • Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian
  • Yu Garden, the Bund and Nanjing Road in Shanghai

Entertainment and dining includes a Peking Duck banquet, an "Imperial Dumpling Banquet" and a Tang Dynasty Opera performance.

Contact Ritz Tours at 800/900-2446 or visit them at www.ritztours.com.

Long a specialist in Mongolia, Nomadic Expeditions is running two tours there that take in Tibet as well. "From Nomadic Mongolia to Mystic Tibet" is the program's name, and it runs from May 24 to June 7 and again from August 9 to 23. The cost is $3,520 per person. You start in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital, then head for the vast Gobi Desert to spend three days spotting bactrian camels, sheep, gazelles, eagles and more, including a visit to the site where the fossilized dinosaur eggs were discovered.

In Tibet, you'll visit local villages, and in Lhasa, the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Monastery, and Barkhor market. You'll also go to the city of Gyantse, with an ascent of the Karo La Pass. Also visited will be the Palkor Monastery of Kum Bum and Shigatse (seat of the Panchen Lama). Guests on the May departure will attend the Saga Dawn Festival, on the August departure the Shotun Festival. Groups for this tour max out at 15 people, which adds to its appeal. Contact them at 800/998-6634 or visit www.nomadicexpeditions.com.

Finally, the good folks at Djoser have three different tours that include Tibet, all at pretty moderate prices with departures throughout 2004. Multiple country combinations with airfare and accommodations include

  • A 30-day tour of China and Tibet starting from $3,275 out of Los Angeles or $3,350 out of New York
  • A 25-day excursion through Tibet and Nepal starting from $3,75 out of LA, $3,225 out NYC
  • A 29-day jaunt featuring Tibet, Nepal and India with prices starting from $3,195 out of LA, $3,275 out of NYC

Taxes on any of these come to about $115 per person, and since meals aren't part of the package, you should reasonably budget about $200 a week for food. We're listing only the bareboned facts on these tours, but you can get quite detailed itinerary descriptions on Djoser's site at www.djoserusa.com. Just click "Asia" on the map, then select any of the tours from the list. You can contact them for more information and booking at 877/356-7376.

Have you been to Tibet? Was it your own Shangri-La or was it Shangri-Blah? We'd love to read your story. Just post your questions or comments on our Message Boards today.