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Doors in/to Shangri-La

by Natalia Echeverri

Doorway of the Main Temple at Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri-La.

Zhongdian, known as "Shangri-La," is a predominantly Tibetan county in China's northern Yunnan Province. The Tibetan influence is evident in its towns and landscape, where hills are topped with white stupas draped in prayer flags. Traditional Tibetan stucco houses with elaborate wood facades contrast with the dry winter landscape. Monks in burgundy robes walk among tourists in the streets and temples.

Tourists pass through a fabric-covered entrance to the Main Temple.

The Songzanlin Monastery is an icon of Tibetan Buddhist architecture with Chinese influence. Its entryways serve as vivid focal points along the facade. Upon entering a temple or prayer room, one passes  through many layers, which are both ornamental and multifunctional. The first is a large black-and-white fabric that hangs over the facade. It serves as a beautiful windbreaker, helping to control the temperature inside.

Painted carvings on a wooden door.

The remaining thresholds are adorned with elaborately carved wooden ornaments. Polychrome religious paintings cover the ceiling and walls.

Entrance to a prayer hall.

While traditional Tibetan entryways follow common patterns, they are each distinct in subtle ways. In some cases, rich colors and intricate details form distinct layers. In others, the paint and woodwork merge together, faded with time and use.

Courtyard doors within an earthen wall.

Credits: Photos by Natalia Echeverri.

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