A Himalayan journey – trekking to Shangri-La

At the top of the Miyar Valley in the high Himalayas, a chain of seven tiny turquoise pools nestle below the snout of a formidable glacier. Each one looks deceptively inviting. Plunge in and your shouts, as you brave the icy water, echo off walls of rock into empty air; there is no one but your group around to hear. For miles in every direction there are only mountains; their white peaks, sheer slopes and pockets of high hidden valleys are filled with wildflowers for just a few months of the year, mainly June and July, when their cape of snow melts away.

Most stunning are the fragile, brilliant blue Himalayan poppies, which inspire such devotion that there is a book, Blue Heaven, dedicated to them. Some are scattered among the rocks around the pools, above the grassy meadows which feel like your own private heaven.

In 1933 the British author James Hilton coined the term Shangri-La to describe a secluded Buddhist mountain utopia. The word, and the dream it represented, escaped the pages of his novel Lost Horizon and became embedded in popular culture, idealized, constantly reinterpreted and appropriated. Few of them bear much resemblance to the rural idyll Hilton describes. In the Miyar Valley though, Hilton might have recognized something like his forgotten, isolated paradise.

For visitors who want to see the high Himalayas, but might be wary of their steepest passes, the Miyar Valley makes a great trip. It’s relatively accessible for novice trekkers because it is unusually long and relatively flat, but can also be the start of a much longer, more demanding trek. If you continue up the glacier, you reach the Kang-La pass, which leads down to the fabled Tibetan kingdom of Zanskar.

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