‘The ‘Other’ Shangri-La’ is a work of narrative non-fiction based on the author and his wife’s journey through the SinoTibetan frontier-land of western Sichuan. The book describes the rugged landscape of this region that comprises 7,000 metre high mountains, deep gorges, vast grasslands and the world’s most dangerous road. It also explores the region’s history and the peculiarities of its scattered settlemants: Liang – the world’s highest town that is also the birthplace of important Lamas, Larung the world’s largest monastery and highest slum, Danba – a ‘Beauty Valley’ famed since antiquity for its good-looking and strong-minded women, Yading – a pilgrim circuit once terrorized by bandit monks and Kangding – a small town that gave birth to China’s favourite love song.
Along their journey, the travelling duo indulged in several adventures that are written about humourously in the book – staying with nomad families, debating with monks on reviving Buddhism in China, getting spooked by a bone-collector at the sky-burial site, becoming investigators in a love triangle in the ‘Beauty Valley’ and running away from paparazzi tourists who take the travellers as participants in a local beauty contest.
Above all, this book explores in detail the lives and cultures of the people inhabiting these remote lands who are now subject to turbulent socio-economic factors – the Sinification of Tibetan culture partially countered by growing Han patronizing of the Tibetan Buddhism, continuing migration of daredevil yet earnest entrepreneurs from coastal China, nomads rejecting government financed permanent settlements to return to their ancient lifestyle and the fall and rise in the macho imagery of the local Kham men, considered the most eligible in China. The book also explores the testy relationship between Hans and Tibetans in what is arguably the most restless of the Tibetan inhabited areas in China.