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Seeking magic in China's 'other' Shangri-La

Travel writer Shivaji Das provides rare glimpse of Sichuan's remote Tibetan frontier

Nomad's land: High-altitude living in China's Tibetan Sichuan. (Courtesy of Shivaji Das/Konark Publishers)

SINGAPORE -- On the road in western Sichuan -- an area dominated by ethnic Tibetans but outside China's Tibet Autonomous Region -- Shivaji Das found signs for the "Ya Lu Underwear Monopoly" and the "Geopolitical Hairdresser Store," and stopped for refreshment at the inscrutably translated "Headbanger Coffee" shop. At an overpriced hotel in the tourist trap town of Riwa the desk clerk explained, "Only the gods are supposed to be able to afford room rents in heaven."

With a bemused eye and well-attuned ear for cross-cultural incongruities, Singapore-based Das -- a management consultant, photographer and founder of a migrant literary festival -- uses his just-published "The 'Other' Shangri-La: Journeys Through the Sino-Tibetan Frontier in Sichuan" to offer readers both a rare glimpse at a remote place and a rollicking example of old-fashioned armchair adventure. (The first area of China marketed as a "Shangri-La" is the mountainous region of Yunnan Province beyond Lijiang.)

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