An Old Tibetan Town In Shangri-la Burned Through The Night [UPDATE]

Shangri-la fire 1

Xinhua reports that a massive fire swept through Dukezong Ancient Town last night in the northwest Yunnan county of Shangri-la, a tourist resort ever since marketers changed its name from Zhongdian in 2001. Preliminary reports say the began at 1:30 am from a local shop, then spread due to windy conditions and the prevalence of wooden structures in Old Town. The exact cause is under investigation.

As of now, there have been no reported casualties. Buildings — living relics — appear to be the biggest loss.

Dukezong, meaning “the town of moon” in Tibetan and built 1,300 years ago, was an important town on the South Silk Road, also known as the Ancient Road of Tea and Horse. It is now one of the most renowned resorts in Shangri-la, known for its well-preserved ancient Tibetan dwellings.

This is the second massive fire to hit a Tibetan town this week. On Thursday, 100 houses were destroyed at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Ganzi, Sichuan province. “The fire was so intense that the whole complex of Larun Gar was lit up in the night,” a source told Radio Free Asia. Two nuns were injured but there were no reported casualties.

More images of the Shangri-la fire via Xinhua:

Shangri-la fire 2 Shangri-la fire 5 Shangri-la fire 3 Shangri-la fire 4


UPDATE, 1/13, 8:25 pm: Two-thirds of the Dukezong was destroyed, according to the latest Xinhua report. The blaze reportedly began at a small hotel called Ruyi. The exact cause is still under investigation, but there are no known casualties. Xinhua has asked why the town lacks anti-freeze: “Local authorities said there are 122 fire hydrants in the ancient town. They say the sub-zero temperatures might have led to some of them freezing.”

Several amazing pictures of what Dukezong looks like now can be found on this CRI slideshow. Samples:

Dukezong after the fire 2
Dukezong after the fire 4
Dukezong after the fire 6
Dukezong after the fire 5

UPDATE, 1/15, 12:16 am: A faulty fire prevention system, according to AP:

A fire prevention system costing more than $1 million wasn’t functioning and failed to prevent a blaze that razed an ancient tourist town in southwest China.

The system in Dukezong had been shut down to prevent pipes from bursting in the below-freezing temperatures, the Deqen prefecture fire brigade said on its microblog. The service said the system was installed in 2011 at a cost of 8 million yuan ($1.45 million).

In addition to the system’s failure, the freezing temperatures lowered water pressure in hydrants when the fire broke out at about 1.30am Saturday. The wooden houses burned quickly, while fire trucks were unable to penetrate narrow streets and alleys.

    4 Responses to “An Old Tibetan Town In Shangri-la Burned Through The Night [UPDATE]”

    1. David Fieldman

      Hello Anthony, a horrible and pointless fire, which could have been deliberate arson, although we’ll never know the truth. A truly beautiful old city in its heyday.

      By the way, could you suggest how I could reach Sam Crane? My RSS feed to his Useless Tree was cut last fall and I have been unable to reconnect or even reach Mr. Crane by mail.

      Many thanks,


    2. pmich9

      In November of last year I travelled to China and specifically the Provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan to visit Nine Villages and the valley of Shangri-La. While staying in Donkezong before moving up to Dinqi and beyond, I tried to visualize what this valley looked like before Tibetan enthusiasm for business and tourism had changed the landscape to a certain degree. The emphasis on accommodation and infrastructure appeared at best to be geared towards supplying what tourists want most which is communications. Good solid plumbing and electrical infrastructure was lacking and at best amalgamated into traditional housing construction and home heating. I can only describe this as a potential housing recipe for disaster. But Life moves on and the Tibetans are happily enjoying their new found form of autonomy and prosperity and offering this to the world. The Tibetan people are industrious but locals do not have the expertise and training for modern construction; Trusting and relying on contractors to get the job done. Then it is up to them to maintain it. Traditional housing is well constructed and there are no issues.

      Before I begin the next paragraph, let me preface it by saying the village has many stores and merchants selling light cylinders of Oxygen to tourists and there is a depot down the road housing thousands of them.

      It’s 10:50 this morning and I’ve just read the news. I’m trying to type and fight the lump that is stuck in my throat and avoid the concept of pouring a drink because that isn’t going to help. I can easily picture this in my mind along with a sense of helplessness for them at this point.

      The large central old village of Donkezong which surrounds the main monastery has been destroyed by fire. Although antiquated, the village holds the Charm of a Whistler style tourist village. Picture Whistler going up in smoke and you get the idea.

      From phone calls to my friend and news I’m gathering, the fire started in a guest house. We are still waiting to hear from acquaintances and friends we made while staying there but have not heard any word. So this is worrisome. The weather in Shangri-La aside from summer rains has been very dry this fall with strong winds. They say there were no casualties but that would take more than a miracle and I fear for our friends.

      To the villages’ and Government’s credit, A very large modern medical and emergency response Centre was established at the head of the Valley which is more than well equipped. Good Hindsight in my opinion.

      I was looking forward to returning next year to the region.
      I can’t write anymore


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