Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts new 289-room urban retreat in Lhasa, Tibet opened today, enabling guests to explore one of the world’s most storied destinations while staying at a beautiful, luxurious hotel. The debut of Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa in the Himalayas marks a sort of homecoming for the hotel group, as the legendary Shangri-La – the mythical “paradise on earth” set in the Himalayas – was the inspiration for the Hong Kong-based luxury hotel brand.

The newly-built Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa has been designed to provide guests with an authentic window onto Tibetan culture and hospitality. While every Shangri-La hotel is known for its warm welcome, in Lhasa guests are greeted with the offering of a hada (a traditional ceremonial white silk scarf) and the throwing of barley on the chema (a wooden container used by Tibetans to pray for a bumper harvest) before being escorted to their guestroom. There, they are served yak butter tea in Tibetan pots. Upon departure, guests are sent off to the sound of the hotel staff singing traditional Tibetan songs and playing Tibetan string instruments.

“It is extremely important wherever we operate hotels that we embrace the local community and culture and our hotels reflect this authentically in both their design and offerings,” says Ester Marcaida, general manager of Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa. “We are excited to open our doors today and welcome our first guests.”

Travelers to Lhasa won’t find a better home base for taking in the stunning scenery or exploring Lhasa’s culturally significant Buddhist sites, including the Potala Palace and Norbulingka Palace, both of which are within walking distance from the hotel. Lhasa, the administrative center of Tibet, is set on a plateau soaring 3,650 meters (11,975 feet) above sea level and is encircled by mountains, glaciers and desert-like landscape. To help guests make the most of their visit, agents located in Routes, the hotel’s one-stop business center, can arrange group and individual travel, tours and sightseeing for them.

Guests will catch one of many enchanting views of the Potala Palace upon arrival at the hotel. But first, after passing through the hotel’s impressive Tibetan gate, they will discover a traditional Linka garden planted with indigenous plants and flowers and bookmarked by two hand-crafted pavilions illuminated by yak butter lamps in the evening.

Inside the hotel, the lobby’s design pays homage to elements found in traditional Tibetan culture. The visual anchor of the lobby lounge is a 6.5-meter (21-foot) bell-like chandelier made from 61,000 pieces of crystal and draped in flowing red fabric. The chandelier is reminiscent of a prayer wheel and is complemented by the lounge’s warm tones and earthy colors which are drawn from thangkas (Tibetan paintings). Next to the lounge is reception, where a floating cloud installation creates a dream-like space. Signifying unity and strength, the ancient Tibetan symbols of swirling clouds are made into a contemporary work of art using hammered oxidized bronze.

Warmly lit corridors and colorful carpets embedded with the cloud motif lead the way to the hotel’s 262 luxurious guestrooms and 17 expansive suites. Rooms are spacious with a minimum size of 42 square meters (452 square feet). Each room category highlights the bold colors and delicate details found in Tibetan culture, dress and art. The stay experience is enhanced with garden, mountain or Potala Palace views as well as complimentary mini-bar upon arrival and free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel. In addition, the hotel’s signature Horizon Club Rooms and Horizon Club Lounge, which open in July, provide a host of extra benefits to guests including Club concierge service, breakfast and evening cocktails.

Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa is situated amidst striking mountain landscape and is just minutes from the Norbulingka Palace and the Potala Palace, both part of the “Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Buddhist temple monastery of the Potala Palace was built in the 7th century as the Dalai Lama’s winter residence. Norbulingka Palace was built in 1755 and served as the traditional summer residence. Lhasa is the capital and largest city in Tibet and means “Place of God”. It sits on Qinghai-Tibetan plateau on the banks of the Lhasa River at an altitude of 3,650 metres above sea level, and is one of the highest inhabited regions on earth. The city is surrounded by the Himalaya mountain range and has over 1,300 years of history. Guests can reach the city by train on the world’s highest railway, or by air to the Lhasa Gonggar Airport just 50 kilometers from the city centre. The hotel is located right in the centre of Lhasa city, a 10-minute drive from the Lhasa Railway Station.

Visitors to Lhasa are advised to acclimate to the altitude, and Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa offers the most comprehensive well-being facilities in the city to help facilitate this, including the first oxygen lounge in a hotel as well as a full-service clinic. Inside the glass-walled lounge the oxygen level is the same as that at sea level, so guests can breathe comfortably while relaxing and enjoying reflexology treatments. In addition, guests can unwind in CHI, The Spa, which offers signature massages and facials along with a menu of Tibetan-inspired treatments. Leisure facilities also include a fully equipped gym and a 25-meter (82-foot) indoor swimming pool.

Among the extensive entertainment outlets is Shambala, the hotel’s signature restaurant and bar on Level 3. Shambala specializes in Tibetan and Yunnan cuisine and opens in July. The venue features a dining area and lounge, bar and outdoor patio seating. Shambala’s warm interior is dimly lit by lights reminiscent of oil lanterns carried by monks, while the walls are draped in Tibetan hand-crafted carpets. Other Tibetan influences include decorative metal fixtures across low ceiling beams and the repetitive use of the auspicious endless knot.

On the same level is Lodger’s Lounge, where guests can relax and enjoy light snacks and beverages. Sharing a patio with the lounge is Altitude, the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant serving a variety of local and international cuisines. Lavish buffets for breakfast and dinner are on offer (with an a la carte menu at lunchtime). Guests can indulge in range of items, everything from fresh imported seafood to local cheese and cold cuts to yak steaks hot off the grill.

Shangri-La’s signature Chinese restaurant, Shang Palace, serves Sichuan and authentic Cantonese. It blends traditional Chinese and Tibetan styles in a contemporary fashion. The corridor leading to the restaurant is lined with six illuminated Tibetan drums – measuring 150 centimeters in diameter – gracefully hung against the wall. Just beyond the majestic entrance is the main dining area decorated with floor-to-ceiling screens. For intimate gatherings, the restaurant offers 10 lavishly decorated private dining rooms. Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa also offers extensive event and conference facilities, including the city’s largest ballroom and an event terrace overlooking Potala Palace and the surrounding mountain range.

Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa is offering an opening promotion through June 30, 2014, which is priced from RMB2,488 (approx. US$400) per night plus 15 per cent service fee and includes buffet breakfast and dinner for two. Advance booking for the opening offer is required. For information or reservations, visit www.shangri-la.com.

Photos courtesy of Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa

Tibetan Gate at the Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa

Tibetan Gate at the Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa

Guest Room at Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa

Guest Room at Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa

Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa

Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa