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Lost Horizon location

Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. Hilton describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia – an enduringly happy land, isolated from the world. In the novel, the people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living hundreds of years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance.

In the ancient Tibetan scriptures, the existence of seven such places are mentioned as Nghe-Beyul Khembalung.[1] Khembalung is one of several beyuls (hidden lands similar to Shangri-La) believed to have been created by Padmasambhava in the 9th century as idyllic, sacred places of refuge for Buddhists during times of strife (Reinhard, 1978).


The phrase "Shangri-La" most likely comes from the Tibetan "ཞང་", pronounced "Shang" – a district of Ü-Tsang, north of Tashilhunpo[2] + "རི", pronounced "ri", "Mountain" = "Shang Mountain" + "", pronounced "la", "Mountain Pass", which suggests that the area is accessed to, or is named by, "Shang Mountain Pass".


Academic scholars have debunked the myth of Shangri-La and argued that this has less to do with an unexplored place and is more connected to a Western fantasy of the Eastern world.[3]

Ancient sources with similar descriptions[edit]

In China, the poet Tao Yuanming of the Jin Dynasty (266–420 AD) described a kind of Shangri-La in his work The Tale of the Peach Blossom Spring (Chinese: 桃花源記; pinyin: Táohuā Yuán Jì). The story goes that there was a fisherman from Wuling, who came across a beautiful peach grove, and he discovered happy and content people who lived completely cut off from the troubles in the outside world since the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC).[4]

Some scholars believe that the Shangri-La story owes a literary debt to Shambhala, a mythical kingdom in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which was sought by Eastern and Western explorers.[5] Shambhala is a core concept in Tibetan Buddhism that describes a realm of harmony between man and nature that is also connected with the Kalachakra or "wheel of time". The Shambhala ideal is described in detail in the Shambhala Sutra, a historical text written by the Sixth Panchen Lama which describes some of the Shambhala locations as being in Ngari, the western prefecture of Tibet.[5][6][7]

Folklore from the Altai Mountains describe Belukha Mountain as a gateway to Shambhala.[citation needed] The Kunlun Mountains (崑崙山) offer another possible place for valleys like the Shangri-La, since Hilton specifically described the “Kuen-Lun” mountains as its likely location in the book. However, Hilton is not known to have visited or studied the area.[citation needed] Parts of the Kunlun Mountains lie within Ngari, mentioned in the Shambhala Sutra.[5][6][7]

Possible sources for Hilton[edit]

In a New York Times interview in 1936, Hilton states that he used "Tibetan material" from the British Museum, particularly the travelogue of two French priests, Evariste Regis Huc and Joseph Gabet, to provide the Tibetan cultural and Buddhist spiritual inspiration for Shangri-La.[8][9] Huc and Gabet travelled a round trip between Beijing and Lhasa in 1844–1846 on a route more than 250 kilometres (160 mi) north of Yunnan. Their famous travelogue, first published in French in 1850,[10] went through many editions in many languages.[11] A popular "condensed translation" was published in the United Kingdom in 1928.[12]

Current claimants[edit]

Hilton visited the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan Kashmir, close to the Chinese border, a few years before Lost Horizon was published; hence it is a popularly believed inspiration for Hilton's physical description of Shangri-La.[13] Being an isolated green valley surrounded by mountains, enclosed on the western end of the Himalayas, it closely matches the description in the novel; also, in an ironic reversal on the story, due to increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation, inhabitants of the high-altitude parts of the valley appear to age quickly.[citation needed]

Today various places, such as parts of southern Kham in northwestern Yunnan province, including the tourist destinations of Lijiang[citation needed] and Zhongdian, claim the title. In 2001, Zhongdian County in northwestern Yunnan officially renamed itself Shangri-La County, Xiānggélǐlā in Chinese (香格里拉).

Places like Sichuan and Tibet also lay claim to the real Shangri-La.[where?] In 2001, Tibet Autonomous Region put forward a proposal that the three regions optimise all Shangri-La tourism resources and promote them as one. After failed attempts to establish a China Shangri-la Ecological Tourism Zone in 2002 and 2003, government representatives of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and Tibet Autonomous Region signed a declaration of co-operation in 2004.

Recent searches and documentaries[edit]

American explorers Ted Vaill and Peter Klika visited the Muli area of southern Sichuan Province in 1999, and claimed that the Muli monastery in this remote region was the model for James Hilton's Shangri-La, which they thought Hilton learned about from articles on this area in several National Geographic magazines in the late 1920s and early 1930s written by Austrian-American explorer Joseph Rock.[14] Vaill completed a film based on their research, "Finding Shangri-La", which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. However, Michael McRae unearthed an obscure James Hilton interview from a New York Times gossip column in which he reveals that his cultural inspiration for Shangri-La, if it is anywhere, is more than 250 km north of Muli on the route travelled by Huc and Gabet.[8][9]

Between 2002–2004 a series of expeditions were led by author and film maker Laurence Brahm in western China which determined that the Shangri-La mythical location in Hilton's book Lost Horizon was based on references to northern Yunnan Province from articles published by National Geographic's first resident explorer Joseph Rock.[6]

On 2 December 2010, OPB televised one of Martin Yan's Hidden China episodes, "Life in Shangri-La", in which Yan said that "Shangri-La" is the actual name of a real town in the hilly and mountainous region in northwestern Yunnan Province, frequented by both Han and Tibetan locals. Martin Yan visited arts and craft shops and local farmers as they harvested crops, and sampled their cuisine.

Television presenter and historian Michael Wood, in the "Shangri-La" episode of the BBC documentary series In Search of Myths and Heroes, suggests that the legendary Shangri-La is the abandoned city of Tsaparang in upper Satluj valley of Ladakh in India, and that its two great temples were once home to the kings of Guge in modern Tibet.

The Travel Channel in 2016 aired two episodes of Expedition Unknown that followed host Josh Gates to Lo Manthang, Nepal and its surrounding areas, including the sky caves found there, in search of Shangri-La. His findings offer no proof that Shangri-La is or was real.


Shangri-La is often used in a context similar to "Garden of Eden," to represent a paradise hidden from modern man. It is sometimes used as an analogy for a lifelong quest or something elusive but much sought; for a man who spends his life obsessively looking for a cure to a disease, such a cure could be said to be that man's "Shangri-La." It also might be used to represent a sought-for perfection in the form of love, happiness, or Utopian ideals. It may be used in this context alongside other mythical and famous examples of similar metaphors such as El Dorado, The Fountain of Youth, and The Holy Grail.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

There are a number of cultural usages of the Shangri-La idea that have developed since 1933 in the wake of the novel and the film made from it.

United States Marine Corps guard at Shangri-La (later Camp David) on May 7, 1944

World War II[edit]

The current presidential retreat known as Camp David was briefly named “Shangri-la” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II after the city in James Hilton’s novel. Roosevelt looked at the view from the mountains and proclaimed “this is Shangri-la”. President Eisenhower would later go on to change the name in honor of his grandson David.[15][16] An unusual consequence of the Doolittle Raid of 1942 came after, when (in the interests of secrecy) President Franklin Roosevelt answered a reporter's question by saying that the raid had been launched from "Shangri-La".[17][18] The true details of the raid were revealed to the public one year later, in April 1943.[19] In 1944, the US Navy commissioned the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La, with Doolittle's wife Josephine as the sponsor.[citation needed]

In astronomy[edit]

In 2006 the International Astronomical Union gave the equatorial, dark, low-lying area of Saturn's moon Titan the name Shangri-La.[20]

Gardens and resorts[edit]

  • In 1937 Lutcher Stark, a Texas philanthropist, started building his own Shangri-La in Orange, Texas. His Shangri-La was an azalea garden situated alongside a cypress-tupelo swamp. By 1950, thousands of people were travelling to Orange to visit Shangri-La, and many magazines published photographs of it. In 1958, a major snowstorm struck east Texas,[21] destroying thousands of azaleas and closing the garden for 40 years. The garden has been renovated and is now open to the public once again.[22][23][24]
  • The businessman Harold Nixon Porter established a nature reserve called Shangri-La in Betty's Bay in South Africa in 1955. The name was changed to Harold Porter National Botanical Garden when the reserve was bequeathed to the National Botanic Gardens of South Africa in 1959.[25]
  • In 1983 a tourist resort built on the banks of Kachura Lake in Skardu, northern Pakistan, was based on the idea of Hilton's novel. The resort is named Shangrila Resort. Today, the lake itself is also known as Shangrila Lake.[26]
  • In 1971, Malaysian businessman Robert Kuok founded the luxury hotel chain Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts in Kuala Lumpur, borrowing the name for the sprawling hotel empire which now spans from Asia to Europe.[27]

In film[edit]

In video games[edit]

  • Shangri-La is one of the three mythical cities you get to explore as a time traveler in the 1998 adventure game The Journeyman Project 3: Legacy of Time.
  • In the 2009 video game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves the main plot involves the Cintamani Stone, a massive jewel from the fabled city of Shambhala, or Shangri-La. The character, Nathan Drake, refers to the city by both names. The penultimate chapter of the game sees you enter the city.
  • In the 2014 video game Far Cry 4 one of the main missions requires the player to travel to Shangri-La.
  • A downloadable Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies map is named Shangri-La.
  • In the video game series Yakuza there is a soapland named Shangri-La in the fictional city of Kamurocho.
  • In the 2017 video game Dragon Quest XI, there is a location named Angri-La, a remote settlement in Erdrea where monks train their body and spirit seeking enlightenment. Under the guidance of the Grand Master, the young princes of Dundrasil used to train there during six years of their youth.
  • In the 2020 video game Paper Mario: The Origami King, one of the main locations is the Shangri-Spa, a spa based upon Shangri-La, founded by two ancient Toads, Shan and Gri-Spa. Its mystical history and life-restoring springs derive from Shangri-La lore.
  • In Unreal Tournament 3, one map is named as Shangri-La.

In television[edit]

  • In the television series Doctor Who, a Welsh holiday camp named Shangri-La is used as the main location for the serial Delta and the Bannermen.
  • In the television series Frasier, Niles briefly stays in an apartment complex named Shangri-La after his divorce from Maris.
  • In the pentultimate episode of the Disney series Legend of the Three Caballeros, Donald Duck and Daisy Duck are sent to Shangri-La.
  • In the cartoon The Flintstones, Fred and Barney lead some cave boys on a Jamboree to “Shangri-La-De-Da” - a parody of the Shangri-La name

In literature[edit]

In music[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Shrestha, Dr. Tirtha Bahadur; Joshi, Rabindra Man; Sangam, Khagendra (2009). The Makalu-Barun National Park & Buffer Zone Brochure. Makalu-Barun National Park.
  2. ^ Chandra Das – Tibetan English Dictionary
  3. ^ Bishop, Peter (1989). The myth of Shangri-La: Tibet, travel writing, and the western creation of sacred landscape. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  4. ^ Yutang, Lin (translator). "The Peach Colony by Tao Yuanming". Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  5. ^ a b c LePage, Victoria (1996). Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind The Myth Of Shangri-La.
  6. ^ a b c Brahm, Laurence. (2004). Shambhala Sutrah (film expedition).
  7. ^ a b Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan Civilization, pp. 88–89. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7 (pbk)
  8. ^ a b Michael McRae. (2002). The Siege of Shangri-La: The Quest for Tibet's Sacred Hidden Paradise. New York: Broadway Books.
  9. ^ a b B.R. Crisler. (1936). Film gossip of the week. The New York Times, 26 July 1936, section 9, page 3.
  10. ^ Huc, Évariste Régis (1850), Souvenirs d'un Voyage dans la Tartarie, le Thibet, et la Chine pendant les Années 1844, 1845, et 1846, Paris: Adrien le Clere & Co. (in French)
  11. ^ Beatrice Mille. (1953). A selective survey of literature on Tibet. American Political Science Review, 47 (4): 1135–1151.
  12. ^ Huc, Évariste Régis (1852), Hazlitt, William (ed.), Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China during the Years 1844–5–6, Vol. I, London: National Illustrated Library |volume= has extra text (help), rev. ed. by Routledge 1928.
  13. ^ "Shangri-la Valley". Adventure Tours Pakistan. 20 June 2006. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-29.
  14. ^ "Could This Be the Way to Shangri-La?" by Timothy Carroll (29 July 2002). Electronic Telegraph. London.
  15. ^ "Presidential Retreat". National Park Service. Presidential Retreat (published 2020). 2020-05-07. Retrieved 2020-10-25. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was accustomed to seeking relief from hot Washington, D.C. summers and relaxing on weekends, aboard the presidential yacht "Potomac" or at Hyde Park, NY. In 1942, the U.S. Secret Service were very concerned about the President's continued use of the "Potomac." World War II had brought an attack on Pearl Harbor and German U-boats close in Atlantic waters. Presidential safety was a concern and Presidential health was also a concern. The muggy climate of Washington, D.C., was considered detrimental to his health, affecting his sinuses. A new retreat, a place to relax, within a 100 mile radius of Washington, D.C. and in the cool mountain air was sought. Several sites were considered, but Camp Hi-Catoctin in the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area was selected after the President's first visit on April 22, 1942. A camp was already built on the site and the estimated conversion cost was $18,650. It was also almost 10 degrees cooler than in Washington, D.C. The camp for federal employee's families became the camp of one federal employee, the President of the United States. Roosevelt quickly renamed the camp to "Shangri-La" from James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.
  16. ^ "Shangri-La". National Park Service. Shangri-La (published 2020). 2020-05-07. Retrieved 2020-10-25. According to Drury, he was "very much pleased with the area" and asked them to "proceed immediately with plans and estimates." Final approval for the project was given on April 30, 1942. When Franklin Roosevelt looked at the spectacular view from his new mountain retreat he said that "this is Shangri-La."
  17. ^ "Camp David". National Archives. Prologue Magazine (published 2008). 2016-08-15. Archived from the original on 2020-05-03. Retrieved 2020-09-03. Officially a U.S. Navy installation, the facility was originally built by the Works Progress Administration as a camp for government employees, opening in 1938. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took it over in a few years and named it "Shangri-La," for the mountain kingdom in Lost Horizon, the 1933 novel by James Hilton. It was renamed in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in honor of his then-five-year-old grandson, Dwight David Eisenhower II.
  18. ^ "One year later, Tokyo raid story told". UPI. 1943-04-20. Archived from the original on 2020-08-31. Retrieved 2020-09-03. The aircraft carrier Hornet was the "Shangri-La" from which 16 American bombers under Maj. Gen. James H. (Jimmy) Doolittle bombed Japan a year ago and all but one of the planes was wrecked on or off the China Coast after carrying out their mission "with complete success," the first official story of the memorable raid revealed Tuesday night. A detailed War Department account of the raid said the only plane which came through unscathed was one which made a forced landing on Russian territory where its crew was interned.
  19. ^ "One year later, Tokyo raid story told". UPI, 20 April 1943.
  20. ^ "Planetary Names: Albedo Feature: Shangri-La on Titan". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. Retrieved 2014-09-18.
  21. ^ "About LCM, Orange, Texas". Little Cypress – Mauriceville CISD. Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  22. ^ "Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Centre, Orange Texas". Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  23. ^ "Beauty, Peace and Enlightenment at Shangri La Gardens in Orange, Texas (Part 1)". Blue Eyes and Bluebonnets. 15 April 2009. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  24. ^ "MESA /Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects, Joint Venture Announce Opening of Shangri La" (PDF). MESA Design Group. 15 April 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 May 2013. Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  25. ^ McCracken, Donal P. McCracken & McCracken, Eileen M. (1988). The Way to Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens: Cape Town. p. 108.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  26. ^ Shangri La, Lake. "Shangri La a Mythical Place from James Hilton Novel to Lake Resort in Skardu". Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  27. ^ "About Us - Shangri-La Group". Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  28. ^ "Marooned". April 23, 2002. Archived from the original on 2005-04-19.
  29. ^ "EOB - "Shangri-La"". February 6, 2020.


  • Allen, Charles. (1999). The Search for Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History. Little, Brown and Company (UK). ISBN 0-316-64810-8. Reprinted by Abacus, London. 2000. ISBN 0-349-11142-1.
  • Reinhard, Johan (1978) Khembalung: The Hidden Valley. Kailash, A Journal of Himalayan Studies 6(1): 5–35, Kathmandu. PDF
  • Wood, Michael (2005) Michael Wood: In search of Myths and Heroes: Shangri-La PBS Educational Broadcasting Company
  • Mother Love Bone single "This is Shangri-La" (1990)

External links[edit]