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Lost Horizon location
Genre Novel
Type Valley

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, and particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia – a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. In the novel Lost Horizon, 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. The name also evokes the imagery of exoticism of the Orient.

In the ancient Tibetan scriptures, existence of seven such places is 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 probably comes from the Tibetan ཞང་,"Shang" – a district of Ü-Tsang, north of Tashilhunpo[2]" + རི, pronounced "ri", "Mountain" = "Shang Mountain" + , Mountain Pass, which suggests that the area is accessed to, or is named by, "Shang Mountain Pass".

While the name Shangri-La is of relatively recent origin, the concept previously existed.

  • 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.[3]
  • Jewish sources describe a city named Luz, "in which the angel of death has no permission to enter: its citizens have the ability to live forever."[4] The same description is given for a location named Kushta - based on the Aramaic word for truth. In this city, the only reason for death was if a person told an untruth.[5]


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 fantasy of the Western world.[6][7]

Ancient sources with similar descriptions[edit]

In China, the poet Tao Yuanming of the Jin Dynasty (265–420 BCE) 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[disambiguation needed], 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 BCE).[8]

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 (1737–1780) which describes some of the Shambhala locations as being in Ngari, the western prefecture of Tibet.[3][9][10]

Folklore from the Altai Mountains describe Mount Belukha as a gateway to Shambhala.[11] The Kun Lun 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 Kun Lun lie within Ngari, mentioned in the Shambhala Sutra.[3][9][10]

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.[12][13] Huc and Gabet travelled a roundtrip 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,[14] went through many editions in many languages.[15] A popular "condensed translation" was published in England in 1928,[16] at the time that Hilton would have been gathering inspiration for – or perhaps writing – Lost Horizon.

Current claimants[edit]

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

Hilton visited the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, 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.[17] 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] However, because the Hunza Valley does not have Tibetan culture and lacks Buddhist religion, it could not have been the inspiration for the cultural context for Hilton's story.

Places like Sichuan and Tibet also claim the real Shangri-La was in its[where?] territory. 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 cooperation in 2004. Also in 2001, Zhongdian County in northwestern Yunnan officially renamed itself Shangri-La County.

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 magazine articles in the late 1920s and early 1930s written by Austrian-American explorer Joseph Rock.[18] 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 where he reveals his cultural inspiration for Shangri-La and, if it is any place, it is more than 250 km north of Muli on the route travelled by Huc and Gabet.[12][13]

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.[9]

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, local farmers as they harvest 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, and that its two great temples were once home to the kings of Guge in modern Tibet.

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.

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.[19]

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 traveling to Orange to visit Shangri-La, and many magazines published photographs of it. In 1958, a major snowstorm struck east Texas,[20] destroying thousands of azaleas and closing the garden for 40 years. The garden has recently been renovated and is now open to the public once again.[21][22][23]
  • 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.[24]
  • 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.[25]
  • The Doris Duke estate in Honolulu, Hawaii is known as Shangri-La. Contact the Honolulu Museum of Art to take a guided tour.

There is a water games resort in Karjat near Mumbai, India named after is a popular weekend getaway .

In film[edit]

  • California's Ojai Valley was the location for the Frank Capra film Lost Horizon (1937). The outdoor scenes of the villagers of Shangri-La and a cavorting Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt were in fact filmed in nearby Sherwood Forest (Westlake Village) and Palm Springs. The exterior of the grand lamasery was built and later dismantled on the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, California.[26] However, according to film historian Kendall Miller in the photodocumentary bonus feature on the Lost Horizon DVD, an aerial shot of Ojai Valley taken from an outlook on Highway 150 was used to represent the Shangri-La valley.
  • Remade in 1973, in film of the same name, Lost Horizon (1973), starring Peter Finch, Luv Ullman, Sir John Gielgud, Michael York,Charles Boyer.
  • In the Movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow after being knocked unconscious by a large amount of dynamite, Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Kaji (Omid Djalili) wake up in Shangri-La and are given new clothes by Tibetan-speaking monks as their old ones had to be burned due to radiation.
  • In the Full Metal Alchemist movie, Shangri-La is the name given to Edward and Al's world.
  • In Natural Born Killers (1994) by Oliver Stone, Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) rhetorically asks whether there is such a thing as a `copless town`, calling it `Shangri-La`.

In television[edit]

Shangri-La as part of the plot

Shangri-La is/as

  • Season Two Episode 22 of the 80's television series "Jem and the Holograms" "Journey to Shangri-La" The band and their rivals, the Misfits, hunt for the mythical city to help improve their music.

In literature[edit]

Eiichi Ikegami wrote a novel titled Shangri-La (2005); an anime adaptation of the novel was released in 2008.

Michael Buckley covers the topic in Eccentric Explorers and briefly in other books.[42]

In video gaming[edit]

Shangri-La is

In music[edit]

Songs named Shangri-La - by // ALBUM

  • The Kinks // Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969)
  • Druid // Toward the Sun (1975)
  • Electric Light Orchestra // A New World Record (1976); (as a state of bliss)
  • Neil Innes // Taking Off (1977) (reworked 1996 as a Beatles pastiche for The Rutles' album Archaeology)
  • Steve Miller Band // Italian X Rays (1984)
  • Kim Wilde // Teases & Dares (1984)
  • Don Henley // The End of the Innocence (1989)
  • Believable Picnic // self-titled debut album (1996)
  • angela (band) // opening theme, anime Fafner in the Azure (2004)
  • Chatmonchy (2006)
  • M. Ward // Hold Time (2009)
  • Gotthard//Need To Believe(2009)
  • Asami Imai // opening theme of video game Corpse Party (2010)
  • Wienners // W (2011)
  • Acid Black Cherry // (2012)
  • Die Heuwels Fantasties // Ja. Nee. Lekker (2014)
  • Digitalism // Mirage (2016)
  • VIXX // EP Shangri-La (2017)

Songs with "Shangri-La" in the title

  • "Going to Shangri-La" - Atlanta Rhythm Section // Quinella (1981)
  • "Shangrila" - Billy Idol // Cyberpunk (1993)
  • "This is Shangrila" - Mother Love Bone // (1990)
  • "Sucker's Shangri-La" - Lower Dens // Escape from Evil (2015)
  • "The Shangri-La" - Shane Cooley // Kings Highway (2015)
  • "Poor Man's Shangri-La" - Ry Cooder // Chávez Ravine (2005)
  • "Bourgeois Shangri-La" - Miss Li // Dancing the Whole Way Home (2009)
  • "Shangri-La Shower" - µ's // Shangri-La Shower (2014)
  • "Oh Shangri-La" - Jon Fratelli // Psycho Jukebox
  • "Shangri-La" by Chatmonchy (2006)
  • "Ghost of Shangri La" - Myles Kennedy // Year of the Tiger (2018)
  • 도원경(桃源境) (Shangri-La) by VIXX (2017), written by Kim "Ravi" Wonsik, Jam Factory, arranged and composed by Devine Channel // EP Shangri-La (2017)
  • "Shangri-La", written by Carl Sigman (lyricist), bandleader Matty Malneck and Robert Maxwell in 1946; best known recordings were by The Four Coins (1957), an instrumental by composer Maxwell himself (1964), and The Lettermen (1969)

Songs that mention Shangri-La:

  • "Lovely Lady of Arcadia" - Demis Roussos (1974)
  • "Kashmir" - Led Zeppelin // Physical Graffiti (1975)
  • "Sin City" - AC/DC // Powerage (1978)
  • "Spirits (Having Flown)" - Bee Gees (1979)
  • "Neverland" - The Sisters of Mercy ,[43] // Floodland (1987)
  • "Come on Home" - Cyndi Lauper (1995)
  • "Angels Fall First" - Nightwish (1997)
  • "Great Milenko" - Insane Clown Posse: the eponymous character is said to be from Shangri-La (1997)
  • "The Trail We Blaze" - Elton John, from the soundtrack to The Road to El Dorado (2000)
  • "Idler's Dream" - Oasis, a B-side from "The Hindu Times" single (2002)
  • "The Goodbye Song" - Space (2004)
  • "Many Moons" - Janelle Monáe, from her extended play EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) (2007); a place to go "when the world just treats you wrong"
  • "Ringo Mogire Beam" - Kenji Ohtsuki (2009)
  • "Suck it and See" - Arctic Monkeys (2011)
  • "Happy Ever After" - Foo Fighters (2017)
  • "Song 20 - The Untold Stories" - JUGGALOSMOKER100 (2010), "Shangri-La is the Number One place."

Albums with "Shangri-La" in the title:

  • Trouble in Shangri-La - Stevie Nicks (2001)
  • Shangri-La Dee Da - Stone Temple Pilots (2001)
  • The Wraith: Shangri-La - Insane Clown Posse (2002)
  • Shangri-La - by The Blackeyed Susans (2003), by Mark Knopfler (2004), by YACHT (2011), by Mucc (2012), by Jake Bugg (2013),[44] by VIXX (2017)

Groups with Shangri-La in their name:

  • ShangriLah is an EcoTechJazz Metal Group from South Africa (est - 2016).[45]
  • The Shangri-Las were a pop group in the 1960s.

In politics[edit]

In science[edit]

  • Researchers at Emory University used expression "shattered Shangri-la" in the title of the publication of a research study that reported higher prevalence of depressive and anxiety symptoms in refugees from Tibet compared to those born in Nepal.[50]


Glastonbury Festival created an after-hours area within the site called Shangri-La in 2009. It has evolved over the past three years each with a slightly different theme: In 2009 the socialist utopia became a dystopian pleasure city run by a corrupt regime. In 2010 the ruling administration was overthrown and the city was opened up to rebels and chancers to carve out their own little piece of paradise. The 2011 storyline was pre-apocalyptic – the population of Shangri-La prepared to flee a viral infection before the end of the world. During the festival's fallow year, 2012, the end of the world took place and in the 2013 theme became the afterlife. Shangri-La was divided between Shangri-Heaven and Shangri-Hell, combined to form the Shafterlife. In 2014, the two areas, Heaven and Hell, took as their theme the perils of the traditional office workplace. 'Shangri- Hell' comprised a collection of self-contained buildings all based on the departments of a corporations head-office. Some were in fact bars and other were display installations for amusement purposes.[51]


Shangri-La is often used in a similar context 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 that is 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 perfection that is sought by man in the form of love, happiness, or Utopian ideals. It may be used in this context alongside other mythical and famous examples of somewhat similar metaphors such as El Dorado, The Fountain of Youth, and The Holy Grail.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Shrestha, Dr. Tirtha Bahadur; Joshi, Rabindra Man; Sangam, Khagendra (July 2009). The Makalu-Barun National Park & Buffer Zone Brochure. Makalu-Barun National Park. 
  2. ^ Chandra Das – Tibetan English Dictionary
  3. ^ a b c LePage, Victoria (1996). Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind The Myth Of Shangri-La. 
  4. ^ "Between Luz And Beit El: The Power of Transformational Moments". 
  5. ^ Matityahu Glazerson (1996). Torah, Light and Healing: Mystical Insights into Healing. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 146163217X. 
  6. ^ Bishop, Peter (1989). The myth of Shangri-La: Tibet, travel writing, and the western creation of sacred landscape. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  7. ^ Lopez, Donald (1998). Prisoners of Shangri-La. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  8. ^ Yutang, Lin (translator). "The Peach Colony by Tao Yuanming". Retrieved 2011-11-19. 
  9. ^ a b c Brahm, Laurence. (2004). Shambhala Sutrah (film expedition).
  10. ^ 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)
  11. ^ aprilholloway. "Mysteries of the Kingdom of Shambhala". 
  12. ^ a b Michael McRae. (2002). The Siege of Shangri-La: The Quest for Tibet's Sacred Hidden Paradise. New York: Broadway Books.
  13. ^ a b B.R. Crisler. (1936). Film gossip of the week. The New York Times, 26 July 1936, section 9, page 3.
  14. ^ Evariste Regis Huc. (1850). Souvenirs d'un voyage dans la Tartarie, le Thibet et la Chine pendant les annees 1844, 1845, et 1846. Paris.
  15. ^ Beatrice Mille. (1953). A selective survey of literature on Tibet. American Political Science Review, 47 (4): 1135–1151.
  16. ^ Evariste Regis Huc & Joseph Gabet. (1928). Travels in Tartary, Thibet and China, 1844–1846. Edited and translated by William Hazlitt. London: Routledge.
  17. ^ "Shangri-la Valley". Adventure Tours Pakistan. 20 June 2006. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-29. 
  18. ^ "Could This Be the Way to Shangri-La?" by Timothy Carroll (29 July 2002). Electronic Telegraph. London.
  19. ^ "Planetary Names: Albedo Feature: Shangri-La on Titan". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. Retrieved 2014-09-18. 
  20. ^ "About LCM, Orange, Texas". Little Cypress – Mauriceville CISD. Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-11-19. 
  21. ^ "Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Centre, Orange Texas". Retrieved 2011-11-19. 
  22. ^ "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. 
  23. ^ "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. 
  24. ^ McCracken, Donal P. McCracken & McCracken, Eileen M. (1988). The Way to Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens: Cape Town. p. 108. 
  25. ^ Shangri La, Lake. "Shangri La a Mythical Place from James Hilton Novel to Lake Resort in Skardu". Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  26. ^ "Marooned". April 23, 2002. Archived from the original on 2005-04-19. 
  27. ^ Topanga accidentally discovers the existence of a time continuum vortex in the back of the apartment closet. She is transported, with no memory of her real identity, to a 1940s-era black and white universe containing a café called Rory's Shangri-La, where people go to forget their troubles.
  28. ^ A 1960 musical version of Lost Horizon, starring Claude Rains and Richard Basehart
  29. ^ depicts an alternate time-space to ours, known as Shangri-La, in which there is no suffering.
  30. ^ Carla advises Dr. Cox that there is no Shangri-La
  31. ^ a race of warrior birds live on clouds called the Shangri-La-Di-Das
  32. ^ the group of friends makes its way to "Shangri-large" for a talent contest
  33. ^ , Son Goku, the monkey king, and Genjo Sanzo, a high buddhist priest set out to protect Shangri-La from Demons, with help from Cho Hakkai and Sha Gojyo, two demons themselves
  34. ^ Gunn describes Jasmine's superficially perfect transformation of Los Angeles as "Shangri-la-la-land"
  35. ^ "Operation: Rescue Jet Fusion" episode, as Shangri-Llama
  36. ^ An episode is set in Shangri La. The episode is about the mathematical concept of doubling.
  37. ^ The episode titled "Last Horizons" parodies the fictional city from the novel. Baloo finds the legendary "Panda-La" (a reference to Shangri-La), a mystical utopia, where he is warmly received. The reception, however, turns out to be a ruse.
  38. ^ In Frasier, an American situation comedy, Shangri-La is the name of the apartment complex where Niles moved after his divorce from his wealthy wife aris. This has a huge impact on the class-conscious Niles.
  39. ^ set in a dystopian future filled with environmental crisis of epidemic proportions.,
  40. ^ In the "And The Fatal Separation" episode. It is portrayed as a hidden city ruled by the Monkey King, who controls it through the use of his mystic tail and an enchanted staff.
  41. ^ Jack McCoy quotes at the end of the episode, "how does the story go, when you leave Shangri-La you immediately turn old and gray" in reference to the perpetrator.
  42. ^ " Michael Buckley: Books, Biography, Blogs, Audiobooks, Kindle". 
  43. ^ Illumination9 (22 September 2010). "Sisters of Mercy - Neverland (full length)" – via YouTube. 
  44. ^ "Jake Bugg". Retrieved 2016-02-07. 
  45. ^ eMinor. "ShangriLah | Metal from Cape Town, WC, ZA". ReverbNation. Retrieved 2017-05-13. 
  46. ^ "He Flew From 'Shangri-La.' retrieved July 26, 2015,
  47. ^ "Camp David". Retrieved February 27, 2009.
  48. ^ "Catoctin Mountain: Presidential Retreat". National Park Service. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  49. ^ Eisenhower, David; Julie Nixon Eisenhower (2010). Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight David Eisenhower, 1961–1969. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 31. 
  50. ^ Evans, Dabney; Buxton, David C.; Borisov, Andrey; Manatunga, Amita K.; Ngodup, Dawa; Raison, Charles L. (2008-06-01). "Shattered Shangri-la: differences in depressive and anxiety symptoms in students born in Tibet compared to Tibetan students born in exile". Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 43 (6): 429–436. doi:10.1007/s00127-008-0346-9. ISSN 0933-7954. 
  51. ^ "Glastonbury Festivals – Areas – Shangri-La". Glastonbury Festival. 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-01. 


  • 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.
  • 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" of debut album "Apple" (1990)

External links[edit]