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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, particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia – a permanently 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. The name also evokes the imagery of exoticism of the Orient.

In the ancient Tibetan scriptures, the 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[who?] 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 co-operation 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 travelling 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]

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, Liv Ullmann, 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 Movie The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the third film in the trilogy Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his family, with the help of Lin (Isabella Leong), discover Shangri-La in the Himalayas. The waters of Shangri-La granted immortality to Lin and her mother Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh).

In television[edit]

Shangri-La as part of the plot

In literature[edit]

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

In games[edit]

  • The 2009 video game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves involves protagonist Nathan Drake following clues left by Marco Polo that lead to Shangri-La
  • Shangri-La provides the setting for a downloadable map for the Zombies game mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Black Ops III
  • Shangri-La is a side mission for Far cry 4 where Protagonist Aj Ghale collects tapestries for Ghale’s stead. Once picked up he will start to hallucinate and quick takes you to Shangri-La as a diety fighting Demons with a companion.

In music[edit]

Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" contains the following lyrics: "My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon / I will return again / Sure as the dust that floats high in June / When movin' through Kashmir."

"Shangri-La" is a song written by Ray Davies of The Kinks. The song appeared on the 1969 concept album, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). The song's inspiration can be traced back to when the band visited the Davies brothers' sister, Rose, and her family in Australia, the "designed community" that the family lived in serving as the initial lyrical inspiration.

Shangri-La is an album by the rap duo the Insane Clown Posse. "Helsinki–Shangri-La" is a 2010 single of Finnish rapper Paleface.

On the 15th of May 2017, the populair Korean boyband VIXX released their song 'Shangri-La' together with their 4th mini album, which has the same name.


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 (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


  • 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]