Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933
novel"Lost Horizon" by British author James Hilton. In the book, "Shangri-La" is 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 but 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 years beyond the normal lifespan. The word also evokes the imagery of exoticismof the Orient. The story of Shangri-La is based on the concept of Shambhala, a mystical city in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Etymology of "Shangri-La"
The phrase "Shangri-La" most probably comes from the
Tibetan"ཞང་","Shang - a district of Tsang, north of Tashilhunpo[Chandra Das - Tibetan English Dictionary] " + "རི", "Mountain" = "Shang Mountain" + "ལ", Mountain Pass, which suggests that the area is accessed to, or is named by, "Shang Mountain Pass". However, it may be that Hilton had heard of Shambhala- the Tibetan equivalent of Shangri-La, but could not remember its name.
Locations linked to the legend
Several locations in the Buddhist Himalaya between northern
Indiaand Tibethave claimed to be the basis for Hilton's legend, largely to attract tourism. In China, Tao Qianof the Jin Dynasty described a Shangri-La in his work " Story of the Peach Blossom Valley" (Chinese: 桃花源記, pinyin: Táohuā Yuán Jì)Fact|date=June 2007. In modern China, the Zhongdiancountry was renamed to 香格里拉县 (Xiānggélǐlā, Shanri-La in Chinese) in 2001, to attract tourists. The legendary Kun Lun Mountainsin Tibet offer other possible Shangri-La valleys.
A popularly believed inspiration for Shangri-La is the
Hunza Valleyin northern Pakistan, close to the Tibetan border, which Hilton visited a few years before "Lost Horizon" was published. [ Cite news | title=Shangri-la Valley | date=June 20, 2006 | accessdate=2006-07-29 | publisher= Adventure Tours Pakistan| url=http://www.atp.com.pk/tours/Shangri-La%20Valley.html] Being an isolated green valley surrounded by mountains, enclosed on the western end of the Himalayas, it closely matches the description in the novel. A Shangri-La resort in the nearby Skardu valley is a popular tourist attraction.
Today, various places claim the title, such as parts of southern
Khamin southwestern Yunnanprovince, including the tourist destinations of Lijiang and Zhongdian. Places like Sichuanand Tibetalso claim the real Shangri-La was in its territory. In 2001, Tibet Autonomous Regionput 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, ZhongdianCounty in northwestern Yunnan officially renamed itself Shangri-La County. Bhutan, which was until now isolated from outside world and has its unique form of Tibetan Buddhism, has been hailed as the last Shangri-La.
Another place that has been thought to have inspired the concept of Shangri-La is the
Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon.
TV Presenter and Historian Michael Wood suggests that the legendary Shangri-La is the abandoned
cityof Tsaparangand its two great temples that were once home to the Kings of Gugein modern Tibet.
There are a number of modern Shangri-La pseudo-legends that have developed since 1933 in the wake of the novel and the film made from it. The
Nazis had an enthusiasm for Shangri-La, where they hoped to find an ancient master race, similar to the Nordic race, unspoiled by Buddhism. They sent one expedition to Tibet, led by Ernst Schäferin 1938.
Another pseudo-legend involves the Ojai Valley as the location for the 1937 Frank Capra film "Lost Horizon". 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. [http://maroon.uchicago.edu/voices/articles/2002/04/23/doc_spotlight.php] 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.
United States President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, being considerably fond of Hilton's novel, named the presidential retreat now known as Camp David"Shangri-La" in 1942. In that April, United States bombers secretly launched from the aircraft carrier "Hornet" bombed Tokyoin a daring raid led by Colonel "Jimmy" Doolittle. Since Tokyo was far out of range of any American bomber base at the time, there was intense speculation as to where the bombers had come from. President Roosevelt facetiously told a press conference that the bombers had flown from Shangri-La. In line with this pleasantry, one of the aircraft carriers used in the Pacific oceanwas subsequently named USS "Shangri-La".
Lutcher Stark, a prominent Texas philanthropist, started building his own Shangri-La in Orange, Texas. His Shangri-La was a beautiful azaleagarden situated along a cypress/ tupelo swamp. By 1950, thousands of people were traveling to Orange to visit Shangri La. Every major magazine dealing with gardens published photographs of the beautiful Shangri La in Texas. In 1958, a major snowstorm struck eastTexas, destroying thousands of azaleas and closing the garden for forty years.
Use as metaphor and figure of speech
Shangri-la is often used in a similar context to which "
Garden of Eden" might be used, to represent a perfect paradise that exists hidden from modern man. It can sometimes be used as an analogy for a life-long 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 The Holy Grail, El Dorado, The Fountain of Youth, and to an extent " white whale" (referring to the white whale chased by the obsessed Captain Ahabin the book " Moby-Dick").
Politically and geographically, the independent and previously-independent nations isolated from the West, such as
Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Tuva, Mongolia, the Tocharian Tushara Kingdomof the Mahābhārataand the Han Dynastyoutpost Dunhuanghave each been termed Shangri-Las.
Popular culture references
* Allen, Charles. (1999). "The Search for
Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History". Little, Brown and Company. Reprint: Abacus, London. 2000. ISBN 0-349-111421.
* [http://www.losthorizon.org www.LostHorizon.org] information about the book, movie, and real life Shangri-La's. (website broken link)
* [http://www.kaiku.com/shangrila.html Liisa Berg, "Shangri-La: Utopia or Reality?".]
* [http://www.drmartinwilliams.com/travel-tales/shangri-la.html Shangri-La, Yunnan, China - magic and majesty] Travel article with photos.
* [http://www.allchinanet.com/china_travel/china_travel_yunnan_shangrila_gallery.shtml Shangri-La Photo Gallery] Photo gallery of Shangri-La and surrounding areas
* [http://uschina.usc.edu/(A(ZOZyaTS3yAEkAAAAMDgyOWYxMWItY2RkOC00OWNkLWJhYmQtMjMxODliMjkxZTgyxyKSalt45jN7wsstLHTk-csBXyw1)S(cntzycnstjysuz45rlb5ro45))/ShowFeature.aspx?articleID=1510 Shangri-La in Yunnan: Another Day in Paradise]
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