by Andy Khong
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Shangri-La as, “A remote beautiful imaginary place where life approaches perfection”
Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel “Lost Horizon” by James Hilton. It is portrayed as a mystical, utopian valley hidden in the Himalayas, where people live in peace and harmony with nature, and where life is almost eternal. While there is no actual place called Shangri-La, there are many real-world locations that have been suggested as possible inspirations for the fictional location, such as the Tibetan plateau or the Hunza Valley in Pakistan. Bhutan which is located in the Himalayan region, shares some cultural and geographical similarities with the fictional location of Shangri-La. However, no actual location has been confirmed as the real-life counterpart of this mythical place, and the idea of Shangri-La remains purely fictional.
“Lost Horizon” has been made into a cinematic movie twice. The first film adaptation (in black & white) of the novel was released in 1937, directed by Frank Capra, and starring Ronald Colman as the protagonist, Robert Conway. This version of the film won two Academy Awards, and is considered a classic of American cinema. Another adaptation (in colour) was released in 1973, directed by Charles Jarrott, and starring Peter Finch as Robert Conway. This version of the film received mixed reviews and was not as successful as the 1937 version. Both movies are available on the internet.
Lost Horizon movie (1973).
There is a city named Shangri-La in China today. It is located in the north-west part of Yunnan province (Tibet is located next to Yunnan), and was formerly known as Zhongdian. The city was re-named Shangri-La (pronounced Xiānggélǐlā in Pinyin Mandarin) in 2001, in an effort to promote tourism in the area by capitalizing on the fictional location’s popularity.
While the city is not the actual location of the mythical Shangri-La described in the novel “Lost Horizon”, it has adopted the name, and has used it to promote its tourism industry. The city is situated in a mountainous region, and is known for its beautiful natural scenery, including snow-capped peaks, deep gorges, and lush forests. It is also home to several Tibetan monasteries, and has a significant Tibetan population.
Location of Shangri-La (formerly Zhongdian), Yunnan, China.
Buddhism, and Daoism have concepts of spiritual attainment, and enlightenment that may be similar in some ways to the idea of Shangri-La, such as the concept of Nirvana in Buddhism or the Dao in Daoism. Both religions* also emphasize the importance of cultivating inner peace, wisdom, and compassion in order to achieve a state of spiritual fulfillment (* if they can be called religions as there is no service, honour, and obedience due to an imaginative supernatural entity in the sky).
However, it is important to note that spiritual practices are highly individual, and depend on personal beliefs, experiences, and cultural traditions. While some people may find inspiration in the idea of Shangri-La or use it as a metaphor for their own spiritual journey, it is not a traditional concept in Buddhist or Daoist practices.
Shangri-La is an imagined place where poverty and misery were eradicated, and social justice, peace, health, and longevity is achieved. While the idea of a utopian paradise is something that humanity has dreamed of throughout history, it is unlikely that such a place exists in reality.
Shangri-La (formerly Zhongdian), Yunnan, China.
Part of the lyrics from the song, “Lost Horizon”, written by Burt Bacharach:
Many miles from yesterday
Before you reach tomorrow
Where the time is always just today
There’s a lost horizon waiting to be found
There’s a lost horizon
Where the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears
As a fellow explorer, if you discover the whereabouts of Shangri-La as the “Lost Horizon is waiting to be found”, please let us know as it symbolizes humanity’s hopes and dreams! In the meantime, be “where the time is always just today”, aware and mindful of what is happening at the moment; because if you are depressed – you are living in the past, if you are anxious – you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present!
YPT organizes tours to possible locations for inspiration of Shangri-La, Tibet, and Bhutan.