Definitions

shangri la

Shangri-La

[shang-gruh-lah, shang-gruh-lah]
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 exoticism of 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" + རི, "Mountain" = "Shang Mountain" + , 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 India and Tibet have claimed to be the basis for Hilton's legend, largely to attract tourism. In China, Tao Qian of the Jin Dynasty described a Shangri-La in his work Story of the Peach Blossom Valley (Chinese: 桃花源, pinyin: Táohuā Yuán Jì). In modern China, the Zhongdian country was renamed to 香格里拉县 (Xiānggélǐlā, Shanri-La in Chinese) in 2001, to attract tourists. The legendary Kun Lun Mountains in Tibet offer other possible Shangri-La valleys.

A popularly believed inspiration for Shangri-La is the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, close to the Tibetan border, which Hilton visited a few years before Lost Horizon was published. 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 Kham in southwestern Yunnan province, including the tourist destinations of Lijiang and Zhongdian. Places like Sichuan and Tibet also claim the real Shangri-La was in its 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.

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 city of Tsaparang and its two great temples that were once home to the Kings of Guge in modern Tibet.

Modern usage

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 Schäfer in 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. 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 Tokyo in 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 ocean was subsequently named USS Shangri-La.

In 1937, Lutcher Stark, a prominent Texas philanthropist, started building his own Shangri-La in Orange, Texas. His Shangri-La was a beautiful azalea garden 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 east Texas, 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 Ahab in 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 Kingdom of the Mahābhārata and the Han Dynasty outpost Dunhuang have each been termed Shangri-Las.

Popular culture references

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.

External links

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