James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, published in 1933, popularized the idea of a hidden, peaceful valley isolated from the strife of the outside world with happy, contented inhabitants who enjoyed long life in harmony with each other. He called his fictional paradise on earth Shangri-La and located it somewhere in the Himalaya Mountains.
Hilton’s inspiration for this type of Utopia may have been influenced by an ancient belief system known as Shambhala that pre-dates and influenced both the Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Wherever it originated, the idea of Shambhala has become associated with a fabulous realm that may be less geographical and more metaphysical.
Tibetans say that the need to find paradise is what keeps us from experiencing it. The present Dalai Lama describes the search for Shambala as “an outer journey that becomes a journey of inner exploration and discovery.”
Since the early twentieth century, the idea of a paradise on earth has permeated western pop culture. “Shambala,” a song written by Daniel Moore, was released in 1973 by Three Dog Night. (Click here to go to YouTube to view a live performance.) The lyrics are simple, the tune is catchy, and who wouldn’t want to live in peaceful harmony where “everyone is lucky, everyone is so kind?”
Josh Gates, the globe-trotting host of the television show Expedition Unknown, recently trekked high into the Sky Caves of Nepal with a team of archaeologists and explorers in search of the origins of the Shangri-La myth. What he found high in the Mustang region of the Himalayan mountains was hauntingly beautiful, fascinating, and may actually be a “real-life counterpart” to the legend.
I’ve put a different kind of spin on the Shangri-La theme in my novel The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key. The inhabitants of the mystical kingdom in my story work hard to remain hidden from the rest of the world. When a Persian prince discovers it in the course of a brutal invasion, ancient secrets are revealed that may threaten not only the Persian Empire, but the future of all mankind.