The mythical land of Shangri-La is the novelist James Hilton's fictional account of the legendary Tibetan paradise Shambala. In Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, he changes the name of the paradise to Shangri-La. This lost Tibetan paradise is a valley cut off from the world. The wisdom of the human race is being conserved there against the threat of imminent catastrophe. Hilton's novel was turned into a hit Hollywood movie and the name Shangri-La came to mean a lost paradise.
The legend of this lost valley is one of the most ancient Tibetan myths, and one of the most striking myths of a sacred landscape, a landscape that inspires stories itself. Traditionally, Shambala is located in the Himalayas, in the remotest part of Tibet, on a high plateau, surrounded by a ring of mountain peaks.
The myth of a lost Tibetan paradise came to the notice of Europeans in the 1580s, when travellers to the court of the court of the Moghul Emperor Akbar heard strange and wondrous tales of a remote Himalayan world. Although the story is told in a Buddhist text and is considered Tibetan, the tale seems to have been recorded first in India in AD 962. The tale is that there is a land behind the Himalayas full of peace and harmony where an isolated people live in accordance with Buddhist precepts preparing for the day when the world will be ready to live in peace. The kingdom is in the shadow of a white crystal mountain, approachable only through a ring of peaks. Next to the mountain are a lake and a palace. Here the wisdom of humanity is conserved, ready to save the world when needed.
The present Dalai Lama says this about Shambala:
Nowadays, no one knows where Shambala is. Although it is said to exist, people cannot see it, or communicate with it in an ordinary way. Some people say it is located in another world, others that it is an ideal land, a place of the imagination. Some say it was a real place, which cannot now be found. Some believe there are openings into that world which may be accessed from this. Whatever the truth of that, the search for Shambala traditionally begins as an outer journey that becomes a journey of inner exploration and discovery.
Today, Shangri-La is seen both as a place, and as an era of enlightened consciousness. The Tibetans say that the need to find paradise elsewhere is it what keeps us from having it. Wherever Shangri-La is, the search for it continues.