Teacher's  Guide Lesson Plans
The Queen of Sheba
King Arthur
Jason & the Argonauts

The Search for Shangri-La

When James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon in 1933, the U.S. was struggling through the Great Depression and the threat of a second World War was looming. Hilton's creation of a world untouched by war, greed, and modernization provided a reprieve from the realities of modern life. The 1937 movie version by Frank Capra brought the novel to life for generations of people. Michael Wood discusses what he believes is the birthplace of Shangri-La. Wood examines the Tibetan myth of Shambala and the journey of Antonio Andrade, a Portuguese missionary sent during the 16th Century by the Moghul emperor Akbar to find it. In his quest to retrace Andrade's route, Wood embarks on an extraordinary journey through India, Nepal, and Tibet to reach a village near Lake Mansarovar and Mt. Kailash, some of the holiest places in the Buddhist and Hindu religions. Here he discovers what some might classify as Shangri-La, the abandoned city of Tsaperang and its two great temples that were once home to the King of Gugay.

Grade Level

Subject Areas
Language Arts, Mythology, Sociology, World History, Religion

Lesson Objectives
Students will be able to:

  1. Utilize brainstorming techniques to describe their ideas about paradise on earth.
  2. Work with a partner and share their brainstorming ideas
  3. Share their opinions about the quest for paradise on earth and support them with specific reasons and examples.
  4. Utilize viewing skills as they watch the film The Search for Shangri-La and use it as a primary resource for answering questions.
  5. Make comparisons between their ideas of paradise on earth and those shared by people from the various groups of people featured in the film.
  6. Participate in class discussion where they can share facts and ideas learned from viewing the film.
  7. Create a project that reflects one of the themes presented in The Search for Shangri-La and share their work with classmates by explaining what they have created and what was learned from completion of the project.

Relevant National Standards from Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) available at http://www.mcrel.org

Historical Understanding

Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective.

Language Arts

Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.

Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of information texts.

Listening and Speaking:
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.

Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

Thinking and Reasoning:

Standard 1: Understands and applies basic principles of presenting and argument.
Standard 3: Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences.

Working With Others

Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

Estimated Time
Approximately two 90-minute or three to four 45-minute class periods

Materials Needed

  • Internet access
  • Viewing Guide
  • Television/VCR/DVD player to view the "Myths and Heroes: Shangri-La" episode (Visit PBS Shop for ordering information.)
  • Access to Internet and library resources for the completion of project research
  • Assorted art/craft supplies and word processing software for creation of projects (optional depending on the type of project assigned by the teacher)

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge
Students will need to have a basic understanding of myths and how they have been perpetuated for thousands of years and have continued to be part of even our modern culture. In addition, knowledge of the terms lama, lamasery, and monastery will be helpful in understanding the film.

Teaching Strategy

  1. Create student interest by writing the following question on the board or overhead:
    • How would your describe your idea of paradise on earth?
    Keep the sentence covered/out of view until you are ready to begin class.
  2. Reveal the question and direct students NOT to talk about it with one another. Instead, they should use two to three minutes to list all of the ideas they have about the question by answering it on paper. Encourage students to use brainstorming techniques to list words and phrases that describe their idea of paradise on earth. Remind them that this is not just a description of the place, but should also include all other things that affect one's quality of life.
  3. Once students have answered the question, ask them to look over their ideas and choose what they believe are the five most important characteristics for a paradise on earth. Have them think about the reason each of these is important to them.
  4. Have students pair up with a classmate and provide them with two to three minutes to share their five most important characteristics for "paradise" on earth. When sharing each item, students should discuss the reason why this item was one of their top five characteristics.
  5. View the first nine minutes and 10 seconds of the episode The Search for Shangri-La to introduce students to Hollywood's version of "Shangri-La" and hear commentary about the legendary quest for this "paradise on earth".
  6. Using content related to "Paradise Myths" from the Myths and Heroes website at http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/myths_arch_paradise.html, facilitate a discussion about Shangri-La using questions such as:
    • Why do you think people have been in search of magic kingdoms such as Shangri-La or Shambala for so long?
    • Why do you think cultures have continued to perpetuate the myths and stories related to having a "paradise" on earth?
    • What do you think can be learned from studying the myth of Shambala and the parts of the world where Shambala supposedly exists?
  7. Distribute the Viewing Guide to all students. Explain that they will need to complete it as they watch the remainder of The Search for Shangri-La. Encourage students to provide as many details as possible when completing the guide.
    NOTE: Pause the film as needed while viewing so students can record details on their Viewing Guides and ask basic questions about the content.
  8. When viewing is completed, have students refer back to the characteristics they thought would be most important for a paradise on earth. Select volunteers to share items from their lists. Record these characteristics on the board or overhead so all can see them.
  9. Compare the list of characteristics to the ideas presented in the film. Refer back to question one on the Viewing Guide. Facilitate a short discussion about similarities and how what people view as a paradise has remained nearly the same since the myth began.
  10. Discuss the remaining content of the film by reviewing the answers to the rest of the questions on the Viewing Guide. Discuss in as much detail as time permits.
  11. Using the Viewing Guide, The Search for Shangri-La content, the article by Michael Wood entitled "Shangri La" available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/shangri_la_01.shtml and additional resources such as those included in the Online Resources section of the plan, assign students to work individually or in pairs to further investigate on of the topics listed below and create a project related to the topic. Have students choose from the list below or suggest an idea of their own.
    • Create your own city of Shangri-La and present your ideas about the sights, sounds, experiences, culture, and lifestyle in the form of a travel guide that lets people know what they should expect if they plan a visit.
    • Research one of the world's holy places and compare the religious observations and pilgrimages that take place in this location to those that take place at Lake Mansarovar and Mt. Kailash. Use a poster-size Venn Diagram or other graphic organizer to share what you have learned about the similarities and differences between the holy places.
    • Learn more about the specifics of the myth of Shambala, the role of the kings, the storage of the world's treasure and wisdom, and the ultimate way in which Shambala will save the world from self-destruction. Teach others the detailed story by writing and/or illustrating it as a modern day story and sharing it with the class.
    • The myth of Shambala and the book Lost Horizon both describe a place where people live in peace and harmony, shunning the materialism and conflicts of the outside world and carefully guarding the wisdom, cultural treasures, and minds of the people. The "Prophecy of Padma" indicates that there are 21 secret valleys were the world's most precious treasures are hidden. Think about what you would place in these 21 locations. Make a drawing or collage that represents what you believe are the 21 most precious treasures. On the back, include a list of the treasures and a short explanation about why each was included.
    • Select a project of your choice and complete it after getting approval from your teacher.

Assessment Suggestions

  1. Students could receive participation scores/grades for involvement in class brainstorming and discussion activities
  2. Students could receive completion or accuracy grades for completing the Viewing Guide.
  3. Students should receive individual grades on the creation and presentation of their individual projects based on a scoring guide created by the teacher or the class.

Extension Ideas

  1. Using the Living Legends link in the companion web site at http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/legends.html, examine the comparisons between the myth of Shambala and modern-day stories. Spend time discussing why paradise myths and stories continue to be popular even in our modern, technologically advanced world.
  2. Study other paradise myths from around the world. Find the commonalities between the various myths and cultures.

Online Resources

In Search of Myths and Heroes PBS companion site to the program http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes

Bhutan: The Last Shangri-La

Places of Peace and Power: Mt. Kailash

Mysterious Places: Shambhala


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