Much of the world imagine that there are little paradises and spiritual getaways nestled in the mountains and valleys of China and Southeast Asia. In part this can be viewed as a true statement. However, it is also largely the result of works of fiction, and in particular the novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton. This is the book in which the mystical land of Shangri-La was invented – described by Goodreads as a land of mystery and matchless beauty where life is lived in tranquil wonder, beyond the grasp of a doomed world.
Since this novel was released in 1933, the myth of Shangri-La has become entrenched with legends and perceptions of the Himalayas, and of somewhat mysterious places like Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan, and even South China.
Somewhat randomly there also seems to have been a spike in interest from modern creative types of late also. The popular game Far Cry 4, for instance, took place in a fictional Himalayan-style land (called Kyrat) and involved missions in Shangri-La. There you could “say hello to your white tiger” and navigate through a sort of hazy mountain paradise that seems even in the game to be slightly less than real.
Even more overt references to Shangri-La are made in a slot game that’s hosted by SlotSource among several other games of its type. Like all the other games in this category the actual playing style amounts to a digital slot machine. But the background and symbols are all typical of our imaginations of Shangri-La, right down to pure blue waters and a pink-purple sky. There is even a characteristic white tiger on the game’s cover, evoking the same sense of slightly otherworldly adventure that tends to accompany the name of the place.
Unfortunately, Shangri-La truly is a fictional place. But that doesn’t mean you can only visit it through fictional means. We know that James Hilton was inspired to write his novel through trips to Asia, and we also know that numerous places have since claimed to represent the “real” Shangri-La (or the inspiration for it at least). So, if this is a place and a mystery that has ever intrigued you, or if you simply want to visit some gorgeous mountain getaways in southern Asia, keep the following places in mind.
Technically a city in China, Lhasa is the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and may in fact be as close as any real place to the inspiration for Shangri-La.
Hilton is known to have taken a long journey beginning in Beijing and ending in Lhasa, and with this city resting in a valley of the Himalayas, its surroundings could well have played a part in the formation of the idea.
As a tourist, you may also enjoy getting a look at the Potala Palace, once a residence for the Dalai Lama.
Zhongdian County, China
In an attempt to attract tourists, Zhongdian County in China actually renamed itself Shangri-La City. However, it’s not just a gimmick. While there’s no evidence this specific location inspired Hilton, some of the scenery here closely approximates descriptions of Shangri-La.
Tiger Leaping Gorge and Potatso National Park are both beautiful areas that, when explored in person, can seem otherworldly.
Hunza Valley, Pakistan
Hunza Valley may actually be the most authentic representation of Shangri-La. It’s actually in northern Pakistan, and so not particularly close to the other possibilities. However, it’s a stunningly beautiful valley filled with bright flora and even ponds and creeks that seem to be unusually colorful.
Hilton indicated that the British Museum’s Tibetan artifacts influenced his design of Shangri-La from a cultural standpoint. But he also visited the Hunza Valley, which could well have been the foundation for the geography. It’s an amazing place to visit.
Sichuan Province has also laid a claim to being the real world influence for Shangri-La, though there appears to be no evidence to back the claim up. It’s an understandable comparison though. For instance, the city of Leshan showcases a lot of natural beauty, and features like religious sculptures built into hillsides seem typical of Shangri-La.
Any of these four locations can make for a very impressive getaway, particularly if you’ve ever been curious about or inspired by fictional representations of this wonderful, imagined land. Who knows? You may even be inspired to write about your journey afterward.