Shangri-La (Xamgyi'nyilha) County is a primarily Tibetan county in northwestern Yunnan province, Southwest China and is the location of the seat of the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. Hilton describes Shangri-La as 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 and only very slowly aging in appearance. The word also evokes the imagery of exoticism of the Orient. In the ancient Tibetan scriptures, existence of seven such places is mentioned as Nghe-Beyul Khimpalung. Khembalung is one of several beyuls ("hidden lands" similar to Shangri-La) believed to have been created by Padmasambhava in the 8th century as idyllic, sacred places of refuge for Buddhists during times of strife (Reinhard 1978).
Many scholars believe that Shangri-La is Shambhala, a mythical kingdom in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which was sought by Eastern and Western explorers.
In China, the poet Tao Yuanming of the Jin Dynasty (265-420) described a kind of Shangri-La in his work The Tale of the Peach Blossom Spring. The story goes that there was a fisherman from Wuling, who came across a beautiful peach grove, and he discovered happy and content people that lived completely cut off from the troubles in the outside world since the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE). In modern China, the Zhongdian county was renamed to Xianggelila in 2001, to attract tourists. The legendary Kun Lun Mountains offer another possible place for the Shangri-La valleys.
A popularly believed physical inspiration for Hilton's Shangri-La is the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, close to the Chinese 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 physical description in the novel. The Hunza Valley, however, lacks Tibetan culture and the Buddhist religion, so could not have been Hilton's cultural inspiration for Lost Horizon.
The cultural representation of Shangri-La is most often cited to be northwestern Yunnan Province, China, where National Geographic explorer Joseph Rock lived and traveled during the 1920s and early 1930s and wrote several articles in National Geographic magazine that are richly illustrated with superb photography. This coincides with the time when James Hilton would have been writing Lost Horizon, but there is no direct evidence to support this claim. The evidence points to another set of explorers. In a New York Times interview in 1936, Hilton states that he used "Tibetan material" from the British Museum, particularly the travelogue of two French priests, Evariste Regis Huc and Joseph Gabet, to provide the Tibetan cultural and Buddhist spiritual inspiration for Shangri-La. Huc and Gabet travelled a roundtrip between Beijing and Lhasa in 1844¨C46 on a route more than 250 kilometres (160 mi) north of Yunnan. Their famous travelogue, first published in French in 1850, went through many editions in many languages. A popular "condensed translation" was published in England in 1928, at the time that Hilton would have been getting inspired for-or even writing - Lost Horizon.
Today, various places claim the title, such as parts of southern Kham in northwestern 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.
Another place that has been thought to have inspired the concept of Shangri-La is the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon.
Television presenter and historian Michael Wood, in the "Shangri-La" episode of the PBS documentary series In Search of Myths and Heroes, suggests that the legendary Shangri-La is the abandoned city of Tsaparang in upper Satluj valley, and that its two great temples were once home to the kings of Guge in modern Tibet. It is speculated that Sang-la, Chitkul in Sangla valley near Indo-Tibet Border is Shangri-la. La in spiti/Kinnauri like in Tibetan Language is word for Mountain pass. Kamru Village in Sangla was the ancient capital of Bushahr which was a Buddhist state until conquered by Gurkhas.
American explorers Ted Vaill and Peter Klika visited the Muli area of southern Sichuan Province in 1999, and claimed that the Muli monastery in this remote region was the model for James Hilton's Shangri-La, which they thought Hilton learned about from articles on this area in several National Geographic magazine articles in the late 1920s and early 1930s written by Austrian-American explorer Joseph Rock. Michael McRae unearthed an obscure James Hilton interview from a New York Times gossip column where he reveals his cultural inspiration for Shangri-La and, if it is any place, it is more than 250 km north of Muli on the route travelled by Huc and Gabet. Vaill completed a film based on their research, "Finding Shangri-La", which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.
On December 2, 2010, OPB televised one of Martin Yan's Hidden China episodes "Life in Shangri-La", in which Yan said that "Shangri-La" is the actual name of a real town in the hilly and mountainous region in northwestern Yunnan Province, frequented by both Han and Tibetan locals. Martin Yan visited arts and craft shops, local farmers as they harvest crops, and sampled their cuisine.