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The Shangri-La

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The Himalayas and other Far East mountain ranges are positively packed to the gills with Buddhist villages full of wise monks who will teach weary Western travelers — especially the old Mighty Whitey — to cast off ego, become one with the universe and attain true enlightenment. Also, to punch through people's heads.

Despite being stuck up in a bunch of cold mountains, Shangri-La is usually shown as an idyllic and beautiful place, full of rare flora and fauna, and tended by little bald men in orange robes who beat gongs. Alternatively, it may be shown in a more realistic (though no less idealised) light, being cold and uncomfortable to those who are used to Western decadence.

Surrounding Shangri-La is an endless expanse of beautiful but dangerous mountain peaks, none of which feature ski slopes or extreme sports wankers with broken collarbones. Sometimes getting to the village or monastery requires the mountaineer to be near death, though a special Sherpa with secret knowledge is just as common — often, the Vanishing Village is only accessible at certain times. Other times, it's just a case of turning a corner. Either way, there are definitely no tourists.


Shangri-La (sometimes spelled without the dash) comes from the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It is likely a variation on "Shambala" (aka Sambhalah, Shamballa, or Xiangbala), the Asian mythical kingdom. Depictions are almost always based on Tibet, with the monkish religion a highly watered-down variant of Lamaist Buddhism.

A hiding place for many a Utopia. Yet finding it and getting in is usually a lot easier than getting out. Often the destination of an Eastward Endeavor.

Expect the protagonist to encounter a Yeti, who can be either friendly or violently hostile.

Not to be confused with the light novel/anime series Shangri-La, or the old 1960s all-girl band which is called The Shangri-Las, in the plural.



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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In The DCU, fighters travel to the city of Nanda Parbat in Tibet, where they learn alongside wise monks. Also, there is no death there. Which makes it really suck when a guy dies on the doorstep.
    • 52: Rene Montoya tries to save Victor Sage from his fatal uncurable cancer by taking him to Nanda Parbat, but it is an unmappable location that most seekers never find and Vic dies just before she is rescued by the monks. She becomes The Question to honor his legacy and that he dedicated the last year of his life to helping her find her feet after her own life went sideways and she became an alcoholic to cope.
    • Richard Dragon has spent a lot of time soul searching in Nanda Parbat, and other heroes who travel there often end up under his tutelage while there.
    • In his quest for immortality Ra's Al-Ghul wants to find, conquer and study Nanda Parbat. In the Robin Series he sends his assassins to kill off the families who each hold part of the "map" to the place and steal their knowledge, however Nanda Parbat has little to offer to those who are not pure of heart and is well defended against the kind of threat Ras poses.
    • During the year she spent missing Wonder Woman was in Nanda Parbat trying to decide what she should become in order to be true to herself but avoid situations where she's forced to kill as she had to when facing Medusa and Max Lord. Cassie chewed Diana out for leaving without telling her and Donna what she was doing when they meet again in Wonder Woman (2006) as Donna was Diana's sister and had just about given her up as dead before her own apparent demise.
  • Likewise, in the Marvel Universe, Tibet is the one-stop-shopping place for all your power needs.
  • Marvel again: Attilan, the home city of The Inhumans, is located in the Himalayan mountains. While it isn't entirely this trope, some of the Inhumans (especially Karnak) use Magical Martial Arts.
  • Tintin in Tibet has one of these villages. Bonus points: Includes an airplane crash and a yeti.
    • Actually it is a bit of a subversion because the monastery is in a realistic portrayal of Tibet, it is just that one monk has visions (which is not that special, as the story begins with Tintin having one himself). Hergé apparently believed that yetis really exist and did quite a bit of research, e.g. talking to the French mountaineer Maurice Herzog, who claimed to have seen yeti tracks himself.
  • In a story from the Tomb Raider comics, Lara Croft finds Shangri-La. However, she discovers that nobody can leave, and those who try are turned into yeti-like monsters that guard its walls. Lara brings an old caretaker from her childhood to Shangri-La, in exchange for her own release.
  • The Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge comic "Tralla La" is a satirical take on the idea of a moneyless utopia; the story also incidentally bears some similarity to The Gods Must Be Crazy (totally coincidental, given that the comic was published 27 years before that movie came out). It was later adapted into a DuckTales (1987) episode. The story revolves around Scrooge accidentally introducing the concept of scarcity to the society with the bottle caps from his medicine bottles (Tralla La does not have any native metal, all tools are made of wood, stone or clay), and when he tries to fix his mistake, he ends up flooding the place with bottlecaps instead.
    • Don Rosa did a sequel to the comic, in which it is revealed that Tralla La is in fact Xanadu, the place described in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan. Also, the Ducks unintentionally bring big trouble into peaceful Tralla La. Again. It reveals that Tralla La is also the hiding place of the treasury of Kublai Khan, unbeknownst to anyone alive, as the treasure is hidden in the underground reservoir that keeps Tralla La from flooding.
  • B.P.R.D.
    • A yeti-guarded monastery (in the part of the Urals above the Arctic circle) know as Agartha plays an important part in the plot, being the place where Liz Sherman learns to control her powers. And the first BPRD story, Hollow Earth kicks off when this monastery gets invaded by subterranean monsters (note that the "original" Agartha was supposed to be underground).
    • A similar monastery serves as Memnan Saa's base of operations. In fact, it was central to his rise to power, as that was the place where he first learned to harness the powers of the ancient Hyperborean civilization.
  • In Howard Chaykin's comic book series based on The Shadow, a sympathetic soldier-for-hire takes up both the Shadow alias and the Lamont Cranston identity when the real Cranston threatens to violently exploit Shambala.
  • The Silver Surfer comes from a planet called Zenn-La, which is populated by Perfect Pacifist People.
  • In Athena Voltaire and the Brotherhood of Shambalha, Athena's visit to Tibet naturally entails visiting a hidden monastery where ancient wisdom can be obtained. The Nazis are after it too.
  • In The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #18, Indy and Marion find themselves in the hidden city of Ra-Lundi high in the Himalayas (drawn so it resembles Shangri-La from ''Lost Horizon). The city is built around a Magic Meteor that confers immortality upon those who dwell in the city. However, any who spend more that day within the warmth of the stone become dependent upon it and cannot pass outside the gorge around the city without suffering unbearable agony.

    Comic Strips 

  • Child of the Storm has a more realistic version of this in Gorakhnath's sanctuary in the sequel. It's in a beautiful valley in the Himalayas (India, specifically), it has a shrine, and there's at least one acolyte (a superpowered ex Child Soldier). However, the valley is not noted as being particularly more beautiful or mystical than any around it, it's noted as being very cold (especially in December), and Gorakhnath himself mostly just looks like a farmer in late middle age. Additionally, while he's willing to teach, that willingness only extends to those present to actually learn (such as Harry, at Strange's request), rather than just boost their 'spiritual' cred. In the latter case, as the narration notes, 'even the most enlightened of souls is not immune to the temptation to give a tourist a thick ear to match their thick skull.'

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor features the idealistic version. Also yetis.
  • Batman Begins sends Bruce Wayne to the mountain commune of Nanda Parbat to learn combat and stealth from the League of Shadows. Then after his training, he finds out they're all Knight Templars and forces his way out of it, then comes back to Gotham City and becomes Batman.
  • Doctor Strange (2016) has Kamar-Taj - though unlike most, it's Hidden in Plain Sight in Kathmandu (or at least, the main doorway is), with the entrance being a rundown door that's directly contrasted with the flashier temples across the street. While it is a beautiful mountainous landscape, it also has wifi, the Magic Librarian (Wong) listens to Beyonce on his iPod, and the mystic arts are explained in terms of spells and magic, but also as programs using extradimensional energy to achieve various effects.
  • The heroes of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) go to Shangri-La in 1939, probably inspired by the novel Lost Horizon, described below. Given a tragic edge in that the Shangri-La monks take care of a man-made sick from radiation poisoning.
  • The first film in The Librarian series uses this trope: it has the heroes (and villain) search for and visit Shangri-La in the Himalayas during their quest to find the other two missing parts of The Spear of Destiny. It is, given the movie in question, probably not entirely surprising that it is an improbably warm, sunny and idyllic place filled with Buddhist monks and luscious green landscaping, despite literally being surrounded by deadly-cold ice and snow. The monks also have a giant mechanical Buddha statue that attacks the bad guy.
  • The titular hero from Bulletproof Monk hails from a Shangri-La-style Tibet, and uses his ancient wisdom to school a cocky American pickpocket.
  • The Eddie Murphy vehicle The Golden Child. Chandler Jarrell and Kee Nang go to Tibet in order to retrieve the Ajanti Dagger. They must travel on foot through the snow-capped mountains to reach the monastery where the Dagger is kept.
  • The Shadow opens with Lamont Cranston as a vicious opium lord in (apparently) Tibet; he is reformed and taught the mystic arts of projective telepathy by a lama.
  • In The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the titular character spends time studying with remote monks in a fantastical Shangri-La, where he presumably learns his mystical powers.
    • At the start of the story, he is the abbot of the monks. He is tempted by Mr. Nick, and sets out to the world to prove that creativity and goodwill can overcome people's base urges.
  • In X-Men: Days of Future Past, the last refuge of the mutants in 2023 is an abandoned temple or monastery atop some windswept mountains in China.

  • La Saga du Prêtre Jean is a French gamebook series with Prester John as the main character, looking for a way to reach Shangri-La and live immortal and happy. In each book, he travels through a different country (and sometimes timeline) in order to find information on the city.

  • Older Than Television: The trope takes its name from the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, which featured the fictional village of Shangri-La in the Kun-Lun Mountains (a real place, but also an ancient myth known as Five Elements Mountain)) and inspired numerous takeoffs.
  • Terry Pratchett frequently satirizes this trope:
    • The Discworld has "Enlightenment Country" in the Hubland mountains, which is packed to the gills with different sects of monks, including the History Monks, the Monks of Cool, the Yen Buddhists (if money is the root of all evil, then the best way to reduce evil is keeping as much of it away from people), and the Listening Monks (and the occasional yeti, a variant of troll). What's more, sometimes young monks will leave their monasteries to seek enlightenment in the big city, because according to Pratchett "Wisdom is the one thing that looks bigger the farther away it is."
    • Truckers has the Klothians, a mystical society of Store nomes who live on the top floor of the Store, and get their food from the staffroom rather than the delicatessen (meaning they live on tea and yoghurt).
  • Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Nine Billion Names of God", which is about Tibetan monks purchasing a computer to help them calculate the aforementioned names so that the universe may achieve its purpose and be destroyed by God.
  • In Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, a teenage Jesus travels to one of these with his best friend Biff. Yes, that Jesus.
  • In The Shadow pulp novels, the Shadow learned the power to cloud men's minds in Shamballa.
  • Grandmaster by Warren Murphy and Molly Cochran had Rashimpur, a quintessential example of this trope complete with requisite Mighty Whitey.
  • Shambhala in Emperor Mollusk vs. The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez.

    Live-Action TV 
  • No Reservations actually went to one of the Tibetan villages that renamed themselves Shangri-la (see Real Life below), and mentions the portrayal in Lost Horizon. Even if it wasn't really Shangri-La, it's got monks, yaks, snow, mountains, and friendly natives, and is quite beautiful in its way.
  • The protagonists of The Champions have their plane shot down over a Shamgri-La, and the wise and powerful locals heal them and incidentally give them superpowers.
  • In Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Inhumans have a retreat in the Chinese mountains called Lai Xi, translated as Afterlife. Lai Xi is so remote that access is only permitted by way of the Inhumans' teleporter, one of the few who knows its precise location. While most Inhumans live ordinary lives around the world, they spend time at Lai Xi to train, interact with others who know their secret, and escape to a safe place when needed.
  • In an episode of The Librarians 2014, Shangri-La is revisited after Flynn's last time there (see the Film section). It has been restored to its glory days thanks to the Monkey King, who trains Stone in martial arts. A magic items collector tries to take control of the city by capturing the Monkey King's staff, but the Librarians manage to defeat him and restore Monkey's control. Also, thanks to Jenkins's Back Door, going to Shangri-La is as simple as taking a step from the Annex.

  • The Rutles wrote a song about Shangri-La, a place where all day long the sky is blue and no one has a lot to do.
  • Shambala by Three Dog Night, unsurprisingly appearing in Lost, listened to by one of Dharma Initiative worker in his van.
    Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind on the road to Shambala...
  • Insane Clown Posse use Shangri-La as an allegory for Heaven; it features heavily in several of their lyrics, was the subtitle for their album Thy Wraith, and they even put out a Quest for Shangri-La board game.
  • Japanese rock artist Acid Black Cherry wrote a song called Shangri-La, in which he not only sings about a utopia of life and light but also about overcoming tragedy. Many clues in the lyrics and music video point to him silently dedicating the song to everyone affected by the 2011 Tohoku disaster.
  • Shangri-La Shower by µ's.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted: Qaf, the Heaven-Violating Spear, is a demon-prince-slash-genius-loci Shangri-La. If you climb it/him, you'll eventually find the wisdom you're looking for. Since he's a demon, things are far from peaceful on his slope. It's also implied that he's infinitely tall.
    • The Cult of the Illuminated invoked this trope for one of their training camps, creating a bucolic, farm-ringed tower protected by arctic mountains. The idea was to test and refine prospective pilgrims' virtue: insufficiently determined seekers will never reach the tower at all.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Quest XI has the very aptly named Angri-La. A temple on top of a snowy mountain inhabited by bald orange-robed monks. They have an agreement with Dundrasil to train their princes for a time when they come of age.
  • Tomb Raider II has the level Barkhang Monastery towards the end of the game. It is one of the biggest and most impressive levels in the game, complete with a giant statue and monks who help you fight the enemies.
  • The plot of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves centres on the search for Shambala, where the game's climax occurs. There are indeed yetis. Except they're actually the human Guardians of Shambala, driven mad and super strong by eating the sap from the Tree Of Life that's also located in the city. The city itself mostly lies in ruins.
  • In Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen, Shangri-La is an underground town. Notable because unless you know the shortcut, you have to fight your way through demon-filled caverns to get there.
  • This is one of the major areas in The Journeyman Project 3. Built into the side of a steep mountain pass, the monastery had advanced mechanisms to protect itself and its secrets from trespassers as well as geothermal tunnels which utilized steam to heat a greenhouse containing several now-extinct plant species. A battle between two alien races caused an avalanche, destroying the monastery.
    • Interestingly, when you first enter, you encounter a rather hostile guard with a black eye. Later on, you find out who gave him the black eye — Genghis Khan, who came to Shangri-La to gain knowledge that would allow him to defeat his enemies. Disillusioned, he plans to leave... a day before the monastery is destroyed.
  • The prologue of Dreamfall follows Brian Westhouse, an adventurer from Boston, who is sent to a parallel universe by the helpful monks of an unspecified Tibetan monastery.
  • Shangri-La is one of the levels in Conduit 2.
  • Although it's located in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Scandinavia of all places, the Throat of the World from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has a bit of this vibe. It's the tallest mountain on the entire continent, people regularly climb it as a form of pilgrimage, and at the very top is a secretive monastery inhabited by an order of monks that have lived on the mountain from a young age and obtained mystical powers from years of meditation. Bonus points for being guarded by a frost troll (basically the closest thing to a yeti in the game).
  • Terranigma has the town of Lhasa, whose religious leader Lord Kumari is said to be the latest of many reincarnations of a god.
  • Certain regions of Far Cry 4's Kyrat, particularly in the Valley of the Yetis DLC, are a twisted, Darker and Edgier take on the trope far from idyllic or utopian. But the mountains and breathtaking vistas, as well as isolated mountain hamlets, certainly qualify. Given how Kyrat is, as typical for Far Cry locales, a Crapsack World Qurac based on Nepal, but with a few Tibetan influences thrown in, this is not surprising. Interestingly, the game also has a secondary storyline (played through collecting the individual pieces of a thangka that was once on the wall of the protagonist's family homestead) which tells the story of a warrior from a long time ago searching for the actual Shangri-La.
  • Earthbound has Dalaam, a far-eastern country located at the top of a high mountain (or floating continent). Your fourth party member, Poo, comes from this area.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice introduces the Kingdom of Khura'in, homeland of the Kurain school of spirit channeling that's been present for the entire series, a mountain realm with whitewashed palaces, colorful flags, devout monks, and...lots of political intrigue. They practice Khura'inism, which comes across as essentially Buddhism with touches of Islam and genuinely can call on the dead, though the actual number of people who can use spiritual power in the current day and age can be counted on one hand.
  • In Shuyan Saga, Shuyan receives a vision of pointing her towards a mountain-top temple where she can continue to learn. In addition to the terrain, people wanting to visit the temple have to contend with supernatural defences which make you Face Your Fears.
  • In Jade Empire, Dirge, the Spirit Monks' mountaintop fortress, was this before soldiers destroyed everyone dwelling within. Even in its ruined state, it provides a lot of impressive scenery and plot-relevant information.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, one of the parts of the titular Infernal Machine is located in Shambala in the Tian Shan mountains in Kazakhstan.
  • Rayman Origins has Mystical Pique, a snowy mountain with Tibetan-style architecture, prayer flags and meditating fakirs.

    Western Animation 
  • In the TaleSpin episode "Last Horizons", Baloo seeks out and discovers the mythic "Panda-La" to become famous. Then the "enlightened, peaceful" populace subverts the trope by following him back home and invading. The Chinese stereotyping in this episode was strong enough that some Chinese-Americans complained rather loudly, and the episode was pulled from reruns.
    • "The Gates of Shambala", A Tale Spin comic from Disney Adventures, offers a straighter version of the trope.
  • Futurama episode "Godfellas" features an ashram that doubles as a parabolic radio telescope.
  • The Air Temples of Avatar: The Last Airbender served as these for the Air Nomads. But, after the Air Nomads were wiped out, they fell into disrepair.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius had Shangrillama, a cut-paste Shangri-La, only with Llamas.
  • In Chill Out, Scooby-Doo!, during their ice-cold adventure, Scooby-Doo and Shaggy discover Shangri-La, which contains crystals that the bad guy wanted.
  • In the Jem episode, "Journey to Shamgri-La", both the Holograms and the Misfits search the eponymous Shamgri-La to discover a new music.
  • In one episode of Taz-Mania, the Platypus brothers discover the lost city of Platy-La in their attic. (It's a really big attic.) One of them initially mistakes it for Shangri-La, even though the architecture is Greek, and it's not in the mountains, and it's in Australia.
  • In Cyberchase there's a cybersite called Shangri-La run by one Master Pi. Though it actually is generally peaceful and harmonious, the guards are obligated to carry out the orders of the current leader... even if that leader is "The Hacker". And sometimes you have to play Nim with dragons for your freedom or something.
  • In Animalympics, a canine ski-jump champion gets lost while mountain-climbing and either finds or hallucinates finding "Dogra-La", an all-doggy version of this trope.
  • Shamballa appears in Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures episode "The Bangalore Falcon". It's a mystical land in the Indian mountains which appears every 500 years, and houses the titular blue falcon (no, not him), among other exotic flora and fauna, as well as the River of Eternal Life.
  • The Incredible Hulk (1996) had Bruce Banner visit one of these to try to subdue his Unstoppable Rage Super-Powered Evil Side persona, but then of course, by the end of the episode has to release it again.
  • A Miss Mallard Mystery: One episode, "Danger in Tibet", had one named Sagahappy, which Miss Mallard stumbled on in her search for Willard.
  • In the Legend of the Three Caballeros episode "Shangri-La-Di-Da", Shangri-La is presented as a magical spa, run by Yetis.

    Real Life 
  • There are actual cities, towns, and regions bearing the name Shangri-La in Tibet, renamed to draw tourists.
  • While mind-affecting blue flowers à la Batman Begins were (thankfully!) omitted, the real Himalayas do harbor such endangered wildlife as the snow leopard and markhor, making this one of the cooler segments of the Planet Earth documentary series. The trope's breathtaking landscapes are justified too.
  • Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is a hotel chain that manages 66 hotels around the world.
  • The Ahnenerbe actually visited Tibet, viewing it as the homeland of the Aryan race.
  • Heinrich Harrer's memoir Seven Years in Tibet (1952) was far less idealized compared to its 1997 Hollywood rendition - while being deeply impressed by the scenery, the nature and the architectural wonder of Potala, the way of living for Real Life Tibetans was far less idyllic than often thought.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, when asked where the bombers used for the Doolittle Raid on Japan were launched from during World War II,note  claimed that they had been launched from a base in Shangri-La. The U.S. Navy actually launched an aircraft carrier named the USS Shangri-La later in the war as a reference to Roosevelt's quote.
  • The alleged mystical and metaphysical qualities of Shangri-La are of great interest to Fortean Times. This magazine treats hoaxes and delusions as interesting phenomena in their own right and worthy of discussion and analysis.
  • There is a place named Shangri-La on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. However from a human perspective it is an aversion of this trope, being a vast plain covered with dark dunes made of water ice and hydrocarbons.

Alternative Title(s): Shamgri La


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