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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 (alternatively Shangri La) is usually shown as an idyllic and beautiful place, full of rare flora and fauna, and tended to 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 (but probably featuring yetis). Sometimes getting to the village or monastery requires a special Sherpa with secret knowledge, or for the mountaineer to be near death. Sometimes it's just a case of turning a corner. Either way, there are definitely no tourists.

Shangri La is almost universally based on Tibet, with the monkish religion a highly watered-down variant of Lamaist Buddhism.

Hiding place for many a Utopia. Yet finding it and getting in is usually a lot easier than getting out.

Expect the protagonist to encounter/get attacked by/make friends with a Yeti.

Not to be confused with the light novel/anime series Shangri-La, or the old 70s all-girl band of the same name.

Examples of Shamgri La include:

Comic Books

  • In Comic Books set 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.
  • Likewise, in Marvel, Tibet is the one-stop-shopping place for all your power needs. (Drs. Doom, Druid and Strange, to name three).
  • 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.
  • Is Heaven in Horndog.
  • 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 episode.
    • 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.


  • 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 learn combat and stealth. Then after his training, he finds out they're all Knights Templar.
  • The heroes of the film 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 titular hero from Bulletproof Monk hails from a Shamgri La-style Tibet, and uses his ancient wisdom to school a cocky American pickpocket.
  • The Eddie Murphy vehicle The Golden Child.
  • 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.
  • InThe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus the titular character spends time studying with remote monks in a fantastical Shamgri-La, where he presumably learns his mystical powers.


  • The trope takes its name from the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, which featured the fictional village of Shangri-La in the Kun-Lun Mountains. This is Older Than Television and inspired numerous takeoffs.
    • Lost Horizon itself is based on a real-life legend of the lost valley of Shamballa, which really is supposed to be like this trope. The legend is cashed in on by such western mystics as Madame Blavatsky and T. Lobsang Rampa, who claim secret knowledge from old Tibet.
    • The myth of Shamballa goes back centuries, since a bunch of Jesuit Priests visited the Buddhist kingdom thought to be Shamballa back in the 1600s and described it as a paradisaical, serene place where no living things were harmed. The king was especially tolerant of the Jesuits and allowed them to build a church there. Unfortunately, a rival Buddhist kingdom sacked Shamballa when they found out the king was letting in Jesuits.
  • Terry Pratchett frequently satirises 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, and the Listening Monks. 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. (Although what interest Buddhist monks would have in such a thing is not explained.)
  • In Christopher Moore's Lamb the Gospel According To Biff, 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.

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 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.

Newspaper Comics

Video Games

  • 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 centers on the search for Shamballa, where the game's climax occurs.
  • 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 green house containing several now-extinct plant species. A battle between two alien races caused an avalanche, destroying the monastery.
  • 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.

Western Animation

  • In the Tale Spin 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.
  • Futurama, "Godfellas", featuring 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 had Shangrillama, a cut-paste Shamgri La, only with Llamas.
  • In Chill Out, Scooby-Doo, during their ice cold adventure, Scooby-Doo and Shaggy discover Shamgri 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 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, among other exotic flora and fauna, as well as the River of Eternal Life.
  • The 90's Incredible Hulk animated series had Bruce Banner 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.

Real Life

  • There are actual cities, towns and regions bearing the name Shangri-La in Tibet, renamed to draw tourists.
  • The real Himalayas have cool things seldom mentioned. The Gurkhas[1] are Badass soldiers from a real Proud Warrior Race and the Sherpas are Badass mountain climbers..
  • While mind-affecting blue flowers a 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 less idyllic.
    • To the point that during their initial appearance in 1955 the Chinese were actually welcomed by the most of populace. For one thing they abolished the traditional practice that bound the majority of Tibetans into an indentured servitude to the monasteries, and genuinely tried to develop the land. Only after the 1959 anti-Chinese rebellion and their retaliatory measures that included the attempts to stomp down the influence of the lamas It Got Worse.
  1. Note: Gurkhas and other warrior tribes may live in the foothills of the Himalayas, but did not fight for the theocratic state of Tibet