Shambhala, the hidden city of the immortals, ccording to legend, is located at Mt. Balukha, in the Altai mountains of Mongolia-Russia.  This focus of Shambhala also extended into the Gobi desert and areas of Tibet.
“To Conway, seeing it first, it might have been a vision . . . It was indeed a strange and incredible sight. A group of colored pavilions clung to the mountainside with the . . . chance delicacy of flower-petals impaled upon a crag. It was superb and exquisite. An austere emotion carried the eye upward from milk-blue roofs to the gray rock bastion above . . . Beyond that, in a dazzling pyramid, soared the snow slopes of Karakal.” Such was Conway’s first glimpse of Shangri-La, the hidden lamasery in Tibet as described in James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon.

Clinging to the slopes of Karakal, ”the loveliest mountain on earth,” somewhere “far beyond the western range of the Himalaya,” the lamasery with its lay people in the fertile valley below forms a paradisal community. The inhabitants live in peace and harmony, governed by the principle of moderation. Says a lama-to-be: “We rule with moderate strictness, and in return are satisfied with moderate obedience.” “We have no rigidities, inexorable rules. We do as we think fit, guided a little by the example of the past, but still more by our present wisdom, and by our clairvoyance to the future,” explains a high lama further the benevolent autocracy of his community.

This secret community of lamas living beyond the normal span and able to foresee the future is dedicated to the preservation of civilization—including Chinese pottery and Mozart—against the barbarism that they predict will overtake the outside world. Lost Horizon, with its hidden monastery and poignant love story, captures the Western imagination, and Shagri-La has, along with Atlantis, Lyonnese and Eldorado, become part of a popular mythology as an inspiration, hope for a better world, a dream reality, often sought but seldom found.

As with the other utopias, Lost Horizon is perhaps not pure invention. It may be based on traditions long current in the Far East of a hidden paradise. Early Buddhist writings call it Chang Shambhala and describe it as a source of ancient wisdom. Belief in it was once wide-spread—in China, the Kun Lun Mountains were rumored to contain a valley where immortals live in perfect harmony, while in Indian tradition there was a place called Kalapa, north of the Himalayas, where lived "perfect people."

In Russia, it was said that if the path of the Tartar hordes was followed all the way back to Mongolia, Belovodye would be found, where holy men lived apart from the world in the land of the White Waters. Shambhala, another name for Shangri-La, was reputed to lie in or north of Tibet, where seemingly impassable mountains enclosed secret valleys that were both fertile and verdurous.

The Russian-born traveller Nicholas Roerich records in his Shambhala (1930) several visits to Tibet. In 1928 he asked a lama whether Shambhala was a real place. The lama answered: "It is the mighty heavenly domain. It has nothing to do with our earth . . . " The question still remains: Did this hidden paradise actually exist or was its reality wholly spiritual?

Until the overtake by the Chinese in 1950, the high plateau of Tibet could claim to be the remotest place on earth. This circumstance helped foster a highly spiritual society ruled from the monastery-citadel Potala at Lhasa (pictured above) by the Dalai Lama. Especially after the closure of Lhasa, which became "the forbidden city" to the Europeans in the 19th century, Tibet also nurtured among Westerners a climate of belief in which they would readily accept miracles.

Buddhist lamas and mystics were credited with extraordinary powers, and many a Western traveler has come back with reports of having personally witnessed unexplainable phenomena. One such report of lung-gom, a training that allowed adepts to overcome gravity and reduce their body weight, so enabling them to move at astonishing speeds, was written by the British theosophist Alexandra David-Neel. She spent 14 years in Tibet in the early part of this century, and observed one of these "runners" bounding along like a ball. "The man did not run," she wrote. "He seemed to lift himself from the ground, proceeding by leaps . . . His steps had the regularity of a pendulum." David-Neel's mystic masters fit the description of a spiritual utopia; should Shangri-La be sought in and around Tibet?

Wherever Shangri-La may be or may have been, it is most curious that the profane "barbarians" foretold by the lama in Lost Horizon should themselves seek to harness the secret utopia where holy men live in peace and harmony. Perhaps the real philosophical and spiritual lessons here lie in the realization that evil will forever seek to obliterate good, wherever it be found.