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Welcome To Vilcabamba
"The Sacred Valley of Longevity"

This Is A Privately Circulated Blog, scribbled exclusively for Friends & Familiars, that peers into and pontificates about Expat life in the hinterlands of South America. If your eyesight is less than optimal (like mine), then just click the type size up a notch on your browser..

Here you will find a series of curmudgeonly commentaries that I've posted from atop my rickety old soapbox for the past few years. And yes, there are indeed political rantings, so place your seats in the upright position and fasten your seat belts .... it may be a bumpy ride.


What and Where Is "Shangri La"

It must be a generational thing, but I'm somewhat flabbergasted that a good number of the readers of this blog are unclear about what the term "Shangri-La" means. The idea of an idyllic place referred to as "Shangri-La" has always been part of my cultural/literary experience since childhood, so I'm really quite surprised when I discover others don't share this deeply imprinted memory.

What exactly is "Shangri-La"? Well, for starters Shangri-La is a fictional construct described in the 1933 novel "Lost Horizon" by British author James Hilton. In the book, Shangri-La was a hidden-away secret valley deep in the forbidding reaches of the Himalaya Mountains. This unrecorded valley was supposedly located in the highest reaches of the Kunlun Mountain range. The Kunluns form a massive rampart blocking access to the icy barren expanses of the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. It is virtually unexplored by anyone other than the hardy mountain folks who live there. The perfect setting for a fictional utopia.

A quick pause here. Remember that in 1933, when Hilton's book was written, the United States was still in the middle of the Great Depression, and people everywhere were yearning for a better life, a Utopian existence far from the harsh realities of everyday life during this terrible economic depression .... even if it was fictional! Thus the book's, and later the movie's, "block-buster" status back then.

In 1937, when I was only eight years old, the film titled "Lost Horizons" came to the screen featuring an English actor no one remembers, Ronald Coleman. It was a film in black and white, and the acting was really quite stilted, but it nevertheless captured the attention of my generation as nothing else had ever done. An equally unknown actor in this day and age was Sam Jaffe, who played the part of the 250 year-old Abbot of the "monastery" in Shangri La so perfectly that I can actually see him in my mind's-eye even now. It was this actor's job to impart the spiritual aspect to the film, and his part "stole the show" as they say.

The movie version (which I saw several times at .25 cents a ticket) tells the story of a group of airplane passengers whose airplane is hijacked. The plane eventually crashes deep in the Himalayas, leaving the surviving passengers stranded in a blizzard. The group is miraculously rescued and taken to a secret valley that was mysteriously sheltered from the cold (and from civilization). This place was called Shangri-La.

A popularly believed inspiration for Shangri-La is the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, close to the Tibetan 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 description in the novel.

The name Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, but particularly a mythical valley isolated from the outside world. Shangri-la is often used in a similar context to which "Garden of Eden" might be used, to represent a perfect paradise that exists hidden from modern man. It can sometimes be used as an analogy for a life-long quest or something elusive that is much sought after but seldom found.

In the novel "Lost Horizon", the people who live in Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan .... just so long as they don't leave the sanctuary of that valley. Doesn't this sound a lot like the "Sacred Valley of the Ancients", as Vilcabamba is often called?

Hey, it's close enough for me!