In an attempt to make life more difficult for myself, I'm going to try for themed days on the blog. Yes, it's not enough to come up with five articles a week, I'm now going to constrain myself to set themes on certain days. Let's see how long it takes me to crack. Today is, ugh... Mystery Monday - I should offer a prize for a better name.
|A mystical lost mountain kingdom yesterday|
Oddly, the book didn't become successful until Hilton wrote Goodbye, Mr. Chips the following year, which was an instant hit. Odder still is just how many people took the idea of Shangri-la literally. Not long before the book was written, a number of accounts of travel in Tibet had been published in National Geographic magazine and many of the places featured bore a resemblance to the fictional Shangri-la of the book.
A lot of the other places mentioned in Lost Horizon are real enough. Muli, Kunlun and Chongqing all exist. Since the book became popular, Zhongdian in Yunan Province, China has now been renamed Xianggalila (Shangri-la) to attract tourists. It's funny that, in contrast to other mythical places, Shangri-la actually does exist.
|It's all jolly pretty and a lot more accessible than Atlantis|
The Shambhala/Shangri-la myth came to the West via Catholic missionaries in the 17th century, but it wasn't until the 19th century that interest really picked up. Hungarian scholar Sándor Kőrösi Csoma (yeah, every name in this article is unpronounceable) who travelled extensively in the region, wrote of Shambhala and even gave a geographical location: "a fabulous country in the north...situated between 45' and 50' north latitude." Following his description leads to the eastern region of Kazakhstan, which is characterized by green hills, low mountains and lakes in stark contrast to the barren mountainous terrain of Tibet and Yunan. Hmm.
|Hard to believe that this waterfall could contain the essence of uber-nazis and|
super-communists, but a surprisingly high number of people thought so
Whilst the German mission to Tibet is relatively well-known, few have heard of the similar Soviet mission. Senior intelligence officer and chief cryptographer Gleb Bokii (no, really) was fascinated by the teachings of the Theosophists and met with several Mongolian lamas. He gained a fascination with Shambhala and Shangri-la and organised an expedition to Inner Asia with his writer friend, Alexander Barchenko. They wanted to prove a link between Kalachakra-tantra and the tenets of Soviet Communism. Although their mission didn't go ahead, Bokii and Barchenko founded a laboratory (under the auspices of the secret police) to experiment with Buddhist techniques in order to try to create perfect communists. Crikey. They weren't the only Soviets interested in Shambhala and the the Soviet Foreign Commissariat did later send an expedition to Tibet. I don't know if they managed to make a super-Soviet-Buddhist-ubermensch, but I presume I'd have heard if they had.
|Nicholas Roerich, Song of Shambhala: Thang-La (1943)|
|It was like that when we got here|
|A big boy did it and ran away|