“You will not find Shangri La marked on any map”

That’s the line from James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon, from where the term ‘Shangri La’ originates:

Seeing it first, it might have been a vision fluttering out of that solitary rhythm in which lack of oxygen had encompassed all his faculties … A group of coloured pavilions clung to the mountainside with none of the grim deliberation of a Rhineland castle, but rather with the chance delicacy of flower petals impaled upon a crag. It was superb and exquisite.

I’m reading the book in Zhongdian, Yunnan – renamed ‘Shangri La’ in 2001 to pull in the tourists. It’s one of several places to claim the name: others are Tibet’s Kun Lun mountains, northern Pakistan, and as far as I can tell pretty much all of Bhutan. All, needless to say, are pretty damn clearly marked on any map.

And as to the Shangri La I’m in (unless lack of oxygen has encompassed all my blogging faculties), I’ve yet to see any delicate flower petal pavilions clinging to the mountainside. I can, however, choose to stay in a hotel themed to look as such for 400 US dollars a night, before stopping in at the monastery, with it’s subway style ticket-swipe gates.

And so, after years of searching, travel worn and oxygen deprived, with only a Western style banana pancake for twenty yuan to comfort me, I have found China’s capitalist Shangri La.

Update: Most of the shop and hostel owners here seem to have heard of Hilton’s novel, if not read it or recognise the name. I learned from one of them, incidentally, that early twentieth century travels and writings of Joseph Rock in this corner of the world might have inspired the novel.