Approximately a month ago, I befriended someone on Facebook that has Shangri-La displayed as their current city of residence. And I was immediately intrigued.
My earliest resonance with the name Shangri-La was largely attributed to childhood memories of exorbitant buffet feasts and extravagant resort stays. My grandparents loved the international buffet selection at the Shangri-La Hotel in Beijing. Every time they were treated for a special occasion, I repeatedly tagged along comparable to an excited little trooper on a treasure hunt. Like any child that is feverish about candies, I was no exception – my mission would always be to charge towards the dessert table and get high on sugar.
Around 7 or 8, I was first introduced to the world of travel. At that time, my mother had relocated to Singapore for work. And during the school holidays when I had flown to stay with her, we would take short trips to nearby Southeast Asian countries. Those times that we splurged to stay at the Shangri-La resorts were especially unforgettable. Spacious rooms, tranquil pools, ocean views along with impeccable service. Long after the trips, those magical impressions prevailed.
Conceivably at that age, I made the partial connotation of Shangri-La being a place that provides endless hedonic pursuits. Coincidentally, the inner sense of wellbeing only possible from those heaven on earth experiences had me captivated, enchanted and mesmerised.
A subsequent discovery had me disappointed. Shangri-La is not ‘real’. It is a fictional place that first appeared in the novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It evokes the imagery of an eternal earthly paradise that nourishes the land and its people. It is mystical and unattainable. It is an utopian society that is remote and sheltered from the constant hustle and bustle of the outside world. It is a kingdom of hope, peace, serenity and happiness. There are communities in the Yunnan Province of China that have been postulated to maintain a close resemblance to Shangri-La. Whether it exists or not, at intermittent times of loneliness and isolation, our hearts are often filled with the yearning for an eden called Shangri-La.
So…where is Shangri-La?
Just the other day, an edition of National Geographic Traveler that I randomly spotted on the shelves had reignited my curiosity. On the front cover, there was this feature article named Over The Horizon by Scott Wallace. It traces the author’s journey following his grandfather’s footsteps in search of the dreamland Shangri-La. Flipping through the pages, a particular quote jumped out of the page. In Scott’s conversations with the locals, they had remarked:
“For Tibetans, Shangri-La is not a real place but a feeling in our hearts. Everyone needs a personal Shangri-La.”
On busy days, I look forward to regaining solitude. When I am on the go, I appreciate the occasional quietness and peacefulness. Gradually on my travels, I have developed a habit of stopping often in order to take in all that is on offer in the present moment. Open ocean, vast deserts, tall mountains, the infinite sky and all things available in beautiful nature, help me find that centre and balance.
Places of worship are also my places of refuge. Irrespective of religion, cathedrals, mosques and temples, colossal or small, ancient or new, are all my personal sanctuaries. If I bypass a church (of which there are many in Europe), I would enter, pray, and then light a candle or two. If I come across a mosque, I would cover my hair with a scarf, take off my shoes and sit cross-legged on the carpet (not very lady like I know!) and reflect. Those treasured moments of serenity empower me to listen to that tiny inner voice which is frequently drowned in the daily busyness. The peaceful silence is the sound of making a reconnection with my own heart. I come out renewed, refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready for the next adventure.
I am not sure where or what Shangri-La is, but those are my cherished breathers that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Have you found your personal Shangri-La?