Where Is Shambhala?

Mountains and Pangong tso (Lake). It is huge and highest lake in Ladakh and blue sky in background, it extends from India to Tibet. Leh, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India
Shambhala is a Buddhist paradise, the Pure Land. Suttipong Sutiratanachai / Getty Images

Shambhala is a mythical Buddhist kingdom that is said to exist somewhere between the Himalaya Mountains and the Gobi Desert. In Shambhala, all of the citizens have achieved enlightenment, so it is the embodiment of Tibetan Buddhist perfection. That is the reason for one of its other names: The Pure Land.

Pronunciation: sham-bah-lah

Also Known As: Olmolungring, Shangri-La, Paradise, Eden, Pure Land

Alternate Spellings: Shambala, Shamballa

Example: "It takes a powerful ancient myth to appeal to both Nazis and hippies, but the story of Shambhala, the Pure Land, manages to accomplish this feat."

Origin and Where It Is

The name "Shambhala" derives from Sanskrit texts, and is thought to mean "place of tranquility." The myth of Shambhala first appears in early Kalachakra Buddhist texts, which specify that its capital is named Kalapa and that the rulers are from the Kalki Dynasty. Many scholars believe that the myth derives from folk memories of an actual kingdom, somewhere in the mountains of South or Central Asia.

One aspect of the Shambhala myth is its millennial overtones. According to the Sanskrit texts, the world will descend into darkness and chaos around the year 2400 CE, but the twenty-fifth Kalki king will arise in a messianic fashion to defeat the forces of darkness and lead the world into a period of peace and light.

Interestingly, ancient pre-Buddhist texts that describe the lost kingdom of Zhang Zhung, in western Tibet, have been corroborated by archaeological finds in the the borderlands between Tibet and Pakistan's portion of Kashmir.

Those same texts assert that Shambhala, the land of tranquility, was located in what is now the Sutlej Valley in Pakistan.

Western Views and Versions

An amazing number and variety of western observers have drawn upon the myth of Shambhala to inform their own worldviews, beliefs, or art. These include James Hilton, who likely named his Himalayan paradise "Shangri-La" in the book Lost Horizon as a nod to the Shambhala story.

Other westerners ranging from German Nazis to the Russian psychic Madame Blavatsky have shown a real fascination with this lost kingdom.

Of course, the 1973 hit song "Shambala" by Three Dog Night also celebrates this Buddhist (or even pre-Buddhist) land. It includes lyrics that celebrate the peace and love in the region, but also its ultimately "just out of reach" nature:

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
With the rain in Shambala
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
With the rain in Shambala...
Everyone is lucky, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala
Everyone is happy, everyone is so kind
On the road to Shambala...
How does your light shine, in the halls of Shambala?