Did Shangri-la actually exist? Bainbridge Island-based mountaineer Peter Athans “may have the answer,” the Seattle Times reports. Over two years, Athans led three expeditions to the remote kingdom of Mustang, in modern-day Nepal, and discovered in its numerous caves plenty of art and an ancient library belonging to one of Mustang’s early kings. The library has yet to yield its secrets, but Athans thinks Mustang may be the place the 5th century Chinese poet who first mentioned the Buddhist paradise was referring to. Tomorrow and on Tuesday (April 13 & 14), at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, Athans will give a “National Geographic Live!” presentation (“The Secrets of Shangri-la“), during which he’ll discuss the expeditions he conducted in collaboration with Nepal’s Department of Archaeology.

Shangri-la has inspired the Western imagination ever since James Hilton’s Lost Horizonappeared in 1933 and is usually associated with old Tibet. But the University of Michigan’s Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, pretty much put an end to that romance with his seminal work The Prisoners of Shangri-la.

Still, old myths die hard and may even contain a few grains of truth. When asked whether the recent findings will impact our practice or understanding of Buddhism, Athans replied:

Whether the findings will have an impact is a great and puzzling question. We are in the midst of translating much of the found library and interpreting all that multifaceted, diverse art. We’re hopeful our research and inventory will assist historians, archaeologists and anthropologists in telling us more about the Buddhist and pre-Buddhist cultures and civilizations that thrived here in what some might have called “Shangri-La.”

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

(For more on Mustang, read Peter Matthiessen here and Sienna Craig on Mustang’s horse culture here.)

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