SHANGRI-LA is closer than you might imagine. With clear weather and a measure of luck, the valley that helped inspire the utopian hideaway in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon can be reached from London in just 12 hours. Once it was a hidden kingdom, visited only by the hardiest travellers. In recent years it has become more accessible and has been discovered by tourists. Many of these foreign visitors lament – without irony – that exposure to the outside world will ruin the Hunza Valley.
The inhabitants are less pessimistic and claim that, far from threatening their unique culture, the tourist boom is helping preserve it. Over the past decade they have been involved in a community-based tourism project to restore a 700-year-old fort and the historic village beneath it. Their efforts earned them the top prize in British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards 2000.