Department Research Seminar - Tuesday 25 April

HST Jessop West UoS

Event details

Tuesday 25 April 2023


You are warmly invited to our department research seminar: 

Tuesday 25 April, 4:15pm (GMT)

'Hunza as Shangri-La: Diet and Lifestyle in North American Travelogues and Film in the 1950s and 60s'

Speaker: Ashok Malhotra (Queen's University Belfast)

All are welcome!


This paper will examine the ways in which North American travel accounts and film documentaries of Hunza, in Northern Pakistan, which were produced during the 1950s and 60s, depicted the region as a paradise where the inhabitants lived supernaturally long lives in a state of rude health. Previous scholars such as Shafqat Hussain and Harvey Levenstein have correctly noted the Mir of Hunza’s role in manipulating these Western travellers to have an idealised impression of his kingdom and the dietary habits of his subjects. They have, however, treated these accounts in a homogenous fashion and have not sufficiently differentiated various North American narratives from one another. In contrast, this paper will engage in an in-depth analysis of these narratives. The discussion will examine the ways in which they were informed by James Hilton’s fictional depiction of Shangri-La in his novel The Lost Horizon (1933). It will identify the diverse uses the Hunza narrative was put to, whether it be to construct a travelogue, an ethnography, a recipe-lifestyle guidebook, an organic farming treatise, a yoga-instruction manual or a cinematic spectacle. Furthermore, it will delineate the varying ideological purposes which these narratives served, which ranged from promoting a counter-cultural lifestyle, a puritanical form of Christianity, or to even in one case to support domestic violence. The paper will come to an understanding of why Hunza and its peoples could be discursively deployed to suit such distinct purposes. Finally, it will account for why even when these North Americans were confronted with some of the harsh realities of life in Hunza they still clung onto notions that Hunza was a veritable Shangri-La.


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