Shangri-La reminds Conway, just a little, of Oxford University. Having been deeply disillusioned and spiritually wounded by World War I and its aftermath, Conway naturally looks back to his college days with deep nostalgia. Common parlance calls Oxford a “city of dreaming spires” and a collage of “ivory towers,” and Shangri-La’s architecture and elevation are presented in similar terms. Its loftiness is, however, associated with a particular kind of atmosphere: clean, refined, and exceedingly beneficial to the health. The text carefully points out that “la” is the Tibetan word for a mountain pass, emphasizing that the lamasery is also a metaphorical gateway, offering a passage to a way of being that is far superior to anything available in the modern, civilized world.
The valley below the lamasery is a peaceful utopia whose citizens are happy to submit to the benevolent dictatorship of the lamas. Laws are unnecessary to ensure order because the valley’s inhabitants are so carefully schooled in courtesy that disputes never become violent. All this is part of a legacy, an estate, in both senses of the word, which Perrault now desires to leave to a suitable heir. If Conway were an aristocrat he would probably have an estate awaiting him at home, but he is not, and his sense of duty is oriented toward the grandiose political institutions and ambitions of the British Empire rather than to the stewardship of a tract of land. It is not until he has forsaken his estate that he realizes its true value.
Baskul. Remote outpost of the British Empire on the northwest frontier of the Indian subcontinent, to the northeast of Peshawur (Peshawar). Baskul represents the furthest edge of the decaying empire, beset by rebellious confusion. To its south lies the most troubled region, while the untracked wilderness of the Himalayas lies to the north. It is an obvious backwater, beyond the control or influence of any diplomatic presence.