Altitude Sickness

Potted phrases like "ethnic tensions" and "age-old religious differences" bear little relevance to the true causes of mountain conflicts.

Issue: Fall 2001

At the checkout counter of my grocer is an attractive magazine for
New Age shoppers entitled Shambhala Sun. This evocative name refers
to the mythical mountain realm of the Tibetan Buddhists, a hidden
place symbolizing purity, truth and wisdom. It is also what James
Hilton had in mind when he created the land of Shangri-La in his 1933
novel, Lost Horizons. As it happens, just last summer I was camping
on the Kazakstan-Russian border in the shadow of Beluka, a
16,600-foot peak that local people have long associated with
Shambhala. It is indeed an awesome sight, altogether worthy of the
symbolic role assigned to it by Buddhists and assorted mystics such
as Henry Wallace's friend, the Russian visionary painter Nikolai
Roerich. But the deep valleys of the Altai Mountain range that
surround Beluka are more notable for another characteristic: the
peoples who inhabit them are desperately poor and increasingly

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