When the weather over the Hump (Himalayas) between our B-29 base in India, and our advanced base in China permitted, we flew a northerly route through mountain valleys. The last leg of this route passed over Sichang, China, then direct to our base at Hsinching. About midway on this leg, we enjoyed a view of the mountain known as Minya Konka located 40 miles to the northwest. Towering to 25,000 feet, the mountain's strikingly beautiful, pyramidal peak jutted almost 5,000 feet above neighboring peaks in the Szechwan Alps where Tibet joins China. A lovely plume of feathery snow often formed by prevailing westerly winds blowing over the peak's sheath of snow and ice. When the local valleys were covered with clouds and mist, the great mountain appeared to sit in a pool of clouds. It was reassuring to B-29 aircrews to see Minya Konka. It meant that the weather at cruising altitude was clear, and that they were on course to Hsinching.
Englishman James Hilton was born of missionary parents in Szechwan Province. When he was a boy, he lived close enough to the mountain to see its magnificent peak on a clear day. Hilton's novel, Lost Horizon, must have been inspired by his memories of Minya Konka. The novel's setting and descriptions of its mountain, monastery, and peak, are too close to fact to be a coincident.
Hilton called his mountain Karakal. He wrote that it was 28,000 feet high and its peak was shaped like a pyramid. Naturally, Karakal was covered with snow and ice, and often had a feathery plume of snow blown by a prevailing westerly wind. Finally, he placed his imaginary Shangri-la monastery on the slopes of Karakal overlooking a green valley several thousand feet below. In fact, the present day Konka Gomba lamasery, which houses several hundred Buddhist monks, is located at an elevation of about 12,000 feet on the south slope of Minya Konka. Recall, if you will, Hilton's steep trail between his monastery and the valley below. A real trail leads down from the Konka Gomba monastery, to a fertile valley watered by the Yalung River and streams fed by mountain snow and ice. Knowing all this, will you agree that James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon with Minya Konka in mind?
Literary considerations aside, aircrews flying over the Hump during World War II, enjoyed a view denied most people. The great peak is located in a spot the western world knows little about. Climbing expeditions must pass through territory inhabited by unfriendly Tibetan and black Lo-Lo tribes. See Glories of Minya Konka, by Joseph F. Rock, National Geographic Magazine, October 1930, Volume LVIII, pages 385-437.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *