SHANGRI LA Exists And It Can Be Found In Hawaii

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Named after the mystical Valley of Shangri-La Doris Duke created an Islamic-inspired palace in Oahu. She called it home; I call it paradise on Earth. She was inspired during her honeymoon travels in the Middle East with her first husband, and after staying in Oahu for a few weeks purchased the hillside property and began creating her own personal Shangri La in paradise. The result is one of the most fabulous estates in the entire Hawaiian Islands, and it is open to the public to visit. I missed seeing it during my first visit to the Island, but I am about to correct that oversight. I’m off to visit Shangri La and it is just a 20-minute drive from Waikiki Beach.

Islamic garden at Shangri La, perfect proportions

Touring Shangri La is an intimate and special event. There are only three tours a day, and they start at the Honolulu Museum of Art. You buy your $25 tour ticket here, and this is where the tour bus picks you up to transport you to Shangri La.

Arriving at the gates to Shangri La you are let into the private world that Doris Duke created in 1937. We are greeted by the Docents who split our small group into two parties. One starts inside the house while my group starts in the Islamic Garden seen above. Breathtaking and harmonious are the words that come to my mind when I get my first look at the garden.

Our tour then moves inside the house. I would love to relate all the details and information that our Docent shared with us, but to be honest, it is overwhelming in its richness and depth of information. The tour is one part celebration of Doris Duke’s life and one part museum tour with details about every tile, painting, and lighting fixture we discover. It is a banquet feast for the senses that begins behind this front door.

Entrance to Shangri La

Rather than misquote the Docent I will share pictures that the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art provided me with of the interior rooms. Starting with the Foyer.

Foyer at Shangri La

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Landing at stairs leading from foyer to central patio

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

There is then the Syrian Room where guests would wait to be greeted by their host.

Syrian Room - horizontal

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Syrian Room

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Next, we are transported through a courtyard to the Living Room that has views of the surrounding grounds and Ocean. A neat fact about this room is that the wall of windows can lower via an elevator motor so that the glass wall disappears completely and you can walk straight out to the lawn.

View from living room to Playhouse

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Here is the opposite view from the living room to an alcove with priceless works of art.

Mihrab seen from living room

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

We walk to the Dining Room, which is draped in Persian carpets and Baccarat Crystal Chandeliers.

Dining Room

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Dining Room - Open

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Just outside the dining room is the wrap around Terrace with stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding grounds that lead up to the private pool and water fountains.

Wrap around patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Shangri La

Dining Room Lanai

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Water fountain and pool at Shangri La

We were also treated to a peek inside Doris Duke’s bedroom. Imagine this as your private dressing room. The closet and bathroom beyond are equally stunning and spacious.

Ladies Powder Room

Photo: David Franzen © Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

This is just a tease of what we experienced in our 2.5-hour tour. I learned so much and gained such an appreciation for Islamic art that I am hungry to visit and experience the region for myself.

Note that personal photography is not allowed inside Shangri La. There is a rumour that policy may soon change, but regardless this is a FANTASTIC way to spend an afternoon in Hawaii. How often do you get to tour a 14,000 square foot home of one of the World’s Richest Women? I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

View of the Pacific from Shangri La Honolulu

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Disclosure: General

Thank you to the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art for allowing me to tour the estate and for sharing the photos of the interior.


About Author

Marc Smith is a single, 45-year-old, gay urbanite, living in high-rise heaven in Vancouver’s chic Yaletown neighbourhood. After a ten-year career as one of Vancouver’s pre-eminent event planners, he decided it was time for a change and posted on his Facebook page “I am ready for a change. What shall I do with my life?” 30 Day Adventures was born from that status update.

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