Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Welcome to Shangri-La

A little essay I posted on Amazon back in 2016. 

According to the website “Flags of the World”, this is not the correct flag of Hunza, but an erroneous version widespread on the web. The correct version can be found on the FOTW website. Hunza is a region in northern Pakistan, governed as a hereditary monarchy until 1974, when the Pakistani federal government stripped the local prince of all his power. The Hunza flag is associated with the princely state. As far as I can tell, it is not directly associated with the Burushos, a world-famed ethnic group which lives in both the Hunza Valley and some neighboring regions of Pakistan.

The Burushos speak a unique language known as Burushaski. Many are Nizari Ismailis, and hence recognize the Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. Ismailism is a branch of Shia Islam with an esoteric message similar to Neo-Platonism! According to local legend, the Burushos are descendants of soldiers from Alexander the Great's army. Romantic Westerners looking for “noble savages” have apparently written a lot of bunk about the Burushos in Hunza, claiming that they never fall ill, eat a lot of dried apricots and live until they are 120. Some believe (perhaps wrongly) that the Hunza Valley is the model for Shangri-La in James Hilton's novel “Lost Horizon”.

However, the most spectacular use of this small people came in 2008, when the Republic of Macedonia organized a visit of the Prince of Hunza and a Burusho delegation. The delegation was welcomed at the Skopje Airport by the country's prime minister Nikola Gruevski, the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church Archbishop Stephen and the then-mayor of Skopje Trifun Kostovski. The reason for this extravaganza was that the official state ideology of Macedonia claims that Macedonians aren't Slavs (despite speaking a Slavic language), but direct descendants of the ancient Macedonians (who according to this logic weren't Greeks). A virtual cult of Alexander the Great is being promoted in the Republic of Macedonia, and the visit of the Burushos was part of this. As already noted, they claim to be descendants of Alexander's army. The ideologists of modern Macedonia's governing party VMRO-DPMNE therefore see the Burushos as an ancient Macedonian remnant in far-away Asia!

While I don't rule out anything, not even that apricot-munching Neo-Platonists can reach the venerable age of 120 and counting, my favorite speculation about northern India/Pakistan is that the Kashmiris are the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, but YMMV. Besides, according to genetic research, the Burushos are more closely related to Gypsies than to Macedonians…

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