Radio Shangri-La: What I Discovered on my Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth


Lisa Napoli was in the grip of a crisis, dissatisfied with her life and her work as a radio journalist. When a chance encounter with a handsome stranger presented her with an opportunity to move halfway around the world, Lisa left behind cosmopolitan Los Angeles for a new adventure in the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan--said to be one of the happiest places on earth.

Long isolated from industrialization and just beginning to open its doors to the modern world, Bhutan is a ...

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Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth

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Lisa Napoli was in the grip of a crisis, dissatisfied with her life and her work as a radio journalist. When a chance encounter with a handsome stranger presented her with an opportunity to move halfway around the world, Lisa left behind cosmopolitan Los Angeles for a new adventure in the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan--said to be one of the happiest places on earth.

Long isolated from industrialization and just beginning to open its doors to the modern world, Bhutan is a deeply spiritual place, devoted to environmental conservation and committed to the happiness of its people--in fact, Bhutan measures its success in Gross National Happiness rather than in GNP. In a country without a single traffic light, its citizens are believed to be among the most content in the world. To Lisa, it seemed to be a place that offered the opposite of her fast-paced life in the United States, where the noisy din of sound-bite news and cell phones dominate our days, and meaningful conversation is a rare commodity; where everyone is plugged in digitally, yet rarely connects with the people around them.

Thousands of miles away from everything and everyone she knows, Lisa creates a new community for herself. As she helps to start Bhutan's first youth-oriented radio station, Kuzoo FM, she must come to terms with her conflicting feelings about the impact of the medium on a country that had been shielded from its effects. Immersing herself in Bhutan's rapidly changing culture, Lisa realizes that her own perspective on life is changing as well--and that she is discovering the sense of purpose and joy that she has been yearning for.

In this smart, heartfelt, and beautifully written book, sure to please fans of transporting travel narratives and personal memoirs alike, Lisa Napoli discovers that the world is a beautiful and complicated place--and comes to appreciate her life for the adventure it is.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Joshua Hammer
…[Napoli's] affectionate portrait of life in a slower-paced, high-altitude society…[an] absorbing, often touching memoir…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
When Napoli met the handsome Sebastian at a cookbook party in New York City, she was intrigued by this man who traveled to Bhutan regularly. And when the accomplished L.A.-based journalist (MSNBC, CNN, public radio's Marketplace) researched the country about which he spoke so enthusiastically, she became entranced with Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan kingdom that sits between India and China. This country--dubbed "the happiest on earth" because of its focus on environmental and social progress--is hard to get to, with its remote location and governmental deterrents to tourism, like a per-person, per-day tourist tax. But a friend of Sebastian's needs help with startup radio station Kuzoo FM, so Napoli leaves L.A. and goes to Bhutan for six weeks. She writes, "After more than two decades of reducing even the most complex issues to 1,000 words or less, I was tired of observing life from a distance." While the author turns an eye on her own motivations (nothing further developed with Sebastian), she refrains from tortured navel-gazing and instead shares and reflects on Bhutan's people, history, and customs (from painting phalluses on houses to repel evil spirits to Buddhism's role in daily life). Napoli's adventures at home and abroad, in nature and career and spirit, will delight readers. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
“ [an] affectionate portrait of life in a slower-paced, high altitude society…absorbing, often touching memoir”—The New York Times Book Review

“[An] affectionate portrait of life in a slower-paced, high altitude society…[an] absorbing, often touching memoir.” —The New York Times

"From the moment she walks off the plane, Ms. Napoli knows she's a universe away... [She] is infatuated with Bhutan, and...has an eye for a good story."—Wall Street Journal

“Joyful….You’ll close the book wishing you could head to Bhutan on the next plane.”—Toronto Star

"A rare gift....Radio Shangri-La is much more than just a story of a midlife crisis. It’s the chronicle of a country barreling toward change, and a woman’s search for what happiness really means at any age."—Christian Science Monitor

"Napoli's wry voice and honest insights create a thoughtful, engaging narrative...[she] avoids romanticizing Bhutan while capturing the country's unique charm."—The Globe and Mail

"Comparisons to the wildly popular Eat Pray Love,’ Elizabeth Gilbert’s international travel romp through meals, meditation, and men, are easy to see...In a refreshing twist on the female travel memoir, Napoli stands brilliantly apart from [Elizabeth] Gilbert in that, in the end, she chooses herself and not another man."—

"Lovely and fascinating."—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Mesmerizing."—Portland Oregonian

"Radio Shangri-La reminded me of Deborah Rodriguez’s 2007 bestselling Kabul Beauty School. Only better, if for no other reason than the writing here is just so sharp and terrific…Journalist Napoli writes stylishly about physical and spiritual renewal. Part travel memoir, part crossroads handbook, Radio Shangri-La is unforgettable.—

"Fascinating."—Spirituality & Practice

“Radio Shangri-La  has shades of Pico Iyer and Bruce Chatwin and a similar genius for parachuting the reader into a strange land and culture.  Bhutan has long fascinated me and Radio Shangri-La is the perfect vehicle to get there."– Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"Radio Shangri-La is a beautiful, touching and deeply compelling memoir by a well-known public radio reporter who arrived in the tranquil kingdom of Bhutan to help establish the nation's first radio station and, as important, to further her own mid-life assessment of a life that felt full of missteps.  The book is delightful reading—honest, moving and quietly spiritual as it offers both an intimate portrait of a country only halfway to modernity and a soul in quest of meaning."—Scott Turow, author of Innocent

"Radio Shangri-La grabs you by the heart and takes you on a winding dual journey — into the self and into a fairy tale kingdom known for measuring happiness as its gross national product. Charming, illuminating, and often ironic, this memoir is a continuous discovery of myths and realities in finding deeper personal meaning."—Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club and Saving Fish from Drowning

"Bummed out in midlife, [Lisa] Napoli went to Bhutan to volunteer at the country's first youth-oriented radio station...She reveals the truths—and, yes, happiness—she found there. Perfect for everyone who loves finding-yourself-through-travel memoirs."— Library Journal

"Enjoyable memoir about ex-journalist Napoli’s search for wholeness and spiritual renewal. A refreshingly uplifting book."—Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Nestled between India and China, Bhutan is known as the last Buddhist kingdom and Land of the Thunder Dragon. The story opens with fortysomething journalist Napoli's dogged pursuit of happiness by documenting "three good things" each day. By chance, the Los Angeles-based author is persuaded to take a midlife journey to Bhutan. Taking place in 2007, this six-week sojourn's purpose is to help improve Kuzoo FM, the nation's fledgling radio station. Bhutan's monarch promotes "Gross National Happiness," restricts tourism, and imagines the radio station as a way to prepare Bhutanese young people for impending parliamentary elections. Over the course of the next two years, Napoli returns to Bhutan a few more times. Predictably, the author learns a great deal about herself and her life's choices and revels in the growth experienced by the young radio jockeys. VERDICT Napoli's fluid, elegant, and vivid prose draws readers into this special geographical place and illustrates the value of soul searching. This compelling story will inspire readers interested in other cultures and the spiritual side of world travel.—Elizabeth Connor, The Citadel, Military Coll. of South Carolina Lib., Charleston
Kirkus Reviews

Enjoyable memoir about ex-journalist Napoli's search for wholeness and spiritual renewal.

The author provides a readable account of her life-changing decision to leave the comforts of her cosmopolitan Los Angeles life and serve as a volunteer at Kuzoo FM 90, a radio station for young people in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Disillusioned with her love life and fed up with her job as a public-radio commentator, Napoli took a chance on a mysterious stranger's offer of unpaid work in a country where "[b]eing, not having" and "[h]appiness above wealth" were the prevailing national philosophies. For six weeks, the author immersed herself in an ancient but vibrant culture just emerging from centuries of self-imposed isolation. During her time there, she experienced endless fascination, but also sadness, caused by the Bhutanese obsession with television and all things Western. At the same time, Napoli discovered the beginnings of a joy and personal healing that had eluded her at home. After her first visit, she returned to Bhutan two more times. Knowing she couldn't stay for long, she decided to "bring a bit of Bhutan to me" and sponsored a young female radio jockey, Ngawang Pem, to come to Los Angeles. In search of a way to stay in the United States and explore her version of the American dream, Ngawang eventually disappeared to New York before going back to Bhutan, marrying and inviting the author to become godmother to her unborn son. Napoli ably avoids the first-person trap of self-absorption through memorable depictions of the people and places in her narrative. She also skirts clichés about the world-weary Westerner who finds renewal in a short-term encounter with the exotic through the open-ended story of intercultural exchange. Although she ended the journey unmarried, childless and uncertain of her future, the author gained the hard-won conviction "that what I gave was more important than what I got."

The author's authentic voice and light, pleasant cultural insights make for a refreshingly uplifting book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307879912
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/8/2011
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

LISA NAPOLI is a journalist whose last staff job was on the public radio show Marketplace. An early chronicler of the dawn of the World Wide Web as a columnist at the New York Times CyberTimes, she has also been the Internet correspondent at MSNBC. She began her career at CNN, worked in local news in North Carolina, and has directed several documentaries about Southern culture.

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Read an Excerpt


The Thunderbolt, Part One

Harris said he'd be at the cookbook party by 7:00 p.m., which gave me an hour to hang out with him there before I headed uptown to have dinner with another old friend and his family. The party was a bit out of the way, and I almost skipped it, but since I was only in my hometown, New York City, on rare occasions, I figured I might as well get out and see as many of the people I loved as I could. What had brought me here from Los Angeles was the chance to fill in for a month at the New York bureau of the radio show where I was on staff as a reporter. I bolstered my energy for a busy evening of flitting around the city in hyper--social butterfly mode--a way of life I rarely indulged in anymore.

The walk from the office on East 47th Street to the party on 66th Street filled me with wonder and made me wistful for this place I loved so dearly. In early autumn, twilight in New York is magical; the sky glimmers and there's energy in the streets. You feel powerful, invincible, as if every gritty bit of the city is yours. I found myself doing a mental trick I hadn't done since I'd moved away: reciting the address of my destination while I walked as if it were the lyrics to a song. Two-three-four / East Sixty-sixth Street, I sang to myself over and over again this September evening, the clunky tune mingling with the click-clack of my bright pink "comfort" high heels. Inevitably, after all that repetition, I would muck up the street number, and I did this time, too. But there was such a crowd in front of one particularly gorgeous old brownstone, I didn't need to check the little slip of paper in my purse to know I'd arrived.

Crazy busy. Some swanky food magazine editor was debuting a new cookbook. Harris had long been a foodie, and in the last few years had broken into writing about all things gourmet. Good for him to be mingling in such well-fed company. Now it seemed I'd have to fight a dreaded crowd to find him. How could I be a city person and hate mob scenes?

As I made my way to the front door, I took a look up the staircase. It was packed with a crush of people. In the thick of it, facing in my direction, was the most handsome man. He had a shock of brown hair and big brown eyes to match. I know it sounds ridiculous, but in that instant, the mob seemed to disappear. Much to my surprise and delight, I saw him looking right back. Not just in my direction, but at me. Our eyes locked, and, even from a distance, I could swear a sort of chemical reaction erupted between us.

I'd read about these celebrated coup de foudres, thunderbolts, where people met and fell in love at first sight. I knew from experience that an instant attraction could be intoxicating--and dangerous. As was the impulse to imagine that a momentary connection was something larger. But this thunderbolt felt different. This was a beautiful, instant intensity I'd never, ever experienced.

Practical me prevailed: I had to find Harris. Time was tight. I peeled my eyes away from the handsome stranger and pushed through the thicket of people. After a series of wrong turns, I spotted him holding court in a corner of the room, smiling and gesturing as if he owned the place. Harris was so good at making people feel welcome, connected. Everyone clutched goblets of wine--no disposable plastic cups for this crowd. My friend did a round of introductions, and as he got to the end of the group, I was happily surprised to see the man from the staircase.

"Lisa, this is my friend Sebastian I've been telling you about, who I'm going to Asia with next...

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Table of Contents

Preface: Three Good Things xi

Chapter 1 The Thunderbolt, Part One 1

Chapter 2 "Welcome, Jane!" 17

Chapter 3 Radio Shangrila 37

Chapter 4 Beware the Emadatse 53

Chapter 5 God of the Night 65

Chapter 6 Bhutan on the Border, or, the Start up Country 91

Chapter 7 The Symphony of Love 107

Chapter 8 My Best Friends in the World Right Now 137

Chapter 9 The Thunderbolt, Part Two 165

Chapter 10 Dawn of Democracy 183

Chapter 11 America 101: "That's Cool" 203

Chapter 12 Baby Watch 225

Postscript 247

Epilogue: Loose Motion 253

Afterword: Tucson in July 269

Acknowledgments 279

Selected Bibliography 283

Reader's Group Guide 289

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