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Shangri Oooo Lala!

April 2, 2012

 Tucked away on the quiet cliffs of Diamond Head, is a sprawling home filled with timeless treasures from around the world. Scenes from The Secret Garden or The Great Gatsby come to mind when describing Doris Duke’s Shangri La.


Upon arrival, we were surrounded by lush greenery and plain white walls. Two stone camels pleasantly adorned the entrance, and the detail on the front door was just a glimpse of the type of artwork that our eyes would feast on.


Our guide gathered us by the back entrance that opened up to Mughal Garden. I felt so antsy as she went into a lengthy description of the garden. There was a collective gasp from our group as we walked in. (It would be the first of many throughout this tour.) Everything from the marble stairs to the perfectly manicured trees blew me away. I couldn’t open my eyes wide enough to take everything in. But there was more to come and we were quickly ushered back into the courtyard to start our tour of the house.


The tour guide was quick to note that the house is a camera free zone. I’ll try to paint a vivid picture of the highlights, but it’ll be better if you check it out for yourself.  The house can be described as a smorgasbord of Islamic art. From oversized tile panels to delicate knicknacks, every inch of the house was covered with precious artwork inspired by or collected during Ms. Duke’s travels. I don’t know whether our tour guide had a great sense of timing, or if the house was set up in such a way that it felt as if each room was better than the last. There just seemed to be more and more artwork, with each room displaying treasures that were more priceless than the last. 

While all of the rooms were beautiful, the one that left a lasting impression for me was the Living Room. Even though it was dripping from the ceiling to the floors with beautiful art, it felt livable, not overwhelming, and as if anyone could curl up with a good book on the couch and relax. The glass wall, an engineering feat during its time, opened completely, allowing the cool tradewinds to blow throughout the house, giving it a free spirit type of feeling.  The grand fireplace mantel, that once belonged to William Randolph Hearst, gave the room a sophisticated feeling. Yet, it’s easy to imagine that on a crisp Diamond Head evening, Doris Duke might’ve curled up next to it listening to a Johnny Cash record and sipping on a fabulous bottle of wine from her extensive collection. 


Just when we were on art overload, we were whisked onto the lanai overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The open lawn provided a nice contrast to the intricate artwork in the house. In the distance, just passed a few fountains, and across the swimming pool, we could see The Playhouse. While our tour didn’t take us to this part of the property, the pictures online show that this guesthouse is just as elaborate as the main house.  

That evening when I sat in the livingroom of my tiny one bedroom apartment and dreamt about life at Shangri La. The types of parties that were thrown on the great lawn, celebrites that have wandered through the rooms, eleborate meals that were served in the dining room, and romantic conversations that must’ve taken place in the garden all seem like something out of a movie. Doris Duke’s Shangri La is truly magical and the tour offers visitors a unique glimpse into the remarkable life of one of the world’s weathiest woman.

For more information about Shangri La, visit