Penman for Sunday, May 7, 2023
“SHAMBALA’ IN Tibetan Buddhism is a mythical kingdom where, according to lore, resides a community devoted to good deeds. But there’s a real version of it, aligned with the same beneficent principle, and it’s just two hours from Manila on a good day.
Thanks to the herculean efforts of the wife-and-husband team of Riza and Albert Muyot, a place called Shambala Silang now exists to welcome city folk fleeing stress, pollution, and stop-and-go traffic for a day or two of blissful living.
The two-hectare hillside resort seems larger than it is, magnified by the panorama that opens behind it—the green sprawl of a provincial landscape under a bright blue bowl of sky. But “resort” seems a misnomer, because Shambala doesn’t have a swimming pool, a karaoke bar, a disco, or a zipline. Except for short walks around the property, you don’t come to Shambala to work up a sweat, but rather to relax, meditate, and celebrate life, whether by yourself or better yet, in the company of loved ones and friends.
That’s what we did on a recent day trip organized by fellow writer and academic and dear friend Edna Manlapaz, at the gracious invitation of the Muyots. (Albert—a lawyer and former Undersecretary of Education—is another old friend, a fellow fountain-pen enthusiast and Michigan alumnus.) The main invitee and guest of honor was actually National Artist for Literature Jimmy Abad who came with his wife Mercy, and we roped in novelist Charlson Ong to complete the party.
From Quezon City, Shambala is best reached by the Skyway, then CALAX, then a series of backroads winding through Silang. We have friends who have chosen to relocate here, and passing through groves of mango and other fruit trees, we can understand why. If you want to disengage from city life, Silang is an easy option, where you can vanish into the woods while still being a short drive away from modern necessities. A narrow dirt trail leads uphill to Shambala, and I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from what I could (or couldn’t) see on the road, but then it appears at the very end, and the magic begins.
Shambala is a cluster of several buildings containing art galleries, collections of Philippine tribal art and culture, halls for meetings and celebrations, restaurants, gardens, and the Muyots’ private residence. It has six tribal houses open for overnight (or longer) stays, operating as a B-and-B. The houses are authentic structures brought down from the north when their owners no longer needed them, and rebuilt piece by piece. “They were originally constructed without nails, but we had to reinforce them and to introduce some modern touches and conveniences to make them more comfortable for our guests,” said Riza. “For example, we expanded the space beneath the houses , which was traditionally used for farm animals like chickens, so we could put a platform around which people could sit and meet. We also added friendlier stairs.” The one-room houses are spacious and airy, and a modern bathroom stands outside each of them.
Below the houses, down the hillside, is a circle of stones with a fireplace at its center—a dap-ay traditionally used for meetings of tribal elders and for religious functions, but now serving as a virtual theater or arena for post-prandial get-togethers under the moonlight.
And everywhere you look, there are trees—about a thousand of them, according to the Muyots, a hundred of which are Benguet and Norfolk pine, specially brought in. “There was nothing here when we bought the place around 2000 but pineapples and coffee,” said Albert. The Muyots were then looking for a sylvan hideaway to run to from their workplaces in Manila. They found the property and fell in love with it, although today’s Shambala wasn’t necessarily what they had in mind. “This is all Riza’s doing,” Albert explained. “She’s the one with the vision, the one who saw the possibilities and brought them to reality.” Now the CEO of Save the Children Philippines, Albert is happy enough to work on his laptop from his home office on the property (yes, there’s wi-fi all around).
A CPA who once worked with SGV, Riza comes from a corporate background. She’s also a gifted poet whose works subtly appear among the art on the walls. “Culture, heritage, art, and nature—that’s what we devote ourselves to here in Shambala,” Riza said. “We have an ongoing exhibit of soil painting featuring artists from the Talaandig tribe in Bukidnon. Do you know that there are 21 colors of soil in Bukidnon? They add water to those soils and use them in their painting. “ Shambala brought over Mindanao artists such as Kublai Millan and Datu Waway Saway to share their experiences and insights in the TIBOK Community Art Fair last month.
“People discovered us during the pandemic,” said Albert. “They went to Tagaytay, only to be turned away because of local restrictions on visitors from out-of-town, like seniors who couldn’t be let in. They came here and liked it, and spread the word.” It’s no surprise that on busy weekends, as many as 200 people pass through Shambala’s gates. Shambala has consistently ranked No. 1 in TripAdvisor surveys of such resorts in the area.
So if you want to try something exquisitely different—like their signature welcome drink made from malunggay, luya, and calamansi—drive off the beaten track to Tagaytay and try Shambala one of these days. The food’s as heavenly as the place itself, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t come here sooner. You can find out more about Shambala and their rates on their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/ShambalainSilang/.