Biography of Female Explorer and Adventurer Alexandra David-Neel Part 2

About the famous female explorer and adventurer Alexandra David-Neel, biography and history of her accomplishments.


ALEXANDRA DAVID-NEEL (1868-1969), Explorer, writer, adventurer

From 1903 to 1911, Alexandra David-Neel lived in London and Paris while studying and writing, only occasionally going to Tunisia to see Philippe. Nevertheless, Philippe acquiesced to her desires to travel in the Far East and, as he had earlier promised, paid for her passage to India in August, 1911. In India she slowly made a break with the European life and customs she had known and began to become the Orientalist she was at heart. A European Buddhist in Asia, she was something of a novelty, though highly respected for her intimate knowledge of Buddhist doctrines. She was granted a private audience with the spiritual ruler of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, who was then living in exile in Darjeeling after fleeing Lhasa when the Chinese invaded Tibet in February, 1910. She was the first European woman to have ever been so privileged. At the urging of the Dalai Lama. Alexandra began learning the Tibetan language. Before long, she was speaking it as though it were her native tongue.

She visited many sacred and secluded monasteries. At one monastery, she was given--as an attendant--a boy of 15 named Yongden. Throughout her years of journeying in northern India, China, and Tibet, Yongden accompanied and aided her. He remained with her until his death in France in 1955.

From her travels in and around Sikkim, Alexandra became familiar with Tibetan life and religion. But she wanted more. She desired to know the secrets of Tibet and to experience the Tibetan way of life. But the only way to penetrate the consciousness of the people, she discovered, was to undergo the training for the priesthood.

For two years Alexandra David-Neel lived as a hermit in a cave on top of a 13,000-ft. mountain. The hardships of cold, hunger, and isolation exhilarated her. There were days without food or warmth, but she never complained. When she emerged in 1916, it was with the blessing of the holy men of Tibet. No one could recall a woman ever undergoing such an experience in order to understand a way of life.

There was still another important accomplishment that lay ahead. The forbidden city of Lhasa had never been seen by a white woman. The only way to get there was to journey through China and approach the city from the north, over the Himalaya Mountains.

Alexandra David-Neel and Yongden began the arduous task and spent nearly a year before arriving at Lhasa. They had to travel disguised as a Tibetan peasant woman and her Buddhist monk son. In many situations they encountered, to have been discovered would have meant certain death. But they were saved time and again by Alexandra's intimate knowledge of the Tibetan people, their language and customs. Along the way, they faced waist-deep snow, bitter cold, and dangerous crossing of mountain ridges and passes up to 20,000 ft.

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