Biography of Female Explorer and Adventurer Alexandra David-Neel Part 3

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


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

On one memorable occasion, exhausted after struggling 19 hours straight over a high snow-covered mountain pass, Yongden found that his flint and steel were wet and would not light a fire. Realizing they could not last the night, Yongden called on Alexandra to try the ancient art of thumo reskiang, bringing on internal warmth through willpower. She had learned the basics of this feat years before when, like a Tibetan monk, she had been able to dry wet sheets wrapped around her as she sat exposed to the cold.

Even in such a desperate situation, she kept her head. Instead of concentrating on warming herself, she wisely concentrated on drying out the flint and steel and some tinder. By the time Yongden returned from searching for fuel, she had a fire going.

Besides the trials of the uncharted mountains. Alexandra and Yongden had to contend with possible attacks from bandits, who were very active in the area at the time. There was scant law enforcement in western China, and many travelers had been murdered. Although she carried a pistol and was prepared to use it, they encountered no violence along the way.

Upon arrival in Lhasa--in 1923, when she was 55 years old--Alexandra David-Neel remained disguised and undetected. After several months' residence, she and Yongden returned to India. Arriving in Europe after a 14-year absence, she wrote My Journey to Lhasa, published in 1927.

For 10 years she remained in Europe and wrote continuously. By the mid-1930s the urge to travel took her back to Tibet. In 1944 the Japanese invasion forced her to join other refugees fleeing on foot. She was 76 years old. Her husband died in 1941, and the war prevented her from further exploration.

Alexandra David-Neel returned to France to live and write. When she died in 1969, she was seven weeks shy of her 101st birthday.

During her lifetime she was awarded many honors, including membership in the French Legion of Honor and a Gold Medal from the Geographical Society of Paris.

The importance of Alexandra David-Neel is not only in her explorations but also in her writings. She wrote dozens of books and articles, and much of what is known of modern central Asia as well as Tibetan Buddhism, is derived from her observations.

She was not an easy person to get along with. She demanded of others the same standards she placed upon herself. At times she could be rude, arrogant, and insulting. There is no reason to believe she mellowed in old age. When she died peacefully in 1969, she had the satisfaction of knowing that few people had lived so long and enjoyed life so much. No other Western woman ever traveled to and explored so many places where Europeans had never ventured before.

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