Do you ever feel like travelling off to foreign climes, to adventure in exotic places?
Alexandra David-Neel did. Her inspiring and adventurous life is therefore the subject of this week’s Pinning Inspiration.
Born in France in 1868 as Louise Eugenie Alexandrine Marie David, this remarkable woman moved to Belgium aged six and by the age of eighteen had already completed solo trips to Switzerland, Spain and England.
She travelled through India between 1890-91 and only terminated her travels there because she began to run out of money!
Alexandra travelled with a French opera company from 1895-1897, joining them as prima donna through their travels in Indo-China.
Known for being a feminist and anarchist, Alexandra wrote an anarchist treatise in 1899, which publishers did not dare to print. However, her friend Jean Haustont printed a few copies and the book is now translated into several languages.
As well as leaning towards feminism and anarchy, Alexandra was Buddhist and spiritualist. After meeting Philippe Neel in Tunis in 1900, she married him in 1904, but left him to return to India in 1911, where she studied Buddhism. The next year she met the thirteenth Dalai Lama.
Continuing her study, Alexandra David-Neel spent two years living in a cave near the Tibetan border. During this time she met the Aphur Yongden, a monk, who she adopted in later years. The pair became lifelong travelling companions. They met the Panchen Lama after trespassing in Tibet in 1916, but were evicted by British authorities. The outbreak of World War I prevented them from returning to Europe, so instead they went to Japan. It was here that they met a man who had travelled into Tibet disguised as a Chinese doctor. Inspired, Alexandra and Yongden travelled through China, but their aim was clearly to return to Tibet: they arrived in Lhasa in 1924, disguised as pilgrims. The companions remained there for two months.
In 1928, Alexandra separated from her husband and settled in Digne, France. She spent ten years writing about her travels and adventures. Her most famous work is ‘Mystiques et Magiciens du Tibet’ – Magic and Mystery in Tibet.
Alexandra reunited with Philippe Neel in 1937 and travelled again with Yongden. At this point she was sixty-nine and their travels took them through the Soviet Union, China, India, and once again Tibet. They ended up in Tachienlu, where she studied Tibetan literature. The two travellers completed the circumambulation of Amnye Machen, a holy mountain in Tibet.
These travels kept them from Europe for the duration of World War II, but in 1946 they returned to France. Philippe Neel had died in 1941 and Alexandra needed to settle his estate.
Once back in France, Alexandra continued to write books and also lectured on her travels.
Her last camping trip was at the age of eighty-two and took her to an Alpine lake 2,240m above sea level, in early winter.
In 1955, her lifelong travelling companion and adopted son died, aged just 56. Alexandra was heartbroken and spent the next four years wandering between hotels. It was during this period that she met Marie-Madeline Peyronnet, who would become her secretary.
She celebrated her 100th birthday in 1969 and renewed her passport six months later, with the intention of travelling in a Renault 4 CV, with Peyronnet as her chauffer.
Alexandra continued to write, believing it important to spend part of the day being intellectually stimulated. Despite suffering from rheumatism so bad that it left her almost paralysed, she did not stop her work.
Alexandra David-Neel died in 1969, a few days before her 101st birthday. In 1973, Marie-Madeline Peyronnet travelled to India with the ashes of Alexandra and Yongden, where she scattered their ashes in the Ganges.
The Pocket Daring Book for Girls: Discoveries and Pastimes by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz
Are you inspired by stories of explorers?
Do you think Alexandra was brave?
Have you the desire do travel abroad?