Magazine article Geographical

Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1967): The First Foreign Woman to Enter Lhasa, the Forbidden Capital of Tibet, Alexandra David-Neel Helped to Bring Eastern Philosophies to the West

Magazine article Geographical

Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1967): The First Foreign Woman to Enter Lhasa, the Forbidden Capital of Tibet, Alexandra David-Neel Helped to Bring Eastern Philosophies to the West

Article excerpt

What was her background?

Louise Eugenie Alexandrine Marie David was born in Saint-Mande, France, in 1868. Her father was a French teacher and political activist. She grew up in Brussels, where her parents moved when she was six.

She returned to France in 1889, where she audited courses in Eastern studies at the Sorbonne--women weren't formally permitted to attend. She studied at the Institute of Oriental Languages and passed hours in the reading room of the Guimet museum, where her fascination for the Orient grew.

In 1891, using a small inheritance from her godmother, David-Neel travelled in India for a year. Back in France, she became a touring opera singer. During a tour of Tunisia, she met French railway engineer Philippe Neel. They married in 1904, and she gave up the theatre to become a journalist.

Why is she famous?

At the age of 56, David-Neel became the first foreign woman to enter Lhasa, the forbidden capital of Tibet.

Her journey there was long and eventful. It began in 1911, when she left for India "to perfect her Oriental languages". In Benares, she studied Sanskrit, and in 1912, she became the first European woman to meet the 13th Dalai Lama.

She travelled to Sikkim and became the guest of a young prince. There she perfected her Tibetan and visited the great monasteries. It was in one of these that she met Aphur Yongden, who became her travelling companion, assistant and adopted son.

The pair crossed illegally into Tibet twice, once reaching Jigatze, a large city in the south. …

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