In 1911, Alexandra David-Néel left Paris for Northern India. This was the beginning of a 14 year journey through Asia, which would eventually lead her, disguised as a beggar, to the capital of Tibet, Lhasa. I first read her book My Journey to Lhasa when I was 16, and ever since I have been utterly obsessed by her.
Alexandra has been an important inspiration for me, and many other women, as independent female explorers like her were not only unusual in these times, but women who were Buddhists, had such extreme physical determination and survival skills, and who put themselves through such hardships just so they could prove a point, were extremely rare.
Alexandra's most famous adventure was a 14 year journey across Asia. During this time, she was the first western woman to meet the Dalai Lama, she graduated as a Lama herself, and spent nearly 2 years (including one long winter), in a cave dressed only in a cotton shirt studying Buddhist teaching. She then travelled through Nepal, Burma, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and China, where she set out disguised as an elderly beggar to reach Lhasa. Her two most famous books are written about this time - Magic and Mystery in Tibet and My Journey to Lhasa.
Sadly, as the Dalai Lama explains, "due to changes imposed on Tibet and its people in recent years, much of what Alexandra describes is now lost forever," and this only increases the importance and value of her books and writings from her travels, as well as my interest in how this journey would be today.
I will be splitting Alexandra's 14 year journey into a trek in each of the countries she visited during those years. The first one will be in Sikkim, India where we will attempt to trek as close to the Tibetan border as possible, just like she would have done over one hundred years ago.
I decided that to do Alexandra's journey justice, and to see how hard it really was for her, I would travel with only what she had back in the early 1900s. This means no modern day trekking equipment or technology of any sort. It will be interesting to see how someone like myself, who has grown up in a consumer society and always has comforts to fall back on copes with nothing but the basics.
You should also check out this short video about Alexandra, it's so inspiring and explains more about her travels.