My Journey to Lhasa

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-10-09
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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An exemplary travelogue of danger and achievement by the Frenchwoman Madame Alexandra DavidNeel of her 1923 expedition to Tibet, the fifth in her series of Asian travels, and her personal recounting of her journey to Lhasa, Tibet's forbidden city. In order to penetrate Tibet and reach Lhasa, she used her fluency of Tibetan dialects and culture, disguised herself as a beggar with yak hair extensions and inked skin and tackled some of the roughest terrain and climate in the World. With the help of her young companion, Yongden, she willingly suffered the primitive travel conditions, frequent outbreaks of disease, the everpresent danger of border control and the military to reach her goal. The determination and sheer physical fortitude it took for this woman, delicately reared in Paris and Brussels, is inspiration for men and women alike. DavidNeel is famous for being the first Western woman to have been received by any Dalai Lama and as a passionate scholar and explorer of Asia, hers is one of the most remarkable of all travellers?'ales.


My Journey to Lhasa
The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City

Chapter One

Farewell! ... Farewell! ... We are off! At the bend of thepath I look back once more, one last time. Standing at the gateof his residence I see the foreign missionary who welcomedYongden and me a few days ago when, without being in the least acquaintedwith him, we begged his hospitality. Some anxiety may bedetected in his kind smile and his intent gaze. To what extent havewe succeeded in deceiving that most excellent man? I cannot tell. Hedoes not know the object of our journey, there is no doubt aboutthat. But the programme we laid before him was vague enough toawaken the suspicion that we were trying to conceal the fact that wewere to undertake a dangerous expedition! Where would we be going,alone, on foot and without luggage, he wonders. He cannotguess, and I am certain that the names of the mysterious wayfarerswho slept for a few nights under his roof will be remembered in hisprayers. May his own wishes be ever fulfilled! May he be blessed forthe warmth that his cordiality adds to the glorious sunshine thatlights my fifth departure for the forbidden "Land of Snow"!

Farewell! ... We have turned the corner of the road, the MissionHouse is out of sight. The adventure begins.

This is, as I have said, my fifth journey into Thibet, and very different,indeed, have been the circumstances and manner of thesesuccessive departures. Some have been joyful, enlivened by the babbling and broad laughter of the servants and country folk, the jinglingof the bells hung on the mules' necks, and that rough yet gayfuss that the people of Central Asia so love. Others were touching,grave, almost solemn, when, dressed in the full lamaist garb of darkpurple and golden brocade, I blessed the villagers or the dokpas whohad congregated to pay for the last time their respects to the Kandhomaof foreign land. I have also known tragic departures, whenblizzards raged in the solitudes, sweeping across awe-inspiring whitelandscapes of impassable snow and ice, soon to be wrapped again indead silence. But this time the bright sun of the Chinese autumnshines in a deep blue sky, and the green wooded hills seem to beckonus, promising pleasant walks and happy days. With our two cooliescarrying a small tent and an ample supply of food, we look as if wewere starting for a mere tour of a week or two. In fact, this is preciselywhat we have told the good villagers whom we have just left,namely, that we are going for a botanical excursion in the neighbouringmountains.

What would be the end of this new attempt? I was full of hope. Aprevious experience had proved to me that in the disguise of a poortraveller I could escape notice. But although we had already succeededin leaving quietly behind the baggage brought with us to crossChina, we had yet to assume our full disguise and (most difficulttask) to get rid of the two coolies whom we were compelled to takewith us to avoid the gossip which would certainly have spread in theMission House amongst the servants and neighbours, had they seen aEuropean lady setting out with a load upon her back.

I had, however, already thought of a way of freeing myself fromthe coolies. My plan depended, it is true, upon certain circumstancesover which I had no control, and any little unforeseen incident might wreck it; but I could not think of a better one, and so reliedupon my good luck.

We had started late, and our first stage was rather short. We encampedon a small and sheltered tableland near which one could geta beautiful view of the highest peak of the Kha Karpo range. Theplace is called "the Vultures' Cemetery," because once a year theChinese slaughter hundreds of these birds there to procure theirfeathers, with which they do a big trade. They attract the birds withthe carcass of a horse or a mule as bait, capture them with nets, andwhen the poor creatures are caught in the meshes they beat them todeath. The plucked bodies are then used as bait to snare other vultures,which in turn share the fate of the first comers. This pluckingof vultures' feathers lasts for a whole month amidst putrefaction andpestilence. Happily, when I reached that spot it was not the vulturekillingseason, and I saw only heaps of bleached bones amongst theshort and thorny vegetation which covers the ground.

Nature has a language of its own, or maybe those who have livedlong in solitude read in it their own unconscious inner feelings andmysterious foreknowledge. The majestic Kha Karpo, towering in aclear sky lit by a full moon, did not appear to me that evening as themenacing guardian of an impassable frontier. It looked more like aworshipful but affable Deity, standing at the threshold of a mysticland, ready to welcome and protect the adventurous lover of Thibet.

The next morning I saw again the huge peak of Kha Karpo shiningat sunrise, and it seemed to smile encouragement to me with allits glittering snows. I saluted it and accepted the omen.

That night I slept at the entrance of a gorge in which a tributaryof the Mekong roared loudly -- a wild, picturesque spot inclosed betweendark reddish rocks. The morrow was to be a decisive day. Itwould see me at the foot of the track that leads to the Dokar Passwhich has become the frontier of the self-styled "Independent Thibet."My scheme was to be tested there. Would it work as Ihoped? ... Would the coolies leave me without suspecting anything of my designs? ...

My Journey to Lhasa
The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City
. Copyright © by Alexandra David-Neel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from My Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City by Alexandra David-Neel, Alexandra David-neel
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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