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My Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City Paperback – August 23, 2005
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In any time, Alexandra David-Neel would have been considered an extraordinary woman, but in the Victorian era, she was truly exceptional. Born in 1868, David-Neel eschewed the dances, dinners, and formal marriages common to women of her era and social standing in order to indulge her fierce independence and insatiable intellectual curiosity. Her interest in comparative religions dated back to early childhood; even as a student in a Catholic convent school, she kept statues of both Christ and the Buddha in her room. She made her first trip to Asia in 1891, then supported herself as a light-opera singer and journalist before marrying a seemingly conventional man, Philip Neel. Fortunately for both Alexandra David-Neel and for posterity, Philip was less stodgy than his position as a well-off engineer might imply; though he did not accompany her, he supported his wife's explorations and even acted as her literary agent when she began to write about the places she visited. Alexandra and Philip remained the closest of friends until his death in 1941.
David-Neel spent years traveling in India and China, but perhaps her most daring adventure was the trip to Tibet's forbidden city of Lhasa. She was 55 years old at the time, fluent in Tibetan and well versed in both Sanskrit and Buddhism. Disguised as a man, she spent four treacherous months on the road before finally becoming the first European woman ever to enter Lhasa. My Journey to Lhasa is David-Neel's own account of her astounding journey, one fraught with hardship and danger. It is both a chronicle of a bygone time and a testimonial to a remarkable human. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“David-Neel was indisputably a fearless traveler, a rogue’s rogue. Her account has the power to awe even today.” (Outside magazine)
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Top Customer Reviews
David-Neel made her trek with her adopted son to the forbidden city Lhasa (where no foreigners were allowed) in the dead of winter succeeding where much younger, better equipped male-only explorers failed. This religious pilgrimage is the main highlight of this strong-willed French woman's 101 year adventure packed career. She was a noted Buddhist scholar and wrote 25 books on eastern themes after she made her death defying trip in her mid-fifties. This book reads as fresh today as when it was written over 90 years ago. Ms. David-Neel's command of the English language is better than most native speakers.
I personally didn't like the ending to her journey. Soon after she had achieved her goal of setting foot in the Forbidden City, she had no problem in identifying herself as a French woman and allowing herself the protective care of the British supervised Indian Army escort. It would have been elegant of her to have crossed back into India anonymously just as she had begun her journey crossing into Tibetan territory anonymously.
Some people find it`s reading boring at the point of not even finish it, David Neel has serious troubles to progress with the narration. She takes a lot of time describing minimal trivial details of each place and situation, making the reading dull and a bit tiresome sometimes. There is also a tinge of self-conceit and egocentrism from her part (you can notice it along the narrative).
As a matter of fact, I couldn`t found anything particular brilliant in the story, except maybe, the daring love and stubborn perseverance who took David Neel to the confines of the Himalayas.
If you are still interested in David Neel`s books, check out her next publication Magic and Mystery in Tibet.
Tibet is of fantasmagoric beauty, like that of a land spellbound by unscrupulous sorcery - harsh and unbending but so terrifyingly beautiful that one succumbs to its thrall. I could imagine her tramping through these fabled lands, forging through fog-filled valleys, melting into the moonshine or greeting a golden sunrise at the end of a hard night's trek, as her adventure unfolds in this well-paced account. I regret that she doesn't pause to paint a fuller picture of what must have been spectacular scenery.
It is also interesting to sketch her personality through her own pen. She appears as a strong-willed, intelligent, somewhat arrogant woman of unwavering determination, gritty endurance and one who loves a challenge. I have to applaud her unconditionally for the original motivation that launched her on this endeavor.
I found her use of Tibetan words occasionally distracting and the Introduction by Diana Rowan is downright hagiographic and entirely dispensable, or at least, deferrable until the end of the author's own story. Yes, the style is a little dated, as one reviewer commented, but why should that be surprising? This is a period piece.
If you are a traveler at heart this travelogue cannot fail to touch you.
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