When travelling to Tibet, My Journey to Lhasa was a book Intrepid’s Anastasia Kozak simply had to take with her and following in the author’s footsteps was an adventure of the mind, body and spirit…
“Alexandra David-Nell’s bio makes impressive reading: a French traveller, writer, and mystic who was fluent in Sanscrit, Tibetan, and Buddhist philosophy. She was the first western woman to ever enter the forbidden city of Lhasa and receive an audience with the Dalai Lama. Disguised as a Tibetan pilgrim, she walked for four months in the middle of winter, oftentimes sleeping outdoors without even the protection of a tent and subsisting on the simple Tibetan staples of “tsampa”, barley flour, and yak butter tea. I brought her sensational account, My Journey to Lhasa, to read on my own adventure in Tibet, visiting famous monasteries from Lhasa to Kathmandu.
Granted, things may have changed since early 19th century, as today most pilgrims trek their way through the wilderness motorised rather than disguised as Tibetan peasants, but one thing has remained the same. In David-Nell’s immortal words, adventure is still, in the hearts of may travellers, “the only reason for living”.
Imagine spending a day in a dim, stuffy room and then, suddenly, finding yourself outside. The sunlight, pure and bright, the air so crisp and clean that it almost hurts to breathe. The landscape that is painted in watercolours, with ghostly outlines of mountain peaks somewhere beyond the horizon. In Lhasa, I spent the first three days walking around in a state of mild intoxication induced by the altitude – peaceful, content, slow. Everything was quieter, more measured, relaxed. Agressiveness and loudness here seemed an abomination. Everything seemed delightful – but especially the children. Older ones walked around in their carelessly tied red school ties, as worn and ragged as the Tibetan prayer flags, or the younger ones, shyly said their “hellos” and hid behind their parents. We gradually made our way through the landscape that appeared harsh, otherworldly, and inhospitable – a landscape with a palette that made me recall a childhood spent in grandfather’s studio – ochre, burnt sienna, cadmium yellow. The landscape of David-Nell’s peripatetic adventures in order to visit the city most dear to Buddhists in the world.
Envision myself and travelling companions, with our six layers of clothing, woolen hats and mittens, below-zero sleeping bags, as we cozily sat inside the dimly lit Tibetan restaurant and sipped sweet milk tea next to a little stove that burned fuel of yak dung. The small windows were tinted blue, in order to lessen the strain on the eyes by the supernaturally bright light (we are, after all, on the “Rooftop of the World” and closest to the sun). The windows let in just enough light to notice the traditional wooden pillars supporting the ceiling, painted in intricate designs of primary red, yellow, and green designs, and the couches shrouded in thick carpets. In the middle of this wilderness, mostly desolate except for an occasional moving herd of yaks, sheep or billygoats, we were ordering apple pancakes.”