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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Intrepid French woman unveiled Tibet for the world

July 8, 2008

Indo-Asian News Service (IANS)
July 6, 2008

Chennai, July 6 (IANS) -- The 73rd birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama is
being marked by the University of Madras and Alliance Francaise here
Sunday with a three-day festival of Tibetan culture. The festival
began with a presentation on an extraordinary French woman, who was
one of the only two French explorers to be able to reach the
forbidden land of Lhasa in the hundred years between 1846 and 1950.

Many foreign explorers, "missionaries, army officers, diplomats,
spies wanted to have a look at Tibet at the time, explained Claude
Arpi, French journalist and historian, speaking on the life Alexandra
David-Néel whose numerous writings contributed to make Tibet and
Buddhism known the world over.

Between the mid-19th and the mid-20th century, there were several
wars in the region. A rare 1778 French map showed the barrenness of
the landscape that the Chinese, British and Russians all wanted.

"But, getting to Lhasa was not easy. Several explorers were killed in
their attempts, especially in the Kham region," Arpi pointed out,
adding, it is misconception to think of Tibet and its people as
traditionally non-violent.

"They were armed to the teeth and fiercely defended their land on
Tibet's borders," which is why Tibet gained the reputation of being
the forbidden land.

"Everyone knows this, that is why a rebellion in Tibet is so feared,"
Arpi noted.

"It is to the 14th Dalai Lama's great credit that he has today made
Tibet a symbol of non-violence and there is so great an interest in
Tibet that 40 percent books in any western bookshop is on Tibet," the
historian-author pointed out.

Born in 1868, Alexandra David-Néel was a Belgian-French woman who
lived for 101 years. A confirmed travel bug, she renewed her passport
even in 1968 with the desire to travel again.

In 1904, Alexandra met and married railroad engineer Philippe Néel in
Tunis. "But she did not settle down," Arpi noted, pointing out how
many had tried in that century to get into Lhasa but failed. Very few
really got to Lhasa, Tibet's prime city, and this extraordinary woman
was one among them.

In 1911 Alexandra travelled for the second time to India, this time
to Sikkim, and was "invited to the royal monastery" where she met
crown prince Sidkeon Tulku. She also met the 13th Dalai Lama, who was
resident at a Kalimpong monastery, in 1912.

In the period 1914-1916 Alexandra lived in a cave in Sikkim, near the
Tibetan border, with the intention of going into Tibet. In 1916, she
met the Panchen Lama in Shigatse.

Alexandra then planned to enter Tibet as a pilgrim. "She completely
became a Tibetan, her beliefs became Buddhist, her lifestyle was
completely Tibetan and she reached Lhasa in 1924," Arpi said.

In 1937, Alexandra again returned to Tibet and continued her studies
of Tibetan sacred literature. She wrote over 30 books and her work
influenced writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and philosopher Alan
Watts. She died in France, in 1969.
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