Alexandra David-Néel born Louise Eugénie Alexandrine Marie David (born in Saint-Mandé on October 24, 1868, and died in Digne-les-Bains, on September 8, 1969) was a Belgian-French explorer, anarchist, spiritualist, Buddhist and writer, most known for her visit to Lhasa, Tibet, in 1924, when it was forbidden to foreigners. David-Néel wrote over 30 books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her travels. Her teachings influenced beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and philosopher Alan Watts.
During her childhood she had a very strong desire for freedom and spirituality. At the age of 18, she had already visited England, Switzerland and Spain on her own, and she was studying in Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Society.
In 1911 Alexandra traveled for the second time to India, to further her study of Buddhism. She was invited to the royal monastery of Sikkim, where she met Maharaj Kumar (crown prince) Sidkeon Tulku. She became Sidkeong's "confidante and spiritual sister" (according to Ruth Middleton), perhaps his lover (Foster & Foster). She also met the 13th Dalai Lama twice in 1912, and had the opportunity to ask him many questions about Buddhism—a feat unprecedented for a European woman at that time.
In the period 1914-1916 she lived in a cave in Sikkim, near the Tibetan border, learning spirituality, together with the young Sikkimese monk Aphur Yongden, who became her lifelong traveling companion, and whom she would adopt later. From there they trespassed into Tibetan territory, meeting the Panchen Lama in Shigatse (August 1916). When the British authorities learned about this—Sikkim was then a British protectorate—Alexandra and Yongden had to leave the country, and, unable to return to Europe in the middle of World War I, they traveled to Japan.
There Alexandra met Ekai Kawaguchi, who had visited Lhasa in 1901 disguised as a Chinese doctor, and this inspired her to visit Lhasa disguised as pilgrims. After traversing China from east to west, they reached Lhasa in 1924, and spent 2 months there.
In 1928 Alexandra separated from Philippe. Later they would reconcile, and Philippe kept supporting her till his death in 1941. Alexandra settled in Digne, and during the next 10 years she wrote books.
In 1937, Yongden and Alexandra through Soviet Union went to China, traveling there during the second World War. They eventually ended up in Tachienlu, where Mme. David-Neel continued her investigations of Tibetan sacred literature.
One minor mystery relating to Alexandra David-Neel has a solution. In Forbidden Journey, p. 284, the authors wonder how Mme. David-Neel's secretary, Violet Sydney, made her way back to the West in 1939 after Sous des nuées d'orage (Storm Clouds) was completed in Tachienlu. Peter Goullart's Land of the Lamas (not in Forbidden Journey's bibliography), on pp. 110-113 gives an account of his accompanying Ms. Sydney partway back, then putting her under the care of Lolo bandits to continue the journey to Chengdu. Mme. David-Neel evidently remained in Tachienlu for the duration of the war.
In 1955 Yongden died. Alexandra continued to study and write till her death at age 100.
Many of Mme. David-Neel's books were published more or less simultaneously both in French and English.