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General Articles

A Taste of Tibet in Digne-les-Bains

By Alex Sutcliffe

During the last weekend of every September, a special event takes place at the Alexandra David-Néel museum in Digne, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Now called Les Journées des Grands Voyageurs, the weekend is a celebration of Buddhism, and of the traveller's life and work in Tibet.

Who was Alexandra David-Néel?

Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969) was a traveller, writer and Buddhist, who spent much of her life in India and Tibet, and was the first European woman ever to enter the forbidden city of Lhasa, in 1924.

She began working life as an opera singer, based at the Hanoi opera house. After a brief and suffocating marriage, she left for India and Tibet, where she adopted a young Tibetan monk, Aphur Yongden, who was to become her lifelong companion. They spent the next fourteen years visiting monasteries and receiving the teachings of Tibetan yogis and, during the war, visited Japan, Korea and China, where they crossed the Gobi desert.

Disguised as a beggar and a monk they entered the forbidden city of Lhasa, but David-Néel’s insistence on washing daily in the river aroused suspicion, and they had to leave before being denounced to the authorities.

She returned to France to great media fanfare, and went on to give lectures and write a book about her experiences: “My Journey to Lhasa”. She chose to live in Digne, an area she referred to as “Himalayas for Lilliputians”, and built her house there in the Tibetan style. It was from there that she wrote around twenty travel and spiritual books, the best known of which is “Magic and Mystery in Tibet”.

In 1937 she went to China to study Taoism, before returning to Tibet for another five years, and then France, where she continued to write. She was devastated when, in 1955, Yongden died suddenly, but despite her own failing health, continued to work until her death, days before her 101st birthday.

The Alexandra David-Néel Museum

Today, her house is a museum, open all year round, dedicated to her life, work and travels, and a celebration of Buddhism. A visit is also a good excuse for taking the scenic three-hour train journey from Nice on the Train des Pignes.

Across the road from the museum sits the delightful Kalashanti tea-house, shop and Ayurvedic centre, where treatments range from hot oil massage to the stimulation of energy centres. The shop sells Indian goodies, from soaps and spices to essential oils, incense sticks and pashminas, while the tea-house offers a selection of chai, teas and lassis.

Journées des Grands Voyageurs 2018

Highlights of this year's festival include a celebration of art and feminism, an evening of 'Grand Art' to celebrate the release of an unpublished novel by David-Néel, a lecture about Buddha and women, a conference on Tibetan literature and the emergence of Tibetan feminism, film screenings, theatrical performances, poetry readings and a picnic in the shady museum gardens.

If you fear your French isn't up to it, don't worry, as some of the readings will be in English, and written materials will be available in English as well as French.

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Alexandra Sutcliffe is a...


Riviera-based life coach who will shortly be
offering three specific course packages:
Attracting Love,
Attracting Abundance
Making Positive Change.


Her website is:


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Saturday, 1 September 2018    Section: General Articles
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