David-Néel, the Ideal Neo-Nomad

January 31, 2019

Alexandra David-Néel is the perfect representation of a nomadic ideal.

As a Belgium-French writer and explorer, David-Néel displayed through the example of her life a real ethic of travel. Her erudition and thirst for otherness allowed her to transcend conditions: she became the first western woman to enter the Tibetan city of Lhasa, forbidden to foreigners at the time, as she described it herself in her book My Journey to Lhasa.

However, even a great explorer like Alexandra David-Néel alternated between long periods of travels and long periods of sedentism. This is what made her a true nomad from a historical definition. Historical nomads never travel. They move around, following a cycle. Her cycle was not seasonal. It was a cycle of creation. Writing at home. Gathering materials during her travels.

It’s in her house, nicknamed Fortress of Meditation, that she wrote the books that made her famous.

David-Néel didn’t travel out of boredom. It was an impulse she displayed at a young age. Later, traveling became an obligation. She traveled to make a living as a singer. She traveled to continue her intellectual work and further her own education. More importantly, she traveled to meet her fate. And this is what separates nomads from tourists: purpose.

She would later inspire Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Alan Watts, among others.