In 1924, Alexandra David-Neel, the Paris-born, Buddhist scholar, travel writer, relentless explorer, and former opera singer, crossed the Himalaya in winter to reach the sacred city Lhasa. She became the first European woman to do so.
On the border of Tibet, at 4,000m, the two lived in a cave between 1914-1917. They braved freezing temperatures and scrounged for food. They spent most of their time meditating. Twice, they attempted to infiltrate the forbidden city of Lhasa in disguise.
Tibet was a common beacon for foreigners. But the country was strictly closed. David-Neel and Aphur entered illegally and were swiftly expelled.
With World War I at Europe’s doorstep, the pair set off in the opposite direction, first to Japan, then onward to Korea and China. For two years, they translated Tibetan books, living as monks in China’s Kumbum Monastery.
But again, David-Neel was restless. She struggled to stay in one place for long, and Tibet beckoned. She and Aphur set off again to attempt to enter Lhasa. This time, they succeeded.