Book Review: With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel

book cover of With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel

With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel is truly an enlightening read. It takes you through a very Western and rather scientific minded investigation into the many facets of Tibetan Buddhism.

In the time this book was written, the early 1900s, Tibet had a very strict policy not allowing foreigners and especially women foreigners into the country. It is understood that David-Neel was perhaps one of the first ever foreign women to enter the very spiritual land of Tibet. Quite a remarkable feat.

Author, and also spiritual seeker David-Neel spent approximately 15 years wandering through the land of Tibet in various caravans and locations. At one point, she lived for two years in a remote gompa (monastery) studying under a Lama in deep meditation, so remote that for all winter, they were cut off from any visitors or food supply.

In her journeys, David-Neel regularly becomes a guest of Lamas, in Northern India in parts of Western Asia. We learn the difference between Tibetan Buddhism, compared to the Indian and Chinese alternatives. Along the borders of Tibet, however, many Lamas, Tulkas, rnal hoyorpas (Naljorpas), or trapas (students) of some sort that find there ways to the gompas she spent her time at and was guest in.

In great detail, David-Neel discusses the entire hierarchy of a typical gompa, from the richer Tulkas to the poorest trapas. She also dissects and teaches the reader about psychic sports (as she calls them) that the trapas undertake to become enlightened. This also involves many of the spiritual training practices and plentiful mystical theories that echo throughout the land.

And as one would expect, she spends a lot of time talking about ghosts, demons, and the dead, considering how much Tibetan Buddhism revolves around this.

One particular fact I found fascinating was that in the most remote locations of Tibet, it was considered an honour to, after one has passed on, to sacrifice the body to the animals of the mountains. So, after death and proper ceremony was performed, the body would be brought to a rocky outcropping, and left for the animals. This was an honourable offering. It was also convenient on account of the rocky ground and nearly always freezing temperatures.

If you’re looking for insight into much Tibetan spiritual terminology, if you’re looking for an account of the truth of Tibetan Buddhism, debunking many of the modern misunderstanding about it, if you’re looking for a fascinating journey in a time before auto cars and televisions ruled our minds, this is a read for you.

To Riga, Latvia with Art Nouveau

Riga, Latvia is a place from the history books. You see, as trading increased in Europe it cultivated cities that were easy to get to by boat, making them into major trade centers. Northern Europe trading routes were dominated by a merchant guild known as the Hanseatic League or Hanse (Hansa) est. 1358. One trading city, a member of the Hanse, was Riga, situated at the tip of the Gulf of Riga and surrounded by the Daugava River which allowed the Western European traders to expand their trading routes deep into Eastern Europe.

Riga Latvia map

Riga has a very impressive Art Nouveau district. Art Nouveau was most popular in France around 1890–1910 and was naturally adopted in cities around the world that were under European influence, and by the allure of Paris. Another architectural specialty of Riga is the 19th century wooden buildings.

Coming from North America, where the country is hardly 100 years old, let alone the buildings, this kind of thing is incredibly fascinating to witness, to see, to touch. I always step forth upon the cobblestone roads with a sense that I’m stepping side by side with ghosts of the past.

Art Nouveau, Riga, Latvia | source: Ned Tobin

Art Nouveau, Riga, Latvia | source: Ned Tobin

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Rhine River, Germany and Burg Reinfels

Rhine River Sights
Burg Reinfels

Burg Reinfels | Photo source: Ned Tobin |

One of the big rivers of Europe is the Rhine river. It runs from the Alps in Switzerland, along the edge of France, through Western Germany, up to Netherlands and then out to the North Sea. Continue Reading →

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Gamla Stan

Stockholm, Gamla Stan. Photo credit: Ned Tobin |

Stockholm is a city on the water. The core of the city is along the harbour, and various bridges go this way and that taking city goers from one island to the next. If walking is not the ideal solution, there are always the little harbour shuttle boats scattered along the docks that can take you this way and that. Continue Reading →

London, England

The world over knows of a handful of towns, those cities that no matter where you go people nod in recognition of the city you speak of. Places like New York, Shanghai, Berlin, and Moscow are all in this boat, and so is London, England. Dare I mention that they also hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics?

Photo source: Ned Tobin |

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Brussels, Belgium

The de-facto capital of the European Union, and the capital of Belgium is a city that goes by the name of Brussels  (French: Bruxelles, [bʁysɛl]; Dutch: Brussel, [ˈbrʏsəl]). Before traveling here, one hears of garbage and an un-kept, rundown city.

Photo source: Ned Tobin |


This may be what one immediately notices with piles of garbage and graffiti everywhere, but this is not all that the city has.

Yes, it does have a thriving red light district, but there are also castles and museums and men playing cello sitting in the plaza.

Photo source: Ned Tobin |

The city has a way of giving you the feeling that you’re about to open doors, or peer around a corner, and a whole new world will open up. It’s a mysterious city, one that feels like it’s had it’s fair share of madness roaming the streets. For some of us, this is a bit of excitement; for others, this is not the safe haven of our familiar places.

Brussels was founded in the 10th century by a descendent of Charlemagne as a fortress, and today has a population of just over one million people.

Photo credit: Ned Tobin |


Photo source: Ned Tobin |


Within the city, there are three major languages: French (mostly), Dutch, and English, but like most countries (especially with French speaking countries) if you don’t try and speak their language, you will find some cold shoulders. But, like all cities, this just depends on the area of the city you find yourself.

The culture in Brussels is very creative. There are various clubs to have fun in [I found myself one night at a lindy hop club, and a pub that boasts the largest selection of beers in the world the next],  and the city streets crawl with creativity. There are painted “crashed” cars/art projects distributed around the city, there is a pissing dog statues and also a pissing boy statue, park benches that have slanted backs, a sculpture park, and a museum of musical instruments. The feeling is a really gothic/creative feeling that spews forth from this city.

Photo source: Ned Tobin |


Photo source: Ned Tobin |

The core of the city is all located within a relatively small area that it’s very easy to become extremely familiar with it. If you start walking with nowhere in particular to head, you find yourself walking in a circle. It seems that all roads just take you back to the center of the city, or so my path seemed to always lead.

Photo source: Ned Tobin |


Photo source: Ned Tobin |


Photo source: Ned Tobin |


If you’re heading to Brussels [or Bruges, Antwerp, Gent, Leuven, Mechelen] for the first time, I suggest checking out a really interesting organization called Use It. As I was heading into Brussels I met an interesting traveler who had just finished working for them, and when I arrived at the office, it was exactly what I was looking for: a map with all the cool spots to check out, friendly people behind the counter wanting to help me, free internet service, and free tea!

Have you ever been?

Seek Peace, Seek Changu, Nepal

Changu Village, located in the heart of Nepal just North East of Kathmandu, is known specifically for the ancient temple Changu Narayan, considered Nepal’s oldest temple.

The temple is a dedication to Lord Visnu, who is known as the supreme soul (paramatman), or supreme God (parameshwara).

Photo source: Nilliske |


The temple is old, but it’s been restored, like all ancient buildings must at one time be. Documents found within the temple during the Licchavi King Mandeva reign (~464 AD) prove that the site was established as a sacred center for the Hindu around the 3rd century AD. The building itself was restored to its current state around the 17th century, and is one of the finest examples of the pagoda architecture typical of the area with its metal and wood carvings throughout.

Photo source: Mountains of Travel Photos |


The legend goes that a cow herder, a Gwala, bought a cow from a Brahman that was supposed to produce a lot of milk. The Gwala took the cow out to pasture every day, and in the evening he would milk the cow, and after a few days he became very disappointed with the cow for it was hardly producing any milk! So,  upon consulting the Brahman they decided to monitor how the cow roamed in the woods and see if something funny was happening. Sure enough, as the two of them hid themselves, the cow would go and sit in the shade of a champak tree, and out from the tree a black boy would emerge and take all the milk. Enraged, the Gwala cut down the tree, but as he did this, human blood began to spill out of the tree. Devestated, both the Brahman and Gwala began to cry, but soon emerged Vishnu who explained to them that many years ago he also had committed a punishable sin by killing Shudarshan’s father unknowingly while hunting in the forest. He had been cursed to wander and ended up Changu where he survived only on the stolen milk of a cow. By cutting down the tree, the Gwala had actually freed Vishnu of his curse! After this, both the Brahman and Gwala worshipped Vishnu.

There is actually still evidence of Brahman Sudashan in the temple.

Photo source: Lujaw Singh


Photo source: Szaza |


Photo source: Szaza |


Where will your next destination be?

Leave Everything, Go Rugged: Olkhon, Eastern Siberia

There are some places in the world that are still untouched. It’s very hard to believe when you look out the window of your 34th floor apartment, trying to ignore the people on the ground that look like little ants scurrying everywhere… but really it’s true!

Recently, BBC’s Travel (to the most remote places in the world) illuminated one of the gnarliest places I’ve ever heard about.

It’s name is Olkhon, and it’s an Island, and it’s located in Eastern Siberia, or for most people that’s Eastern Russia.

Wikipedia tells us that Olkhon Island is the third largest lake bound island in the world. It resides within Lake Baikal, which as you can see from the map above, is just North of Mongolia. Apparently the time to head there is in the middle of the summer. I bet it’s bloody cold any other time.

Photo credit: Erik Pontoppidan,

The island stretches 71.5 kms long and has cliffs along its surface that reach as high up at 1276 meters. The highest point along the island is Mount Zhima and it is 818 meters above the water level of the lake, on a calm day.

Photo credit: Erik Pontoppidan,

Olkhon has ~1500 people that live on it’s rocky land, who are mostly what are known as the Buryats (Buryat: Буряад, Buryaad), the aboriginals who are actually the largest aboriginal group in Siberia.

Photo source: unknown

As the information goes, Olkhon is half way between Moscow and Beijing, which just happens to be the exact way the Trans-Siberian Express Railroad goes… One can only imagine some of the other sights that would greet the happy traveler along the road..

The following is from Uzury area, Olkhon Island, Baikal Lake.

Photo credit: Dmitry Yurlagin,

So, this begs the questions: where is your next trip planned?

Vancouver’s East Village

I had no idea that Vancouver was into branding their neighborhoods one at a time, but it appears that is the case. In the past, they’ve gone from Gastown, Yaletown, Main Street, South Granville, Granville Island, Commercial Drive, (etc.) and now we have a new area, it’s called the East Village.

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Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Classical Chinese Gardens

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Classical Chinese Gardens is a beautiful place located in Downtown Vancouver’s China Town district.

Every month they host fetivities that seek to enrich the culture and the community by entertainment!

To see a list of events, head to their calendar. Continue Reading →