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.

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?