Samten Dzong (meaning something like 'residence of reflexion') was Alexandra David Néel's name for her property in Digne, where she died, and where her secretary Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet spent the last ten years of the author's life with her, writing a book about them.
'À LA MÉMOIRE D'ALEXANDRA DAVID-NÉEL
EXPLORATRICE DU TIBET
ET DE SON FILS ADOPTIF ET FIDÈLE COMPANION DE VOYAGE
LE LAMA TIBÉTAIN YONGDEN
TOUS DEUX DÉCÉDÉS ICI ET DONATEURS DE CETTE RÉSIDENCE'
'MAISONS DES ILLUSTRES
A VÉCU UNE TRENTAINE
D'ANNÉES DANS CETTE MAISON
AVEC SON FILS ADOPTIF
LE LAMA YONGDEN'
Alexandra David-Néel was of French and Belgian nationality, born of a French anarchist father and a Belgian Catholic mother. She too was an anarchist, an opera singer in her youth, a noted Tibetologist (being the first European to penetrate the forbidden city Llasa (disguised as a beggar), an explorer, a feminist, a writer, and a Buddhist. Aphur Yongden, who was a lama, was her adopted son who died in 1955: as David-Néel bought the house in 1928 and they both spent about seven years in China in the 1930s, the suggestion above that Yongden spent about thirty years here is obviously wrong: about twenty, yes.
A building close to the house contains nothing original to the period of Alexandra David-Néel's travels, but reconstructions of things around her life, and of Tibetan life. Above is a reconstruction of the kind of tent she camped in on her travels.
The decorative Tchonga-Tchöpas (lit. 'new moon offerings') are made with the female yak's butter. These offerings are made at the beginning of the Tibetan new year, with the new moon in February. For conservation, the models here are made with vegetable margarine and paraffin, and the colouring is with oil paint.
Included in the representation is Alexander David-Néel.
And 'La Tortue', or turtle, Peyronnet's nickname after finding a ball of material on the stairs!
A representation of Tcham dancers, dating back to the eighteenth century.
The mandala (or circle) is used as a basis of transmission to higher levels of Tibetan Buddhism. It represents a pathway to the ultimate awakening. When the master of meditation has passed on this knowledge, the useless base (of sand) is destroyed either by water or wind.
'A vrai dire, j'ai le "mal du pays" pour un pays qui n'est pas le mien. Les steppes, les solitudes, les neiges éternelles et le grand ciel clair de “là haut[”] me hantent !... Pays qui semble appartenir à un autre monde, pays de titans ou de Dieux. Je reste ensorcelée'
My translation: 'To be honest, I'm homesick for a country that isn't my own. The Steppes, the periods of solitude, the neverending snows and the huge clear sky from "up above" haunt me! A country that appears to be another world, a land of Titans or of Gods. I remain bewitched.
Alexandra David-Neel' [sic]
Alexandra David-Néel dressed as a beggar.