In the footsteps of history’s forgotten explorers
Keen to recreate the David-Néel experience as much as possible, Wortley pledged to use only the equipment available to the Frenchwoman in the 1920s – including a yak wool coat, a wooden backpack. she made from a chair she found on the side of the road in Brixton, a basket she tied with rope, and even 1920s underwear. She slept under an old canvas tent and only used his emergency sleeping bag once when the cold was too cold – temperatures hit -15 ° C at night. “The yak wool coat was thick, but at night it was absolutely freezing,” she said.
To warm up in the 1920s, David-Néel practiced tummo breathing, an ancestral technique that heats the body from the inside out. But since the method takes years to master, Wortley instead relied on two hot water bottles – a minor luxury that David-Néel also had – which she filled with water heated on the fire to survive the cold. “I just spent about the nights filling them up. I didn’t get much sleep,” she said with a laugh.
Has she ever regretted her decision not to use modern equipment? “There were times I regretted it, definitely. But I wanted to experience what she would have been through, and the only way to do it, and fully understand how difficult it would have been. for her, was to do it with only what she had, “Wortley said. She added that “finding all the clothes and equipment has become one of the most interesting parts for me.”
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Wortley recruited an all-female team for his trip: filmmaker Emily Almond Barr; and Jangu, a mountain guide descending from Lepchas, the original inhabitants of Sikkim. Both opted for modern clothing and used modern equipment.
Traveling as a woman has obviously improved considerably since the 1920s; However, Wortley said that “we are still faced with a lot of the same things, like unwanted attention.” In her book, David-Néel wrote about the unwanted attention she received on her travels; other explorers of the time who faced the same problem ended up dressing like men.