Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 14


Chapter 14. To Mount Haba Shan

Tibetan caravans — an impassable track — the most westerly Yi villages — alpine leafmould pastures — a camp among rhododendrons — far ranging views — flora of a 4450m summit

At last the tent arrived and, after fiirther delay caused by deliberate stupidity on the part of Li, who detested camping, was actually delivered to the village. I made enquiries for a caravan of five pack animals for an excursion to the snow-clad mountain at the north-west end of the range beyond the Jinsha Jiang. Besides making a botanical reconnaissance, I hoped to check the geographical information obtained in 1914 during my journey across the Zhong-dian highlands in the rain. It should have been possible to find some horses in Baisha, but the local mafus declared that even for a dollar a day they were unwilling to take service with a European, for they knew such men all too well: they had travelled with the Frenchman Peronne [note # 68: Gustave [aka Gaston] Peronne, a musk trader, lived for over 20 years at Deqen (F. Kingdon Ward, "From China to Hktami Long", London, 1924, p.93). J.W. Gregory met him there in 1922. (J.W. & C.J. Gregory, "To the Alps of Chinese Tibet", London, 1923, p.205). ], a musk trader from Deqen, and he had always been hitting them. I was unsuccessful in my attempts to persuade them that not all Europeans were alike and that I treated my men very well, provided that they did more or less what I wanted, but in the end — though of course not without still further delay — I found the necessary horses in Nguluke. Setting off on 19th June, I crossed the col above Ganhaizi, reached the river in one day and spent the night at Yulo [note # 69: At Yulo (6300 ft = 1920m) the trail turns at right angles down to the Yangtze where a flat-bottomed ferry crosses it to the hamlet of Ggo-lo" (Plate 114). (Rock, Vol. I, p.255). ], the ferry station on the near side. Next morning the ferrymen kept me waiting on the bank for over an hour; they were on the far side, saw a caravan approaching and wanted to ferry it across the river before coming for me. We shouted and whistled in vain; however, now I knew that the ferry was operated at public expense, and I therefore gave them no tip and let them return with empty hands and downcast faces. This achieved the desired result, and on the return journey they attended to me with the utmost promptness. Travelling in the same direction as ourselves was a Tibetan caravan. They used the enforced rest to make tea on the sand beside the river; men and women, who both do exactly the same work, sat in circles round the kettle, singing, laughing and teasing one another. During their frolics a mafu wench, as tall as a beanpole, turned the drinking water pail upside down over her partner's head. In total contrast to the Chinese, who cannot work without grumbling, sulking and uttering unspeakably foul curses, the robust, shaggy and yet elastic figures of the Tibetans seemed to be bubbling over with joy of living. Whenever I met them on the road they always greeted me with a clumsy curtsey, their hands held palm upwards before their chests. In those districts I never encountered the mode of greeting — sticking out the tongue — usual further north, except on one occasion on the Lancang Jiang from a man who had probably come from there. The peaks were of course shrouded with mist, and enquiries regarding the correct route came up against the usual difficulties. Down here it was in any case useless to ask about a track up the mountain; however, if there were a track from Lendo [note # 70: Probably a non-Chinese name (SGH). ], the first village on the Zhongjiamg He, leading over the range to Haba [note # 71: "Handel-Mazzetti's name Tja-ta-shan can be traced to the unfamiliarity of the Naxi with the Chinese language. His guide, apparently ignorant of the real name of the mountain (Haba ndsher nv-lv), and being close to a rather important village called Ch'iao t'ou (Qiaotou) (bridge-head village), in which district the mountain is also situated, called it Ch'iao'tou shan, whence Tja-ta-schan". (Rock, Vol.1, p.255) ] — known to me from my travels the year before — then that must be the right approach. The people said there were two roads, a major and a minor, and the major road led over a mountain. I accordingly told my guide to follow that.

It led first into the great gorge of the Jinsha Jiang, high up above its left bank. The opposite side of the gorge was free from clouds for much of its height and offered magnificent views. If the; track had curved to the left it would have taken me in the direction in which I wished to go, but presently it became clear that this was not the case, and people in the fields called to us that it would soon become too narrow for our loads. They were at once jproved correct by the sight of one of the loads rolling down the hillside, though luckily it was rescued. Truss route through the river gorge to Dagu, though it diid lead to Haba, was obviously of no use to me. I turned round and took the Zhongdian road. At Qiaotou [note # 72: There was a wooden bridpe at Ch-iao-tou across the river Chung-chiang ho (Rock, Vol. I, page 256). ] it crossed over to Lendo on the left side of the Qiong-jiang He, and ran at first close to the river bank along vertical talus cliffs scooped out by the stream. In their lower parts the sides of this sparsely populated valley sloped steeply upwards, but higlher up they flattened out, especially towards the soutltiwest, forming a broad undulating wooded ridge about 3600m high, which separated it from the Jinsha Jiang running from south to north. Lisu and Xifan lived there in small, widely scattered hamlets, but the Chinese were confined to solitary cottages down in the valley. At Meiziping the track climbed more than 100m up the valley side in steep zigzaigs. It descended again into a deeply cut lateral gorge and then more gradually down to the river. Thene was plainly no practicable route branching off to the right (north east) anywhere as far as Tuguancun, two Hays beyond Yulo. Since my journey along this route in 1914 a hostelry had been erected there, a small bamboo hut in which we spent the night. On the Hongshishao saddle, which we had to cross to reach Tuguancun from the river, we met a caravan which had stopped to rest, but the men advised us not to [p.67:] camp there because there were so many leeches. From the saddle I had a magnificent view — lasting just long enough to take a photograph — down the valley towards the western side of the two main peaks of the Yulong Shan, both capped with snow, but the trountain on this side of the Yangzi — my journey's goal — was hidden in mist.

Tuguimcun was one of the most westerly Yi villages; it lay in a side valley which ran down from Alo and, after making a sharp bend which cut off the route over me Hpngshishao saddle, debouched into the main Zhongjiang He valley close by. From Tuguancui there was a track leading to Bede; higher up it allegedly gave off a path to the snow-capped mountain. After some difficulty — and for a high price — we found a young man as a guide, as I was not willing to travel into unknown territory without one. The fields of the Yi — the first people to settle here — extended over low ridges separated by small streams. The burnt stumps of chopped down trees still projected above the ground and here and there a mighty trunk, too large to utilise or clear away, lay prostrate; between them grew oats, barley, buckwheat and potatoes, the main diet of the tribes-people, whose low-roofed one-roomed bamboo huts were scattered among them. Behind the last of the huts the track entered the forest, which at first consisted of pines. Even at this altitude the plant cover was splendid and colourful. There were several species of lady's sb'pper orchid and of Roscoea, together with Nomocharis aperta, which has large saucer-shaped drooping rose pink flowers, and other species of the lily family. Other noteworthy plants included Stellera chamaejasme and Morina delavayi Growing on the trunks of the pines was an orange-yellow fungus (Cryptopotvs volvatus), as glossy as if it had been varnished, reeking of the cheapest schnapps. The natives ate it raw. In moist places there were strips of "jungle" vegetation where the steep slippery track was sometimes almost totally blocked by fallen bamboos and tree trunks, which gave the pack animals much trouble. Then it came out on to open sward gay with flowers of almost unparalleled splendour, in particular the deep rose-pink hemispherical umbels of Aodrosace spinulifera covering large patches, while Veratrilh baitlonii had just opened its green flowers in dense panicles. On last year's dead stalks I collected two species of minute fungi. We stopped for our midday rest in an unoccupied shepherd's hut in a pine grove, and as soon as 1 had devoured die meal I stood up and began to scour the mountainside above us. Wherever it had found lodgement on the slopes, leaf mould had accumulated and on it grew a plant community for which I coined the name "leafmould pasture" [note # 73: " Modermatte". The English phrase is taken from Handel-Mazzetti's lecture "The Natural Habitats of Chinese Primulas", given at the Fourth Primula Conference In London on 24th May, 1928. (J. Roy. Hort. Soc. 1929, 54, 51-62) ]. The brown topsoil consisted of weathered plant remains, roots and rootstocks, with leaves and especially the leaf sheaths which envelop the living stems and form a covering round the neck of the plant. On it grew dwarf shrubs, including Berberis spp., honeysuckles, small rhododendrons and Therm-opsis atpina with large flowers like brimstone butterflies, all woven together in dense tangles. Among the shrubs various herbaceous perennials were now hi flower, many of mem so deeply rooted that it was hard work to dig them out intact There were anemones, Nomocharis lophophora, Potentilla stenophylla with pinnate silvery leaves and the strange-looking Mandragora caulescens. Meconopsis pseudointegrifolia [note # 74: Now included in M. integrifolia. ] is a robust plant a metre in height with a thick hollow stem covered with rough golden hairs, and numerous drooping poppy-like sulphur yellow flowers on erect pedicels. Primula szechuanica has delightfully fragrant sulphur yellow flowers, resembling those of P. sikkimensis but with petals bent sharply backwards and pressed against the tube — a peculiarity seen in very few species of primula.

Soon we reached the crest [note # 75: This was presumably the pass shown on Handel-Mazzetti's map (4200m). Rock calls it Hsueh-men-k'an (13,800 ft = 4207m). Washua is 13 km distant from It. ], from which we had a splendid vista towards the other side over the valley of the Bapaji, the little river running from Bede. dose to it lay Washua, its houses looking like toys. Twenty six km north-northeast was the arid bastion of Kudu (4700m), and to its right we gazed into the depths of the Yangzi gorge, from which the caves I had seen in 1914 stared up like two misshapen eyes. Beyond the gorge was the range extending from Xuechou Shan (4800m) to Halao Shan. It is nothing more than an offshoot from the second main range ending in the Yangzi loop. The main range itself is cut through by the Yangzi between Xuezhou Shan and Kudu. I certainly wanted to climb one of the peaks and photograph the full 360 panorama for my map, but on second thoughts I decided to play safe, so I set up my camera on the pass and exposed a few plates, my fingers numbed by the cold wind. Unfortunately, like many landscape photographs taken in 1915, they gave very poor results because the plates were old and stale. There was in fact a path leading to the broad ridge on the right, and I took it The view was so glorious that even Li — no lover of mountains — was at first impressed, but now he sat wrapped in his Yi cloak shivering in the wind and complaining that he felt "beaucoup fivid'. However, when I suggested that sitting still was not the best way to keep warm he came after me, accompanied by Wu Suoling. After some two hours' march me track led into a hollow on the south west flank of the mountain, where I pitched camp in a delightful little spot beside a spring at 4175m (Fig.23). The ground was so boggy that I had to put flat stones under the tentpoles to prevent them from sinking into it. All round the tent were rhododendrons [note # 76: Handel-Mazzetti's photograph (Fig.23) shows rhododendrons about twice the height of his tent and the caption names them as R. adenogynum. ] with large white and pink flowers. Though gnarled and twisted, the bushes were quite tall, and their dead twigs were covered by [p.68:] covered by tufted lichens, some black (Alectoria acanthodes) and others yellowish (Nephromopsis delavayi). Not far below were the dark green spikes of the firs — at their altitudinal limit — and beneath them was unbroken forest, filling a tangled lattice of valleys running in all directions and clothing the ridges between them. Farther to the northwest the sun was shining on the emerald green meadows which today occupy the dried up lake beds below Zhongdian (Fig.24). Low clouds scudded over the ground, while shafts of sunlight painted constantly changing patterns upon them and outlined their margins with gold. That day I had some trouble with the men. One of them, a former soldier whom I had taken on probation, hid in a nearby hut with the mafus and despite all my shouting would not come out and take his share of the work. Later he refused to groom the horse, saying that Kok had not told him he was to do that task, so I promptly threw him out Li had a genuine attack of mountain sickness and I gave him some tablets for his headache. Next morning, when he let it be known that they had really worked, all the men clamoured for them, and I left them behind in annoyance.

On 23rd June I climbed unaccompanied to the crest and followed it south eastwards. It ran a sinuous course far above the tree line, not giving off many lateral ridges but marked by several minor elevations. Crystalline rocks and clay-slate, emerging below the limestone which outcrops on the mountainside lower down, were arranged in an extremely steep or even vertical din running mainly north and south, though buckled in various directions. The vegetation on the windswept southwest side was obviously different from that on the more sheltered northeast slope. On the latter there were woody plants forming dense continuous dwarf shrub communities up to the crest line, especially willows, rhododendrons (R. complexuni) and at the very top Cassiope, a genus of Ericaceae widespread in the Arctic and Himalaya with short erect stems like a clubmoss. This one was C selaginoides. Where the crest ran in a straight line the shrubs on the northeast slope extended up to it and were cut off along an equally straight line at the crest, though it was far from sharply angled. On the southwest slope, however, the shrubs began much lower down, and the upper part of the slope was occupied only by a few non-woody plants, while the edges of the rocks (slate and calcareous slate, or calc-schist) were encrusted with lichens, many of them the same as those found in our own Alps. However, I was particularly struck by the rare Acroscyphus sphaerophotvides, a lichen otherwise known from the Himalaya and the Andes. It grew in patches as big as a man's head crowning the rocky spikes of the arete and was distinguished by its round erect grey-white stemlets, branching like coral. Every few paces I found something to collect, and some four hours passed before I ultimately reached a minor summit at 4450m. From it I could see the lower slopes of Mount Haba Shan [note # 77: 15,420 ft (4701m) on ONC H-10. Handel-Mazzetti gives its height as "over 5300m".], but its summit was hidden by a sharply defined layer of cloud about 500m above me. Any serious attempt to climb it was no longer feasible, and the summits in front of it were scarcely any higher than my own, which in any case gave the view I desired. To the west and northwest stretched the forest-tcovered green Zhongdian uplands with a few meado'ws here and there; beyond them — and similar in appearance — was the broad mountain range which separated the Yangzi from the Laugcang Jiang, overtopped only by Baima Shan (5300m) near Dongzhuling nezirly 150 km to the northwest, a sombre rugged peak with a few small glaciers. Beyond were the snowcapped mountains on the Tibetan frontier opposite Deqen, all of them unfortunately hidden by a stratum of cloud. The broad expanse of the crest on which I stood was crossed by the track leading from Bede to Xiao Zhongdian, and beyond it, to the nortth, were the multiple summits of Piepen with its; brown sandstone foothills. Further to the right were the mountains I had seen yesterday, around the morthem part of the Yangzi loop. Still further off, I aould see the countless.. peaks of the Tibetan districts of Quag-cheng and Gongling, near the road to Batanjg, some of them still topped with snow.

The plant community on the crest, which was built of primitive rocks, was much less variied than those found on limestone at similar altitudes. White and purple were the predominant colours: Amdrosace delavayi resembling our A. glacialis, several primulas and saxifrages, the low growing Rhododendron prostration with large deep purple floweirs, and, somewhat similar in appearance, Diapeosia pwpurea, growing in dense cushions (Fig.25). This species, absent from Mount Yulong Shan, is characteiristic of the high mountains further west I gathered some beautiful mosses and lichens: several spescies of Grimmia, the new Andraea yunnanensis and our own ttamnolia vermicularis, which in China is used to make tea. That evening the men were oif course restored to health, and Li's oven — an empty paraffin can — had been put to good use. Up on the mountain the cold wind blew unremittingly and duiring the night a downpour drummed against the canvas, while the storm threatened to tear the tent from its pegs.

My grey pony — the one I had taken over from Schneider — also had a nasty attack of mountain sickness while we were up on the ridge, aind even after we had descended its recovery was slow. On the climb to the saddle between Tuguancun and Luoxiwan it was barely able to carry me and fell several times, not as I at first thought because the ground was slippery but in reality because of dizziness. On the descent, though not carrying ainy load, it began to reel and stagger so badly that iit nearly pushed me off a bridge into the stream. In the end it was almost unable to go any further, and to) protect it from rough treatment from the men I myiself had to drive and shove it along. On the next day, as we continued our journey down the valley, it was still unfit for me to ride. On the following day I stopped at Yulo to photograph the distinctive plants jgrowing beside a ditch — Houttuynia cordata witlh heart-shaped leaves and dense spikes of yellowish flowers above four white bracts, Pteris vittata and heaves of Amorphophallus — while the caravan wrent on. During the climb up from the Yangzi towards Ganhaizi the pony was almost impossible to curb and struggled so hard to keep up with the others that on the last stretch its strength once agairn failed completely. On the fourth day I re-entered ILijiang.

[chapter 15:]