Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 15


Chapter 15. From Lijiang to Yongning and up the Waha Range

Naxi caravans — a view of the Yangzi loop — mountain bogs — the arid Yangzi valley at Fengke — over the pass in the rain — lodgings at the abbot's — opposition from the magistrate — yak huts on Mount Waha — a high trceliae — a mountain lake — difficulties of mapmaking

On the fifth day (9th July) it was still raining dismally as I left Lijiang, delayed by the dilatoriness of the Chinese workmen. My new caravan men were Naxi from the nearby village, whom Schneider had found satisfactory the year before. They brought no fewer than thirteen pack animals, for the districts through which I planned to travel were sparsely populated and in some parts we had to carry enough food and forage for several days. The price was low — $5 in all for each day on the road and $2 for each rest day — and I never had the slightest difficulty or demur from the men. As was plainly apparent from their frank and open looks, they were honest, energetic and willing; they never argued or answered back, and when the final payment was due they found the accounts in order and were content with their well-earned gratuity. In all these respects they were totally different from the Chinese. Their animals were fully capable of meeting the demands made on them, although not much better cared for than those of the Chinese. As plant collectors I took Wu Suoling and a Naxi from Nguluke, a man who had given Schneider such good service that he took him as far as Kunming. His name was Li (Lao Li or "old Li" with the prefix used among people of the servant class), and he was an intelligent and tolerably clean young man, who served me as well as he had served Schneider [note # 78: Hereafter sometimes referred to simply as Li, but not to be confused with the man of the same name who had served Handel-Mazzetti until now, and who is mentioned in Chapter 14].

The track ran straight northwards across the talus-covered plain, passing Baisha and Nguluke. At the edge of the forest it joined the route which we already knew, leading from Nguluke to Baishui. There, at the edge of the glacial brook, we pitched our first camp. Next day I at first followed the track along which I travelled to Dagu in 1914, but soon I took a path along the crest Starting from the Konan-yo pass at 3400m, diis ridge climbed up to a rounded summit on the right and then flattened out Consisting partly of sandstone, it sloped down to another col at only 2900m, a col which joined the Lijiang range to the adjacent range of Mount Xue-chou Shan [note # 79: Xuechou Shan, otherwise La-bpu Ngyu, Lapao Shan or Mount Bonvalot (4800m) is the mighty limestone mass that fills the Yangtze loop.]. That afternoon we pitched camp some distance beyond Konanyo on a splendid pasture between mixed forests of larch and pine. Though still rainy, the weather had improved a little and from a small crest above the campsite I was able to photograph Mount Haba Shan, the snowclad mountain which lies beyond the Yangzi though in fact it belongs to the Lijiang range. During my journey to Tuguancun I had attempted to photograph it without success. From this side it presented a long rock crest falling away vertically on either side. The wind whirled the snow from its summit into spiralling eddies which rose like smoke from a chimney into the deep blue sky, and it made a superb picture, soft-toned and seemingly translucent hi the mountain air as it shimmered in the warmth of the sun.

Branching valley tracts ran down to the Jinsha Jiang from both sides of the low col. The valley on . the left ran north-westwards, debouching into the river near Dagu. In its upper part it had steep walls on both sides, but lower down it spread out into a broad flat floor extending for some distance. The valley on the right, after traversing an undulating hilly tract into which it had cut a relatively shallow channel, ran south-eastwards and joined the other side of the river loop opposite the steep precipices of Mount Mantou Shan. Between the lowest slopes of Mount Yulong Shan to the south and Mount Xue-chou Shan to the north the saddle was about 10 km broad, and at its northern border was Mingyin, a Naxi village with a Chinese lijin post for the minor road to Yongning. A little further on I climbed a steep wooded crest to the right of the road and found that once again my luck was in. Although I had not until then been able to get much idea of the lie of the land, my intuition had not betrayed me in leading me there. The spot offered a good view and for once it was unobscured by clouds. The crest projected some distance towards the river and gave a long vista up its valley. By this I do not mean that one could see the river itself at any point at all — it was hidden in its gorges 1800m below — but at my level and somewhat lower there were rocky bastions which pushed out their shoulders of gently tilted strata towards the river. These bastions belonged to the ridges which intervened between six steep lateral valleys running at right angles to its line of flow. Looking like painted scenery on a theatre stage, they intersected with a series of spurs running down from the western side of the gorge, a series which seemed to extend close to the range of mountains between Xuechou Shan and Halao Shan, parallel to it and much lower. Beyond the river gorge I could see the steep slope of the range which ran southwards from Yongning. It too was 4600m in height, but much less dissected by streams. It terminated abruptly in a splendid double peak which the people here called [p.70:] Alo [note # 80: 4800m on Handel-Mazzetti's map. Mien-mien Shan on Rock's map.]. From this spot it was also clear why the direct route to Yongning ran high up across the mountains and avoided the river valley. Gwulowo, a Naxi village, lay some distance to the east of the track, spread out on a patch of ground sloping down to the next brook. There were only a few others, down near the river. Lambe was supposed to be one of the larger ones, and Lisu tribesmen lived to the south of it Far away to the north, beyond the river gorge. I saw range upon range of mountains, some still capped with snow, in the vicinity of Muli, my objective, and near Gongling. To the south there were fine vistas of the northerly rock peaks of the Yulong Shan, two mighty parallel serrated edges with teeth resembling the summits of the Rosengart-en in the Dolomites, declining gradually in absolute altitude as they ran northwards towards me, though hardly at all in relation to the surrounding landscape. High up on the range, cradled between the peaks, was a huge glacier, and today, for the first and only time, I enjoyed a more or less complete view of the snowfield which fed it Seen from the north, Satseto, the main summit, displayed its structure of vertically tilted rock strata running north and south. I halted at Tsasopie, a Naxi village situated in the next side valley a short distance below the track, in a position which was the mirror image of Gwulowo in the preceding valley. I spent the night in an open room exposed to wind and rain, where my sleep was disturbed by the incessant barking of the farm dog. The outcome was a slight cold which gave me some discomfort for the next few days, although the rain was only intermittent

In moist spots in the woods, where there was an understorey of bamboo, I found hydrangeas (H. xanthoneura) and Meliosma cuneifolia in full bloom. The latter is a tall shrub with tiny yellowish flowers grouped together in large panicles to make them more conspicuous. For most of the way, however, the track led through drier forest made up of Pinus tabulaeformis, a pine which ascends to great altitudes, and then ran down into the largest of the side valleys which we had to cross. Its tributary streams ran down from Xuechou Shan, the mountain on the left about 4800m in height I caught glimpses of its bare limestone crests looking down from behind dark fir woods. I attempted to measure some of the stretches of the track with the Roxanditsch range-finder, but it soon became obvious that the instrument would work only when it was set perfectly horizontally; if it inclined a little to the left or right the points would come together at completely different places and the readings would be totally at variance.

On the far side of the valley the track climbed up for some 500m to the Huayangge pass at 3775m. Beyond it and a little lower down, on a wet flowery meadow between larch woods, was the campsite Mahaizi, with steep limestone crests above it That

evening I spent some time fishing for plankton inlhe bog pool on the meadow. Although the botanist cannot carry a net as part of his everyday equipment, when the route leads past lakes or pools or the camp is situated near one it is always worthwhile to unpack the net I positioned myself on a projecting salient of the bank and Lao Li stood on another, separated by the length of the cord. I told him to cast the net and then pulled it swiftly towards me. After a few casts I had a glass tube full of tiny animals zigzagging in wild confusion and doubtless an abundant phytoplankton as well, though these minute plants are not visible to the unaided eye. Inside the tent it was very warm, especially in the main compartment with its double roof and well closed flaps. Li, Zhafa and another man spread out their blankets under the canopy, which hadl been provided with sidewalls and a groundsheet while my other plant collector and the two policemen sent by the Lijiang magistrate made themselves comfortable under the eaves of the flysheet using branchies for bedding, though much of this space was occupied by my saddle and other items which needed protection from the weather. The caravanmen made shelters by piling the loads close together, stretching covers across and crawling underneath.

Next morning there was hoarfrost on the jground and fresh snow on the mountaintops; a little further along the track they made a superb backdrop behind the meadows and the numerous pools scattered across them. There were so many flowers thait their colours quite outshone the green of the mesidows. Thronging together in separate patches were the white Morina alba with inflorescences resembling Betonica and narrow bristly leaves, Primula siMime-nsis with sulphur-yellow bells and Ranunculus pulchellus with yellow flowers. In the bog itself, mirrored in the muddy brown pools, Rheum ialexan-drae was just coming into flower, its tall spires ensheathed in large bracts. At the bottom oif these pools, which never dry out I found a wate:r fern (Isoetes hypsophila — a new species). It gnaws in tufts of light green leaves resembling grass, but soft and circular in cross-sectioa In the leaf axils there are sporangia which produce an onion-like expiansion or swelling of the entire basal part of the plant. The track continued over another pass of equal height and then down for 1600m into the next parallel valley, through this and then for some distance along the side of the river valley to Fengke [note # : George Forrest passed through "Fengkow" in 1914 and wrote to his sponsor J.C. Williams: "Seldom in all my wanderings here have I struck such a barren and blistering hot country as the Yangtze valley at Fengkow. A descent and ascent of some 9,000 ft and all practically desert. We spent one night and the greater portion of a day camped on a sandbank, rocks too hot to touch, tents unbearable, climate like Rangoon in August minus the rain. If you can imagine that, temperature over 110 in the shade, brazen skies and the previous day we were at 14..000 ft. (George Forrest. Journeys and Plant Introductions. Ed. J. MacQueen Cowan, 1952, Oxford University Press). Rock states that it was probably at Fengko that Kublai Khan crossed with his army when he attacked Yunnan in 1253.], where I [p.71:] halted for half a day to get warm and rid myself of my cold.

In Fengke I was visited by a man whom Schnei-der had recommended because he spoke several languages. He offered his services and I agreed to take aim on, but after vehement protests from his better half he did not reappear. The arid hillsides below the village had only a sparse scattering of shrubs;, and where the turbulent streams from the mountain slopes above, coursing down in countless clefts and runnels, had washed away the yellow crust formed by weathering, the multicoloured primary and volcanic rocks, crumbling to dust where they outcropped, made garish contrasts. Down here even the Njxi houses had nothing better than flat roofs of mud. On the morning of the 15th July the rest of my caravan crossed the Yangzi by the ferry. Though quite a large boat, it rolled alarmingly in the middle of the fast-flowing river, which was narrowed at this point by a projecting mass of dark rock. On the far side we took the road uphill. Westwards it looked down over a conspicuous bend in the river. The side valley was a mere ravine, and the track had to ascend a projecting spur on to the valley side, which it followed for some distance before dropping down into the flatter upper part of the valley to the camping place on a heathy pasture at Zhazi.

Having climbed out of the arid depths of the river gorge we were once more in subtropical maquis consisting of Pistacia weinmannifolia with Vitex and Ziziphus bushes, succeeded at 2400m by bright green Pinus yunnanensis woodland. We climbed up through the next vegetational zones in rapid succession — a forest of the darker, short-needled P. tabul-aeformis interspersed with oaks, and temperate zone mixed woodland, with much bamboo, running down into a little ravine. Here, on the limestone rocks, I found another blue Gesnerad, Didissandra grandis, its leaves edged by white down extending from the under surface, and collected two mosses growing in deep soft cushions; Hymenostylium diverswete with crinkled leaves neatly arranged in three lines, and the golderi-green Gollania robusta. Both species were new to science and I never found them anywhere else. The pass was at 3700m; standing on a lush meadow we gazed over the Yongning basin, but low clouds hid the mountain tops and cast a gloom over the green landscape.

I sent a policeman ahead with my card, having deliberately instructed him to report first to the lama, my friend from the year before, and only then to the Chinese minor official, for I felt confident that the lama would help me in my plans for further journeys, while the official could only be obstructive. As we descended the track grew steadily wetter and became a mere line of holes where the pack animals had to pick their way between knife-edged blocks of limestone pavement protruding from the red earth, some of them hollowed out and perforated like carious teeth. The whole formation was overgrown with trees. I met a Tibetan in multicoloured costume who had travelled with a few laden pack animals from Kangding. He was just making tea and invited me to sit down on his splendid carpet, spread out by the roadside. The track across the Yongning plain was a bottomless morass, but at last we reached the lamasery on 16th July, and the abbot once again gave me a friendly reception.

In the previous year, so he told me, the officials had arrived from Yongsheng and Lijiang with numerous soldiers and had tried to take his monastery away from him. However, he had plenty of men, including some from Muli and was not to be overawed. The officials thereupon withdrew, their aim unaccomplished. The local official resided an hour's journey distant in a village named Dashi and I did not meet him until a Tibetan holiday, when the abbot invited us both to a banquet at which — horror of horrors — he played a gramophone he had recently acquired. Next day I returned the visit accompanied by my servant and the lama. Sitting behind his writing table, the magistrate received us in a room which, simply because it was new, was clean and tidy. I had the place of honour at his side, Lao Li was beside me and the lama in a corner. I explained that I wanted to go to Muli and on to Zhongdian, and asked for a soldier with a letter of recommendation as an escort. During the conversation I enquired about Gongling and Xiangcheng, located deeper in the interior, but my mention of these places displeased the fellow so much that he tried strenuously to dissuade me from travelling to the north. Muli was in Sichuan, he told me, the people did not speak Chinese and the lamas were not well disposed towards foreigners.

"The abbot of Muli is a good friend of mine," said the chief lama.

"I am familiar with the reports of the Europeans who have been there — Amundsen and Davies — and they all speak well of Muli," I remarked.

"Yes, quite a lot of Europeans go there," said the lama, taking sides with me. I complained about the rain.

"It's always raining in Xiangcheng," said the magistrate," and a month ago robbers from Gongling plundered the temple at Muli."

"That's quite untrue," growled the lama. The prefect said he would have to write to Yanyuan in Sichuan to get a letter of recommendation.

"So far as I'm concerned you can write to Peking," I replied, "but by the time an answer comes, I shall have left Muli far behind me."

I stood up and took my leave, the magistrate regarding me with a long face.

My next aim was to visit Waha, the mountain south of Yongning which I had had to omit from my itinerary in 1914. After waiting yet another day on which it poured unceasingly, I set out on 19th July along a track which at first ran southwards from the village and left no option but to wade through the muddy waters of the swollen rivulet Leaving the horse to pick its way, I bent forwards and pressed my face against its mane, this being the only way to creep beneath the overhanging rose thickets without losing my hat, having my clothes torn and sustaining deep scratches on my back. Primula vialii was now in flower everywhere in this district (Fig.8). Near Lijiang, where it was discovered, it occurs in only two sites, both on marshy meadows, but here it grows in a wide variety of habitats, flourishing in large numbers even among bushes of prickly-leaved oak, a shrub which prefers dry conditions. This is obviously its centre of distribution; in other direc-[p.72:] tions there are scattered colonies as far as Muli and Yanyuan.

Leaving it on its left, the track departed from the shallow but steep-walled trench, out of which emerges the main branch of the little river from Yongning, and climbed steadily through woodland. The pack animals were soon exhausted from struggling along the slippery path and clambering over fallen tree trunks, and my grey had bouts of shivering, so when we reached a yak pasture at 4030m we pitched camp. As the site had not yet been occupied the turf was still untouched and repaid careful examination. Among the grasses I found some old acquaintances from our own Alps and nearby — Trisetum sibiricum, Festuca ovina, Poa pratensis and Elymus nutans. Next I found Dracocephalum wilsonii, resembling catmint but larger, and then to my great joy my Taraxacum tibetanum [note # : Taraxacum was one of Handel-Mazzetti's favourite genera and had been the subject of his dissertation. He described T. tibetanum in 1907.], like our own dandelion but having black involucral bracts each with a large horn-shaped appendage. Growing on bare earth at the edge of the meadow was the tiny Draba elliptica, in dense patches of seedlings. Then I crawled about among the rhododendron bushes and searched for cryptogams. The best finds were an orange-yellow cup-fungus growing on old yak dung (Plicaria ffmeti var. miniata); a tiny ash-grey stalked fungus of the same kind scattered in large numbers over the rolled up rhododendron leaves lying on the ground (Lachnum foliicola — a new species) and the moss Zygodon brevisetus growing on fir bark.

Next morning I climbed to the top of the ridge accompanied by my collectors, the lama's two henchmen, both carrying rifles, and the soldier provided by the magistrate, though he thought it better to leave his rifle in the hut The firs thinned out as we approached the treeline, though there were still a few rowans among them, and flowering beneath the trees were Saussurea poophylla, Dracocephalum speciosum, a sage with large but short flowers, Gentiana puberula and Primula florida. Higher up I found some deep holes in the limestone pavement which lay on top of the sandstone at the crest of the ridge. Between three bare summits, visible from Yongning, I reached the main ridge, which ran southwards. Arenada kansuensis formed broad cushions with sessile flowers which look green since the petals are shorter than the sepals. A. oresbia carried taller stems with solitary large white flowers; Lasiocaryum trichocarpum (a new species) was an annual which mimicked a small forget-me-not; Androsace euryantha (also new) had large red flowers above dense carpets of leaves, and Sibhaldia purpurea had small flowers of darker hue; Lagotis yunnanensis with fleshy leaves and cylindrical spikes of small white flowers grew in marshy hollows. On the right there was a small tarn in a sharply incised valley debouching below Zhazi. Keeping to the left of the ridge, after a short distance I climbed down to another tarn, also on the tree line. Its outlet was subterranean and probably supplied the stream in the valley beginning just below and running down to join the Yongning river. The tree line was sutpris-ingly high, though because of a cloudburst I was not able to ascertain its altitude exactly. Subsequent calculation from the base in Lijiang gave a figure of 4325m. I was not yet accustomed to finding the: tree line at such a high altitude, but in the continental climate of high mountain masses this is the general rule, as it is in adjacent parts of Sichuan. The \ water temperature in the tarn was 19 C; a Batrachium was growing there, and we startled a beautiful multicoloured wild duck. In these parts the ducks seermjd to be treated as sacred or were at any rate protected, for when the men were telling me about them they made quacking noises and I, thinking they were imitating frogs, made signs that I would like to (catch some, at which they protested vehemently. Fislh are said not to occur here, yet their absence is surpriising in view of Bacot's claim to have seen certain forms uniquely adapted to the extreme conditions in Hakes which have only a brief ice-free season between Litang and Gongling at 5000m. The wonderl fully fragrant Primula yargongensis was flowering iin the bog, and large tufts of Drepanocladus turgesxens sprawled down into the water. The scree slope above yielded a rich haul including the small Thalictrum glareosum (a new species) with recurved stems, 'almost buried in the shingle, Saussurea leuaoma, Cnemanthodium spp. and many others. The turf was short as if it had been mown, but this was the result of natural selection; it comprised only those low-growing grasses and herbs which persisted despite grazing (Fig.27). Among them were the small, mat-forming, softly hairy Pedicularis microphyton with long, tubular, yellowish white flowers flecked with carmine on the upper lip, Phlomis rotata, whiich I had already met, Polygonum sphaerostachyum, like our snake root but only a few centimetres high, and Aster likiangensis.

Cloud draped the tops and obscured all distant views and I therefore rested content with an altitude reading of 4500m. I had a violent headache, probably because of the prolonged stay at that altitude, and I was not altogether sorry to give up the idea of climbing one of the rather unpromising little ! summits nearby. Next morning, during the descemt, 1 collected more of the numerous mosses and lichens growing in the leafmould and on the rotten trunks and stumps, more especially in the upper zones of the fir woods. Then, standing in a burnt patch of forest, I took another photograph of the Yongning basin. Indeed I took far more photographs than were really necessary for cartographic purposes, as each view seemed better than the one before, although it was difficult to find a spot to set up the caimera where the charred trunks did not block some vital feature. Here the camera was at least standing on firm ground, yet I remember another occasion when I had to drive the iceaxe, to which the camera miount was attached, as high up as possible into the rotten wood of a swaying tree-trunk; then I scrambled! up and adjusted the focus, climbed down again and released the shutter, taking care not to bump against the trunk and make it sway during the expos sure. Such are the joys and sorrows of a photogrammeitric surveyor in the field!

[chapter 16:]