Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 23


Chapter 23. Up the Yangzi and Over the Lenago Pass to the Lancang Jiang

Plant collectors — a clandestine departure — the upper Yangzi valley — orchids — through the Ronsha side valley — a clash with the lisu in Shuba — flowers and vistas on the Lenago pass — in the Lisu village: of Aoalo — adverse impressions

To lull the authorities into a feeling of security I remained at Nguluko — known to them as a village favoured by botanists — for four days, a time which passed swiftly in further preparations for my journey. Beside Lao Li I employed the two other collectors whom Kok had provided, together with my landlord He and the local headman Lu, in the task of folding the plant paper which I had just bought They were both sedate elderly men, experts on the plants of the Yulong Shan, but they understood only a little Chinese, they were somewhat slow on the uptake and He was obviously shortsighted. Lii was the only one of my men who could write Chinese at all. Though my servant could read

Chinese a little — and even notices hi French — he was unable to paint Chinese characters. Forrest's best collector was Rao, an extremely good-natured fellow whom I commissioned to make a collection of the rare plants of the Yulong Shan over the next three months.

Although I did not wish to devote my own time to this already well botanized mountain, it was now clear that Schneider's collections from the area were unlikely to reach any botanical institute in our own country. The material gathered by Rao later proved most useful, since water had got into one of the crates packed in 1914 and had spoilt a large proportion of my own collection from the mountain. Plenty [p.103:] of men offered their services, among them a ne'er-do-well who assumed a false name, realising that I knew the names of all the men in the village who were of any use. Another fellow volunteered to feed my horses, a task which he, like all his compatriots, obvioasly thought of as the be-all and end-all of a groom's duties. However, my three collectors were quite enough. One of them could easily attend to the drying of the plants and look after the horses while I was absent with the other two for long periods. During this stay in Nguluke I did not get even a glimpse of the snow peak.

When I departed on 28th May I gave Bede as my destination, so that if the authorities received orders not to let me travel any further, their soldiers would waste two days on a wild goose chase through uninhabited country before realising that they were on a false scent, and I would have the start which I required. I left Nguluke by the road to Baishui, but once outside the village I said I had decided not to take that road after all, as there might be bandits there. Then I said I wanted to go via Ganhazi, and finally, as there might be bandits there too, that I was going via Axi. All the people, wherever ihey were, hence believed that I had gone in some other direction. Lao Li understood my intentions, but my servant soon forgot what information he was supposed to give out, or thought he knew better, but as he had only the vaguest idea of my real destinations he caused very little harm — and in fact no one bothered about me. Soldiers with the red cap-bands of the revolutionary army were guarding the Muxie [note # 115: 'Mbo-shi on Rock's map.] pass (2875 m) between Lashi ba and Axi, but they did not even ask where I was going. The pines growing here were once again coloured red by the parasitic Loranthus caloreas, but this time it was not the flowers but the previous year's berries which gave them their colour. Axi stretched to the right (down the valley) along an old river terrace some distance above the water. The ferry, situated at its lower end, took me across to the left bank of the Jinsha Jiang, along which I planned to travel upstream, for had I taken the main route to Weixi I might have been given away by one of the officials, soldiers or postmen travelling on that road. At the ferry I tried to give the impression that I was travelling downstream, but my attempts at deception were frustrated by the curiosity of the ferrymen and the stupidity of my own. From then on I gave the name of another, far distant place as my destination, but happily all these precautions proved unnecessary.

The water was low and had exposed broad sandbanks along the river banks, notably near Judian, where its bed widened to two kilometres and it split into several winding channels. Earlier in the journey the mountainous country to the southwest had risen steeply from the river towards the high mountain group known as Labako or Luotui Shan, but near Judian it became lower and less rugged, though on this side (to the northeast) the rim of the Zhongdian plateau gained height steadily. The weather was hot and dry, with brief downpours now and then, and

once there was a dust storm which blotted out the entire valley. The vegetation was somewhat dreary, and most of the more interesting drought-loving plants seemed to be absent Just above Judian the straight segment of the river ended and it continued in zigzag bends. Above Keluan, at the starting point of a steep track over the Kosiso pass to Xiao Zhongdian, there was an enormous crag of mica schist [note # 116: "a triangular rock islet about 150 feet high and crowned by a temple". Rock, p.291.] lying on the inside of a sharp bend in the river, the waters surging round its foot and its crest crowned by a little temple. This scene was made even more picturesque by the pendent racemes of the subtropical orchid Dendrobium clavatum, which sprinkled the rocks with flecks of egg-yolk yellow. The last of the Naxi villages were small, and in Meka one of the elders, a man with a huge goitre, had to intervene to quell the chatter of two hideous old hags before I was able to find lodging in the least uncomfortable house in the place; apart from them the people were extraordinarily friendly. The valley became more romantic in appearance; on the right, in some stretches the steep edge of the Zhongdian plateau plunged straight down to the river, while on the left a rock bluff seemed to bar its course. Behind that, glittering in the distance, was the lamasery of Xianshendong, situated on a sharp spur which I clearly remembered from the previous year. This spur, located just above Jizong, projected between the Jinsha Jiang and the tributary coming from Xialapu. It dominated the valley, though it was small in comparison with the mountains in the background. At this point we entered Tibetan territory, insofar as Tadsa, a large Tibetan village, was situated on the opposite side of the valley, though our route climbed up the uninhabited valleyside, bypassed the narrow defile where the river twice broke through a vertical limestone bed, and led down a narrow, steep and exceedingly exposed path zigzagging between rock bands, to reach the river again some distance below the Jizong ferry, opposite the rock bluff mentioned above [note # 117: See Rock, Plate 156, "The Yangtze at Ch'i-tsung".]. The water was now shallow and calm, and our crossing proceeded smoothly and without delay. That afternoon, after five days on the road from Lijiang, I was once again given accommodation by the Tibetan "prince". I now learned that he was a tusi and that the Tibetan, Pumi, Naxi and Lisu tribesmen living in an area five days' journey in circumference were his subjects. Together with my servant I heard him talking about a telegram which had come from Kunming to Zhongdian, but so as to avoid arousing suspicion that it might concern me I took care not to ask any questions. He would probably have said that it applied to someone else.

As the route from here onwards did not simply follow the river but climbed over a spur jutting out from the mountain on which the temple stood, the tusi gave me a guide for the next stage. He made no attempt to dissuade me from travelling on to my destination, which I now truthfully admitted — Shuba [p.104:] on the crossing to the Lancang Jiang. However, he must have sent a message to Weixi, for, as Pere Monbeig later told me, news of my passing through Jizong reached Weixi in an incredibly short time. Above Jizong the valley of the Jinsha Jiang, here known by its Tibetan name Dre Qu, becomes an extremely narrow gorge, and after the sharp bend below Meti it is almost straight, though the slightest bends are enough to block the view of the river where it runs between convex slopes, even when surveyed from elevated spots from which the intersecting ridges can be traced far into the distance. For a stretch of some 25 km the only habitations along the valley floor were isolated houses, occupied here and there by lisu; the villages were situated higher up on the slopes, where they were less steep. The track, built of slabs of mica schist, led up and down the rock faces, sometimes climbing to a considerable height, and though it was of ample breadth my caravanmen had their work cut out, especially by one horse which repeatedly threatened to stagger over the edge and was rescued only by seizing its tail and dragging it back to the middle again. For long stretches, where bushes shaded the rocks, the same yellow-flowered orchid (Dendiobium clavatuni) was growing in dense clumps. Scattered among them were solitary plants of Vanda rupestris, a new species of orchid with white and pink flowers and subulate leaves, its spongy white anchoring roots clasping the rock like tentacles. As on the Lancang Jiang, there was a well developed maquis of trees and shrubs with small leathery leaves. It extended far up the side valley which debouched near a village called Totyii. At this point the Yangzi emerges from a trackless limestone ravine which continues for some 10 km to the northeast The high mountain range to the northwest of Zhongdian plunges down into this gorge in an exceedingly steep slope for about 2400 m. Beyond the gorge the main road to Benzilan and Deqen led through the side valley and I at first followed it. The river was about the same size as the one at Xialapu, but above Ronsha it flowed from the opposite direction (from the north). Gebauer was the only Westerner who had previously traversed and surveyed the Jinsha Jiang valley up to this point, including the lower stretch of its lateral valley, and as I was uncertain what had become of his records I repeated the survey. The Tibetan villages consisted of large houses similar to those near Zhongdian. Ronsha was quite a sizeable place, but the people were not very hospitable and communication was difficult A Tibetan beggar and ballad singer gave a little help as an interpreter, but he was not really of much use. Then along came a Chinese pedlar who said that I would be able to take my caravan to Yezhi on the Lancang Jiang as the track had been repaired this year at the orders of the magistrate at Weixi — "by the Chinese, you see Sir, so it must be good", my servant assured me. However, I did not expect much from their work for I was well aware that the Tibetans do not let their paths get as dilapidated as the Chinese do. From the same source I learnt that Shuba, a place whose position I knew, was a Lisu village and no caravan animals would be available there.

This news had two aspects. It meant that I would reach the Lancang Jiang sooner and would easily be able to find a Tibetan caravan there, though that would have been difficult here. I could have taken a caravan from here as far as Cizhong without changing, but orders to prevent me from going any further might well have reached the Lancang Jiang, and on their return journey from here my men would very soon give away my presence. Accordingly I decided in favour of speed and on 6th June resumed my journey without halting, soon turning into a minor valley coming from the west Here too trees grew on the rocks and Pseudotsuga wilsoniana was not uncommon. For the first time I found Actinidia callosa in flower; -it is a climber belonging to the tropical family Dilleniaceae with pendent red and white-edged flowers like small roses. My pony began to limp and I found that one hind leg was affected by malanders, an inflammatory condition caused by the negligence of Chinese grooms; because of it I had to walk much of the way. After taking the wrong path we arrived at the little village of Shuba, high up on the steep hillside at 3000m, just as dusk was coming on. My servant came to meet me with a Lisu tribesman who kindly offered to show me the next part of the route. However, I had to spend the night there as there were no houses further on. The people cheerfully moved the beam of a treadmill and I unrolled my bed under their projecting roof. The interiors of their houses were extremely cramped and black with soot and, having had enough of the hot weather at lower altitudes, I did not feel inclined to sleep next to their perpetually burning fire. My men lodged with the owner of the first house and I engaged him as my guide for the following day. He spoke a few words of the Naxi language, but it was not easy to communicate with the other villagers, and there was not nearly enough forage or other supplies for sale.

Later that night when I was in bed, my men came to me and complained that a man belonging to a group of seven or eight Lisu armed with long swords and crossbows had struck He on the arm with a piece of wood; they were hence afraid to take the horses through the village to the water. They were plainly at fault in two respects: during a friendly conversation they must have clapped one of the Lisu on the shoulder or plucked at his sleeve; the Lisu regard such contracts as serious misdemeanours, and touching a chief is an insult punishable by death. Secondly, why was it that the mafu had only now remembered his beasts, long after attending to his own needs? As they had previously drunk from the stream below the village I told him to leave them till the morning. I saw no need to get involved in nocturnal adventures and I must admit that remembering the evil reputation which the Lisu have [p.105:] had since the murder of Brunhuber and Schmitz [note # : The German travellers Brunhuber and Schmitz left Bharro in Burma on 12th November 1908 with the intention of exploring the Salween valley. On 5th January 1909, while they were sncamped on a sandbank at the side of the river just north of 0-ma-ti (20km south of Latsa), they were attacked and murdered by Nu (Lutzu) villagers armed with spears. The account of their journey (Brunhuber, Robert, An Hinterindiens Riesenströmen, Berlin 1912) was based on Brunhuber's diaries and letters and on the report by the German consul in Rangoon.], I lay awake much of that night thinking of the situations which might arise and how to deal with them, and listening to various noises. The reception which the villagers gave me was perfectly friendly; indeed I was impressed by the fact that they did not flock round and stare at me, perhaps because of their better manners. The men wore grey felt hats in a great variety of shapes, some of them just like our loden hats.

It was late before we got away, and just outside the village, for no apparent reason, one of the mules slipped off the track. The tin boxes bounced down the cultivated hillside in mighty leaps for a good sixty metres and the mule itself rolled only a little less far. The wooden saddle broke and one of the boxes disappeared further down where the slope steepened. I expected to find it lying shattered in the stream, but it had caught in some trees. All this cause! nearly an hour's delay, and when we came to anoter steep place the men had to shoulder the heavier loads. At first the route led through mixed woodland, then uphill across humus-rich turf and through fir woods. It was 2 o'clock before we halted for lunch, a little below the crest of the divide, whicl reached 4050 m. Rising somewhat towards the north and falling a little towards the south, the crest on this side spread out in broad spurs and was abundantly wooded. Two branch valleys, one from the rorth and the other from the south, began not far away and united just below the village to form the main Shuba valley. Up on top a cold wind was blowing, and although it was June 7th there was still no vegetation bordering the rivulets; the succulent grey rootstocks of a roseroot, as thick as a man's arm and about a metre long, lay exposed on the ground. A few plants had put out flowers before their leaves, among them Rhododendron beesianum, R. aischropeplum, R. pholidotum, R. chaetomallum, Primula brevifolia and, growing in the moss, the dainty creeping Hemiphragma heterophyllum.

The track now led southwards for a considerable distaice along the ridge, traversing a strip of limestone at the actual crossing, which Gebauer called "Leiugo". At this spot Meconopsis pseudointegrifolia, Fritillaria cirrhosa, Dipoma iberideum and Gentiana bella were in flower. Growing in dense colories, Primula calliantha tinted the floor of the fir fores, carmine red for long stretches. The divide sloped steeply down towards the Lancang Jiang valley, with rock precipices in places, and for the most part the spurs which separated the short lateral valleys of the Lancang Jiang did not emerge until we had descended for some distance. Frequent downpours allowed only a brief glimpse upstream towards the multiple peaks of the range which was to be my next area of work. Opposite us, the Lancang Jiang—Nu Jiang (Mekong—-Salween) divide formed an enormous wall not far short of 5000 m in height, crowned with dark pyramids and spires, but there was apparently a broad, less rugged plateau above the sources of the Sololo valley. The route now led straight down for well over 1000 m, the track descending in short zigzags only a few paces from one turn to the next, so steep and stony that it was hard to keep one's footing. At first it ran beneath trees of Juniperus recurva and then across the humus-rich leaf-mould turf of a gully surrounded by woodland interspersed with bamboo. Once again there was delay:., where the path ran between boulders the gap was. too narrow and the leading man had to hack down the bamboo culms to make a new path round the obstacle. However, I had a rich haul including Tupistra aurantiaca (T. fimbriata), an inconspicuous shade-loving member of the lily family with broad wavy leaves and short-stalked spikes or clubs of fleshy dull orange flowers, Gaultheria griffithiana with two kinds of flowers — its bisexual flowers are green and spheroidal while the other kind, female only, are narrower and reddish green — and lastly Rhododendron praestans, a tree with white undersides to its leaves.

At last the track reached a little valley coming from the left, crossed it and led along its side to a large Lisu village called Aoalo (Fig.35). By now it was dark, but I was most hospitably received and selected the "veranda" of an unoccupied house as the place to put my bed. There was plenty of forage for the horses and all the other supplies we needed; one of the women spoke Chinese quite well. I left the task of putting the plants in the press until next morning, having sorted them into lots designated by diary numbers which indicated their distribution and habitat By summarising all the plants from each place under the same number (later discarded), instead of numbering each individual species, the botanist can save much time and labour in the field, though at the expense of some extra work after returning to base — where more time can usually be found. This task kept me busy until midday, and I had an audience who watched me humbly from a distance — mostly women and girls, the men having gone to work. The women wore fairly short grey pleated skirts and head-dresses which covered the whole of the nape of the neck, embroidered with rows of close-set cowrie shells and adorned with little silver plates. They all had tobacco pipes made from a long bamboo root with a small lathe-turned bowl, and carried them upside down in the necks of their garments. By taking them unawares I was able to get a successful photograph, but I had no luck in my attempt to buy one of their head-dresses; just as one of the girls had indicated to my servant that she would permit him to lift it off her head, an old [p.106:] woman chased her away with a vigorous prod in the ribs.

It was a gorgeous day on June 8th as I descended to the Lancang Jiang itself, and the bright sunlight heightened the yellow and brown tints of the arid slopes. Just before leaving the spur which juts out from Aoalo towards the Lancang Jiang — at 2525 m it is at the same level as the village — I glimpsed a colossal snow spire gleaming in the sun far away, projecting towards the river beyond and above the countless minor peaks into which the Lancang Jiang - Nu Jiang divide is fissured It was Kakerbo on the Doker-la opposite Deqen, a mountain certainly the equal of Satseto. In case I had to retouch my photograph I made a sketch of the mountain in my notebook. I joined the caravan route along the Lancang Jiang valley at Diiku, not far from Yezhi, and immediately turned upstream so as not to risk a confrontation with the tusi. However, as my guide went down the valley to Yezhi, he cannot have long remained in ignorance of my journey, and in any case I soon met the mafu who had provided transport from here to Cizhong in 1915. I now had to buy rice for my men and hire pack animals with Tibetan saddles for the stage from Luota to Cizhong.' On the way I met a mafu from Luota and arranged with him mat he would be at my service from June llth. Rice was not to be found in any of the villages and I finally had to send Lu to Yezhi to buy some. I instructed him and the mafu to say only that I was going to Deqen and luckily they had enough sense to be discreet.

Certain incidents on 9th June left disagreeable impressions. That evening there was a bright glow in the sky, caused by a conflagration at Jitin, a village where I had spent the night in 1915. When I passed through next morning half the village had been burnt down; the mud walls of some of the houses had collapsed into the street and the posts which had supported them were still blazing merrily. However, no one bothered to extinguish them; some of the people were in the fields, while others were busy putting back the boards which they had previously removed from their own roofs. Carried down in the waters of the Lancang Jiang, swollen by the melting snow, was a corpse, white and bloated, revolving slowly in the eddies. It was one of the dead bodies which the Tibetans throw into the river "to feed the fish". Yet such practices are idyllic in comparison with the orgies of slaughter engendered by the militarism of "civilised" countries! I spent two nights at Dashan near Luota, though my repose was at first spoilt by the senseless howling of two large dogs on a flat roof just outside my window; I had to bombard them with roof tiles to make them stop. I then resumed my journey as agreed with the mafii, travelled on unchecked and crossed the rope bridge on the way to Cizhong. The people greeted me cheerily as I passed.

"Look, that must be a Frenchman", cried my servant in amazement, pointing to a man with a large beard; from my secretive behaviour he had obviously concluded that I had political projects as well as botanical. It was Pere Valentin and he was just as friendly and helpful as he had been in 1915. He even postponed a journey to Weixi which he had planned to start on the following day so as to let me have the porters that I required to cross the Xi-la on the route to Bahan. He was quite talkative, yet after more than two hours' conversation we had got no nearer to the subject that was on my mind. Finally I explained to him, openly and without reserve, the reasons why I was anxious to travel from here to the Nu Jiang as quickly as possible, and he assured me that I could once again count on whole-hearted cooperation from his colleagues over there. The men whom I had sent to Yezhi brought back two pack animal loads of rice and also a most friendly letter from the tusi inviting me to stay with him on my return journey. Obviously, no orders directed against me had yet reached the district, but I had to be prepared for the arrival of such instructions and I therefore made every effort to get away from the Lancang Jiang into territory where the Chinese would not so easily be able to find me — or where they could be bribed.

[chapter 24:]