Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 26

[p.117:] Chapter 26. Along the Lancang Jiang - Nu Jiang Divide towards the Tibetan Border

Units of distance — a limestone peak (Maya, 4S75 m) — structure of the mountain — through trackless wilderness — dead stands of bamboo — Kakerbo — Tibetans preparing tsamba — a moonlit night by a mountain tarn — Yigeru, Shidsaru and Gondonrungu (4475 m) — the path to Qunatong

By dosing myself with opium, bismuth and mint tea I strove to bring the diarrhoea under control, but the condition was slow to respond, probably because I also drank milk, which in my case tends to counteract such remedies. The Nu houses were ill-equipped for an illness of that kind, and to have to keep going out into the maize fields in the rain was unpleasant even in daylight, and far worse at night The fleas in my room were gaining the upper hand and there were bugs as well; streamers of soot from the ceiling fell on to the bed, on to my head, into the food and on to the paper when I was writing. The flowering season was ebbing away and the material which my plant collectors gathered in the neighbourhood of the village contained little of note. Before long I yearned to be up in the mountains again; camping has its drawbacks, especially in wet weather, but all the trouble and toil brings its reward and would have been far better than doing nothing down there — which was not the purpose for which I had come to China.

By 31st July I was at last well enough to undertake another major journey into the mountains. My aim was to study the summer flowers of the Lancang Jiang - Nu Jiang (Mekong - Salween) divide near the Tibetan border, to visit one of the limestone peaks in that area, and to explore the depths of the Nu Jiang valley more thoroughly than had been possible on the return journey from the Drong Jiang. Setting out with fourteen porters, I at first followed the main track which I had used on my journey from Londjre to Bahan and reached the Shenzu La [note # 127: Zhi-dzom La on Rock's map (3750 m), Shentse-la on Gregory's map.] on the third day. In the Doyon-lumba the men pointed out two wild bees' nests on a cliff high up on the opposite side of the valley. From that distance they looked like gigantic wasp nests and must have been at least 1.5 m in diameter. More plants were in flower in the forests than in the previous year, notably the rough, hairy Begonia asperifolia (a new species) on disturbed soil at the sides of the track, and Rhododendron bullatum hanging down over the rocks. The Maya [note # 128: According to Rock (p. 327, 340) its name is Dra-chhen. The French christened it "Pic Francois Gamier". Rock gives its height as about 5180 m; Handel-MazzeltVs figure 'is 4575 m. Gregory's map gives 4506 m.] peak was free from cloud and I took the opportunity of sketching a clearly visible route, running between its rock towers, by which it could be climbed, as I foresaw that I might have to find the way in mist My cook-servant went ahead, having been told by the head porter that it was still "liangge bei" (cany twice) to the next campsite, i.e., that the porters would have to lay down their loads once more before reaching it. This was an even more inexact measure than the Chinese "li", a unit not favoured among the Tibetans. However, when they do calculate in li, theirs are longer than Chinese li, and the latter call them man-li ("savages' li"). It is quite wrong to regard the li as a measure of distance travelled; it is merely a measure of time taken, a fact clearly proved by the answer which I once received when I enquired how far it was to my destination: "Six li - but no, you're on horseback, so you can get there in four li!" [note # 129: Though officially a unit of distance, the "li" was indeed often calculated in this way (and sometimes still is). Thus, in mountainous areas, a downhill li might be much longer in distance than an uphill one (SGH).] I pitched my tent on the same spot as in the year before, and found the cook awaiting me with a large lump of butter. The alpine pastures were now occupied. The senior herdsman weighed out his butter with great precision and took care not to let the Chinese cheat him. He had two strapping lads to assist him in his labours, there being numerous animals to look after — sheep, ponies, ordinary oxen, yaks and several bulls including one gigantic yak whose curly head and massive neck made him look like a bison. In the morning they applied themselves diligently to the propagation of their kind. The old herdsman had a black eye, apparently sustained when he had intervened between two bulls while one was trying to push the other off a cow.

The Maya looked splendid in the evening light; its grey limestone towers cast long shadows on the emerald green pastures and clouds drifted through its ravines. It was my prime objective, and I devoted August 3rd to the climb. I had not gone far beyond the pass at the foot of the first rocks when the summit of Kakerbo came into view — a narrow wedge of snow above the ridge to the north of the Shenzi La — as if heralding fine weather, favourable for geographical observations. Yet by the time I had reached the open stretches of turf above the first broad gully it had vanished. The clouds sank lower and lower and my earlier joy gave way to bitter disappointment Botanically, too, the mountain, though a limestone inclusion in an otherwise igneous range, yielded less than I had hoped for. Corydalis adrieni had opened its fine blue flowers in the scree and the little orchid Amitostigma fonestii (Orchis fomestii) went right up to the summit Primula limbata was in fruit on the rocks. Ugularia cremanthodioides was new, but Sedum oreades, Pedicularis elwesii, Allium fomestii and others were already known. I climbed steeply up grass slopes, over a scree and finally along the crest to the summit at 4575 m, but no sooner had I reached it than the clouds began to gather, permitting only brief glimpses of the forest-filled valleys at its skirts — views which though of great beauty were of little use for topographical purposes. The Gomba-la, a huge glaciated massif visible in its entirety during the [p.118:] ascent, had now vanished. Only to the north-northeast, towards Deqen, did the view remain unob-scured. Situated in that direction was Beimachang, a dark mountain with small glaciers. Using the treeline and the glaciation as indicators, I was able to estimate its altitude, and that of the other ranges, with reasonable confidence as 5300 m. Between Deqen and the Yangzi was a limestone range of roughly the same altitude, its multiple peaks reminiscent of the Piepen group, and further north lay another even higher mountain, an enormous rugged massif with little glaciers. I lingered on the summit in the hope that Kakerbo and the taller snowpeaks of the Lanca-ng - Nu Jiang divide might yet show themselves, but in vain; even the mountain group — about 5200 m high — on the near side of the Doker-la was cut off by a cloud bank. Below me stretched the buttresses and towers between which I had ascended. Beyond them I saw the hut and the tent, people and yaks looking like dots, and to the northeast on the treeline were some dark bog pools grouped on a level patch of ground. On the east side of the Saoa-lumba a limestone inclusion, dipping almost vertically to the west, formed the impressive sharp smooth crest of the Tratje-tra, but it ended before reaching the track from the Xi-la pass to Nisselaka and did not continue northwards over the Shenzu La. The watershed, however, bent eastward immediately to the south of Mount Maya, separating the catchment area of the Saoa-lumba from that of the river running down from Londjre; its highest peak was apparently not far north of the Xi-la. Another crest branched off at almost the same altitude to join a mountain group projecting towards the Lancang Jiang, situated more or less above Sere. However, the highest peak in the Lancang - Nu divide to the south of the origin of the Doyon-lumba was evidently Nange-la, [note #130 : Rock calls it Nam-la-shu-ga peak (p. 333). ONC H-10 gives its height as 5052 m.] an obelisk probably reaching 5000 m located to the southeast of Bahan. The whole range has many similarities to our Central Alps in the shapes of its peaks, its terraces, cirques, avalanche corridors and other features. I took bearings and photographs as best I could and then started the descent, having spent more time in waiting than I liked.

To travel from Shenzu La to Qunatong on the Nu Jiang I now had to make a high level circuit round the heads of all five tributary valleys which ran down into the Doyon-lumba; at lower levels the forests were pathless and impenetrable. First there was a path across the east side of the Pongatong massif, which rises to 4600 m at a nodal point where a transverse chain joins the longitudinal mountain chain of the Maya. The track passed a mountain lake a few metres deep, which I netted for plankton. Filling the snowdrift hollows around it were Draba jucunda, D.oreades, Pbtentilla microphylh and Polygonum nummularifolium The rest of the high alpine vegetation was extremely luxuriant Among the plants were Polygonum calostachyum, Aconitum spp., numerous cruciates, Meconopsis impedita, Veratrilla baillonti, a gentian relative with green flowers, Gentiana subtilis, a new species almost vanishingly small, a tall sage of the Salvia campanu-lata group, Streptopus simplex, Ugularia yumwien-sis, Nomocharis aperta, Nephrodium barbatum and the dull red Pedicularis tzekouensis, but the imost remarkable was a thistle, the new Grsium boloceph-alum, which I had previously seen in immature state on Mount Chiangshel in the Nu Jiang - Drung JFiang divide, a fiercely prickly plant with thick leaves and at the top of each spike a mass of white wool as big as a man's head, in which the large purple inflorescences appeared to be sunken. Climbing gradually,, we reached the crest at 4375 m; going down the west side we entered the zone of dwarf rhododendrons above the tree line, where the bushes formed a continuous cover. The path faded out, and we trudged on laboriously to the north along the steep hillside, not losing or gaining much height, plodding across a low tanglewood of dwarf rhododendrons which yielded beneath the tread. In some places; the pressure of my boots stripped off the bark, exposing the bare, slippery surfaces of the rhododendiron branches. Punctuated by rock outcrops, small cinques and boulder fields, the mountainside stretched in a curve round the head of the valley, and though it was barely 3 km as the crow flies, the trek before us seemed endless when we turned to compare the stretch we had just traversed with such toil with the stretch which our guide — once again it was Knu — pointed out in front of us. At this juncture it seeimed better to strike across the next branch valley; although that meant dropping down some 800 m and climbing up again, we did not have to plunge into the forest We therefore steered straight ahead down a grassy gully. Then the slope grew steeper and steeper. Sliding rather than walking, catching holld of the bamboos and branches of larger rhododendrons, we finally reached the stream, after negotiating the rock ledges of the glaciated valley side and an avalanche corridor. At the edges of the thicketts I found yet another new edelweiss, the twelfth species I had gathered; it was Leontopodium forrestiaimim, which represents a link with the genus Gnaphaliium A little further down, on the salient between this and the next lateral stream, I found a place for the ttent, among bog pools in a grove of large tree rhododlen-drons with brown leaves.

Next day we went up the lateral streams to reach the opposite crest higher up. The bamboos on the valleyside — probably all of them were Arundiman'a melanostachys— had flowered a few years earlier and were now dead and fallen. To struggle through the tangle of canes, more than knee-high above the ground, either by wriggling through them or scrambling over them, was no easy task, especially as each man had believed that his chosen route was the best, with the result that no one had trodden out a path. After two hours we had made little progress, but then we realised that the stream itself was the toest route, not merely here but also for the steep ascent further on. We clambered up over boulders with water running over them just as mountaineers in our own Alps sometimes have to use watercourses as routes up the steep sides of glacial valleys to avoid impenetrable thickets of alder. In a glacial hollow all [p.119:] the rivulets were filled with glistening bronze cushions of Bryum handelii, a new species of moss. Hanng passed through a cirque situated above the vertical step in the valleyside, I climbed up to a point where the watershed ran east and west, forming a broad flat ridge at 4425 m. To the north-norheast some movement was visible in the clouds and after a long wait I enjoyed a few brief glimpses of the summit of Kakerbo, gleaming in the sun. It emerged somewhat to the east, separated from another range consisting of countless little peaks rising up along the east side of the valley which ran down from the highest snow peaks to the north of the Doker-la and afforded access to the latter from the east Another branch of this valley, perhaps almost as large as the northern branch, ran down from my viewpoint and joined it five kilometres above Londjre. Once again we followed the valley-side southwards along the high part of the Doker-la range which terminated here. In some places we had to make our way round the spurs which projected berveen each tributary stream. A few of the porters made a detour round the foot of each rock salient whfle others scrambled over them. I always went with the latter, for I knew that it was on the rocks thai I would find the flowers that interested me most Progress was slow and toilsome, especially as the porters kept stopping to collect stones for their fire-making equipment and roots of pemo [note # 131: Probably derived from "beimu", a term usually applied to Fritillaria bulbs when used as medicine (SGH).] Nomo-chais souliei), a valued medicinal herb, or just to rest It was in any case a strange experience to be journeying through these trackless mountains in the conpany of "savages" who ate with their hands. They prepared their tsamba in a stout bamboo or a hollow wooden cylinder. First they made the tea, then they threw in the butter and pounded and mixed them with a beater made of a perforated disc fastened to a long rod. The mixture was then poured intc a simple wooden dish or a more valuable bowl turned from one of the galls which occur on various conifers. It was then filled with meal, and the mixture was kneaded by hand and eaten with the fingers.

We pitched camp beside a clear glacial tarn, bounded on one side by a moraine bank on which a few stunted Firs struggled to survive. It was a gorgeous night The full moon shone forth behind a huge rock pinnacle which was reflected on the smooth surface of the little lake. The moonbeams made a cone of light in the water and illuminated the screes plunging down from the upper crests of the Doker-la towards the tarn. Lost in admiration, I walked up and down on the shingle and the carpets of moss (Polytrichum) in front of the tent in the silence of that alpine night until the setting moon was replaced by the feebler but equally idyllic light cast by the stars and my Tibetans' campfires.

On 6th August a short march brought us to the Yigeru pass at 4315 m, which led from the fifth and most southerly branch of the Doyon-lumba into the high valley of Shidsaru. This turned in the opposite

direction and ran northwest via Bonga to Aben, where it joined the valley coming down from the Doker-la and debouched into the Nu Jiang a little further down, at Lakonra in Tsarong in Tibet In its upper part the valley floor was flat; its forested slopes ascended gradually and the splendid peaks around it seemed to recede a little. I should have liked to climb one of the five thousand metre summits to the north, but after that clear night the weather had changed again and was not to be relied on. I collected a good haul of plants in the uppermost valley basin, where I again found Grsium bolocephalum, though as was to be expected at that altitude of only 3950 m, it was taller (1 metre) and laxer in habit with up to forty flower heads. At midday, while we were surrounded by tall meadow vegetation, there was a violent hailstorm with loud peals of thunder and we had to crawl under the tent covers and awning -until it had passed. A Nu tribesman who had built a cattle shed on the opposite side exchanged a few shouted words with my men. He too was engaged in botany, though his interests were confined to medicinal roots; he was the only soul we met between the Shenzu La and Qunatong. The valley grew narrower and was completely filled with forest and jungle grass. Once again we had to use the stream as our route, and we camped in the undergrowth at the mouth of a short side valley on the right called Sandu. Viewed from the ascent next morning, it formed a bowl filled with forest and jungle grass, flanked by sombre mountain crags. The next valley beyond this lateral mountain chain was known as Lungdja; it belonged to a Nu community under Chinese sovereignty and not to Tibet. In this part of the forest there was no understorey of flowering plants except along the stream, where I found Aconitum souliei with green flowers and Myricaria rosea climbing up the willow trunks, but toadstools had already sprung up everywhere, and I filled my alcohol jar with them.

Next day we followed a narrow track leading steeply upwards through the forest on the south side of the Shidsaru valley. The treeline ran along the rounded glaciated rocks at the sides of the valley, and above it there was a narrow stretch of level ground, as everywhere in this valley. It was really an elongated corrie, and among its boulders grew Cryptogramma crispa, a little fern common in the Central Alps. We then climbed steeply up once more to Gondonrungu, a col in the sharp rock crest which separates the valley system of the Doker-la from the Nu Jiang gorge.

The col was at 4475 m and did not yield many plants, but on the descent, first over rocks then across boulders and loose scree, I found the beautiful Pedicularis insignis and a new Meconopsis (Fig.44) with blue flowers emitting a gorgeous scent of vanilla (M ouvrardiana). [note # 132: Handel-Mazzetti subsequently assigned it to M.speciosa.] Unfortunately the distant views were obscured, and although I kept a watchful eye at all times, even during the midday rest on the treeline of the short trench or rift valley which led [p.120:] steeply down to the Nu Jiang, only once or twice did I get a brief glimpse of the dense unbroken canopy of the dark broad-leaved forests lower down on this and the opposite side of the narrow Nu Jiang valley. Crossing grassy slopes with an abundance of flowers, we came out along the right side of the rift valley and at last found a place to camp, where the ground was made tolerably level by hacking away the tussocks of sedge, Potentilla and fern, though it was inconveniently far from the water. On the crest of Tongong itself we discovered a little path which, sloping gently at first and then very steeply, led down along the ridge in a descent of 2200 m. Below 3000 m we entered the warm temperate zone, and here we came to a Nu village named Punka, situated on the steep hillside and used in the summer only. Here I had to find another porter, for one of mine had just collapsed at the side of the track with a severe stomach upset and was unable to proceed at more than a crawl. A second fairly large side 'valley sloped down much less steeply from the morth-northwest into the Nu Jiang, and at the bottom both rivers ran for a short distance side by side in a small hollow, separated only by a narrow reef of mica schist. After descending a further 550 m oni hard steep paths, somewhat punishing to the fleet, I reached Qunatong [note # 133: Chhu-na-thang on Rock's map, Kionatong on Gregory's map.] on 8th August This village, lying at an altitude of 2025 m, consisted of a few houses and the mission building scattered amid maize fields on an old talus bank deposited above the northern stream.

[chapter 27:]