Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 28

[p.:123] Chapter 28 Via Weixi to Jianchuan and Lijiang

Surveying in the Lancang Jiang valley — the Weixi valley — distrustful soldiers — over eight passes through unknown country — escorted by Lisu guards — honey — Luotui Shan and Lanchouba — geological formations — over die Yenaping pass south of Laojun Shan

Ireappointed Li Tere, now somewhat humbled and contrite, as caravan leader and he assembled the muleteers from Cizhong and Cigu. On 8th September we crossed the ropebridge at Cigu, that being the one I knew best The men would gladly have renewed it at my expense, but I declined, having already spent quite enough money in their villages. They enquired tentatively whether I would hold them responsible if any of the baggage they were carrying rolled into the river. One of them, having lost some property belonging to a Chinese from Deqen, had had the unhappy experience of

being sued for compensation, and although he had been cleared by the court in Weixi, the case had cost him good money. I was willing to absolve them from responsibility only if they stayed beside their mules and not if they walked at the rear of the caravan chatting to one another. However, I was not seriously concerned, as I knew that any mishap would cost a Tibetan his beast as well as its load, while a Chinese muleteer is more or less indifferent to the loss of his employer's property, carried as it is on a pack frame on which it rests loose and unsecured.

[p.124:] The natural vegetation was as parched as the field crops and I was therefore free, without fear of missing anything of botanical interest, to devote my attention to a detailed survey of the river valley, its slopes and lateral valleys as far as I could see along them; the results enabled me to make useful revisions to the existing maps, especially as regards the lengths and directions of the side valleys. Having reliable guides, I was able to verify the distribution of each tribe and the place names by repeated crosschecks, and to ascertain the names of the numerous Lisu villages on the sides of the valley. On reaching Yezhi I took good care to lodge with the tusi, who was on friendly terms with the missionaries. Near Maliping was a spot formerly dreaded by travellers, where bandits used to lie in wait among stone walls and maize fields, in the bushes or in the fir woods. On that very day there seemed to have been some incident of that kind. Standing at the side of the forest path was a Chinese trader with a wound in his temple; two Tibetans from his caravan were carrying sacks on their backs and higher up in the forest I saw his packhorses. I never found out what had happened, but it seems likely that he had been ambushed. The tusi of Gangpu [note # 141: Kangpu on Handel-Mazzetti's map.] invited me to a meal, but I declined with thanks, as I had plenty to do. He nevertheless sent me a few delicacies, including a dish of roast grasshoppers. Their flavour was not at all bad, but after trying two or three my gorge rose and I could not stomach any more. The revolting dishes which my cook set before me had totally spoilt my appetite for Chinese titbits.

I spent 15th and 16th September in Weixi and persuaded my muleteers to extend our contract as far as Lijiang. They were at first reluctant to go as they had heard that horses were being requisitioned there, but in Weixi they evidently received reassuring reports. My servant said he could not understand why I wanted to keep the "natives", when Chinese mafus were available at low rates. For my part, I wanted nothing to do with obstinate Chinese caravan-men and horses with running sores on their backs; I had Tibetans who responded with anxious exclamations of concern — their word was "alee" — to the least sign of undue pressure on their horses' backs, though their mode of loading tended to put the main weight on the shoulders, and they even asked me for medicine to treat them. I knew that the official was an intelligent man, well disposed towards foreigners, and I gave notice that I would call on him at 3 pm, but although I waited for a considerable time he did not appear. He had probably heard where I had been and wanted to avoid any conversation on matters that could only have been disagreeable to him. A policeman asked to see my passport; as I did not at once understand the word, and as my servant perhaps did not know that I possessed any such thing, he had to be content with a visiting card. I was more than pleased that the xianzhang [note # 142: County magistrate. A popular term, not an official title (SGH).] provided without demur an escort of two soldiers for the straight road to Jianchuan, for on this occasion I had no desire to deviate from the route. During the following winter he was murdered with boiling oil during a rebellion against taxes.

On 17th September the cook had gone shopping, a task which he had evidently not had time to complete during my two day stay. I waited until 9 am but he did not return, and Lao Li was unable to find him in the town. He was presumably holed up somewhere with a bottle of schnapps and must have forgotten all about our departure. I waited quite long enough for him at the lunch halt, and he finally turned up at Jingutang that evening, an hour after I had got in, riding on a pony dripping with sweat and accompanied by two more soldiers whom he had engaged for his personal protection — and for whom I made him pay — and immediately threw himself down on a bed beside me.

The road followed the stream beneath the gravel plain, here 4 km wide, which filled the Weixi basin; it had a few low terraces and was furrowed by tributaries. At a Naxi village called Toju the main branch of the valley ran up through a somewhat deeper basin to the east; there were said to be iron mines higher up. We turned south-eastwards along a . narrow little valley in which Jingutang was situated. This village and the others nearby, occupied by Chinese and Lisu, consisted of only a few houses. Among their fields of maize and buckwheat were patches of cockscomb (Amaranthus hypochondriacus), its deep bloodred flowers making a brilliant picture. Hemp, used by Lisu and Pumi for making clothes, was also widely cultivated. The stems, tied into bundles, had been hung up to dry from the branches of the trees bordering the fields. The soldiers slept in the cramped and crowded house where I was accommodated, and that evening, as I was sitting at the camp table making a fair copy of my route survey, one of them suddenly appeared and gazed down at my work. What was I to do? He had approached unexpectedly out of the darkness and probably understood what I was engaged in. In my alarm my first impulse was to turn the sheet upside down or lay it aside, but such an action would certainly not have saved the situation. I therefore went on with my sketching as if I were completely unconcerned. I often heard the soldiers talking about my map-making, an activity which was strictly prohibited, especially in those border areas, but whenever the situation seemed to look threatening my servant slipped them a dollar and I was able to pretend that I was doing it with a clear conscience. Every time he gave them a bribe they asked: "What's that for?" and he simply replied: "To buy rice." At the end of the journey I handed them a generous tip as well. I felt they were unlikely to give me away, since they had never tried to tell me that map-making was forbidden and if they had informed on me at that late stage they would have found themselves in trouble for not stopping me much earlier. This resourcefulness was one of my servant's good points and because of it I was willing to overlook his drinking. In many a crisis he managed on his own initiative to find a way of dealing with the situation. He never confined himself to mere obedi- [p.125:] ence to the letter of my orders, but on the other hand it was difficult to induce him to obey commands — for instance those concerned with cleanliness — when he did not understand their purpose. At the last overnight halt before reaching Kunming he had been sweeping out the room at the hostelry and had collected a substantial pile of rubbish. When I told him to get rid of it he replied: "I'll just sweep it under the bed!" However, I later heard that this reluctance on the part of the Chinese to sweep anything out of a room apparently has some religious basis.

Leaving the Weixi valley system, the track then climbed over a steep ridge at 3025m and entered another valley running down in the opposite direction. All the tops were clothed with dense mixed forest, but the sides of the valley were under cultivation everywhere and there were numerous large Lisu villages. The next part of the valley was a narrow gorge leading southwest; after some 7 km it curved southwards past a fairly low range of mountains consisting of several wooded domes lying on this side (east) of the Lancang Jiang. The track did not follow this valley, but ran southwards across it and continued for two and a half days some distance from its eastern side. To the left (east) we now saw the limestone crest of Baiyazi [note # 143: Pengaitse on Handel-Mazzetti 's map.] rising abruptly to a height of some 3800 m. On the right of the track, between it and the main valley, was a more or less vertical limestone wall running in a straight line to the south-southeast, though visible only here and there among the forest. Its existence was the reason for the peculiar configuration of the landscape. Between it and the high mountains to the east a channel running north-northwest to east-southeast had been scooped out in the soft sandstone; it consisted of a series of cols, all at much the same altitude (2850 to 3020 m), arranged in a straight line and cutting to differing depths into the ridges, which rose up again to higher altitudes to the right of this limestone wall. Between these east-west ridges ran six side valleys, coming together exactly along the line of the route, which led over all these cols. In some places several headwaters united in a small basin and then broke through a narrow spot in the limestone wall to reach the west In Muguazuo, our second night's halt, we heard that a robber band some twenty strong had been roaming about on the next col for the last few days; they had already shot at and wounded several travellers and relieved them of their property. In response to our request the Lisu headman gave us an escort of twelve of his men armed with swords, crossbows and poisoned arrows, so that we were at least as numerous as the bandits and were equipped with weapons which would certainly command more respect from them than the soldiers' rifles could have done. Apart from a few baskets and scraps of paper scattered on the ground beyond the pass leading to Basulo we saw no trace of them.

The view from the next col was most instructive. It was a gracious, undramatic landscape of gentle rounded hills and ridges in every shade of green, covered by forests — chiefly pine, but also some fir and spruce — and meadows as far as the eye could see. Growing along the brooks were Pterocarya forrestii and an elm. The straight channel formed by the four cols which we still had to traverse continued in front of us along the narrow plain of Lanchouba, which stretched out in exactly the same direction along the left branch of the river, now flowing towards us. Here I made a discovery which gave me great pleasure. In the rotting leafmould of the mixed woodland, I found for the first time Neottia listeroides, a slender grey-brown orchid previously reported only from India. It was present in considerable numbers, and among it were a few specimens of another saprophytic orchid without any leaves, Epipogium aphyllum, suffused with a pinkish violet tinge, also a new record for China. It brought back memories of home; as a fourteen year old boy its discovery at a new location in Tirol had been the first major botanical triumph of my early years. Lisu villages were scattered here and there, and as we descended we came to Yisitsa, a large Pumi village where the Chinese had established a police post Here I dismissed my Lisu escort, not because of the police, but simply because the road from there on was safe. The sturdy Pumi people, here quite tidily dressed in simple garments of grey hempen cloth, were perhaps of better physique than any of the other tribesmen in Yunnan. Their dwellings, and those of the Lisu people, were built in exactly the same style as the Naxi houses. Remembering the bread with butter and honey which I had enjoyed on the journey from Weixi onwards the year before, I instructed my servant to ask whether honey was available in this district; butter I had brought with me from Cigu. He came back and said, "There is honey here, but it looks so strange that I'd better show it to you first, so you can see if you can eat it." It was in fact pure clear golden-yellow honey fresh from the comb, as fine as any I had ever seen at home, but being familiar only with the opaque fermented honey which the Chinese always adulterated with cheap sugar, he hardly recognised it for what it was.

In Jinkou, the next village, all the school children, wearing brick-red caps of military style, were marching in a line along the road. At their teacher's command they bowed deeply to me; in response I graciously raised my right hand to my hat while using my left to hold together a large rent in my coat The teacher ran after me and tried to start a conversation, but I felt disinclined to stop. A short distance further on we saw on the left a substantial group of mountains, known as Luotui Shan, Labako or Tapiso in the Pumi language, called Laba Shan by the Chinese. I had often seen it from high vantage points near Lijiang, but had never been certain of its exact location. It was built of dark sandstone in sharply demarcated bands. The main summit was a steep, almost horizontally stratified block reaching an altitude of about 4300 m. Around it were a few [p.126:] lower crags, their strata tilted at various angles, disposed along a broad high ridge. As I came to each of the valleys coursing down from the left I could see that they all debouched into a main channel which ran north and south, diverging further and further from the line of my route. This channel apparently ran parallel with the Lancang Jiang, separated from it by the aforementioned range, which was clothed with broad-leaved forest I never viewed this range in its entirety, but having seen several portions of it at various times, I found when I came to draft the map that they fitted together in continuity. As there was no sign of any transverse valley or water gap breaking through the range down to the Lancang Jiang, I concluded that this longitudinal channel must be the one which debouches into the Lancang Jiang at Yingpanjie, despite information later given to me when I was in Shadian, namely that the river at that place, which quite obviously belongs to the same valley system, allegedly debouched into the Lancang Jiang at Xiaodian, i.e., at the same latitude as Muguazuo. When one gets to know the heedlessness and irresponsibility of the Chinese in such matters, one learns to trust one's own eyes in preference to their stories, though in Yunnan there actually are deeply cut channels and water gaps which can easily escape the distant observer, and I therefore regard the above conclusions as falling some way short of certainty. Nevertheless, the survey of the route from Weixi to Jianchuan and the adjacent territory was one of the most valuable results of my travels in China, as there had previously been no satisfactory map of the broad tract of country between the Lancang Jiang and Yangzi (Yangbi Jiang) rivers from Weixi to Dali. From the last col, at 2850 m, between Daizidian and Shadian we now saw the Lanchouba itself. It was an extended plain, a little over 1 km broad, covered by meadows through which the river meandered. The slopes on either side were at first quite low and gentle, with small rounded shoulders projecting here and there. Along the sides of the plain there were several villages and in the middle, where it began to merge into the horizon, we saw the gleaming white walls of Dongdian, a town of some size. On the left (east) were two conspicuous peaks forming a double summit, and to the right, looking over a broad high forested crest, we saw Yelu Shan, a flat treeless pyramid probably reaching 4000 m. Continuing without alteration in breadth, the Lanchouba formed its own horizon, rising at first imperceptibly and then sloping down in the same configuration to a tributary of the Yangbi Jiang. Shadien, where we spent the night, was situated at a considerably greater altitude than the entry to the gorge through which the little river curved down to the west I followed the plain for another full day's march, keeping always along its eastern margin. The inhabitants were Bai and were subject to the authorities in the salt mining town of Lanping Xian or Ladjimin, lying further to the west. The watershed marking the transition to the next river drainage area was almost imperceptible, and was situated at 2775 m. A rivulet coming from the west flowed down only a short way before reaching the middle of the plain and turning southwards in a deeply incised trench, while further streams, coming down from the mountains on both sides and uniting at Fengjia and Huangzhuchang, still adopted a northerly course.

As we came down from the col the scenerjy gradually changed. First there were rounded headl-lands of hard limestone which brought some diverr-sity into the sandstone landscape. On the right sidle of the valley they were arranged in a straight lirae, but as they ran south they gradually diverged from the route. They emerged from beneath the talus (of the plain and the mountain range to the east, extending only a short distance on the mountains to the west, and terminated there in steep stratified bluflfs above the core of the mountain, which consisted <of crystalline rocks or sandstone. Above the smooth arid rock slabs the hillsides were covered witth brownish holly-leaved oak scrub interspersed witth pines; the bluffs were capped by luxuriant forest arad the rocks of the mountain core were also wooded The valley broadened into a triangle, the streaim being pushed to its left (east) side by talus fains which ran down from Yelu Shan on the left (wesit) and formed a sloping area, parts of it under cultivation. Emerging from this slope, apparently dispose*! at random, were more bluffs or headlands, both large and small, all evidently of limestone, some coalescing into large islands while others formed peninsulais or spurs connected to the foot of the mountaiin. These wonderful geological formations await investigation by a specialist The valley seemed to continue for some 20 km, bending a little towards the easst, before it was once again narrowed by the encroaclh-ment of the mountain range on the west Bai villag<es were scattered throughout its length, some of considerable size such as Xianshengyi [note # 144: Schiensendyi on Handel-Mazzetti 's map.], through which we passed, and Majiping further downstream across the river on an enormous alluvial fan. We stopped ifor the night at Dajingtou, at the confluence with tthe main river, which rose about 25 km away to tthe northeast in the Laojun Shan, a mountain ran,,ge whose steep walls extended even down to this lev<el. Here I again took bearings and photographs in every direction, as I now had to quit the valley.

The track now turned eastwards through a smiall side valley about 10 km long and climbed to tthe Yenaping pass situated at 3250 m on the crest to tthe south of the Laojun Shan, a mountain at that time not shown on any map. It lies 25 km northwest of Jianchuan, reaching roughly 4200 m — a broad, seemingly arid limestone bastion above the samd-stone, with steep precipices on this side. The traick had been washed away by a cloudburst and recenttly rebuilt — which was lucky for me, as the sections of the old track which I saw were in a frightful state of disrepair, although it was the main road between Jianchuan and Ladjimin. The roadmender had to beg his wages from passing travellers, a state of affairs I had more than once encountered among the Chinese; yet after all, they were his customers. As in many parts of the Yunnan highlands, red sandstome in gently dipping strata, here and there forming steep [p.127:] escarpments, made the floor of the basin, which was uncultivated and filled with light green pine forest After a short stretch along the crest, which sent off broad spurs to the south and gradually diminished in altitude, the track descended into the basin. It then followed a brook running southeast, which like its tributaries, most of which came from the north, had cut ilself a narrow trench. Late that evening, having passed only a few poverty-stricken dwellings, we arrived at Liping. Here the valley floor grew broader and cultivation appeared. The stream continued in the same direction past some fair-sized villages, but my route led due east over a ridge 450 m higher running between the basin and the Yangbi Jiang. If the views from the Yenaping and Balashu passes had not been so clear, my survey of the basin, made simply while passing across it, would certainly not have been a success, but in fact the results were highly satisfactory, although the fine weather now broke. Descending from the Balashu pass I reached Jianchuan exactly one week after leaving Weixi; there I was once more in known territory.

For the last stage of the journey I had an escort of four soldiers, one of whom craned his neck with curiosity every time I pulled out my notebook. However, they all slunk to the rear of the caravan as we climbed up to the pass where bandits sometimes lurked. Retracing the route of my return journey in 1914, I arrived in Nguluke on 26th September after three days on the road.

[chapter 29:]