Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 30


Chapter 30. Via Yongsheng and the Jinsha Jiang to Kunming

Mount Shizi Shan — rocks and fossils in the Jinsha Jiang gorge — a stemless palm — poor people wild cotton — frontier guards — opium — winter in Kunming

So as to avoid travelling yet again over the same uninteresting tract of the Yunnan highlands, I decided to return via Yongsheng and the Jinsha Jiang basin from Machang. On 24th October, having despatched the caravan — the same men as I had had for my journey to the mountains in the previous year — aloig the main road, I set off on a detour, riding my servant's horse, with the aim of visiting Shizi Shan, a mountain in the range which forms the eastern rim of the Lijiang basin. The upper part of the mountain (3350 m in altitude) is built of limestone ionglomerate, weathered into rounded shapes, and tMs also forms the crest over which the route passes. Beneath the conglomerate are sandstone and bands of hard limestone. Though quite good, the track vas obstructed by fallen trees, not all of which the pony could jump and, contrary to my expectations, tlere was no track down the mountain leading direct!/ to Duinaoke.

Tiere was a splendid view from the little temple on the summit, and having taken the observations needed to complete the map, I turned back and found to my dismay — and my pony's — that I had to ride down all the way to the foot of the mountain again. Then, after ascending 600 m along the caravan route, I finally reached the pass as darkness was falling Growing there on the rocks and on the conglomerate at the foot of the moraines were dense cushions of the white Sedum primuloides. Escorted by men carrying pine torches, I at last entered Duinaoke, where I found my servant in a state of total drunkenness. I upbraided him with some vehemence and am glad to say that he did not offend again. Besides the autumn flora of these low altitude zones, I was particularly interested in the geological structire of the terrain. Just below the village I found blocks of limestone formed entirely from brachbpod shells (Rhynchonella species and a new species of Dayia from the Upper Silurian or Devonian) though otherwise I did not have much luck with fossils. Limestone conglomerate, sandstone and carboriferous marl with a gentle westerly to almost vertical dip were exposed on the scarp.

En route, as I looked downstream, a fascinating picture came into view. The river had gnawed into a steep rock face until a large piece had broken off and fallen down without shattering. The river, presumably dammed back for a time, had forced its way through the cleft, which it had then adopted as its new bed, and the broken off piece was now left on the other side of the river (the east bank). The whole picture was as clear as if the events had happened only the day before. At Guanyilang there was i thick bed of grey sandstone, sharply cut off and dipping gently to the west. Still overlain by limestone, it continued beyond the Jinsha Jiang. From there I could see its valley — here once again a smooth-walled gorge — coming down in a straight line fom the north. Its sides were dark green, as the subtropical flora was then at the peak of its development At noon on the fourth day I reached Yongsheng where I spent a few agreeable hours with Père Monbeig, a man with whom one could discuss any subject I also had the opportunity of buying a handsome mule, a female, which I rode from then on. She proved entirely satisfactory and I kept her until was in Hunan, where I sold her for the price I had originally given.

There I left the route which I had travelled in 1914 and continued eastwards, though first deviating towards the south. On that and the following three days my attention was attracted by a small stemless palm which occurred in large numbers among various oak communities in this sparsely populated terrain. I had previously seen solitary specimens beside the main road to Dali near Shezi, but although they were in flower I had taken them to be escapes from cultivation, dwarfed examples of Trachycarpa excelsa, a palm planted in every village. Here it was so plentiful and was fruiting so abundantly that I discarded that notion. It turned out to be Trachycatpus nana, a palm originally collected by Delavay though first described, from his material, in 1910. Travelling onwards, we met a few more strata ' of sandstone, set almost vertically though dipping towards the west They caused the little stream which we were following to make numerous small meanders. Then we came to limestones and sandstones, marls and clay slate, only slightly disturbed, especially on either side of the valley leading south-southeast, and another valley leading eastwards, which we reached after a short march on the third day. On the northern side these rocks formed gentle east-facing slopes which were inhabited and cultivated, though deeply cut by the lateral streams. If these topographical features had been more clearly delineated, the depiction of this stretch, surveyed by Ryder, would have been one of the best sections of Davies' map. Although the geological picture is one of more or less undisturbed stratification in a basin which was filled up possibly much later, the surface configuration of the landscape is closely similar to that of the intensely folded Yunnan plateau — a resemblance heightened by their having the same plant cover of pine and oak forest High up in the valley which we had just reached the track led through a beautiful gorge filled with Lithocarpus forest and even having a little waterfall. Growing in the gorge, the tall shrubby Edgeworthia gardneri, resembling a daphne, was now putting forth its pretty white flowers.

Down on the valley bottom the subtropical vegetation and the ancient tufa formations on the limestone rocks reminded me of the valley of Shi-wanhe [note # 151: Chapter 9.] in the Yalong territory between Huili and Yanyuan. Growing abundantly in niches and fissures in the rock was Remusatia vivipara, an aroid previously found only in the Himalaya; it does not produce any fruits, but multiplies by means of bristly golden brown multi-pointed vegetative buds or bulbils on its elongated twisted spadix. A short stone [p.132:] bridge led over the deep ravine of one of the lateral streams, so deep that one could not see its bottom; it was just like the ponte alto at Ampezzo. From here the usual route left the stream and led straight over a saddle to the little town of Huaping, formerly known as Jiuyaping.

On 31st October, while staying in a hostelry outside the town wall, I was visited by the local official. He and his numerous retinue waited patiently for an hour and a half for my cook-interpreter to return from the town — a wait which lasted late into the evening and put my patience to the test, too. Then he engaged me in conversation for a further hour before I could at last settle down to my work. From there on I again encountered a medley of stratified rocks including beds of massive sandstone up to at least 150 m thick, while in some stretches the valley side was formed by the laminar surfaces of the red arkose sandstone itself. Flourishing in small pools beside the rivulets which trickled over the rock, cutting only slightly into it, were two species of Utricularia, the pink U. racemosa and the yellow U. bifida. Unlike our own species they are not totally immersed; at flowering time they put up erect spikes from their withered leaf rosettes.

Some distance before we reached Machang the Jinsha Jiang came flowing down from the south, and the track continued eastwards in its rather unattractive valley. Once again there were conglomerates and other strata lying vertically; above them was limestone, lying unconformably, together with the sedimentary deposits previously encountered at high altitudes. On reaching Machang I felt impelled to visit Pere Salvat, who had remained on friendly terms with Schneider and myself. He was now cleanshaven, and at first I hardly recognised him, being quite unaccustomed to seeing a French missionary without a beard. Coal was dug in large amounts on the far bank of the river and carried downstream in boats, though certainly no further than Longjie. The valley was fairly broad and extremely arid. The houses flid not need gable roofs, and even flat roofs seemed superfluous, to judge from the number which had been allowed to collapse. The climate was warm enough to make clothing superfluous too, and people of both sexes — adults as well as young children — were not infrequently to be seen in a state of total nakedness.

"Now what about the wild men who don't wear any clothes?" said I to my servant, who still loved talking about the sights he had seen in the Drung Jiang in 1915. My own thoughts turned longingly towards the comfortable and convenient loft rooms of the Naxi houses, so much more habitable than the wretched Chinese huts which I was now obliged to use. In a village near Xinzhuang I was amazed to find Carica papaya in cultivation. This tropical fruit seemed quite out of place in that climate. Manhao on the Red River was the only other place in Yun-nan where I had seen it, though it does grow in one other non-tropical site, namely Baiyanjing, where Simeon Ten collected it Another interesting find was a cotton, Gossypium obtusifolium, a fair-sized shrub, unquestionably wild, growing among rocks near the hostelry halfway between Xinzhuang and Geliping (Luoluoping) and on grassy slopes further on. It had previously been recorded from India only. At midday on 3rd November I crossed the Jinsha Jiang by the ferry at Geliping, a crossing considered dangerous because of the fierce currents. A imule, tired of being kept waiting, leapt out of the boalt into the water and swam right across the river.

At Yong Xing (Renhejie), situated in a lateral valley leading southwards, I met Pere Durieu, who had come from the next market town and brought the latest news of the war. All the missionaries were now much less partisan than they had been earlier, when they had been influenced by wild rumouirs in the newspapers, and we found that our opinions on the causes of the war were in close agreement Further up the valley I stopped at a little woioden bridge. Looking backwards through the bushes, I saw the men rescuing a load which had fallen into the water and hurriedly reloading it They were greatly disconcerted to find that I had seen them, for they would have preferred to cover up the mishap. Had they succeeded, all the undeveloped plates fromi that summer, packed as they were in an unsoldered tin box, would probably have been ruined. As it was, the cardboard boxes containing the plates were only slightly damp and I was able to dry them that evening.

I met several parties of soldiers, mostly miilitia or young lads with enormously long antiquated matchlocks, lances and swords. They had been sent to guard the Sichuan frontier, where renewed trouble was expected. Some of them, under the command of an officer, were busy pulling up young opium poppy plants which a peasant had been shamelessly cultivating beside the main road [note # 152: Since that time the cultivation of opium seems to have been legalised again; at any rate, Rock, in his account of his travels in 1923, prints a photograph of opium poppy fields near Lijiang (National Geographic Magazine 46, p. 474) (Handel-Mazzetti's footnote).] During the midday halt by the stream my men came up to me with their hands full of sand, shouting "Jin duo, Jin duo!" ("lots of gold!"). They were sadly disappointed when I explained that the bright particles were mierely mica, washed out of the soft granite by the stream.

Next day, from a spot at 2350 m on the pass above Dadianjie, I had an immense vista in the clear autumn air, extending over the Yunnan highlands and northwards as far as the mountains near Decha-ng and Yanyuan. From Yongren (Zhujue) onwards the terrain was monotonous. The basin was filled with conglomerates which formed a bare treeless high-altitude plain covered with steppe grasses and deeply incised by streams. Here I was once again struck by the loose fluffy wool which covered! the tussocks of steppe grasses in such dense balls that later they broke off and rolled along the ground. Ischaemum angustifolium has white wool, and Fbllinia phaeothrix dark brown. It consists solelly of the hairs from the sheaths and leaves, but they contain so much silica that they can survive several fires. Because of the wide rings of dead sheaths, these and other steppe grasses are so firmly emtbed- [p.133:] ded in the sward that it is almost impossible to divide them with a trowel or to dig out the freshly flowering parts from the armour plating which surrounds them. Not until we were approaching Majie did we pass any villages. We crossed the Longchuan Jiang in a leaky ferry boat, pushed by a few stark naked coolies wading across the river.

From Majie the track went up into the hills, without entering Yuanmou. The mountains in the Jianchang were still visible and the familiar triple summit of Longzhu Shan near Huili seemed so close that one could almost grasp it Two photographs, taken from different points, would have been enough for a photogrammetric survey of the entire Huang-zhen valley, but alas I had not one plate left, and for the same reason I was unable to photograph the Trachycarpus palms, though they were of great interest. For the next few days we had long marches on tracks which in some stretches were in appalling condition in consequence of rain. The animals sank in above their knees, and their riders were plastered with mud. As there were said to be numerous bandits, I was always provided with two soldiers, but only once, between Wuding and Chebei, did they trouble to go ahead with loaded rifles to inspect possible hiding-places beside the track; elsewhere they plodded dumbly along among the pack animals. Outside the town gate of Fumin a man had been hanged. Women were sitting around on the grass, chatting and drinking tea; yet another instance of Chinese callousness!

On 13th November I arrived safe and sound in Kunming. The police were on the lookout for opium and eyed my tin boxes with great suspicion, but I refused to let them be opened. Later they came to my house, but finding only the empty pack saddles in the yard they went away disconsolately.

I moved into lodgings with Herr Pawelka in the lower part of Kunming, since Herr Andersen and Herr Schoch and his family had left the town some time before. Here too I fixed up a dark room; the drain was a rat hole. Many of the plates brought back from the distant west had been damaged by moisture. Before long we had company in the house — two German technicians sent from Japan for the electricity works. During that whiter I took my meals as the guest of Herr Weiss, the consul, and am greatly indebted to him; despite our wide differences in outlook we never had any of the disputes so frequent among fellow countrymen in the Far East

[p.134:] map 6

[chapter 31:]