Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 32


Chapter 32. Across Southwest Guizhou

The Huangni He — Xingyi — rock landscapes and underground rivers — maize cultivation in karst terrain — the gorge of the Beipan Jiang — Huajiang and Guanling — Miao tribesmen — waterfalls

The Huangni He [note # 158: Handel-Mazzetti has definitely confused the names of the rivers here (SGH).] marked the boundary between Yunnan and Guizhou and the village of Jiangdi lay just beyond it The river flowed on southwards to join the Nanpan Jiang at the border of Guangzi. As became apparent when I drafted my route survey, the village was situated some distance further east than the position shown on previous maps [note # 159: Handel-Mazzetti's own map also appears to be wildly inaccurate in this area (SGH).]. Sixteen soldiers from Guizhou were awaiting me; drawn up in a somewhat ragged line on the steps, they presented arms as I arrived. My lieutenant let one of his own men cross the river with the baggage, but took possession of his rifle so as to deter him from absconding. I found lodgings in the lijin house, which had been intended mainly for the salt trade. One hundred tjin (60 kg) of Yunnan salt paid a toll of $2. Pterocarya stenoptera was growing in large numbers by the river — tall trees with spreading branches, pinnate leaves and pendent catkins, some over 30 cm long, with widely spaced, winged seeds like those of a maple. Though often submerged by the river, various pliant shrubs flourished there, notably Comus paucinervis, Ficus piriformis and Distylium chinense. The narrow river valley ran at first southeast, turning south-southwest after 10 km. However, the track soon quitted it and climbed eastwards. On the opposite side was a karst spring, its abundant waters splashing down for a distance of several metres into the river. The limestone, lying on top of sandstone and blue slate and dipping northwestwards, extended down as far as the river, and the plants growing on it were of somewhat greater interest. Here, for the last time, I found Engelhardtia colebrookiana, related to Ptemcarya. The steep climb ended at 1600m and there, on flatter ground, were pines and alders — a dryland species and a wetland species growing side by side in some pleasant little woods. On the right, beyond a depression, was the edge of a plateau which extended, geologically undisturbed, far towards the south.

The track reached summit level at Gaocha (1760m), revealing a chain of jagged mountains of somewhat lower altitude. It then turned left and ran down through a valley filled with Cunninghamia trees. Here they were unquestionably wild, and they soon became the predominant conifer of the district. The next valley veered to the southeast and climbed up into a group of barren, pointed mountains rising up from arid steppe terrain; where the stream went was not clear, but perhaps it flowed round to the north of them. After passing the mouths of several valleys which coursed down between parallel rock spurs from the massif to the north — in which coal was mined — we soon reached the little town of Huangcasba, otherwise known as Xingyi-xiau [note # 160: Now the preferred name (SGH).], where all I could find was a most miserable hoslelry. Nevertheless, I decided to spend a day there, as the shrubs growing on the rock spurs called for closer investigation.

The town spread over a sloping tract at 1300 m, and the walls surrounding its two separate parts extended up on to two hills where they were crowned by watchtowers offering picturesque views. The telegraph line from Anlong (or Xingyi-fu) to the east had recently been completed and, as I found on the next stage of my journey, a brand-new paved road had been constructed. Being accustomed to the ancient and dilapidated roads of Yunnan, I was amazed at the sight. On visiting the official — a most helpful and obliging man held in great affection by the people — I was able to get rid of my military escort, as the route was reputed to be perfectly safe, and one or two riflemen would be quite sufficient, as the official admitted with a smile. Here he was stationed in Guizhou and outside the authority of the dujun of Yunnan. Though someone in Jiangdi had told me that it was 60 li to the Nanpan Jiaiig, I heard here that the journey would take six or seven days on bad mountain roads and had to give up the idea of making a short detour to visit the low lying river valley, even though both my informants might have been equally far from the truth. On 15th June I visited one of the rocky spurs: in fact the first to the west of the town, as it seemed to be well clothed with vegetation. However, in its lower part there was nothing more than nut trees and maize; the naural shrub covering had been destroyed and survived only on the very top. There, however, the spoils were rich indeed: Tirpitzia sinensis (Unaceae), a shrub with soft leaves and large flowers; Alangium chinsnse and Sapium rotundifolium, Salacia sessiliflora, a new species in a genus of tropical affinities: Rliam-nus paniculiflows and another species with equally inconspicuous flowers (Rhamnella martinii): Ficus baileyi scrambling over the rocks, and many more. Clambering about in the broiling sun, I worked off some of the fat which had been laid down by the generous diet provided by my kind hosts during the previous winter, and the sweat streamed down my cheeks. Down below by the brook I collected Bisch-ofia trifoliata, a large tree with a spherical crown and trifoliate leaves; though it looks like a Pistaaa it really belongs to the spurge family. Also growing there was an ash, Fraxinus chinensis.

On the hillside below the town there were little waterfalls where the streams splashed down sver deposits of travertine. On the plain I saw the tea oil bush (Thea oleifera} in cultivation for the first time. Cynanchum atratum with brownish black flowers was frequent there, and the fern Lygodium japonicum was creeping about on steep roadside blinks among Gleichenia linearis. At the edge of the plain [p.141:] a river had cut a ravine, and at a narrow spot, far to the eft of the line which the road would otherwise have taken, it was crossed by a stone bridge [note # 161: Tianxin-Qiao — Handel-Mazzetti's Fig. 130, not reproduced in this edition.] some 25 m above the water (1050 m above sea level). It made a marvellous picture: the gloomy ravine wincing away into the unknown, the tufa deposits on its vails, the perpendicular rock towers on either side, and beneath them the bridge — a work of man and not of nature, yet by no means out of keeping with the scene. We went gradually uphill and the cone hills began again. From afar this stone forest at first seemed totally formless, but before long a patten emerged, the cones apparently being arranged in rows along the approximately east-west strike of the strata, which were tilted almost vertically.

Soon after leaving Dingxiao, where we spent the night, we turned off the road to Anlong [note # 162: Hsingyi-fu (Xingyi fu), now Anlong, not Hsingyi-hsien (Xingyi Xian), now Xingyi (SGH).] and climbed in stages to the left up to a plateau. It had been rainhg since the previous day, but visibility was clear enough for me to make out the structure of the landscape. Small villages were scattered everywhere, and dl low-lying areas were in use as rice fields. Up on top the strata were horizontal again, and the projecting rock cones were marked by regular bands. There was low-growing scrub consisting of Myrsine afriana and Pyracantha crenulate as in Yunnan, while Pinus yunnanensis was still widespread. Up there on the plateau — further away it evidently sloped down to the southwest — we crossed a rivulet, probibly the main affluent of the river which flowed under the Tianxin Qiao bridge, and near the village of Mong we met it again, this time on our right. Ragiig in their channel below the road, its waters tossed spray high into the air between the bushes. Its main source was a spring which gushed out from a hollcw in the rock, and the underground streams which fed it had been swollen by the rain. Higher up, ibove this spring, the stream was very much smaller. During the lunch halt I found some more fossis embedded in laminar limestone strata sandwiched between beds of solid rock; when subsequently identified, they proved that the formation belonged to the Carboniferous. In some stretches of its little valley the rivulet flowed underground. Its source was located near a col at 1600 m, traversed by tie road. The surrounding terrain was somewhat barren, the plant cover consisting of sparse discontinuous sward, quite different from the Yunnanese steppe. Although Drosera peltata was still present in it, tie dominant species was Scleria hookeriana, a sedge with black panicles. Osmunda japonica, Lysinachia cletiuoides, Cirsium belingschanicum and Houttuynia condata bore witness to the moister conditions, while Castanea seguinii, Indigofera esqmolii and /. dosua were still the characteristic shrubs. As we went downhill the stream accompanying is once again ran underground in some stretches. The limestone formed a fold at right angles to the northeasterly course of the road, and the hollow in which Qiaolou was located was a syncline, its drainage running eastwards.

Beyond the hollow was a quartzite ridge, rising up out of the rocky headlands in which the limestone terminated. Climbing the ridge next morning, we came to some bogs situated along little brooks. In places there were bogmosses and liverworts (Naidia tnmcata); Osmunda cinnamomea growing in tussocks; rushes, bulrushes and reeds; a large fern, resembling bracken, with rounded terminal pinnae (Histiopteris incisa); Hydrangea yunnanensis, upright shoots of bramble, and Potygonum cuspidatum at the margins of the surrounding shrub community. Flowering in profusion on a marshy meadow on the first saddle (1720m) was the snow white vanilla-scented orchid Platanthera hologlottis. The hillsides were covered with bracken interspersed with numerous hazel shrubs (Corylus heterophylla) and a few birches (Betula luminifera). Leaving the next valley, where the stream splashed down in a series of little waterfalls, we climbed up yet again into another valley running in the same direction. Here we found coal, and beside it there were flat cones of reddish brown sinter deposited by the springs. The bushes seemed reluctant to colonise it, but it was thickly overgrown with luscious green liverworts and soft cushions of algae (Ulothrix subtilis) with moss (Polytrichum commune) in smaller amounts. At last we reached the edge of the quartzite ridge and found a little saddle which gave far reaching views. Below it were some inconspicuous limestone hills dipping slightly towards the northeast However, this region does not form part of the "Chinese strike line", though its actual structure is not clear, even from a profile: to the north, some 20 km distant, I saw the border of a higher mountain tract, below which the streams ran from west-southwest to east-northeast; further on, like the river at Xingren at our feet, they turned east-southeast, indicating that the strike line evidently takes a new direction. Although the weather was now splendid, the atmospheric humidity was a hindrance to distant views.

Xingren was situated at an altitude of 1450 m. There was therefore a short ascent from the river to the town, but in general the district was uniformly elevated, the only higher ground being the Long Shan range far away to the right of the road, consisting of a variety of strata dipping gently away from where we stood. The little market town of Baling where we spent the night was situated on a stream which emerged from the mountain to the south and hurried on to join the Beipan Jiang. Here the telegraph line from Anlong rejoined our route. Continuing in this same direction, the road led over three minor hills, with a lake between the first two of them; two of the streams flowed to the right into a channel which extended eastwards below the Long Shan, but a third one disappeared into a sinkhole. This stream came from Nanmuchang, a place of some importance with a mercury mine. We passed through it at noon, and then turned northwards, soon descending along a valley. The baila trees (wax trees: Ligustrum lucidum) at the village of Qidun were larger than any I had ever seen; climbing up them was Celastrus gemmatus, while their trunks and branches were covered with Drynaria fortunei.

[p.142:] One of them even had a little palm tree growing from a fork in its trunk; it must have sprung from a seed which had lodged there. Another remarkable species seen here — and indeed on the previous two days — was Kalopanax, a tree belonging to the ivy family. Its long shoots, carrying thorns and large deeply divided palmate leaves, shot straight up for several metres, while the older branches had smaller leaves lobed like those of a sycamore. Besides the Catalpa tree common in Yunnan (C duclouxii), which was still present here and now bore pods almost a metre in length, there was another species, C ovata, of similar appearance when in growth; it had large leaves and white flowers with brown spots and yellow streaks inside. The valley ended in a funnel-shaped depression and the road continued through rocky terrain with gently inclined strata, an alternating succession of knolls and scarps, dolines and karst pavements, though except at the sides of the road and around the sparse dwellings it was covered with scrub and forest. The houses in this stony district were built from stone slabs and the people lived on maize. Arable fields of any extent were rare, and were mainly confined to the bottoms of dolines; elsewhere maize was planted in the terra rossa which filled the hollows between the projecting rocks, often only a single plant in a little hole. The road traversed a shallow doline 1 km in breadth and then crossed another. This one was extremely narrow and elongated; it extended in the shape of a proper little valley 80 m deep — and even deeper on both sides — until it reached the transverse crest used by the road. Continuing along it, we soon came to the village of Taipingjie, which was situated on a ridge of marl.

Next morning the weather was superb. Just below the village, where the descent into the Beipan Jiang valley began, I once again set eyes on a tract of savage mountain scenery; even after the far loftier alpine landscapes which I had seen in Yunnan it was still quite dramatic. From that spot the river was not yet visible, but 200 m below us there was a broad terrace roughly 5 km wide. On it, sunk in the marl, was a basin under cultivation; beyond the latter was limestone, its strata dipping gently away from us and therefore lying above the marl. It had produced a strip of the distinctive conical hills, arranged in several rows. These ones were exceptionally steep-sided and of diverse shapes. Further away still, beyond the river and clearly higher than the conical hills, was a steep mountain wall, its top slit into numerous pinnacles like a gigantic saw placed at right angles to the direction of the road. Further left, to the northwest, the valley broadened into an open space, evidently at the confluence of the Kedu He, but to the right there was an inextricable tangle of mountains on both sides of the river, all of much of the same altitude and closely packed together, and I was unable to trace the windings of the river valley. The stream arising from the Shuigaoji basin turned off to the right, but the road went straight on through the tract of conical hills. The shrub vegetation was almost impenetrable and did not offer many novelties. However, there was a large Rapanea, a tree with inconspicuous flowers sprouting directly from its branches beneath tufts of leaves; Sapium tvtundifolium, a small tree with leathery circular leaves (Euphorbiaceae); and lodes vitiginea, a climber with a dense canopy of rough-surfaced leaves and twining stems carrying bunches of fruit resembling cherries in colour and shape, though somewhat flattened and covered with short hairs. They looked so tempting that I tasted them, but mingled with their delicate flavour was a distinct aroma of prussic acid, so I left them alone; indeed I learnt later that no one ate them. Nephrolepis cordifolia, a light green fern with simple pinnate fronds, was common on the limestone pavements. It had conspicuous water-storage tubers, covered with brown scales, attached in rows along the rootstocks, some of which were lying free. Here again it was apparent that the wetness of the climate offset the natural aridity of .the freely draining soil — not merely from the rampant profusion of the vegetation as a whole, but notably from the luxuriance of the mosses (Papillaria nigtescens, Anomodon integemm-us, Hypnum leptothallum) which swathed the rocks, and the large olive green algae (Nostoc commune) which swelled up and sprang into life in every little hollow after a rain shower. From the hamlet or, more correctly, the inns at the edge of the river gorge itself the road descended steeply by stone steps. At an altitude of 970 m I encountered some old friends from the subtropical flora of the hot, arid, deeply eroded river valleys of the Sichuan-Yurman borderland: besides Phyllanthus emblica, Alangium chinense and Ficus cuspidifera there was Onoxylon indicum, a tree with giant seed pods which I had seen near Huili. Its evil-smelling flowers grouped into capitate inflorescences were now open; ants visited their calyces, but the fleshy, dull red corollas dropped off in succession immediately after they had bloomed. Among them was the tall Mallotus barbat-us bearing hanging racemes of fruits with shaggy reddish hairs, the elegant fragrant Dalbergia cavaleri-ei, the twining Argyteia wallichii, the waxy white Aganosma elegans and a new species from the Verbena family, the climbing Premna crassa. Down by the river's edge there was a jungle of tall grasses (Sacchatum arundinaceum and Themeda gigantea) and rising up almost like a palm from a steep rockface below the road was Brassaiopsis papayoid-es, a thorny shrub belonging to the ivy family, with dense tufts of leathery fan-shaped dark green leaves approaching 1 m in diameter. Also growing there was Callicarpa mactophylla, a small tree belonging to the Verbena family with panicles of pretty rose-red flowers arising from the axils of its large opposite leaves and aggregated towards the ends of the twigs.

An iron chain bridge crossed the Beipan Jiang some 10m above the mean water level, at an altitude of only 580m. Beyond the river, using a breach in the valley wall, the roadway ascended in steps which were so steep and unremitting that I had to dismount from my mule, after it had paused for a breather and was unable to get started again. Upstream (west-northwest) and downstream (east-northeast) the river had cut a gorge with almost vertical walls to a depth of 300m into the gently inclined limestone strata. At [p.143:] the top of this gorge was a narrow shelf which provided space for a village called Falang. A few surviving trees and shrubs of savannah woodland type showed that such woodland had once occupied the whole of that bare mountainside, and I spent the afternoon there (20th June) studying its affinities to the savannah known to me from similar sites in Yunnan. The great depth of the gorge coupled with the direction of the rain-bearing winds must cause greater aridity there, on the north side of the valley, and this was presumably responsible for the occurrence of savannah woodland — the last place at which I encountered it on my journey. Admittedly, my own observations did not provide direct evidence of undue aridity: that afternoon, under partial cloud, my wet and dry bulb hygrometer read 64% relative humidity, and at 8 pm, a wind having sprung up, it read 72%. On the rocky edge near the village I found Nandina domestics, a shrub related to Berberis and Mahonia but having panicles of white flowers and pinnate leaves; Ficus cassia, a new species of fig, robust and beautiful; PKmna anthopotamica, also new, and various others.

The view was breath-taking. Vertically below me was the river, bordered by a narrow yellowish-white strip of pebbles and boulders within an outer green band of grasses and trees; on either side of the gorge was the track, a slender ribbon winding down the slopes; then the bridge and below it the tremendous chasm into which the river vanished. Obliquely opposite, some distance upstream, was a hamlet looking as if it were glued on to the mountainside, but I could not see how the people — here all of them were Chinese —were able to exist in such a wilderness. The ascent from Falang to the pass over the saw-edged mountain wall led across steppe which was almost devoid of trees or shrubs, but I found two interesting and beautiful herbaceous perennials: Hibiscus sagittifolius with a thick woody rootstock and large scarlet flowers, in no way inferior to the steppe plants of the Middle East, and Phaius steppicola, a tall orchid with white flowers (a new species.).

The mountain chain consisted of two parallel ranks of peaks, overtopping the pass (1270m) by about 100m, though the clouds seemed to exaggerate their height The strata had a steep westerly dip, quite different from their disposition at the bottom of the gorge. The ground now levelled out, and we cane to the small town of Guarding, only 50m lover down. It was formerly known as Muyu or Miyusi and the next place to the north was then caled Guanling, but now, in accordance with an offcial decree, they had exchanged their names — undoubtedly a somewhat unpractical procedure [note # 163: It seems that the original Guanling has now reverted to that name . Muyu is apparently now Huajiang (SGH).]. Extending northwards was a broad depression, a shallow saucer of marl exposed below tracts of lirrestone on either side. However, the road soon left it and turned to the right. Cupressus funebris, at that spot and frequently from there onward unquestionably wild, formed groves on the tops of some of the rod cones and also occurred mingled with Cuiming-

hamia, but pines were absent; indeed, we had not seen any for some time. Before long we were once more in a wilderness of rock — or at least that was the impression it gave, since the shrubs and trees, though by no means sparse, were hidden among rock crests and ledges and in the fissures of the limestone pavements. At this spot there were short crests or spines of considerable dimensions, running from west-southwest to east-northeast with deep narrow dolines sunk between them, arranged in parallel to the right of the road. Their shapes were a vivid reminder of those I had seen on the mountains between Mengzi and Manhao in Yunnan, and evidently the same geological formation extends from Guizhou to that district

During the lunch stop at Jichangping I took the opportunity of climbing a wooded rock cone. It reminded me of those delightful highways on the Nu Jiang-Drung Jiang divide: the ascent from ledge to ledge called for gymnastic manoeuvres, and the resemblance was heightened by a brisk downpour. As was the case everywhere in those montane woods, Itea yunnanensis was the dominant shrub, recognizable from afar by the rows of green catkins 20 cm long hanging down from the horizontal twigs. Together with the erect inflorescences of Platycarya sttvbilacea they brought a vertical motif into the scene. Fruits of Eriobotrya japonica were now on sale everywhere at low prices, and the inhabitants declared that it was native. They said the same of Trachycarpus excelsa, a fan palm planted in every village, though where it was growing in the woods its tops remained hidden beneath the closed canopy. Other noteworthy trees included Gimamomum glanduliferum, Celtis biondii, Photinia spp., Albizzia julibrissin, Euonymus, Pittosporum, Helwingia and the new Andrachne attenuata. The herbaceous understorey was very sparse, but I found Liparis acuminate, an orchid with brown flowers. My work completed, I hurried on to catch up with the caravan, crossing a few brooks which united further to the east Here for the first time I saw the indigenous people, Hua Miao [note # 164: Probably Buyi, who are not true Miao (SGH).]. They were coming back from market in large numbers, each carrying his scales on his shoulder, for they had a well founded distrust of the scales employed by the Chinese, who kept one set for buying and another for selling. The women wore long pleated skirts which distinguished them at a glance from the Chinese. Dropping only a little, the road continued to Muyu.

Next morning we soon descended into a deeply incised, almost unpopulated valley, but its floor lay at a higher altitude than that of die Beipan He and its appearance was totally different There were steep uniform slopes on both sides, but though they consisted of limestone it was only at the tops, where flat beds of harder rock had been laid down, that vertical cliffs outcropped. The slopes were completely covered by a green mantle of grass, and in the two lower thirds there was a proper jungle of tall grasses — Saccharum arundinaceum, Themeda gigantea and Arundo donax. Extending down around a temple at the same level was a wood with some of [p.144:] the characters of the forests of the river gorges. Its main element was Dalbergia hupeana, a leguminous shrub with an abundance of sweetly scented pink flowers; Ficus cuspidifera was also plentiful. A masonry bridge with several large arches, the Baling Qiao, led over the river and the road climbed gradually northwards. Rainstorms in the night had swollen all the watercourses, and a stream tumbled merrily down the stone steps. It may be that such impressions caused me to overestimate the magnitude of the falls and other phenomena of that district, even though I strove to imagine them as they would be under average conditions. To the north the valley bottom was almost entirely obscured by huge clouds of spray. As we ascended the valley the Dishui Tan waterfall [note # 165 : Now usually called the Banling Bridge waterfall.. Modern Chinese sources give its height as over 100m (SGH).] slowly came into view. It would certainly be no exaggeration to compare it, in the state in which I saw it on that day, with the Krimmler falls. Its overall height — fully 300m — was the same, and it plunged in an unimpeded leap over the lowest step. Higher up the bed of the stream had cut into the rock for some depth and there were two further falls, not so clearly visible. The uppermost fall began at the edge of the Guarding plateau, into which it had cut only a shallow notch. The thunder of the waters was plainly audible, and yet, starting from a little col named Jigong bei situated at least 3 km to the north [note # 166: Handel-Mazzetti's map shows the col to the east of the waterfall (SGH).] I had to go quite some distance up the side valley before I was able to get a clear picture of all three waterfalls on one plate. Further downstream the valley became somewhat broader, and below its junction with the valley of the Baishui He which flowed down from Huangguoshu it formed a shallow basin where it collected all the streams which we had crossed before reaching Guarding, and then, some 15km distant from our route, swung round towards the east

A narrow plateau with outcrops of coial — a continuation at the same altitude of the Guarding plateau — separated us from the Baishui He which ran in a less deeply cut valley. Along the roiute was deciduous woodland in which Qinninghaimia and Thea oleifera were abundant, and Gleichenia linearis grew in profusion among the trees. The Baisshui He ran in a U-shaped valley, bounded above by evenly bedded, reddish yellow limestone. Swollen by rain, its brown waters had risen well above its banks; they surged down the steep gradient, throwing up clouds of spray. Some distance further up I saw a cloud of vapour rising high into the air from the middle of an arid plain. I had already heard! of the waterfall at Huangguoshu, but I had not expected it to be so immense and I approached the spot with ll interest [note # 167: The Huangguoshu waterfall is the largest in China in terms of flow, though not of height (SGH). Colour photo in "The Natural History of China", Collins, London, 1990, page 47.]. Above the fall the riverbed had not cut deeply into the rock, but at the village th<e water crashed down for.a height which I estimiated at 50m [note # 168: Chinese sources say over 60m (SGH).]into a ravine which led away from it iin an S-shaped curve completely invisible from a distance. One might have imagined that one was gaziing at a section of the Niagara falls, so tremendous was the sight which it presented on that day. After a small horseshoe-shaped step only a few metres hiigh, the broad sheet of water plunged down without a check into the seething cauldron below, shootiing out wedge-shaped columns of water which broke up into clouds of spray. On that day this waterfall certainly exceeded the Dishui Tan in volume, but in the dry season it is apparently reduced to a few sieparate streams. The village of Huangguoshu, just above the fall, was situated at the junction between miy route from the southwest and the main road from Yunnan via Qujing and Langdai, the route used by the telegraph line from Guiyang.

[chapter 33:]