Tuesday, March 29, 2005

To the Holy Mountain of the Outlaws

mitzuga peak, originally uploaded by mutikonka.

On his first trip to Muli in 1924, Joseph Rock caught a tantalising glimpse of a distant trio of peaks known as Konkaling or the Konka Risumgongba peaks. They were said to be in the territory of intractable outlaws, and off limits on pain of death not just to Chinese but even to their immediate Tibetan neighbours in Muli and Yongning. The peaks were a sacred trio, and hence Rock gave them the more romantic label of the Holy Mountain of the Outlaws. The outlaws in question - the Konkaling Tibetans - were notorious for their raids on neighbouring villages, where they would plunder and kill without mercy. And yet they were on "friendly" terms with the Muli, and would leave his subjects in peace while slaughtering those in unlucky villages nearby that lay outside his territory. It was also said that anyone who encroached on their scared territory would be shot on sight.

The irony was that these bandits were led by a former monk, Trashi, who when not out murdering and looting, maintained his devotions at a small monastery nestled within the three peaks.

Thus in March 1928 Rock set out from Kunming [then known as Yunnan-fu] with his Naxi "boy" assistants and made his way first to Muli via Dali and Lijiang.

Rock was intrigued by the "blank on the map" where the Konkaling peaks were, so he persuaded the Muli king to vouch for him and provide a "laisser passez" with the Konkaling bandits. He smoothed the way by presenting the Muli king with a gold American $20 coin, and more importantly, copies of the National Geographic magazine, in which the king's portraits featured prominently.

While talking with the Muli king, he was asked to explain a little more about world events. He became apprehensive when told that the Tsar and Germany's Kaiser had been de-throned, wondering if he would meet the same fate [he would, by an assassin's bullet, within ten years]. Rock then tried to keep a straight face when the king asked him about a picture of Puss in Boots, and where this strange animal kingdom might be. But perhaps he was not so stupid. When Rock told him about aeroplanes, he asked why Americans did not fly to the moon!

Leaving with the Muli king's blessing in late from the monastery of Kopati, Rock ascended up through the pine forests to the peaks of Mt Mitzuga, heading for the Shuiluo river that marked the border between Muli and Konkaling territory.

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