Sunday, April 17, 2005

Map of Joseph Rock's 1929 journey to Minya Konka

map konka, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Joseph Rock starts off his October 1930 article about his exploration of Minya Konka with a typical flourish:

"Strange as it may seem, hoary old China still holds within its borders vast mountain systems wholly unknown not only to the western world, but to the Chinese themselves."

He goes on to recount how he first caught a glimpse of some mysterious peaks when looking north east from a mountain pass while exploring the Konkaling mountains in 1928. One of them was the Minya Konka and it surrounding peaks, another was the less well known Mt Muti Konka.

"I decided then and there to spend the following year exploring Minya Konka," he declared.

And so it was that in 1929 Rock set off from his Lijiang base, with 46 mules, 20 Naxi men and with supplies for seven months. He lists in detail the things he took: furs, snow shoes, five tents, folding chairs, camp cot, "trunks with photographic supplies" coffee, tinned milk, tea cocoa, butter flour and salt. His Naxi men also carried brick tea and yak butter, plus dirty lumps of salt to make their own meals. They also carried large quantities of native flour to make their loaves of Naxi baba bread.

Rock also lists his scientific supplies, including bamboo blotting paper for drying botanical specimens, and two large boxes of ginned cotton to protect birdskins. He also took an extensive medicine chest, worried about a case of relapsing fever that had killed one of his men the previous year.

He made his way first to Muli, where he had previously befriended the fat king on his travels to this "land of the yellow lama", and on his expedition to the konkaling mountains.

This time he found the king in residence at Kulu [康乌大寺]monastery - a lesser one of the three main Muli monasteries. He stayed for a week, waiting for better weather, and in his article recounts some of the strange ways of this Tibetan potentate. They shared a meal of fried eggs, bits of mutton, Chinese noodles and a bowl of sour yak cream "of which the king is inordinately fond".

Rock spoke in Chinese, which was translated into Tibetan by the king' secretary. Rock was bemused by this poor man, who would have to wait by the king's side for hours worth his head bowed in deference. When Rock took pity on him, the king swept some scraps off his plate and fed the servant "as if he were feeding his favourite dog".

Rock also makes coy reference to the king's weird practice of having his shit moulded into pills and given to the Muli peasants as medicine! Even more bizarre is the revelation that the Muli king had the mummified remains of his uncle [who died 60 years previously] kept in a shrine in the dining room.

"Thus royalty in Muli is never lonely, but always has company, although not of a very talkative type!" quips Rock.

The king asked his usual naive questions about the outside world - amazed when Rock informs him there are no dragons in America, or elsewhere for that matter. "But what makes the thunder? Is it not the wind blowing under the scales of the dragon, thus ruffling them and causing thunder?" asks the regent.

Thus it was that in April 1929, Rock set off from Muli accompanied by an additional 10 Pumi [Hsifan] soldiersfrom Muli, and a Muli lama.

Rock then goes on to describe his long journey to the Minya Konka peaks and the town of Tatsienlu [Kangding] from Muli. I will focus on this later, as it is worth a separate account, comprising as it does the crossing of the great Yalong river gorge.

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