Friday, March 21, 2008

In the footsteps of Frank Kingdon Ward

Frank Kingdon Ward

With all the current troubles in Tibet it is interesting to read an account of a previous traveller to the Nujiang region, Frank Kingdon Ward. When he visited there in 1911-1913, Tibet was an independent country and the Chinese representatives had just been kicked out of Lhasa. There was a stand-off between Chinese soldiers and Tibetan soldiers around the Salween and in places like Chamdo.
Kingdon Ward made a lengthy sojourn down the Nujiang from north to south, visiting places that I passed through this last Christmas like Chawalong ('Trana'), Longpu (Laungpa) Songta (Saungta), Qiunatong (Kiunatong), Bingzhongluo (Tramutang or Chamutong) and Gongshan (Sukin).

Nujiang north of Bingzhongluo

Like Joseph Rock, Kingdon Ward was a plant collector-turned explorer, and in 1913 he was in Deqin (Atuntze) and hoping to make a trip over the Salween to what we now call the Dulong or Drung valley.
Kingdon Ward had been plant collecting in Burma before, and he believed the Kiutzu or Nung, as the Drung were then known, were related to people he’s seen in upper Burma.
His account of his expedition to the Salween is published as the Mystery Rivers of Tibet.

In November 1913 he crossed over the Mekong (Lancang) from Deqin and then climbed over the big divide to the Salween (Nujiang) north of Kawakarpo via two passes, the first of which was called the Shu La. He followed the twisting Wichu tributary through the small villages of Pitu, Wabu and Kabu, aiming to get to the Tibetan gateway village on the Salween known as Menkung.

His first encounter with “Tibet” was a drunken lama who was village head in Pitu, who advised him that he could not proceed to Menkung in Tibet because of the fighting going on between Tibetans and Chinese. Kingdon Ward noted that Tibetans were filthy, many had goitre and they practised polyandry.
Refused entry to Tibet, he headed downstream to try reach the Dulong (Taron valley) from around Bingzhongluo (Tramutang). He speculated on the origins of the Nu and Nung/Kiutzu (ie modern day Drung) people he saw along the Salween. He believed the Nu (Lutzu), who appeared almost Tibetan hereabouts were a product of intermarriage of Tibetans and Nung.

Scary bit of road along Nujiang river north of Bingzhongluo

He travelled through the same Nujiang granite gorge whose roads scared the hell out of me in 2007 (see above). Back in 1913 there was no road along the riverside, but a decent walking track along the adjacent hills above the river, at least according to Kingdon Ward.
On arriving at the first Nu villages of Longpu (see below) and Songta, Kingdon Ward described them as being barely distinguishable from those of the Tibetans. He noted the locals had canoes and that he was now leaving the arid zone, as greenery and animals such as centipedes became more common.

Nujiang river north of Bingzhongluo

The local “black” Lutzu he found friendly but primitive, living on little but maize (buckwheat) biscuits they baked over their fires. At Songta he saw the same impressive peak (above) to the west that I saw, which he described as Gompa La – the same peak that can be seen above Bingzhongluo.

Nujiang north of Bingzhongluo, Yunnan

Progressing further downriver, he noted other differences – the Lutzu smoked whereas the Tibetans didn’t. The Tibetans traded salt for grain, which they could not grow much of in the arid Tsarong region.

Kingdon Ward stopped off at the French mission church at Qiunatong, where he met Pere Genestier, the priest now buried at the church below Bingzhongluo.

Last resting place of Pere Annet Genestier, Bingzhongluo

He then carried on south, through a “limestone gorge”, which I presume is the modern day Shimenguan:

Shi Men Guan: Nujiang north of Bingzhongluo, Yunnan

He eventually arrived in Tramutang, which sounds like Bingzhongluo (see below) – a settlement of 40 families bisected by a deep gully. Here there was a Chinese yamen (administrator) and some Chinese traders and a handful of soldiers. The local Lutzus lived on buckwheat but also tried to catch fish from the river in traps and nets. Strangely, Kingdon Ward makes no mention of the imposing white Catholic church at Bingzhongluo, nor the prominent loops in the river here that are now promoted to tourists as the "First Bend of the Nujiang".


Unable to get permission or porters to cross to the Taron (Dulong) valley to the west, Kingdon Ward continued on south, into Lisu land. He noted their different clothing – how the men resembled Burmese in carrying a ‘dah’ machete and the hemp shoulder bags, still used by Lisu today. Their homes differed from the wooden shacks of the Lutzu by being on stilts and using bamboo as well as wood.
Beyond Bingzhongluo, he was firmly in what he described as ‘jungle’ territory compared to the arid Tibetan areas upstream.


Kingdon Ward did not have a happy time among the Lisu. He described their love of liquor and pipe smoking, and how they use crossbows. Trying to cross to the Taron (Dulong) valley from Gongshan (Sukin) he was exasperated by his Lisu porters, who he described as lazy and argumentative, stopping every twenty minutes to sit down and smoke their pipes. Kingdon Ward had major problems with his newly hired Lisu interpreter and head porter, who he later found to be an army deserter and ne’er do well.

He also used some Nung (Dulong) porters who he described as ‘uncouth, almost ape-like’ looking weak and malnourished and yet having remarkable endurance.
Kingdon Ward had several disputes with porters along the way, in one case sorting them out by ‘tapping’ the offender on the nose so that it started bleeding!
Interestingly, he describes this borderland as being close to British influence from Burma, with locals reporting British troops arriving in force in the next valley.
Kingdon Ward made several attempts to cross over to the Taron valley, but was defeated by bad weather – rain and snow higher up, plus the truculence of his porters.

He eventually gave up and visited the Chinese fort at a place Latse, which he found to be a flimsy and unimpressive stockade [‘sufficient to deter the Lisu'] manned by 40 poor quality soldiers. (They loaf and learn the local language). He makes no mention of the Moon-Stone Mountain - a part of the western ridge in this part of the Nujiang that has a hole in it and which is now a famed tourist attraction.

石月亮 Nu Jiang (Salween river) Yunnan in Kodachrome

Suffering from malaria and rheumatism, Kingdon Ward turned back to head north again after being refused permission to continue to Tengyueh, from where he might gain access to Burma.

His scoundrel of a porter absconded with some money and was condemned to death by the local Chinese sergeant, and Kingdon Ward headed back up river. He spent a miserable Christmas stuck in Bingzhongluo in the drizzle, and after being given an escort of two poorly equipped Chinese soldiers by the local yamen ('a real gentleman'), he headed back up through the limestone gorge to Qiunatong.

He had his first decent meal for days back with Pere Genestier, who told him that travel over to the Taron was now impossible because the winters snow had set in. So Kingdon Ward retraced his steps upriver, this time travelling along precarious trails that required balancing on log planks stretched between ledges of cliff high above the river. Kingdon Ward was ferried part of the way upriver on canoes paddled by Lutzu woman around Songta, and noted that the river would be 15 feet higher in summer.

Dugout canoes on the Salwin (Nujiang), 1925

Pleased to be back in Tsarong, he was now faced with the problem of having two Chinese soldiers as escorts, in an area that was ‘at war’ with China. He therefore hung around in Songta for a few days until his ramshackle escort had run out of food and returned to Tramutang/Bingzhongluo.

Back in Trange (Chawolung?) he was again told that there was no chance of proceeding any further upriver into Tibet. The fighting made it a sensitive area, and Kingdon Ward expounds in his book how the Nujiang/Salween was a key barrier preventing Chinese entry into Tibet. He very much admired the Tibetans of the area, for their robustness, independence and general level of ‘civilisation’. He praises their fine food, houses, clothing and buildings, and contrasts them with the Chinese, whom he says are “slaves to convention” and who try bend everyone else to their way of doing things.
Kingdon Ward went east over the dividing range, back the way he came to return to the Mekong. He noted that the whole countryside was up in arms against the Chinese and that one male from every household had been conscripted against the Chinese soldiers.
He eventually arrived back in Deqin to find it a dismal grey place, closed down for Chinese New Year.

Frank Kingdon Ward's Salween map

Where I went for Christmas

Friday, March 07, 2008

Tsarong Tibetan house interior

Tsarong Tibetan house interior, originally uploaded by jiulong.

I ma currently reading the Mystery Rivers of Tibet by Frank Kingdon Ward, describing his journey up the Salween to Tsarong in 1913. Interesting to read his descriptions of places like Songta (Saungta) and Longpu back then. Will do a bigger round up in due course.