Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Konkaling horsemen, 2002

three horsemen, originally uploaded by jiulong.

These Tibetans were offering their horses for hire at the Chonggu Si monastery, Yading, in May 2002. When Rock visited the place it was inhabited by people he described as "the scum of the outlaws", Tibetans who would rob and kill anyone - Tibetan or otherwise - who entered their realm. They were also devout pilgrims!

Here is an excerpt from Peter Goullart's book, the Forgotten Kingdom, on the subject:

North-west of Likiang and to the west of the Muli Kingdom there is an isolated mountain range called Konkkaling. It consists of three peaks, about 23,000 feet high. It had been discovered and photographed by Dr Joseph Rock, who used to make expeditions to Muli where the king was a great friend of his. These mountains are a veritable breeding place of the most ruthless brigands the world has ever known. To the west of these mountains there are two vast territories known as Hsiangchen and Tongwa. They are peopled with two Tibetan tribes whose members are professional robbers and cut-throats. So wild, untamable and treacherous are they that not even other Tibetans dare to venture into these areas. Although of an enormous size, rivalling some of the large European states, none of these areas has ever been visited by a European and probably will not be for a long time to come. There is no doubt that much of interest to explorers and scientists is concealed in these inaccessible and unmapped regions. There is, for instance, a great snow peak in the bend of the Yalung River in Hsiangchen, called Neito Cavalori. Those tew privileged explorers who have been lucky enough to contemplate it from a distance, compute its height at something like 28,000 feet, and it may yet prove a rival to Mount Everest.

It was these Tongwa and Hsiangchen brigands who always lay in wait for the rich caravans coming from Lhasa. Of course all Tibetan caravan men were heavily armed, and when the caravan was big enough these rascals did not dare to attack them. It was when the caravan was small or poorly armed that their chance came. Madame Alexandra David Neel nevertheless describes the Tibetan bandits as 'Les Brigands-Gentilhommes' in her book. I have known this great lady since 1939, when I met her in Tachienlu, and have a profound respect for her. She is certainly one of the greatest travellers the world has known, and I am glad she received such fortunate mercy from these robbers, who even showed a certain gallantry towards her because she was a helpless woman and a detsuma (Reverend Abbess) to boot. Personally I would rather deal with a Chinese or a Nakhi robber than a Tibetan one. A Chinese or a Nakhi robber seldom kills his victim. He robs you but he does it with a degree of finesse and delicacy, and at least leaves you your underwear to enable you to reach the nearest village with a modicum of decency. He usually forbears to search a lady, and may even listen to her protests about taking away certain items of her toilette. Not so with the Tibetan robbers. Their motto is 'Dead men tell no tales'. They shoot first and then look for anything of value on the dead man's person or in his baggage. I once heard an interesting story of how one of these Tongwa shot a man walking in the distance, only to discover afterwards that it was his own father.

I am prepared to admit that the Tibetan brigands of some other tribes may be 'gentlemen' to some degree but, from what I heard from reliable Tibetan and Nakhi friends, the Tongwa and Hsiangchen cannot be idealized by any stretch of imagination. They are so avaricious and unprincipled that even the bonds of friendship mean nothing to them, and there have been cases when a man has killed a bosom friend for the sake of a couple of rupees in his belt. Everybody in Tongwa and Hsiangchen robs, steals and kills: lamas and trapas, merchants and serfs, men and women: even children learn the trade at a tender age. It is not a question of whether this Tongwa or that Hsiangchen is a robber, but whether the man is a Tongwa or Hsiangchen.

When the caravan has been plundered and witnesses eliminated or scattered, the goods, arms and animals are taken to the robbers' lair. There the merchandise is carefully repacked and reloaded and, lo and behold, the robber chief, resplendently dressed, enters Likiang as a peaceful and affluent merchant, at the head of a sizable caravan. No questions are asked and no explanations are vouchsafed. Of course rumours do travel, and travel fast; but rumours are rumours and proofs are proofs. The bogus merchant knows that the people know and the people know that he knows what they know, but everything proceeds according to form. The merchant sells his goods, gives generous parties right and left and acquires merit by rich donations to the local lamaseries.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, do you know what is the contemporary name of Hsiangchen and Tongwa?