Across Tibet from India to China
In the Spring of 1942, when the war looked grimmer day by day to the Allies, and the Burma Road was lost, I was given the assignment of crossing Tibet from India to China. The venture, which was primarily to discover ways and routes of transporting supplies to China, was under the auspices of the Office of Strategic Services.
Given the choice of going alone or taking along a unit of personally picked men, I selected as my companion Capt. Brooke Dolan, who was then anchored to an Army Air Forces desk in Washington and was casting an eager eye around for overseas duty. The mission, I felt, would have a better chance of success if shared by two men. If one was lost, the other might get through.
Colonel Count Ilia Tolstoy (left) and Captain Brooke Dolan (right) are greeted by a Tibetan official.
Click on picture to enlarge.
President Roosevelt Greets the Dalai Lama
Since Tibet proper is closed to all visitors, no permits to enter could be obtained in the United States. The best passport available for the trip was a letter from President Roosevelt to the Dalai Lama of Tibet. This we were to carry, together with the customary gifts to His Holiness and other officials in Lhasa.
On our departure from Washington by air in July, Col. (later Major General) "Wild Bill" Donovan, Director of OSS, bade us "Keep in touch if you can"— a hard task since radio equipment compact enough to carry on such a trip was not procurable at the time.
We carried 290 pounds of equipment, including vital instruments, cameras, film, etc., and 27 pounds each of personal belongings. In those days before the Air Transport Command was fully developed, bucket seats on planes were luxuries, and we slept on some of our cargo.
Arriving in Delhi, we reported to Lt. Gen. (now General) Joseph W. Stilwell, who was then China-Burma-India Theater commander. His rear echelon headquarters occupied only one wing of the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, though it was the nucleus of the CBI forces.
In our negotiations with the Tibetans through the British Government offices in India, we were aided by Col. (later Brig. Gen.) Russell A. Osmun, USA; Capt. (later Lt. Col.) Charles Suydam Cutting, AUS, an ardent student of Tibet who had been to Lhasa twice in previous years; and George R. Merrill, Secretary of the U. S. Mission at New Delhi.
The success of the negotiations was due in part also to the warm support and assistance of O. K. Caroe, Secretary of External Affairs of the Government of India; Sir Basil John Gould, Political Officer for Sikkim and British Representative for Bhutan and Tibet; and Frank Ludlow, Additional British Political Officer for the same region, who at the time was already in Lhasa.
While arrangements with Lhasa were under way by British wireless, Brooke and I prepared for the trip.
India was in turmoil. There was rioting in the streets of Delhi, and the city was declared out of bounds. Finally, however, we were given a jeep with permission to go wherever we wished, and we darted around old and New Delhi, obtaining all needed supplies and equipment with the exception of a compact radio receiving set.
At the end of September, 1942, we were granted permission to proceed as far as Lhasa. Our prospects of going on from Lhasa to China looked exceedingly doubtful.
"Vinegar Joe" Stilwell's Best Wishes
Before our departure General Stilwell found time to call us in and bid us Godspeed in his perfect Chinese. Late at night we struggled into our compartment on a train swarming with Hindus and troops. Our quarters were so jammed with thirty-odd pieces of equipment, all packed in containers for pack animal transport, that we had to sit on some of the cases. Luckily our train got through safely to Calcutta; the one behind us was derailed by rebels.
An overnight train took us on to SiIiguri. There we were met by Sandup, a 29-year-old Tibetan who had studied in English schools in India and was one of the post managers of the Tibetan telephone and telegraph line between Lhasa and India. He was to be our Number 1 man and interpreter on the journey to Lhasa and during our stay there.
With our gear piled into some aging touring Fords, we started a 70-mile climb through the lush vegetation of the Himalayan foothills into the State of Sikkim. The road, though narrow, was fair, damage from washouts and slides being repaired constantly by gangs of Gurkha and Lepcha laborers, mostly women.
We wound precariously along steep hillsides where the slightest swerve would have dropped us hundreds of feet into canyon streams. Once we came to a bridge so tottering that Sandup suggested our walking across and letting the cars go over one at a time.
We were soon in the toylike city of Gangtok, capital of Sikkim, whose Maharaja is much interested in promoting the welfare of his people. Here we were guests in the charming English country house of Sir Basil John Gould. B. J., as we called him, had represented the British Government at the inauguration of the present Dalai Lama. Though now more than 60 years of age, he thinks nothing of making the 300-mile journey to Lhasa.
We found him deeply engaged in the preparation of a new type of English-Tibetan dictionary and working out new methods for learning the Tibetan language. He speaks Tibetan, Hindustani, and Lepcha dialects and can write in those languages. Brooke and I absorbed from this remarkable man all we could about the customs and people of the country into which we were going.
While we were staying with B. J., the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Rani Dorji, with his charming Tibetan wife, was also visiting him. Madam Dorji was translating some Tibetan poetry and old ballads into English.
While we were preparing for the trip to Lhasa, Rai Sahib Sonnam, British trade agent from Yatung, the first Tibetan town of any importance on our route, came to Gangtok and gave us valuable assistance. He helped us organize our outfit and advised us on customs, procedures, protocol, and the presentation of gifts to officials along the way and in Lhasa.
Ready for the Trip to Forbidden Lhasa
We were fortunate in finding a cook who later on became our Number 1 man, and an almost indispensable member of the party. Son of a Chinese father and Tibetan mother, he spoke enough English to act as our interpreter after Sandup left us. His name was Thami, which we changed immediately to Tommy. Our other newly engaged boy was Lakhpa, a quiet, hardworking Lepcha about 26 years old.
With our party thus augmented to five, plus whatever transport men were driving the animals, we struck out in clear October weather. The first pack train we hired from the Maharaja of Sikkim, and Rani Dorji lent us two of his fine riding mules as our mounts for the first part of the journey.
For three days, while we were winding up the side of a valley toward the top of a Himalayan pass, we could look back and see the little town of Gangtok with its palace on a knoll. Our overnight stops were at dak bungalows (Government rest-houses).
|Tolstoy's caravan climbed dangerous Himalayan
mountain paths such as this one on their way to the Forbidden City of Lhasa.
Click on picture to enlarge.
Usually a day apart, these stretched on for 13 stages up to the city of Gyangtse. There was a keeper at each place, and although modern conveniences did not exist, the quarters were adequate and comfortable.
Nearing the summits, the road sometimes was only a trail so narrow that it was difficult to pass oncoming caravans burdened with bulging loads. Here and there slides made the trail almost impassable.
At 14,000 feet we sometimes felt the effect of the altitude and thin air and would wake up in the night gasping for breath. We found that propping ourselves in a semi sitting position was best for sleeping. In the daytime it was difficult to walk any distance uphill without frequent stops and rests, and we soon got used to doing everything as if in slow motion.
The Natu La (13,500 feet), first pass over the Himalayas, was surprisingly easy and level, with a good wide stretch of road approaching it. It is rocky, bare of vegetation, and in October free of snow. There was a little snow on slopes near by.
First Glimpse of Mysterious Tibet
For a while we were in the clouds and could see neither behind nor ahead of us. Then the mists parted for a moment, allowing us to take our last look back at India and our first ahead into the thick, evergreen forests below us and the sea of ranges in the distance. We were looking down into mysterious Tibet.
|A Tibetan outrider leads Tolstoy and
his men into Tibet.
Click on picture to enlarge.
Leaving Natu La, we dismounted to spare our horses and walked down into Tibet over old washed-out trails. Our path in the valley of the Amo led often along dry freshet courses. On the way we paused to have a cup of buttered tea with the abbot of Kargyu Gompa (gompa, in Tibet, or gomba, in China, means "monastery"), the first small Tibetan monastery we encountered.
The headman of Yatung, on the Amo, met us with an escort about five miles from the city limits. Both our parties dismounted, and we performed the ceremony of exchanging scarfs, known as kattaks.
Rai Sahib Sonnam and several other acquaintances of the city greeted us just outside the town with military honors presented by a detachment of Indian Sepoy infantry in the employ of the Indian Army. We were then escorted to our quarters in a bungalow truly palatial for that territory.
Yatung is one of the larger Tibetan cities, though it numbers probably not more than 1,500 to 2,000 people. For livelihood the people depend upon agriculture and trade with passing caravans.
Tibetan Etiquette Complicated
As soon as we were settled, we were called upon by all the dignitaries of the city. They came with their servants, bringing gifts ranging from Tibetan carpets to yak butter and hen eggs. Our Number 1 man always knew when a caller was to arrive, and consequently we were prepared with the indispensable tea, and candies, cookies, and dried fruit.
The ceremonies of greeting varied with the importance of a caller. The more important he was, the farther away from the room we met him. We had to acquaint ourselves with the rules so as to know whether to greet a caller at the end of a room, at the door, in the yard, or at the front gate!
The day after our arrival in Yatung we had an early lunch with Rai Sahib Sonnam in his modern little home. Lunch was served in the Western style. We met here the first Tibetan of high social standing, Mary Taring, wife of a prominent young Tibetan official from Lhasa, and her two daughters. The younger girl was going to school in India, and the older was about to marry the son of Rani Dorji, Prime Minister of Bhutan. The Tarings later on became our great friends.
At that luncheon we also met Pangda Tsang, one of the two strong men in the Tibetan world of finance. He is a Yatung merchant, whose agency is scattered far and wide.
The next day we were invited to the first really Tibetan luncheon in the Tsangs' typical well-to-do Tibetan home. We rode out to the house with all our group, a thing that is always done, custom demanding that the host provide a good meal for the guest's retinue. Since we were considered high officials, we were expected to uphold the prestige of the United States.
Our three assistants and few pack animals made a show so unimpressive that we had to resort to the excuse that in wartime everything must be done simply and economically.
A Tibetan Luncheon Party
With a throng of Tibetan guests Pangda Tsang's luncheon party was a gay affair. The food, more than abundant, consisted of Tibetan and Chinese delicacies, some of which had come from the coast of China before the war. We ate our meal with chopsticks, washing it down with many cups of tea and also with chang, the Tibetan national drink, made of lightly fermented barley.
We had regular Chinese shark-fin soup, some small ocean shrimp originally dried, transparent noodles made from pea flour, pickled vegetables (cabbage, cucumber, and a sort of cross between a chutney and a pickle), boiled rice, several dishes of cold and hot meat prepared in different ways, and round balls of dough stuffed with meat, fruit, or brown sugar and then boiled or steamed. These last had been pinched all around before steaming and stained with a red dye. The final course was a succulent noodle dish.
The soup dish and dessert were eaten in the middle of the meal. Dessert, served hot, was a syruplike jelly containing raisins and apricots.
Pangda Tsang asked us when the United States would again buy Tibetan wool. Before the war the bulk of Tibetan wool had been sold to the United States for manufacture of auto rugs, but the war had cut off the export and the Tibetans were temporarily without this important source of revenue. I referred the inquiry to Washington.
We soon realized that Tibetans who knew of the United States were interested in the outcome of the war and had a sympathetic feeling toward us. They had, however, great doubt as to our ability to defeat Japan, since at the time Japan was almost at their border.
A Letter from the Dalai Lama's Court
In taking our leave from the party, we left, through our Number 1 man, the customary adequate tip for our host's chief servant. Several of Pangda Tsang's riders escorted us to our home. This was good etiquette on such occasions, for the more gaily a guest departs, the better proof to all the neighborhood that the entertainment was lavish.
While we were at Yatung, we received from Lhasa the Red Arrow Letter, a courtesy gesture from the Dalai Lama's court for traveling through the country.
This letter was a piece of red cotton cloth, about 16 inches wide and 2 feet long, to be carried in the bosom or on a staff by an outrider who would precede the party by one or two days. It stated that two American officers were en route to visit the Dalai Lama and requested the headmen of all the villages to supply them with accommodations and transport at a certain rate.
Given a military send-off with honors when we left Yatung, we proceeded up the valley toward the next town of Phari Dzong, several days' journey away.
We passed some scattered villages, their houses built of stone with shingled roofs, and went through little meadows of Li Ma Tang, the only flat grassland we had seen on the bottom of the valley. It was haying time. The villagers had their tents pitched in the meadows and were cutting the grass with scythes, then raking it to dry.
The trail was crowded with little donkeys and mules almost completely hidden under their loads of hay. Even old men and women were carrying enormous backloads.
The Loftiest Post Office in the World
Our first panoramic view of the typical Tibetan town of Phari Dzong and the country around it was truly magnificent. Here we were greeted by the distinguished old administrator, who is also the abbot of the local monastery of 400 monks. We stayed in the compound of a Tibetan house that also served as the post office for the Tibetans, supposedly the highest-situated post office in the world.
Some crops are grown in the country around Phari Dzong, and barley can be planted above a 15,000-foot altitude. In the plains and foothills we saw some of the first black tents of the nomads and herders, with their winter corrals and homes made out of yak dung and sod.
The weather was freezing, high winds sweeping across the plain with great velocity. Because the Himalayas catch almost all the precipitation from the south, this territory is virtually arid.
Our road climbed so high that the passes were hardly noticeable. They were nothing but rolling, saddlelike open stretches, adorned with the customary sacred mani stone piles and prayer flags and stone pillars.
On October 22 we crossed a pass of this type called Tang La, 15,200 feet, which is part of the great Himalayas, and entered into the approaches of the vast Tuna plain.
Along the road we kept meeting caravans, mostly mules, donkeys, and bullocks, loaded down with wool, marmot hides, and grain. Occasionally we ran into a party of armed merchants from some of the outlying districts of Tibet, all well clothed and mounted, some of them wearing gaily painted masks and goggles as a protection from dry wind, sand, and sun.
At a little place called Dochen we came upon one of the most beautiful panoramas we saw in Tibet, where the deep-blue waters of Ram Tso reflect for miles the Himalayan range beyond, with the vast mountain Chomo Lhari towering over it. There was a little ice along the shores of the mirror-calm lake. Thousands of bar-headed geese lined the shore, and flocks of ruddy sheldrakes, or Brahmany ducks, were filling the air with a moaning cry.
In that region the natives had few horses, and our transport consisted entirely of bullocks, often tended by women or young boys.
A Sportsman's Paradise, but Closed
Where the salty Kala Tso without outlet is slowly receding, there is considerable crop raising, and we watched the native farmers at work in their fields. Taking Sandup and a native with me, I climbed a 2,000-foot promontory in search of Tibetan bighorns (Ovis ammon hodgsoni). Five rams, one with a magnificent head, paused less than 100 yards from our place of vantage!
Unfortunately for my huntsman's desires, it is against the Tibetan religion and the wish of the Dalai Lama to kill wild game. I had to be satisfied with a rather long-view photograph of the animals.
The next day we crossed the Kala plain, its little tufts of grass reminiscent of some parts of our West. Brooke and I were tempted again when we began running into kiang, the wild ass of Asia, and gazelles.
In the little village of Samada great fall activities were in progress. Manure was carried to the fields in baskets on pack animals, neatly deposited on the soil, and covered up with dirt to prevent it from being blown away.
Knee-deep in barley and peas, domestic animals were being driven round and round threshing floors. Here and there the grain was being hand-winnowed, and along a stream women and children were washing peas in brass cauldrons and woven baskets.
In the afternoon we visited the village of the Porus people, nearest caste counterpart in Tibet to the Untouchables of India, though without doubt much happier than the lowest-caste Hindus. Several families of them lived in semi-cave houses on a hillside a mile or so from the main village. These people, though
they till the soil, gain their primary livelihood by disposing of the dead and butchering cattle for the other villagers.
In Tibet people are not usually buried. The Porus carry bodies to a hilltop where, with the skill of a surgeon, they cut them into portions small enough to be devoured by vultures. The Porus are paid for this task and also inherit certain silver decorations from the dead. Those we saw were well bedecked in silver.
Some cattle herders or nomads came down into the village to trade. Magnificent specimens of manhood, they were clothed only in sheepskin chupas (capelike coats) and trousers. They wore no hats, but had long braids wound about their heads. Apparently the weather in the 12,000-foot valley was too hot for them! They wore their chupas with one arm slipped out, exposing half their bodies above the waist.
A Telephone in the Cloudlands
We stopped overnight at the Kangmar dak bungalow where there is a telephone station. Occasionally one can communicate with either Gangtok or Gyangtse from there, and rarely with Lhasa. This telephone operates spasmodically. Sometimes it is silent for two or three weeks at a stretch when some brigand gets away with a span or two of the wire. If an offender is caught, the punishment is severe, usually the chopping off of one hand.
Our Number 1 man, Sandup, had his home station here, and we met his young wife and two-year-old baby daughter. In the yard of the bungalow a few potted plants added a touch of charm.
That night while we were finishing supper, Sandup approached us with troubled countenance. He was anxious to take his wife and baby along with us to Lhasa. As a rule, women of Asia are good travelers, and nomad women follow their men, doing work under all conditions. We did not hesitate to grant the requested permission. Sandup's wife was a great help to us all on the trip to Lhasa, and the baby girl became our mascot.
A few miles farther on, an ancient monastery perches above the 16,000-foot elevation. I gave our pack animals a day of rest and, taking Sandup with me as interpreter, went on ponyback to the place. The abbot, a stalwart man under middle age, told me I was the first white man to visit the monastery.
Captain Dolan Falls Ill
At Gyangtse, an important town and the last British trade and mail post, we were met by Maj. R. Gloyne, acting British trade agent, Lt. C. Finch, and Dr. G. H. F. Humphries, with a colorful honor guard. The guardsmen were of a Sepoy infantry detachment mounted on fine matched white Mongolian ponies. They carried British colors. With the British officials were Rai Sahib Wangdi, a Tibetan kingpin in the trade agency, and many other Tibetan city officials.
Very unfortunately, on the second day in Gyangtse, Captain Dolan was stricken with pneumonia. We gave him sulfa treatment, which arrested the progress of the illness immediately, but because of the high altitude and extremely cold weather his recovery was not so rapid as we hoped. For that reason, we were glad that Dr. Humphries was allowed to travel with us to Lhasa.
We stayed in Gyangtse for a month. Two or three times we were fortunate enough to make telephone connections with Mr. Ludlow in Lhasa and discuss with him certain phases of the journey from Gyangtse and the arrival in the Sacred City.
Some of our mail caught up with us there, and the radio of the Agency gave us daily the rather grim news of the outside world.
The British, with their love of sports, had carried that phase of their life into this part of Tibet. The Agency's Tibetan employees had a good soccer team, playing against the men of the Sepoy detachment and the British commanding personnel.
Played at an altitude of 13,000 feet, the games were amazingly fast. Almost without exception they were won by the Tibetans, who not only were fine physical specimens but were accustomed from childhood to rarefied air. Major Gloyne and I made an attempt to play, but soon found that the only positions we could handle were those of goalkeepers.
I undertook the job of giving cavalry drills and training to the newly arrived Sepoys. Every morning we went through a couple of hours in the saddle, sometimes even knocking a polo ball around. To my long experience as a horseman and my skill in caring for saddle animals I attribute the ease with which I made friends with the horse-loving Tibetans.
In the heart of the city is located one of the large and important monasteries of Tibet, Nenning Gompa, in front of which is a gigantic chorten, or shrine, of unique design and beauty, famous all over Tibet. Inside, it contains 80 chambers filled with Buddhist idols and paintings of many types and sizes. It is adorned with gilded religious figures and ornaments.
Gyangtse is situated in a fertile valley criss-crossed with irrigation ditches which our Mongolian ponies took in their stride during our cross-country rides. It is one of the key cities of Tibet, and through it passes all the trade from the east to India and northwest Tibet.
The Agency compound had electric power, generated by a windmill. A few electric-light bulbs made it quite modern, enticing us to later evenings and long conversations with our Tibetan and British friends.
On the Last Lap to Lhasa
The month passed quickly, and on December 4, after a military review of the detachment and numerous calls from high Tibetan officials, we rode out with Major Gloyne and his honor guard toward Lhasa. They escorted us a short distance before turning back; but Dr. Humphries stayed with us. Due for return to India after long service in Gyangtse, he readily obtained permission to visit the Forbidden City. The Anglo-Indian doctor amused us and all the Tibetans by riding, instead of a horse, the smallest mule he could find.
The court of the Dalai Lama had sent two soldiers, a sergeant and a private, to escort us to Lhasa. With pronged rifle across his back and a large silver prayer box slung from one shoulder, the sergeant rode ahead, usually on the best pony he could requisition from the village. His mount was bedecked with ornaments and bells. Had there been any bandits, they would certainly have heard our approach well ahead of time.
When Caravans Meet
By always preceding us, the sergeant added a great air of dignity to our procession, sometimes roughly making approaching caravans get off the road to allow us more room to pass.
Tibetan custom rules that if a traveler sees what might be a more important caravan approaching, he stops within a few hundred yards, gets off the road, dismounts, takes off his hat, and stands while the party passes by. The party, in turn, must greet the dismounted travelers most politely.
Somehow, after leaving Gyangtse, we had the feeling of getting deeper into the real Tibet where the influence of the outside world is negligible. The trails had been worn through the centuries by caravans carrying merchandise from northeast China and India. Although we had to cross several more passes on our way, the terrain was not difficult.
We were meeting more caravans, now mostly of yaks, carrying barley, salt, and wool. It was easy to see that they had been on the trail for months. From this point on we stayed in Tibetan houses, which often were vacated by their occupants for our overnight use.
The headman and owner of the house usually would bustle about and try to make us comfortable, constantly bowing, bringing up the thumbs, sticking out the tongue and hissing—Tibetan ways of showing respect.
The higher the station of the person addressed, and the lower the station of the one who addresses, the lower the latter must bow, the more he is to stick out his tongue, and the more constant must become the hissing, done with quick little intakes of breath. After a while we got used to this and almost did it ourselves. Although we resorted to saluting as an official or any other form of greeting, we often found ourselves bowing while saluting.
In the little village of Ralung at the base of the Ningohi Kangshar mountain, we stayed in the large house of a Tibetan nobleman.
Curtain-like pieces of cloth with little cutouts to admit light were the typical Tibetan substitutes for window glass. The only heat came from charcoal burners, which used yak chips for fuel instead of charcoal. These burners were lighted outside and brought in glowing hot. We got the sensation of heat by sitting almost on top of the burner.
By keeping all our clothes on indoors, we managed to make the entries in our log; then, undressing as quickly as possible, we got into our sleeping bags for the night. The yak chips used in the poorer houses are burned right in the room, which consequently is filled with an almost suffocating smoke.
From Ralung we toiled up to Karo La, altitude 16,000 feet, one of the most dangerous passes because of frequent snowfalls.
The animals were tired from the long, tedious climb, and we paused overnight beyond the pass in a Tibetan mail stage shack. It was a windy and bitterly cold night. All of us huddled into a tiny windowless room, filled with the smoke of burning yak chips, while the animals were huddled together outside in a small yard.
Sandup's wife and baby daughter amazed me by their indifference to the discomfort of the trail. I never heard the baby cry, and she was sick only once—then, I think, from some of our candies. She would ride usually either in the arms of her mother or in the saddle in front of another rider.
From Karo La we descended to Yamdrok Tso, near which is situated the small but important town of Nagartse Dzong, with its striking hillside fort guarding the narrows of the valley.
The "Diamond Sow," a 5-year-old Abbess
We remained in Nagartse Dzong an extra day to visit the famous Samden Gompa, which is headed by an abbess known as the "Diamond Sow." She is abbess over male monks.
The first Diamond Sow abbess dates from 1717, when the monastery was besieged by a band of Mongols. It was a nunnery then. After a long siege the abbess is said to have opened the gates at the monastery yard, turning all her nuns into sows at the same time. The Mongols were so impressed with the miracle that they laid down their arms and retreated. The museum room of the monastery contains large quantities of those weapons.
The abbess at the time of our visit was five years old. She received us sitting cross-legged on her throne with her lay female attendant and her ecclesiastical court monks. Her well-proportioned and chiseled face was stern with a grown-up expression. At no time could I notice any mannerisms of a child.
We presented scarfs directly to her, and the gifts and money donations for the monastery were brought in as usual. We in turn were presented with two fragments of a sacred kattak and some magic seeds wrapped up in Tibetan paper with prayers.
A good Tibetan places these objects in his prayer box, which at home is kept in the religious corner found in every Tibetan house, no matter how poor, and on a journey is carried slung across the shoulder. The Tibetans believe that some strong medicine contained in these prayer boxes will divert a bullet.
Brooke impressed even the monks with his knowledge of the images, which he recognized at a glance. I explained that he was a student of the Buddhist religion. Thereafter, this fact became known wherever he went and gained for our party a scholastic and religious respect.
Well-to-do Tibetans Wear Fine Raiment
At Japsan Ferry, by which we crossed the Brahmaputra, we met the first well-to-do Tibetan family on the march. They were mounted on fine mules bedecked with rug blankets and ornamented tack, with large red woolen tassels hanging from their breastplates. A child was held in the saddle by an arrangement of high wooden crosstrees on pommel and cantle.
|Loading the Riding Horses and Pack Mules
on the river barge.
Click on picture to enlarge it.
The family was dressed in fine silk robes adorned with furs, and wore fur hats in a cutoff conical shape embroidered with gold thread. All the servants wore the same type of colored robes and were well armed with rifles and Mauser pistols.
I was often asked if we were traveling in uniform. Most of our clothing which we wore every day was of the combat type, but we carried with us blouses, riding breeches, and boots, which we made a point to wear for official calls and for certain arrivals and departures at the more important points. Several times we had to fight high winds behind some hill a few miles outside a village while we changed into our best.
At a small village called Chushul Dzong the headman informed us that the famous Tsarong Shape, a Cabinet Minister, had offered us the use of his small overnight cottage. It was a gracious Tibetan building, with several modern conveniences.
In the big reception room we were astonished to find the walls covered with National Geographic Society maps of the world. Later we learned that Tsarong Shape, whose full name is Namgang Dasan Damdu, is the only Tibetan member of The Society. We saw much of him in Lhasa.
Dalai Lama's Escort Meets the Party
Twenty-five miles out of Lhasa we were met by an escort sent out from the court of the Dalai Lama to greet us. It was headed by a powerfully built, fine-looking young monk, Kusho Yonton Singhi, who was to become our guide and inseparable adviser during our stay in the city of mystery.
|Tibetan officials such as these
negotiated the possibility of allowing Roosevelt and Churchill to create a
road from India to China via their mountainous kingdom.
Click on picture to enlarge.
He presented us with a warm letter of welcome and greetings from the joint Foreign Ministers of Tibet, and with the usual scarfs. Knowing our animals were tired, the Ministers had sent two fresh ponies for Brooke and me. It was a pleasure to ride the excellent Mongolian pacer, the kind that in Tibet only wealthy men can afford.
By Tibetan custom horsemen walk down steep hills, but from the moment Kusho joined us, we were not obliged to dismount. One of Kusho's outriders would halt at the top of each steep place, give his horse into charge of someone else, and lead our mounts carefully down the trail. We began to feel as if we were precious china dolls.
At noon we rode up to several gaily decorated Tibetan tents, where we had tea with our guide. The next day we woke up early and rode off briskly with an unmistakable feeling of excitement. Our first goal was near.
Entering the valley of Lhasa, we rode along the Kyi, which flows through the city. We crossed its tributary on Tibet's only modern steel bridge. On a concrete foundation, the bridge was built several years ago by Tsarong without the help of foreign engineers. The feat was remarkable in that all the pieces of steel had to be brought from India over the Himalayas by coolies, as the girders were too heavy for pack animals to carry.
Somewhere within the last four miles of Lhasa we knew a delegation waited to receive us, and one of our men rode ahead to herald our approach. The greeters, thus notified, rode out to meet us a couple of hundred yards from the place where they had been stationed. When about 100 feet apart, our parties dismounted and greeted each other.
The welcoming delegation was composed of the city magistrate of Lhasa, representing the city; Frank Ludlow, Additional British Political Officer for Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet, with H. Fox, Esquire, his assistant and wireless operator; the British Mission doctor, Rai Sahib Bo, who was a Bhutanese by birth; chief British Mission clerk, Minghyu; Dr. Kung Ching-tsung, chief of the Chinese Mission, with several members of his staff; the Bhutanese representatives; the Nepalese representatives, whose honor guard of soldiers was lined up a few miles away; and the Ladakhi representatives.
The Higher the Seat, the Greater the Man
Greetings were in strict Western fashion. After the introductions our entire cavalcade rode on to a small roadside park where several decorated Tibetan tents had been set up for the occasion. We were welcomed at the gate by the officers representing the court of the Dalai Lama. Most important among them were George Tsarong (Tsarong Se Dabul Namgyal), son of the Tsarong Shape, Dege Se, a royal prince before the Chinese took over his domain and now representative of the Foreign Office.
Escorted into the central tent, we were given the seats of honor behind a little table laden with the usual dried fruits, candies, etc. Our hosts, in order of rank and position, sat down to our right and left, on hassocks of diminishing heights. The farther away from us the lower the seats became, until, as the line passed out the entrance of the tent, overflow guests were sitting on the open ground on flat cushions. There were tables only a few inches high in front of all guests.
Buttered tea was poured from large, silver-ornamented copper teapots, and the ceremonial rice was served. In front of each person was placed a Chinese rice bowl with the rice patted in a high mound. We took a few grains of this rice with our fingers, threw some of it over our shoulders for the appeasement of spirits, and swallowed the few remaining grains. The rice bowls were then taken away, and the representatives of the court gave us letters of welcome and scarfs on behalf of every branch of the court.
This part of the ceremony over, we rode through the little wooded parks that surround Lhasa. To our right a large part of Lhasa's population was congregated on small grass mounds. On the left was lined up a detachment of the honor guard of the famous Tibetan Trapchi regiment, which serves as the bodyguard to the Dalai Lama.
We were surprised and our horses startled by a sudden outburst of stirring military music from a brass band, the only band of occidental instruments in Tibet. Presumably the instruments had been taken from a Chinese army in 1911.
Under the Windows of the Dalai Lama
The magnificent flag of Tibet stood out in its brilliant colors, showing the sun and two Lions of Tibet facing each other, holding the Wheel of Life under the Precious Gems.
Dismounting, we reviewed the detachment of soldiers, smart-looking in their practical native uniforms, and shook hands with their commanding officer. We then proceeded to the attractive Tibetan house of our host, Mr. Ludlow, just outside the West Gate of Lhasa, from where we could see the walls of the Potala topped by the Dalai Lama's personal quarters.
Several members of the welcoming party joined us for tea at Mr. Ludlow's residence. After tea we settled down in cozy Tibetan rooms, specially decorated for us by the court of the Dalai Lama, the floors solidly covered with Tibetan rugs and comfortable Tibetan couches. Mr. Fox proudly showed us his model Diesel plant which supplied the house with electricity and enabled him to make radio contact as far as Indiana, U.S.A.
From that day we lived for weeks by a schedule. There was a definite procedure for whom to see, when, and in what order. During our first few days in Lhasa we received official calls from Dr. Kung, Chinese representative, who had been in the Chinese diplomatic service in Europe and could speak French and some English; and from the joint Foreign Ministers. These last were Surkhang Dsasa, a genial Tibetan nobleman who in younger days had traveled into India and China, and a gracious elderly monk, the Ta Lama, named Yongon Dsasa.
From our first meeting Brooke and I liked the Foreign Ministers and soon became fast friends with them. We had to deal through them with His Holiness's court; thus we were with them often throughout our stay.
Among our other callers were representatives of Nepal, Bhutan, and Ladakh. A Major Bista of Nepal was a highly educated man and had a remarkable library in his home. These visitors were followed by Tibetan lay and ecclesiastical officials and lay dignitaries, some coming in official and some in private capacity.
Each person brought, or sent by servants, customary arrival gifts such as wheat, barley, flour, rice, meat, live sheep, butter, and eggs. As official guests we were also furnished firewood, feed for the ponies, and some provisions for all our group for a month's time.
The Dalai Lama Grants Audience
In accordance with Tibetan custom, we were not to call upon any officials until after His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, had granted us an audience. A few days after our arrival we were informed by the Tibetan Foreign Office that the audience would be at 9:20 on the morning of December 20. That date was selected as the most auspicious for the Dalai Lama, a highly important factor in all of his undertakings.
Early that day we rode out toward the Potala in a sizable cavalcade with all our men, the monk guide and his assistants dressed up in their finery.
The Potala is situated on a hill, and the Dalai Lama's throne room is on the very top. Usually visitors must make a long and tedious climb up the broad steps of the palace. We, however, were extended a great courtesy, being allowed to ride along a narrow path up the mountain to the back of the palace, where we left our horses. Then we were escorted through the courtyards and long labyrinths of the Potala building to a small, unpretentious waiting room.
Here we were joined by the representatives of the Foreign Office, a few other dignitaries, and a charming young Tibetan official named Changnopa, whom everybody called Ringang. Ringang had studied at Rugby and spoke beautiful English. After tea had been served, we rehearsed the procedure for greeting the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans explaining to us some of the fine points of etiquette. A monk entered soon and announced that we were to proceed to the throne room.
Escorted by a stately procession of monks, we ascended to the roof of the Potala, above which rose the single room used for receptions. On both sides in front of the entrance were seated rows of high monk dignitaries, and in the background were crowds of lesser monks and some laymen and pilgrims who were to be given a blessing by the Dalai Lama after our reception.
We stood in line for a few moments until the heavy curtain was drawn from the entrance, then walked into the richly decorated throne room. Rows of monks and lay officials were standing along the walls, but the central portion of the room remained open. Directly in front of us stood the Dalai Lama's throne, a square, flat-topped seat about four feet high and four feet wide, with a straight back.
The ten-year-old Dalai Lama who
greeted Long Riders Tolstoy and Dolan in 1942.
Click on picture to enlarge.
His Holiness was seated cross-legged, a high-peaked yellow hat on his head. We were immediately impressed by his young but stern face and not at all frail constitution. His cheeks were healthily pink.
A few feet away to his right, on a similar but lower throne, sat the dignified Regent of Tibet. Until the Dalai Lama becomes of age at eighteen, the Regent assumes his duties and is the highest authority in Tibet, ecclesiastical or civil.
Still farther away to the Regent's right was seated the Dalai Lama's father, a layman, dressed in rich robes and hat. Ruddy and youthful in appearance, and wearing a neat little down-turned mustache, he presented a contrast to the ecclesiastical dignitaries.
Delivery of the Historic Letter
As we stepped inside the threshold of the throne room, we saluted. Our hats were kept on throughout the entire ceremony. We then walked up to the throne of the Dalai Lama and, standing before him, saluted again. A monk came up and laid a presentation scarf across my outstretched hands, then placed a bread-and-butter offering upon the scarf. Bowing, I presented the offering to the Dalai Lama, who took it into his hands and passed it over to a monk on his right.
This procedure was repeated as a monk placed in turn upon the scarf I held an image of Buddha, a religious book, and a chorten.
These objects I passed on to the Dalai Lama.
Meanwhile, Captain Dolan, standing to my right, had been holding the casket containing President Roosevelt's letter to the Dalai Lama. He now passed it to me, placing it on the scarf. In the same manner I presented the casket to the Dalai Lama. So far as we could learn, this was the first time in history that direct communication had been made by a President of the United States with the Dalai Lama of Tibet.
I then laid the scarf across the throne in front of His Holiness, saluted, and proceeded to the throne of the Regent at my left.
Captain Dolan stepped up to the throne of the Dalai Lama, a scarf over his hands, and presented to His Holiness a photograph of President Roosevelt. He then saluted and joined me in front of the Regent's throne.
At this point our servants presented the gift of President Roosevelt, a gold chronographic watch, to the major-domo standing away from the throne. This functionary accepted it in behalf of the Dalai Lama, together with the personal gift Captain Dolan and I had brought, a silver ship.
Saluting the Regent, I bestowed upon him gifts similar to those presented to the Dalai Lama: an image of Buddha, a religious book; a chorten, and objects of silver. After placing the presentation scarf across the Regent's hands, I passed on to the throne of the Dalai Lama's father.
The Exchange of Scarfs
Brooke also saluted the Regent, presented him with a scarf, and joined me at the left. The father of the Dalai Lama was saluted in turn and honored with scarfs by us both. No gifts were presented to the father on this occasion, but were given at a later date.
The presentation of gifts and scarfs accomplished, we returned to the right-hand side of the room, where we sat on a long, low cushion placed near the center. A low table was set in front of us. From the far corner of the room came a monk bearing a pot of tea. He stopped before the Dalai Lama, joining another monk kneeling in front of the throne, who reached into his robe and pulled out a silver cup into which a little tea was poured. This monk then tasted the tea to insure its being satisfactory.
We were then served tea and rice. Although we were offered three cups of tea, we drank only two, leaving the third untasted as custom dictates. We ate a bit of the rice and threw a few grains over our shoulders.
While we were thus occupied, our retinue of servants proceeded to the Dalai Lama's throne and presented scarfs which a monk, standing by the side of His Holiness, accepted on his lord's behalf. The Dalai Lama then blessed them by touching their heads with a holy wand. They paid the same respects to the Regent and the Dalai Lama's father.
The servants were followed by a chain of monks and other people specially admitted to the throne room. These also presented scarfs and bowed before the throne to receive the blessing of His Holiness.
When the procession to the throne had ceased, the Dalai Lama addressed us through an interpreter, inquiring about the health of the President of the United States. I stood up to answer his query, then again sat down.
After a time a staid monk stood beside the throne and announced in a deep voice, "The reception is over." We left the throne chamber, followed by our servants and the rest of the spectators.
Upon the close of the official reception in the throne room, we returned to the waiting room of the Potala, presently to be ushered into the private chamber of the Dalai Lama. He was sitting on a small, low couch, with a table before him holding religious objects. Beside His Holiness sat the Regent on a similar couch. We were seated on chairs directly in front of them.
Ringang accompanied us. He acted as interpreter in the ensuing conversation, which continued in an informal vein for about a half hour. The private audience was then ended, and we left the Potala.
A Round of Courtesy Calls
The next few weeks we devoted to making calls upon all the ecclesiastical and lay officials in the order of their rank and position, and presenting them with gifts. We also called on the Dalai Lama's family. There followed a round of dinners, luncheons, and teas exchanged in both official and unofficial capacity.
We visited the Oracle, a rather remarkable middle-aged man, who has his own small monastery a few miles outside Lhasa. A short journey took us to the two largest monasteries in the world, Drepung and Sera, both near the city.
All the foreign representatives entertained us hospitably, and Dr. Kung had the pupils of his Chinese school turned out to greet us. These little children are of mixed Chinese and Tibetan parentage, and the school is provided by the Chinese Government.
The only other lay school in Tibet is conducted by a monk who is a radio operator. His pupils are children of nobility and lay officials in Lhasa.
Deke Lingka, headquarters of the British Mission, in which we lived, was next to the famous Holy Walk which stretches for seven miles around the Potala grounds.
Along that walk we could see pilgrims from all Tibet circumambulating the Potala, some by prostrating themselves along the walk, getting up and stepping the length of their bodies, then prostrating themselves again. Thus they measured their way around the Potala like inchworms.
Tibetan New Year Begins in February
As the New Year holidays approached, the stream of pilgrims increased daily.
The first month of the Tibetan year begins in early February. It is celebrated by a series of religious and historical ceremonies, all of which we attended upon the invitation of the Kashag, or Grand Council, which furnished us with special seats and gave a luncheon and entertainment for us at each function.
At the time of the New Year the city and its administration were taken over by monks from the near-by monasteries. All day throngs of them kept pouring into Lhasa. Caravans with goods from India and northern Tibet arrived daily, and tents were pitched in the parks and fields around the city.
Traveling sorcerers and bands of dancers roamed the city, entertaining on the streets and in the homes of the wealthy. Women wore magnificent dresses and the Lhasa style of three-pronged headdresses covered with seed pearls and semiprecious stones. Had they appeared on the streets not dressed in holiday costume, the monks most likely would have sent them home.
There were pageants by soldiers in 15th-century armor who went through sham battles and dances depicting battles of days gone by. Magnificent religious dances performed in the courtyard of the Potala by monks in grotesque masks portrayed the lamas of the church ridding the people of evil spirits.
Most of the festivities began early in the morning and lasted throughout the day. Wielding large willow sticks, the provost monks had difficulty maintaining order and keeping the public from blocking the way of the processions in the narrow streets.
At the end of the month, when the New Year's ceremonies were almost over, permission was granted us by the Tibetan Government to proceed to China.
Since further communication with the outside world would be impossible until we reached China, and since we faced dangerous unknown terrain, peril of bandits, and hazards of passes likely to be snow-blocked, we took great care in outfitting ourselves for the journey. Two of our men, who were returning to India, had to be replaced.
Mr. Fox, the British radio operator, had just received some small American commercial radio receiving sets which he had ordered from the United States over a year before. He was kind enough to let us have one, and we carried it with us all the way to China. This little radio kept us informed of the events of the world and astonished many nomads along the way.
We usually could get London once a day and at times Chungking and India. Occasionally we got San Francisco. Tokyo we could get at any time—a fact which sometimes embarrassed us when Tibetans wanted to hear the United States.
After awaiting an auspicious date to depart, we started out from Lhasa about the middle of March, our caravans leading the way. Near the northern outskirts of the city we were given a military send-off by an honor guard and were served ceremonial tea and rice in specially erected tents. From there a large group of our friends and officials rode with us to the estate of a nobleman, where we were given a luncheon.
Scarfs Serve as Leis Do in Hawaii
After the luncheon, according to Tibetan custom, we were accompanied to the gate. There our friends placed scarfs over our heads. This was done by everyone, including even our servants, just as leis are placed around the necks of travelers leaving Hawaii. By the time the last person had bidden us farewell, our necks were bundled in more than 200 of those scarfs.
Following the custom further, we got on our horses, still wearing the kattaks, and rode the rest of the day with them on. For the remainder of the trip each of us carried at least one scarf around his neck.
Both Brooke and I felt a moment of sadness at leaving our friends behind, and we could see sincere emotion on their faces.
Concerned about our safety in bandit territory, the Tibetan Government detailed a sergeant and five soldiers to accompany us as far as we wished to take them. We took them as escort only through Tibet proper. The Chinese representative informed us that we would be met at the border by a detachment of Chinese soldiers. They never showed up.
Sandup Bids the Party Good-bye
Our boy Sandup and his wife had to return to India. Since he had been our interpreter, we felt that losing him weakened our outfit in that respect. We had only our cook, Tommy, to replace him.
Tommy became our Number 1 man and Lakhpa was promoted a step. We found a young Tibetan named Punzo to act as camp boy and a young monk to look after the ponies. This monk was going in our direction also and was delighted to work his way through. He changed his monk's robes to a simple Tibetan civilian garb.
All the servants had to be given proper clothes and bedding for the trip, and their family affairs had to be carefully worked out before departure.
After the first few days we approached the wide, valley-like stretches of the Tibetan northern steppes, or plateaus. On the way up to and down the passes the streams were frozen, often with thick ice bridges over dried stream beds.
We carried peas and considerable grain, especially barley, and as much as we could of barley straw, for it was necessary to maintain our fine animals in good condition through the bitter stretch of northern uplands where neither straw nor grain was grown or available. Since it was March, the last year's grass was either grazed down or worthless after the winter snows.
On March 23 we crossed the upper Kyi near Phongdo. The men crossed on a crude suspension chain bridge lined with yak hides, and the animals forded the stream, which was low at that time of year.
We left our trail for half a day's ride to Reting Gompa, the seat of the ex-Regent of Tibet, a very high religious personage. Before leaving Lhasa, we had exchanged greetings and gifts with the ex-Regent by means of messengers, and he had invited us to stop with him on the way north.
Our poor Lakhpa fell ill here, and after we got him well we had to leave· him behind to return to Gyangtse. In his place we found a simple Tibetan boy.
The ex-Regent was a great lover of horses and without a doubt had the best stable of imported Mongolian pacers in Tibet. Some of his ponies came from as far away as Urga (Ulan Bator), Outer Mongolia.
He had one remarkable animal, a cross between a Mongolian pony and a wild ass, or kiang. This type of mule has almost as great endurance and ability to live off the country as the wild ass. It is much larger and stronger than the ordinary mule and has the advantage of hoofs shaped like those of a horse.
On April 3 we crossed the divide of Langlu La. It is 15,000 feet high and separates the waters of the Brahmaputra and the upper Salween. Within another two days we reached Nagchu Dzong, administrative capital of northern Tibet. Here we were met by the commissioner, Tsarong's son-in-law, a few other city officials, and an honor guard detachment.
We picked up at Nagchu Dzong some additional supplies we had sent ahead. After a three-day rest we set off again.
Hit by the First Snowstorm
Two days out of Nagchu Dzong we hit our first snowstorm. The going became difficult, since the snow had covered some of the dangerous spots. It was remarkable how our animals sensed and avoided the hazards.
For the first time we encountered a caravan carrying tea from China. It had left Jyekundo (Yushu) four months previously with 1,000 yaks and 25 ponies. Only 700 yaks and 15 ponies survived, for the winter was extremely severe. The drivers were brewing tea in the lee of the stacked-up loads of tea, while the yaks were grazing in the hills.
About April 13 we came to Kema, where a nomad chieftain had been notified of our arrival. He received us with great honor by setting up guest tents, at the end of which had been erected two pillars of loosely piled stones. On the top of them burning yak chips and brush threw off heavy columns of smoke.
From these pillars stones were laid out in a line as if marking the approach to the camp. This is a customary gesture toward ranking visitors, and it certainly added a little air of importance to our modest outfit.
When the Dalai Lama travels across Tibet, the natives lay similar stones along both sides of the road for many miles at a stretch and individually bring along small containers in which they burn brush and incense while he passes by.
That justice is rigorously upheld in that part of the country was attested by an occasional gallows fashioned of a flimsy pole, from which was suspended the head of a horse thief or bandit. Rumors of banditry were becoming more prevalent, and by now our outfit was well whipped up for defense in any emergency.
The road became quite difficult and the terrain cut up with steep banks of mud and snow. Some of the streams were only partly frozen, and the animals kept breaking through the ice. Snow fell intermittently. Whenever the sun was in, we could feel the bitter cold and wind through our Tibetan fur robes.
A Precarious Suspension Bridge
A few miles beyond Sok Gomba we crossed the first suspension bridge over the Sok River. This bridge was nothing but two chains over which was drawn a matting of saplings, with no railing or support along its sides. As the animals passed over it, the bridge swerved and shook like a ribbon in midair, 250 feet above the gorge.
One man led each animal by the head and another held the tail. The yaks and the more stubborn of the other animals had to ford the cold water a couple of miles downstream. Even some of our native men crossed that bridge on all fours.
We saw the first spring plowing being done in the Sok Valley. In this region yaks were used for that purpose.
On April 19 we reached Pachen, where we remained for a few days. Some miles beyond was the Tsangne La, which leads into Tsinghai Province. The Chinese representative in Lhasa had told us we would be met at the pass by a detachment of Chinese soldiers, but runners we sent ahead returned to say that no Chinese were anywhere in sight and that none of the nomads had seen any Chinese in that region for a couple of years.
At this point we sent our Tibetan escort back to Lhasa and proceeded with our small group from one nomad camp to the other, trusting in Tibetan gods and keeping alert.
The administrative jurisdiction of the Dalai Lama ends at this point, and beyond, for over 200 miles to Jyekundo, bandits and feuding nomad clans prey on the transports.
With the help of a nomad chief on the Tibetan side we finally were able to gather drivers and animals to take us across. However, they refused to proceed until we had hired at least 25 more men with rifles.
On April 23 we parted with the accommodating baron of the Pachen nomads, who had assisted us in procuring the transport, and began climbing the border range of Tsangne La, more than 16,000 feet high. The higher we went, the deeper the snow became. This pass is seldom open in January, February, and March.
At that high altitude, carrying full loads, the yaks had a system for getting through heavy snow. The leading animal would lunge through the drifts until it was winded. Then it would lie down while the next yak in line came up to make a few more lunges. When the second, too, became exhausted, the third yak passed the first two. This process continued until the animals eventually reached solid ground.
After a blizzard had subsided, we could see from the top of the pass the vast, forbidding-looking wastes of the northern uplands, with a few snow-capped ranges in the distance. The temperature was below freezing, and the ceaseless winds were the strongest yet encountered.
Birthplace of Great Rivers of Asia
We dropped into this vast area and next day were riding along the mountains which served as a divide for the headwaters of the Salween, Yangtze, and Mekong.
We were now traveling over the territory from which many of the great rivers of Asia start. On April 30 we again began to encounter ranges of cut-up terrain. Two days later we reached the encampment of a nomad chieftain who furnished us with transport for the next six days, together with some men, most of whom were armed only with slings. Those boys were extremely accurate with these weapons, even up to 60 yards, and could kill a dog or a man with them easily.
Our only interpreter now was Tommy, and he with his limited Chinese and English had a hard time understanding the natives, who spoke a different Tibetan dialect.
One day we were surrounded by men on horseback, who rode around us at a great distance out of range. We let out a few machine-gun bursts in the direction we were heading, and the riders disappeared from our path. One night our mastiff caught a bandit spy near the camp. We turned the fellow over to the chieftain the next day.
Often one chieftain would tell us that another one was a bandit. In a few cases we had to resort to keeping a close watch on a chieftain and his men while they were traveling with us.
Fording the Mekong River
On May 6 we forded the Mekong River, which, though rather wide, was shallow. We camped at an attractive little monastery called Zuru Gomba. Unmolested by the monks, large flocks of blue sheep, or bharals, ranged the hills. Here we watched a remarkable feat by a Tibetan hound. The dog actually ran down and hamstrung a full-grown gazelle.
At all times we tried to send ahead an outrider to notify the next chieftain of our coming and need of transport. In one instance we had a Tibetan monk write out an important-looking document ordering a chieftain to provide us with transport.
On May 10 we passed the beautiful valley and plain of Nima Rungsha where hundreds of wild asses and gazelles were grazing. The mountain slopes were thickly forested, and we saw musk deer jumping high through the underbrush. Riding along a stream, we jumped a small flock of Lhasa stag, also known as Prejevalsky's deer.
An Outpost of Chinese Mohammedan Soldiers
In this territory travelers often lost their horses and mules. The animals ran away to join wild ass herds. For that reason we kept bells on all our stock while they were resting or running loose. The noise of the bells frightened away the wild asses.
On May 12 we came upon the first outpost of Chinese Mohammedan soldiers, who were grazing their transport animals in the fertile valley. Maj. Ma Ying-hsiang, their leader, told us that his commanding general in Jyekundo had been notified by Gen. Ma Pu-fang, Governor of Tsinghai Province, that Chungking expected our arrival there and that he had been on the lookout for us, searching for some time along the different passes. He was relieved that we finally had arrived safely.
After 56 days on the road from Lhasa, we halted for two days to clean up and rest before appearing in Jyekundo. We understood that Gen. Ma Pu-Iang was to give us an elaborate reception.
On May 15 we rode into the outskirts of Jyekundo. The commanding general, his staff, and the town's officials greeted us. A detachment of cavalry was lined up along the side of the road, and farther on monks of the local monastery were out with their band.
A holiday was proclaimed in the city, flags and banners were displayed, and all the people turned out to greet us. Whenever we approached a native sitting in the street, he would rise in welcome.
We were escorted into a comfortable Tibetan house by our host, the General. Here we were really settled in style, with big Chinese beds made up with brand-new silk quilts, servants and a cook to attend us, and two armed guards to watch the gate. In all this customary Chinese hospitality we relaxed and forgot the worries of the trail.
There was a wireless from Jyekundo to Sining, and we asked the General to send a message to Chungking via Sining to notify General Stilwell's headquarters of our safe arrival.
The General told us he had instructions to facilitate the procurement of our transport and escort to Sining. In a few days our four faithful Tibetans were ready to start back to Lhasa and the Indian border, this time via the southern route through Chamdo.
The Pack Animals Swim the Yangtze
When we left Jyekundo, we were escorted for several miles by the General, his staff, and an honor guard. It was only a short journey from Jyekundo to the Yangtze River, which was a hundred yards or more wide at that point and rather swift. We swam the animals across and ferried the equipment on rafts floated on blown-up skin bags.
On June 1 we camped near Shewu Gomba, which perches on the side of a mountain. The country became more and more swampy in the lower parts of the valleys and plains and our animals bogged down frequently.
On June 3 a heavy snowstorm caught us and made traveling difficult for several days. The climate of this section of the country is severe, snow sometimes falling even in midsummer. The ranges are farther apart, and the valleylike plains bear better grass than elsewhere. Because the numerous rivers are broad, many of them were difficult for the animals to swim. We had to stop sometimes and kill sheep to make blown-up skins for our rafts.
Though we were now traversing country where the wild yak once was numerous, we saw none of these animals. The introduction of automatic rifles by Chinese Mohammedan troops had exterminated the herds. Day after day we passed horned skulls.
|The Stars and Stripes reach China.
Click on picture to enlarge.
On June 7 we neared the Tra La between the Yangtze and Yellow (Hwang) River headwaters. We came across as many as nine bears in one day. This bear appeared very close to our grizzly in size and coloring. Captain Dolan shot one, and we preserved its skull and hide.
There were signs of the great Asiatic bighorn sheep, and on a few occasions we got away for short hunts off the trail. A group of nine rams was the largest I spied. Crossing the Yehmatan plains with their almost impenetrable swamps, we camped for three nights virtually in water. Even at night without their loads, the animals bogged down.
Reaching Gamoh Nor, a large freshwater lake situated near the Chinese military outpost of Hwanghoyen, we crossed the Yellow River not many miles from its source.
This country was familiar to Captain Dolan, for in 1935 he had taken an expedition there to collect mammals for the, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.
Floods Make River Crossing Difficult
Beyond Changshitou our helpers and escort were Ngoloks. These people, taller and more rugged than central Tibetans, are known as the fiercest tribe in this area.
On June 17 we came to the Ta River, on the far side of which was the old Chinese fort of Tahopa. A downpour in the morning had swelled the river to about 300 feet in width, and it was exceptionally swift. It took a day and a half to cross our animals and supplies on rafts.
The Tahopa fort was known to have telegraph and telephone communication, but we found both out of commission. In the summer-time several trucks manage to get up to the fort over the hard turf. At the time of our visit, however, motor traffic was out of the question.
On June 21 we approached the west end of Koko Nor (Tsing Hai), where we were met by the Chinese Mohammedan garrison commander of Cheche. Here and there were signs of fields that had been under cultivation in previous years. Our yak transport gave way to bullocks of yellow Mongolian cattle.
The night of June 25 we rested in another Chinese fort, Chapucha, where we met a large detachment of Mohammedan cavalry on their way to Jyekundo. They were wearing white felt robes made for warmth as well as for shedding the frequent rains of that region.
Skirting a considerable stretch of desert not unlike the arid sands found in Arizona, we passed over several dunes which the winds keep moving from place to place.
For some time now we had felt the approach of spring, and every day we saw more and more wild flowers. We soon rode through solid expanses of wild iris.
We arrived in the Chinese city of Hwang-yuan on the 89th day of travel and, proceeding along the cultivated valleys and through small Chinese villages, soon were within a day's march of Sining. The last ten miles we rode in a car sent out for us by the Governor of Tsinghai.
First Place of Call a Turkish Bath
The most memorable occurrence in Sining, outside of a visit with the Governor, was our visit to the Turkish bath, which we made our very first place of call in the city.
From Sining we hired a truck and drove on to Lanchow over a fairly good road. There, awaiting us, was our mail, which had been sent up by plane from Chungking to the compound of American missionaries. We reported our safe arrival to General Stilwell by telegram, and a few days later received his telegram of congratulations and orders to report to Chungking.
After their return to the United States, Dolan was sent back to China. Sadly, the young naturalist, turned army officer, was killed soon after combat had been officially concluded with Japan. So it was left to Tolstoy to record the tale of this remarkable equestrian journey.
See also Long Riders on the Roof of the World
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