National Geographic : 1925 Apr
THE LAND OF THE YELLOW LAMA National Geographic Society Explorer Visits the Strange Kingdom of Muli, Beyond the Likiang Snow Range of Yiinnan Province, China BY JOSEPH F. ROCK LEADER OF THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY'S YUNNAN PROVINCE EXPEDITIN,. AUTHOR (F "IANISIING THE DEVIL OF DISEASE AMONG THE NASHI," AND "HUNTING THE CHAULMOOGRA 'TREE," IN THE NATIONAL (EOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE With Illustrationsfrom Photographsby the Author W HEN the National Geographic Society's Expedition into Yiin nan Province, China, had com pleted its work extending over a period of two years, I decided to make a dash to Muli and pay a visit to the ruler of that lonely mountain stronghold. One of the least-known spots in the world is this independent lama kingdom of Muli, or Mili, in the extreme south west of the Chinese Province of Szech wan (see map, page 450). Almost nothing has been written about the kingdom and its people, who are known to the Chinese as Hsifan, or Western Barbarians. The Europeans who have passed through during the last 1oo years can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Two years before, I had sent Nashi plant collectors to Muli with a letter to the lama king, announcing my probable arrival within a few weeks. The king. who never leaves his domain, sent me a polite reply, necessitating an I -day jour ney by special runner, and asked me not to come. Brigands were too numerous in his district, he said, and it would be impossible for him to give me proper pro tection. lie stated also that the unruly Tibetan tribe known as the Hsiangcheng, inhabit ing the territory of the upper reaches of the Yangtze, came periodically to Muli to rob and plunder. The Hsiangcheng drove off his people's herds of yak, sheep, and horses grazing on the alpine meadows and left his subjects in distress and utter pov erty. I respected the king's wishes and did not visit him at that time, but in January, 1924, just about one month before Chi- nese New Year, I decided to make my deferred visit before taking the long journey out into the civilized world. The National Geographic Society's Ex pedition headquarters were in the Nashi, or Moso, tribal village of Nguluko, in the district of Likiang, on the slopes of the great Likiang snow range,* which ex tends from north to south and has three mighty peaks, two of which are 20,000 feet in height. THE ROAD TO MII LIES TIIROUGII GORGES AND OVER MOUNTAINS These mountains are pierced by the mighty Yangtze, which has cut a trench 13,000 feet deep through a wall of lime stone rock crowned with eternal snow. and also makes a great loop which adds several hundred miles to its course. The whole region is a vast conglomeration of peaks and mighty gorges, with very little level ground. The trip from Likiang to Muli, therefore, is one of the most trying in southwestern China. In 1921 I had come overland from Bangkok, Siam. I passed through the entire length of that kingdom; thence through the southeastern Shan State of Keng Tung and the whole length of the Province of Yiinnan; but nowhere were such difficult trails encountered as those down to and across the Yangtze gorges and over the Likiang mountain ranges to Muli. It takes a hardened constitution and great powers of endurance to make the trip. I sent my card to the Chinese magis trate of Likiang to announce my start for * See "Banishing the Devil of Disease Among the Nashi," by Joseph F. Rock, in the NATIONAi. GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for November, 1924.