National Geographic : 1930 Feb
SEEKING THE MOUNTAINS OF MYSTERY large sheepskin coats with long sleeves. When driving yaks, they slap the animals over the back with these sleeves. As soon as their tea had boiled, they took out a ladleful, put butter in it, then threw it out of their chief's tent, at the same time yell ing prayers to the mountain god. They called all foreigners"Urussu," or Russians. My phonograph they called a "Russian magic box." I slept lightly that night, what with barking dogs and the firing of rifles by our sentries to scare away thieves. In the morning my thermometer stood at 25 de grees Fahrenheit. These grass lands in summer are veri table bogs. The water-soaked ground re minded me much of some of the summit bogs in the Hawaiian Islands. At lunch time we let our laden yaks loose to graze. The horses were hobbled with hair ropes, one front leg tied to one hind leg. If ever a man should lose his horse in that wide, open country it might be gone for good, as lassos are unknown. Near us was an abandoned nomad camp where the Moslems had done their worst, killing hundreds. Now not a soul was visible in the whole wild, dreary region of great bogs and streams of quicksand. WATCHED BY ROBBER TRIBES One of my boys was thrown by his horse. It galloped away, empty stirrups flying. Before we could catch it ten armed nomad robbers rushed out from hiding, encircled the horse and drove it off. This made me realize how the Amchok and perhaps other robber tribes were watch ing us. For some days we continued over dreary snow-covered or water-soaked land, dark under low-hanging clouds. The Sokwo Ariks proved a surly escort. One villain, with nose and lips split from many battles, threatened me with his spear simply because I urged him to protect his loads with the usual felt covers. Crossing one of the divides between Labrang and the Yellow River was a physical ordeal. A 50-mile gale blew powdery snow over the ridges and whirl winds sent white columns spinning high in air. Our figures became hazy white outlines in the blinding storm. With numb fingers I took photographs of the panting yaks floundering like huge snowplows through the pass. At the summit, 13,ooo feet up, the wind nearly blew us from our horses. I felt my cheeks freezing. Descending, we saw in a valley at our right a deserted camp of the nomads. There were old mud stoves and so-called sacrificial altars made of square blocks of yak dung piled about three feet high. Here they burned their sacred offerings of juni per twigs. \Ve paused a while and our yaks pushed away the snow with their noses in a search for bits of grass. Though the wind still blew, it was now dry, for it came off the Gobi. Crossing on over the Tek Gar Tang plain, we came down to the camp of the Sokwo Ariks on the Mamo Zhung, at an elevation of 11,500 feet. Although they are Tibetans, these tribesmen live in Mongol felt yurts instead of yak-hair tents. Because of their fierce dogs, which attack all strangers, we camped a little below them. NOMADS LAUGH AT OPERATIC SONGS We rested here a day and obtained fresh yaks to take us on to Dzangar, a monastery in a ravine not far from the gorges of the Yellow River. It was to Dzangar only that the Sokwo men had agreed to escort us. The valley about our Mamo Zhung camp fairly swarmed with wild fowl, and I feasted. This amazed the nomads, who consider fowl and eggs unclean. Here again I set up my phonograph. The men roared with laughter at the pathetic songs from "La Boheme" and "Pagliacci." Sit ting about, listening to the music, they smoked, lighting their pipes with smolder ing yak dung. I bought fuel here, paying for it with needles and thread. With fresh yaks we resumed our march, going into the Htse Chu Valley. The river has its source not far from the Yellow River. It flows east, bends sharply north, then south and southwest into the Yellow, We forded it at an elevation of 11,250 feet, at the same place where the German traveler, Futterer, coming from the north, crossed it some years ago. In fact, it was Futterer who put the Htse Chu on the map. Later he was robbed by nomads and ar rived half-naked at Taochow. On this river we found many ducks and even sea gulls, which apparently summer on the waters of the Koko Nor.