Raphael Pumpelly.

Travels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly : mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist and explorer online

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delayed until well on in October. In the meantime we
made extensive preparations for a winter journey through
a country of whose resources we knew nothing.



CHAPTER XXXIX

ON THE TABLE-LAND OF CENTRAL ASIA
WITH A CARAVAN or TARTARS

AT last we bade good-by to Mr. J. G. Walsh and other
good friends, and sailed out of the bay.

After a period of delightful weather we came in sight
of the Korean island of Quelpart, and entered the Yellow
Sea.

During several days nothing of interest occurred, ex-
cepting that the sea seemed alive with immense numbers
of medusae. The great disks of these animals, of two
feet and more in diameter, were everywhere visible, float-
ing like drab umbrellas near the surface, and as far as
the eye could penetrate the water. The vessel often cut
a way through great masses of them, leaving hundreds of
their broken forms in its wake.

For days we passed through this immense shoal of
jelly-fish, which must have covered an area of hundreds
of square miles.

We were not deprived of an opportunity to study the
habits of animal life within the walls of our vessel. The
brig had been for a long time in the tropics, and had be-
come thoroughly infested with cockroaches. They
seemed to rival in numbers the medusae outside ; the floor,
the ceiling, and the berths swarmed with them. After
throwing several bushels of them into the sea, we were
forced to conclude that, in so doing, we only made room

278



THE TABLE-LAND OF CENTRAL ASIA 279

for fresh and more hungry swarms from the hold. They
were always first at table, turning up in every article
of food, and sure to appear upon the most delicate mor-
sels.

I had often heard that their favorite amusement was
to gnaw off the toe-nails of sailors ; and indeed, after my
experience on this journey, I am ready to believe any-
thing of them, even the assertion that they form the prin-
cipal ingredient in India soy, as they certainly were
largely represented in our food.

A violent storm prevented our rounding the promontory
of Shan-tung, and drove us north between the coast of
Korea and the peninsula of Lian-tung, where we lay for
several days before we could enter the Gulf of Pechili
and reach the mouth of the Pei-ho. At last we disem-
barked at Tien-tsin and forwarded our supplies by boat to
Peking, making the journey ourselves on horseback.

At the capital we were so fortunate as to make an addi-
tion to our party in the person of Mr. St. John, Secretary
of the English legation. While waiting for the prepara-
tions which our new companion had to make we passed
our time in getting carts, which we had enlarged to admit
of sleeping, and in having our clothes lined with fur.
General Vlangali, the Russian Minister, kindly placed a
Cossack at our service for the journey, besides supplying
us with numerous letters of introduction for Siberia.

On the morning of the I2th of November, 1864, we
left the hospitable gates of Mr. Burlingame's house, to
set out upon our long journey across the table-land of
central Asia, and through Mongolia, Siberia and Rus-
sia, countries of which no one of our party spoke the
languages.

As the gorge of Nankau is impassable for carts, we
had ours taken to pieces and packed upon mules, as were



280 RAPHAEL PUMPELLY

all our supplies and baggage ; it was quite a ride from the
rear to the front of our long and straggling caravan.
Stopping the first night at Sha-ho, we made an early start
next morning, but before reaching Nan-kau Walsh's
horse fell and sprained the ankle of his rider so badly
that I feared we should have to give up the journey at its
first stage, or take my friend back and leave him at
Peking. But not daunted at the idea of making almost
the longest land journey on the globe in a crippled condi-
tion, and disregarding present pain, Walsh insisted upon
being carried in a chair to Kalgan, where our carts were
to begin their work.

At Nan-kau Walsh bought a wooden chair, which,
slung between two poles and carried by strong men,
formed a very convenient means of traveling.

Four days' journey from Peking brought us to Kalgan.
Here we were detained four days in perfecting a contract
with the Mongols, who were to take us to Kiachta. As
we were bearing despatches, the Chinese Government had
given us passports for Tartary, without which it would
have been impossible to obtain either guides or camels.
On the 2 ist of November, 1864, at four o'clock in the
afternoon, we left Kalgan in a heavy snpwstorm. The
ascent to the summit of the plateau being too steep for
camels to draw the carts, this work was done by horses
as far as Borotsedji, which we reached at daylight, having
slept in our carts. Here we found our camels, twenty-six
in number, including those taken as reserves in case of
accident.

The first work was the organization of the caravan ; the
carts, of which there were four, one for each, including
Peter the Cossack, were intended for sleeping-places, as
it was our intention to travel seventeen hours out of the
twenty-four, stopping only once to eat. The vehicles,



THE TABLE-LAND OF CENTRAL ASIA 281

mounted on two wheels and without springs, were less
than three feet wide and about seven in length, and were
covered with a housing of felt. They were closed with
a door on one side, and furnished with abundant blankets
and furs, and fitted with pockets without number. The
long shafts in front were slung in loops suspended from
the saddle of the camel, and a- guide mounted on another
animal accompanied each cart. The baggage was packed





PRINCE. CAMELEER.

Mongolian types.

on eight or ten other camels, each animal having its nose
pierced and fastened by a cord to the saddle of the one
before it, the foremost being led by a mounted cameleer.
Tied to the back of each cart walked a sturdy Mongol
pony always saddled and ready to be mounted.

The ascent to the summit of the plateau, here between
five and six thousand feet above the sea, brought us into
a region of intense cold, which was rendered almost un-
supportable by a strong north-northwest wind. The
thermometer, which at Kalgan had ranged near the freez-
ing point, stood here at 4 F.

The wind, having a clear sweep over the plains lying
between us and the Arctic region, blew with unbroken
force, obliging us to take shelter in the carts while the



282 RAPHAEL PUMPELLY

preparations were being made for starting. Finally,
when all was ready, the cameleers, enveloped in masses
of sheepskin robes, mounted their animals and formed into
line. During the first two or three days our whole time
was occupied in endeavoring to find the best means to
keep from freezing to death, a fate against which I saw
we had not taken sufficient precaution. After we were
for hours in the carts, there would be not more than three
or four degrees difference between the inner and outer
temperature. Although the vehicles were an excellent
defense against the wind, woolen blankets and furs be-
came so cold that it was painful to touch them with the
naked hand. It was not until the fourth day of our
caravan journey that we were able to summon courage to
face the fierce wind and clear cold. Sometime during the
first night our route emerged from the flat-topped hills of
the volcanic region of the plateau, and entered a country
of gravelly plains, crossed by low granite ridges. Feeling
a necessity for exercise we mounted our Tartar horses,
and, leaving the caravan, galloped in the direction of a
small column of smoke rising from the neighboring hills.
Reaching the top of a small eminence we saw in the valley
beneath us a collection of yurts, from which herds were
moving away to graze. A loud and fierce barking of
dogs showed that we were already discovered, and as we
approached the encampment a score of these savage
brutes offered us battle, and we should certainly have
been worsted had not their masters come to our rescue.

I had taken the precaution to bring an empty bottle
and a paper of needles, which we immediately presented
to the good woman of the tent. We had not long to wait
for her gratitude. Putting a cauldron over the fire, she
threw in some mutton fat, and after this had melted,
poured in a quantity of water, to which, as soon as it



THE TABLE-LAND OF CENTRAL ASIA 283

had begun to boil, was added a liberal quantity of brick
tea with salt and small pieces of the fat of a sheep's tail.
When this was done, and a handful of parched millet
sprinkled over the surface, the good woman served it up
in lacquered wooden cups, putting into each one a lump
of cheese, about the size of an egg. We stood almost
aghast at the hospitable offering called forth by our
presents: a decoction of tallow, tea, fat, salt, and cheese
is certainly a formidable compound for a Western palate.
But in spite of the way we reviled the mixture, in a lan-
guage fortunately unintelligible to our hostess, the cups
were repeatedly filled and as often emptied. Before we
had left Mongolia, this Tartar tea had really become a
favorite beverage with all of us.

When we came up with our caravan we found it already
encamped, and we began cooking our single daily meal.
We were in the habit of stopping about an hour before
sunset, to give the animals a rest of six or seven hours
out of the twenty-four.

One large tent answered for the whole party. In the
middle the Mongols put up their tripod and cauldron,
and another fireplace for our own cooking. We now
spread over the country, one party in search of snow,
the other to forage for argols (dried camel dung) for
fire. It was not always an easy matter to find enough of
either of these necessary articles for cooking. Soups
were our great forte; to this all our energies were di-
rected, and it was made the subject of experiments. Ob-
taining a kettle of water by melting snow, we first put
into it such frozen vegetables as we had brought from
Kalgan, and then such fresh meat mutton, horse, or
cow as we could get from the Mongols, without being
overscrupulous as to the manner of its death. Adding
to these a pound or so of fat of the sheep's tail, allowing



284, RAPHAEL PUMPELLY

the whole to cook, we put into the cauldron one tin each
of peas, beans, ox-tail soup, mock-turtle soup, frankfort
sausages, salmon, and tomatoes. How this compound
would taste in civilization it would be hard to say ; but no
dinner at the Trois Freres, or at Delmonico's, ever dis-
appeared wkh greater relish than these four o'clock meals
on the steppes of Tartary. And they were well earned,
for although we had to work hard in cooking them, we
often had to work still harder to keep from freezing while
eating them. The tent offered slight protection against
the cold winds, and the argol fires gave no warmth at the
distance of a few inches.

As it was only by rare accident that we were able to get
a cup of Mongol tea in the morning, we studied various
methods of keeping coffee in a fluid state during the night.
The day of the thermos bottle was still nearly half a
century off. So each of us took a bottleful of boiling
coffee and rolled it carefully in a large blanket; then,
thrusting the precious bundle under his fur cloak, each
man rushed to his cart, and, diving under the bedclothes,
carefully hugged his charge all night. Even a baby could
not have been treated more tenderly. In this way we
generally succeeded in having a bottle of iced coffee on
awakening in the morning; but woe to the unhappy man
made restless by an over-hearty dinner. His neglected
bottle, to which he looked for consolation, would be
frozen, perhaps burst, or, at the very best, the coffee was
a mass of needles.

After traveling several miles in a valley we arose to
the table-land on the opposite side. The country was
here rolling, and evidently well covered with grass in
summer. Hardly had we put up a tent before a number
of women and children appeared with baskets of argols,



THE TABLE-LAND OF CENTRAL ASIA 285

which they gave to our cameleers. The children had
several strings of agates, which they parted with for some
pieces of brick tea. The gift of the argols was not
prompted by pure hospitality, as I had supposed.

While our Mongols were cooking their mess, the new-
comers sat with eager eyes just inside the door of the
tent. Our cameleers had a cauldron filled with large
pieces of beef, which I strongly suspected of having be-
longed to the frozen carcass of a cow we had passed that
morning. Almost before the meat was warmed through
our men seized enormous pieces, and began the meal by
cramming into the mouth as much of one corner of the
piece as could be got in, and then sawing off the rest just
outside the lips. Their throats seemed made of India
rubber, so rapidly did one large piece disappear after an-
other.

Indeed it is hard to understand why the Tartars are
endowed with molars. Altogether carnivorous, they used
their teeth, so far as I could discover, only for tearing
off their food. Although most Mongols carry a pair of
chop-sticks slung in their girdles, they can only be for
ornament, as I certainly never saw them use them. In
cooking, no part of the animal is lost, and they are not
over-regardful of cleanliness in preparing their meat for
the pot.

Every now and then our chief cameleer, taking from
the cauldron a piece, generally one of the poorest, tossed
it across the tent to the ravenous assemblage of women
and children.

This man was a Lama, and had traveled not only
through Tartary and northern China, but had been to the
shrine of Tsongkaba, and had knelt before the Grand
Lama at Lhassa. Fat, and with as jolly a face as even



286 RAPHAEL PUMPELLY

a priest could wish, our good-natured Lama, while telling
the beads of his rosary, or repeating the monotonous Bud-
dhist formula, wore an expression of most perfect con-
tentment and might have sat as model for a statue of
Buddha in Nirvana.



CHAPTER XL

JOURNEY ON THE TABLE-LAND CON-
TINUED

TAETAE SHEEP AND THE CAMEL. PEAYING BY
MACHINEEY

ONE morning we saw a herd of antelopes quietly graz-
ing in the valley below us ; but we being to windward they
scented us, and were soon out of sight. After a further
ride of two or three miles we came upon the object of
our search, which, instead of being a large village, con-
sisted of only two or three yurts. Still, we breakfasted
luxuriously on Tartar tea and lumps of boiled fat of
sheeps* tails. This part of the Tartar sheep is considered
a great delicacy through all Asia, and is really almost equal
to marrow. The tail of this animal in Tartary attains a
weight of from thirty to fifty pounds, all pure fat. Seen
from behind, the animal is all tail; and, when the ap-
pendage attains its largest dimensions, it becomes neces-
sary to attach a contrivance by which the animal can
conveniently carry his own tail without allowing it to
drag. This is sometimes effected by a couple of sticks
fastened at one end to the sheep, and spread out at the
other, dragging upon the ground while supporting the
tail. This growth of fat seems to be peculiar to the
table-land, for it is said that the same breed, when taken
to India, soon loses the peculiarity. It may perhaps
serve the same purpose as the hump of the camel, that of

287



288 RAPHAEL PUMPELLY

supplying in time of plenty an abundant store of fat,
upon which the animal can subsist through a season of
deep snow, when it would otherwise starve.

When the English troops occupied Afghanistan the sol-
diers became so partial to the tails of these sheep that
they almost entirely discarded the meat. The result was
a congestion of fat in the intestines, which caused mortal-
ity in the army. Fortunately, as our stay was short, we
had not heard of this fact when we traveled in Tartary.

At Goshun we bought of the good woman of the tent
a liberal supply of cream, put up like immense sausages.
As it was frozen it was easily carried, slung to the saddle,
without danger of being churned into butter.

We were obliged to go into camp several hours earlier
than usual, in order to wait the return of our chief
cameleer, who had gone to hunt for two camels which had
strayed away.

Although secured by strings passed through the nose,
the camel will sometimes tear out the flesh, and, once
away from the caravan, will often give his pursuer a good
chase. Still, the Tartar or Bactrian camel is far more
docile than his brother of Egypt and southwestern Asia.
Much larger than the Southern camel, he is provided with
a heavy coat of long hair, and with two humps, which,
after a season of grazing, stand great cones of fat upon
his back, forming the most comfortable of saddles.

Most people are accustomed to associate the camel only
with tropical climates. The Bactrian species is of little
use during the hot season, while during the coldest winter
it performs nearly all the labor of transportation in
Central Asia. In countless caravans these patient ani-
mals traverse the frozen deserts of the table-land, and
descend into the region of deep snows and intense cold of
southern Siberia.



JOURNEY ON THE TABLE-LAND 289

The spongy and pliable soles of their feet, armed with
claw-shaped nails, are adapted only to walking over sand.
Rocky or gravelly surfaces soon wear out the thick skin
of the foot, while on mud or ice they find poor foothold.

Even in many parts of Mongolia the caravan routes
are gravelly, and wearing to the camels, but in northern
China, where large numbers of camels are used in trans-
porting coal, their life is one of torture.

While waiting for the return of our Lama we witnessed
the operation of resoling or rather patching the soles of
a camel's foot, where a hole about an inch in diameter
had been worn through to the quick. The animal was
.thrown on his side. His four feet bound tightly together,
and his head tied back near the humps, he was held mo-
tionless. After the wound was cleaned out, a piece of
softened raw cowhide was sewed to the skin of the foot,
two or three stitches being taken on each side of the
piece. The hind feet seemed to suffer most, and the
operation had to be renewed every few days.

Although the thermometer was so low we experienced
no inconvenience from the cold, partly owing to the ab-
sence of wind and partly to the clear sun. I doubt
whether any one who has not wintered on the plains in
the interior of a northern continent can appreciate the
feelings which led the early inhabitants of Central Asia
to love and worship the sun. Often in this journey, in
traveling northward, facing the strong Arctic winds, with
a thermometer at 10 and 20 F. below zero, while almost
ready to drop from the saddle, owing to stiffness from
cold, I have turned my horse to face the sun, and have
felt in a few minutes the warmth of its rays stealing
gently through my veins, like an influx of fresh vigor.
The heavy icicles formed by condensations of the breath
upon the beard would gradually loosen, and the ice slowly



290 RAPHAEL PUMPELLY

disappear. How often have I then felt that, had I been
born a nomad, I should have fallen down to worship the
great light-giving god of day, as did the earliest bards, the
authors of the Vedas.

For several days we had seen before us a mountain
peak, which in the clear atmosphere of the plains seemed
so near that we each day thought to pass it before night ;
but each morning it stood still beyond us, towering higher
than on the previous day. On the afternoon of the sixth
we approached the base of this picturesque height, which
is called the Bogdo Oola, or Sacred Mountain. From a
broad terrace, which forms its footslope, a large valley
was visible in the southwest, threaded by a winding
frozen river, the Russ Gol.

While crossing this plain an accident occurred which
might have produced serious results. A cameleer in
charge of the carts had fallen asleep in the saddle, and
the animals, taking advantage of this, had strayed on to
uneven ground, where they could browse, while lazily
moving forward. In making a short descent one of the
carts was upset, breaking one of the shafts. We all
rushed to the spot, and while attempting to right the
vehicle a violent altercation arose between the owner of
the cart and the Mongol whose stupid negligence had
caused the accident. The foreigner, finding that strong
English produced no impression on the Mongol, en-
deavored to enforce his meaning by well-directed lumps of
ice, which fell harmlessly upon the quadruple thickness of
sheepskins which incased the cameleer; not so, however,
when returned with increased force upon the simply
woolen-clad foreigner. In self-defense the latter now
drew his revolver. It happened that a considerable num-
ber of Mongols from the neighboring village were stand-
ing by, laughing at the unequal odds of the battle; but




291



292 RAPHAEL PUMPELLY

when they saw the pistol, they drew their long knives, to
use them in defense of their fellow countrymen. The
situation seemed to be growing very serious, when an-
other matter called for the attention of all parties.

Frightened by the noise, the camel drawing St. John's
cart had turned and fled. We could see the cart dashtag
at full tilt over the rocky plain, now swaying from side to
side, now bounding high in the air. Soon the wheels left
the body, and the contents of the cart were flying in all
directions.

This turn of affairs was so ludicrous that even the
owner of the cart could not help laughing lustily. But
when it occurred to him that all his money, in gold, for
the long journey through a strange land, was in one of
the slender cloth pockets of the vehicle, the matter ap-
peared in a more serious light. Twenty or thirty Mongols
were already in advance of us, picking up the scattered
articles, and there seemed no likelihood of recovering the
money. When we reached the cart, we found the pocket
torn and the treasure gone. It was of course natural to
suspect our visitors of having appropriated the coin to
their own use, and it was proposed that we should forcibly
search them certainly not a very easy thing to be ac-
complished with impunity by four foreigners, upon two
score of Mongols, in the heart of Central Asia.

While we were discussing the matter among ourselves,
a loud shout was heard from a strange Mongol, who was
digging all alone some distance back in the track of the
cart.

Hurrying to the spot, he pointed out a pile of shining
sovereigns, which would have been an immense fortune
to him, but which he had carefully gathered together out
of the sand, in which they had been buried by the blankets
dragging behind the cart, and which he triumphantly



JOURNEY ON THE TABLE-LAND 293

handed over to the owner. Not one was missing. St.
John rewarded the man liberally, and from that time we
all of us had a higher opinion of the honesty of this sim-
ple people. Theft, I believe, is a thing of rare occurrence
among them. They will over-reach in bargains, but the
Buddhist commandment " Thou shalt not steal " is,
perhaps, more generally observed than is that of our own
religion in more civilized countries.

When, a few days later, the weather was very cold,
20 F., with a strong north wind, it seemed as though
we could not possibly reach Siberia without having some
parts of our bodies frozen. Long and swinging icicles
hung from the shaggy coats of camels and horses, pro-
ducing a strange tinkling sound at every step. During
this morning the ice accumulated on my beard until it
hung in a mass nearly a foot long, and of no inconsidera-
ble weight. Even the mouthpiece of my pipe became
fixed in the ice formed on my moustache. Turning my
back to the wind, a few minutes' exposure to the sun re-
moved these icicles, but they soon formed again.

During the night of the twelfth of December we felt,
from the motion of the carts, that we were going down-
hill, and morning found us descending a flat gravelly
plain or valley, inclosed between hills from 300 to 500
feet high. We were leaving the elevated continental basin
of Central Asia and descending among the mountains of
its northern border. The sides of some of them were
clothed with pine forests, which, though a novel sight to
us, gave an air of gloom to the country.

Among these hills we came upon the sacred city of
Urga. Urga, or Kuren, is the seat of one of the four or
five living Buddhas, who, subject to the Dalai Lama,
rule the inhabitants of Mongolia and Thibet. This Grand
Lama was as usual a Thibetan, and only sixteen years



294 RAPHAEL PUMPELLY

old. The palace in which he lived had a roof highly orna-
mented with gilded spires and balls. It was to Urga that


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Online LibraryRaphael PumpellyTravels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly : mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist and explorer → online text (page 18 of 23)