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A CHINESE STREET MERCHANT OF PAOTOW
He packs up his wares when the day is over and carries them off in two boxes slung on a pole over his shoulder. Note the column in the background. Similar columns stand thick along the main street. On one night of the month which follows Chinese New Year, all are packed with fuel and lighted. turning the whole city into an inferno of flame.
light of the stars. My wife had been riding with me all afternoon, far in advance of the camels. Long after sunset we saw two trees dimly outlined over a hill against the sky, and after crossing a brook, we came suddenly upon the camp of a caravan of traders-dung fires shining through tent doors and black masses of grunting camels on their knees by the roadside, while dogs barked everywhere.
Up ahead, Mr. Wu, my principal Chi
nese assistant, leading his horse by the bridle, his rifle over his arm, was chatting with a Chinese who had sprung up from nowhere. Soon a guide appeared and led us off to the south, over uneven fields, to a small farmhouse hardly discernible in the darkness.
A SKETCH MAP OF A PORTION OF THE ROUTE OF THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY'S CENTRAL-CHINA EXPEDITION
The Expedition's caravan was organized at Paotow. After a march of 39 days, headquarters were established at Wang Ye Fu, capital of the Mongol kingdom of Ala Shan.
Inside was one long, low-ceilinged room, in the middle of which was a stove made of earth. On the sides were long brick platforms for sleeping accommodations. A clay dish of oil held a floating wick, whose flickering flame could hardly pierce the mixed fumes of frying food, opium, tobacco, and steaming humanity. Both sleeping platforms were crowded with camel-drivers, peasants, and travelers.
One glance at this squalor, and we set up our tent in the courtyard, among pigs, donkeys, and oxen. Our cook had elbowed his way to the fire. Soon he sent us canned soup, boiled millet, and the ubiquitous, underfed chicken of the Orient. We ate all we could-boiled millet is more filling than nourishing-and soon sank into oblivion.
At 3 a. m. a gale sprang up, whirling on high all the dry débris of the courtyard. For the rest of the night I kept my head under a blanket to avoid the flying dust and straw, emerging at intervals to lash down some part of the tent which threatened to blow away.
Each lull in the gale was punctuated by unearthly shrieks from a demented woman, a member of the farmer's family, who sought to outhowl the storm from her corner in the main building.
Dawn brought better weather and took
us out to study the surroundings. There were a few fields, some sand dunes, and a brook which soon lost itself in the desert-a very desolate scene.
Four or five farmhouses stood close together. One was in ruins, having been looted by robbers a few months before. The thieves had been caught by soldiers. from the nearest garrison and executed at the scene of the robbery. West of the ruin, on a sand dune, one robber's blackened head swung in a cage and a second broken cage lay on the ground with another head in it (see page 201).
Beyond, to the horizon, stretched the bare, brown plain of Mongolia, hazy in the pale light of morning.
MONGOL WEALTH CONSISTS OF ANIMALS
As we advanced, the farms became fewer, and after a week we turned due west over stony plains, empty and unfit for tillage. Soon we saw the tents of our first pastoral Mongols, which were small, round buildings of felt stretched on wooden framework-warm, snug houses for the bitter cold winter, capable of being taken down or set up in a few hours (see page 202).
The Mongols live on their sheep, goats, camels and horses. They eat the flesh, drink the milk, and sell the hair and the
A MONGOL GIRL BESIDE HER TENT
The costume is a mass of brilliant colors, but dirty and greasy. Her main occupation is drawing water at desert wells for her father's or husband's sheep, camels, and horses.
wool. They trade at the frontier towns and posts for the tea, cloth, ironwork, boots, and sugar which they require.
All their wealth is in animals and their lives are governed accordingly. They are obliged to take down their tents and move on, with all their belongings, when the pasturage near a camp is exhausted. In
the past a severe drought has often caused long migrations in search of good grazing, with war as a possible consequence when the habitual range of others was invaded.
We think of pasturage as green, rich, and waving. Here it is sparse and dry, the grass growing in tufts. It is worse in the spring than at any other season, for the rainfall of all eastern Asia comes in summer. Autumn is, perhaps, the best season for travel; it is neither hot nor cold, and there is new grass for the animals.
Our own journey was made in the spring, and our camels grew thinner and thinner, though we gave them grain from nosebags to supplement the grazing.
Eventually the dry, stony country, like a level brown floor, with patches of grass, gave place to a desert of sand and dry brush that rose and fell in dunes and hillocks.
THE EXPEDITION'S LEADER AND A MONGOL WOMAN HAVE A
Only one of our camel-drivers had ever crossed this region in years past, so we were delighted to pick up a one-eyed Mongol with a white donkey, who offered to guide us. He was about 40 years of age, a very homely man, pock-marked and sunburned to the color of mahogany, but goodnatured. He wore ragged white trousers, a purple waistcoat, a violet turban, and a long coat of sheepskin. His native language was Mongol, but he spoke also a half-Chinese jargon which our camel-drivers pretended was perfectly intelligible.
One night we camped in a great circular bay in the mountains, surrounded by cliffs of red sandstone, floored with sand, and cut by a stream of ice-cold water (see page 204). Next day a steady procession of lamas-red-robed priests of Mongolian Buddhism-shepherds, merchants, and travelers, stopped to water their
animals. In the afternoon, on the march, we met a caravan of 140 camels carrying hides and wool from Kanchowfu, in Kansu, to the railhead at Paotow.
A little later a most extraordinary group came toward us over a sand dune-an ancient Mongol lady traveling with all her descendants.
We dismounted to photograph the party, which paused to inspect us. The youngsters tumbled off their camels, one in such haste that he fell flat. Nobody noticed him. They peered into the cameras and fairly tried to get inside them; then solemnly assured each other that they were field glasses.
The old lady, who stood only about four feet high, but was incredibly active, wore a shiny grayish-green gown that had once been purple, a yellow peaked bonnet, goggles of horsehair netting, and and a yellow
cloth strapped over her mouth to keep out the "blowing wind," as she put it. She rode the largest and most magnificent camel I have ever seen, with the fattest, stiffest humps a sure proof of a camel's good condition.
Her boots were enormous, and I tried to compare my feet with hers. She thought it was a game, to see who could step on the other's toes, and she entered into the supposed contest with the greatest enthusiasm, to the accompaniment of loud peals of laughter. At length we parted regretfully, after having almost succeeded. in trading off our donkey for one of the camels (see pages 205 and 206).
Two days later we came to Ta Shui Ko, a mud-walled trading post on the northern border of the kingdom of Ala Shan. The trail divides here, one part leading straight over the desert to western Kansu, the other turning south toward Wang Ye Fu, the capital of this little country.
We took the south fork, and continued over sandy, hummocky, brush-covered desert.
THE EXPEDITION "EATS BITTERNESS" Unfortunately, our guide's ideas turned out to be rather hazy, so for several days we "ate bitterness,' as the Chinese pic
A MONGOL TENT FIVE DAYS' MARCH NORTHWEST OF PAOTOW
These circular nomad dwellings are made of felt stretched over wooden frames. A fire is built on the ground, in the center. They can be set up or taken down in a few hours (see, also, text, page 199).
turesquely put it. The trail was ill-marked and wells were uncertain. Sometimes we hunted for them until late at night. High winds blew and filled our eyes with sand. The camels grew distressingly weak, and at times we had to flog them to make the last half mile to water.
In this region I heard a curious explanation of the fact that skeletons of dead animals are most numerous near wells and drinking places in the desert, and not, as one would expect, far from them. I was told that a camel lacks the spirit of a horse or a man. Once thoroughly worn out and discouraged, he will lie down with his load on his back and refuse water and food until he dies on the spot. The skeletons seen by the traveler are of camels that almost reached the well they were seeking, but gave up and died a few hundred yards away.
At length we came into rolling grasslands, where Mongols were tending their flocks. The trail became well beaten and the wells were deep holes lined with timber, not simply shallow pits in the sand.
The gaunt, ragged crests of the Ho Lan Shan appeared on our left, 15 or 20 miles away, and Mongol caravans passed us more frequently.
Suddenly one evening, at sunset, we saw a row of trees and a farmhouse with irrigated fields alongside a brook. This was the first green we had seen for days, and it is hard to describe the joy with which it filled us. We had come to the edge of the desert. The next morning, after an hour's march, we rounded a hill and saw the crenelated walls of Wang Ye Fu close before us. A great load fell from my shoulders as the camels wound down a long street lined with trees, blacksmith, carpenter, and food-sellers' shops, under the city wall.
QUARTERS FOUND IN A "HORIZONTAL"
The first three days were spent in search of a dwelling. The camels had dumped us in the muddy courtyard of an ill-smelling Chinese inn, with low rooms opening all around it. There, from 200 to 300