To understand the words is not enough. It may be useful to find the restrooms (男, male, nan, 女, female, nu), and know the differences in a menu between the Jellyfish salad (Liang Ban Hai Zhe 涼拌海蜇), the sea cucumber (Haishen, 海参), and the almost divine Phoenix Claws, aka. chicken feet (Fèng zhuǎ 鳯爪). But, who may know the taste of the Phoenix Claws before eating them? Even understanding the words, we may be as lost as Peter was. Moreover, a culture which calls a dish “Phoenix Claws” would not be easy to understand.
- Category Archives 1935
Ella and Peter trip
Orlandini, as seen yesterday, was a rowdy Italian, who was sipping his own urine “like a vermut” (his words) when fleeing from a prisoner camp in Abisinia to Kenya.
Orlandini started as a ship doctor, then he lived in New York for some months… but this was not really interesting, so he enrolled on a Tropical Illnesses course that was given at Bruxelles University. Doctors who got this course got an assignment in the Belgian Congo, as a matter of fact, King Leopold’s Congo, a country ruled as a company that should not have changed a lot since Conrad’s Earth of Darkness, published some 30 years before.
July, 1st, 1935, Ella and Peter left Keriya. They left there the “Pearl of the Tsaidam”, Number 2 (the second camel, of course), and Cynara, the mare that Peter traded for Greys at Issik Pakte, when it was clear that Greys cannot continue. Their caravan was a small one, although impressive: Four donkeys, Kini’s stallion (rather sick) and a horse with old galls for Peter, plus Aziz, their guide, and Tuzun Ahun, a guard with his horse who had received orders from the aksalal in Tchertchen to convey them to Kaskgar. That was impressive!
“Today, November 15, we depart towards the unknown, Southbound”. And this is how Ella starts one of the best passages of her book, a description that may fit in any Salgari’s or Verne’s book, with snow storms, sick horses, narrow river gorges, lost water springs… with of course, some tongue-in-cheek (or not) romantic moments: “Should I write a best-seller, it is now or never that the two heroes of my history, thrilled and grateful, would fall in one other’s arms, after having saved themselves from poisonous food or fatal fogs”
Kini and Peter are near Teijinar, but Kini writes it Teidjinar, with the keen interest of the cultivated French to show that the “orthographe” lacks secrets for them. Why, for God’s sake, Ella wrote this silent -d- in the middle of the word?.
Anyhow, we know that on April 28 they were at Gorumu… so, let us Google “Gorumu”, and we find hundreds of thousands references, because a Goromu is “a creature that comes in different shapes and sizes”. And Gorumu Qinghai, or Gorumu China does not give anything (well, on a blog there is a reference to Peter’s text).
But as we have arrived there plotting the route, stage by stage, bivouac by bivouac, we know that they arrive not to Gorumu, but to Golmud from Nomo Kanthara. And searching in a map, we see that Golmud is also called Kermo. Because in this area places have two (or even three) names, the Han (Chinese) name, the Mongol name and the Uighur name. But, of course, this is only the beginning.
Because the spelling changes too… the old “Pekin” became Beijing not so long away when, in 1949, Chinese authorities decided to use the pinyin for the transliteration of Chinese to Western Alphabet. But, old names remain, for instance airport codes (IATA) for Beijing is PEK, and for Guangzhou is CAN, the old Canton of the Opium wars.
And Ella and Peter try a phonetical transliteration that produces funny results, because Ella, who writes in French, uses French phonetics, while Peter English phonetics. So, the Borodishin yurts are at a place called Arakshatu by Peter and Arakshatou by Kini
Minor worries? Arakshatu is 2 hour march away from Teijinar. And where is Teijinar? Well, on a 1.200.000 map (yes, not Google Earth, nor a complex Geographical name database, but on an old-fashioned, printed map), we find, NW of Golmud, two lakes, “Dong Taijnar Hu” and “Xi Taijnar Hu”. As we know that Dong means West and Xi means East, and Hu means lake, and the two lakes are on a WE line, we are all set. We have found Teijinar, or Teidjinar, 160 km NW of Golmud.
But Teijinar is not a city, it is an oasis, and rather large one.
And Borodishin was at Arakshatu, two hour walk away heading west. But from where?
Where in the hell is Arakshatu? The problem may seem minor but this lack of certitude will make very complex the plotting of the 10 day march from there to Issik Pakte (Issyk Pakté for Kini, of course, why use “i” when you can use “y”?)
Featured image: Ruta 5, near Atacama, Chile, from the author
Gorumu from the internet
Caravan from Ella Maillard Book, it is their caravan on the journey Arakshatu – Issyk Pakté
Borodishin, or Borodichine as Ella calls him is the best performing actor in our history. Boro was sergeant in the Russian white army under General Annenkov, who entered China with his decimated troops. After staying with him in the Sinkiang, he decided not to follow him further away (it was a good move, as Annenkov was betrayed by a Chinese warlord Feng Yu-Hsiang, known as the “betrayal general” and also the “Christian general” – I hope that the two appellatives are not related -. Feng returned Annenkov to the Russians, who shot him). They split, and while Annenkov left the Sinking to meet his fate, Borodishin joined the Smigounovs in the Tsaidam.
Two years later, the Smigs left Teijinar with Narim, due to the complex situation of the region, while Borodishin remained in Tsaidam. Was it because he was “on the hills, buying yak’s tails” – as Peter says -, when they departed, and nobody told him? Did he find the Smigs yurt empty when he returned of his journey?
I prefer to think that he stayed in the Qaidam waiting for his wife and his children from who he had lost contact. His letters became abruptly unanswered when his family was already traveling towards the frontier to meet him. Did Boro stayed in the Tsaidam expecting their arrival, knowing if they finally arrive to Teijinar, and he had departed, it will be impossible that they meet again? Probably, as Peter says
He still yearned for them, still (sometimes) had hopes he would see them again
We were the first Europeans he has seen for two years; his was a terribly desolate life. With us he was always cheerful, or at any rate tranquil; but you had an awful feeling that maybe his heart was broking slowly
Boro recommends them to avoid the main road, and follow an almost forgotten, barely negotiable path. They will find no guides for this region, and he proposes to go with them until they reach Issik Pakte, twelve marches towards the West. He cannot go further because he had no papers of any sort. And Boro helps them to buy four camels, and to get all the supplies for the march, which is not easy because people in the oasis have an economy of subsistence. They have almost nothing to trade. Boro must travel long distances (people live dispersed) to complete the stock they need.
During the eight days while Boro organizes their departure, Peter and Kini live a relaxed life in the luxurious yurt of the Smigs. Reading, hunting, waiting. Peter killed an antelope, from which she made shashlik on the cleaning rod of the rifle (this is strange, nobody made shashlik there? there had no other metal rod?).
The next day at noon, when the trio Ella, Peter and Boro departed towards Issik Pakte, no Mongol went with them.
Boro was a good fellow, cheerful and a good companion (a “brave homme”, as Kini says)
After something like two weeks they arrived to Issik Pakte, enduring snow storms, being lost without water, and eating samba with melted mutton fat and a little Worcestershire sauce. Once there, Borodishin negotiated with two Turki to guide them through the 12 stages needed to reach Cherchen, and helped them to trade Greys, Peter’s horse, for a young mare, “more amphibian than equine”
And finally, after two days, they parted. Borodishin,
At dawn he left with the Mongol, riding back along the way we had come, hunched on his camel, eternally sucking at his long Chinese pipe, his sad loyal eyes staring across the empty lands before him. As I watched him go I tried not to think in the two grubby yurts at Teijinar, were the redshanks called and he and Wang Sun-Lin took it in turns to go it and fetch fuel, and nothing ever happened
Two years later, he was murdered by bandits. Probably he felt relieved
Photo credits: from the Internet
The back of our heroes was against the wall in Nomo Khantara.
Ella and Peter after a four day rest in Dzoun had left for Teijinar (at least, they thought so), ten camel stage away, or 300 km. With them goes their helper, interpreter and somehow friend, Li, and the camel master, an unnamed mongol. At the end of the first stage after Dzoun they learn that the four camels, already weakened because they are moulting (it is well known issue with camels), will not go further than Nomo Kanthara, two stages away, and as a consequence, they will need to hire another set of animals. And they learn also that it will be difficult to find camels, because summer arrives and the herds are already grazing in some remote pastures.
When they reach Nomo Khantara, they find someone they knew from the caravan of the Prince of Dzoun, who had already arrived; this guy, the chief of the gold diggers, had left Dzoun earlier, with the aim to overtake Peter and Ella at the Hertz camel shop at Nomo Khantara. Anyway, nobody got camels, nor the gold digger, nor Peter, nor two very holy lamas that were waiting for two weeks already. And if the very holy lamas do not get camels, nobody can get them in the whole Sinkiang.
And Li says that he will not continue to Teijinar oasis, because they are already in Teijinar, Nomo Khantara being the first oasis belonging to Teijinar. The fact that they have hired Li to go with them until Teijinar does not bother him, and I suspect that Li hired the camels in Dzoun to go to Nomo Kanthara. He did not need going further, as Nomo Kanthara was his home.
And the child of one gold digger was lost in the desert.
And mosquitoes did appear.
They were in deep shit.
Camel moulting from Internet
Author: Somewhere in South Africa, and view of the Andes
The difficulties to follow the path of a caravan.
I must start by an anecdote. The Paris-Dakar is a race divided in two kind of participants, professional drivers, cars “full equipped”, Air conditioned motorhome to receive a massage before a good night rest, and the others, purely amateurs, who have nothing of that. And several years ago, professional drivers had a GPS (but without waypoints a GPS is, more or less, a compass), but not amateurs. In one of these navigation stages, in the Sahara, an amateur, from Madrid, arrived more than half an hour earlier than the professional riders who had become lost, all together in the dunes. And this guy navigated perfectly, with a mere compass and a watch, not only this time, but in general. And the journalist interviewed him, and he said: ” it is not so difficult, you must follow camel dung, and you follow the path of the caravans”.
Well, this is what I did today, not with camel dung (in the Takla-Makan they use it, when dry, as combustible, argol, so probably I had not find a lot), but with the beads that Peter Fleming left in his “News from Tartary” book, as well as the information everybody (at least, Peter, Ella, and Lattimore) shares: a caravan starts at 6 in the morning, and walks for 8 hours approximatively, doing 30 km per day… well, this is not exactly true, average is less than that (due to cold, to water points, or for no stated reason), but sometimes they put two stages in one day (a four hour stop, and a night march) so they increase the average.
They made an approach from Tangar until meeting the caravan of the Prince of Tzoun, near the East bank of Qinghay Lake (Stage 4, Valley of Daotang River). Their second stop was a Lamasery, that can be found on Google Earth with Panoramio
They walked three days on the South Bank of Kinghai Lake, roughly in a NW direction, until Stage 7, then they take a SW direction passing on the North Bank of Chakayan Lake (the Salt Lake in Peter’s text, Stage 10), and, after two mountains passes, they arrive to the Tsaidam (after a few hours of Stage 13), and they cross the Dulan desert (Stages 14, 15 and 16) partly at night, because they are already near their goal.
With all this background I located Dzhounchia,(Stage 17, they arrived there on April 12, 1935), which is at
and this position agrees with the three camel days that Li, their interpreter, says are needed to reach Nomo-Khantara, which is 80 km away
This is the link to the caravan path:
(a new window will open with a file. You click and a window of Google Maps will open)
note: I may upload also the Google Earth file, with includes the distance between stages, but I am searching a Map application.
Ella and Peter joined the relatively small caravan of the Prince of Dzoun, who was a young man going back home, from Tangar to … well, not to Dzungharia, because this region lies to the North of the Tarim mountains, (above Urumqi) but to Dzoun, apparently a place in the middle of nowhere. The caravan was formed by 250 camels and 40 horses.
I am still looking for Dzoun (Ella) or Dzunchia (Peter). The Caravan took 16 days to reach it. Some authors identify it with Gormud, but Gormud is the Gorumu of Peter, and it is 150 km (5 days) too far. Based on the information that a loaded bactrian camel walks at 3 to 4 kilometers per hour, that the stage is usually 8 hours, and confirmed by Ella who says that 30 km is the daily fare of a caravan, in the following post(s) we will place the stages, at least from Tangar to Dzunchia.
They left Tangar with a helper, Li, four rented camels, two horses. Of course, Ella needed to bring her portable gramophone with three records :), and Peter two rifles, two pounds of marmalade, four boxes of cacao, six bottles of cognac, plus a bottle of Worcester Sauce). Two days later, they meet the 250 camels of the Prince of Dzoun and they started the Caravan life.
Awake at 4 am, two hours to load the camels (each one of their four camels was in a different lien, so, their are not loaded at the same time), departure at six, eight hours walk, unloading camels and horses, meal preparation, eating, and then staying into the tent. During the march, or eventually in the afternoon, Peter went to hunt geese, or hare, or antelope. Geese were sacred for Mongols, Peter’s killings were not butchered following the rituals for muslim, the fact that these acts may seem offensive were not really a problem for them, except for the first goose, that they almost gave to the Prince.
Lattimer caravan organization does not agree with Ella (Peter almost does not speak about it, he is more interested in hunting every animal that moves). The Prince’s caravan had people riding camels, although the were going “up”, and each lien was approximatively of 10 camels, instead of 18, but we recognize in her description the “camel pullers”, the Master Cook, in this case a woman, and, of course, the Caravan Master, in this case the Prince.
So they walked, they hunted (Peter), they cooked (Ella), and, apparently, they had a lot of fun. Arriving to Dzunchia Peter says something, curious to say the least:
The place (Dzunchia) has nothing impressive. It is impossible, even in the most romantic mood, to find anything enticing in it
“Even in the most romantic mood”? well, this says everything, don’t you think so?
And to end this chapter, another quote, this time from Ella Maillart:
It is said that Mongols do not wash because they are afraid to become fishes after their death. Moreover, water from wells seems full of spells; coming from inside the Earth, were are the female spirits, it will only become healthy when exposed to the Air and the Sun, who belong to the male world of superior regions. But this unheard-of dirtiness is not annoying in winter, when cold weakens the smell of rancid butter their fur is imbibed
Photos, but for the map, are from the Author