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!
- Tag Archives Camel Train
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
Ella and Peter joined the caravan of Dzoun Prince at Tangar. Two hundred fifty camels must be an impressive line.
We will be back to Ella and Peter at the Koko (or Koukou) Nor on the next post, in the meanwhile I present a “Camel Train”, aka. a Caravan.
A caravan is a vessel at sea, and it is as organized as a ship. A caravan is formed by different groups belonging to different owners that travel together. But all them are under the orders of the “Caravan Master”, all other participants are travelers. Under him is the “hsieng-teng” equivalent to the bosom in a ship, the official for intendancy. He is responsible when camels are stopped, he must see that they have water enough, that they can graze, that they are correctly tied. Then came the “camel pullers”, a special race of men who are in charge of camels. They do not help other travelers, their unique responsibility is the welfare of camels. They have the power to make walk any traveler instead of riding the camel, even if the traveler is the owner of the camel (On the way West (or “up”), men must walk always, they may eventually ride a camel in the way down – towards East) .
Each camel puller is in charge of a row of no more than 18 camels (“lien”, which is considered the maximum number of animals a camel puller can manage. Each camel has a fixed place on its lien. Two liens make a “pa”, and these two lien march together always, either side by side or end-on and their camels pullers help one another to load and unload. In front of the Caravan goes the Master-Cook, who must start the camel-dung fire ASAP to have the meal prepared for the men, as soon as they have arrived, unleaded the camels, and tied them. At the front of the second lien walks an assistant to the Master Cook, then on the third the Second Cook, who is in charge of water. So, the way of promotion is easy, from camel puller (like seamen in a ship), their only job being to be in charge of their animals. Then they become Second Cook, and they will learn where to find water in the path of the Caravan, then Master Cook helper, who must learn how to distribute provisions on Road, and finally Master Cook, who organizes meals.
Camel pullers are allowed to bring with them half a camel load of goods in the West Journey and one in the East and trade with them, keeping the benefits. Eventually, if they are the owners of camels, he may add one to the caravan, keeping benefits for himself.
So, Caravan Organisation is:
Caravan Master, full responsibility. <-> Ship’s Commander
Hsiang-Teng, responsible of Caravan at rest <-> Bosom
Master Cook and his aid: Logistics and Meal Preparation
Second Cook: In charge of water. <-> Navigator
Camel puller: drives a lien <-> Sailor
By the way, a 500 camel caravan charge is the equivalent of half a charge of a byzantine vessel, who transported goods in the Red Sea.