• Category Archives 1935
  • Ella and Peter trip

  • How to be a Caravan Master

    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) .

    9_Camel_train_with_tolarno_wool_1914Each 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.

  • Kumbun, Koumboum or Ta’er, aka. the Big Lamasery

    2009-08-07 at 05-34-012011-01-01 at 12-09-10Ella and Peter arrived to Sining. They had lost en route the Smigounovs, sent back by Chinese authorities  to Tsien-Tsin. An incomplete passport allowed them to leave Lanzhou, thus passing the hot potato of the two heterodox travelers to next stop, in this case Xining,

    Lanzhou authorities did not dare to stop a “Correspondent of the Imperial and Foreign Department of The Times” with her boy (usually Ella was considered as Peter’s assistant), and they gave to them a passport for the Koukou Noor, written in Chinese only and not in Tibetan.

    So, they arrived to Sining, to be stopped again, waiting for a valid passport and without authorization to leave the city. This is the first city that Ella as well as Peter find “not Chinese”. Sining is a cross-road for “Mongols from Tsaidam and Tibetans from Labrang and even from Lhassa” (PF), Both, Ella and Peter talk about the exoticism of Sining.

    They strolled in the city, talked to the Authorities, bought their last equipments: a tent, designed by Ella with an “aerodynamic” look, sleeping bags made from cured skins of mutton (you may imagine what it should be to sleep inside), a recipient (a wok?) that was utilized by Ella to make laundry first, and to cook later.

    Finally, they got an authorization to visit the Big Lamasery of Kumbun, as Peter calls it, Koumboum for Ella.

    2006-04-13 at 17-47-122011-01-01 at 12-12-02
    They were overwhelmed by the lamasery, and the life there. Both talk about the gallery with stuffed animals, their fur bathed in yak’s butter. Odor should have been overwhelming. But they enjoyed staying there. Probably they felt that their trip had already started.

    They only needed: a caravan, some camels, a guide and they were all setup!

    (photos from the Author, Chengddu and Shaolin Temple.)

  • Marooned in Lanzhou

    Version española al final del texto en inglés

    Let us start with the name


    Ella and Peter did not enjoy Lanchow (Lanzhou, in the Gansu province – China is so big that they ran short of names, so there are four different Lanzhous in Wikipedia). The one we refer to is Lanzhou (Gansu), a city on the banks of the Yellow River.

    They were stopped for several days due to subtleties of local Police (probably the war in the Xinjiang had also some influence). See the link Shipwrecked in Lanzhou

    This is a view of Lanzhou circa 1900. Probably it did not change a lot from there to 1935. You can see in the drawing the water wheels


    This photograph shows the river and the water wheels Ella refers to.


    Ella describes the city, the streets and the shops (that already have glass windows), she strolls outside of the city following the water porters while Peter only says “the streets of Lanzhou are romantic”, thus opening a path to guesswork.

    This city was the last city truly Han in the Silk Road, from there on travelers going West will be in a more “exotic” country, while travelers going East jumped on rafts made of inflated mutton skins to navigate the Yellow River.

    Orlandini, the Venetian Doctor we will refer to later, has a vivid description of the trip he did from Lanzhou to Beijing, with a geographer, a journalist, two raftsmen (one of them seriously ill) and a cook, all of them on a 3m x 5m raft. One of the raftsmen must blow almost continuously into one or another of the floating carcasses to restrain the raft from sinking.



    Version española

    A Ella y a Peter no les gustó Lanzhou, en la provincia de Gansu (China es tan grande que se quedan sin nombres para las ciudades). A la que nos vamos a referir es a la que está en la provincia de Gansu, y en las riberas del Rio Amarillo

    Allí quedaron atascados, debido a las sutilezas de la Policia local, aunque probablemente el hecho de que quisiesen dirigirse a una zona en guerra podia tener algo que ver

    Ver el link: Shipwrecked in Lanzhou

    Se ven en las fotos primero, Lanzhou ca. 1900, con las norias a las que se refiere Ella, que están en la segunda fotografía

    Ella describe la ciudad, sus calles y sus tiendas (que ya tienen escaparates de vidrio), pasea por fuera de la ciudad siguiendo a los porteadores de agua, mientras que Peter dice solo que “las calles de Lanzhou son románticas”, abriendo el camino a toda suerte de especulaciones.

    Esta ciudad era la ultima ciudad realmente Han en la Ruta de la Seda, de aquí en adelante los viajeros yendo hacia el Oeste estarían en tierras más exóticas, mientras que los viajeros yendo hacia el Este embarcaban en balsas hechas con bambú y con pieles de cordero infladas como flotadores, y en ellas bajaban el rio Amarillo.

    Orlandini, el médico veneciano al que nos referiremos mas tarde incluye una divertida descripción del viaje que hizo Rio Amarillo abajo, en una balsa ocupada por dos remeros, un cocinero, un periodista y un geógrafo ademas de el. Uno de los remeros debía estar inflando una u otra bota a cada rato