Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
Two early Western explorers, the Briton Francis Kingdon Ward and the Austrian-born
American Joseph Rock, made excursions into the Nu River Gorge in the early years of
the twentieth century, leaving detailed journal accounts that have since been published.
Although they shared common goals and experiences in the course of their explorations,
their rhetorical styles could not be more different. Both men focused their attention on geo-
graphy and ecology, with some intermittent detours into the ethnology of local people, but
Ward'sdepictionsoftheregionarehighlypersonalandreflective, containingfloweryprose
bordering on the poetic, whereas Rock's style is spartan, no nonsense, giving the reader a
day-by-day description of his travels and little sense of introspection.
The written accounts left by these early explorers give the reader a feeling for the isola-
tion and uniqueness of the Nu River valley. Traversing from the Mekong to the Nu, across
the spine of the Khawa Karpo range and along a tributary, Ward describes his first en-
counter with the river in 1913:
Over the top of the ridge, only a few hundred feet high, we see huge portals framing the entrance to a wild rocky
valley, lying south-west, and it is here that the river [Wi-chu, a tributary of the Nu] finally wriggles its way out of
this mountain maze and turns bravely to meet the Salween. In the failing light, the view down the valley, girded by
giant rock ribs, is wildly imposing. Terrific gusts of wind buffet us in the face as we continue down the river, and I
find the greatest difficulty in taking compass bearings. Now the pink glow which for an hour has lingered, changes
to silver as the moon rises into a sky of palest blue, illuminating bands of white road. I feel in the highest spirits,
and sing as we march along in the warm darkness under the brilliant dome of night.
Joseph Rock, who resided on the outskirts of Lijiang from the 1920s until national liber-
ation at the hands of the Communists in 1949, published a huge collection of photographs
and narratives in Western periodicals such as National Geographic in addition to numer-
ous scholarly papers on botany and ecology. He also penned a topic on the geographic and
cultural history of the region, entitled The Ancient Nakhi Kingdom of Southwest China . In
that volume, Rock reflects on the remarkable fact that a comparatively short trek allowed
one to traverse three tremendously varied watersheds:
The high mountain ranges which separate the Salween, Mekong and Yangtze—to mention the three longest rivers
only—all reach their greatest height at about the same latitude (28° 20'); they act as rain screens, collecting the
monsoon clouds which sweep across from the Assam plateau and assure a plentiful rainfall. To the north of the
mighty snow peaks the land is parched and arid, a rocky waste. A rope could be stretched between the rain belt
and the arid zone, so close do they adjoin each other.… The heaviest rainfall, as well as the first snow, is caught
by the Salween-Irrawadi divide.… Next comes the Mekong-Salween divide, called the Kha-wa-kar-po Range,
21,000-22,000 feet in height and distant only 36 li from the Salween as the crow flies. While both these ranges
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