Heller employed his time by skinning the twenty small mammals (one of which was a new rat) that our traps had yielded. We took a good many photographs and several rolls of “movie” film showing the efforts of the mafus to get the mules aboard. Some of them went in quietly enough but others absolutely refused to step into the boat. One of the mafus would pull, another push, a third twist the animal’s tail and a fourth lift its feet singly over the side. With the accompaniment of yells, kicks, and Chinese oaths the performance was picturesque to say the least.
By five o’clock the entire caravan had been taken across the racing green water and we had some time before dark in which to investigate the caverns with which the cliffs above the river are honeycombed. They were of two kinds, gold quarries and dwelling caves. The latter consist of a long central shaft, just high enough to allow a man to stand erect; this widens into a circular room. Along the sides of the corridor shallow nests have been scooped out to serve as beds and all the cooking is done not far from the door. The caves, although almost dark, make fairly comfortable living quarters and are by no means as dirty or as evil smelling as the ordinary native house. The mines are straight shafts dug into the cliffs where the rock is quarried and crushed by hand.
THROUGH UNMAPPED COUNTRY
We left the Taku ferry by way of a steep trail through an open pine and spruce forest along the rim of the Yangtze gorge where the view was magnificent. Someone has said that when a tourist sees the Grand Canon for the first time he gasps “Indescribable” and then immediately begins to describe it. Thus it was with us, but no words can picture the grandeur of this titanic chasm. In places the rocks were painted in delicate tints of blue and purple; in others, the sides fell away in sheer drops of hundreds of feet to the green torrent below rushing on to the sea two thousand five hundred miles away.
The caravan wound along the edge of the gorge all day and we were left far behind, for at each turn a view more beautiful than the last opened out before us, and until every color plate and negative in the holders had been exposed we worked steadily with the camera.
We were traveling northwestward through an unmapped region which Baron Haendel-Mazzetti had skirted and reported to be one of vast forests and probably rich in game. After six hours of riding over almost bare mountain-sides we passed through a parklike spruce forest and reached Habala, a long thin village of mud and stone houses scattered up the sides of a narrow valley.
Above and to the left of the village rose ridge after ridge of dense spruce forest overshadowed by a snow-crowned peak and cut by deep ravines, the gloomy depths of which yielded fascinating glimpses of rocky cliffs—a veritable paradise for serow and goral. Our camping place was a grassy lawn as flat and smooth as the putting green of a golf course. Just below the tents a streamlet of ice-cold water murmured comfortably to itself and a huge dead tree was lying crushed and broken for the camp fire.