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Stream of "nine windings" — A Taouist priest — His house and temple — Du Halde's description of these hills — Strange impressions of gigantic hands on the rocks — Tea-plants purchased — Adventure during the night — My visitors — Plants packed for a journey — Town of Tsin-tsun and its trade — Leave the Woo-e hills — Mountain scenery — The lance-leaved pine — Rooks, ravines, and waterfalls — A lonely road — Trees — Birds and other animals — Town of She-pa-ky — Productions of the country — Uses of the Nelumbium — Pouching teas — City of Pouching-hien.
WE now proceeded across the hills in the direction of the small town of Tsin-tsun, another great mart for black tea. Our road was a very rough one. It was merely a footpath, and sometimes merely narrow steps cut out of the rock. When we had gone about two miles we came to a solitary temple on the banks of a small river, which here winds amongst the hills. This stream is called by the Chinese the river or stream of nine windings, from the circuitous turns which it takes amongst the hills of Woo-e-shan. It divides the range into two districts — the north and south: the north range is said to produce the best teas. Here the finest souchongs and pekoes are produced, but I believe these rarely find their way to Europe, or only in very small quantities.
The temple we had now reached was a small and insignificant-looking building. It seemed a sort of half-way resting-place for people on the road from Tsin-tsun to the hills; and when we arrived several travellers and coolies were sitting in the porch drinking tea. The temple belonged to the Taouists, and was inhabited by an old priest and his wife. The priests of this sect do not shave their heads like the Buddhists, and I believe are allowed to marry.
The old priest received us with great politeness, and, according to custom, gave me a piece of tobacco and set a cup of tea before me. Sing-Hoo now asked him whether he had a spare room in his house, and whether he would allow us to remain with him for a day or two. He seemed to be very glad of the chance of making a little money, and immediately led us up stairs to a room which, as we were not very particular, we agreed to hire during our stay.
This house and temple, like some which I have already described, were built against a perpendicular rock, which formed an excellent and substantial back wall to the building. The top of the rock overhung the little building, and the water from it continually dripping on the roof of the house gave the impression that it was raining.
The stream of "nine windings" flowed past the front of the temple. Numerous boats were plying up and down, many of which, I was told, contained parties of pleasure, who had come to see the strange scenery amongst these hills. The river was very rapid, and these boats seemed to fly when going with the current, and were soon lost to view. On all sides the strangest rocks and hills were observed, having generally a temple and tea-manufactory near their summits. Sometimes they seemed so steep that the buildings could only be approached by a ladder; but generally the road was cut out of the rock in steps, and by this means the top was reached.
Du Halde, in describing these hills, says, "The priests, the better to compass their design of making this mountain pass for the abode of the immortal beings, have conveyed barks, chariots, and other things of the same kind, into the clefts of the steep rocks, all along the sides of a rivulet that runs between, insomuch that these fantastical ornaments are looked upon by the stupid vulgar as real prodigies, believing it impossible that they could be raised to such inaccessible places but by a power more than human."
I did not observe any of these chariots; and if they exist at all, they must either have been made for the express purpose, or brought from some distant country, as none are in use in these parts. Boats are common enough on the river; and if they are drawn up into such places, the circumstance would not be so wonderful.
Some curious marks were observed on the sides of some of these perpendicular rocks. At a distance they seemed as if they were the impress of some gigantic hands. I did not get very near these marks, but I believe that many of them have been formed by the water oozing out and trickling down the surface. They did not seem artificial; but a strange appearance is given to these rocks by artificial means. Emperors and other great and rich men, when visiting these hills, have had stones, with large letters carved upon them, let in or built into the face of these rocks. These, at a distance, have a most curious appearance.
The old priest with whom I had taken up my quarters seemed miserably poor; the piece of ground attached to the temple for his support was very small. Now and then one of his own sect, who came to worship at the temples amongst these hills, left him a small present, but such visits were "few and far between." And there was nothing grand or imposing about his temple to attract the rich and great, except indeed the scenery which surrounded it.
Having given the old man some money to purchase a dinner for myself and my men, I made a hasty meal and went out to explore the hills. I visited many of the tea-farms, and was successful in procuring about four hundred young plants. These were taken to Shanghae in good order, and many of them are now growing vigorously in the Government tea plantation in the Himalayas.
The old priest and his wife could not afford to burn either candle or oil, and were therefore in the habit of retiring very early to rest. As the night was wet and my quarters far from comfortable, I soon followed their example. Sing-Hoo, who was in the room with me, said he had no confidence in these Fokien men, as he called them, and that he would let down the trap-door of our garret and make all fast for the night before we went to sleep. However soundly I sleep, the least noise of an unusual kind is sure to awake me. Somewhere about midnight I awoke, and for a second or two I heard nothing except the heavy rain pattering on the roof of our room. Shortly afterwards, however, a slight noise below attracted my attention, and my eye naturally turned to the trap-door. What was my surprise to see it slowly open and the head of a man make its appearance in the room where we were! I scarcely knew how to act, but at last determined to lie still and watch his motions, and to be ready if necessary to defend myself as well as I could. Gradually a man's figure appeared, and entering the room he began to grope about, muttering some indistinct words. This awoke Sing-Hoo, who jumped out of bed in a great fright and called out to me to get up. "The rain is coming through the roof of the house into our bed," said the man, whom we immediately recognised to be the poor old priest. We now breathed freely and had a good laugh at our being so alarmed. The old man, after putting some mats above the place through which the rain was coming in, descended the stairs to his own room. "Shut down the door," said Sing-Hoo to him as he went out. "It is much better up," said the old priest, "it is much cooler: don't be afraid, there is nothing to harm you amongst these mountains." Sing-Hoo did not contradict him, but, when he was gone, got up and quietly shut down the door. Nothing else disturbed our slumbers during the night.
These old people had not the slightest idea that I was a foreigner; but I was subjected to some inconvenience through my servant informing them that I was a mandarin from Tartary. Sometimes, when I was in my room, the country people who were passing, and who had just laid down their burdens to take a cup of tea, expressed great anxiety to see a traveller who had come so far. On several occasions some of them walked up stairs without any ceremony. I believe I always received them with the utmost politeness and sustained my character tolerably well. On one occasion, however, I nearly lost my gravity. An old priest, apparently in his second childhood, came in to see me, and the moment he entered my room he fell upon his knees and kow-towed or prostrated himself several times before me in the most abject manner. I raised him gently from this humiliating posture, and intimated that I did not wish to be so highly honoured. Another priest came and expressed a desire for me to go and visit his temple, which was on an adjoining hill, and which he told me had been honoured with a visit from a former emperor.
I remained two days under the roof of the hospitable Taouist, and saw a great part of the Woo-e hills and their productions. On the evening of the second day, having entered into a fresh agreement with my chair-bearers and coolies, I intimated to the old priest that I intended to proceed on my journey early next morning. He kindly pressed me to stay a little longer, but, when he saw I was in earnest, he went out to his tea plantations and brought me some young plants which he begged me to accept. I felt highly pleased with his gratitude for the small present I had given him, and gladly accepted the plants, which increased my store very considerably; these with the other plants were carefully packed with their roots in damp moss, and the whole package was then covered with oil-paper. The latter precaution was taken to screen them from the sun, and also from the prying eyes of the Chinese, who, although they did not seem to show any great jealousy on the point, yet might have annoyed us with impertinent questions. Early in the morning, our arrangements being completed, we bade adieu to our kind host and hostess, and set off across the hills in the direction of Tsin-tsun.
Tsin-tsun is a small town built on the banks of one of the branches of the river Min. This stream divides the northern ranges of Woo-e-shan from the southern. The town is built on both banks of the river, and is connected by a bridge. Here are great numbers of inns, eating-houses, and tea-shops for the accommodation of the tea-merchants and coolies. A great quantity of tea, produced in the surrounding hills, is brought here for sale, before it finds its way to Tsong-gan-hien, and thence across the Bohea mountains to Hokow.
When I arrived at Tsin-tsun I felt strongly inclined to go down the river Min to Foo-chow-foo. This could have been accomplished in about four days without trouble or inconvenience, as the whole journey could be performed in one boat. There were two objections, however, to this route; one was that I should not have seen much more new ground, and the other was the difficulty of getting away from Foo-chow when once there.
After weighing the matter in my mind I determined neither to go down to Foo-chow-foo, nor to return by the way I came, but to take another route, which led eastward to the town of Pouching-hien, then across the Bohea mountains and down their northern sides into the province of Chekiang. I ascertained that the distance from Woo-e-shan to Pouching-hien was 280 le, and that, as the road was mountainous, the journey would occupy from three to four days.
We halted in Tsin-tsun only long enough to procure refreshment, and then pursued our way. Turning our faces eastward we crossed one of the branches of the river, which here flows round the foot of the hills.
I now bade adieu to the far-famed Woo-e-shan, certainly the most wonderful collection of hills I had ever beheld. In a few years hence, when China shall have been really opened to foreigners, and when the naturalist can roam unmolested amongst these hills, with no fear of fines and imprisonments to haunt his imagination, he will experience a rich treat indeed. To the geologist, in particular, this place will furnish attractions of no ordinary kind. A Murchison may yet visit them who will give us some idea how these strange hills were formed, and at what period of the world's existence they assumed those strange shapes which are now presented to the traveller's wondering gaze.
The direct road from Woo-e-shan to Pouchinghien led through the city of Tsong-gan; but there was another road which kept more to the southward, and joined the Tsong-gan road about a day's journey from Pouching-hien; this road I determined to take. Our course was in an easterly direction. A small stream, another of the tributaries of the Min, had its source amongst the mountains in this direction, and for a great part of the way our road led us along its banks.
This river had many rapids, its bed was full of large rocks and stones, and it was not navigable even for small boats. On the morning of the third day after leaving the Woo-e hills we arrived at the foot of a very high range of mountains, and at the source of the river along whose banks we had been travelling. This was a little beyond a small town named Shemun, where we had passed the night.
The scenery which presented itself as we ascended the gigantic mountain surpassed anything I had seen in China. It had quite a different character from that of Woo-e-shan. The sides of the mountains here were clothed with dense woods of the lance-leaved pine (Cunninghamia lanceolata). This was the first time I had seen this fir-tree of sufficient size to render it of value for its timber. Many of the specimens were at least eighty feet in height, and perfectly straight. There was a richness too in the appearance of its foliage which I had never seen before; sometimes it was of a deep green colour, while at others it was of a bluish tint. There are, doubtless, many varieties of this tree amongst these hills. It must be of great value as a timber-tree in this part of China.
An excellent paved road led us up through a deep ravine. Frequently the branches of the trees met above our heads and darkened the way. Everything had a wild appearance. Streams were gushing from the mountain sides and fell over rocky precipices, when they were lost to the eye amidst the rich and tropical-looking foliage of the pines. Uniting at the bottom of the mountains, they form a river and flow onward to swell the waters of the Min.
When we had got some distance from the base of the mountain the road became so steep that I was obliged to get out of my chair and walk. Once or twice, when I found myself a considerable way in advance of my men, the road seemed so wild and lonely that I felt almost afraid. It seemed a fit place for tigers and other ferocious animals to spring upon one out of the dense brushwood. We reached the top of the pass in about an hour from the time we commenced the ascent. As the day was close and hot, I was glad to find there a small inn, where I procured some tea, which was most acceptable and refreshing.
Resting awhile on the top of the mountain I enjoyed one of those glorious prospects which well reward the traveller for all his toil, and then pursued my journey. I have already said that immense forests of the lance-leaved pine covered the sides of these mountains. Besides these the Pinus sinensis, camphor and tallow trees, were most abundant — the latter did not appear to be cultivated here as it is in many other parts of the country which I had passed through. Eugenias, guavas, and other myrtaceous genera were most numerous — the guava was cultivated extensively for the sake of its fruit. Some evergreen oaks,1 with large glossy leaves, were also met with, and were highly ornamental. A deciduous species, not very unlike the English oak, also grew near the tops of these mountains. Azaleas were common, and I found one rhododendron.
The most beautiful bird seen during our journey was the red-billed pie. This bird is scarcely so large as the English species, is of a beautiful light-blue colour, and has several long feathers in the tail tipped with white. It is generally met with in flocks of ten or a dozen, and as they fly across the ravines with their tails spread out they look very beautiful. Several species of jay were also observed, apparently new. Pheasants, partridges, and woodcocks were plentiful and very tame. They did not seem to be molested by the Chinese sportsman. Many other small birds, which I had never seen in other parts of the country, were continually showing themselves, and making me regret that I had no means at hand of adding them to my collections. A small species of deer — the one formerly noticed — was most abundant, and I was told by the Chinese that wild boars and tigers are not unfrequently seen here.
On the third evening after leaving Woo-e-shan we arrived at a bustling little town named She-pa-ky, which was on the main road between Tsong-gan-hien and Pouching-hien. Here we spent the night. Up to this point our road had in many places been very bad, but now we were told it was an excellent one all the way to Pouching-hien, which was only about a day's journey farther on. She-pa-ky is situated in the midst of a fine valley, which is extremely fertile. Rice is the staple production, but I also observed large quantities of nelumbium cultivated in the low irrigated lands. The rhizoma, or underground stem, of this plant is largely used by the Chinese as an article of food, and at the proper season of the year is exposed for sale in all the markets. It is cut into small pieces and boiled, and, like the young shoots of the bamboo, is served up in one of the small dishes which crowd a Chinese dinner-table. An excellent kind of arrowroot is also made from the same part of this useful plant. Tobacco is also grown extensively in this part of the country, as it is in all parts of the province of Fokien. The hills around this plain were in some parts prettily covered with trees, while in others they seemed uncultivated and barren.
As we approached Pouching-hien we again entered a tea-country, and the shrub was observed growing on many of the lower hills. Whether it be owing to the poorness of the soil, or to an inferior mode of manipulation, I cannot say; but Pouching teas are not valued so highly in the market as those of Woo-shan. There is no doubt that the plant is the same variety in both districts.
Our road, which had wound amongst hills during the whole of the day after we left the little town of She-pa-ky, now led us into a wide and beautiful valley, in the centre of which appeared the town of Pouching-hien. A pretty river, one of the tributaries of the Min, passes by its walls; a bridge is thrown over it at this point. The suburbs were rather poor in appearance, and indeed the whole place did not strike me as being one of very great importance. It is more like a country market-town than anything else. I believe it is supposed to contain about a hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants. The walls and ramparts are apparently of a very ancient date; they are completely overgrown with weeds and straggling bushes, and are surrounded by a canal or moat, as is the case with many other Chinese towns.
A considerable trade in tea is carried on here. It is packed in baskets and sent across the mountains into Chekiang, from whence it finds its way down the rivers to Hang-chow-foo, Soo-chow-foo, and Ning-po; but I believe little, if any, is exported. A considerable portion is also sent down the river Min to Foo-chow-foo.
As I had left behind me the great black-tea countries of China, which have been long famed for the. production of the best black teas of commerce, this seems a fit opportunity, before proceeding with the narrative of my "adventures," to condense into the next few pages all the information connected with tea which I have gleaned during my journey.
1 Quercus sclerophylla, Q. inversa, &c.