Crossing the Great Wall of China

Crossing the Great Wall of China

The first person narrator is travelling in China and Mongolia. He meets a group of Mongols heading in the same direction …

(From The Brodnik, written in 1880)


Excerpt from: Inn-Nu-Woh To Merhameh,

[…]Are you riding with us?”

“Yes, if you sell one of your horses to me,” I turned to the Mongol.

“You are great lama,” he replied. “I will not sell it to you, but I will give it to you for as long as you require it.”

Such a favourable opportunity wouldn’t have come my way so soon again and I swiftly agreed. Of special interest to me was the fact that the lama had met with the two missionaries Huc and Gabet and had kept the Christian concept so close to his heart.

“What is your name?” I asked the lama.

“You can call me Shangu.”

“And you?” I asked the Mongol.

“I’m called Bara, Tiger, although my real name is completely different.”

“Then you must be very strong and courageous.”

“I have fought many battles with the Kolo and with wild animals and didn’t flee,” he proudly replied. “What shall we call you?”

I told him my name. The lama thought about it for a while. Then he said:

“That is a strange name and it doesn’t mean anything. Permit us to call you Baturu, the brave!”

“Why are you giving me that particular name?”

“You have many weapons on you, therefore you are brave, aren’t you?”

That was a genuine Mongol conclusion indeed. The lamas were learned because they copied the contents of a few books and I had to be brave because I carried a few weapons.

I replenished my supplies in the town, especially khatas and tea bricks, which were used as currency, chose one of the horses, and then was ready to depart.

The khata, or good-fortune scarf, plays a large role in the social interaction of the Mongols and Tibetans. The scarves are about three times as long as they are broad, white with a blue hue, usually fringed on both ends, and are made either from silk or a similar textile. Dependent on their means, people may carry large or small, expensive or cheap khatas and everyone has to have a supply because they are used at every opportunity. Visiting someone, making a request, thanking someone for something, celebrating a reunion, expressing one’s joy or condolences, on all those and many other occasions, one unfolds a khata and offers it to the other person. The recipient is naturally obliged to reciprocate the courtesy. Without such a scarf the most precious present has no value, but if it is accompanied by a khata, the simplest matter, the most insignificant item, gains meaning. To deny the wish of someone who adds a khata to it would offend all etiquette and decorum.

We departed. For the moment, we were still on Manjurian ground; on the other side of the wall there were no more towns and, although the steppe beyond was counted as belonging to Manjuria, the Mongols traversed it just as freely as the Manjurians.

I had read descriptions of the ‘wonder’ of the Great Wall of China when I was still a boy; unfortunately, I experienced great disappointment when we reached it the next day, because what I saw of it was only an ugly heap of rubble trailing into the distance in both directions. I encountered it in a place where it had ceased to exist as a wall. My two companions let their horses stumble across the rubble without saying a single word about the famous construction.

Towards evening, we stopped near a herd made up of horses, oxen, donkeys and sheep, driven by herders who were under the command of a lama. He was in the process of gathering the animals for the night camp.

“Men-du, master lama,” Shangu greeted him.

“A-mor, my brother,” the other replied. “Would it please you to rest and spend the night in my company?”

“If you allow us to do so, we will.”

“You’re welcome!”

He gave us some of his tobacco to snort, we gave him some of ours; all formalities were thus taken care of and we could dismount.

The herd was a peculiar sight.

Paper windmills were affixed between the horns of the steers, on the backs of the horses and the tails of the sheep, bearing the Buddhist mantra Om, mani padme hum, and were kept in constant motion by the wind or the movement of the animals. Tshu-kor, prayers that turn, or prayer wheels, are present in large numbers almost everywhere in Buddhist countries, especially along rivers and creeks. Turned by the water they pray day and night for the one who had placed them. They are hung in the air, and above ovens, too; in the case of the latter, the hot air drives them. Their owner doesn’t have to pray and can even let them pray on behalf of someone else.

More: Inn-Nu-Whoto Merhameh,