1893 - Fernand Grenard
No way to Lhasa for the Dutreuil de Rhins Expedition
Camp near Lake Nam Cho / Nam Tso
Gradually, a few armed men came and installed themselves near us; but it was not until eleven days after our arrival, when the first delegates of the government made their appearance, that a troop was collected of sufficient size to oppose a serious obstacle to our progress. If, therefore, we had thought it necessary or useful to continue our march, nothing would have been easier than to push on to the village of Dam, on the other side of the southern chain, and even there we should not have been stopped except by the lack of provisions and the weariness of our beasts. Supposing that our plan had been to advance at all costs as near Lhasa as possible, we should have taken our measures accordingly: at the end of October, instead of turning towards the west, we should have turned towards the east so as to gain the few days indispensable to our project. Besides, I consider, speaking from experience - and I say this for the instruction of future travelers - that, with a better marching method than that adopted by us, it is possible at the same time both to spare the animals more and to cover more road. As a matter of fact, prolonged halts are of no benefit to the animals in these high-lying countries, where there is practically no grass, at least in the season during which we travelled; there is no reason for stopping except on the days required for astronomical observations and when the weather becomes absolutely impossible. On the other hand, the day's march should in no case exceed seven hours, nor should the horses nor, especially, the camels be forced to increase their pace in the smallest degree: for the poor pleasure of pitching camp half-an-hour earlier, the beasts whose rate of speed is hurried are subjected to a considerable additional fatigue which has the most grievous consequences. By strictly and patiently applying the system which I have described, it is possible to cover on an average twelve miles a day, allowing for stoppages. In this way and without altering our route, we should have taken about seventy days, instead of eighty-five, to go from Tukus Davan to the Nam Cho and our caravan would certainly have been in no worse plight than that in which it was two months after leaving Cherchen. Well, imagine a traveller possessed of resources sufficient to get together a caravan able to carry an ample provision for a hundred days for about twenty-five men, half of whom would have been trained and carefully-picked soldiers. He would have gone beyond Dam without difficulty, reached Pumdo Jong and would there probably have found in face of him only an insufficient troop, whom the resolute bearing of his men would have overawed and whom the fear of consequences and responsibilities, even more than cowardice, would have prevented from going to the length of an armed conflict; for the watchword given to those who are instructed to stop Europeans is: in words firmness, but in action prudence, prudence and again prudence. In this way, I believe that he would not have been definitely stopped before reaching the very gates of Lhasa and the twenty and so many days' provisions which he would still have left would allow him to enjoy at his ease the mortal terror into which his presence would throw the monkhood of the country.
Our intentions, as well as the conditions of our caravan, were different and we awaited the arrival of the negotiators from Lhasa without undue impatience. Two of them came first: a monk who was honoured with the title of rdjetsum, a lama in attendance on the Rinpocheh Gyabang, or Dalai Lama, and a layman, the midpon or prefect of the town of Lhasa. The latter, who was of mature age, had thin lips, bright eyes, movements which were quick for an oriental, wore handsome rings in his ears and on his fingers and was the spokesman of the embassy. To see his trick of pushing forward his head when he was about to speak, his contented and self-sufficient air, his triumphant gestures was enough to make one feel that he was convinced that his eloquence would overthrow every obstacle on the instant. While he gave vent to the abundant flow of his discourse, his colleague, the lama, a young man with a placid and prepossessing countenance, listened in silence, smiled softly from time to time and never ceased telling his beads, praying, no doubt, for the success of the negotiation. The midpon, presenting us with the traditional katags (a katag is a scarf which is presented as a mark of honour and respect) told us that, on hearing of our arrival, the government had sent both of them to present its respects to us, to inquire into our needs and to satisfy them, to point out to us the safest and easiest routes: in short, to assist us to continue our journey under the best possible conditions. We replied that we were very grateful to the government for its attention and care and that we thought it our duty to go and thank it in the capital itself.
"Certainly," replied the midpon, "we should be profoundly honoured and charmed to welcome at Lhasa guests so distinguished as yourselves; but the law of the country, which is founded on a secular tradition, is opposed to your admission to Tibetan territory: we can only, to our great regret, help you to leave a country which you ought not to have entered."
"The law of which you speak was made against your enemies; it is not pertinent to invoke it against your friends. You can have no doubt that we belong to the latter: the correctness of our attitude, the deference which we have shown towards your government are proof enough of this. We stopped so soon as its emissaries asked us to and, although you yourselves did not appear at the time fixed, we did not take your unpunctuality as a pretext for going further; and yet this would have been easy for us to do, seeing that there was, no obstacle before us. We had the feeling of confidence, which you would not like to shake, that the recommendations of the Court of Peking, the obvious purity of our intentions, your own good sense and equity would serve us better than artifice or force. No apprehension can advise you to expel us; your own interest should dissuade you from that course. The journey which we have undertaken is a work of science and peace alone and conceals no political or religious object, no plan connected with trade or lucre, We belong, moreover, to a nation whose power and ambition can give you no umbrage, for it is very distant from your frontiers and its sole desire is that you should live peacefully in your own country. Since you have no reason to mistrust it, clearly your interest must lie in conciliating its goodwill, in case your security should be threatened from another side. Instead of suggesting these wise ideas to yourselves, you had the clumsiness, not long ago, to set public opinion in France against you by not offering a better reception to two of our most considerable and considered fellow-countrymen; and you will end by alienating it completely, if you today hold the same conduct towards two official travellers who ask leave only to go and rest from their fatigues in a spot less cold, less unhealthy, less devoid of everything than that in which we now are. This is a request which would cost you nothing, which it would be advantageous to you, on the contrary, to grant, a request which the humanity and charity enjoined by your noble religion do not permit you to refuse. No doubt you are free to act as you please in your own country: every man's house, as we say, is his castle; but, if he lives like a savage, if he snubs everybody and closes his gate against all comers, friends and foes alike, none will be interested in him and, if misfortune ever threaten him, everyone, so far from coming to his assistance, will applaud his ruin. Well, by knocking at your gate today, we give you an opportunity of retrieving your past errors. It is probably the last: do not let it escape you!"
"We do not," replied the midpon, "contest the accuracy of your observations; we fully understand their importance and it seems to us that there would be every occasion to show them the greatest respect, if only we were free to do so. But each people has its own customs. As you have so well said, every man's house is his castle; and now the householder says to you, ‘The castle is mine: you must go!' The instructions given us are formal ones; we cannot change them, however much we would like to be agreeable to you."
Tibet, the Country and Its Inhabitants
London 1904; Reprint Delhi 1974