Situated between Asiatic Russia and British India, bordered on the south and west by the Himalayas, Tibet is one of the most interesting and little known of any Asiatic country. Its geographical situation as a kind of buffer state between the two great European countries with large Asiatic interests has given it a certain importance in the political world; and general interest has been excited by the nature of the land and the character of its natives, both of which have combined to keep out explorers. For the land is a high plateaumuch of it higher than the summit ol Mont Blanccold and barren; and the people regard it as almost a part of their religion to keep the foreigner away. Explorers "have from time to time traversed parts of the country, and some of the districts bordering on British India have learned to welcome sportsmen, but Lhassa, the capital citythe holy cityhad never been trodden by the foot of any European, until in the spring of 1904, when a British military mission arrived there, and some of its members entered the city. Though the latter thus lost some of the charm of mystery which formerly attached to it, the treasures stored up within its wallstreasures accumulated by centuries of student priestsare far from having been made accessible to scientific investigation; indeed, in spite of occasional visitors, practically all Tibet is virgin ground for the scientific and geographical explorer. Until its annexation to the Chinese Empire, more than a century ago, Tibet had an independent history. Its population, vhile being of Mongolian race, is strictly different from the Chinese, as evidenced by its language and the alphabetical system of writing. The country has played an important part in Asiatic civilization, having been the cradle of Buddhism, and being still one of the strongholds of this religion. In spite of the British expedition of 1904, the country is in some respects more exclusive than before, for ingress from the Indian borders is now forbidden by both governments. To penetrate it from the east is extremely dangerous and difficult, owing to the nature of the long stretch of country to be traversed, and the only possibility of entering the country is by the northern route from Russian territory. This route has been followed by a Viennese zoologist, Dr. Erich Zugmayer, who last year undertook an expedition of discovery to western Tibet, and to whose courtesy the writer is indebted for many of the facts exposed in this article, as well as for the reproduction of some photographs taken by him. The northern provinces of the country, through which Dr. Zugmayer had to pass on his way from Siberia and Turkestan, are sparsely populated, while the Chinese frontier is open to anybody. In those tracts, which have hardly ever been visited by European travelers, one is at liberty to carry out any scientific investigations, unhampered by any foe other than Nature, which indeed is an ex- tremely dangerous foe. The whole of western Tibet is at an altitude of more than 15,000 feet, and in summer lime the snow limit on the mountains is less than 2,000 feet higher. In these high altitudes the frequent storms, the severe cold, and the thin air of the highlands, as well as the absence of sufficient food for animals, will tax the energy of travelers to the utmost. The beasts of burden of the caravan succumb to the fatigues of the journey at about the rate that the grain they carry is exhausted. When the high plateaus, with their passes and higher ridges covered with perpetual snow, are left, and the inhabited regions are visited, the difficulties opposed by Nature tend to disappear as the expedition arrives at lower altitudes and milder climates. The hampering influence of the native population, however, is felt the more strongly, as the nomad tribes, which are at first encountered, show a most obstinate passive resistance, due partly to the fear of authorities and partly to their innate distrust of Europeans. According to the descriptions of many travelers, the national characteristics of Tibetans are very far from sympathetic, extreme haughtiness on the one hand and great servility on the other being their most striking traits. These nomads, forced to wander to find scanty pasturage for their cattle, are an unprepossessing people. In its exclusiveness Tibet seems to have withdrawn even from itself, and its people are divided into many tribes or clans, neighboring villages often having a widely differing dialect. The people are swarthy, with coal-black eyes and hair, and as the men walk about half naked when the days are warm, with enormous spears Slung over their backs and often a rusty flintlock in their hands, they look bold and picturesque. But at close range they appear cowardly and filthy. The women, as in many savage tribes, are the workers, and soon lose any comeliness which they may have when young. Tea, butter, and barley meal are staple articles of diet. Tea is a national institution and bricks of itfor it reaches Tibet in the shape of small compressed bricksare used as currency. The nomad tribes pitch a tent of yak hide, some 20 by 30 feet or more; and closing it on all sides except one narrow hole, which serves for door, window, and ventilation, herd for warmth round an oil lamp. Animals share the shelter with the people, and the atmosphere of a tent soon becomes indescribable. It is extremely difficult to induce native tribes to sell any beasts of burden, especially yaks, severe penalties being incurred by assisting a European caravan. The yak, which is the main beast of burden of Tibet, though being slow and stubborn, is far more useful than the horse, especially in traversing mountain passes, owing to its enormous strength and great frugality. It is able to carry loads of 100 pounds without needing other food than the coarse grass, tamarisk leaves, or lichens, which it gathers on its way. It is furthermore an excellent climber, and is practically insensitive to storm and cold. However, there is nothing this animal is less able to stand than sudden changes of climate, and in this respect it is said to be inferior to sheep. Good pasturage is rarely encountered in the elevated northwestern parts of Tibet. When it is found, the people camp, and a day's journey is from oasis to oasis, the more so as some water and fuel (consisting mainly of the excrements of wild yaks and antelopes) are nearly always found in these spots, which are often fairly well protected against winds. Throughout western Tibet the region of everlasting snow is soon reached in ascending mountain passes, which are permanently covered with deep layers of snow. At somewhat lower altitudes, however, the heat of the day makes itself felt, and as snow and rain are scarce, the highlands contain only a few glaciers. Beyond the parting of waters toward Cashmere, glaciers, owing to the influence of the moist southerly winds, are found more frequently, in spite of the higher temperature and lower altitude. The monasteries of Tibet have been centers of learning for centuries, and to-day may be likened to the medieval cloisters of Europe, the more so as they generally constitute real forts, under the shelter of which settlers will establish their abodes. These monasteries are frequently found on isolated mountains, being sometimes built into them and utilizing their natural cavities. The stone walls of the country, designated by the term of "Mani," contain numbers of slate slbs with the sacred inscription "Om mani padme hum," especially in the neighborhood of monasteries. Other characteristic constructions are the pillars of faith, or "Tshorts," which though corresponding to Christian chapels, do not contain generally any altar, but merely some relic. It is considered a pious action to walk many times (and frequently hundreds of times) around them. These curious outcomes of local religiosity illustrate the strange manner in which religion in this country often manifests itself. It is mainly due to the influence of the priests or lamas, who are the predominant caste, that existing conditions are altered as little as possible, Tibet having so far been protected practically entirely against the invasion of foreign ideas and views. Dr. Zugmayer was able to penetrate into the interior of the monastery illustrated, and unheeded by the priests, succeeded in taking the inside view which is reproduced. The pedestals visible in the figure are of cedar coated with gilt metal and precious : stones, the lions are paintings, the idols are of bronze or copper, and the vessels of silver, bronze, and porcelain. A group of small silver cups contain offerings in the shape of sugar, flour, rice, and water. Expedition to Philippine Waters. An extensive exploration of the waters about the Philippine Islands is soon to be made under government auspices. The expedition is in charge of Dr. Hugh M. Smith. The object of the investigation, which will probably cover a period of three years, is to discover just what food fishes, edible crustaceans, what pearl fisheries, sponges, and other valuable water life the Philippine waters possess, and then to show the natives how they can develop their industries, and particularly how they may secure a large internal commerce by catching fish for settlements off the coast. At present, only people of the coast towns eat fish, and the fishermen catch only enough for each day's use. It is expected that many new kinds of edible fish will be discovered, of which the natives know-little or nothing. The natives will then be instructed how best to take these fish, and what methods to use in preparing them for market or export.
This article was originally published with the title "A Glimpse of Western Tibet—An Austrian Expedition to the Forbidden Land" in Scientific American 97, 24, 444 (December 1907)