MARCO POLO, 1253-1324, III
Tso-cheu—Tai-yen-fou—Pin-yang-fou—The Yellow River—Signan-fou—Szu-tchouan—Ching-tu-fou—Thibet—Li-kiang-fou—Carajan—Yung-tchang—Mien—Bengal—Annam—Tai-ping—Cintingui—Sindifoo—Té-cheu—Tsi-nan-fou—Lin-tsin-choo—Lin-sing—Mangi—Yang-tcheu-fou—Towns on the coast—Quin-say or Hang-tcheou-foo—Fo-kien.
When Marco Polo had been at Cambaluc some time, he was sent on a mission that kept him absent from the capital for four months. Ten miles southwards from Cambaluc, he crossed the fine river Pe-ho-nor (which he calls the Pulisanghi), by a stone bridge of twenty-four arches, and 300 feet in length, which was then without parallel in the world. Thirty miles further on he came to the town of Tso-cheu, where a large trade in sandal-wood is carried on; at ten days' journey from hence he came to the modern town of Tai-yen-fou, which was once the seat of an independent government. All the province of Shan-si seemed rich in vines and mulberry-trees; the principal industry in the towns was the making of armour for the emperor's use.
|A fine bridge of stone built on twenty-four arches.|
Seven days' journey further on they came to the beautiful commercial city of Pianfou, now called Pin-yang-foo, where the manufacture of silk was carried on. He soon afterwards came to the banks of the Yellow River, which he calls Caramoran or Black River, probably on account of its waters being darkened by the aquatic plants growing in them; at two days' journey from hence he came to the town of Cacianfu, whose position is not now clearly defined. He found nothing remarkable in this town, and leaving it he rode across a beautiful country, covered with towns, country-houses, and gardens, and abounding in game.
In eight days he reached the fine city of Quangianfoo, the ancient capital of the Tâng dynasty, now called Signanfoo, and the capital of Shensi; here reigned Prince Mangalai, the emperor's son, an upright and amiable prince, much loved by his people. He lived in a magnificent palace outside the town, built in the midst of a park, of which the battlemented wall cannot have been less than five miles in circumference.
From Signanfoo, the traveller went towards Thibet, across the modern province of Szu-tchouan, a mountainous country intersected by deep valleys, where lions, bears, lynxes, &c., abounded, and after twenty-eight days' march he found himself on the borders of the great plain of Acmelic-mangi. This is a fertile country and produces all kinds of vegetation; ginger is especially cultivated; there is sufficient to supply all the province of Cathay, and so fertile is the soil that according to a French traveller, M. E. Simon, an acre is now worth 15,000 francs, or three francs the metre. In the thirteenth century this plain was covered with towns and country-houses, and the inhabitants lived upon the fruits of the ground, and the produce of their flocks and herds, while the large quantity of game furnished hunters with abundant occupation.
Marco Polo next visited the town of Sindafou (now Tching-too-foo), the capital of the province of Se-tchu-an, whose population at the present day exceeds 1,500,000 souls. Sindafu, measuring at that time twenty miles round, was divided into three parts, each surrounded with its own wall, and each part had a king of its own before Kublaï-Khan took possession of the town. The great river Kiang ran through the town: it contained large quantities of fish, and from its size resembled a sea more than a river; its waters were covered by a vast number of vessels. Five days after leaving this busy, thriving town Marco Polo reached the province of Thibet, which he says "is very desolate, for it has been destroyed by the war."
Thibet abounds in lions, bears, and other savage animals, from which the travellers would have much difficulty in defending themselves had it not been for the quantity of large thick canes that grow there, which are probably bamboos: he says, "the merchants and travellers passing through these countries at night collect a quantity of these canes and make a large fire of them, for when they are burning they make such a noise and crackle so much, that the lions, bears, and other wild beasts take flight to a distance, and would not approach these fires on any account; thus both men, horses, and camels are safe. In another way, too, protection is afforded by throwing a number of these canes on a wood fire, and when they become heated and split, and the sap hisses, the sound is heard at least ten miles off. When any one is not accustomed to this noise, it is so terrifying that even the horses will break away from their cords and tethers; so their owners often bandage their eyes and tie their feet together to prevent their running away." This method of burning canes is still used in countries where the bamboo grows, and indeed the noise may be compared to the loudest explosion of fire-works.
According to Marco Polo, Thibet is a very large province, having its own language; and its inhabitants, who are idolaters, are a race of bold thieves. A large river, the Khin-cha-kiang, flows over auriferous sands through the province; a quantity of coral is found in it which is much used for idols, and for the adornment of the women. Thibet was at this time under the dominion of the great khan.