Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/543

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529
THE TOPMOST COUNTRY OF THE EARTH.

returned regularly to India with valuable information. The suspicion of the Thibetans was, however, at last aroused, and a pundit sent in 1879 was not allowed to reach Lassa, but, some of his words having been overheard and his mission divined, he was compelled to flee, leaving most of his baggage behind him. An imperfect map of the country was made in the beginning of the eighteenth century, by order of the Emperor of China, with the aid of the Roman Catholic missionaries, but its data rest upon report rather than upon the results of actual observation. It has been, however, the foundation on which all our maps of the region have had to rest.

The Thibetan legend of the origin of the people is that, in the beginning, only one man and his three sons lived on the table-land. They had no houses or tents, but led a migratory life, without being troubled with the cares of existence, for the land was not then desert, or poor, or cold. Trees were growing which afforded choice fruits, rice flourished without man having to labor to raise it, and the tea-plant thrived in the fields that Buddha afterward changed into stony places. Thibet was then all the more a fortunate, rich land, because these four men, then the only living creatures in the world, knew nothing of war and contention, but lived in unity and peace. At last the father suddenly died. Each of his sons wanted his body, to dispose of it in his own way. This was the first dispute. The corpse lay for some days on a large rock, and the sons avoided one another. At last the eldest son made a proposition: "Why should we be alienated because a misfortune has happened to us all in common? Let us be agreed, and divide the body." They all accepted the proposition. The corpse was divided into three parts, and each son took a part. The eldest son got the head. He went away toward the east, and became the father of the Chinese, who excel in craft and have great skill in trade. The second son was satisfied with his dead father's limbs. He also left his home and settled where the great Desert of Gobi gives his posterity, the Mongols, plenty of room; their characteristic is restlessness. The youngest son received the breast and bowels. He remained in Thibet, and from him are descended the Thibetan people, who are distinguished in ordinary intercourse by good nature, openness, and cordiality, in war by courage and enthusiasm.

The knowledge that Ptolemy had of the country consisted of obscure sketches which were closely connected with stories of the Chinese capital. Herodotus tells something of the wealth of the land in gold. He says that the gold was found by ants and collected by them into large heaps which were guarded by griffins; and he also tells that a number of Hindoos once got into the country at night when the guardians were asleep, gathered up as much gold as they could carry away on their shoulders, and went back to their homes rich.

The expedition of Count Szechenyi, to which I was attached as a

vol. xxi.—34