A Lady's Adventures in Tibet

from China's Millions magazine, December 1893

We abridge the following account of Miss Annie Taylor's journey into Tibet from the North China Daily News. Miss Taylor, who works at her own expense, set out on this journey at her own risk, and she only wrote the day before she set out to apprise us of her intention, saying she knew we could not take responsibility of encouraging so perilous an enterprise. But, feeling assured she was called of God to attempt it, she was going, trusting in him. We are thankful for her safe return and journey to England.

From a Chung-king Correspondent of the North China Daily News

Miss Annie Taylor, of the China Inland Mission, passed through here today on her way home from Tibetan voyagings which have extended over nearly a year, the greater and most difficult of her journey, however, having been made in the depth of winter.

Her Perils

Miss Taylor, in addition to the suffering inevitable in a country so bare of food and shelter as is Tibet, and in a climate where the strongest often succumb, had her existence further imperiled by the treachery of her Chinese servant, and was only saved on more than one occasion from being murdered by the interposition of the more chivalrous Tibetans. And then, nothing but the most undaunted resolution, coupled with a coolness and nerve as astonishing as it is admirable, saved her from perishing a victim to such cold and hunger as it seemed incredible a frail woman should have survived.

Lhassa Nearly Reached

She has just performed a feat which rivals in adventure, while in difficulties overcome it excels, the travels of even Captain Bower and Mr. Rockhill. Alone with the help of one Christian Tibetan, whom she brought with her from Darjeeling, she has penetrated to within three days of Lhassa, and returned alive to tell the tale. But for the treachery of a Mohammedan Chinese whom she enaged in Kan-suh, there seems little doubt that she would have arrived in Lhassa itself.

Miss Taylor says that she first attempted to enter Tibet from the Indian side in 1887. Sikkim was not English then, and orders were given that no one should serve her. So though she had plenty of money she could buy nothing, and was often very hungry. Then she got fever, and had no appetite. But after quinine her appetite returned, till she did not know which was worse, fever or hunger. Twice attempts were made to poison her, and for ten months she never saw another European.

Tibetan Gallantry

Then she decided to try to get in from China, and after spending about a year on the frontier living very quietly, not going out, but constantly receiving Tibetans in her house, she received various offers of convoys to Lhassa. Before crossing the frontier, about which she had no trouble, she unhappily engaged a Chinaman, whose Tibetan name was Noga. She had two tents, four servants, and tried to get ten really good horses by promising to give them at the journeys' end to Noga. But all through, her difficulties about horses seem to have been endless.

One of her first serious adventures was being attacked by a band of brigands with white fur coats, leading each a spare horse. Two were killed, eight wounded, and five out of her horses killed, besides much property lost. But a Lama called out to the robbers, "They are women! All women!" so she was not pursued. Amongst Mongols and Tibetans it is esteemed a dreadful thing to strike a woman, so that all women go about unarmed, although every man carries weapons. As Miss Taylor says, by the Tibetan religion it is forbidden to take life, whether a flea's, a sheep's or a man's. The consequence of which seems to be that all are alike lightly esteemed.

Golok Superstition

One the 28th of September, the party crossed the Yellow River, there very narrow and dangerous, on yak skins blown out, with hurdles laid upon them, and drawn by horses. These rafts are awash all the time, and the water was ice-cold. They then found themselves in the very large Golok district, peopled entirely by robbers. But the Goloks never rob within their own territory. Travellers in making contracts in Tibet always have to agree to pay for a yak, or horse, if it die, or get stolen on a journey, but not if it be stolen by the Goloks. Their chieftain is a woman, and laws are strictly observed in her domains, and no bribes taken.

The Goloks relate how five Russians came to travel through the country, and they themselves went out to attack them 500 strong, but could kill none, though 12 of themselves were killed. Then came one traveller alone with a tin box. They all wanted that tin box, and still continue to reproach one another that they did not take it, but their belief was that on opening it an army of soldiers would come out. They thought the same with regard to Miss Taylor's two cases of chest of drawers, besides many other fabulous tales about her.

Active and Passive Hindrances

At that time it was so cold that touching a knife made the skin come off. One of her servants lay dying, and, as he was a Mohammedan, had to be washed before he died - nearly an impossibility. But it was managed somehow, naturally hastening the man's end, and then the difficulty was how to bury him. But they found a piece of swampy ground, and as it was still early in the winter, it was possible to move a few sods there. So they covered him up, but not before the wolves were all howling around.

She then went on to Sagiaka, and saw 500 of the men there go out on a freebooting excursion. They think this quite a right thing to do, although small thefts are severley punished among them. She then crossed the Druchu, which she thought was possibly the Yangtze, passed Gala with its houses all set against the hill, the roof of the one house serving as the terrace of the one behind. She described how the people there use nothing to enrich the ground, nor even removed the stones, but just plant barley every other year, leaving the ground to be refreshed by the sun between whiles. But by far the larger number of Tibetans live in tents.

In every way the people sought to prevent her from entering Lhassa district by telling her of fighting going on, but she found that an arrangement had been come to that travellers should not be interfered with. It was here, however, Noga, after repeated acts of insubordination, began to use violence against her, and at last tried to draw his sword. It was the Tibetans who protected her against her own Chinese servant, and saying there was no Chief there able to protect her, sent her on under an escort. "Whether a foreigner or not, you are a woman," said the Tibetans.

Tibetan Friendliness

Miss Taylor's hardships would require a volume. For three days they lost their road; they had no tent. That and every comfort had to be sold, her servant having taken everything he could from her before he left her. When, on the 24th of December, they found the road again, they just hid in the hills for the whole of Christmas Day for rest. During all this part of the journey her sufferings from the rarity of the air were very great; palpitations, gasping, inability to digest their barley food. Of even that they had so little. Noga spread a report that Miss Taylor was travelling with a belt of gold and jewels around her waist. And she had to travel by night, finding the cold beyond what anyone could imagine who had not felt it. Tea froze as soon as poured out, and for three nights they were only too thankful to find refuge in a cave with just room for them to lie down, half suffocated by smoke, so as to obtain a little heat.

On the 31st of December, they crossed the Drichu into the Lhassa district, but had to stop near Najuca, within three days' journey of Lhassa, owing to Noga having gone before, making a great merit of revealing that it was a foreigner coming.

A military chief arrived from Lhassa, very gorgeous in his clothing, and at first rough, then friendly, and indignant with the Chinaman's treachery. There was a sort of trial. And none who can should miss hearing from this heroic woman's own lips how she stood out for her dignity as an Englishwoman, till in the end she not only won respect from all, but convinced them of the truth of her story, thereby saving the lives of her two Tibetan servants, who the Chinaman had tried to make out were treacherously leading her into Tibet.

The Chiefs told her as far as they were concerned she could go on to Lhassa, but they would lose their lives if she did, and they gave her an official and nine soldiers to protect her against the Chinaman, beside supplying her most pressing necessities. Everywhere she found the Tibetans express liking for the English. They had been especially struck by the prisoners in the Sikkim war being kept alive, well fed, and actually supplied with money to go home with. So that there seems a little fear, lest should there be another war the whole people would seek to be taken prisoners!

On the return journey, the horses, which in winter have to be fed with goats' flesh, tea, butter and cheese, suffered so from hunger they were always tumbling down, until Miss Taylor joined herself on to a yak caravan, and 200 yaks made a way for them through 20 feet of snow.

It was on the 22nd of January Miss Taylor left the Lhassa district of Tibet, and on the 12th of April she reached Ta-chien-lu after hardships such as it seems hardly credible a woman should have surmounted. In Tibet she was always called Annia, the name for their women religious leaders, and to look more like one had all her hair cut off.

Truth seems to be a virtue unknown among the Tibetans. But whether because of their vices or their virtues Miss Taylor has returned with her heart as much set as ever upon carrying the Gospel of Glad Tidings to this people who, if they do wrong, yet at all events, as she says, do not conceal it. They do it openly.

The China Inland cannot have many more such missionaries, but that it has one such is a thing to thank God for. And whatever Miss Annie Taylor wants for Tibet, whether men or money, we feel sure that the woman who has succeeded in making this journey will obtain.

Chungking, 6th May.