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Rock's Rocky Road


Text and photographs by Qiu Lei

If you read the novel Lost Horizon or saw the film adaptation, you know of Joseph Rock. Those who love the novel or movie should take a walk along the Rock Road. In 1928, Austrian-American botanist Joseph Rock, also an anthropologist and geographer, began his expedition at Sichuan’s Muli and headed to Yading. He penned several articles for National Geographic about his trip, which not only brought him modest fame, but inspired the novel Lost Horizon.

Of the countless hiking trails in China, I have always believed that the Rock Road is one of the most fascinating. In mid-October, I joined an expedition team of 20 people who would set out from Shuiluo Village of Muli County and head northwest to Yading Nature Reserve. The whole journey was to take six or seven days.

Muli Monastery and Grooms

Six friends and I spent our first night on four single beds pushed together. Then, after a five-hour drive, we arrived at Muli Monastery, which was described in detail by Rock. The building’s lamas apparently didn’t see outsiders very often and welcomed us with open arms. They even prepared a small welcome ceremony. The idea of the religious ceremony excited our group, which was mostly composed of photography fans. The monastery appeared quite new and similar to other Tibetan monasteries I’ve visited. However, when I came across its outer walls, I found the remains of collapsed buildings – the Muli Monastery of Rock’s time.

Yellow daisies were blooming on a remaining windowsill of the ruins. I left the bustling welcome ceremony to document the once magnificent building with my camera.

From the monastery, we took a coach 80 kilometers to get to Shuiluo Village. Along the way, we passed altitudes of more than 3,800 meters. After arriving in Shuiluo, we rented some horses to carry our luggage up the steep slopes. We were surprised to find that most of the horses were not equipped with saddles, so we bundled quilts on their back to lessen the strain of our bags.

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