The Riddle of the Great Indian Salt Hedge
Forget the Great Wall of China, here’s some facts about the Great Hedge of India: a huge barrier erected by the British in the 19th-c from the Punjab in the west to Orissa in the east, covering more than 1,500 miles.
It was a layered mass of thorn-bearing trees - Indian plum, prickly pear and acacia - sometimes reaching 5 metres in height and 6 in width. Its sole purpose was to control the trade in salt, and that of salt's evil brother saltpetre which provided the nitrate and potassium so essential for making gunpowder, and where would the British Raj have been without that?
If you want to read more about this, go to the website of Roy Moxham who has written a book about The Great Hedge:
Salt has been put to many uses over the years, and one of the most extraordinary places on earth must surely be the Qarhan (or Charhan) Salt Lake in China. It covers an area of 620 square miles (1,600 km2) with salt deposits up to 50 feet (15 m) deep. The Qinghai-Tibet Highway runs right across the lake, and there is a Salt Bridge spanning 32 km that is entirely laid in salt: straight, flat and smooth, like an arrow of white steel.
I came across a reference to this years ago in the book Mirages and sea-markets, a collection of modern Chinese Essays, Foreign Languages Press, Peking 1962 that contained The Story of the Salt Bridge by Li Jo-Ping. Worth a read if you ever come across it.
Salt has also been the source of many an ancient riddles, and here are three of them:
They tell him to sit beside the fire, and so he sits beside the fire.
They tell him to sit in the sun, and so he sits in the sun.
They tell him to wash, and he says ‘Death comes’.
(African folk riddle)
Esteemed where e’re I come, my usage kind,
At every house I entertainment find.
If at a feast I chance not to be there,
In haste for me is sent a messenger.
Both king and queen would most uneasy be
Should they sit down without my company,
The meanest subject too, when he should eat,
If I be absent will not taste his meat.
(From A Dictionary of Riddles by Mark Bryant, Routledge 1990)
Once I was water, filled with scaly fish;
Then Fate changed my nature
And tormented me with fiery heat,
So now I gleam white, like ashes or bright snow.
(Written by Aldhelm of Malmesbury, Bishop of Sherborne who died in 709. And if you’re a purist and want this riddle in the original Latin then I can oblige:
Dudum lympha fui squamoso pisce redundans;
Sed natura novo fati discrimine cessit.
Torrida dum calidos patior tormenta periqnes.
Nam cineri facies niuibusque simillima fulget.