Journal of a tour to Gyantze – 1929.
Aug. 10th. –
The morning of this fateful day brought the usual Darjeeling mist but not the rain which might well be expected at this time of year. The servants and most of the luggage had gone on straight to Gantok. Three of the party – Mrs Smyth Osbourne, Capt. Gass and myself were starting from Darjeeling, meeting the fourth member, Mr. Fawcus, at Teesta Bridge. The three of us had arranged to meet at 9 o’clock and drive the first 12 miles by car. Beyond that point no car except an Austin Seven could go, - so we arranged for some coolies to be waiting there to carry our baggage and the food and necessities for one night, as well as supply of fresh bread, butter, cakes and meat, which we were taking for the early part of our journey. Mary Ledan La was at the place of departure with white silk scarves which are the Buddist way of wishing one good luck, one from herself and one from the other members of the family. She also brought with her five letters of introduction from her father to Tibetan friends of theirs whom they wished us to meet. Our drive started in a sort of Scotch mist which thickened into rain in Ghoom. The sky gradually grew brighter, and by the time we came to the end of our motor drive the sun had almost pierced the mist. Some tea-planter friends drove up from their garden in a Baby Austin Car and were waiting by the road side to wish us good speed, as we went by. We delayed a few minutes to talk to them and another few minutes getting the baggage loaded on to the coolies and were a little behind time starting on our walk. Mary Ledan La and Peggy Mr. Cutcheon drove out with us in the car, and waved us farewell as we set off on our nine mile walk, during the course of which we dropped something like six thousand feet. The road is a beautiful one but a bit hard on the toes and the calves of the legs, for it is steady down hill for the whole of the nine miles. Before we had been walking many minutes the sun came through the clouds, and set off the beauty of the road. We passed through a good variety of scenery, forest, village cultivation, which in those parts is mostly maize and millet – tea gardens and rough hill sides of grass and rock. As we got lower and lower, it grew very hot and we were thankful for the deep shade of the forest below Peshoke. Mr. Fawcus who was coming by car from Kalimpong Road railway station on the Teesta Valley, promised to bring the car up to a bridge over a stream called the Peshoke Jhera and wait for us there. Owing to delays in starting from Darjeeling and again at different points on the road we were about an hour late at the rendezvous, but he had not given up hope of our arrival or of lunch, which our coolies were bringing. The hope of lunch was sadly deferred and our hearts did grow a little sick when the coolies failed to appear till past three o’clock. Luckily Mr. Fawcus had a big flask full of water and a bag of apples, with which we temporarily stayed our thirst and hunger. The driver of the car became a little restive, for he said that the last part of our eighteen mile drive to Bardang, where we were to spend our first night was very bad and he did not want to take a car over it in the dark. Nothing he could say would shift us from our determination to have some food before we moved on, so we swallowed a hasty lunch while he tied the luggage on to the car, and finally started somewhere about 3-30. It was a squeeze to get our four selves and the luggage into the car, but we contrived it and started south-wards along the west bank of the Teesta for a mile or so to the suspension bridge. There we had to unpack ourselves from the car, as there is a rule by which cars must cross the bridge empty. From the bridge there is a magnificent view both up and down this wonderful valley of the Teesta. Enormous thickly wooded mountains rise steeply on either side of the river, which pent into its narrow rocky bed flows with immense speed towards the Plains. At this time of year, in the heart of the rainy season, it is a turgid torrent, swirling and angry. The road follows the side of the river northwards clinging to the steep hill-side, no great height above the water. It is extraordinarily lovely and was entrancing in the golden light of the evening. For much of the way it is shaded by immensely tall straight trees. It creeps round bluffs of rock decked with innumerable varieties of ferns. It is carried across landslips on carefully engineered embankments and overbridges where the waterfalls rush down to the river. It is so narrow that bullock carts are passed with difficulty, though the young Bengali driving our car displayed remarkable nerve and dash in accomplishing this feat. The road continued fairly good up to the village of Rungpo on the border of Sikkim. There we had to unpack from the car once more, while it crossed a bridge over the tributary river Rungpo Chu, which divides British India from the State of Sikkim. The last outpost of British Gurkha Police were on the watch to ask for our pass, permitting us to enter the state of Sikkim and we also had to sign our names in a book and state the purpose of our journey, which we put down as “pleasure.” – We crossed the bridge on foot and on the other side the Sikkim State Police were waiting with another set of books to sign. Once more we packed ourselves into the car and continued our journey. For the first two or three miles in Sikkim the road was not only a joy as regards scenery – but had a good surface. The driver’s dismal prophecies were amply fulfilled for the last two miles before reaching Bardang dak bungalow where we were to stay the night. One servant and our bedding had remained here while the other servant and the cook had gone on with the mules and the rest of the baggage to Gantok. Bardang Bungalow has several rooms and wide verandahs. The garden would be pretty, but had far too many trees, which shut out both the view and the breeze. It was very hot there and we fairly dripped as we unpacked our rolls of bedding and made our beds. We decided all to sleep out on the verandahs to catch what little breeze there was. We were caused some anxiety by the fact that the four riding ponies and one of the three pack mules we had ordered to wait for us there had not arrived. The bungalow chowkidar comforted us by saying that they could be got from the neighbouring bazaar of Sankahola and rushed off to make arrangements – returning later full of satisfaction and saying that all we required would be there at 6 o’clock the next morning. We went early to bed after a long day and in preparation for an early start in the morning. I slept fairly well and woke at 5 o’clock to see the head of the pack mule gazing at me round the corner of the verandah. He gradually came into full view and it appeared that he was tied by the hind leg to the pack pony, who followed him round the corner. The pony stood quietly grazing, but the mule managed to wind himself round a couple of small bushes, till he could not move, and I felt compelled to get out of bed and assist him. That started the day for us. Soon every one was up and rolling up bedding. As we sat at breakfast on the verandah a wild apparition appeared leading a string of three ponies. He beamed when he saw us, clapped his hand to his forehead palm outwards and fingers wide spread, and put out his tongue – from which we guessed him to be a Tibetan. He wore the shortest and dirtiest white cotton shorts, ever made by the hand of man – a scanty shirt, open most of the way down the front thick woolen stockings and boots. He only spoke Tibetan – so conversation was difficult. He tied his ponies up in the garden and extracted four annas from Capt. Gass to go and get some food. Coming round to the front verandah and seeing Mrs. Osbourne and myself busy cutting sandwiches, he again put out his tongue by way of greeting and a second time, pointing down his throat and gazing longingly at the salted lump of beef which we were slicing up. We really could not spare him any of that, but gave him three mutton pies, which were over from the previous day’s lunch, and he went away very happy.
We were on the road by 8 o’clock as the first two miles to the Singtam bridge across the Teesta, seemed a short way. Singtam is a prosperous looking bazaar containing several tea shops which look inviting with their rows of polished brass utensils. Once more the Sikkim Police came out with the same sort of book to sign. Our Tibetan friend thought this was a splendid opportunity for more food and opening his mouth and pointing down his throat he said the one word which we had in common “cha” (tea) and grinning broadly, disappeared into a shop.
From now on for many miles the road wound and climbed gradually along the left bank of the Teesta. The scenery was magnificent. Great towering mountains and rocky cliffs hemmed us in on either side. The river roaring beneath us made conversation difficult. Our luck in the weather was amazing. The sun poured down upon us all day, and we were very thankful that we each had a hill pony to ride. Even so we were a good deal hotter than was comfortable for the first half of the nineteen miles which we had to travel to Gantok. What worried us more than the actual heat was the thirst that it caused and we longed to slake it at the innumerable waterfalls, but had been warned that until we were past Gantok it was not very safe to drink out of them.
One of the greatest marvels of the journey up the Teesta Valley is the beauty and variety of the butterflies. Wherever we passed under the shadow of a damp overhanging rock, they would be playing or drinking, not by ones or twos but by dozens. This valley is said to be second only to that of the Amazon for butterflies.
We stopped for lunch, which we had with us in rucksacks, a mile or so beyond the village and rest house of Shamdong, the middle camp of the 32nd. Sikh Pioneers, who built the road to Gantok. We could not linger very long – as, though nineteen miles on a pony does not sound a long journey, it takes a good time when it means steady climbing up thousands of feet on rough stony roads and clambering over many places where the road has been washed away and only roughly repaired. We were pleased to find ourselves climbing rapidly above the river and the air growing appreciably cooler. It seemed a waste of energy to drop down again to cross a tributary of the big river and when we got down to the bridge, we felt we must sit and rest for a little while in the shade before we began the last pull up to Gantok. It was between four and five miles of steep hill climbing, and before we had been long at it, the ponies’ saddles began to slip back on to their tails, and as the girths would not tighten any more, one by one we gave up the struggle and walked.
It had been market-day (Sunday) in Gantok and we passed crowds of people going back to their homes, dressed in their Sunday best and full of good cheer. We caught peeps of Gantok round the shoulders of the hill every now and again – but it seemed to take us a long while to get there. As we drew very near our destination, we heard a loud and cheerful singing in front of us and saw the figure of the Tibetan Syce marching along. He had now removed all his clothes except his minute white shorts and was carrying his boots and stockings slung on a string round him and my umbrella over his head. To his tea drinking activities he had evidently added something stronger and was feeling very happy after it. when I saw him I was immediately reminded of the picture of Little Black Sambo when the tigers had stolen “all his beautiful new clothes.” The last mile was rather a weary one and we were very glad to reach the dak bungalow and something to drink. The day had been a beautiful one, but we had all of us been considerably bothered by thirst.
Mr. Dudley, who is in charge of the school at Gantok, most kindly came to meet us – although he did not know any of us – and was a most helpful friend. He chatted to us while we had tea and then went off to give us an opportunity of changing and bathing – and brought his wife back later in the evening for a chat.
We dined in good time and went off to bed very soon afterwards.
The early morning was spent in final negotiations with the mulateers. Capt. Gass was our “transport officer” and fixed them up and apportioned the loads. We got them and the servants away with the luggage as soon after breakfast as we could. The dak bungalow chowkidar professed himself well able to give us lunch. He was a cheerful person – so Mongolian that his nose was almost concave instead of convex. His conversation was ready and sometimes very apt. Consulting him about the prospect of buying provisions at the next two or three stages, he meditated and said, at Karponang we might perhaps get a ducken and a few eggs – but at Changu – why said he “you look up at the sky and you look down at the ground and there is nothing but the lake.” Mr. Dudley arrived, just as our baggage train was moving off, to accompany us on a visit to the Maharaja. The Palace was only a short way from the rest house. We were received by the Maharaja’s Private Secretary, who ushered us into a charming room, furnished mostly in Tibetan style except for a few chairs and sofas, covered with a dull pink brocade, which toned well with its surroundings. The Maharaja appeared in a very few minutes – a small slim youthful looking man, wearing the national dress of his country – the borka, (or tsuba as it is called in Tibet), a dressing gown like garment, with flowing sleeves, belted tightly round the waist. In his case it was made of beautiful cinnamon brown brocade. He shook hands with us all and we sat and chatted for a few minutes. Mr. Dudley then asked whether we might see some of his Tibetan paintings, to which he immediately assented and ushered us upstairs. In the hall we met his two small daughters aged 6 and 4 and tiny son called “George” aged one year. They were friendly and engaging little creatures dressed in olive green brocade. We continued upstairs to the Maharaja’s private chapel. The room was arranged much in the fashion of the mail hall of a Budhist monastery. An image of the Budha, calm and serene, occupied the centre of one wall, flanked by images of famous Sikkim Lamas. Before the Budha stood a row of wrought silver bowls for holy water. The ceiling was supported by pillars and carved beams and the whole interior of the room decorated in the Tibetan style, with painting in intricate designs, in brilliant blues, greens, reds and chrome yellow. The walls were hung with paintings on silk of different budhist saints, or of incidents in the life of the Budha. On the floor some low stools covered with Sikkim mats offered accommodation to worshippers. The effect of the whole place was very brilliant and interesting. Downstairs again, we talked to the children and their old English nurse, and took photos of them and their father. We could not see the Maharanee as she was “saying a few prayers.” We made our good-byes and took permission to go and see the new monastery which the Maharaja is building only a few hundred yards from the house. It is an imposing structure. The interior is not finished – carpenters are busy working on the carving and others are at work painting the ceiling. There seemed to be hundreds of lamas and novices gathered together. We took photos of groups of them and of the exterior of the monastery. Just as we were coming away, they were all called for a meal, and sat down in long rows facing each other, in the shade thrown by the building, while servants with great cans full of Tibetan tea, walked between the lines, filling each man’s bowl as he produced it. Time had passed rapidly and we had to go back to an early lunch at at 12 o’clock at the dak bungalow before starting on what we looked upon as the real beginning of our trek. Mr. Dudley bade us farewell at the bungalow and the chowkidar served us with a nicely cooked hot lunch.
We had two ponies between the four of us and the men said whatever we did, they were going to start by walking. Mrs S.O. and I thought we might as well start by riding, as it was a brilliant day, and the sun was remarkably hot. The first part of our way lay in a series of huge zig-zags up the steep hillside behind Gantok. The path ran through luxuriant vegetation and little waterfalls crossed the road at frequent intervals. There were still a good many beautiful butterflies but nothing like the number of the previous day in the valley. When we got almost to the top of the ridge, where the road began to wind along the face of the spur at a more gradual angle, we dismounted and walked the remainder of the ten miles to Karponang. It was extra-ordinarily pleasant walking. The hillsides were thickly wooded and in most places little more than precipices. The effect of height was greatly lessened by the thick tangle of jungle covering them. Everywhere there were magnificent views of huge mountains and valleys. Our path wound steadily up and in a north easterly direction towards the “Gates of Tibet.” We stopped once beside a waterfall to drink and rest and refresh ourselves with a ration of chocolate and apples. The scenery did not change much before we reached the bungalow of Karponang – a long low wooden structure, with a glazed verandah in front, built on a hillside, looking back towards Gantok. Just before reaching the bungalow we passed a small village of dirty huts, whose smiling inhabitants came to their doors to see us. Pigs, goats and dogs were lying about in and under the houses, or noseing about in the rich black highly smelling mud to which the road was here reduced. A small bluff of grassy hillside, provided grazing for the village cattle, who, for the nonce, had been joined by our baggage mules.
The servants had done well at the bungalow. A wood fire was burning, tea was prepared and in the bed-rooms, our beds had been made and changes of clothes laid ready for us. We had our baths and Mrs. S.O. and I did our first wash of clothes. We had arranged that in order to lighten our transport we would carry a supply of sunlight soap and wash our own clothes as we went along. The remainder of the short evening between late tea and early dinner was spent in writing up our diaries – and after dinner sleep soon overcame us and sent us to bed. Rain had begun soon after we reached the bungalow and by the time we went to bed it was drenching. The mules came in from their grazing and sheltered under a shed at the end of the house. It was blissful to get into bed and fall asleep and all went well till about 3-30 when we were woken by an extraordinary sound – neither bray nor neigh. It turned out not to be the “Megu” – the strange mythical snowman – who is talked of all along the high Himalayas – but only a mule who was peeved about something. From then on the mules seemed to play a game of catch-as-catch-can round the house giving tongue to this unearthly noise every now and then. If the mules stopped their pranks for a few moments then their Syces, who were sleeping comfortably on the verandah just outside our room, would start a conversation in loud whispers.
Our luck held in the way of weather. The morning dawned misty, but by 8 o’clock the sun had broken through, and the sky was brilliant blue with heavy white clouds passing across it. We were up and had breakfast fairly early and decided that we all preferred to walk for the first part of the day’s march. The ponies carried out rucksacks and mackintoshes behind us. From Karponang on the scenery and character of the vegetation began to change rapidly. The jungle became much thinner. The rocky skeleton of the hills became more visible and the flowers were wonderful. The road for a good part of its course, was carved out of the rock hill side or carried on balconies across sheer rock faces. We crossed some magnificent waterfalls – any one of which would have been a famous beauty spot in England, but which here, lost in the vastness of the Himalayas, have not even a name. We stopped to take some photos and our baggage mules passed us, walking for the most part, on the extreme edge of a precipice, with the greatest unconcern. The road climbed on in this way for some miles. The flowers grew more marvellous with every few feet of height gained. About 11 o’clock, we rounded a corner to find ourselves on a hill top that was the most perfect Alpine Garden. It was so beautiful that we stood – just stood and stared. After drinking in its loveliness for a few minutes, we mutually agreed to make it the halting place for our mid morning refreshment of apples. We perched on a rock and gazed and gazed at the beauty round us, as we munched our fruit. Before us lay a little hollow in the centre of which there was a tiny lake. Near the lake a single knarled pine tree made a patch of darkness, to show up the field of flowers, which covered the slopes, broken up by fine outcrops of rock. Further up the slopes of the basin were lightly wooded with pine trees, the ground beneath them jewelled with flowers. The predominating colours were the yellow of some sort of daisy growing a foot or so in height, and various shades of purple. A few weeks before the whole place must have been one blaze of purple iris. A few still lingered in bloom. Each rock had its clumps of alpine plants, grouped with a skill that surpassed that of any gardener. Not only was the whole ground covered with flowers – but their variety was so immense. One of the most beautiful was a blue cynanthus lobatus with a flower something the colour of a periwinckle and not unlike that flower in form. Another lovely thing was a delicate mauve flower growing about 3 ft. in height with the leaves and growth of a columbine Thalictrum chelidonii, but the flowers of a different form. Unfortunately a misty cloud came down just as we reached this fairy garden and we could take no photographs. The road from now on, instead of creeping along the cliff like face of a mountain, would its way up the high slopes of a valley. The ground was very rough and one stepped from rock to rock. Practically ass the trees were firs or pines of some description. The ground between the rocks was everywhere full of flowers. We constantly saw new ones and were able to guess their English and Alpine cousins. A tall pale yellow primular Sikkimensis seemed to favour marshy places between rocks and kept itself to itself in dignified groups. This sort of scenery continued for five miles. It was hard work for the feet and ankles and one was constantly tempted to let ones eyes stray after the beauties of the flowers and scenery and be rudely brought to earth again by stubbing ones toe against a stone. Capt. Gass taking a short cut up the hillside from one zig to another zag of the road and I following – I found myself panting for breath and wondered what had happened till he called back over his shoulder – “One hasn’t got much breath up here, has one?” then I realized that we were somewhere near the 12000 ft. altitude. We were now nearing the top of the valley. The road was scarcely distinguishable from a river bed. In front of us a rock barrier stretched across the valley with a waterfall tubling over it. I began to feel a slight sense of oppression and was glad when Mrs. S.O. suggested that we should take to the ponies for the mile that remained to be done. A new feature appeared in the flower world. Great cushions of a close growing rose pink plant, bearing a superficial resemblance to heather (Polygonum) swelled over the rocks and made charming patches of colour. The road climbed steeply for a short way, over the rock barrier, and we found ourselves beside a still lake, lying cupped in the mountains. At the far end of it was Changu bungalow. In one sense the description given by the chowkidar at Gantok was apt. There was the lake with mountains rising up on all sides and only a cap where the overflow of the lake fell down into the valley up which we had climbed. There was the sky above and there was the ground beneath – but when one looked a little closer that ground was a garden as beautiful in detail as the place where we had had our lunch. New flowers had made their appearance – blue genetian and edelweiss amongst them. The colour of the Lake and the colour of the mountains were very fine – and in spite of a desire for lunch and rest, we were well able to appreciate them.
After lunch Mrs S.O. and Capt. Gass with great energy rowed out on the lake in a small boat to see if there were any signs of fish, but could not see any. In spite of the altitude I slept very well till about 3 o’clock, which, as we went to bed at 9-30 was not bad. After that I could not really get to sleep again, but only dozed fitfully.
By five o’clock we were all astir and after drinking the usual communal cups of tea in our dressing gowns, we dressed and got our luggage packed and the mules loaded and were away from the bungalow by a quarter past 8. It was a glorious morning. The lake was deep blue and through the narrow gasp in the hills below it, be had a peep of distant blue peaks and masses of white cloud. The road wound up the hillside beyond the lake, climbing fairly steeply. We all felt fresh and full of energy, and our breathing was much less laboured after a night in which to accustom ourselves to the thin air. We all walked and the two ponies were led behind us, carrying our rucksacks and mackintoshes. From now on trees became less and less. The hillsides were mostly grass and rock and masses of rhododendrons, which must be a superb sight when they are in flower. The flowers continued to be as lovely as ever. Gentians and edelweiss are no rarity in this part of the world. Our path climbed gently and steadily on for some miles, amongst the great hill tops. Clouds came down upon us and rain began to fall. We had got a good bit in front of our ponies and sheltered on the lee side of some big rocks till they came up with us and we could get our rain coats. Even with the rain falling it was not cold. I was amply warm enough in cotton cord riding breeches and a khaki cotton shirt. Not long after this, we thought we must have reached the summit of the pass long before we expected, as the road began to drop – but it was a false hope. The drop was only a temporary one to carry the road round the shoulder of a mountain and it soon began to climb again. Certain members of the party, seeing an overhanging rock, which made almost a cave, suggested that we should stop for “Elevenses,” so we all squeezed into the small sheltered space and divided up our rations of chocolate and ginger bread nuts. For some time before this one had had a feeling of being right on the top of the world. The flowers continued to be as lovely as ever, but trees had almost disappeared. Still the road climbed and rose gently till before us we saw our way barred by a steep mountain side, up which the road cut in great zigzags. This was the last ascent to the Nathu La. We plodded on slowly, having to pause now and then for breath, but I felt none of the discomfort which I had felt the previous day when crossing the 12000 ft. line. This zig zag ascent accomplished, the road ran straight for the head of the Pass. Huge peaks of rock and grass and stony moraines, rose on either side of us. The highest spot and the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet was marked by a big cairn of stones, stuck with prayer flags and ornamented with the skulls of mules, who had died on the Pass and whose bones strewed the ground in several places. The wind blew cold behind us – but even at 14,300 ft. we were warm enough in light clothing and our rain coats. Distant views were shut out by the rain clouds – but before us a magnificent valley dropped into Tibet. We could see the great hills below us clothed in pine woods and wished desperately that the clouds would clear and allow us to see more.
From the boundary line the character of the road changed and on the Tibetan side became scarcely distinguishable from a partially dry watercourse. We dropped almost precipitously down the mountain side for five or six hundred feet, at first over rock and grass and then between dwarf rhododendrons. Just as we got into the rhododendron zone I noticed an enchanting group of pale yellow fritillaries – the only ones I saw. This steep descent brought us to the floor of the high valley and crossing a stream we found our road travelling through the fir woods along the mountain side. The whole world was still like a vast garden. The road could not well have been worse. Lumps of rock in a sea of deep mud was what it consisted of and we slipped and slithered along, our feet often slipping up to the ankle in mud. It was still raining and we decided to wait for our lunch till we reached Champitang bungalow, which we did about 2 o’clock and very ready we were for food. The bungalow was exactly a thousand feet lower than the pass – set deep in pine woods and with banks of alpine flowers growing all round it. A lengthy lunch, hot baths – unpacking and making beds occupied some time and after a very early dinner, we went to bed about 9 o’clock, with a feeling that we had well earned our rest. I had the same experience as on the previous night. I fell asleep at once and slept soundly till about 3 o’clock, when I woke feeling as if it must be time to get up. The rest of the party had all had slight headaches, which I had escaped.
Once more we were moving early, though the march to Yatung was only some 10 or 12 miles and all down hill. However we took it in such an extremely leisurely fashion, that we did not reach there till about 4 o’clock. A misty morning cleared to sunshine as we left the bungalow and continued along through the pine woods. We were making our way down the side of the valley from the Natu La, which runs into the Chumbish Valley – that fair fertile gash through the mountains, which lies between the rain sodden Sikkim and arid Tibet. For a time our views were limited to the valley we were in, and that which branching from it runs up to the Jelap La Pass. Now and again we stopped to take photos, or to talk to some party of travellers. An occasional Tibetan put his tongue out at us in greeting. The deep pine woods grew more open, and below us on a spur of the hill, we saw the roofs of the Kaji Monastery, peaked and tipped with gold. Our progress was of the most leisurely, what with taking photos, chasing butterflies and examining flowers and birds. We gradually dropped on to the spur above the monastery and could see down into the valley. Its character was completely different from anything in India. The floor of the valley was divided up onto fields, chessboard fashion, surrounded by stone walls, which made one think of the north of England or Scotland, rather than India, where fields are not fenced. The villages – and we could see two from our vantage point, had a more solid and homely look than the ordinary Indian village. Down the centre of the valley, which hereabouts varies from three or four hundred yards to half a mile in width, with precipitous hills guarding it on either side, flowed the Amo Chu – a river which I know well from the point where it leaves the hills as it flows through the district of Jalpaiguri as the Torsa. We left the big trees behind us and scrambled down a hillside covered with big bushes, many of them roses of sorts, and hundreds of varieties of flowers. Arrived by the monastery, we took some photos and talked to one or two of the lamas or monks who came out to greet us. Our real intention had been to arrive in Yatung in time for lunch – but so leisurely had been our progress, that soon after we passed the monastery, we decided that we would eat the food which we had with us in rucksacks, picnic fashion. It was a delicious day and delicious country and we were glad of any excuse to stay out of doors. Our road sloped gently down and eventually brought us into the street of Rinchengang. Many of the houses are quite large and well built – and even the small ones have a homely comfortable look. We passed up a narrow lane into a small square, where a couple of large impressive houses faced one another and stood out from their humbler neighbours. Like many of the more considerable houses, they were three stories high, solidly built of stone laid in mud and roofed with narrow bits of wood, laid on like thatch almost, and weighted down with big stores. The eaves overhang deeply – but it is in the windows that the real art and character of the houses lies. The frames are heavily carved wood, painted in the primary colours and in jade green and very Chinese in character. The upper storey of these houses is partially open and appears to be used as some sort of a granary. In the garden of one of them a great mass of rose pink hollyhocks peeped delightfully over a low stone wall. We all stopped and got out our cameras, seeing opportunities for good pictures. A considerable number of the village inhabitants turned out to greet us. As the road was a sea of black mud with a few cobble stones sticking up in it, we preferred to balance along the big stones at the side of the road. I stopped to take some photos, and three or four Tibetan girls crowded alongside to ask questions and see what I was doing. Another girl tried to join the group and every time she climbed on to a stone, one of her friends gave her a push and sent her back into the mud, at which the whole party shouted with laughter. A queer old man appeared at the window of one of the big houses and called down some remarks to the people in the square below, which set them all laughing. He then posed in the window of the house, with a fearsome expression onhis face, while Capt. Gass took a photo of the house. At the end of the village the road crossed the river and we were in the next village of Pepitang. A strange feature of this village is that the road runs through the courtyard of the big man of that part of the valley. The entrance to his dwelling house was through a most impressive painted gateway, inside which we saw a vista of a big group of flowering plants – a most charming effect.
From Pepitang to Yatung was a distance of about three of four miles. It was an attractive road running beside the river, which dashes and foams along at a terrific rate. Like all Tibetan roads it consisted of lumps of stone and mud and was hard on the feet. We met a lot of wayfarers, mostly of a very friendly disposition and were delighted by a Tibetan couple riding on dzos (cross between a yak and a cow) who hastily leapt to the ground when they saw us coming and then had great difficulty in holding and remounting their somewhat wild steeds. The valley narrowed gradually and took a sharp turn after the village of Chumbi a mile short of Yatung. The rest house was on the left bank of the river, just before we reached the village, which is on the right bank – and we were glad to turn straight across the bridge to it, and leave exploration till the morrow.
From the moment we looked down into the sunny valley, with its villages nestling on the river bank I was reminded of England of the Middle Ages – and the parallel was brought home even more strongly as we walked along it. The travellers on foot and on horse-back, all anxious to exchange greetings and hear the news. The bad roads – the occasional wandering monks in long woolen robes, girded round the waist and carrying rosaries. The smallness of the villages which appear as important towns on the map. The way the houses are huddled together, though there would appear to be ample room for them to spread themselves farther a field. The way each house seems to grow and store its own produce, all brought to ones mind what one had read of the earlier days of ones own country.
It was somewhat of a shock, when we arrived at the rest house, to find two of the three rooms occupied by a Mr. And Mrs. Taylor who were there on duty auditing accounts. A small tent had been put up alongside the bungalow – but there was no furniture in it. A letter to the British Trade Agent, soon produced him followed by a man bearing two camp beds – and one way and another we fixed things up. Luckily the bathroom was large – so Mrs. S.O. and I used it as dressing room as well – and only used the bed-room to sleep in and at other times it was the sitting and dining room of the party. The weather was surprisingly warm for an altitude of nearly 10,000 ft. – so we were able to make good use of the verandah.
It was cold when we woke in the morning – and I called for a fire and tea, as I thought the poor men who had been sleeping out in the tent would be pretty chilly. It was pleasant to drink our tea, warmed by blazing logs – and quite odd not to have to roll upon bedding and pack our suit cases. We were going to stay a second night in Yatung – and I actually put on ordinary feminine clothes instead of a shirt and breeches, thick stockings and marching boots. As soon as the sun came up it was beautifully warm and we had breakfast on the verandah. Mr. Fawcus and Mrs. S.O. took lunch and went off to hunt butterflies, as oon as they had written some letters. I had a busy morning re-packing and sorting our stores – and deciding how much to take on with us and how much to dump at Yatung. That and writing a few letters took the best part of the morning. Capt. Gass had a busy time too – paying off one lot of transport and arranging for the next lot. We were besieged by begging lamas, who came and hung sacred pictures on the trees or the fence outside and intoned prayers or something of the sort. Capt. Gass’ orderly said tersely, that the same ones came over and over again, just going away and changing their hats between whiles. There was a great deal of putting out of tongues – One small novice, who came with two older men, put his tongue out so much, that I felt by the time he grew up, he would be quite incapable of keeping it inside his mouth. After lunch Capt. Gass and I strolled down to the village – the path lying between rough stone walls, which enclosed fields of buckwheat and rye. Crossing the river into the village, we left the real Tibetan part of the village on our right and turned left to the Post Office, Barracks and Residency. We first of all visited the post office and found a most obliging Postmaster, to whom we chatted for a long while. He kindly telephoned to the Postmaster at Phari, and asked him to arrange for transport to be ready for us there two days later. From there we went on to see the Indian Officer in charge of the small detachment of Indian troops who are stationed at Yatung. He seemed pleased to see us and we had a long chat in Hindustani. He gave Yatung a good character and said it was a pleasant place to live in. Food and water were of the best and the climate was good all the year. Upon the plateau at Gyantze, on the other hand, he said life was very hard. The cold was almost intolerable in winter. There was never anything to eat but yak and mutton and everyone lost their appetites and grew thin. The troops were playing hockey and looked well and happy. After visiting the Subadar Sahib, we went on to pay our respects to Major and Mrs. Rivett Carnac, the British Trade Agent and his wife, who gave us an excellent tea and showed us some most interesting photos of Yatung under snow in the winter. They were making a charming garden to their house and had some lovely English roses in flower, which had only been planted in the spring. Returning to the bungalow we found the two others at tea. They had had a pleasant day but had not caught many butterflies. They had half a dozen or so, two of which they said were un-common. Rain set in as it often seems to do in that valley about 5 o’clock and we were glad to sit in a cosy room and write or read.
In spite of many promises by the British Trade Agent’s office, our transport, which was ordered for 6-30 did not arrive till 9 o’clock or past. A most inefficient young clerk in a long brocade gown, gold rimmed spectacles and Homburg hat, turned up at the bungalow, but all he could say was “Sir, I have sent my man.” It was a lovely morning and we amused ourselves by taking photos till the luggage was away. We ourselves got away a little before 10 o’clock, riding mules for the first time on which our own English saddles had been fitted, but as it turned out later, fitted none too well. Three of us were carrying rucksacks with our food and changes of clothes, and personally I was also carrying a large thermos flask in a leather case and two cameras slung round me. I felt rather like the White Knight in Alice in Wonderland and must have presented an appearance not unlike his. All went well for the first quarter of a mile or so, and then my mackintosh, which had been most insecurely tied with string on to the front of the saddle, worked loose. The small effort of pulling the string tight and its breaking, was sufficient to throw my balance to one side and the saddle began slipping gently round under the mules tummy – I could not get my foot out of the off stirrup and hampered as I was by half a dozen bits of baggage hung round me, I could do nothing but let myself slide, and was deposited gently and slowly on my back in the road. The comicality of the incident, set us all laughing so much, that it was difficulty that I picked myself up, and Capt. Gass re-saddled the mule for me. The mule apparently has a figure entirely unsuited to an English saddle and the trouble is heightened by the fact that, in Tibet, each mule wears at least eight or ten layers of blanket, yak skin with the hair left on, canvas and any other odds and ends which are handy under his saddle – Tighten the girths as we might, nothing would make the saddle firm and I had to ride with the greatest caution for the rest of the day. A little further on to our dismay, we saw various pieces of our luggage including our precious black tin medicine chest lying by the roadside. Round a big rock, we came in view of a little grassy field by the river in which one small muleteer was vainly trying to catch a packless mule and three others grazed contentedly without the slightest intention of carrying our baggage the twelve miles to Gantza. We joined in the chase and eventually captured the mule and got him loaded, with considerable difficulty. The mulateers quandary was emphasised by the fact that he had had to take off his red sash to tether the mule and consequently at all the most crucial moments his trousers began to fall off and he had to leave what he was doing and grip them with one hand. He was a willing little party, but a most inefficient muleteer – for so badly did he load the mule that it had not gone 50 yards when several of the smaller things, including the precious medicine chest fell off again. Fenwick Gass and I retrieved it and could smell that, at any rate, the pepperment bottle had been broken. It turned out later that only one other small and not very important bottle had been broken, which was a marvel considering it had twice been cast off the mule’s back on to a rocky road. The mulateers red sash was once more called into requisition and used to fasten the medicines between the two packs. Presumably he accomplished the rest of the journey holding up his trousers by hand.
The road from Yatung had so far, hugged the river bank. The stone-walled fields had been growing less and more broken up by big patches of tall bushes – wild roses, berberus and half a dozen other varieties I could not name. Just above the scene of the mule catching operations were the ruins of a Chinese fort, of considerable size – one of many which dot the trade route and keep in memory the days of the Chinese occupation. The road now climbed considerably above the river. Here and there on the hill sides above us, were groups of houses, set in patches of cultivation. The people who live in these eyries, must surely learn early to have good memories, for it must be a terrible bore to return from the market town in the valley, and find that you have forgotten the brick tea – or the salt or some one of the household necessities – and have to drop, once more, hundreds of feet down the mountain side and clamber up it again.
Some six or seven miles above Yatung, we say the big village of Galinkha on the opposite side of the river. It was picturesque and prosperous looking, large houses, with copiously carved windows and balconies – patches of cultivated flowers and an army of quaintly shaped grain stacks giving it an air of peaceful well being. These grain stacks are interesting. The grain is left on the straw and neatly packed on a wooden frame, like a wide ladder, with the ears hanging downwards and outwards. When the ladder which is probably some 12 or 14 ft. high, is full it is crowned by a little pent house of thatch. The key note of the valley is peaceful prosperity. Folded between its great hills, it seems cut off from the rest of the world and sufficient unto itself.
Above Galingkha the valley had narrowed very considerably and the mountains were sloping almost down to the river bank. The path clambered gradually upwards. It was cut out of rock or roughly cobbled, which made progress either on foot or on mule very slow. The flowers seemed, if possible, more lovely than ever, and improved as the altitude grew higher. The noise of the water made talk difficult but there was plenty to keep our eyes busy and no harm in keeping our tongues still for once in a way. The road climbed up by one particularly magnificent cataract and stopping there to watch it, we decided that as soon as we could find any shade we would stop and have our lunch. A little above the rapids the valley swelled out and in the middle of the river there was an island on which two Tibetan women were harvesting a crop of barley. They waved and shouted to us and we waved and called back to them, which set them off into fits of loud laughter. A little ahead of us we say the two things that we needed for our picnic lunch – shade and water coming down the hillside. The shade was cast by one of those strange walls called Mendongs, which one meets so frequently in Tibet. They are generally about 8 ft. high and four or five ft. thick. They vary a great deal in length and have texts from the Buddist Scriptures, carved or painted all round them. They are built along the middle of a road and one must be careful always to pass them on ones right. This particular Mendong was almost in ruins merely standing in a grassy space. We dipped our drinking water from a little fall, where tall yellow auriculars and brilliant blue saxifrage tucked themselves into every possible of the rock. Scarcely had we unpacked our lunch than one of the women came over from the island field and stood beaming in front of us. She stared hard at me, and at last made up her mind that I was a woman and not a man. She would have been a handsome creature had she been a little cleaner and had her face not been smeared with a reddish brown pigment. As it was she had the charm of superb physical health – a gleaming smile, showing strong white teeth and clear simple unembarrassed eyes. Fenwick was able to understand a certain amount of what she was saying. She said she had come to see us eat – and what were all the things we were eating? Then, having laughed a bit, she said and made us all understand by signs, that she would not get any food till sundown and would like to taste some of ours. We gave her a hunk of bread and some radishes, which she munched up contentedly and thanked us for warmly, saying she must now go back to her work. Soon after she had left a party of travellers came by – a Tibetan man and woman, a young man and a Nepali girl. They stopped to greet us and have a chat. Capt. Gass asked the woman of what caste the man was, she seeming the most talkative and least shy. Mistaking what he said, she thought he asked if the man were her husband and hotly denied it, saying that he was only a friend with whom she was travelling for company’s sake. They sat down a little distance from us and were evidently watching and discussing us. As we finished eating and were packing up, the two women from the island came along with great bundles of barley on their backs and stopped to have some more talk. They wished to know why Mrs. S.O. and I did not wear skirts seeing that we were women. I took their photo and they said it was a pity I had not waited till they had washed their faces and put on their nice clothes. The Gurkha language which Capt. Gass speaks is sufficiently like Tibetan to enable him to understand a certain amount of what they wanted to say, eked out by signs. Finally the women to whom we had given food, said that if we wanted to reach Gantza before night we had better be getting along. We took her advice and got on the road once more. The valley and the flowers continued beautiful beyond words. There were very few trees, but quantities of rose bushes, with the berries just turning red. Every here and there great patches of giant forget-me-not of a deep Mediterranean blue showed up divinely against the grey rocks and foaming white water. The blue saxifrage, purple louse-wort and dozens of other lovely things, trimmed the rocks and dotted every grassy slope. Presently we saw the river above us pouring over one corner of a barrier of rock, which almost blocked the narrow valley. Coming to it and rounding the corner, we found the scenery completely changed. The valley was much wider and its floor looked like some English meadow, gilded with buttercups. IN place of the rushing torrent, leaping and foaming over rocks, a smooth serene stream would its way along between the grass and flowers. The meadow proved to be almost a marsh and the yellow flowers were not buttercups, but a bright yellow, long stalked louse wort, but this did not alter the general likeness to an English meade. The great hills still rose up on either side to a height of 600 or 700 ft. They seemed to wrap the quiet place round in complete peace and solitude. Looking back we saw on the crossway rock barrier at the bottom of the meadow a pile of buildings which we guessed must be a “gompa” or monastery – at that distance they looked like an Italian villa. The Buddist monks choose the most wonderful sites for their buildings and nearly always contrive to place them where there is a good view. This grassy land with its quiet river continued for almost a mile. Studying the map, we discovered that this must be the Lingmatuni Plain. Our path having crossed one corner of it on a roughly raised, stone road, clung to the hill side, so that we were travelling with green and gold meadow land on our left and Alpine Garden on our right. A turn of the valley and once more the scenery changed completely. The valley narrowed into not more than 50 or 60 yds. Wide. We had got to the altitude of firs and pines and wherever they could they clung to the mountain sides, but those mountain sides were often great rock cliffs, giving no hold for vegetation. The river was once more a leaping roaring torrent. Amongst the rocks on its banks, wild rose bushes red and black currents and raspberries grew in great profusion. The brilliant blue forget-me-nots were plentiful and the purple loose-strife of our English river banks made its appearance. The road was just lumps of rock and climbing steadily all the while so that 2 miles a hour was good progress. In a place where the valley widened somewhat a cluster of houses made a tiny village. One of them we guessed to be a sort of mill, as water was being led to it by a simple engineering device of half tree trunks, hollowed out and laid end to end. Here abouts we noticed wild cherry trees, but Fenwick Gass tasting the fruit, vowed it was the bitterest thing he had ever met. The general effect of the scenery did not change much between this village and Gantza bungalow, which was tiny, but very charming, with an excellent chowkidar. It is wonderfully situated looking right up the gorge, between huge cliffs of rock. – the white foaming streak of the river rushing down between them and the small huts of a village, built of rough stone with their wooden roofs, weighted down by rocks clustered on a small promentary made by a curve of the river. In front of the bungalow were two big beds full of blue and pink lupins and as I looked out of our bed-room window I got a foreground of the blue and pink blooms with the grand rocky scenery beyond. Mr. Fawcus unfortunately had a headache and retired to bed early. The rest of us were writing up our diaries and became so absorbed that we sat up till past eleven o’clock.
After sitting up so late I slept like a log. Literally I do not think I moved an inch all night. As soon as I woke at 5 o’clock, I pulled back the curtains to look at the glorious view up the Gorge. The river cascading down its steep bed made a noise as if a hurricane were going to strike us at any moment. We dressed, packed and breakfasted, but did not succed in getting the pack mules away till nearly 9 o’clock. We had three riding mules between the four of us and three rucksacks with lunch and warm wraps for the higher altitudes – also cameras, umbrellas and the precious thermos flask. The men said that for the time being they would rather walk, so we tied the three rucksacks on to the spare mule, not reckoning on the peculiar figure and dress of Tibetan mules, which before very long led us to disaster. Our troubles began almost at once. Adèle S.O. and Mr. Fawcus set off. I was just about to mount my mule, strung round as usual with a couple of cameras and a thermos flask, when Fenwick Gass who was holding the stirrup for me discovered that it had been put on the wrong way and very kindly insisted on re-adjusting it, which delayed us for a few minutes. Then we set off. I led the spare mule with the rucksacks by a long rein, and we clambered up the rocky path. I should think we had gone less than a quarter of a mile, when saddle and rucksacks began to slip sideways and no efforts could further tighten the girths, so there was nothing for it, but to take off the whole bag of trick and see if we could double some of the half dozen or more mumdahs under the saddle. This took quite a time and when accomplished, we set off happily once more, but had not gone far when everything began to slip again. Fenwick decided that there was nothing for it but for him to ride and for us to carry the rucksacks between us. This time the saddle and bags had slipped right round and had to be completely re-arranged once more. when he finished with that mule he noticed that the dumchi (crupper) on my mule was keeping the saddle much too far back and that the mule had a sore place under its tail. He insisted on taking it off and re-saddling my creature as well. We were to suffer for this act of kindness later in the day and learn our lesson that in Tibet it is well to leave bad alone, less worse befall. For some time now we rode peacefully along through the most magnificent scenery and flowers. The rock scenery of the Gantza Gorge gradually changed and we found ourselves in country very like the South Downs, magnified a dozen times and trimmed with sheets of Alpine flowers. In places the gentians and louseworts were so thick that they gave an effect like bluish mauve smoke on the hillsides in the distance. The road had climbed some considerable height above the river. A shower of rain came on and we were worried because the other two had got so far ahead and we had all their wraps and mackintoshes with us. At last we spied them sheltering under an overhanging rock and came with them to find them very cold. We handed over their wraps and Adèle S.O. and I started on again. The path rounded a rock and started to slope steeply downhill. My mule at that moment chose to try to bolt. He had a mouth like iron and I had to haul on to it with all my might. Having no withers to keep saddle back and no dumchi to tether it from the tail end, it slipped forward on to his neck and I swung round with it under his chest and was once more deposited on my back in the road. The mule fortunately did not stamp on my face or behave badly in any way, but allowed me to pick up myself and my many bundles and deposit them on the hillside. At this moment the two men came round the corner and I must say Fenwick showed the most commendable forbearance and self-control, when faced with the task of re-saddling a mule for the fourth time that day. I may had it was not the last time by any means. The only real tragedy attendant upon the incident was that somehow in the confusion Fenwick’s camera, which I had been carrying by a small strap round my wrist, disappeared. We searched the road and up and down the steep cliff on the edge of which I had fallen, but not a sign of it could we find. We could only conclude that I must have put it down at one of the previous occasions on which re-saddling had taken place, or that I had dropped it and not noticed it, though I could have sworn that I had it in my hand up to the time that the mule bolted with me. The fact that I had lost someone else’s property of which I was in charge, depressed me very considerably. The only saving grace of the position was that Fenwick’s belongings are insured and that my camera is the same size as his, so we can pool the use of it. These many catastrophies had delayed us a good deal and by 12 o’clock we were not nearly as far on as we intended to be. We decided to push on till 1 o’clock and then stop for lunch.
In a small dip in the hills to which the road dropped a cluster of rough stone buildings, surrounded with deep black mud, was we learned, a posting station for the post runners, who carry the mails to Phari and Gantok. The road began to rise again. The country was altering its character slightly and as we climbed higher it became more like parts of the Highlands of Scotland, only the mountains were covered with grass and masses of Alpine flowers instead of heather. Gentians were not rarities but sheets of them made the hill sides blue. Edelweiss grew in the same profusion. We stopped for lunch at 1 o’clock and sat on a flower studded hillside. We tethered the mules to telegraph posts – which are the only reminder of Western Civilization that stay with one on this ancient highway. The wind was beginning to grow chill and we were glad to put on some woolen wraps. As I dismounted, cumbered with my many packages the mules saddle once more swung round under its tummy and it is a great credit to Fenwick that he remained quite unruffled, but decided to allow it to graze unencumbered by its saddler, till we had had our lunch. As we were feeding we watched a storm bearing down towards us and only finished lunch just in time before it began to rain. We wasted no time in getting on our way once more. We crossed the river on to the right bank. The valley began to flatten out and the hills recede. The road climbed higher and higher leaving the river away on our left, till we found ourselves at the end of the Phari Plain. We said good-bye to the river, along whose banks we had been marching for two days and turned right along the plain. It was a vast grassy expanse, stretching as far as the eye could see in front of us and bounded on either side by grassy hills. I suppose at its southern end it must be about a quarter of a mile wide, but very much wider at Phari, which was about eight miles from the beginning of the Plain. Incredible numbers of Yaks were grazing all over the Plain and the surrounding hills. Some of them are very handsome creatures with their great manes and tails and strange valence of hair hanging round them. They appear to be some of the slowest movers in the world when left to themselves. There were still flowers in profusion though most of them had noticeably shorter stalks than their relations in the more sheltered valleys.
About a mile after entering the Plain, we passed a small collection of stone huts, where we talked to a couple of the dak-runners (postal runners) who carry the mails. Shortly after this Fenwick spotted a wolf coming down the hills on the opposite side of the plain and watching through glasses, saw, it being chased off by a yak. We presumed that it had come down to try and pick up a baby yak. Not long after this we met Dr. Neal, travelling as fast as he could to Yatung, to see the wife of the B.T.A. there, who feared she had threatening of appendicitis. We had a long chat with him and he gave us the final warning that we should see Phari Dzong from a point a little further on, where the road rounded the shoulder of a hill, but that it was a good six miles from there, though it looked so close. His prophecy was quite true. The last six miles seemed long and rather weary. The road left the hills, and marked by the telegraph poles, ran straight across the plain. It was drizzling and the wind for which Tibet is so famous, grew colder and colder. There were several things of interest. Another wolf, slinking up the hills we had just left excited us all. The flowers constantly caught my attention. Blue was the prevailing colour – blue gentians – wild blue larks spur – purplish blue aconite – and the bright blue forget-me-not, only this latter now grew in flat rosettes on the ground. I could have wished that my hands and feet had been a little warmer. There in the distance the strange fort stood up out of the Plain, with a huddle of buildings round its foot, while one or two solitary buildings stood a little distance from it. One of these we knew was the dak bungalow, where fire and tea were awaiting us. It was an unimpressive building, as we drew near, the exterior built of the same rough stone and turves as the fort and the huts, and a plentiful supply of rough plants growing on the roof. We went into a courtyard, through a big gate. I was truly thankful to get off my mule, with my many bundles. One more tragedy happened, owing chiefly to the coldness of my fingers. I thought I was hanging the thermos flask safely on a hook, but the strap slipped through my fingers and the flask fell and was smashed to bits. The courtyard was full of smiling and filthily dirty Tibetans. The chowkidar was an excellent fellow and would almost qualify as a ladies maid. Before I knew what was happening, he was unbuttoning my stiff canvas rain-coat (which actually had kept me perfectly dry) and was drawing it off me. Fire and tea were good beyond words, and hot baths to follow made us feel quite at peace with the world. I forgot to mention that we had been lucky enough to get a glimpse of the beautiful snow mountain, Chumalhari, 24,000 ft. through the clouds, just before we reached the bungalow.
Whether it was the altitude of Phari, which is 14,300 ft. or whether it was my own mind worrying me about the lost camera, I do not know but I lay awake some time that night. Sleep, when it came, was sound, till my usual waking hour of 5 o’clock.
The first thing I did on waking, was to peep through the curtains and to my joy see most of Chumalhari showing. It is a lovely shaped mountain something like the Matterhorn, and from the Phari side it stands up in isolated grandeur.
We had been warned that we should probably have trouble in getting our transport at Phari, but whether it was Mr. Ledan La’s letter to the Yongpen or whether it was due to the good offices of the Post Master, to whom we had telephoned from Yatung, I do not know, but pack mules and riding ponies were all assembled by 7 o’clock. In the intervals of breakfasting and getting the baggage packed and loaded, we ran out to have a look at the queer stone fort on its rock, and the town surrounding it. The smells and filth were indescribable, but the people all most cheerful and friendly. Out of the village and close to the dak bungalow there was a large stone house with a big court yard in front, which, we gathered to be the dwelling of a Tibetan wool merchant. We peeped in and saw wool being weighed up in the courtyard. Near by was a most magnificent tent or rather series of tents, gaily embroidered in appliqué work of different colours and bold design. We had a look into the two main tents, one of which contained some painted chests and a lot of padded cushions covered with rugs, which we imagined were for sleeping upon. The other contained a number of the little low painted Tibetan tea tables ranged round it, which gave us the impression that it was the dining room. The smiling man in charge, who invited us to look, could not understand us, nor we him, so we could do no more than guess at the uses of the tents.
The morning was very cold till the sun was well up and then seemed comparatively mild, but knowing that we were to cross the Tang La Pass on the shoulder of Chumalhari at an altitude of 15,219 ft. and sleep the night a Tuna, altitude 14,700 ft., we clothed ourselves warmly and took highnecked pull overs with us. We were glad of them before the day was out. Our journey started along the edge of Phari town, the ponies picking their way through the filthy black mud, while the women in their quaint head dresses came out on to the house tops to look at us, and the watch dogs each with a Toby frill of scarlet dyed yak hair round his neck, burst into deep ferocious barking. The head dresses worn by the women vary from Province to Province. In this part of the world an oval frame-work is suspended round the head, the narrow part of the oval resting on the forehead and touching the back of the head and held in place by the hair; which is plaited into dozens of little plaits and drawn out to the ends of the oval 8 or 10 inches from the head on either side. From these two points a semi-circular hoop rises to a height of a foot or more above the head.
The frame work is covered with red cloth often so dirty as to look black, and sewn with matrix turquoise; coral beads the size of marbles and little white beads. Often in the case of more well-to-do, the head-dress is heavily embroidered in seed pearls as well. A more uncomfortable and useless (‘less’ crossed out and ‘ful’ inserted in ink) form of head gear can scarcely be imagined, but it is certainly picturesque. We were interested in a large collection of pack and ridging yaks, who were gathered on the outskirts of the little town, and took some photos of them. Phari gave us the impression of being a real trade town. Trains of pack animals, varying in size from 50 or 60 animals in charge of a dozen men; to family parties, consisting of a man and his wife driving three or four mules or yaks, were constantly arriving or departing. Some went on to Kalimpong with their own wool – others seemed to dispose of it to middle-men in Phari. Several long low buildings looked like rest houses for travellers, and rough encampments spread themselves on the Plain round about.
For four or five miles our way lay across a perfectly level plain, sparsely covered with coarse grass and low growing flowers. It was a treat to have level going under foot after so many days on roads that were no better than rough dry water-courses. We had a good canter, the pleasure of which was rather impeded by the fact that we were carrying rucksacks on our backs, containing lunch and a variety of oddments, which rattled and banged up and down. At the end of the plain, just as we began the gentle ascent to the Tang La Pass, we passed through a quaint little village and were greatly delighted by the sight of a woman brushing her husband’s long hair with what looked like a carpet broom. The road wound gently up through low swelling hills, covered with thin grass and flowers, mostly bright blue gentians. There were any number of yaks and dzos feeding. We passed several caravans of donkeys, bringing wool into Phari. The bells round their necks make a pleasant rippling sound in the distance and make one think of Greig’s music. It seems that Tibet must be a peaceful and honest land, for one constantly meets these great caravans of 50 or 60 donkeys, with only one or two men in charge of them. The distances from village to village are great in most places and there is no apparent Police force to keep law and order.
As we drew towards the top of this gentle pass of the Tang La, we were delighted to see Chumalhari almost clear of cloud. At the summit of the Pass which lies on a shoulder of the mountain, we stopped to take some photos. We were only about a couple of miles from the foot of the hills which stand like courtiers round the reigning peak, and about 6 miles from the top of the mountain. Just near us two cairns of stones had been piled up, and stuck over with prayer flags. A wandering Lama in his queer peaked hat and long claret coloured gown, stopped beside them and holding up his hands in an attitude of prayer towards the towering white snow, stood for some minutes completely absorbed.
The famous cold Tibetan wind had sprung up by this time and we were glad to put on extra pull overs, and after a bit of chocolate, to move on again. The wind was blowing directly behind us and consequently was not as trying as it probably will be on our return journey. At the Tung La one is practically on the great Tung Pun Sum Plain. It is only a drop of 500 ft. from the Pass on to the level of the Plain, which stretches forward as far as the eye can reach with that one touch of civilization, the telegraph line, running at a slight angle across it to the hills on the left. On either hand magnificent hills bound the flatness of the plain. Those on the right are a continuation of Chumalhari – a line of great ragged snow peaks, behind which on our map was sprawled that thrilling word “unexplored.” The hills on the left and away in the distance were brownish red rock and earth, with which the sunlight played lovely tricks turning them to shades of blue and purple, reddish brown and grey. Far away to the North there was another magnificent mass of snowy mountain and glacier. We were travelling steadily in a north easterly direction. The plain over which we were no riding, was sparsely covered with coarse grass – a hardy little vetch with a tiny purple flower, a plant rather like heather in its growth, but with a whitish flower so tiny as to be scarcely noticeable, and a variety of tiny flowers, notably blue gentians and a mauve Michaelmas daisy, all of whom had given up the ambition of a stalk and to keep themselves out of the wind, burst into flower as soon as they got above ground. We crossed two or three small streams and a tiny Tibetan rest house, and soon afterwards Fenwick spotted some moving objects on the Plain between us and the snowy mountains on our right. We looked at them through glasses and saw them to be a herd of Kyang or wild asses. As we had plenty of time we determined to try to get near them. We ambled gently along in a half circle, not approaching the animals directly. We soon were near enough to see them clearly with the naked eye. One was standing sentinel at a little distance, while the rest were grazing. They are handsome up standing animals about the size of mules, reddish brown on the backs shading off to pale cream under the belly, with dark ears and tails. They showed very little fear as we drew near them. Eventually the sentinel trotted up to the rest of the herd, and they all lifted their heads and looked at us. We took a photo or two, but I doubt whether we were near enough to get any results. As we drew a little nearer, the kiangs began to move off. Every time we stopped, they stopped too and turned to look at us. Only two mothers with foals, kept steadily on and put a good distance between us and them. Had we been able to spare the time to sit down and wait, I believe the creatures would have come quite close out of sheer curiousity. They were undoubtedly interested in us. Time, however, had to be considered and we made across the Plain back to the line of telegraph posts. We were beginning to feel hungry and thought of looking for a place for lunch – but it is either extraordinarily easy or extraordinarily difficult to make your choice on a perfectly flat plain, stretching for mile upon mile, with a bitter wind blowing across and no shelter. So we just stopped by one of the telegraph posts, tethered the ponies to it and sat down in the small amount of shelter afforded by them and the small pile of stones surrounding the pole. The shelter of the ponies was a mixed blessing and every time they stamped their feet, showers of fine sand flew over us and our food. We were far too hungry to take much notice of this and it did not seem to interfere with our digestion. Two of us were mounted on mares and their foals ran with us all the nineteen miles from Phari to Tuna. While we were at lunch the little creatures lay down and went to sleep so soundly, that we had to dig them in the ribs with our toes before we moved on. All this time Chumalhari and the snowy range running north eastwards from it, were appearing and disappearing in great masses of cloud, while the sky in the rest of the heavens was a brilliant blue. Lunch over we continued our way, seeing quite a number of Kyang grazing in the distance. Our destination was Tuna, a little dak bungalow crouching at the foot of the hills on the north west side of the Plain and standing at an altitude of 14700 ft. It is 19 miles from Phari, but owing to our chase of the kyangs, and stopping to look at birds through glasses and so on, we did not arrive till the middle of the afternoon. Here for the first time we met the real pattern of Tibetan dak bungalow, Yak dung fuel and yak’s milk to drink. To all three I give a very good character. The bungalow was build with its back to the prevailing wind looking out into a courtyard, with kitchen and servants quarters on either side and the end enclosed in a wall with a high barred gate in it. In so far as possible all doors and windows look into the courtyard and those that must look outwards are very tiny. All the windows were double and provided with thick wool curtains of Tibetan serge in black or red. Curtains were provided for the doors as well and we felt not the slightest enthusiasm for fresh air, but left everything tightly shut and turned with gratitude to the brightly burning fire. The flat dry cakes of yak dung mixed with the dried heather like plants I have mentioned before, make a quick bright fire and as far as we experienced no smell and very little smoke. The drawback is that the fuel burns through so quickly and leaves so much ask, that to keep a good fire going needs constant attention. The Yak milk is very good. It has just a slightly different taste from cows milk, a little sweeter but by no means unpleasant.
Late in the evening we made a brave dash out of doors to look at the full moon shining down on Chumalhari clear of cloud, but no amount of unearthly beauty could keep us for more than a few seconds out in that biting cold, and we scuttled quickly back to our warm fires and bed.
On waking at 5 o’clock I pulled back the curtains of a little window near my bed, and saw that there had been a fall of snow during the night. The vast expanse of Plain was lightly sprinkled with it. The Mendong wall close to the bungalow had a ridge of snow along the top and the hills were completely white. Chumalhari was gleaming white clear and beautiful. It did not take many hours of the hot sun to clear the snow off the plain and the lower slopes of the hills and by the time our caravan started about 8 o’clock it had nearly gone. We learnt that the road took a curve round the spur of hills under which the bungalow and tiny village of Tuna, with its few fields of mustard, barley and rye, sheltered, and that by cutting up over the hill behind the bungalow, we should both find a short cut to the telegraph line again and also get a fine view of the country round. As we topped the hill, we could see far away over the plain in front the glimmer of the Bam Tso (Tso meaning Lake) on the shores of which we should find Dochen bungalow, where we were to have lunch and change ponies. Soon after we dropped down on to the Plain again and were making north easterly across a corner of it for the hills, once more Fenwick spotted some dark objects away in the distance – which when we looked through the glasses, turned out to be Tibetan gazelle. They were much shyer than the kyang and would not let us get very near them, though we got near enough to have a good view of them. We saw several other groups of two or three feeding in the distance, but could not spare the time to go after them, as we were doing a double stage and had to cover 13 miles to Dochen and another 12 on to Kala before evening.
Our road after running for a few miles across the plain, got under the edge of the hills to the north west, and travelled along the foot of them. Mr. Fawcus was greatly excited by the discovery of what is apparently a rare butterfly in other parts of the world, but which seemed common enough there. It was a little grey fellow called “Apollo” with black spots surrounded by red rings on his wings. He succeeded in catching one in his topi and very cleverly carrying it safely in the lining till the end of the day’s march. There were lots of tiny butterflies but only of two or three varieties. The day was beautiful. It was warmer after the fall of snow, and though a cold wind sprang up between 10 and 11 o’clock, it was not as biting as that of the previous day. Several big parties of pack donkeys carrying wool, passed us. One picturesque party of dancers, begged with a variety of salaam and whine and in return for a couple of annas, did a few steps of a typical Tibetan dance. We passed a place called the Goru Spring, where clear water gushing out of the limestone hill keeps the same temperature all the year round, but is said by the Tibetans to be warm in winter, as it undoubtedly is, by comparison with the snow and ice water of other places. It was about here that the British had the first fight with the Tibetans in 1904.
Beyond Goru, as we were crossing the mouth of a valley up which a track ran to a village, we saw a cloud of dust away on the Plain to our right. The cloud moved rapidly nearer and proved to be a party of mounted men, galloping furiously, with flying garments streaming in the wind, and followed by a pack of big dogs. They looked for all the world, like a band of medieval robbers. To our imagination, they seemed to change their course slightly and come straight for us, but as they swept across behind us making up the lateral valley, we were surprised to see that three of the horses were carrying two men apiece. Adele and I were the front party. The two men were a quarter of a mile behind and they chaffed us later, saying they fully expected to see us carried off and had decided to leave us to our fate, rather than interfere with such a ferocious looking band. The lake which had seemed so near took a long time to reach, and when we did eventually approach it, we were disappointed to see no birds on it. Later we discovered the reason. We were at the wind swept end, where there was little or no sedge or grass or shelter for the birds. The road kept along the foot of the hills a hundred yards or so from the lake for some way, till rounding the base of a hill, we saw a little village and dak bungalow gate close to us. As we were riding past a collection of little stone houses, all the people ran on to their roofs or out of their doorways to see us – and we stopped to take a photo of the dirty picturesque crowd. The women were all wearing the head-dress I have described, which makes one think they cannot be as indifferent to their looks as the filthy state of their faces and garments might lead one to suppose. Our bearer had gone on ahead and left word with the chowkidar at Dochen to have a kettle boiling for us and plates and glasses on the table. We found everything ready and only had to mix our Oxo cubes in a sauce pan and undo our packages of cold meat, cheese, bread and butter to prepare our lunch. The chowkidar assured us that from that point on we should see plenty of geese and duck. The men were very anxious to walk right down on the edge of the Lake, so Adele and I each led one of their ponies for them. We very soon saw a collection of bar-headed geese. A little later the men put up a Tibetan hare on the edge of the lake, smaller than the English one, and from a brownish drap on the head and shoulders, shading off to a bright blue grey round the tail. He came straight for Adele and myself and in his haste did not see us till he was only a few yards off, when he sat up dead still on a tummock of grass for a second or so and then bolted off in another direction. We now began to see large parties of Brahmanie duck, who were not in the least shy and would let one get to within a few yards of them. The road, by this time had come right down to the edge of the lake, so the men mounted their horses once more. We still made the most leisurely progress, constantly stopping to watch birds or take photographs. The Brahmanies were very amusing. We could distinguish the father and mother generally sitting or swimming together, and at a little distance the brood of six or seven young ones, almost full grown and nearly ready for their autumn flight to the Plains of India. Further out on the lake were a lot of grebe and we were tremendously interested in a pair of large white cranes with black heads and tails. We tried very carefully to get near enough to take a photo of them, but they were much shyer than the geese and flew out over the water. There were lots of fish eagles keeping their cruel watch over the lake and any number of red shanks. So we had plenty to interest us, apart from the gorgeous views of the snows, and the lovely blue of the great lake, with the variegated colours painted by the light on the bare hills all round. In all the road ran for about six miles beside the Lake and then curved slightly and wound its way through a deep valley with a blue streak of river running along it, on the banks of which numbers of sheep, yak and donkeys were grazing. The river immediately thrilled us. It was behaving as rivers do not in Bengal – and indeed in most of North India. It was flowing north and made us realize that we were on the far side of the Great Himalayan Watershed. The hills rising steeply on each side were stony and barren. Halfway along the valley the road passed just above a Tibetan village, a collection of rough stone houses liberally stuck over with prayer flags. We paused to see if we could get a photo of it and the smell that rose up from it to greet our nostrils was amazing. As we were looking at it, a man galloped up to it on a horse. In his loose glowing claret coloured robe, with a canary coloured pancake of a hat, well over one ear, he might well have dropped out of some Tudor picture. The types that one sees on the roads and in the villages of Tibet are by no means all distinctly Mongolian. Many of them would pass for peasants from the South of Europe or Central America. Their habit of wearing an inner garment and a flowing outer coat of which they only wear one sleeve and let the other flow loose, combined with the ubiquitous felt hat worn at every sort of angle, gives them a rakish buecaneering sort of look.
By this time we were tired of riding and were driving our ponies in front of us. The valley was becoming more and more richly cultivated with gay fields of bright yellow mustard and prosperous looking crops of barley and rye. The river was cleverly led off to irrigate the crops. As we drew out of the mouth of the valley we saw our night’s destination, the village and bungalow of Kala. Our transport caught us up just as we were nearing the bungalow, Fenwick’s youthful Gurkha orderly in charge of it. The six mules had made very good time, far better than we expected, for we had not realized that the Tibetan having loaded up his mule, with what seems a full load, then calmly sits on top of it. Kala bungalow (altitude 14,600 ft.) is supposed to be on Kala Lake, but so much of the Lake has dried up that the water seems a long way off and none of us felt energetic enough to walk to it. Poor Fenwick was not feeling at all well, suffering we thought from an internal chill or some similar upset. A hot drink and quiet evening in an arm chair by the fire revived him a little.
The people of Kala seemed even more wrinkled and dirty than any we had met before. It is said to be a cruelly cold place in winter. The rigour of the climate shrivels up the peoples skins, till they look like withered apples, and makes washing such a trial that it seems almost unknown. Successive layers of dirt disguise their naturally light skins and make them look like miners just up from the coal pits. We got away from the place about our usual hour of 8-30. It was the beginning of what I thought the only dull half day’s march of our journey. After passing a big village and a stretch of cultivation we rode for a few miles over a flat perfectly barren mud plain, surrounded by barren stony hills. Crossing a shoulder of the hills we came to the Menza plain, a pleasanter place, thinly covered with grass and dry looking plants, varied by round hummocks of pale jade green lichen. We saw gazelle feeding in the distance, but not close enough to try to get near. Crossing a corner of the plain, the road once more plunged into a valley, down which according to the map a considerable river ran. For the first part of the way it was just a dry barren river bed – but later a small stream appeared and grew considerably before we reached Samada bungalow. A certain number of cattle and sheep were grazing here and there on patches of green near its banks and we passed a few primitive encampments of the people in charge of wool pack trains – the pack animals grazing contentedly, while their packs formed a shelter for their masters. When we got well into the valley, we constantly passed ruined houses and villages – roofs fallen in and walls crumbling, which gave an air of great melancholy and desolation to the sad valley. Nothing of great incident happened to interest us on the road between Kala and Samada where we had lunch, except that we saw another big black and white crane. After our usual type of lunch at Samada Bungalow, where great preparations were being made for the arrival of Col. Weir and his wife (the Resident of Sikkim, & who is also in charge of British interest in Tibet) things cheered up considerably. The river had increased in size and was flowing rapidly and merrily along, its colour the blue green of water coming off chalk. Whenever there was a flat or flattish piece of ground there were little stone walled fields of mustard or barley. Close to the bungalow we passed a big building looking rather like an old stone fortress falling into ruins, but on coming nearer we found that it was not in ruins, but in the course of construction. Half a dozen handsome yaks, with scarlet tassels through their ears, were depositing their loads of planks. We guessed it to be a monastery in the making and were confirmed in our belief by appearance on the roof of three or four lamas. The road wound on and on for many miles up this valley. We passed an occasional ruined house, but far more that were occupied and surrounded by fields in cultivation. Little field-peas with a dark purple flower had been added to the crops. A jolly looking woman, seeing us coming, hastily plucked a handful of peas and ran to the edge of her field to offer them to us. Her pink tongue put out in greeting looked startingly clean compared with her grimy face. Flowers became more plentiful again. All the fields were edged with a sort of blue larkspur and blue aconite. The latter, in places covered great stretches of the mountain sides. At a turn of the valley, we all exclaimed at the sight of a few stunted trees inside the high stone wall surrounding a house. They were the first we had seen since entering the Phari Plain.
Not many miles from Samada we met Col. and Mrs. Weir and Major Vance and stopped for a long chat with them. They had been the best part of three months in and near Gyantze and had been up to within eighty miles of Lhasa.
The valley grew narrow again and huge rock cliffs rose up on either side. In several places we saw inscriptions carved on the rock and occasionally a Buddha painted in crude colours on some cliff face. The light across the valley and on the hill stops grew very lovely as the afternoon drew on. At a curve of the valley, where it widened considerably, we saw our little white bungalow of Khangmar, nestling at the foot of great reddish brown hills. Near by was a small village. During the evening Capt. Blood rang us up from Gyantze. It seems strange that one should be able to telephone in such a wild place, but that telegraph line is the one link with our British Trade Agent and handful of troops at Gyantze. Capt.Blood said he was sending ponies half-way to meet us the following day, and invited us to dine with him. We were not sorry to sit on chairs instead of ponies backs after our 28 mile ride.
It was with the pleasurable anticipation of the journey’s end in sight that we started this day’s march. Of course, to us, the journey was an end and object in itself, but the thought of seeing friends and staying for a few days in one place, was good. While we were at breakfast the telegraph operator knocked on the door and asked if he might take the telephone receiver through the window and someone wanted to use it. A few minutes later a most impressive figure appeared outside the window. He was clothed in bright yellow brocade and wore a scarlet hat, rather like an old fashioned lamp shade, with a deep fringe round the edge. We thought he must be a person of importance and learnt later that he was the Kanchen or Governor of Gyantze and the surrounding country. As we left the bungalow we saw a couple of Magpies – and all through the day we passed these handsome birds. Fenwick wanted to walk the first part of the way – so knotted up his ponies reins and drove it in front of him, as we had often done before. It trotted along in a most docile manner for a quarter of a mile or so – but suddenly it switched off up a path between fields, intent on bolting back to the village. I dug my heels into my pony and gave chase. Dodging between the fields, I hoped to cut it off at a corner where a bluff of rock stuck out from the hillside. I think I should have done so, had not the ground been cut up with irrigation channels for the fields, over which it was difficult to travel at any pace. The pony just slipped by in front of me – so there was nothing to do but follow him quietly for a little till there was another path by which I could get between him and the village. To my joy, we came out on to a patch of grass where another pony was tethered. My little friend stopped to graze. I walked quietly round the edge of the grass and getting between him and the village, advanced towards him very slowly. Evidently he had been caught that way before, and when I was within a dozen yards, he threw up his head, and cantered off through the middle of a field of barley. By this time Fenwick had come up on foot, panting considerably for even walking fast takes ones breath at an altitude of over 14,000 ft. We dodged with that pony round two or three fields in a regular game of “tig.” The pony would stop to graze and the moment we got near him off we would go. At last he got past us on a path to the village, to which we were now quite close. So I just followed him quietly along and got him caught by the local inhabitants. The difficulties of the chase were enhanced for me by the fact that, as usual, my ponies girths were loose and would tighten up no further – so that I dare not lease over in my saddle. As it was, I was nearly off once or twice. Fenwick mounted the captured pony, and gave it a few sharp cuts with his whip, which sent it off at a canter down hill, with the sad result that his saddle slipped and he was deposited on his back on the ground! These adventures over, the rest of the day went very well. Our ponies were not too bad and we ambled gently along the great valley. Wide at Khangmar with good cultivation it gradually grew narrow again and rockl cliffs came down almost to the river bank. As the morning wore on, the scenery seemed to me more and more like the North West Frontier – judging from pictures I had seen. Fenwick, who knows the Frontier, said that my thought was quite right. An interest was added to the morning’s journeying by the inscriptions and great Buddhas carved and painted on many of the rocks. In several cases a flat rock face is taken for the canvas and a figure chipped out in low bus relief. It is then painted in the typical Tibetan colours, jade green, cobalt blue scarlet and chrome yellow. Sometimes these figures were on cliffs and sometimes on isolated rocks. In the latter case there was occasionally a projecting eve contrived over the top, and rough stone walls projecting at the sides to preserve the figure from the rain and snow. Towards the end of our fifteen mile morning ride, the valley took a sharp turn to the right and gradually widened out, giving room for some grassy meadow land near the river. In the distance we saw a village and a monastery. The road crossed the river by a bridge and across the grass land blow, we saw several huge Buddhas, painted on an almost overhanging cliff. The road rising over the shoulder of a hill, we saw our last stage on the road – Sangong. As we rode up we were greeted by the four Indian Sepoys and eight horses which Capt. Blood had sent out to meet us. Our six transport mules, and the servants mounted on the same type of small hill ponies, that we had been riding, had got away in very good time that morning and had just reached the bungalow when we arrived. From Phari on we had been taking our transport state by stage, and as we had made double marches from Tuna on, we changed both riding and pack ponies at the mid-day stage. The saddlery and equipment of the Tibetan mules and ponies is strange in the extreme. I have mentioned the fact that they wear a large number of saddle cloths – the top one being sometimes a rather attractive small carpet rug. The saddles are made of wood with a high peak in front and behind and luxurious folk have another small carpet mat spread over them. Luckily we had been warned about these saddles and had brought our own with us. As to bits and bridles these are of the most varied description. Some are made of plaited yak’s wool in black or white or both colours mixed – or of rough leather thongs or bits of rope – sometimes of all these things mixed and knotted together in grand confusion. The bit may be anything from a piece of rope roughly looped through the mouth and liable to fall out at any moment, to a rough thing of iron. Buckles, when there are any, which is not often, look as if they might have come over with the conqueror.
But I am wandering from the tale of our day’s doings.- We lunched quickly as we were anxious to accomplish the last fourteen miles of our journey in good time. The horses sent out to meet us by Capt. Blood were hill ponies, but far larger than anything we had been able to hire and stood somewhere about 12 ½ to 13 hands. Well fed and certainly not overworked they were full of beans. The troopers after a hasty consultation led out a chestnut for Adele and a black for me. I heard something about “Sustie,” which means lazy, slow or quiet and evidently these men, not knowing whether we could ride or no, thought they would give us the quietest ponies. No sooner were we all mounted than we set off at a sharp canter. Fenwick said his pony had a mouth like the “gate of hell” – Adele’s was very lazy and mine, though willing had the most uncomfortable action of any animal I have every been on, inclusive of mules. Adele very soon changed hers with one of the troopers. I endured mine for a couple of miles, with my spine being jarred at every pace and my back teeth almost shaken out, and at last asked if I could change. The sepoys said I could have a white stallion, but that he pulled a bit. I felt anything was preferable to what I was on, so stopped and changed. The stallion certainly did pull, but otherwise went well. When I caught up the others, who had got on in front while was changing horses, I thought I was never going to pull my beast up, and had to hang on to the curb reins with all my might. Later he settled down and went quite nicely. I think we took about the first eight miles of our ride at a fast canter, all eight of us. Imagine a stony road, largely cut out of the face of cliffs, and strewn with boulders, streams constantly flowing across it, generally shallow enough to splash through, sometimes bridged with two or three large slabs of rough stone and you will get some idea of what these ponies will gallop over. They cantered over the stones splashed through the streams and dashed over the bridges without the smallest hesitation. We made a stirring noise and fuss as the eight of us galloped along. Fenwick’s pony pulled so badly it nearly rubbed his hands raw and he had to change. After that we quieted down and finished the journey at a gently amble. The scenery had been very fine indeed:- These huge red and brown cliffs rising up in ragged confusion and losing themselves in vast stony hill tops; the more distant hills turning wonderful blues and greys in the afternoon light. Here and there an occasional little stone house clung to some ledge on the hill side. In several places a bluff of rock was crowned by a ruined dzong or fort, dismantled and evacuated under the terms of our treaty with Tibet. As the valley began to widen into a plain, a monastery had been build on some ledges of a huge cliff high above the valley. It looked the sort of place where an eagle would tuck its nest and not a human being. Gradually the hills fell away on either hand and we found ourselves riding out on to a wide and prosperous plain. Fields of crops almost ripe, bordered the road cleverly irrigated from the river. The cultivators in Tibet have a serene disregard as to whether they irrigate the roads as well as the fields and all along the road to Gyantze, we constantly rode through inches of water flowing gaily over the public highway. As we drew further and further out into the plain, we saw it to be a great stretch of cultivation, bordered by a circle of barren hills, which take on the most glorious colours from the light. There were a good many people passing along the road, men driving two or three laden donkeys, women and children bringing the cattle back from the fields, now and then a party of men and women carrying a wooden plough and driving a couple of dzos (half bred yak and cow). There were quite a number of habitations scattered about, small groups of stone huts, or considerable houses, looking almost like fortresses. A feature of this plain is the big bluffs of rock standing away from the hills in something the fashion of the rock on which Stirling Castle is built. Crowning most of these rocks were the ruins of old fortresses.
From the time we entered the Plain, to Gyantze, was, I suppose, a distance of some six or seven miles. A mile or so from our destination, we met Capt. Blood, who is in command of the small garrison and Mr. McLeod, his subaltern, who had ridden out to meet us. There were great introductions and greetings and they carried us straight off, disreputable as we were, after our 29 mile ride, to tea in the fort, a neat precise military looking structure built of stone plastered with mud and with groups of stinted willows and small poplars both within and without its walls.
We had tea and must talk in Mr. McLeod’s room, which he has furnished much in the Tibetan style, with low divans round the walls, covered with Tibetan rugs. The floor covered with Tibetan rugs too and the walls hung with Tibetan paintings. It all seemed very gay and cosy, and tea was truly divine after our long day out. After tea we walked along to the dak bungalow, about a quarter of a mile away, only to find that our luggage had not yet arrived. Considering the rate at which we had ridden from Sangong it was not surprising. We all sat and had more talk about the adventures of the road and the character and possibilities of Gyantze till our baggage came. Unpacking and hot baths over, it was time to go back to the Fort for dinner. I enjoyed the first “short drink” I had had since leaving Darjeeling – and the dinner and the talk – but at the same time could have fallen on any of the divans and been asleep on the spot. We did not stay late in spite of our host’s hospitality and so sleepy was I when I got in, that I fell straight into bed without looking at my watch even. We had been up at 5 o’clock and on the go all day.
It was quite a novel sensation to wake at 5 early and realize that I could go comfortably to sleep again till 7-30 and then dress at leisure and not roll up my bedding. We met for breakfast at 8-30 all most respectably dressed in ordinary civilized clothes. Mr. Fawcus decided to take some sandwiches to go off naturalizing. Capt. Blood had promised to send a man round to take the other three of us through the bazaar and to visit the monastery. This morning we had more time to take stock of our surroundings. Our temporary home was larger than anything we had been in for some time, consisting of two bed rooms, a dressing room, three bath rooms, dining room and sitting room. The main rooms still looked out into a courtyard made gay with pink geraniums and yellow nasturtiums in pots. The dining room had a side door leading on to a little verandah and so out into a small compound planted round with willow trees, where we subsequently had our breakfast, lunch and tea. About a quarter of a mile away towered up a great rock with the Yong (more often spelt Dzong) piled on top of it. The buildings made of the same yellowish brown stone as the rock, seemed to grow out of it. The walls not quite perpendicular but sloping in slightly towards the top, give the buildings a look of great strength. This building was once stormed by the British and however weakly defended, it must have been a hard nut to crack. The old fort has not been demolished, but is the residence of the most important local Tibetan official, the Kanchen whom we had seen at Khangmar. Nestled at the foot of the great rock was a huddle of small houses, the bazaar or city, though it seems too tiny to go by such a name, in spite of the fact of its being the “third city of Tibet.” Beyond the Dzong built on the side of a low semicircular hill, was the great monastery of Palkhor Choide. Its central point was an immense Chortan (the memorial stone built over the graves of greatly venerated persons) with a gilded dome, and grouped round it were the monastery hall and the monk’s houses, the whole surrounded by a high wall looping itself along the curves of the hill behind and looking essentially Chinese. Vaguely in the distance one could pick out the monastery colours of white, dull reddish pink and ash grey. Far away across the plain some five miles to the north, we could see another big monastery climbing up a similar hillside and ringed with a great wall. One began to realize the burden of supporting an enormous religious community, which rests on the shoulders of the hard worked peasant. Great toll, we learnt was taken from the prosperous looking fields which filled the plain by the lamas, who leave the peasant only just enough to support himself and his family. Here and there outside the city were biggish houses, each with its group of willow, poplar and buckthorn, house and trees huddling together as if for mutual protection from the winter winds.
Taking stock of our surroundings, intervening the cook, and the chowkidar about local resources, (which consisted simply but not unsatisfactorily of mutton, milk and potatoes) and writing a few letters, filled up the time till our guide arrived. He was a neat looking clerk from the British Trade Agent’s office. Armed with our cameras and feeling rather like American tourists, we set out for the bazaar. We passed under the foot of the Dzong, where there were some brightly coloured pictures of Buddha and other saints carved and painted on the rock, and a collection of chortons and then entered the narrow streets of the bazaar. The streets were not as dirty and smelling as I had expected, and could not hold a candle to Phari in that respect. The houses and the people looked as if they had not been washed for years. All the houses were of mud and stone, generally white washed, with flat roofs, at the corner angles of which, bunches of sticks were stuck, each with a paper prayer attached looking like old dirty bits of rag. The chief attempt at beauty in these houses is in the carving and painting of the door and window frames. There is a complete disregard for straight line or matching windows. The more considerable houses have a courtyard, with a shelter for the cattle below and living rooms above. Inside many of the doors and gateways are hung suspended large stuffed Tibetan mastiffs, great hairy dogs, in every state of dust and decay, with the straw stuffing protruding through empty eye sockets and nostrils. Going up and down the narrow street was quite a considerable traffic of men, women, children, and beasts of burden. The women were still wearing the same head-dress, the loose sort of dressing gown garment and the woven apron made in narrow stripes of all colours, with long coloured felt boots, the whole so grimed with dirt that the colours were barely distinguishable. Many of the women would be pretty if they were not forced by law or custom to smear their faces over with some brownish substance, because, so we were told, they might otherwise be too attractive to the young monks. The men’s garments vary a good deal, but the general fashion is an under garment reaching half way down the thigh or tucked into trousers a voluminous loose coat, worn with the right arm in the sleeve, and the left sleeve hanging loose – girded round the waist and with a short knife about 12 inches long, in a silver or white metal sheath, stuck through the sash. The costume is finished by felt boots of many colours, reaching to the knee and Homburg hats pushed into some weird shape and often with the long plait of the man’s hair wound round it. the last touch is turquoise earings – a long one in the left ear and a little button in the right. Many of the women were spinning wool as they walked along, carrying burdens on their backs or driving loaded donkeys or dzos before them. Every one looked at us and nearly all were ready to respond to a smile. Most put out their tongues in greeting, or salaamed in some fashion or another. Half way along the street we met a prisoner, his legs shackled together with great heavy iron rings and chain. He was dressed in filthy rags and holding a bunch of raw lamb skins in his hand. He looked capable of any crime you could think of. He begged from us and after taking his photo we gave him a few copper Tibetan coins. Apparently in Tibet the prisoners are heavily shackled and turned loose to get their own living by begging each day, as no benign Government supplies them with food.
In the upper half of the street the daily market was going on. On a raised plinth men and women were sitting cross legged in the middle of their wares, a cloth roughly stretched on four poles above their heads, sheltering them from the sun. There was not much of great interest that one could buy on these boothes. They were solely to supply the simple needs of the people. Brick-tea, dried curd, clay water-pots, donkey bells, clothing, woven woolen boot soles, small wooden bowls made from some orange coloured wood and used for tea drinking, - a few china bowls for the same purpose, with white metal or silver stands and covers, trays full of turquoise and all sorts of beads, sometimes real stones and sometimes not, seemed to be the chief articles of commerce.
At the foot of the hill we entered the gate of the monastery. The wood work was elaborately carved and painted and the huge doors, now standing open, had immense iron hinges and locks on them. As we went in, a great stream of lamas in claret coloured robes (all grimed with dirt) passed out of the main hall of the monastery, each carrying a dish or small flat basket full of ata or coarse flour. It seemed that they had just been served with their daily ration. They were of all ages. Many of them stopped and looked at us. Several of the small boy novices followed us round and watched us taking photographs. From the gateway the road ran in a curve to the main building of the monastery and the huge Chorton just beyond it. On our left there was a holy wall with pictures of the Tibetan deities painted in a band along it under an overhanging eve. On our right were a series of monk’s houses very like the houses I have described in the villages. The same sort of houses were piled tier upon tier behind the places of worship. The fact that all walls are built slightly leaning in towards the top and that windows and doors are jabbed in anywhere without regard to centre line, and that lintels and frames are often quite crooked, give the houses a strange look to our eyes, accustomed as they are to European precision. The buildings and walls were all washed in the monastery colours of white, dull pink and ash blue. The main hall or chapel had an imposing squarish front with a huge door-way in the centre. Frescoes painted round it were protected from the sun by some sort of blinds. As we entered the porch on either hand were a couple of enormous painted statues, about fifteen feet in height and representing the four guardians or the Gods of the North, South, East and West, - huge hideous creatures they were, with round goggling eyes and fierce expressions. Stepping over the doorsil we were met by the strong smell of rancid burning ghee (melted butter) and incense, which before our half hour’s tour of the monastery was up, made Fenwick and myself feel sicker than we had done since our last bad storm at sea. The main door led into a sort of vestibule, with painted walls, one portion of which represented Buddha’s famous Wheel of Life, which is supposed to embody pictorially so much of his teaching. Hanging from the beams on either hand were four or five huge stuffed yaks, mouldy, mangy, grimed with dust and altogether grisly. On our left a steep steep ladder-like wooden stairway rose up into the darkness. Up it men were carrying great bags of ata and monks and novices sped up and down it with apparent ease and swiftness. We passed through another doorway into a great dim hall, I should say, at a guess, some forty feet square. The roof was supported on wooden pillars, once painted, but now dim with dirt. The entire floor was covered with lines of narrow mattress like cushions, dirty and torn, on which the monks sit. All round the walls were rough wooden shelves full of Buddist books – long strips of paper, wrapped in silk and tied between two wooden boards. We were accompanied by three or four lamas, and a novice walking backwards before us, bearing a dimly flaming oil lamp of the same pattern as the old Greek ones, We passed clockwise round this hall. (One must always go from left to right in a Buddist building) and came to the central chapel opposite the door by which we had entered. It seemed at first a thick darkness, faintly shown up by the dim oil lamp. As our eyes grew used to it, we saw a great seated Buddha, his gilded face and long meditative eyes gazing down at us. On his head and behind him were great golden ornaments, rich with jewels. One long slim gilded hand was touching the earth and the other curved round before him, in the favourite attitude of the hill Buddists, that is the one in which he called earth to witness that he had found the truth. A priest was draping white silk ceremonial scarves on his arms and shoulders and before him huge brass receptacles full of ghee had tiny wicks floating and burning in them. A row of brass or golden bowls, I could not tell which, were ranged immediately beneath his feet. Round about him were some smaller images of Tibetan gods and saints. The light from a small aperture high up, illuminated him dimly. Taking ones eyes off him, one realized, what one had not at first perceived, that round the walls were ranged great dim standing figures, fifteen feet high or more, holding out their hands in different attitudes of devotion. It was only by staring at the darkness intently that one could see them. From the dim background one would see a huge face, just faintly catching the feeble light, or a shoulder, or a pair of supplicating hands and then one would catch sight of another and another, where one had thought there was emptiness. We asked who these great being were and were told they were representations of what men would be like at the time of the coming of the new Buddha. Never in my life have I been in such a mysterious place. The fact that these figures had been left the natural grey of the clay from which they had been moulded, in contrast to the gilded and bejewelled Buddha, was enormously effective. In spite of the mystery of the place, there did not seem anything evil or sinister in it, as there so often is in a Hindu temple. From this central chapel we moved back to the big hall and on one side of the door to the chapel with only his feet and nees appearing in this lower room, was a huge Buddha, seated in western fashion, which is the way the coming incarnation of Buddha is always represented. After this we went into several side chapels, all dark and dim, and containing Buddhas in varying attitudes, wearing masses of gold and newels with Ghee lamps, holy water and attendent saints around them, or figures of Chierenze, the Tibetan God of good luck, many handed and many headed, or again Goru Rimpoche, who introduced Buddhism to Tibet. Having gone the round of the lower chapels we climbed the steep steep stairway in the entrance hall and passing the kitchens, came out on to the roof, round the four sides of which ran cloisters carried on kight wooden pillars. The walls inside these cloisters were brilliantly and intricately painted with the life of Buddha and at intervals large oval paintings of him in different attitudes. It was an unspeakable relief to be out in the air and sunshine again and momentarily free from the nauseating smell of burning ghee. We spent a little while looking at the pictures, which our guide was quite unable to explain to us. The lama in charge of us then signed to know whether we would like to go into a certain door, and upon our assenting, he produced from the folds of his clothing the most amazing great bunch of keys not like any western key in creation, and fitted one of them to an equally extraordinary padlock. The door open, we found ourselves face to face with the great coming Buddha, whose nether limbs we had seen in the Library hall below. Entering another room we found a seated Buddha, surrounded by clay figures of remarkably good execution, of the great Buddhist teachers. In some ways they were the most impressive things we had seen. Fine faces a lot of them had and singularly un-mongolian in type. Here we were once more back in the sickening smell of ghee. We were invited to go into another room and I pulled myself together and followed Adele. It was occupied by a strange large gilded circular thing rather like a model of the Albert Hall in golden filigree work, representing, we were told, the Celestial Mansions. I felt if I stayed in the smell of Ghee much longer I should be definitely sick, so I hurried out to find that Fenwick had lingered outside and was feeling much as I was. The lama asked if we would like to see more, but we exchanged an understanding look and said we thought that we had seen enough. The descent of the staircase was rather a precarious business, but accomplished without mishap, and after distributing some baksheesh we were once more in the open air.
The dirt and dust inside the monastery was indescribable. I dont know how many hundreds of years old it is, but I should not think it has every been swept or dusted. Thick films of dust lay over everything and the black greasy smoke from the butter lamps added its share to the general grime.
We strolled home again by the same road, and found the market all closing at mid-day and packing up its booths. Finding that our clerkly guide had been so singularly unable to give us any information about the monastery, Fenwick asked him whether he was a Buddhist. “Yes, Sir” he said “I am a professing Buddhist, but not practical,” by which presumably he meant that he did not bother much about religion, as indeed proved to be the case, when questioned further he said he had been born and educated in Darjeeling, and did not trouble much about monasteries or lamas.
After lunch at home, I did a little washing of socks and stockings for the party and then had an hour’s doze on my bed. After a cup of tea we strolled along to the fort and picking up Capt. Blood and Mr. McLeod, we visited the British Post Office in the Fort and then met Mr. Martin – a great character who has been in Tibet since the Younghusband Expedition in 1904. He took us into his rooms and showed us a large collection of Tibetan paintings, two of which I bought. The two men strolled back to the bungalow with us – and going home to change, returned later to dinner, after which we sat talking a playing bridge till mid-night.
Adele and Fenwick went off at 7 o’clock to stalk gazelle with Mr. McLeod. I spent a long peaceful morning writing, out in the little garden under the shade of the stunted willow trees. Mr. Fawcus wandered off to look for butterflies and birds and came back to lunch. Capt. Blood lunched with us – and afterwards took us into the “city” to find the Tibetan post-office. We wandered through two or three dirty courtyards until we found an old Tibetan lady who seemed to know something about it. After a good deal of talk on the doorstep of the house she went into the living room and produced a small tin box from the painted cupboard under the family shrine. Sitting down on the doorstep, she opened it and disclosed a lot of roughly printed green stamps, amongst a varied collection of rubbish. I think she was quite put out because I wanted so many sheets of stamps and did great calculations with the Tibetan chaprassi who accompanied us to turn the Tibetan “tronka” value into rupees. After this we visited the summer residence of the Kanchen – the head Tibetan official of the place who was away on a journey. We entered through a large courtyard, with open sheds all round for horses and other beasts. The house itself was built on three sides of an inner courtyard, with very gaily carved and painted doors and windows. A door in front took us into the “garden”, a walled-in stretch of ground, planted with rows of willows and poplars, with grass walks between. It was rather pleasant and cool looking, on this sunny August afternoon, but I should imagine that shaded grassy alleys are not much needed in Tibet through most of the year.
One large room in the Kenchan’s house had once been a school with an English master, who worked hard there for three years. The little empty desks still stand in forlorn rows, facing a derelict black-board. Age-long custom has prevailed against progress – and the youth of Gyantze must once again resort to the monasteries for any smattering of education, for the school has been shut. As we neared home we went into a biggish house to see a woman making carpets. She was seated outside the house, cross legged, in front of a loom. Her fingers worked with great speed, knotting in the coloured wool. The pattern she seemed to know by heart. Still nearer to the dak bungalow we visited what must surely be one of the most primitive paper factories in the world. Alongside a low stone house; some pits had been dug and filled with water, and in these some unpleasant looking pulp was soaking. On a stretch of bare earth alongside lumps of the same greyish white looking pulp were lying, while further on were stacked numbers of wooden frames. No work was in progress, but some men who were standing about explained the simple process of reducing the pulp to the right consistency and then spreading it on the frames to dry in the sun. No amount of questioning could elicit any information about the ingredients from which the pulp was made. The paper produced is of rather a wooly texture like that which one so often gets from China or Japan.
We had tea at the bungalow and then strolled out and sat on the bridge over the river, watching for the hunters to return. It grew too cold at last and we had to move indoors, though we had enjoyed watching the lovely tricks played by the light of the setting sun on the circle of hills round us and hearing from Capt. Blood, something of the manners and customs of the people. The other party got back about seven o’clock having seen and stalked gazelle, and thoroughly enjoyed their day. It was Saturday night, on which the officers always have the N.C.O’s to dine, so they had to hurry off, and we spent the evening looking at three books of photos, sent over to us by Mr. Martin, which were really amazingly interesting.
25.6.29. (should have been ‘8’ not ‘6’) Sunday
Once more Adele, Fenwick and Mr. McLeod went out, this time to see the mountain sheep, called the Burrhel. Capt. Blood called for Mr. Fawcus and myself about 10-30, bringing ponies for us. We rode out about five miles to a place called Gobshi where there is a carpet factory which makes rugs for Lhasa. Our road lay for some distance on the western bank of the river – nearing the mountains at the northern end of the plain. We passed under the foot of the monastery which we had seen in the distance clinging to the hillside and rode through a delightful wood of willow and buckthorn. It is the only wood in the whole countryside. The ground was covered with plants, whose leaves looked like daffodils. In reality they were white iris, and must be a marvellous sight when in bloom. Here we left syces and ponies and walked a few hundred yards to the factory. Before reaching the factory, we passed another smaller monastery, with an elaborately carved front. The factory was a ramshackle house, built on four sides of a courtyard. We climbed a ladder like stair on to a verandah, where women were sitting spinning wool. Another ladder staircase took us on to a higher verandah, where men, women and children of all ages were sitting in front of looms, working at carpets. Each seemed to know the pattern by heart and knot in the coloured wools without the slightest hesitation. The workers were dirty beyond words, but most cheerful. The rugs are small and mostly on the crude side as to colour. They are used by the Tibetans as coverings for the low divans on which they sit or sleep – for spreading over chairs and for saddle cloths. We asked if there were any finished ones in stock. The man who was taking us round and appeared to be some sort of overseer, replied that they had just sent a big consignment off to Lhasa, but would show us what they had. He called up an old woman. Her wrinkled face was full of character. Thoughts of the nurse in “Romeo & Juliet” floated into my mind. It seemed that this old lady might be possessed of the same shrewd humour and warm humanity. From the folds of her clothing she produced an immense bunch of keys, and fitted one to a heavy iron padlock on a door in front of us. From the dark interior some finished rugs were produced. I bought a couple of rather pretty ones for Rs. 7/- each on Adele’s behalf. While we were looking at the rugs an amusing little drama was in progress. We paused for a moment to watch the women spinning and a particularly pretty girl, with brilliant golden brown eyes, made good use of them to dart mischievous glances at Capt. Blood; who grinned genially and passed on to look at the carpets. While the bargaining was in progress I glanced round, to find that she had left her work and was standing next to Mr. Fawcus, casting most ravishing glances at him. Seeing me looking at her, she was not in the least embarrassed, but smiled and winked at me as much as to say “It’s great fun, but I’m not having much success.”
The courtyard was picturesque, with its carved and painted balconies and woodwork, but the dirt everywhere was extreme. We strolled back to the wood where the Syces had lighted a fire and were boiling a kettle to make us tea. Lunch in the shade of the willows and lazy talk afterwards were very pleasant. The Syces brought some “chang”, the native barley beer in a long necked earthenware pot. It is a pleasant thirst quenching drink. Four little lama novices, with large strips of rather grubby parchment in their hands, who had evidently been into the wood to learn their lessons, were very interested in us. They stood in a row and stared solemnly. I gave them each a ginger bread nut, whereat they went off and joined the syces, to enquire, I expect, how to eat this strange for of food.
We rode back in a most leisurely fashion, by a different route and reached home in time for tea. The hunting party were not back, nor did they return till 9-30. They had seen several burrhel, but only got near them after stalking them for some time at an altitude of 16,500 ft. Though a bit tired they had enjoyed their day immensely. Adele brought back a few plants of the famous Tibetan blue poppy and some Apollo butterflies caught at over 16,000 ft.
Our last day in Gyantze. The early part of the morning we spent in writing letters and washing clothes. Later we went along to play scratch polo with the Garrison. The two officers, the N.C.O., one or two of the B.T.A’s staff and some of the Sepoys play. Adele and I galloped about, but speaking for myself, I did not hit the ball in the soft sand of the ground, very often. We got very puffed in the first chukka, but afterwards seemed to get on second wind. We can at any rate now say we have played polo on the highest polo ground in the world. We were late back to lunch and we are now finishing our mail letters and start on our return journey to-morrow morning.
The four days here, have been happy ones. We have seen Gyantze at its best. The plain is green with standing crops. The days are a glory of brilliant sunshine and the nights not too cold to be unpleasant. From the people living here, we gather that the summer is all too short, and that winter, with ice and snow and freezing winds, makes life a hard business.
I broke off yesterday afternoon, as we had to close our letters and take them to the post, which leaves Gyantze twice a week by runner or mule. The post-masters along the trade route are most helpful and obliging. They not only do their own job, but helped us by telephoning up and down the line, sending warnings ahead of us for transport and for food and milk. They are mostly Darjeeling educated Gurkhas. We not only had to post our letters, but draw Rs.500/- which we had to take, all in silver rupees, so Fenwick and I sat down on the post office floor with the post master and counted the money. We then had to settle up for bread and various things with the warrant officer in charge of supplies and to thank the B.T.Agent’s head clerk, Mr. Martin for a splendid present of vegetables from his garden. All these jobs accomplished, we went to Mr. McLeod’s rooms where we spent a cosy and merry evening, talking, drinking, looking at photos and at his collection of Tonkas or Tibetan paintings. We were all very regretful that it was our last evening and most grateful to Capt. Blood and Mr. McLeod for doing so much for us.
The business of getting up early and packing seemed quite novel after four days halt. We were surprised to see grey skies and find a light drizzle falling when we woke, as Gyantze only has a rainfall of about 8 inches in the year. Our transport was a bit late arriving and did not get away till 8-30 or past. Capt. Blood kindly lent us ponies to take us our first 14 mile stage, and he and Mr. McLeod rode out the first four miles with us. The rain continued fairly steadily for about half our journey to Saugong, but, as our fresh dak of ponies had not arrived, we made ourselves cups of Oxo while we waited for them. when they did come they were the most wretched little rats of things. We decided to walk for a bit and did so for several miles. We stopped for lunch in the Red Idol Gorge. As we consumed our cold mutton chops and bread and cheese, we watched with interest, a convoy of donkeys carrying enormous earthenware pots, being shepherded through the rocks which strew the valley, by a couple of men. It seemed a miracle that the great earthen chatties which stuck out several feet on each side of the meagre ribs of the little donkeys, were not smashed to atoms against the great rocks through which the narrow path found its way. One could only suppose that the donkeys knew their job. The two men in charge of them, now and then exhibited some excitement, but not very often. We passed and repassed this donkey train several times during the next day and a half – and only saw one broken chatty in all that time.
During the afternoon we came upon a cheerful crowd of young men, who were amusing themselves by lifting a heavy rock and seeing who could hurl it furthest backwards off his shoulder. We stopped to take photos and they posed most willingly and even did tumbling tricks for us. Some of them were handsome creatures and all full of fun. We threw them some packets of cheap cigarettes and small copper coins, for which they scrambled and wrestled like a lot of small boys. Barring this incident, the journey was pleasant but uneventful, winding along the deep valley amongst the rocky hills. We walked about the last six miles of our 29 mile days trek in preference to riding the half starved little tats which had been provided for us. As we neared Khangmar, we kept a look out for hot sulphur springs, and found several, which, though not exactly hot, were certainly tepid and had every appearance of containing sulphur. All day we had passed a good many wayfarers. It is one of the charms of the trade route – the highway through a wild and in parts desolate country, that one constantly meets travellers of all sorts, most of whom like to stop and exchange news and greetings.
We made a very early start from Khangmar as, owing to the fact that the Kanchen, the chief man of Gyantze was on tour, we could only get donkeys to carry our luggage and they are not as fast as mules. It was a beautiful morning snd seemed warm in the bungalow, but we had not been travelling long before the wind sprang up and it grew rather colder than we bargained for. We reached our half-way house, Samada, just as our transport was changing and opened our hold-alls to get out some extra warm jerseys. Cups of hot Oxo with our cold lunch were comforting and we went our way feeling greatly refreshed.
Between Khangmar and Samada, the river is bordered with cultivation. Green fields of peas and barley and golden fields of mustard, with their fringes of deep blue forget-me-nots, and larkspur, fill the floor of the valley. The hills are very bare, though here and there a sweep of deep blue aconite on the shaley slopes, catches the eye.
At intervals all along these valleys, one comes upon partly ruined walls, spanning the valley and climbing the hills on either side. On our journey up we had puzzled as to what purpose they could have served. In Gyantze we learnt that they were relics of the Tibetans retreat before Younghusband. It seems that the Tibetans would build these walls with incredible swiftness during the night, and evacuate them in the morning, when the British troops advanced. At certain places there were battles of a sort, as, for instance in Red Idol Gorge.
The journey from Khanagmar to Kala is, on the whole, the dullest of the lot. The first three quarters of it is down a rocky valley, which beyond Samada is full of deserted villages. The latter part is across the Menza Plain, the first bit of which is attractive, but the last six miles is dry whitish mud, with the sparsest vegetation and not much to see.
“The Valley of Ruins,” as I call the valley after Samada to myself, was redeemed on this afternoon by the beautiful play of light on the hills and by splendid views of snow mountains in the distance. We were also interested to see quantities of small fish in the little river. The Trum Bayung Chu, which rapidly gathers volume, and flowing northwards, becomes the Nyang Chu, passes Gyantze and eventually joins the Tsangpo, as the Brahmaputra is called in the Highlands of Tibet.
We left the road and rode along its bank for some way in order to watch the fish. As the valley gradually opened out into the Menza Plain, Fenwick and I scanned the landscape, eagerly to see if there were any gazelle. Very soon we saw a couple grazing and rode slowly towards them. They scampered off before we got near, but stopped after going a couple of hundred yards and turned to look at us again. Their jet black faces as they look towards one, and their snow white tails as they run away, are in strange contrast. When they are side on, they disappear into the background of brown plain and hill, and are most difficult to see. One wonders why nature has marked them with the black mask and white tail and so made them comparatively easy to see. Stopping to watch these two, we saw a number some way off at the foot of the opposite hills. We made our way towards them and got much nearer than to the first two, owing to the fact that a slight rise in the ground his us from them till we were quite close. As we came into view they got a little alarmed, but did not move off at once, or seem in a great hurry. Two went off first and we counted nine more. Had we had a rifle we could easily have got a shot at them. We rode along the foot of the hills, and saw another party of eleven in a grassy Nullah. They were in no great hurry to move off either. We wondered why Adele and Mr. Fawcus were so far behind because we must have spent the best part of an hour following the gazelle. Looking back now we saw them walking and leading their ponies. We were just on the spur of hill, which cuts the Menza Plain more or less in two, dividing the narrow pleasant grassy part, from the wide barren desolate stretch. We waited there and when the other two came up they explained that Adele’s pony had gone so lame, she could not ride it and Mr. Fawcus’ was a bit lame too. Fenwick and I insisted that they should get on to our and we would take a turn at walking. By this time there was a bitter wind blowing and it was past four o’clock. They rode a short way and then said they would rather walk again and keep warmer. Mr. Fawcus looked a bit tired – so eventually I persuaded him to take the best of the horses, a strong obstinate grey stallion and make him gallop to Kala, which, after a lot of beating, he did. The other three of us swung along very happily through the cold wind, the only drawback being, that the distant village which we had been able to see from the shoulder of the hill, never seemed to get any nearer. However, we really were covering the ground at a fair pace and eventually did approach it. The light was fading. A big stretch of crops, just turning golden lay between us and the Kala Lake, with deep indigo blue hills beyond. Whistler might have dashed it down on canvas as a “symphony in blue and gold” to match his “symphony in blue and silver.” The wind was so strong, we could almost lean against it, and we were glad of every ounce of warm clothing. The road was now running between the hills on the left with a straggling village at their foot and fields of crops, enclosed by low stone walls on the right. Two of the ponies which had been walking in a docile fashion in front of us, now showed the strongest inclination to turn off into the crops, Every time we tried to catch them they bolted on ahead and we did not feel like running after them, as one has so little spare breath at an altitude of 14,600 ft. All Fenwick could do, was to keep on throwing stones on the right of the ponies and frightening them back on to the track, which he did with great skill till we were almost at the bungalow, when they made a determined dash and got through into the fields. Being so near home we did not mind and simply sent the people responsible for them to catch them. We were more than ready for tea, bread and butter and black current jam, and sat over it till nearly 7 o’clock.
We were up early again and got our transport away by 7 o’clock and ourselves by a quarter to eight. The first part of the journey, about three miles or so was along a stony valley, with one or two dirty but picturesque villages, from which old women and children ran out to beg. At the end of the valley we came out on to the shores of the Bam Lake along which we travelled for about nine miles. There were still a lot of Brahmani duck there, so tame that they would let one come up to within a few yards of them. From what I have read, it seems that these ducks are plentiful on all the great Lakes of Tibet, and the people look upon them as the emblem of devotion and fidelity. The Abbots of the established church of the Lamas take their title of Gelung-pa from the Brahmani or “ruddy Sheldrake” as these ducks are more properly called – and possibly russet robes of the Lamas have some connection with the ruddy plumage of the birds. The bar-headed geese were almost as tame and so were the red shanks, but the grebe were shy and kept well out on the water. There were quantities of Pallas’ fish eagles about, huge handsome cruel looking birds. The road was fairly smooth. Roads in Tibet are nothing but tracks made by the feet of men and animals. We ambled along on our tiny ponies and reached Dochen bungalow at 11 o’clock, too early for lunch. There was a little difficulty about the transport and we spent nearly half an hour there before pushing on across the plain. We picniced at the foot of some huge rocks about four miles further on. It was a glorious day. The Bam Lake was deep blue and the great barrier of snow mountains beyond it though partly veiled in cloud looked grand. Chumalhari was only showing her skirts, her head being quite hidden in cloud. It was a beautiful spot where we lunched, a little up the foot of the hills and looking back across the lake. At intervals two solitary mounted travellers passed, singing loudly to themselves as they went along – their voices drifting back to us from far away, as they faded into little specks in the distance.
The Goru Spring, where the British had their first battle, with the Tibetans in 1904, was only a few hundred yards beyond us. Lying there with the great empty plain below us and the intense solitude all round, my thoughts drifted back to that battle. In Gyantze I had dipped into one or two books, which gave accounts of the Younghusband Expedition and this strange action at the Hot Springs, which surely must have been one of the oddest in military history. The tale of it makes strange reading. Of how the British having waited patiently at Phari and Tuna through the rigours of a Tibetan winter, endeavouring to get some responsible person to treat with them, finally gave an ultimatum that they would advance towards Gyantze in a few days if envoys from Lhasa were not forthcoming. Of how the interval was spent by the Tibetans in strengthening the wall and camp they had thrown across the road at Goru and in reading sort of commination services cursing the British Expedition. Of how the British, in no way the worse for the curses, did advance upon them, sending some of the Gurkha troops along the top of the hills to outflank them on the left and other troops out on the Plain to outflank them on the right. Of how seeing themselves surrounded, the Tibetans fled from their outposts to the centre camp and our troops advanced to within a few feet of the wall without firing a shot. Of how the Tibetans were told, if they laid down their arms, they would be allowed to go off unmolested, and how some hot-headed Tibetan fired a shot, which was the signal for them to start hand to hand fighting, with the result that our troops and guns were forced to start firing into the closely packed mob of Tibetans, causing tremendous slaughter and a complete rout.
One wonders what the simple Tibetans thought about it all. Impressed peasants, they probably were, undisciplined uneducated and only fighting under pressure from the Lamas. No doubt they believed that the might of their priests and their church was quite invincible, - and it must have been a stunning shock to them to find that all these things were of no account against disciplined troops and modern guns. It was the first of many lessons they had to receive before Lhasa would come to terms.
It was a temptation to linger, but the cold wind was blowing pretty hard and we knew it would get worse and worse as the afternoon wore on, so we pulled ourselves together and packed up the remains of our lunch. Walking back to our ponies we found a few plants of what we believe to be the famous blue Tibetan poppy. We dug a couple up, with some difficulty and are going to take them to Darjeeling for identification. It is a prickly – or perhaps one should say bristly little plant, but its flowers are of a marvellous blue, just as if bits of the summer sky had come to earth. From the spot where we lunched the road very soon leaves the foot of the hills and runs straight across the plain. We again saw two parties of gazelle, but they were much shyer than those on the Menza Plain and would not let us get near them. The wind was so strong that we put our topies and terais into a cotton bag, which I tied to my saddle. Adele had a beret and so had I but I lent mine to Fenwick who had lost his soft hat and tied a scarf round my head, turban fashion. We had made quite good time on this day’s march of 20 miles and were in Tuna bungalow by3.30. Adele and I went for a stroll after tea. A good deal of Chumalhari was showing but not all. We went back to the bungalow, bathed and changed and then found that the whole mountain was standing clear and pure against the deep blue of the fast darkening evening sky.
The night at Tuna was, perhaps, the coldest we had spent. The bungalow is right opposite the snows of Chumalhari and the wind whistles round it. Tight shut windows and woolen curtains drawn across them seemed the best way to sleep. When I woke at my usual hour of 5 o’clock, I was sorry to see Chumalhari wrapped in grey mist. I pulled on a few warm wraps and went out into the courtyard to tell the servants to bring us tea and hot water quickly, as we were anxious to make an early start and get across the plain and over the Tang La Pass before the wind got too strong. We were a little disappointed to find that we could only get dzos to carry our belongings the nineteen miles to Phari. We got them off early and left ourselves about 8.15 – well wrapped up. I was allotted a young pony to ride which we judged to be not more than eighteen months old. Its head-stall and reins were made of odd bits of Yak hair rope, string and leather thongs. Its bit was a small piece of string. It was with some difficulty that I got it to leave the bungalow door and only Ifear by dint of a few good cuts with the whip. It went alright for a few moments, and then rushed violently up against one of the other ponies, sticking its head over the other creatures back. In my efforts to control it, one of the reins came unknotted and the bit fell out of its mouth. Mr. Fawcus kindly jumped off his pony and tied the bit up for me. The pony went through these same antics whenever I allowed it to get behind any of the other horses, and as the girths were quite loose on it, and I was riding entirely by balance my position was precarious. We cantered steadily across the plain for some way – seeing several parties of kyang (wild asses). Presently we came up behind our transport. My young steed was delighted and rushed at them with joy. I tugged its head round and it proceeded to dance round in circles. Severe beating had to be resorted to to restore any sort of order – and eventually I got it past the dzos and caught up the others. Here it rushed delightedly at Mr. Fawcus pony and butted him in the back. I whacked it on the side of the neck – and it barged off into Fenwick, and the effort of trying to keep it straight the other rein came untied. So I fastened it on to a loop on the headstall and so rode the rest of the way. It settled down after this and behaved not too badly carrying me the nineteen miles most pluckily. The antics gave the rest of the party great amusement – and at one period Adele and I became so weak with laughter that I almost fell off. Soon after my mount had settled down and we were cantering along at a fair pace for such small ponies, Fenwick’s saddle swung round and he was deposited on the ground – thus making an even score in falls with me. His saddle once more adjusted, we realized that the wind was getting stronger and stronger and colder and colder. We soon came to the Tibetan rest house, half way to Phari and there Adele and I stopped to tie silk handkerchiefs over our faces and put on our goggles, (the first time I had worn mine). Fenwick had been wearing a silk handkerchiefs over his face all morning, as he was badly sun burnt. Mr. Fawcus braved the elements with unprotected face. The scarves and goggles were a tremendous boon and plus the many layers of woolen clothing and warm gloves I was wearing, kept me quite comfortable in spite of the tearing biting wind. Beyond the Tibetan rest house one begins the gradual ascent of the Tang La Pass – 15,300 ft. It is only a rise of a few hundred feet from the Tangpunsum Plain on the Tuna side up to this – “pass” – which is really so wide that it scarcely suggests its name. From the top one drops gradually, a thousand feet, winding amongst down like hills, covered with grazing yaks, to the Phari Plain. Great heavy rain clouds were rolling over the mountains and a light mist was falling as we went over the Pass. When we got a little down the other side we stopped in a sheltered nook of the hills and regaled ourselves with chocolate and ginger nuts. The grass round us was spangled with gentians of two or three types – all blues of the most brilliant. From the moment we got over the pass – which is the dividing watershed of the rivers which flow down through the Himalayas to the Plains, and those which flow north and join the Brahmaputra in Central Tibet – the wind abated and was considerably less cold. For a time it was fine and we wound down gradually amongst the “blunt, bow headed, whale-backed downs”, but ere long we rode into the rain. Luckily we all had adequate mackintoshes, and did not mind very much. Phari Dzong came in sight before we left the hills, but we remembered the advice of a man we had met on the way up, who said “remember from whichever side you first see Phari, you are still 6 miles away.” Thus we were not disappointed to find that we still had a longish ride in the rain, over the flat plain to the “fourth town of Tibet,” which consists of the queer old fort, with a huddle of houses round its fort, and one or two larger ones and the dak bungalow on the outskirts – the whole not larger than an ordinary English village. We got in by 1.15 – and I immediately dived into the kitchen and calling for sauce pans and yak’s butter, contrived something in the way of a hot lunch. We did good justice to our lunch and then gathering round the fire, removed our wet shoes and stockings and toasted our toes, while we dried the stockings. Before 3 o’clock the sun was shining brilliantly again – so we removed ourselves on to the verandah and read the budget of letters and papers. About 4 o’clock Fenwick’s orderly and the transport arrived – all beautifully dry under the mackintosh sheets. Adele and I quickly pulled out dry shoes, and set off to explore Phari – having been told on no account to do so, as it is the filthiest town in Asia. Not having bathed, we thought we would face the filth, rather than not get some impression of this queer little town. The striking feature is the Dzong – a solid stone fort, built on a rocky outcrop – and commanding the plain in every direction. The “city” below it, looks almost as if it had grown rather than been built. The main building material is peat like turves or sods. The houses are built half underground, for warmth’s sake in the winter, one is told. The roofs are flat and nettles and other odd plants flourish round their edges. At every angle of the roof, bunches of sticks 3 or 4 feet high, bear prayers – odd scraps of rag and wool. Nearly every roof has its watch dog – a large and fierce black Tibetan mastiff, chained to the wall – and as one passes by beneath, he rushes up and down to the full length of his massive chain, in an ecstasy of fury. Wooden window frames and door-ways, are stuck into the turf walls at the oddest and most drunken angles. Tiny ally-ways – mere drains full of filth, lead in and out amongst the huddle of houses and courts, which seem to lean together for greater protection from the cold winds. Through door-ways, one sees a tiny courtyard, several feet below the road-way with three or four yaks and perhaps a mule or two standing up to their fetlocks in black greasy mud. A party of bright eyed rosy cheeked incredibly dirty children, will pop out to see the strangers going by – all looking the picture of sturdy health. Talk of the town being insanitary, mere words are inadequate to describe it! It appears that no one has ever thought of removing filth of any description from the streets or houses. Why the people dont all die is a mystery. But far from that – they look exceedingly healthy and happy. Adele and I made an attempt to enter this place at a point just opposite the dak bungalow, but were soon brought up short by the fact that the road tailed off into a six feet wide ditch full of slush. We turned back to find a better way and were met by the telegraph operator from the post office, who told us in Hindustani that he had been sent by the “Captain Sahib” to see that the ladies did not go into the dirty bazaar. He guided us by a comparatively reasonable road – if one picked ones way from cobble stone to cobble stone, through one side of the town – past a large turf building, on the roof of which two lamas were blowing trumpets about 6 ft. long and producing mournful noises, rather like huge bull frogs. It was a “Gompa” to which the telegraphist told us, the old women went to say their prayers. Our road climbed a little on to the foot of the rock on which the Dzong is built. At one moment we found that we were actually walking over the roof of somebody’s house – but it was scarcely distinguishable from the road. Quite a party of people were accompanying us amongst them a pretty well dressed girl, evidently with her little maid. The telegraphist said her father was a well-to-do merchant, who lived in one of the few considerable houses on the outskirts of the town. He thought she spoke Hindustani. So I tried to draw her into talk, but she was very shy, hugged her maid tight and turned her face away. We did prevail upon her to look in the view finder of a camera. Our road took us past a small monastery built on a shoulder of the same rock as the Dzong. A miniature verandah, contained a row of prayer wheels, running, as far as we could see, right round the building. The big monastery of Phari lies about half a mile away on a little hill of its own, near the foot of the mountains. From our vantage point, we looked over the flat untidy roofs of the town, beyond the big wool merchants houses, the dak bungalow and a collection of tents to this “Gompa” – but alas the snows of Chumalhari, which should have shown up behind it, were veiled in cloud. Descending once more we completed one circuit of the town – picking our way along the reeking streets. As we came out into the open again, we thought we would go across and have a look at the encampment. We saw Fenwick also coming back from the town, so waited for him to join us and all went across to the tents together. Outside one of them some sort of gambling party was in progress. Three men and two women were seated on folding chairs, round a table – which was covered with little piles of cowries, small copper coins and odd nickel coins with holes through the middle. With his back to the tent sat a tall distinguished looking man evidently one having authority. He was dressed in a bright canary yellow brocade robe, over a white silk one, all a little grubby. Behind him at the mouth of the tent, stood two servants. Next him, on his right, was a middle aged woman well dressed, in brocade gown and striped woven apron, with a lot of jewellery and the head dress which I have described earlier. Opposite to him was a pretty young woman, very smartly dressed and wearing a head dress of a different shape, such as I have seen some of the ladies in Darjeeling wearing. It is a heavy triangular frame work, covered with scarlet and copiously embroidered with seed pearls, coral and turquoise. It is worn slightly on the back of the head, with one point to the front. The hair is parted and taken to the two side points, where it is knotted in some fashion and allowed to hang in big tassels each side. Her hair was beautifully brushed and her clothes spotlessly clean. The other two men of the party appeared to be of much lesser consequence. Their clothes were dirty and their hair unkempt. We guessed that the man in yellow was acting for the Yongpen or Governor of the Fort, whom we had heard was away, and supposed the two women to be his wife and daughter. As we approached, they all rose. We salaamed and Fenwick spoke to them in “paharia” asking whether we might sit and watch their game for a few minutes. The young girl was the only one who could understand him – but they all guessed what we wanted, and chairs were brought and placed for us. Fenwick then asked if they would go on with the game. It consisted of shaking two dice in a wooden bowl and then banging it down on the table – the shaking being accompanied by a “shushing” noise and the bangdown by a loud “Tshu.” We could not follow the play at all. The women did not throw, but moved coins and cowries about. At intervals the servants would hand a little orange coloured wooden bowl of “chang” to their master, and when he had drained it, it would be refilled in turn for each member of the party.
From where I was sitting I had a good view of the interior of the tent. On either side were low divans covered with carpets. Across the top was a higher divan and in the centre a collection of the small carved and painted Tibetan tea tables with two or three Tibetan tea pots standing about on them and some Tibetan tea cups, small bowls on little brass stands, with brass covers. Two tea cups, I saw, were of jade with silver stands. After watching for a while we rose – made our salaams and returned to the dak bungalow for a late tea.
At Phari it was brought home to us something of what the yak means to the Tibetan. We cooked our lunch on a yak-dung fire, and used yak milk and yak butter. We had excellent yak-beef for dinner. The chowkidar dusted the crumbs off the table with a brush made of a yak’s tail. Most of our ponies and mules harness was made of yak-hair rope. The curtains over the doors and windows were woven of yak’s wool – and the animal that produces all these things, appears to be able to live on the scantiest pasturage and endure extremes of cold, which few other creatures could.
A mist morning and no shadow of Chumalhari showing. We got away about 8 o’clock. From here on we dropped down to two riding mules between the four of us and all our baggage was carried on mules. We had only a 16 ½ mile march – the first 8 miles across the flat plain and then down a valley between down like hills, which gradually developed into the magnificent Gorge, in which Gantza lies. The colours of the Phari Plain are undoubtedly, at this season of the year, yellow and blue. Round the town are fields of yellow mustard and growing wild are sheets of purple blue aconite, deep cobalt blue, forget-me-not and blue gentians. About 4 miles out, where the Plain begins to narrow, Fenwick made across to the foot of the hills on our left, as he wanted to see if there was anything in the way of wild animals. He joined us later having seen a big wolf and several large marmots. We had one shower of rain which necessitated rain coats, for about half an hour, just before lunch-time, but it was not heavy enough to bother us. We stopped and took some photos at Dote the posting station for the dak runners half way between Phari and Gantza. Rough stone huts formed two sides of a square, the angle between them being filled with rough cobbles and black mud. One or two mulateers, were taking rest and refreshment there. Down the hillside on the opposite side of the river, poured the Dote-fall, which is not impressive at this time of year, but is said to be a marvellous sight when it is frozen in winter. The waiting dak runner was talkative and gave us a lot of information. He said that earlier that morning there had been a several burrhel on the stony hill-side opposite, and that they were nearly always to be seen there in the early morning. The road which is pretty good across the plain and in the upper down-like reaches of the valley, becomes a series of boulders, as one drops into the altitude of bushes and the valley becomes a rocky gorge. The path comes down the river level – and the tremendous noise of the water makes talk difficult. After living at somewhere about 14000 ft. for a fortnight, we felt we were coming quite low, dropping to 12,300 at Gantza. From the land of thorny bushes, we came into the rhododendron belt and so to fir trees, alders and willows, which crowded the narrow valley and where they could, climbed and clung to the faces of the steep rocky hills and cliffs, which closed us in. The blue gentians, purple lousewort and other alpine flowers of the upper grassy hills, gave place to more English varieties, till at Gantza itself the most obvious things were purple loose-strife and blue forget-me-nots. We none of us felt like riding down the steep rocky path – so put the orderly and the bearer on the mules and walked ourselves. Stepping from boulder to boulder for miles on end is amazingly good exercise – but we none of us felt the least tired when we got into the tiny two-roomed bungalow at Gantza – which is a snug little place, set in the most gorgeous scenery of cascading river, rock cliffs and waterfalls. It was a joy to be able to burn pine logs here ad lib where they are almost as plentiful as the rocks – after so many days on the high plains, where there are not trees to speak of and fuel is terribly precious.
We were up in very good time and left dear little Gantza a little before 8 o’clock. The road of boulders continues down the grand gorge. As we got a little lower the hillsides were covered with wild raspberries, currants and cherries and masses of rose bushes, heavy with enormously long scarlet hips and haws – About 10-30 we came to the Lingmatam Plain – that strange place where at some time a great landslide must have blocked the valley, which silted up and now looks like a series of English meadows, with the river winding quietly through them. On the road we passed two pilgrims, who were travelling, by the curious method of prostrating themselves on the ground, and on rising putting their feet on the spot to which they had reached with their hands – and again, prostrating themselves, and so by slow degrees making a snail’s progress along the road. In this way they are supposed to travel to Lhasa and back, either to gain merit and to expatiate some sin. They had taken four months to travel from Gyantze to this spot – a journey which had taken us five and a half days. Here we spent some time, sitting on an old bridge, studying our maps, eating chocolate, discussing how the plain could have been formed and snoozing in the sun. A shower was rather disturbing. We sheltered under an overhanging rock till the worst was over and then walked on a few miles before lunch. It cleared very soon and we lunched above the big and picturesque village of Galinka. Nothing of any great interest happened on the way to Yatung. As always on this trade route, one was constantly meeting people travelling up and down, all of whom were ready to exchange a smile and a word.
We arrived at Yatung a little before 4 o’clock doing the last part of the journey in rain. On this occasion we had the whole bungalow to ourselves and felt very luxurious with two good bed rooms, a sitting room and a verandah. After tea a letter came from Mrs. Rivet Carnac inviting us all to lunch to-morrow.
A beautiful morning, and we had our breakfast taken out on to the verandah into the sunshine. A family wash of handkerchiefs stockings etc. occupied me for a while after breakfast, interrupted by the arrival of three men whom we had met on the road the previous day, and who had promised to bring in some curious for us to see. They were a cheerful trio and produced some curious things from their bundles, ceremonial head-dresses, swords and so forth. Finally they unwrapped two long painted panels, done in the Chinese style but obviously under Tibetan influence. Attractive things they were, dim in colouring, coated, I fancy, with the black ghee smoke of the monasteries. Fenwick, Adele and I all rather wanted them. We asked the price and were inwardly delighted to hear that it was only Rs.12/- each. Fenwick asked if they had any more and they said they could bring another which they subsequently did, so we were able to have one each. After a little bargaining I also got a jolly Tibetan knife, a short straight dagger like thing, in a white metal case, attractively worked.
A little before 11 o’clock Adele and I set out, first to the post office, where we had a long chat with the little Gurkha post-master, who had done so much to help us on our journey up by telephoning for transport and meat. Afterwards we went on to the Residency where we were due to play tennis. Major Rivett Carnac and Dr. Neal – who was down from Gyantze, were the four. Mrs. Rivett Carnac came out later and mixed us excellent drinks. We played three setts on end, not finding ourselves half as breathless as I expected at that altitude. We then had a rest while the two men played with Major rivet Carnac’s two chief clerks – smartly dressed Tibetan gentlemen, who played quite well. One more sett brought us to lunch time. Fenwick came over, but poor Mr. Fawcus had not quite recovered from his chill so thought it better to stay at home and live on milk diet.
There were some lovely flowers, English roses, sweet peas, hollyhocks in the garden. The climate of the Chumbi Valley seems to be ideal for English plants.
On the way back we wandered into the bazaar and bought muslin to make butterfly nets. Letter writing till tea-time, when a Mr. Gondie of the Highland Light Infantry, who had been in Gyantze when we arrived and was now staying with the Rivett Carnacs, turned up with a lot of butterflies he had caught, to get Mr. Fawcus’ help in naming them. The rest of the party from the Residency came over after tea and most of the evening passed in talk.
We were determined to have an early start and waking at my usual hour of 5 o’clock, I woke the rest of the party at 5.15 and we were packed up and having our breakfast by 6.30 – Alas! The mules ordered for 6 o’clock did not turn up till about 7.30 – and then there was a good deal of talk and argument about the loads. However we finally got away about 8 o’clock – at least Adele and I and the servants did. We had arranged for riding mules for the whole party to a little village on the way up to the Jalap La Pass – as we had a seventeen mile march, and a stiff climb over the pass – and we thought it would be a good thing to ride the six or seven miles along the valley and start the climb fresh. My mule was a splendid “goer”, but not a good “stopper” and it took all my strength to pull him up, when he generally pointed his nose in the air and turned round in small circles. Fenwick was delayed, settling up with the chowkidar (caretaker) at the bungalow and Mr. Fawcus waited for him. We enjoyed our ride along the prosperous valley. When we came to the big village Rinchingunge into which we came down from the Natu La, we waited for the men, as we had to take a different road to the Jalap La and were not sure whether they would find it. Lots of people came out to see us, all very friendly, slaaming or putting out their tongues – performance to which we had become quite used during our stay in Tibet. A lot of women, mostly old were going in procession round and round a Mendong wall and a big Chorten – twirling prayer wheels as they went. The stopped and crowded round to see – and were highly delighted with packets of cheap cigarettes. A well dressed man spoke to me in Hindustani. From his clothes and the fact that he could speak Hindustani fluently, I guessed him to be a man of standing and some education. We had a long talk. He asked who we were and what work we did. WE discussed Tibet – particularly the upper regions – where cleanliness is so rare. My friend had travelled to Gyantze and Lhasa – and wanted to know why we had not gone on to Lhasa, so I said unfortunately, we could not get permission. The men arriving, we all moved on, Fenwick armed with a butterfly net having suddenly made up his mind to start a collection.
We passed through two or three villages, including Old Yatung, picturesque places, with the big wooden houses, adorned by carved and painted door and window frames, such as I have described earlier. The road began to rise out of the valley and became more and more lovely – till after climbing for a mile or so we reached the village, where we were to drop the servants mules and two of our mules, only taking on two riding mules between us. In practice, finding that the transport mules were already rather heavily laden, we fastened our two spare saddles on one of the riding mules, and hung him round with tiffin bags, mackintoshes and spare woolies. Adele and I took turns on the one available mule for a time, trying to get the men to do equal shifts with us, but they were proud and said they wanted to do the whole Pass on foot in the same way that we had all done the Natu. It was pretty hot walking even at that altitude. The road was steep and the going rough. In fact one would scarcely realize that it was a road in any country but Tibet. It seemed more like a dry river bed – no – river-bed gives the wrong impression. – I should say the partially dry bed of a rocky mountain torrent. Adele rode for the first hour. Fenwick and I varied the walk, with butterfly hunts, much to the amusement of the syce who was leading the spare saddle laden mule. The scenery was really superb. The path worked its way upwards beside a clear mountain torrent. Bushes, pine trees, willow and alder and flowers in abundance decked its banks. Huge rocks overhung the path, giving homes to delightful rock plants. On either side mountains towered up – clothed in “Christmas tree” pines. As we climbed higher and higher other trees, disappeared and nothing but pine and rhododendron remained. The “Christmas Tree” pines or firs (I never know which are which) also dropped out, and a type more like the Scotch fir had the world to itself. At a collection of three or four big wooden huts and a huge wooden shed, presumably meant for houseing mule trains – we found the other two waiting for us. We thought this place would be Langram, the old Chinese village – but an ancient man there told us that Langram was still two or three miles distant. I took a turn on the mule now. I was not tired, but glad of a chance to cool down a little as I was sopped with perspiration. We made our way across a place where some spate of water had torn its way down the hillside ripping away the road – such as it is and a bridge. Now the road, from being a steep hill, became a real climb and proceeded in a series of precipitous zig zags, between banks of rhododendron. After riding for a while, and failing to persuade either of the men to take a turn, I finally got off and Adele got on again. Looking back we had the most wonderful view of the mountains in Tibet, framed in the two pine covered slopes of the Valley we were in. By this time we had very little breath for talking – but it was quite cool. After toiling on for some way, we came round a corner and saw some wooden buildings ahead, which turned out to be Langram. On the right hand side of the road along wooden building, had a sort of high bench – really meant for coolies to rest their packs upon – running along the front. Upon this we sat ourselves down. Opposite were some huts and a tiny tea shop, with an old man and a jolly looking girl in it. I was very thirsty and asked if there were any water near. They immediately gave me some in an enamel mug – and very pleasant it was. Fenwick asked for tea – expecting the Tibetan tea with butter and lime in it. To his surprise they produced quite good tea in the European style only heavily sweetened. The other three all drank it, but I preferred to stick to my cold water. Having sat down we decided that we would eat our lunch there. Most of us were in a short sleeves – but once we sat down, we soon found that we needed coats – and before the end of lunch I was chilly even in a thick tweed coat. We were all hungry and had a cheery meal, chatting, meantime, to the inhabitants of the little hamlet, who all gathered to have a talk with us. The charge for several large mugs of tea was 4 ½ d. I kept on thinking how many travellers, coming from the Indian side, must have been thankful to reach the hospitable little village, some three miles from the summit of the pass, and at a guess, about 13000 ft. in altitude. Lunch over, I took a turn on the mule and rode for perhaps a mile, but the road became so tremendously steep, that I could not bear it, and got off. No one else would get on, and we all did the last couple of miles to the summit on foot. It was stiff going – very rough and steep. Talk dropped to nil and most of us had to stop for a breather every now and again. We could now see the cairn, with some fluttering prayer flags on the summit of the saddle of the Pass. The single line of telegraph wire was strung up the mountain side to it – accentuating, if anything, the loneliness of the place – yet even there, giving one a feeling of kinship, with the two or three Englishmen away up in Gyantze. Trees had been left behind and now there was nothing round us but rock, grass and rhododendron. Small alpine flowers still flourished in the short turf. Huge rocky crags towered up on either hand. The Pass looked deceptively close, but it was slow work getting there. Up and up a shoulder of the hill, we zig-zagged. At last the road flattened out a little and we were able to walk and breathe more freely. In a bay in the mountain side, lay a small dark mountain tarn – looking very cold and lonely. The path dipped a little past it to the last hundred feet or so of the ascent. It gave one a glow of satisfaction as one arrived on the crest – and I confess it was with some relief that I sat down with the others on the Tibet side of the cairn, with its grotesque trimming of rag prayers – strips of red cloth, bunches of sheep’s wool and mules skulls and bones. Unfortunately, the divinely clear morning had clouded up and we had not much distant view in Tibet and practically none into Sikkim. We all crossed the line from Tibet into Sikkim together and took one or two photos at the foot of the cairn. The wind was very cold and I was glad to pull my high necker wooly jumper out of the bundles on the mule’s back and put it on under my coat. Below us, the descent on the Sikkim side looked very much less steep, than ascent from Tibet had been. Once out of Tibet, the road at once improved and became, comparatively speaking, a broad highway, that is to say, it was a definite roughly cobbled path, six or eight feet wide, descending in a series of wide zig-zags, through the grass and rocks and rhododendron scrub. From one turn to another of the road there were a series of short-cuts down which we sprug and clambered joyfully. We stopped a little below the top, to eat some chocolate, and cross-questioned the mule’s syce about what animals might be seen in that part of the world. He was a chatty fellow and gave a certain amount of information. We asked him if he had ever seen the Megu – the mythical Himalayan snow man, about whom there are many tales in these mountains. He is said to be some sort of monstrous creature, half ape, half man. The mule driver knew about him and assured us that there were Megus about that part of the world. He himself had never seen one, but he had met Bhutias who had. After refreshing ourselves with the chocolate and taking a survey of the map – which, as all through this journey, we constantly found to be incorrect, we started on our way once more. A little below us we saw the black hair tent of a shepherd. Fenwick prophesied that we should be able to get a drink of milk there – and he proved correct. As we came near he gave a hail and out from the tent came a man, who, having thrown off his loose coat from the waist up, seemed serenely unconscious of the icy wind on his bare flesh. We walked across to us in a leisurely fashion and salaamed with a smile. We produced our one Tibetan sentence which I had learnt years ago from my ayah – “Om basho” – (bring milk). Fenwick also talked to him in Khaskura – the language spoken through most of Nepal and Darjeeling and more commonly known as “paharia” (hill talk) or Gurkha. He understood, nodded his head and said he could give us milk. He went off to fetch it and returned with a wooden bucket half full of yak’s milk and a large iron ladle. Mr. Faucus had a little folding cup in his pocket and from this we took it in turns to drink. By taking short cuts down the mountain side, it did not take us long to cover the mile or so that was left before reaching the bungalow of Kapup. We could see it some time before we got to it – a tiny little red-roofed place, looking like a child’s toy amongst the mountains. Big herds of yaks were grazing on the hill sides amongst the rhododendrons. Close to the bungalow a cluster of little stone houses, nestled close together. The weather was kind to us. It was a clear evening with not much wind – a contract to the many accounts I had heard of bitterly cold and unfomfortable nights spent at Kapup. When we got there we found to our surprise that the cook and the bearer, who had been well ahead of us, had not arrived. We could only suppose that they had stopped in one of the villages on the way up for refreshment and would turn up with the transport. Luckily we had tea and sugar with us and plenty of bread, butter and biscuits left over from lunch. The chowkidar lit a fire and produced a bowl of yak’s milk – so it did not take us long to get tea on the table. The transport with the orderly arrived while we were having tea – but none of them had seen the bearer or the cook. We felt a bit worried about them, but could do nothing. The bungalow was very tiny – just two small rooms with a narrow verandah in front and two little bathrooms at the back. There were only two beds in the bungalow. We had one camp bed with us – and one of us had to sleep on the floor. We did our best to get the men to toss up with us for the privilege of sleeping on the floor, but could get no change out of them. We did succeed in giving them the mattress off one of the beds – and with rugs – flea bags & resais, we made fairly comfortable beds for everyone. Adele and I had the dining table in our room, because, as we said, we kept room so much tidier than the men did theirs. Once the matter of beds was settled and we had made them up, I went off to the kitchen to see what I could do about dinner, while Adele dealt with the stores & crockery & laying table. The kitchen was a dim outhouse, with a large cave like aperture emitting clouds of smoke from the wood burning within. A few iron bars over the top and no chimney, did not make cooking very easy. However things would have gone well enough, had the cook not chosen to put crushed rock salt into the tin in which I had originally put the sugar for cooking and without a thought I dabbed this into the custard pudding and stewed apples! Just as I had got everything going, the cook and bearer arrived full of grief and complaints. They said that the mule driver had told them that we were going to Champitang and that they had gone by the wrong road. They got no sympathy from me because I had carefully told them each exactly where we were going. I was glad to leave the finishing of the dinner to them and get out of the smoky kitchen with my eyes feeling rather as if I had been crying for a week. Back in the house, I found that the fire in our room smoked so badly that it had had to be put out. I had a hurried bath, and joined the others in the men’s room, where we used the bed which had been made up on the floor as a divan and sat drinking the small stock that remained of whisky and ginger wine. It was rather cosy round the fire, but very chilly when we had to go into the other room for dinner. Our chilliness was rather accentuated when we found our pudding was salt instead of sweet – but we had plenty of good cheese and biscuits, so did not do so badly and hastened back to drink our cocoa on the “divan” in front of the fire.
At 5 o’clock when I woke, the sky was perfectly clear. I went out to the kitchen to call the servants. Behind the great ragged peaks of rock, through which we had threaded our way the previous day, the sky was a pale bluish pink. It was too cold to stay out of doors long in a dressing gown. So I went in again to dress and pack. It was pleasant to feel that our day’s march was going to be a short one of 10 miles – and as far as we knew an easy one, though we were going to leave the main route and to follow a track northwards for six miles, joining up with the road over the Natu La Pass. We had heard rumour that this track might be very bad but it turned out to be a well made path almost the whole way. The scenery was grand and impressive. We kept roughly between 12000 ft. and 13000 ft. the whole way. We were still amongst the rock and grassy mountain tops with masses of rhododendrons. On our right we looked up at the peaks which divide Tibet from the rest of the world, and on our left other lower peaks with valleys between the, where the regiments of pine trees marched up and down the hill sides. Our road clung round the side of a great ravine and we found ourselves looking down onto a dark mountain lake, with a wonderful glimpse of distant blue mountains beyond. Every new turn of the road, brought a waterfall of some description and we must have passed at least half a dozen during the morning, any one of which would have been a famous beauty spot in Europe.
The leaves of one certain sort of rhododendron were of a delightful soft restfull shade of green something approaching a reseda – with a bloom like the bloom of an untouched grape on them. The backs of the leaves were a tawny russet and the stems a rich red brown, the whole making a colour scheme which we decided would be delightful in a room – only one could achieve it. Most of the alpine flowers were still plentiful – gentians were not so common – but the blue saxifrage and the pinky purple louse-wort flourished. There were tumps of edelweiss and great patches of sorrel – the flowers now dead and dry – but the leaves beginning to turn an autumn scarlet. After six miles of walking through this scenery, our one riding mule, being led behind carrying the mackintoshes and the lunch – we re-joined the road up to the Natu La Pass. I must digress here, a moment to tell about the syce in charge of this mule – a cheerful Tibetan boy, in plain coloured trousers that were more patch than trouser and a short coat of the same description. He also wore a dirty old Homburg hat, which was both trimmed and kept on his head, by his long pig tail, which was wound round it. He constantly burst into song – sometimes softly and sometimes loudly – and when he did not sing, he whistled. He was completely devoid of self-consciousness – and almost everything that happened, made him burst into delighted laughter, like a child. Every now and again, Fenwick, tired of his singing, would pick up a big stone and make as if to throw it at him. This always sent him into a paroxysm of mirth, but never stopped him singing for more than about two minutes.
Not long after joining the Natu Road, we met the man who was going up to take over as British Trade Agent from Major Rivett Carnac. His name was Capt. Smith – nickname “Buggins” as we had learnt from Fenwick who oddly enough, had known him in Quetta. They greeted one another and after introductions we exchanged civilities in the form of whisky from him to the men and chocolate from us all round. We must have stayed talking for twenty minutes before speeding him on his ascent of the Pass – and continuing our way towards Changu bungalow. A shower of rain, heavy enough to make us put on our coats, blew up – and lasted for a mile or two. It passed and the sun came out – so we decided to eat our lunch on a big flat rock, rather than pushing on the extra mile to the bungalow. We regaled our singing syce with what was left of the meat and potatoes and bread – which he accepted and ate with gratitude. It did not take us long to reach the little bungalow – which we saw lying below us on the bank of its lake, as we rounded a shoulder of the hill. Our transport was already there. We called for cups of tea, as we had not had anything to drink with our lunch. The men took the momentous decision to shave off what they had managed to grow in the way of beards, since Gyantze. Fenwick’s was too much for his razor, and Adele did great work with the nail scissors for him and trimmed his moustache into the bargain. Adele was rather keen to take the boat and go round the lake – but I felt more like bathing – so we both decided to change and bath. I won the toss for first turn in the bath. Dressed, I thought it looked cold and misty out of doors. So Fenwick (looking very smart and shaven) and I, thought that writing up our diaries and letters, would be preferable to going out. While we were thus engaged Adele slipped out and went round the Lake by herself. The first we knew of it was from the Orderley, who rushed in, greatly excited and talking so fast that we could scarcely follow that he said. He pointed out across the Lake and said the memsahib had gone “absolutely away on the other side and all by herself.” He was evidently worried about it, and taking the bearer with him went down to the edge of the Lake, where the two of them perched on a rock and watched the boat till it came back safely. Mr. Fawcus had been out since our after-lunch cup of tea – trying to see the monal pheasant, which lives in that part of the world. He came in about 4-30 – not having seen the bird, but having found places, where it had been scratching and had dropped some of its feathers. We had a peaceful evening of sewing, writing and talk – and did not go to bed till between 10.30 and 11 o’clock – which is rather late for us.
A sad misty morning – but nor raining as it might have been. We had another short day ahead of us. So did not particularly hurry but were so in the habit of early rising – that we were well away from the bungalow by 8-30. We had scarcely walked the length of the lake, when we had to stop and put on our mackintoshes. The rain was not heavy – but continued intermittantly for six miles of our way. At the end of the lake the road plunges steeply down a rocky valley – and we were able to take numbers of short cuts. We noticed a great difference in the flowers. The beds of lovely pale yellow auriculars, which had charmed us so on the way up – were all dead and the lovely sprays of pale mauve columbine were almost gone. Steeply – steeply the road dropped for six miles, to the spot which we had all christened our Fairy Garden. Coming down, re realized what a climb up it must have been and felt we had all been rather “stout fellows” to do it and not surprised that Adele and I had taken to ponies a mile before reaching Changu on our upward journey. Our Alpine Garden, which I described as such a fairy-like spot on our way up – was a sad disappointment. The little pond had dried up and all the flowers had gone. It looked quite desolate and forlorn. We felt we could not bear to stop and hurried past. The rain stopped – so we took off our mackintoshes and flung them over the mule –
Adele and Fenwick got out butterfly nets and captured a few butterflies – but though there were a good many about, they were only of two or three kinds. The road from this point on for the 4 miles to Karponang must have been one of the most difficult sections to build. The old track dropped into a huge ravine and climbed out of it again. The new road is carefully aligned and clings to the face of rock cliffs, carried on balconies or reinforced concrete (many of them still under construction) clambers across waterfalls, and drops by gradual degrees to Karponang. We were now out of Alpine scenery. Maples and sycamores and many other trees, had replaced the pines, and masses of the small ringal bamboo feathered the hill-sides. We got into the bungalow in time for lunch – and lucky it was for us that we did – for it came on to pour with rain soon afterwards and continued all the afternoon. It was a little sad to feel that we had come down from the Alpine heights and our happy days in Tibet – still we are hoping for luck in the weather – when we shall enjoy our four days marching through the Sikkim Valleys. We hope they will also prove a paradise to the butterfly hunters. My mission is and will be to hold the box and produce the little paper covers into which the insects are slipped.
Karponang seems to be a wet place. On our outward journey we arrived just before heavy rain set in which lasted all night and only cleared in time for us to leave in comfort in the morning. On our return journey we arrived in misty rain which rapidly grew worse and continued all through the afternoon, evening and night and followed us as a light drizzle for a mile or two beyond the bungalow next morning. The chowkidar said cheerfully that it almost always rains there – so we voted it a place like Ghoom and left it without regret. The bungalow as a matter of fact is a comfortable roomy wooden structure very well furnished and we had been glad of our afternoon there to write up diaries and letters and wash a few clothes, as we knew we should not have much spare time in Gantok. We got away about 8 o’clock after a good night, undisturbed by the cries and clatter of mules, as, warned by our last experience there, we had given orders that their bells were to be taken off and they were to be tied up or else removed to the neighbouring village, a few minutes walk away. I had to get up about 11-30 and go out on to the verandah to curse the mule drivers, who were sleeping there and who had chosen that time, after we had been in bed at least an hour, to talk in loud voices. Poor Adele, hearing my movements, and obsessed by the idea that as soon as I got out of bed it was time for her to move, said in a pitiful voice – “Is it time to get up?” and sighed with relief when she heard that she had only been in bed an hour.
Below Karponang the scenery, though extremely fine, grows more and more like that round Darjeeling. Precipitous hill sides and rock cliffs are covered with luxuriant vegetation. A great variety of trees draped in moss, find root-hold in all the possible and many impossible looking places. Dense thickets of bamboo cling to rocky precipices which would be quite terrifyingly steep, were they not so disguised. Mist prevented our getting any views across or down the valley for the time being. Fenwick and Adele were armed with butterfly nets and I with the box into which to put the catch. So long as the rain lasted we did not have much luck, but the clouds were breaking and the sun almost forcing his way through the mist. Some of the hardier sorts of butterfly began to appear and as the morning drew on and our road dropped lower and lower from Karponangs 9500 ft. elevation to Gantok’s 5,800 ft. they increased in number and variety and we did not make very rapid walking progress, taking from 8 o’clock till 1 to accomplish the 10 miles of down hill road. Our servants and luggage were in the Gantok bungalow well before we arrived and had lunch ready for us. Just as we were reaching the bungalow we met two of the Maharaja’s children, with their nurse, Mrs. Plowman, whom I had known before. We asked her to enquire whether we might call on the Maharanee that afternoon.
Almost directly we arrived mr. Dudley the master of the school, came over to see us, and as he had finished his own lunch, he sat and chatted to us while we had ours. He had been very kind to us on our way up, and was still most willing to do anything possible to help us. After lunch Fenwick had to go off to the Resident’s office on business and the other three of us went down to the bazaar to have a look round, get a fresh supply of change and some biscuits. The town of Gantok is very small, as far as I saw it, well kept. The Palace, Gompa, Residency, Hospital and private houses are widely scattered on the upper slopes of the spur of the mountain on which the town is built. About ten minutes walk below the Palace and dak bungalow, the shops are all gathered round the Market Square, an oblong space under the charge of a market Superintendent. There was nothing of much note in them. The usual row of booths offered country produce for sale, maize, pumpkin, dried fish of an unsavory appearance and different sorts of dal, rice, flour and sugar.
Two or three Marwari merchants had shops stocking different sorts of cloth, cheap umbrellas and a few English stores. One of them combined a banking business, with his other activities and in his shop we sat down and got our change and our biscuits and bought 3 umbrellas for 1/8 each to replace those that we had broken beating our mules and ponies on the Plains of Tibet. We spent a little time in a small Tibetan shop, where I bought a few of the china bowls, which they use as tea cups and looked at some quaint lama clothes. Our shopping over, we climbed back to the bungalow and found an invitation from Her Highness the Maharanee of Sikkim for us all to dine at the Palace that evening. I wrote back and said that we should have been delighted to accept, but that unfortunately none of us had evening clothes with us. The Maharanee immediately replied saying she did not mind in the least and hoped we would come in whatever clothes we had.
After tea we re-packed our stores, now reduced from eight boxes to two and put together the necessities for twenty four hours food for Mr. Fawcus, who had to return to Calcutta as quickly as possible, down the Teesta Valley to Kalimpong Road Station, whereas the other three of us were going a different route across the mountains via Song Temi Namchi and so through Badamtam to Darjeeling.
After we had finished our different jobs we set off to visit the Dudleys where we saw many pretty Sikkimese and Tibetan things which they had been able to buy from time to time.
Dinner at the Palace was at 7-45. The Maharaja greeted us in the hall and took us into the drawing room where Mrs. Plowman was waiting for us. The Maharanee came in a few minutes later. She was a charming looking woman, with that indescribable air of calm and self-reliance, which so many of the hill women posses. She was wearing a boka or tauba in black velvet with a bright turquoise blue silk shirt under it, and the woven striped apron with turned back embroidered covers, which is worn by the highest as well as the humblest of the hill women. The usual heavy jewellery completed her costume. I had a long talk with her while the Maharaja was showing the others a big wireless set. I learnt that she was Tibetan by birth and had been born and educated in Lhasa and only went to an English school – the convent in Mussorie for one year, when she was grown up (that probably means at the age of about 15). She speaks English fluently and with practically no accent, and can talk on most subjects. She evidently has a keen sense of humour, for I was telling her about the pilgrims we saw on the Lingmatam Plain travelling by the curious method of prostrating themselves. The Maharanee smiled and a twinkle showed itself in her dark eyes. “I think they sometimes get up and walk a little when no one is looking,” she said.
Dinner and champagne were served in an thordox English fashion. The dinner room was very simple and charming. The floor was covered with a carpet made in the Maharaja’s carpet factory, of wool dyed to an attractive shade between dull tomatoe and tawny orange. It had a simple border design in shades of dark brown. A large circular table made of light coloured unpolished wood and chairs of the same, were the only furniture except one or two sideboards. After dinner we talked and listened to the wireless until about 10-30 when, rather fearing I was breaking the rules of etiquette by making the first move when dealing with any one of royal rank, I asked the Maharanee if she would excuse us, as we had been up at 5 o’clock that morning and had to rise at the same hour the following morning. She did not seem in the least offended and we made our adieux.
A beautiful morning and everything promised well for our journey except the non-arrival of anything in the way of transport. About 8.30 one riding pony and one mule for Mr. Fawcus arrived. Mr. Dudley came round and was puzzled to find that nothing had come for us. After waiting about for a while he and Fenwick went off to the Bazaar to see what had happened. We persuaded Mr. Fawcus to get away, as he had sixteen miles to do, and his waiting did not help us in any way – so he loaded up and we waved him our farewells. A few coolies began to drift up and finally when half a dozen had gathered, Adele and I decided to get them loaded up with bedding and food and send them off. This we did – but one man, while I was not looking, got hold of a bundle containing a camp bed and rezai, instead of my bedding. By the time I spotted it, he had it so neatly strapped on his back with the tiffin Basket on top of it that I hadn’t the heart to have it undone and thinking the rest of the coolies would soon be there, let it go. After this there was a long pause, during which Adele and I read the newspapers, which we had not had time to look at the previous day. At last Mr. Dudley and Fenwick arrived back – very hot and bothered. Apparently Mr. Dudley had written out Mr. Fawcus’ requirements and ours on separate papers to avoid confusion, and had handed them into the Sikkim Raj office. The clerk there had handed them on to the contractor who deals with transport and he lost our paper, so nothing had been done. Mr. Dudley raised three excellent riding ponies for us belonging to local gentlemen, I think, and promised that, if we would leave the orderley with the remainder of the luggage, he would guarantee to get it off in an hour or two. This was the moment at which I made a bad, careless mistake. I had looked up and suggested this route back to Darjeeling while we were in Gyantze and trusted to my memory for the distance we were to travel that day, thinking it to be 10 or 11 miles. For some idiotic reason I did not check my memory by looking up my papers. Thinking we had only this distance to travel, we agreed to the proposal and prepared to set out ourselves, it now being well past 11 o’clock. The brilliant sunny morning had brought out butterflies galore, who were enjoying themselves amongst the flowers of the dak bungalow garden and we were tempted to give chase to some of them. This and our good-byes to the Dudleys delayed us till nearly 12 o’clock. Our route started by a four mile walk down to the Kongu Chu or one of its tributaries. The hill was too steep to ride down with any comfort. The sun was hot and we blessed whatever ruler had seen fit to plant trees or leave a belt of forest standing on either side of the Sikkim roads, when the land was cleared for cultivation. It was a habit which we were to continue to bless for the next three days. Thinking we had ample time before us, we chased every interesting butterfly we saw and there were an enormous number varying from tiny things, whose wings would scarcely span six pence to magnificent creatures, as large as small birds. I saw “we” – but the other two did the chasing, while I followed behind with the box. This engaged, we took two hours to travel the four miles to the river, reaching it at 2 o’clock, very hot, but well pleased with the morning’s captures.
The road had been charmingly pretty, running sometimes through forest, and sometimes between bright green fields of rice or millet. We passed several farmsteads, solitary buildings, seeming to stand amidst their own fields and fruit orchards instead of being grouped into villages, as is the more common habit in the East. A suspension bridge spanned the river and we chose a patch of rocks and sand on the edge of the water as our resting place.
We took nearly an hour over our lunch and odd chases after butterflies and started again a few minutes before 3 o’clock. Now we had to climb steeply and mounted our ponies. Adele and Fenwick still carried their butterfly nets and constantly jumped off their ponies to give chase to some new specimen, or made wild sweeps in the air to try to catch one of the wing, the ponies preserving remarkable calm meanwhile. So we progressed slowly, now through charming woodland and now between brilliant green terraced rice fields, till we came to the village and monastery of Ramtek, perched on a shoulder of the hill up which we had been climbing, with wonderful views of deep valley and river below and distant mountains. It was already getting late and we decided to content ourselves with looking at the monastery from the outside and passing it by. It was a picturesque building, with carved and painted doors and windows and gay garden round it with scarlet cannas, great bushes hung with the white bells of the Datura – and clumps of marigold. From the spur of the hill on which we stood, we could see the bungalow of Song on a further ridge and guessed it to be about a couple of miles away. We had passed the 9th mile stone some little way before Ramtek, so thought our mileage had been underestimated. Little did we then guess how much! Our road wound round the back of the shoulder on which Ramtek was built – and for a while climbed along the steep rock face of the hill, which was covered with forest wherever trees could cling to the cliffs. The road was blasted out of the rock or built up with rough stones and for a while was so rough and so much on the down hill grade that we got off and walked. Working its way through the forest, it came out on to cultivated land, where, dusk setting in, the people were all going home from work in the fields. A group of women by the road-side, watched us coming and as Adele and I drew abreast of them they broke into smiles and one exclaimed “why they are not Sahibs after all”. The road was now fairly level and we mounted once more – and passing away from cultivation got into the deep woods again. We seemed to be getting further and further from Song, instead of nearer to it – and the dusk was deepening. Already under the thick overhanging trees, it was almost dark, and we discussed the advisability of getting off and walking, but having ridden ponies up and down steep tea-garden roads in the dark, I had a feeling that my pony was better to be trusted than myself. We were leading the caravan and I must say he was a wonderful little beast. In the dimness we could just see a glimmer of the road, but he stepped out without the smallest hesitation. Only when we came to streams and waterfalls, which crossed the road every few hundred yards, he put his nose right down to the ground. It was mysterious beyond words in those deep silent woods. The dimness did not last long and turned to complete blackness. I literally could not see my ponies ears. Now he kept his nose to the ground almost all the time and progress was slow. Once he was on the edge of the road and his hind legs went over. How deep the khud below was, it was impossible to tell, but luckily his fore feet were on firm ground and he scrambled up again. I suppose we must have been an hour riding through the darkness, but time became timeless and the world seemed quite unreal. The only thing I was really worrying about was Fenwick who had got a chill at Gantok had eaten practically nothing all day, and was feeling very out of sorts. Apart from that Adele and I rather enjoyed the adventure. At last in the darkness in front of us we saw a patch of “lighter darkness”, if one can so express it, and found that we were at the end of the wood. A little way off we saw the glimmer of lights and presently heard a shout and recognised, with joy, the bearer’s voice. We yelled to him to bring a lantern. I dismounted, I dont quite know why and attempting to make my way towards the light, three times slipped off the edge of the road, before I realized that the road to the bungalow took a curve and the only thing to do was to wait for the lantern. The ponies had carried us wonderfully and the two small syces, little lads about 12 years of age, had gamely kept up all the way. I have them some tea and sugar and a tin of condensed milk as a reward and they went off very happy. It was 7-30 and tea was very welcome. The inner man satisfied, we unpacked the two rolls of bedding, which luckily, being designed for the cold of Tibets 14,000 ft. odd, wer ample for three people at 4,500 ft. Fenwick by a great stroke of luck, had a spare suit of pyjamas in his bedding as well as an elegant silk dressing gown, which he very kindly lent me. Adele and I called for hot water and having washed felt we could not get back into our grubby day clothes, so put on our pyjamas and dressing gowns and dined “a la Lido.” Tea having been at 7-30 it was well past 9 before we dined. We decided there was little chance of the rest of our baggage getting beyond Ramtek that night – and soon after 10 went off to bed. Scarcely had we shut our doors, when we heard the sound of bells and voices, and looking out, saw lanterns coming along the road – A hail brought an answering one from Fenwick’s orderley, who had arrived with the rest of our baggage on ponies, - so, as we said to onw another, now our suit cases had come, we should have to wash our teeth and brush our hair – after all!! I searched for my note book and found that the distance from Gantok to Song was 15 miles, the last part of the road creeping round an amazing series of spurs of the hill. It was pleasant to go to bed in the happy knowledge that our baggage had arrived and even the fact that I had made a foot of myself did not serve to keep me awake for five minutes.
We woke to find a light rain falling, but as this had been the case for so many mornings, we had hopes that it would clear later and our faith was justified. Breakfast was rather delayed owing to the non-arrival of the milk. The chowkidar seemed to have been shouting round the hills to his friends for a long time, before any was produced. Our baggage being packed, we utilized the spare time – at least Fenwick and Adele did, in transferring the previous day’s catch of butterflies, into stiff white paper covers. A babu “compounder” came to the bungalow and asked if we would be good enough to go and see the little mission dispensary just up the hill, so after breakfast Adele and I went up and found it a clean and tidy little place with what seemed to my unprofessional eye, a sensible collection of drugs. We finally got away from the bungalow at 9-45 – very late for us, but on this day we really only had 12 miles to travel. The rain had stopped long before and the sun was dispersing the last of the mist. Having climbed out of one river valley the previous day, we now dropped for about 4 miles from 4,500 ft at Song to somewhere about 800 ft. at the Teesta. The wood through which our road zig-zagged for the first part of the way was singularly open and free from undergrowth – though the high trees shaded the road well. Butterfly hunting began almost at once, with excellent success. We succeeded in taking 2 ½ hours to cover 4 miles of down hill road. The lower stretches of the road again ran through rich cultivation of terraced rice fields and past a good many houses and orange groves, the trees heavy with fruit, which unluckily was still a few weeks off ripening. These Sikkim Valleys look extremely rich and prosperous. The climate is hot and sticky as one dips deeply into them and we were all streaming with perspiration by the time we reached the bridge over the Teesta. Some particularly lovely butterflies tempted us to linger there, settling just long enough to temp one of the catchers down the bank, and flying off gaily over the swirling torrent as they came within striking distance. Both Fenwick and Adele captured a fine specimen or two and then we sat for a few minutes in the shade and refreshed ourselves with a bite of chocolate and drinks of milk or water. It was a lovely spot. The river – mud coloured at this time of year, when so much rain is falling and snow melting, was racing and swirling down at a tremendous rate – the great hills rising on either hand – brilliant green with terraced rice fields and patches of darker colour where the forest still remained. Not far below the bridge we could see the junction of the Teesta with the Rongni Chu which we had crossed the previous day – and a tangle of hills beyond. After quenching our thirst and mopping our heated brows we got on to our ponies and began our climb on to the next ridge of hills. For about two miles our road ran northwards parallel to the river and not far above it. It cut through the forest, which here had a remarkable character given to it by the clumps of enormous bamboos, the biggest I have ever seen, so big that they seemed too heavy to support their own weight and bent in great arches over the road and down the mountain side, giving almost the idea of cathedral arches. They would have been worth a small fortune in any more accessible spot. Butterflies were still plentiful and Adele and Fenwick were constantly jumping off their ponies and giving chase. About 1.30 we stopped for lunch, sitting carefully on the path to avoid the danger of leeches. The road eventually left the direction of the river and set about the business of climbing the ridge to Temi at 5000 ft. Sometimes we travelled through forest and sometimes through cultivated land. We crossed a deep ravine on a suspension bridge high above a little river. We found the air getting steadily cooler and we had lovely views of the mountains to the north. At last on the ridge above us we could make out the bungalow and as the road was now only moderately graded and my pony seemed tired I got off and walked. Numbers of small leeches fastened themselves on to my boots as I went along, but as I had taken the precaution to put on puttees, I did not mind them much.
Temi, when we reached it, proved to be a comfortable bungalow, facing north up the Teesta Valley, and set in a charming little garden. We were in good time for tea and had finished with our baths earlier than usual, and the butterfly hunters got out this day’s and the previous day’s catches and sorted them out, comparing and discarding specimens.
A feeling of depression was creeping over me, now that the end of the trip was drawing so near. This was to be our last day in the wilds and on the morrow we should reach Darjeeling and civilization and have to begin our normal lives once more. Just to cheer us up it was a beautiful morning and there were lovely glimpses of a snow peak to the north, which we guessed to be Lama Anden and a tangle of snows on the north west, which we thought must be part of the Kanchenjunga group. Temi was still some thousand feet from the top of the ridge and our road worked steadily up, through dense jungle, huge old trees, each supporting hundreds of parasite plants and veiled with hanging beards of moss; thickets of bamboo and dense undergrowth. It was beautiful enough in its way but we all felt bored with it for it hid all the views, and was exactly the same as miles and miles of jungle round Darjeeling. After about 3 miles of this climbing, we rounded the shoulder of the hill and came into a village – quite a considerable affair with two or three tea shops, a police station and several houses, not to mention some pigstyes, with a rich smell attached. Fenwick stopped to exchange greetings and talk with the people, and a constable, hastily adjusting his clothing, rushed out with a “Visitor’s book” on which we had to inscribe our names and the “purpose of our visit” about which we had been long left in peace. The road now circled the cup of a valley without dropping into it, and continued without much variation, neither rising nor falling greatly, through woods and patches of crops all the way to Namchi, the last bungalow on that route in Sikkim. Stopping to talk to a party of coolies who were resting, we picked out a picturesque old man to photograph. He had evidently been refreshing himself sufficiently at the village liquor shop, to make him feel exceedingly happy. He was delighted when he realized that we wanted to take his picture and sat himself down with his legs planted well apart, arranged his bead rosaries to advantage on his chest, which was well puffed out and pulling his kukri from the folds of his sash laid it on the bench beside him. Changing his mind, he stuck it in again, well to the front and waited with self-conscious pride for the picture to be taken. He was somewhat dashed to find that he couldn’t see the result at once. In spite of this, he showed a strong inclination to accompany us for the rest of the way and was with some difficulty persuaded to go on ahead.
Rounding a corner only a mile or so short of the bungalow, we could see Lebong on the spur below Darjeeling and far below, the river of the Great Rungeet, the boundary between Sikkim and British India. As we had our lunch with us we thought we would eat it here, rather than go on to Namchi, more especially as Fenwick had seen a couple of butterflies that he wanted.
After lunch it did not take us long to reach our destination. The village was a fair size built round a market square & lying in a hollow. Above it a group of public buildings housed the local Government offices and a hospital, while above again, the dak-bungalow stood on a ridge looking east and west and catching all the breeze, while commanding beautiful views. We could see the familiar tea-gardens on the slopes of the far hills and Darjeeling away in the distance. Namchi is a good bungalow, clean and well furnished, but proved to be the only place on our tour where there was difficulty in getting milk. I sent the chowkidar off to the bazar to see if he could get some from the local tea-shop and he came back with a small quantity. It was still early and a lovely afternoon. We had chairs brought out into the nicely kept little garden and putting them where they could command a lovely view, we spent a lazy afternoon. Fenwick chased a few butterflies and went down to the village to fix up transport for the following day. He had had this tiresome job for the whole trip and richly deserves our gratitude for doing it so efficiently. By 4-30 it was growing cold and we went indoors to tea, followed by baths. I got the cooks box and the tiffin basket and the last of our stores – and concentrated the remnants of our food into the basket and the one box. Fenwick and I both balanced up our accounts as far as possible. Having done a spasm of work, we amused ourselves by looking through the Tonkas (Tibetan pictures) and other treasures we had bought and sorting Adele’s into a separate bundle, as her things were to go direct to her tea-garden the following day.
Our last day, and the weather sympathized with my feelings, for it wept upon us more or less all day. Pouring rain at 5 o’clock, cleared off and allowed us and our transport (we had been using coolies for our baggage since Gantok) to get away dry. We were amused by the chowkidar, who told us that he had not been able to get any milk, “though all the night he had been going round and round and searching for it.” We got away in very good time, leaving the bungalow before 8 o’clock. Our hope was that the weather would clear and that we should spend a good deal of time catching butterflies. The road seeming to run out along the spur moderately level we rode for a while, but before a mile was passed, it began to drop at a steepish gradient, so we got off and walked. The early part of it was through patches of jungle alternating with fields, where the hill side was not too steep for cultivation. We had not been walking long and had been talking with apprehension of the banks of clouds that we saw ahead – when the rain began. The large umbrellas which we had bought in Gantok bazaar now came in useful for it was hot and sticky and we knew it would get hotter with every hundred feet that we dropped. Luckily for us from the time the rain started, the road ran through forest practically the whole way to the river. For the greater part of the way the forest was of sal trees which with their thick canopy of big leaves, did much to shelter us from the rain. As is usually the case under sal, the undergrowth was not thick and in many places the ground was quite clear, giving the wood a wonderfully English look. Eight miles downhill walking from the bungalow of Namchi, brought us out into the bazaar at Manjitar Bridge. A wide open space with a row of houses and shops down each side and two or three big peepul trees shading it, was almost deserted owing to the rain. The villagers seemed, most of them, to have given up any idea of work owing to the weather and were lying about on their little verandahs or the counters of their shops either sleeping or smoking. The usual constable dashed after us down the street, with his “visitors book” and Fenwick went back with him to the police station to sign it and declare for the last time that the purpose of our journey was “pleasure” – a statement which we had richly verified. Adele and I took shelter under the verandah of an unoccupied shop. The neighbouring shop-keeper most politely brought a couple of cane stools for us to sit on. The three ponies were brought into the same shelter. We were dripping with perspiration, far wetter from that cause than from the rain. It was pleasant to sit and cool off a little. We had a flask of water and some fruit and chocolate with us, and thought that a little mid-morning refreshment would not come amiss. Fenwick soon joined us, and being also supplied with a stool, we sat round and had a nice little picnic, which proved a source of interest of interest and amusement to the villagers. On a small string bed on the next verandah, two figures, shrouded in white muslin from the crowns of their heads to the soles of their feet, were sleeping peacefully, one balanced so precariously on the edge that I felt I must keep on looking to see if he were still safely there. A crowd of friends came and sat on any vacant bits of the edge of the bed, from which they had a good view of us, but their presence did not appear to disturb the sleepers in the least. After finishing our refreshment, we said good-bye to Sikkim, which in the persons of its ruler and his staff had been most hospitable to us, and began to cross the Manjuta Suspension Bridge to British territory once more. It had not occurred to any of us that we should need a pass to take us back into British India, so we strolled across the bridge, gazing down at the dim coloured snow-water rushing beneath us and up at the mountain tops above us, shrouded in mist, quite happily. It was a rude shock when the two Gurkha constables on duty in a sentry box at the far end of the bridge, stepped out and demanded our passes. Fenwick exchanged some back chat with them that amused them and we pacified them by signing our names and promising to report to the Deputy Commissioner directly we got in to Darjeeling. Having come 8 miles downhill we now had to go 10 miles up, though the last few of these were saved us by being able to get a car out to meet us below Lebong. We put on our mackintoshes and mounted our ponies, who seemed full of beans and started bravely up the steep slope. Their enthusiasm began to wane a little after a mile or so of a gradient of about 1 in 3 but they still carried us well. The rain kindly stopped and we were grateful to be able to take off our coats for it was pretty steamy inside them. The thick forest above the river gave place to tea, - row upon row of the little bushes that we had not seen for so long. Three miles from the bridge, we passed Badamtam dak bungalow and a mile or so farther on we came to the Badamtam Tea Garden Factory, where Capt. Maude was on the look-out for us and took us to the “Chota Koti” (the “Little House, - otherwise the Assistant’s bungalow) where he and Mr. Brown, the other assistant, had a warm welcome ready for us. Tea and drinks were produced at once, and we enjoyed a wash in hot water in a civilized bathroom. Lunch was a marvellous meal, beginning with grape fruit and finishing with coffee and Vado’s chocolates. We were loath to tear ourselves away, but could not afford the time to stay very long. Our hired ponies were dismissed and Capt. Maude and Mr. Brown lent us their horses to take us the next four miles to the spot where we were to meet the car. The road rises steeply all the way through miles and miles of tea-bushes with occasional groups of fields round the coolie lines. A slight misty rain was falling. Our ride took us about an hour. (Remember the road is tipped up on end at a tremendous gradient). At the appointed place we found the car waiting. It seemed odd to see one again and odder still to move at motoring pace. At St. Joseph’s College, about a mile from Darjeeling, we had to stop and say good-bye to Adele. A horse was waiting to take her to their tea-garden at Soom – We hated saying good-bye. I felt rather like I felt when I left school. The horrid consciousness forced itself upon me that the splendid friendships which had flowed on so easily from day to day, so long as one was living the same life in daily companionship, were now broken off and could only be kept intact by a definite effort of letter writing and arranged meetings.
Fenwick and I felt sad as we got back into the car. We were soon running through Darjeeling bazaar, and climbing the steep hill to the Planters Club, beyond which cars are not allowed. It was raining and the time was about 5 o’clock. So there were few people about in the street. My spirits were only kept up by the thought of seeing my children so soon. Indeed there was a warm welcome for me at the Rainbow. They were on the look out for me and full of questions. It has been such a wonderful trip that I feel the strongest disinclination to plunge into the gay social round of Darjeeling, which is just waking up again for its autumn season. I feel I must be allowed to sit and brood for a little while on the pleasure and interest of the past month, and not let calls and dances, tea-parties and theatricals, crowd in and smother the memories of Tibet too soon.