Journal of a trip over the Donkya La Pass in North Sikkim
We had long talked of doing this trip some day. It entailed travelling from Darjeeling, to Gantok the capital of Sikkim and thence north over mountains and into valleys to the junction of the two rivers, Lachen and Lachung, which flow down from the Tibetan border and meet at Chungtung, where they form the Teesta River. From Chungtung we propose to follow up the lefthand valley of the Lachen, work round the top of the group of mountains which divide the two rivers – cross the Donkya La Pass at 18161 ft. odd and drop into the valley of the Lachung, following it down again to Chungtung and so back to Gantok bythe same route. The round trip is to take 16 days. Our ponies and coolies with heavy luggage left Darjeeling three days ago with orders to wait for us at Matam.
We left Darjeeling at 9.15 this morning in thick “Scotch Mist.” It was so thick in places between Darjeeling and Ghoom that we almost had to turn on the lights of the Baby Austins in which we were travelling. Since I last visited Gantok three years ago, it has become a common place to drive Baby Austins down the steep narrow mountain road, which drops steadily for 17 miles from Ghoom at about 7000 ft to Teesta Bridge at 720 ft and so save a great deal of time. We ran out of the mist at Lipchu, a village about 10 miles from Ghoom, but heavy clouds were sitting on the hill tops and we did not get a single peep of the snows which show up grandly from that particular road when it is clear. It is interesting the way the Baby Austins, fitted with the special mountain gears, are able to negociate the steep narrow road. I shall not try to describe the road in detail as I have done so before. We reached the bridge across the Teesta about 12 o’clock. It seems a long time to take in a car, but for so much of the way one is creeping down a tremendous gradient in bottom gear and nowhere is the road straight enough or the surface good enough to travel over at any pace.
Next to the old Teesta suspension bridge a new reinforced concrete bridge is being built, which will span the river with a single arch and carry the road-way above it. At the old bridge we had to get out of the cars, according to rule, and walk over. There were quantities of paper prayers, bits of coloured rag and flowers hung on to the supports of the Bridge, presumably to placate the spirits of the river.
We had to wait about 10 minutes on the far side of the river for our cars, who could not cross till a stream of people who were bent on visiting the weekly market in the village, had crossed. Beyond Teesta the road follows the east bank of the river and is level and quite good, though very winding. The scenery is grand.
Tremendous forest covered hills rise up from each side of the swirling river and hundreds of water falls flow down into it. The jungle is sub tropical. Tree ferns and screw-pines grow freely amongst the tall forest trees and groves of bamboo. Creepers drape themselves from tree to tree and orchids and ferns and other parasitic and epiphytic plants make their homes up the trunks and on the branches. One gets the impression that a single large tree must be the home of some hundreds of different species of plants. There is one particularly pretty fern which sometimes grows allup the trunk of a tall tree.
At Rungpo we crossed the Rungpo Bridge into Sikkim and had to show our permits to enter the State and sign our names in a book. We reached a little bungalow called Sankakhola, 18 miles from Teesta, at 1.45 and stopped there for lunch, going on in the cars later across the Singtam Bridge over the Rough Chu and then following that river to Matain (Shamdong) seven miles further on and considerably higher, cooler and comparatively free from mosquitoes. It is a charming little bungalow standing in an orange grove, high above the river though the roar of the rushing water is constantly in ones ears.
We were greeted by our coolies, ponies and syces. We had 26 coolies of whom 8 were buxom jolly looking women, 4 ponies with their 4 syces (grooms) a cook, one hill servant belonging to Rex Fawcus and a Sirdar or head-man who is in charge of the whole train. His name is Nim Timba and he dresses himself i a plus four suit and a trilby hat. It is quite obvious that he wears the coat much more than the breeches, for they are quite a different colour.
Some eight or nine of our coolies are proved men who have been out on the Everest and Mount Kamet expeditions and who are the picked few who will go over the Donkya La Pass with us. they are proud of their past achievements and with very good reason and have insisted on bringing their ice axes with the, though there is little likelihood that they will want them.
The orange trees round the bungalow were laden with fruit – unluckily not ripe – The air was not unpleasantly hot and was further cooled down by heavy rain which began soon after we arrived and continued to the best of my knowledge, all night. Margaret Ogle and I had both been up till 2 o’clock the previous night at a dance, and we tumbled into bed soon after an early dinner and I slept like a log till early morning.
We began to settle down into “trekking” routine. A cup of tea at 5.30, suit cases and bedding packed before breakfast to allow the coolies to get away as early as possible – Breakfast at 7 o’clock and on the road by 8 o’clock is the usual rule of our day, however short the trek we are going to do. To-day we only had to do nine miles into Gantok. We had not gone right through by car because beyond Matam the road is so subject to landslides that one cannot count on getting through by car – and on this very morning we met Raja Dorji – Prime Minister of Bhutan, held up by a slip, on which a troop of coolies were working in the hope of clearing it enough to get his car through.
The rain had stopped and it was a fine morning, though not sunny or clear. We walked and rode alternately, climbing steeply at last, by the short cut, to Gantok’s 5,800 ft. We were met about a mile out of Gantok by the State Engineer, a nice looking Punjabi gentleman – Mr. Jali who had had dealings with Rex Fawcus officially. He had sent a splendid basket of delicious Sikkim apples to the Dak-bungalow for us. We arrived there about 11.30. The old chowkidar (caretaker) made us tea and soon afterwards Mr Dudley, whom we had met on previous trips, came to see us. He is now General Secretary to H.H. the Maharaja of Sikkim. We talked for a little and then had an early lunch and changed out of khipi breeches and shirts into more civilized clothes, to go and leave cards at the Palace – visit the Monastery and so some shopping in the bazaar. Mr and Mrs Dudley called for us soon after 2 o’clock and went with us. The monastery is in the Palace grounds and has only recently been built by the Maharaja. Three years ago when I visited Gantok, none of the interior decoration was finished. Now it is complete and very interesting. Like all the Buddist Monasteries I have seen, every inch of wall space is covered with paintings relating to the life and myths about Buddha, mixed with a good deal of Hinduism and devil worship. The colours used are the local vegetable ones – and are chiefly jade green, cornflower blue, scarlet and deep ochre. Pillars ceiling and carved beams are also covered with designs in the same colours.
Two different figures of Buddha sat in niches at the end of the main hall. The larger and centre one of the two was not in the traditional style and I did not like it. It lacked the dignity and repose which most Buddhas have and which was apparent in the smaller figure at the side. The difference was so great that I doubted whether the big figure were a Buddha rather than some patron saint of Sikkim – but Mr Dudley was sure that it was a Buddha.
After leaving the Monastery, we turned into a carpet factory for a few minutes. The word “factory”, probably conjures up a very different vision from the low wooden shed, where a dozen girls and women were sitting in front of primitive looms, knotting the mellow coloured wools into pretty little rugs. Some young girls were spinning the yarn in odd corners – and in one adjoining shed an old woman was busy dying the natural coloured wool with local vegetable dyes.
We walked on to the market – neat and clean and very much under state control – where we had a few purchases to make. Mr. Dudley produced a car and we drove back to tea with him and his wife. We were waited on by a Tibetan boy in a long white coat to his ankles, a canary-yellow brocade sleeveless waistcoat and a bright blue satin hat trimmed with gold braid and shaped like an inverted pudding bowl.
It was half-past six or more by the time we got back to the Rest House. I did a little “house-keeping” – ie giving out stores – checking lists and making plans for food for a few days to come. Now – after dinner, I scribble my diary rather sleepily and am off to bed.
It was joy to find a fine morning – dark clouds rolling away to the north and blue sky and white cumulus clouds to the south, from which quarter the weather mostly comes at this time of year.
The usual routine – becoming easier and more mechanical each day, was carried out and the coolies got away in good time. We were delayed a little by a visit from Mr. Jali and from the Private Secretary to the Maharaja. While we were talking to these two gentlemen on the verandah we were surprised to see one of our best and strongest coolies suddenly appear from round the corner of the kitchen. He advanced towards us and began talking rapidly, saying that he felt very ill and could not possibly go on and carry his load. It was obvious that he had been drinking – so he was compelled to load up and go on. We feared he might fall by the wayside – so Rex Fawcus galloped on and sent the Sirdar back on his pony to deal with the situation. The other three of us rode in a leisurely way the 5 miles up a gentle ascent to the Penlong La – about 500 above Gantok, where we caught up Rex Fawcus – who had walked steadily on after making over his pony to the Sirdar. We rested a little on the pass, added a stone each to the cairn – which, surrounded by trees, cannot be said to be very effective – and then began the long descent of nine miles to Dikchu, on foot.
We were in the midst of splendid scenery. We looked down into deep wooded valleys and across to huge wooded mountains – with threads of white waterfalls leaping down their sides and scars of rock showing here and there.
There was a good deal of scattered cultivation – huts with terraced rice or millet fields. Leeches were very bad. The horses feet were bleeding profusely. One pony – “Perhaps” kept on trying to get his head down and rub his mouth on his front leg. I began to wonder whether he had a leech in his mouth and on investigation found he had two, one under his tongue and one in his check. He was as good as gold and let Margaret and myself put our hands into his mouth, without attempting to bite us – and we managed to pull the leeches out. Our progress was slow. We stopped to look at flowers and plants – catch butterflies – watch birds and chat to people on the road. I took a photo of a woman – a girl and a child, reaping a paddy-field (rice field). The woman was wearing an immense flat cartwheel of a hat made of plaited bamboo leaves or something of the sort. It was this hat which attracted me but directly she saw the camera, she took it off, evidently thinking I should get a better picture of her wrinkled old face. I had some difficulty in persuading her to put it on again. So leisurely were we that we had not done much more than half of our thirteen miles by 12 o’clock, when we stopped at a lovely view point for lunch – Some of the water falls we passed were very fine indeed – and as the road got lower and lower – The rocks and the water falls became fewer and fewer and we became hotter and hotter. Walking down hill sounds easy but when the gradient is sufficiently steep and the road a mass of rough rock cobbles, it is not really so easy. We arrived at Dikchu, back in the Teesta valley about 3 o’clock. A funny little rambling rest house, with low eaves from which are hung quantities of baskets full of orchids – not, unfortunately in flower at the moment.
The servants had got in well ahead and had baths and drinks ready for us. A table was set out with 4 “Chungas” full of “marwar” which is the local drink of Sikkim. The “Chunga” is a fat section of bamboo about 4 inches across and a foot high. It is filled with millet which has been fermented. Down through this fermented millet is thrust a thin bamboo tube. Hot water is poured into the millet and one then sucks the liquor up through the tube and very pleasant and cheering it is. We all had a good suck at our “chungas” before going off to bath and change – and felt a good deal refreshed.
The evening has passed pleasantly in writing reading and talking, with the loud rushing of the waters of the Teesta, just below our verandah.
A delightfully fine morning. We had no difficulty in getting up early in the hot climate of Dikchu and were glad to be on the road again, leaving excessive heat, mosquitoes and other flying pests behind. (I have seldom seen more crickets to the square yard than assemble round a lighted lamp on Dikchu verandah).
The road on the east bank of the Teesta, keeps very near river level for four or five miles – It must have been engineered with some difficulty. Sometimes it is blasted out of the face of solid rock cliff. At others carried on sort of wooden balconies along the face of a precipice. At times it drops almost to the level of the water. Plants, ferns, moss and creepers flourish where ever they can get a foot hold. The river itself is a fine rushing rocky torrent of a pale dull jade green colour. The opposite mountain side is mostly too steep for cultivation, but wherever possible, little terraced fields for growing rice or millet have been cut out of the forest.
About a mile from the bungalow the river bank widens out into a glade and here, during the War, was made an experimental plantation of rubber, which did not prove a success and the rubber trees are now just a handsome dark green jungle.
Four or five miles further on the road begins to climb steadily and rises high above the river. One gets almost tired of mentioning water-falls, but there are so many magnificent ones all up this part of the Teesta Valley that not to speak of them scarcely gives a fair impression. Sometimes they take the form of a long whispy white veil falling for hundreds of feet down a sheer cliff. In other places they leap over a series of rocks, throwing up clouds of spray.
We crossed a huge land-slide – Thousands of tons of earth and rock had slipped down and we followed a little trail made over the loose grey friable earth by the feet of coolies. A gang of men had been working to get the way clear for us. One came hurrying forward to guide us. Herbert immediately discovered a likeness to the Prophet Habbakuk. The man was dressed in a scanty dust coloured cotton garment, girdled round his waist and leaving a good deal of his chest bare. His rough grizzled hair hung almost to his shoulders. His face was wrinkled and kindly. Margaret said that he looked as if he had been very well made out of leather – and a few moments later, when he gallantly handed us across a small tree trunk, which had been belled to bridge a little stream, she added that he smelt like badly cured bacon. There were not a great many noticeable flowers along this part of our road – A good many of the two varieties of pinkish red osbeckia bushes – “The Rose of Sikkim” were still in flower and there were several varieties of blue spider wort and a pretty dull pinkish mauve flower, which after careful examination, we decided must be another variety of spider-wort. Ferns and mosses were everywhere and charming tiny pink begonias grew here and there on the damp rocks. There were lots of lovely butterflies of all sizes and colours. We watched with particular interest some of those which look exactly like a dead leaf with their wings closed.
After another mile or two the path dipped to a most impressive bridge. It is a narrow wooden pathway, 250 feet long and slung at the height of 250 feet above the little river Rougrong which boils along between precipitous rock cliffs. It is a splendid gorge. Immediately above the Bridge – which Margaret immediately christened “The Bridge of St Louis Rey” rears up a huge rock cliff, almost as high, above us, I should think, as the river was below. Plant life had not given up the struggle to find a foot hold even on these rock cliffs – and here and there a screw pine or a small tree or bush, grew out from some crack or ledge and long trails of grass hung down from the tiniest crannies. People and ponies are only allowed to cross the bridge one by one – so frail is it. The Syces took off their hats and placed small offerings of a flower or a leaf on the slender balustrade – presumably to placate the river gods.
During the next few miles we met two or three flocks of sheep being driven down from the highlands. The rams were big and handsome with large curly horns – and the lambs most of whom were black and white, had coats as curly as astrakhan.
We soon had to negotiate another and even larger landslide and soon afterwards stopped for lunch, half a mile or so before the village of Mangan. Rex Fawcus hurried on as soon as he had eaten, to see that our coolies did not spend too long in the village liquer shop. We packed up the lunch things and followed on, to find him seated on the verandah of the chief village shop, with a plate of guavas in front of him. His hosts were two Marwari merchants. It seemed so odd to find these men from Rajputana, settled in the heart of the Sikkim mountains. They are the great traders of India – these Marwaris and little shops belonging to them are to be found scattered through all the most remote tea garden districts.
Another steady climb of a few miles brought us to Singhik bungalow beautifully situated high up on a shoulder of the mountains looking across the Teesta and straight down the Talung valley to Kinchunjunga. It is one of the several places which is credited with having the most beautiful view in the world – when it is clear – but unluckily clouds hide the great snow mountains for many months of the year. It was so to-day. We could not see a glint of Kinchinjunga’s white mantle – Even the nearer view of valley and wooded mountain - ridge on ridge and shoulder after shoulder, fading into blue distance, was lovely especially set off by a foreground of gay flowers – pink and white cosmos – yellow marigolds – red roses and scarlet zinnias, of which the bungalow garden was full.
Chungas full of marwar were waiting for us and we rested and drank from them for a little while, before embarking on a wash of clothes and stockings. It was warm enough at this elevation – 4600 ft to enjoy tea on the open verandah – but we were not oppressed by the wood fire which we had had lighted to dry the clothes, later in the evening.
My bed was by a window, framed in purple bougainvillia in full flower – which again framed the splendid view of the Talung Valley. I went to bed hoping to wake and see a clear view of the snows. I promised faithfully to wake the others up if there were anything to see.
Thurs Oct 6th
I woke before 5 o’clock to see a fine morning – but distant banks of cloud hiding Kinchinjunga and other peaks in that direction. This day, and the scenery we saw, did not differ very greatly from the previous day. In the 13 miles between Singluk and Chungtang, we only rose about 1000 ft – to 5,350 – The road actually climbs and falls constantly, crossing lateral valleys and the Teesta river itself and finishing its last few miles on the west bank, where we did begin to notice more flowers and slightly different in character. A jolly bright blue giant forget-me-not I recognised as an old friend I had found in Tibet. There was a good deal of greenish-white swatia, from which the natives obtain Chieretta – a favourite tonic both for man and animals. We also saw a lot of a small nephalium, with its bunches of little white flowers like tiny “everlastings” –
We met several caravans of men from the upper valleys with trains of pack ponies bringing down apples. We bought some and found them excellent. The men were picturesque and Tibetan in type – quite different from the Sikkimese we had previously met going and coming on the road. The Sikkimese are serious looking and dont seem anxious to smile or talk. They wear loose garments of dirty white cotton – sometimes enlivened by a dark red sash – or in the women’s case by necklaces of red beads. The Tibetans or men of Tibetan type from the upper valleys, are full of talk and laughter. Greet one jovially by taking off their hats and bowing or salaaming. They are most ready to talk. Their garments are all colours and shapes and they wear felt hats or their own national hats with fur ear flaps, set on their heads at all sorts of rakish angles. They are thicker set and look much stronger.
This day we passed a most impressive – I dont quite know what to call it! It was a watercourse not steep enough to class as a fall but too steep to be called a river – The water came rushing down through great shoots of rock, worn smooth and carved into a number of channels by its own action – I should think its gradient was about 1 in 6. It must be a fine and rather alarming sight to see it coming down in spate.
A few miles before reaching Chungtang, we caught a glimpse of the village, before the road dropped to river level – The opposite hill side, immensely steep, was feathered with great tufts of bamboo and crowned by rock cliffs. We reached Chungtang – “The Meadow of Marriage” where the Lachen and Lachung rivers meet, with a definite feeling of pleasure. We felt we had done with the deep subtropical valleys, which, though superbly lovely in their own way, are just a thought overpowering and oppressive. A small iron ‘suspension’ bridge over the Lachen, brings one almost to the door of the bungalow, which, with the post office and the few huts which make up the village, stands on the tongue of land between the two rivers. On the left of the bridge, a rock standing high above the river was the place from which, in old days, criminals were flung into the torrent below. If they survived and came to shore lower down, then innocence was proved. If they drowned well! they had been guilty. Its hard to believe that many were proved innocent, when one looks at the torrent and the cruel rocks.
A drink of marwar – a stroll to see the village – an early tea on the glassed in verandah and a busy evening re-sorting stores, followed our arrival. We could dump some boxes of stores here, as we should be back here again after eight days. We also left sheets and mosquitoe nets, which we should not want now that we were getting up into high cold places.
The bungalow is a nice roomy one, built only a few years ago, when the old one, which stood nearer the river was washed away by flood. A group of villagers settled themselves on a large rock about 50 yards from the bungalow and spent the evening watching as much as they could see of our doings. As our bathroom had neither shutter nor curtain to its window, we imagined they would have not a bad view into it, and carefully put our candle on the sil, between us and them.
By this time we had got to know our coolies quite well. Two of the Everest “Tigers” as we call the coolies who have been highest up the great mountains, carried Margarets’ and my bedding-rolls. They made our beds most competantly in the evenings and packed up the valises again in the morning. They are extremely nice and intelligent men – but in appearance definitely on the rough side.
Friday 7th Oct
I asked permission to delay our start a little as I wanted to take a few photos and a lovely morning with bright sun gave me a splendid opportunity. The village is surrounded by rice fields, which occupy the few acres of flat land made by the junction of the two rivers. I walked past a few huts and took a photo of the splendid view of the Lachung Valley with a few distant snow peaks. Then I went down to the bridge to try and get a picture of the criminals rock – Just as I was going to take the photo from the bridge, a long train of pack ponies, carrying apples, started to cross and swayed the bridge so much that I had perforce to wait till they had crossed. We started our days trek with pleasurable anticipation knowing that in the 13 miles to Lachen, we should rise to 8,800 ft and get into the beginnings of Alpine scenery. Soon after leaving the bungalow we saw masses of blue strobilanthus in flower and we continued to see banks of them all through the days march – In places they gave an effect almost like blue bells under the trees. In others, where they were growing up steep banks, they had dropped their petals on the road, making a blue carpet for us to walk on. The strobilanthus is a tall straggling plant – almost a bush, growing sometimes to 5 ft or 6 ft in height and covered with purplish-blue companula like flowers. There is also a white variety which was not so plentiful nor so effective.
For a few miles the path worked its way along cliff faces where a good deal of blasting must have been done to make room for it. Later we came out into flatish glades beside the river and even a semblance of pasture land here and there. We noticed a good many walnut trees, planted by the side of the path – Our little sweeper – a lad of fourteen or fifteen, collected some of the ripe nuts, to his great delight.
In one little scrap of “pasture” some shepherds had rigged up a sort of temporary mat hut, and were busy outside it shearing their sheep, while a couple of Tibetan dogs looked peacefully on. A little further on we met what I first thought must be a Lama coming along, but what on nearer inspection appeared to be a Shiva priest. Two deciples walked before him – one carrying some bundles and the next a Shiva trident on the end of a pole. The priest himself was dressed in long woolen garments of some dark colour with rosaries of beads, and his hair and presumably some false hair as well, was piled at least a foot high on top of his head. Another attendent followed behind with more bundles. I asked permission to take his photo, and he kindly stopped while I did so, muttering prayers all the while. He then held out his hand for alms and I dropped 2 annas into it. Margaret was vastly amused! She said she pictured the situation if some visitor – from Asia stopped the local parson on an English country road – took his photo and then rewarded him with 2d.
There were still a lot of beautiful butterflies, especially some moderate sized flame-coloured ones and other small ones of a brilliant peacock-blue.
Before long we saw patches of mauve and also of white michaelmas daisy and these grew more and more plentiful the higher we climbed. Higher still quantities of Golden rod was mixed with the mauve and blue. There were pretty bush spicias too and masses and masses and masses of a creeper that must be some sort of gourd. At this moment it is covered with light yellow flowers about an inch or more across and looks very pretty sprawling over the bushes and trees.
As a rule about halfway through our days march we would catch up the coolies, who had started about an hour before us – but who, with their heavy loads, had to stop and rest every now and again. We would pass them and a little later stop for lunch – when they in their turn would pass us and as often as not reach the bungalow before us. To-day we stopped for lunch a little above a bridge that was to carry us on to the Western bank of the Lachen. Just as we were finishing lunch a little rain began to fall so we hurriedly packed up and put on our mackintoshes. It was the first rain we had and was not very severe.
From the bridge the next few miles were a steady pull up to Lachen – The trees and plants showed a marked change. We found junipers and larches, firs and pines and more and more flowers. With delight I saw a few deep purple primulars and a little later masses and masses of them on both sides of the road. There were also at least three handsome varieties of balsams – One, pale yellow with its two top petals flecked with brown was rather like a butterfly. Perhaps the prettiest was a large flowered rather short stalked pinky-mauve one – and another was a tall plant with quite big pale pink blooms.
Where we emerged from the trees on to grasses, flower covered hill sides, we saw more flowers – some that we could roughly place and some that we did not know at all. There were two varieties of louse wort – the big dark blue forget-me-not – a handsome very large dark magenta crane’sbill – a little purple blue campanula – and a lovely creeper with long tube shaped bells of deep blue with purple veins running along them. It was quite chilly in the misty rain and after riding for some time, we got off and walked to keep ourselves warm. Although Lachen was quite near, we had to drop steeply to the bottom of an old moraine and climb steeply out of it; before rounding the shoulder of the hill, Lachen came into view. It was quite a considerable place; compared with anything we had seen lately. Rows of little rough stone houses, roofed with wooden shingles, stood in neatish rows in a sort of amphitheatre in the side of the mountains. At the near end the Finnish missionary’s house kept guard from its position at a slightly greater height. On the opposite side and well above the houses, stood the monastery with its turned up eaves and gilded peak to its roof. Near it another equally important building contained an enormous prayer wheel. We did not at first see the rest-house, which lay in rather a hollow with trees round it.
A gay welcome awaited us there. Fires were burning and on the table, which was garnished with a large bunch of flowers, four “chungas” full of marwar were set out and a variety of plates and dishes containing apples and vegetables. The apples were an offering from the care-taker. The vegetables were from the Finnish missionary, Miss Kronquest and were accompanied by a note asking us all to go up to tea at 4.30. I sent back an acceptance and invited her to come and share our simple super. We bathed and changed into some semblance of tidy clothes and walked up to her little house at the appointed time. She had a splendid spread of home-made soda bread, cakes and jams made from the local wild strawberries and wild rhubarb. She, herself was a charming and interesting personality. She has lately become very deaf and it is difficult to make her hear. She told us that she had been for nearly thirty years in Lachen. Sometimes she had had a friend working there with her and sometimes not. She has been along now for some time – Once a year she goes down to Kalimpong or even to the Plains for a change and to see a few white faces and very occasionally she has been home on leave to Europe. She does not seem to think that there is anything unusually remarkable or courageous in a woman living along up in those mountains – 50 miles over tremendous mountain roads, which can only be traversed on foot or on mules or ponies, from Gantok, which is the nearest civilized place. She seemed very pleased to see us. I think we were the first Europeans she had seen since May – During tea she asked us the time, as she wished to check her watch and we discovered that it was two hours fast – so the poor dear must have had a weary waiting for us to turn up to tea. We found her talk very interesting. She told us a lot about the country and the people. Though she talked English fluently, she had a slight accent and an occasional misuse of words, which somehow seemed to lend extra point to her stories and sayings. She told us how once she went over a certain high pass – the Sibu La – because she wanted to get in touch with some Tibetans there, and she also wanted to see a certain Lake, which they call the “milk lake” because they say its waters are like milk. This lake is regarded as being very sacred. She accomplished the Pass and slept in a Yak hair tent with some Tibetans. She and her servant girl were wrapped in their blankets on one side of the tent. The Tibetan woman and her children on the other. During the night Miss Kronquest was woken by a noise and a great deal of snuffling and saw a large yak in the doorway of the tent. She called to the woman who at last got up and drove it out – and they all went to sleep again. Once more Miss Kronquest was woken up and once more she called out to the woman – who replied that she could not be bothered to drive it out. By this time the animal had entered the tent and finding some milk in a corner was happily lapping it up. The woman was quite unconcerned and said it often came in at night and helped itself to milk and then lay down to sleep – which it shortly did! The brave little lady made an attempt to get to the Milk Lake the next day, but was driven back by snow.
She told us many stories of adventurous journeys, when the snows are melting or the rains are falling and landslides and avalanches are common – She described a place we had passed that day and told how she had seen a syce and pony roll over and over one another down the steep khud there and land on the edge of the river, both picking themselves up unhurt. Another time she was travelling with one of the little orphan girls, whom she adopts and teaches and a bad storm came on. The child said “I am frightened – Let us stop and pray.” So they sat down on a rock to pray for a moment or two – and while they were there an avalanche came down and swept away the whole of the path in front of them – “so you see”, said Miss Kronquest simply, “how we are looked after.”
Some of her little orphan girls were hiding in the dark on the verandah, and peeping in to see us – so I asked her to call them in and I shook their hands, asking her to tell them that it was our method of greeting – and then got a few words of Tibetan from her in which to speak to them.
Before we left she brought out some of the splendid thick soft Lepcha rugs, which her girls make – The wools are dyed to delightful mellow shades with local vegetable dyes – rhubarb – walnut and some local roots and creepers – We bought one all in wide stripes of different colours – and Margaret got another in a wide plaid of beige brown and dull tomatoe.
Miss Kronquest arrived for dinner about 7.15 – and we opened a tin of sausages in her honour – We had a lot of talk about local conditions. She said it was a great pity that we were not going to stay for two nights at Tangu, our next halting place, to get ourselves a little accustomed to altitude. During a discussion as to whether yaks, mules or ponies were the best to ride over high mountain passes, she produced a word which describes a yak perfectly. “You see” she said “the yak is more ample.” She pronounced the word with the a pronounced like the French a – It is so true – Everything about the yak is ample. Its wide back. Its long fringy skirts of hair – Its wide spreading tail and even its large mild eyes.
We were sorry to say good-bye – She promised to send us two loaves of bread and a pot of her excellent wild strawberry jam and in turn we promised to send her a joint of mutton from the handsome young ram which we had bought to feed ourselves and our servants during the forthcoming march through the wilderness.
Sat Oct 8th
A beautiful morning and Lachen looked smiling and hospitable compared with its aspect under the rain the previous afternoon. After breakfast we found a Lama from the Monastery, waiting, evidently in the hope that we should pay it a visit. We told the syces to wait for us on the road and mounting our ponies we followed the Lama up a narrow path over a flower covered hill-side. The Monastery building stands well above the village and is a charming example of a small Buddist temple. The paintings on the walls, in the traditional style, are old enough to be beautifully mellow and yet not dirty enough to take away from their gaiety. In the entry the gods of the Four Quarters – ie North South East and West, frowned down upon us. Buddha’s Wheel of Life filled one end wall and at the other end a steep ladder-like stair led to the upper story – The inner hall, approximating to the nave and choir of a church, had the usual lavishly decorated walls and ceiling, and the carved and painted wooden pillars. We were able to follow roughly incidents in the life of Buddha on the side walls. Oddly enough the place of honour in the centre of the end wall, behind the altar was held by Chierenzi, the Thousand Handed – the Tibetan god of Good Luck. His big image, backed by halo upon halo of hands, had nothing of the Buddha’s dignity or repose and gazed out rather truculently from his niche – On his right hand another niche contained a smaller and very nice Buddha – and on his left another niche contained some god or saint. This giving of Chierenze the place of honour is an example of how far Lamaism has travelled from the teachings of Buddha.
Bookshelves or rather pigeon holes for the books in their silk wrappings, filled the rest of the end wall. Rows of bowls of holy water and melted butter lamps were ranged on the altar or table in front of the images. Facing each other in front of it were the two high carved seats for the chief Llama so designed that they sit cross legged on them – and below these again two long padded benches or platforms, raised only a foot or so from the ground, on which the lesser Llamas sit. Each of these finished near the door with a carved stand supporting a big gong. The hugely long copper and brass trumpets and other instruments stood at either side of the altar table. A few big wooden chests and some untidy looking rubbish, including a couple of battered enamel tea pots of European origin, filled the corners on either side of the entrance. One wonders whether these tea-pots were considered preferable to the finely chased brass and copper ones which the Tibetans make themselves. Brocade banners hung here and there from the roof and on the pillars were some of the sacred pictures called “tonkas” painted on parchment and framed in lovely old brocades.
We could not talk to the Llama, who knew no Hindustani while we knew no Tibetan – but he indicated that we might go upstairs. We climbed up and found a nice hall above, in much the same style as below. Here I was glad to see a particularly charming Buddha in his proper place. More books were in their pigeon holes in the walls, while part of the room was filled with chests containing the elaborate clothes which are used for the religious dances and the huge grotesque masks, which also figure in them, were ranged on shelves or hung on the walls above. Here also were some nice tonkas – To our surprise we now invited by signs to mount yet higher. I cannot dignify the means of ascent by the name of stair. It was a steep and very narrow ladder, only just wide enough for us to get up. About three quarters of the way up we had to get round a corner by stepping on to a little bit of wooden flooring and bending double to avoid hitting our heads, creep up another little ladder to the small top room under the golden ball and spike which crown monasteries. The centre of this small room was filled with a large circular model of the “Celestial Mansions” – a curious elaborate building which looks as if it would be anything but comfortable to spend eternity in. There were a few paintings on the walls – and a dozen or so really lovely tonkas. They made my mouth water. I wanted to ask the Lamas whether they were willing to sell any of them, but Rex Fawcus said that the Sikkim Government particularly asked travellers in the State not to try to buy things from the monasteries. All through the rooms we had visited we had been enveloped in the peculiar smell of rancid burning ghee (butter) incense and ancient dust, which is a part of the holy places.
We descended the steep stair way with some difficulty and mirth and walked for another five minutes or more to a second building which contains what we believe to be the largest prayer wheel in Sikkim. The entrance rather like that of the monastery, held two large cylindrical prayer wheels, one on either hand. The inner room – which was, I should guess, about 15 ft square was almost entirely occupied by one huge wheel – (cylinder shaped) 10 or 12 feet high. Leather thongs were fixed on to it at intervals at a convenient height to catch hold of and pull the great cylinder round – At each complete circuit it rang a mellow toned bell – as did also the two lesser ones in the entry. All three “wheels” themselves and the walls of the building, are all richly painted with green scarlet blue ochre and gold pictures and designs and some silver “witch balls” hang from the roof here and there. Two other Llamas joined us here, one most begnine looking with large spectacles and a very large goitre.
We had spent more than hour looking at these two buildings – and now we retraced our steps and after a mile or two found our syces waiting by the roadside for us. We got a brief peep of the great mountain Lama Andon, through the soft clouds which were sitting on the high hills. It was a splendid peak of snow towering above us. The ever climbing path gradually passed out of the zone of fir larch and juniper trees into the zone of bushes – wild roses with huge “hips and haws” about 2 inches long and brilliant scarlet – wild currant dwarf maples and mountain ashes – turning to deep golds and reds in this autumn weather and buckthorn preserving its steady grey green as a background to the brighter leaves and flowers.
Before we left tree level the path made a detour to cross the mouth of the Zemu valley and river. The Zemu valley is one of the approaches to Kinchenjunga, but a difficult one, oweing to the dense rhododendron jungle which fills the lower part of the valley. The Bavarian Expedition which attempted to climb Kinchinjunga a few years ago, went up this way and we had seen their names in the bungalow visitors books and some belongings they had left behind at Chungtang.
We lunched early to-day, because we saw heavy clouds blowing up the valley behind us, but even so the rain began just as we finished and it got very cold. We were just emerging from a jolly stretch of autumn tinted bushes, into a stretch of rather desolate looking valley, that seemed to contain little but coarse grass and moss – stones, rock and mud – and further away up the hill-sides, great stretches of rhododendrons of the smaller sorts. We crossed the Lachen – now quite a small stream and reached the village of Tallum Shamdong. Widely scattered rude stone huts and desolate looking fields with rough stone walls round them, made up this unattractive looking village. Here we met our first yaks, a big train of them setting off for Lachen with loads of potatoes – We gathered from Miss Kronquist that a lot of the Lachen people come up here in the warm half of the year to graze their flocks and grow potatoes –
One small girl was so excited to see us that she ran as fast as her legs would carry her yelling at the top of her voice to the people in the house, presumably to tell them to come out and see this strange sight.
The valley narrowed in again above the village and the path ran close to the river bank amongst cheerful autumn tinted bushes. I saw one or two stray gentians and a plant or two of edelweiss. Also the dried plants and seeds of larkspur and some purple aconite still in flower. I was also interested to find a few stray plants of the lovely mauve thalictrum dipterocarpum still blooming and a great deal of it dried up and going to seed. The purple and white michaelmas daisies still survived here and there and occasional patches of golden rod. The rain had almost stopped. Several yak trains met us and we were a great distraction to the poor beasts, who attempted to climb up the hillside from the narrow path in order to avoid us – and caused their drivers to break into a frenzy of whistling through their teeth and throwing stones – the primitive methods which they employ to drive their yaks.
Round a corner the valley opened out and on a bluff above us stood Tangu bungalow – 12,800 ft. At that altitude and without sun it was naturally cold and we were glad to get indoors and gather round the big wood fires which were burning in all the rooms. The first and most noticeable thing about Tangu bungalow is that the whole of the wooden walls of the sitting room were pasted over with pictures out of the Sketch and Tatler and such papers of the years 1902 and 1903. Popular actresses – Royal personages – types of English girlhood and so on. You can imagine the pleasure and amusement we got out of these during the evening. “The Cricket Girl” and the “Bathing Girl” we considered two of the star pictures!
Here, once more, there was a good deal of staff work to do. We were only taking about a dozen of the picked coolies over the Pass with us, as well as the cook and the sirdar. The bearer, the sweeper and the rest of the coolies were going back to Chungtang and up the Lachung Valley to meet us at Yumthang. We had decided to do without suit-cases and take only the food that we should need for the four days and I had to think out carefully what we should want and pack accordingly.
The Chowkidar (caretaker) of Tangu bungalow is a man of outstanding character and we knew from hearsay that he was a good mountaineer and had an extensive knowledge of the mountains and passes within a large radius of Tangu – so Rex Fawcus had him in and questioned him about a good many things. He was a tall striking looking man, with a simple dignity of manner, and he answered questions with intelligence evidently backed by knowledge.
It was cold even in the bungalow and we were glad to undress by the fire and put on warm pyjamas.
Tangu to Giagong, about 10 miles. Altitude 15750feet.
Sunday Oct 10th
It was exciting to wake and feel that we had spent our last night for some days, under a roof. It was cold and I thought that we might as well be as comfortable as possible – so called the chowkidar to light a fire in the sitting-room. The casual way in which these people walk about with briskly burning brands of wood, carrying them from one room to another to light fresh fires, is startling. Sparks fly in every direction on the wooden floors, but nothing seems to happen, and the habit has the advantage that a new fire is a roaring blaze in no time.
Mist was down over the landscape at this early hour of 5.30 – but cleared to a fine morning before we left. The coolies seemed particularly full of life and were laughing and joking outside the windows, apparantly quite oblivious of the cold. The three yaks who were to carry our fire wood and grass for the ponies, were already patiently waiting to be loaded. The next three nights we are to be above grass and tree level, in desert country, which produces little but tufts of dry looking grass and lichen, on which the yaks feed contentedly, but which are not good enough diet for the ponies. A mule and a donkey were also added to our train to carry rations for the coolies and servants. The chowkidar announced that he would come with us as guide, and putting an outer woolen coat of many colours woven in wide stripes, he fetched a walking stick and started out with us with the air of one going for a short evening stroll. He was a picturesque figure in his dark crimson tsuba (the long dressing gown like garment) with his left arm only thrust into the sleeve of his gaily striped upper coat and the other sleeve flowing free. His legs were encased in high felt boots of many colours and on his head he wore a shapeless cap of natural coloured wool. He walked with an easy dignity and fitted in perfectly with the huge mountain landscape.
There was a certain amount of talk and noise over getting our two lots of coolies and luggage properly divided and we were a little later than usual getting away – The sun was shining brightly and before we had been walking long we had to peel off a jersey or two. (We were already wearing several layers of wool.)
In many directions splendid snow peaks towered above us. The mountains on our right on to the slopes of which the sun had not properly come, were still powdered with snow to a low level – On the opposite side of the valley the whiteness had gone. The Lachen – now a small brisk mountain stream hurried along between autumn tinted bushes and dwarf trees. A mile or so of this, with fresh snow mountains constantly coming into view and we crossed the Lachen once more – As the path rose a little above the river, we came upon a little meadow full of brilliant blue gentian. Edelweiss was growing everywhere between the rocks too – but we had left most of the bushes behind and soon saw nothing but the dwarf rhododendron, which grows only about the same height as heather and in very much the same way. Away across the river great sweeps of a larger rhododendron cloaked the lower slopes of the mountains. The valley which since Chungtang had been running N.N.W. had been gradually curving round since we left Tangu and was not running N.N.E. We were soon able to see the huge snow slopes of Kinchinjhow rising to 22700 ft on our right. We stopped to study the map and attempt to sort out the different peaks and sat down on the little rhodendron bushes, which give out a deliciously aromatic scent when when crushed. Scarcely had we sat down when a queer figure appeared hurrying towards us. From the dress and appearance it would have been hard to say whether it were a man or a woman of very ripe age. The voice seemed to me that of a woman – Herbert asked how I knew when I said she was a woman – I appealed to the chowkidar in Hindustani and he verified my opinion. Herbert again said in Hindustani that he did not know how we could tell. This seemed the best of good jokes to the chowkidar, who threw back his head and laughed heartily for several minutes. Meanwhile the old crone was opening her mouth and pointing into it and explaining in Tibetan that she had toothache and wished us to cure it for her. We did not feel able to deal with the matter, so gave her one or two cheap cigarettes and advised her if her tooth were really bad, to make the journey down to Lachen and see if the Missionaries could do anything for her there.
A little further on we stopped to take a photo of a family living in a black yak hair tent. There seemed an impossible number of them to fit into so small a space, but they looked happy and healthy. Two engaging little boys had fat babies strapped to their backs and I wanted them to get into the picture. To my surprise one of the young men spoke to me in a few halting words of English and it turned out that he had been at school in Gantok.
The country was gradually becoming more and more barren and Kinchinjhow dominated the landscape in our right. In true Tibetan fashion, the wind was blowing stronger and colder every hour – but luckily from behind us. As the time went on and we were still some miles from our camping place, we thought we had better take advantage of a small hillock between the river and the track on which some big rocks sheltered us from the wind and the little rhododendron made comfortable couches, to have our lunch. We sent Pemba, our most excellent lunch basket coolie, to fill the kettle at the river – but the water was so cold that it took ages to boil, and though we were happy enough lying in the sun and out of the wind, Rex Fawcus got rather agitated about our transport getting too far in front and was anxious to hurry on. We had stopped by almost the last of the dwarf rhododendrons and did not see them again till we had crossed the pass two days later – The next few miles seemed rather long and we thought that a total of ten miles was an under estimate. At last the barren valley narrowed and over the shoulder of a low hill we came to the camping ground of Giagong. A little above the river, rough stone walls about 5 ft high making three sides of a square and slightly sheltered by the hill, was all there was to mark the place. The coolies and transport were already unloading. The men with a few ground sheets, rigged up some short of shelter for themselves at the most sheltered end against the inside of the walls. Our tents were ??? pitched a little further along and the ponies tethered outside the square on its sheltered side. The mule and donkey roamed at large and the three yaks were fastened with sort of running nooses to a long rope, and seemed to find nourishment off what looked like bare ground. The wind by this time was frightfully cold and very strong – so though it was only about 3.30 we were glad to get into the tents and settle our bedding rolls, unpack the food boxes (which served as a table) and start the kettle of tea-lunch-basket stove, to boil. The tents had been put up in very quick time. The biggest was just high enough to stand up in the centre. Margaret and I had our bedding rolls one on either side. The lunch basket I put by the head of mine and the two food boxes occupied the centre of the floor. The two men had a tiny tent each such as are used on the mountaineering expeditions – They are just long enough to take a bed – or I should say “bedding” for we had no beds and two men could lie side by side in one. They are not high enough to do more than sit up inside. The ground sheet and tent are all made in one – and they are so light that one man can carry two of them. Our big tent was, of course, the sitting and dining room. The men had fires going and managed to look quite snug in spite of the intense cold.
We were now at 15750 feet and felt a bit breathless and lethargic. It was an effort to do anything. We looked forward to tea, but actually looked with lack-lustre eyes on the fresh bread and wild strawberry jam given us by Miss Kronquist. We thought we had eaten too much lunch and it was not till we tackled dinner about 6.30 that we began to realize that the altitude and affected our appetites. During tea Herbert was shivering and miserably cold – He had been lying in his tend mending a broken strap and said it was not till he moved that he realized how cold he was. Fearing fever for him, I advised him to get into his sleeping bag which he did. He was also suffering as he thought from indigestion, but I think it was probably due to the altitude. At any rate he preferred to stay inside his sleeping bag and have some soup and biscuits there, rather than join the other three of us for “dinner”. We sat on the bedding rolls, muffled up on rugs and blankets and managed to drink some soup and eat a little mutton stew – but were glad to finish and turned into our sleeping bags almost directly afterwards but Margaret and I did get as far as taking off our riding breeches which we did not think would be very comfortable to sleep in and putting on pyjama trousers (good thick flannel ones!) instead – Even this much undressing was done as far as possible under the blankets. We had taken the precaution to borrow ice axes from the “Tigers” and dug holes in the ground for our hipbones – but I should have slept more comfortably if I had made mine bigger. I was soon as warm as toast inside my sleeping bag and did not sleep badly, though I woke up very often and the night seemed a long one – Indeed it was, for we were all tucked up in bed by 8.15.
Monday 11th Oct
Giagong 15750 ft to Cholamo 17000 ft 13 miles.
During the night one of the ponies got loose and began eating up the next day’s supply of grass which was near Rex’s tent – so there were great shoutings to the Sirdar and syces to catch im and tie him up again. The men talked quite late and very merrily round their fires, though it must have been incredibly cold outside.
We had put some water in cups near our beds – but found it frozen solid in the morning. Herbert had likewise had some and tried to drink it about 11 o’clock and said it was already frozen solid then. Our sponges and tooth brushes were frozen into our sponge bags and our well oiled boots were so stiff that we sent them to be melted out by the fire before putting them on – I am jumping ahead too fast – The Sirdar Nim Timba, put his head into the tent soon after 5 and took the kettle to fill it with hot water – while I reached out from my blankets to get the cups and tea and milk and sugar – and we fairly soon had tea ready. Rex came and drank it in ‘our’ tent and we sent Herbert’s to him with enquiries for his health and were glad to hear that he was feeling better. Margaret had not slept as well as I as she had suffered from cold feet. The remarkable thing was that none of us had headaches or dizziness.
We washed our hands and faces in a minute basin of hot water and put on our breeches and boots again – tidied up our bedding and arranged the “table” for breakfast. The dish of sausages which we had anticipated would be so welcome, we ate with difficulty. Margaret and I found hot weak tea and water biscuits thickly spread with marmalade, the easiest things to swallow. By the time we had finished breakfast the sun was quite hot and seemed to make the world quite a different place. The wind drops after sundown and does not begin again till about 10 o’clock in the morning after which it gets worse and worse till the evening, it is therefore important to get on the march as early as possible, so as to get to the next camp as early as possible in the afternoon. So anxious were the men to get away that they rolled back the tent and struck it from over our heads when we had scarcely finished breakfast, but as there was no wind, it was warmer in the sun than out of it.
We started off walking, but soon took to our ponies as walking seemed such a labour. The valley was widening out considerably and there was no definite track. The ground for a good distance on each side of the river had been formed into curious little hummocks, uncomfortable to walk or ride over. There were also big stretches of rounded stones with trickles of water running between them – horrid things for the horses to negociate. Over this curious barren waste, the coolies and yaks were dotted out at intervals, each one seeming to take his own line. We knew that we had to cross the Lachen river a mile or two from the bungalow and that there were said to be some sort of stepping stones on which we could get over dry shod. We were glad to have the chowkidar as guide, who though he seemed to be taking a devious route, we trusted would lead us to the right place, as indeed he did. The crossing of the river was not exactly stepping stones and not exactly a bridge, but something between the two. We crossed one or two little streamlets afterwards running in this curious way amongst rounded stones, and coming down from the glaciers of Chomiomo and Kinchinjhow – Soon after leaving camp Chomiomo (22,430 ft) came into view on our left, and looked remarkably near. It is a lovely double peaked mountain of pure white snow. Kinchinjhow on our right constantly changed its shape as we saw it from different aspects. The sky was cloudless and the wind had scarcely begun to blow, so it was pleasant riding along, though I think we all felt a certain lethargy.
The valley was gradually turning east, as we got round the back of Kinchinjhow. Barren pinkish yellow hills to the north marked the border of Tibet and the chowkidar pointed out a pass through them, which leads to the town of Kampa Jhong. Coming to a rise in the ground, where several of the coolies had stopped for a rest, we also sat down and ate some apples. We noticed that one of the syces was not with us and were told that he had a bad headache, felt ill and could only come along slowly. After gazing across the plain for some time, we decided that we must make some arrangement to bring him along. It was decided, much against Nim Timba’s will, that the donkey’s load should be divided between the mule and the yaks and that the donkey should be sent back for the sick boy.
Topping the slight ridge on which we had been resting we came on to the plain of Yeumtso and far off saw a long kyang or wild ass. The coolies all shouted loudly at him. He trotted a little further off and then stood and watched us. We saw no sign of the herd to which he must have belonged. A little later we put up a gazelle also apparantly alone and very soon afterwards a Tibetan hare with a smoke-blue rump. We went on riding across the stony barren plain as people in a dream – Time seemed to have become timeless and we just went on and on. Every now and again some new snow peak was opened up to view and Herbert would stop and study the map and try to find out its name – which more often than not was not marked and the chowkidar would supply the local one. After a time he pointed out a spur of hills sticking out onto the plain in front of us and said that the camping place was only a mile beyond that. By this time the wind was blowing strong and very cold, so when we came to some big stone wall enclosures for yaks, we thought we had better shelter under a wall to eat our lunch of Oxo out of the thermos flask and biscuits. Margaret did not approve of the place because there were so many remains of yaks lying about, some of them fairly recently dead with bits of flesh and hair still sticking to the bones. The ground was covered with layers of yak and goat dung quite dry and not the least offensive. It does not sound just the place to choose for a picnic, but we guessed we should find no other shelter from the wind for many miles and over rules her objections. Rex swallowed his lunch very quickly and hurried on to see that the camping ground was properly selected. The rest of us took it easy and then found it an unexpectedly long way to that spur of the hills. The intensly clear air is most deceptive. The glare in those fine high dry altitudes is so great that we had all had to take to glare glasses soon after leaving Tangu. Those few miles of plain were covered with holes, presumably of the pikas, or mouse-hares, but not one of the little creatures did we see. We question whether they had already curled up for their winter sleep.
As we reached the corner at last, we looked back and had a really superb view of Chomiomo and other snow peaks near it to the north – Kinchinjhow to the south and round the corner where plain and river curved south, the whole group of the snow covered Donkya mountains. We had now come back near the river on to the same sort of curious hummocks and seated amongst them were a few of the last straggling coolies. One of them buried his face in his hands as we came up. Herbert asked him if he were doing puja (worship) – at which simple remark they all roared with laughter and jumping to their feet, slipped the straps of their burdens round their foreheads and hoisting them onto their backs went tramping on.
Very soon in what looked the most exposed position, we saw a little crowd of moving figures and guessed it to be the camping ground. Before reaching it, we had to cross the Lachen again. Here it was wide and rather shallow so we were able to ride across – I felt sorry for the syces and coolies having to wade through the icy water. Some wisely sat down and took off their shoes or boots. Others tried to jump from rock to rock – but I dont think it was possible to get across dry-shod. The Sirdar, Nim Timba neatly sprang onto the hind quarters of one of the baggage yaks and sitting astride behind its load of grass and wood clung on precariously while the creature tried to peer round to see what was sitting on its tail. Much whistling and stone throwing from its driver induced to go on and Nim Timba in his plus four suit got across dry.
A little to our right and beyond us we could see glimpses of the blue water of the Cholamo Lake. The camping place was on some ground sloping very slightly down to a tributary stream of the Lachen. Its only recommendation as far as we could see was the existence of two small semi-circular walls about 4 ft high – inside which the men were already settling down and lighting fires. As the ground was bone dry we gave them all our ground sheets to help make shelters from the cruelly cold wind. Our tents were soon up and it was a relief to get inside them, though it was not long after 3 o’clock.
Our previous days experience had taught us quite a lot about how to make ourselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. We soon had our bedding arranged food boxes unpacked and the kettle on the stove. We found that tea in an infuser put into the when the water began to bubble only produced a weak beige-coloured liquid and we had to leave it to boil for several more minutes, when it made excellent tea. cups of tea we really could enjoy but eating was still difficult. I gave the cook a soup block and some Heinz Baked Beans to serve up as a stew with some mutton chops off the ram we had bought at Lachen. The men brought in some extra rugs and cushions and we sat huddled up on the bedding rolls and read extracts from Hookers Himalayan journals – which were of particular interested, for he had actually managed to penetrate this far in the middle of last century, when the country we were in still belonged to Tibet. Oddly enough he had been there at just the same time of year and said that his thermometer dropped to 5.7 during the night. This piece of information did not tend to make us feel warmer – At 6.30 the servants brought dinner. I drank a cup of soup – and though I felt disinclined to eat anything, I forced myself to swallow a little stew. I felt extremely uncomfortable afterwards – very much as one does when a ship is beginning to pitch and one tries to believe that one is not going to be sea sick. About half an hour after dinner the men went off to their tents and suddenly I had to bolt out into the desert to be very sick. In spite of the unfortunate incident, I could not help admiring the glorious panorama of moon-lit snows around us. The wind had dropped. The night was still and clear but bitterly cold. I returned to my tent and slipped into my sleeping bag after the briefest of toilets.
Cholamo to Momo Samdong (15 000 ft) 11 miles. Tuesday Oct 12th
My bout of sickness was beneficial. I slept well and comfortably in fact I seem to have slept the best of the party. I had dug a much bigger hole for my hip-bone, which made a great difference and I was a warm as toast inside my bag and blankets. The morning was beautifully clear – but the air was very cold and even during the brief toilet operations, our fingers got very chilly. By 7 o’clock the sun was quite warm and we breakfasted with one side of the tent rolled right back to allow it to shine on us. We all felt better than we had done the previous day and though not hungry we ate breakfast with less difficulty. There was a certain feeling of excitement about getting over the pass that morning and a pleasurable anticipation that in our next camp at 15,000 ft our appetites would come back. It was three miles from the camp to the top of the Pass. The first mile was over flatish plain with the Cholamo Lake on our right – and then the climb began – Rex was out for honour and detirmined to do the whole Pass on foot if possible. The other three of us decided on comfort and stuck to our ponies for the first part of the ascent. We had put up tow or three hares on the way along – I asked my syce if they were good to eat. He replied that they are good to eat and make very good medicine – There are seven sorts of flesh on them – This last assertion leaves me a little puzzled – but I suppose he knows!
The Donkya Pass is on a saddle, where two groups of hills join at an angle. The only snow lying this morning was in patches under the shade of rocks. A narrow track not more than a couple of feet wide, climbs up the flank of the mountains on the east. On ones left hand grey, ochre and reddish rocks and slides of grey shale, rise up to the eternal snow of the higher peaks. On the right hand the same falls away in slopes that are just not precipices, to the corner of the Plain below where the Cholamo Lake lies still and blue – Across the gap more yellow reddish rocky hills gradually chose in to meet those that we were on. Herbert said that it looked like the Valley of the Shadow of Death with the sun shining on it.
The path was composed, in some places, of large loose stones and boulders and one never knew which would give a firm foot hold and which would start rolling under ones feet. At others it was made of shale and it seemed as if there were nothing to prevent it simply sliding away. Here and there big rocks gave an impression of firmness, but were often slippery to the ponies hooves. It was a marvel how the little beasts kept their feet and their breath. Naturally we had to stop fairly often to allow them to breathe, and they would push their noses into the patches of snow and suck it in delightedly. I ate a handful with pleasure myself. At one moment my pony got all four feet on to a small rock and stood poised like the pictures of chamoix in Switzerland – The syce, labouring behind me, hurried to take his head, but I felt that if he were interfeared with, we might all roll down into the valley to-gether, and told him not to touch him. Left to himself, he had a good look round and then got gingerly down into safety.
The path after rising some way, dropped a little and half way up Margaret got off and walked the rest. A little later Herbert and I did the same. The path took a series of zig-zags up over a shale slope. Our coolies were all ahead and shouted and sang from the top of the Pass, where we could see them outlined beside a cairn of stones with ragged prayers stuck into it on sticks.
We laboured up the slope, panting for breath every few yards and wondering how on earth the coolies could carry up their loads. I found my camera a burden and felt I had got rid of a ton weight when I handed it to the syce.
When at last we reached the summit of the Pass, I sat down and panted for some minutes before I could speak. Except for shortness of breath, we all felt well and cheerful, in fact much better than we had done the previous day. The saddle of the Pass is so narrow and the rocks rise so steeply on either side, that there was only just room to accomodate our ponies and ourselves. We took photos and even climbed another 20 or 30 feet up the rocks, to get a better view of the peaks and sort them out on the map.
The view both to the North and south was splendid. Northwards the rugged barren ascent, fell away steeply at our feet to the blue lake. Beyond it, the sand coloured plain over which we had come, stretched to the pinkish yellow hills which marked the edge of Tibet. From our high position we could see beyond them peak after peak, many of them snow covered, stretching away for hundreds of miles. Nearer by a spur of red brown hills, ran out on the west of the Lake and cut off the view of Kinchinjhow. Over it all the sun shone brilliantly out of a cloudless blue sky. In that great landscape one could not see a single scrap of vegetation, though one knew that mosses and lichens grow on the Plain and support a good deal of animal life.
Turning to the south, one looked into a different world. The ground dropped much more steeply from our feet for some hundreds of feet and then sloped into the valley of the Lachung. A few pools of dark water failed to reflect the blue of the sky. A greeness indicated that we should soon be walking through a world of plants once more. Near by on either hand were splendid snow mountains. Close on our left, a peak shaped something like the Matterhorn, and unnamed on the map, was called by the chowkidar Jongko Kong (Kong means snow mountain.) Just beyond the splendid cliffs of Pauhunri (23,180 ft) seemed covered with pleats and folds of snow. So fine and beautiful were they, that they reminded us of the drapery on the figures from the Parthenon freize. Pauhunri is the name given on the map, but the chowkidar says itis called Jadong Kong. A group of snow peaks on our right hand, defied our efforts to sort them out.
From these snowy giants, rocky mountains and cliffs led away south, shutting the Lachung river into its valley and leading the eye away into a blue vista of distance. It seemed as if we were on a divide between northern and southern Asia – To the north high, cold, dry table lands and mountains stretched away to the deserts of Mongolia and the frozen wastes of Siberia. To the south, the vast mountains were dropping into the hot fertile valleys and at last to the steaming plains of India.
We had spent some little time on the Pass and already fluffy white clouds were rolling up the valley from the south and sitting on the high peaks. Had we been an hour later we should not have had the clear view which we had been enjoying. We started the descent and soon reached the floor of the valley – where moss and little grass and gentians grew amongst the stones and rocks.
The going was very rough and after trying to ride for a short tiem, we decided that walking was more comfortable. At times we could distinguish some sort of track over the stones and rocks, at others it disappeared entirely but as we were shut into the valley by high walls of mountains, we were in no danger of loseing our way. One or two clouds of thin mist swept over us. The gentians became more plentiful amongst the rocks and after a mile or two we once more got to big stretches of dwarf rhododendron. The river was gathering volume with every half mile. We stopped for lunch and were disappointed to find that the flask of Oxo had been smashed. We made a comparatively hearty meal off biscuits and chocolate and water from the river. We had not been long on the road again, when we found ourselves enveloped in cold white fog which soon turned to very fine snow, almost like frozen Scotch mist. It was a pity that the mountains were all blotted out, but a certain likeness to English excited us and we enjoyed walking through this mysterious shrouded land. The chowkidar strolled in front with his casual unhurried air. We followed in a single file and the ponies and syces brought up the rear. We crossed on to the left bank of the river. A rich tinkling of bells and rattle of hooves on the rocks came out of the mist and a big train of yaks and mules appeared, under the charge of several men. The leader was a prosperous jolly looking fellow dressed in flowing garments of natural coloured wool. He said they were taking potatoes up to Tibet, to Kampa Jong.
The track stayed near the river for a while and became even rougher consisting of lumpy boulders and stones of all sizes. Later it climbed up a hill-side and became a recognisable path. The mist was thicker than ever and we could only see a few yards round us. Rex Fawcus began to feel anxious about the coolies and wonder whether any of them had failed to cross the river or whether they would fail to find the camping ground. We knew there were a collection of Yak-herd’s huts at Mome Shamdong and were counting on them for shelter for our men from the snow.
Rex had provided himself with a loud whistle which he now blew vigourously, while the chowkidar gave enormous shouts. They continued to do this at intervals, but got no answer and only an occasional echo from the opposite hills. Once or twice one of the syces answered softly. The chowkidar flew into a passion of rage with them for confusing counsel and reeled off a fine sounding flow of abuse. Rex really seemed to be rather agitated, but I felt that these mountain people could be relied on to find anything there was in the way of shelter in that weather. Soon two figures loomed up out of the mist. They had a brigandish look with rifles over their shoulders. We hailed them and asked if they had seen our transport. “Yes” they said, they had. Men and yaks were well in front of us. Having found out the important thing that we wanted to know, we then asked the men what they were doing, and they said they were out to get some game if possible, but there was not much about. Apparantly they were going on over the Donkya La. As far as we had seen, there was no sort of shelter in which they could sleep and they had no visable provision of food, though they may have had something tucked away in the bosoms of their loose coats. Sleeping under a rock with no fire, evidently had no terrors for them. Our path rose and fell along the steep mountain-side. Topping a ridge, we found ourselves on a big open grassy space with a few rough stone huts scattered about it. Smoke was coming out of the chimney of one of these and groups of figures were moving to and fro. The tents were quickly pitched beside one of the huts, and we quickly settled our belongings. Two days practice had taught us just where to put everything, and Margaret and I began to regret that as it was our last night in tents, the knowledge would now be wasted. We soon had the kettle on. Although there was a slight sprinkle of snow falling, it was much warmer than it had been the two previous days, and at 15000 ft we felt comparatively comfortable again, and enjoyed our tea with good appetites. Besides the hurricane lantern, we lit three candles in little tin candle sticks, which made the interior of the tent seem bright and gay. At our special request, Rex read us the parts out of Hooker’s Himalayan Journal and also out of Percy Brown’s “Tours in Sikkim” that relate to the Donkya La and the time passed pleasantly enough till supper came at 6.30. It was nice to be able to eat again though still we were not very hungry. We talked for a bit before the men went off to their tents and Margaret and I read and talked for quite a time after we had got into our sleeping bags.
Wednesday Oct 12th Mome Shamdong – 15000 ft to Yumthang 11,700 ft about 10 miles
When I looked out of the tent in the morning, the world was white with a thin mist hanging over it. The sun soon dispelled the mist and melted the thin layer of snow that covered the ground. The coolies took the precaution of beating the snow off our tents and tent ropes, so that they should be dry to fold up and carry. Poor Herbert had been most terribly burnt by the hot sun and cold wind. In spite of all the precautions he had taken, his skin was one great scab of soreness from the bridge of his nose to his chin, and his lips were swelled out to a great size and frightfully painful. Rex’s face was a bit sore. Margaret and I had escaped, except for our lips. Hers were a bit swelled and mine only a very little. Although one could not say that it is exactly comfortable camping in small tents at high altitudes yet I felt a sort of regret that the camping part of our journey was over. On the other hand the thought of a bath and a fire and the ability to eat food with appetite once more, was alluring.
At Mome Shamdong we said goodbye to the chowkidar from Thangu, to the three yaks with their herdsman the skilled whistler – and to the donkey and mule. We asked whether they were going to return via Chungtang, as the number of marches to Thangu were the same that way as over the Pass – but it had not even occurred to them to go round by the valley route and they replied with some surprise that they were going back over the pass.
Even in the bright morning sunshine, Mome Shamdong is a desolate looking spot. The grass has none of the friendly look of a meadow at lower altitude – though it is true that here and there divine blue gentians showed between the stones. Rocky, stoney hills rose up all round, except a gap to the south down which the river fan. Snow peaks showed here and there above the nearer hills.
Some of the coolies, the cook and the sick syce, started off without enquiring about the road, failed to cross the Sibu tributary as they should have done and after a mile or two, found they were caught on the triangle of land made by the Sibu and the Lachung, and had to retrace our steps. Finding, when we had gone a little way, that the sick syce had started walking, we set back the sirdar with one of the ponies for him. We passed through very fine, but rather desolate, mountain scenery. The road was extremely rough and though distinctly on the down grade, had to climb now and again over old moraines. Larger rhododendrons and other small bushes gradually became more and more plentiful. After a few miles the path had been obliterated by a recent landslide and we had some difficulty in finding it again and made one or two false attempts through rhododendron scrub, which is fiendish stuff to try to force ones way through. From a slight rise, we soon saw the first pine trees and caught a glimpse of Yumthang bungalow, looking very cheerful, with its red roof amongst the dark trees. From a corner a little further on, we got one of the most beautiful views of the whole trip. From one of the mountains on our right, a low shoulder ran out into the valley. It was clothed with dwarf trees and bushes, turned to every shade of scarlet, crimson and yellow. Beyond it, dark pine trees, blue distance and the foaming white thread of the river, travelled away into the distance and melted into a brilliant blue sky. On either side mountains rose steeply, clothed in places with the soft green of rhododendron and in others rising up in sheer rock cliffs. Here and there snow peaks glittered above them, the whole making a picture of unforgettable lovliness.
The flowers that we had admired in the Lachen valley, now began to appear and after another mile or so, we reached the first trees. A bridge took us on to the left bank of the river, and our path ran for a mile or two through beautiful forest, with the river close on our right. Before reaching Yum thang bungalow, the valley opened out considerably and we passed some jolly flats, covered with grass and little flowers and dotted with rocks and clumps of bushes – Nearer the middle of the valley, the river divided into a number of small streams. We had to follow the left bank still a little further, till the valley narrowing, the river flowed in a single channel once more and was spanned by a stout wooden bridge, from which the path rose directly up a grassy hillside, to the bungalow. In spite of the roughness of the path, we had made better going than usual and it was only 12.30 – The chowkidar appeared to be away. His smiling wife who seemed unable to understand any of the several languages which our mixed train were able to produce hurried about with huge armfuls of pine longs and lit roaring fires in all the rooms. Margaret and I unpacked the lunch basket and laid the table. While we were eating, clouds blew up the valley and before we had finished it was raining heavily – so we had been lucky to get in early while the sun was still shining.
We spent a leisurely afternoon washing ourselves and our clothes and resorting our belongings – for a spare coolies and suitcases had come round to meet us here. It was nice to feel clean, change ones clothes and eat with appetite again. There was some talk of the pleasure of sleeping in a bed again, but actually I did not find my bed as comfortable as the ground with the nice hole I dug for my hip every night.
Thursday Oct 13th Yumthang 11,700 to Lachung 8,800 ft. 8 miles
Herbert’s face was worse than ever and so painful that it made him feel quite ill. I was glad that the days march was to be the shortest of the whole tour – only 8 miles and, as far as we knew, a fairly easy gentle descent.
We soon fell back into the “bungalow” routine – though I was a little longer than usual readjusting my store boxes. Just beyond Yumthang on the opposite bank of the river, there are some famous hot sulpher springs, to which many people resort for curative baths. Margaret and Rex crossed the bridge to them, but Herbert felt so wretched that all he wanted to do was to get along as quickly as possible to the next bungalow and lie down with bits of oiled muslin spread over his face.
All the coolies went across to the springs and told us later that they washed their hands and faces and drank some of the water, as it was very good “medicine” – Margaret and Rex told us about it when they caught us up. There were a few small huts, one of which was occupied by a very holy Lama, who had recently come down from Lhasa and was on his way to Gantok. He was staying there for a few days to take the baths. They went in to visit him and through the medium of Nimtimba, had a long and interesting conversation with him about the trouble between Tibet and china. He said that a lakh of men had gone out from Lhasa to fight the Chinease and had been defeated. The Chinease, he asserted, had given a definite date – Oct 15th, on which they were going to invade Lhasa. He said that many of the Tibetans were only waiting for the return of the Tashi Lama from China, to rise in his favour. It would be interesting to know how much truth there is in all this. Fighting has been going on between the Tibetans and Chinease for some time. col. Weir, who is the British representative in Sikkim and also in charge of British affairs in Tibet, as been up in Lhasa for some time, with the idea of trying to straighten out the trouble with China. The present Dalai Lama is the first for some hundreds of years who has survived into adult life. He has been in favour of a progressive policy and of bringing Tibet into touch with the rest of the world. There has been a strong reactionary party working against him – but how things stand now, I do not know.
The path we were following was the best we had seen for some days. It rose now and again to negociate some shoulder of a mountain, but on the whole, dropped steadily. Beyond Yumthang it crossed a flowery hill-side and then plunged into some thick forest of pines and firs, junipers, maples, ilex and other trees belonging to a temperate climate. Here and there the forest gave place to stretches of country rather reminiscent of moorland. A close growing plant, something like a small bilberry and bearing quantities of bright blue berries, covered the ground and even sprang out of crevices in the rocks. Flowers were still plentiful in spite of the lateness of the season and the autumn scarlets and yellows were lovely. In some places the forest was extraordinarily thick with moss. Cushions of it covered the ground, the rocks, and the tree trunks, while festoons of it drooped from the branches.
I get tired of saying how beautiful those high valleys are – but in glorious weather such as we were enjoying, they really looked superb. The beautiful lines of the mountains, sweeping steeply up from the valley, with their skirts of forest, surmounted by rocky cliffs and peaks and some times by gleams of snow, were shown up by the deep azure of the sky, while they in their turn, seemed to focus and concentrate the intense blue.
About half way to Lachung the valley opens out into a pleasant little maidan, with a few huts scattered about it, where our coolies were having a rest and perhaps getting a little refreshment. The hills close in again very quickly, and the path, cut on their steep sides, is evidently often carried away by landslips. Michaelmas daisies, golden-rod louseworts and balsams, seemed to flourish particularly on places where there had evidently been slips a year or two before.
We met two superior looking lamas – one riding and one waling, who told us they were going from Lachung to visit the Lama at the Hot Springs.
Nearer Lachung the valley opens out again and gives space for a few scattered huts and cultivation and some pretty apple orchards. The path drops through flowery meadow land to Lachung – One sees the village and Mission House on the left bank of the river long before one sees the Rest House, which is on the right bank, tucked away amongst apple orchards, which at this moment were full of fruit. Behind the bungalow there was a tremendous cliff with a cascade making a line of white foam down it, and round the bungalow itself a little garden gay with flowers. It looked so pretty and warm and welcoming. A vase of flowers, four chungas full of marwar and a dish of apples were arranged on the table and also a note addressed to “The Travellers”. This was from Miss Doig, the Scotch Missionary, who is the sole European inhabitant of Lachung, and invited us all to go to tea. I answered it, before we sat down to lunch. It was the easiest march we had had and we were in the bungalow by 12.30.
We sat about in the sun after lunch, and then bathed and changed before starting for the Mission House, where tea had been fixed for the early hour of 3.30. A path through apple orchards belonging to the State, leads to a stout cantilever pattern bridge, which spans the river. The straggling village begins on the opposite bank. Solid stone huts, roofed with wooden “shingles” weighted down by big stones, stand on either side of a muddy stony track. In a country where nothing goes on wheels, there is no need to bother about road surfaces. The people are cheerful, polite and exceptionally good looking. They also appeared to me cleaner than any other people of Tibetan origin that I had ever come across, except the people in Lachen. The Mission House was about five minutes walk uphill from the river. A gate in a neat little wooden fence, gave access to a well kept garden. A fine bed of dark crimson cosmos, bordered a smooth little lawn. The single storied house had fresh looking lace curtains hanging in the windows. Miss Doig was on the look out for us and welcomed us into the cosy parlour, where she had a tremendous tea spread out for us, with plates full of excellent drop scones. Herbert had not come with us as he really did not feel fit to go out or talk to anyone. Miss Doig was bright and cheerful and full of fun. She professed herself to be very happy in that lonely place. She says that she likes the people and likes working amongst them. She often travels about in the mountains, with a little tent. Now and again she makes the two-day journey round to Lachen to visit Miss Kronquist, or the Finnish lady comes to visit her, but not very often, as she says they are too busy. She told us that as far down as Lachung the people are all of Tibetan origin and speak Tibetan, but in the next village, about three miles down the valley the type begins to change and they speak Lepcha. Oddly enough the Lachung people consider themselves better than Tibetans and any Tibetans who come down and wish to settle there, are not allowed in the village but have to live on the opposite side of the river. We stayed a long while talking to Miss Doig and she then walked home with us. As we went down the village street, many people came out and greeted her and several followed us. She says that she always has people following her where-ever she goes, and that sometimes they go for long distances with her. Pointing to the waterfall down the high cliff behind the bungalow, she said that in June there had been a most alarming landslide down the cliff – Earth and rocks came rolling down with a frightful noise and she thought that the Rest House would be carried away. She came in to look at our surplus stores. We had rather over-catered even for normal appetites and as we had had no appetites for four days, we had some spare things which she was glad to take over. We sat round the fire and ate chocolate and crystalized ginger till Miss Doig made her fare wells – Son after she had gone, there was a sudden loud banging noise and the house seemed to shake. “Another landslip” we all thought, and hastened out of the bungalow. It was not a landslip, but a slight earthquake shock. Someone looked at a watch. It was 7.25.
It was a lovely evening with a clear sky and a bright moon, and bright peaks of snow showed here and there above the mountains that walled in our valley. Though it had been warm in the sun during the day, we found a fire pleasant during the evening. Poor Herbert was in a quandary, for if he sat close to the fire his face burnt and itched intolerably, and if he stayed away from it, he felt cold – so he very soon went off to bed.
Friday Oct. 14th Lachung 8,800 ft to Chungtang 5,350 ft 10 miles
We have been very lucky in the weather. Once more it was a lovely morning, but I could almost have wished that it had been cloudy, for Herbert’s face was certainly no better. I am not sure that it was not even more painful. His knee, which he had strained slightly on the way up to Thangu, was hurting him too and alto-gether he was feeling very wretched. While I was busy with the store boxes, lunch basket etc, Margaret very kindly rode up to the Mission House to see whether Miss Doig could spare us some more olive oil, as the small bottle we had was almost finished. She gave us a bottle of almond oil, which she said would be pleasanter to put on the face.
When it was time to start, Margaret and Rex said they would go over to the village to visit a group of Praying Wheels, automatically worked by means of a water chute, from which Lachung gains great fame and merit. Herbert again only felt like getting on to the next bungalow, so we tied a silk handkerchief over his face and he and I started straight along the path for Chungtung, which still followed the right bank of the river. Once more we started across an open flowery grassy bit of land, before reaching forest. Like the previous day, the path rose now and again, but on the whole was steadily downhill – and sometimes through forest and sometimes through more open country. Sometimes the path was close to the river and sometimes high above it. This sounds like the description of the previous days march, but actually there was a great difference. With every thousand feet of descent, the trees and the flowers changed. We had now left the pines behind and the lovely autumn colourings and were getting into the sort of forest that we are used to above Darjeeling, though flowers were a good deal more plentiful than I have ever seen them there. Near Lachung I saw some of the lovely deep purple primulas that we had admired so much near Lachen, but we soon left those behind, as also the Michaelmas daisy and the golden –rod. Tree spiraeias, strobilanthus – (masses of it as we neared Chungtang), - balsams and the little white wooly naphaliums, grew profusely all the way and here and there white Japanese anemones. For some way the path climbed along a hill face, high above the river, with tree clothed prepicises below it – and water-falls crossing it at frequent intervals. About three miles from Lachung the valley opened out into a flattish grassy space, which accomodated a scattered Lepcha village, where stone walled fields of buckwheat and other fields in which the dry stalks of maize were still standing, showed us what crops the people grew. Miss Doig had told us that a bear had been doing a great deal of damage to these peoples crops.
As the road left the village, planted on either side with a row of walnut trees, we met Father Strong and Father Douglas of the Oxford Mission, who were planning to spend 2 days at Lachung and 2 days at Yumthang and then return. We asked for news of the outside world, as of course we had heard nothing since leaving Darjeeling thirteen days before. They said as far as they could remember nothing interesting had happened. We must have talked for about a quarter of an hour. Father Strong was an old friend who had been in Barisal with Herbert and myself some years ago. The path was soon climbing through forest, high above the river again. Now and then from some corner we would get a splendid view up or down the valley – or looking up through the trees, we would see the grassy hill tops and rocky crags high above us.
About four miles before reaching Chungtang, the path dips to the edge of the river and here it had been completely torn away by some terrific flood and we had to make our way over the stones and rocks of the river bed following the foot marks of other travellers. Evidently a landslide had blocked the river and when the waters finally burst their way through, they tore away the path and hurled rocks and trees in every direction – The river had shrunk again to its normal dimensions, leaving this waste of water-tossed rocks and stones. Quite a quarter of a mile of the road had gone and as I stopped to take a photo, Margaret and Rex caught us up.
The remaining few miles, run through pretty forest and we caught up our coolies quite close to our destination. It was now pretty hot, marching in the sun and a rich smell came from the coolies as they perspired along under their loads. It was difficult to get passed them on the narrow path – but we found the smell so trying that we called to them to stop and let us get in front.
Quite suddenly we came out of the forest and found ourselves looking down on the rice fields of Chungtang, with gay groups of people out harvesting. We were amused to see a big group of men sitting on a bank talking, while the women were cutting the grain.
We called at the post-office for letters and for a parcel of bread, which we had ordered to be posted up to us. There were a big budget of letters for me, at which I only glanced before lunch, but promised myself to enjoy them after lunch. It seemed quite home-like to be in Chungtang bungalow again – It is a pleasant roomy house too, with a wide verandah in front closed in by the big glass doors and windows – and it is a pleasant place to sit.
We had a leisurely lunch – and then I was able to enjoy my letters. Next I got out the stores which we had dumped at Chungtang and our sheets and mosquito nets. The stores I checked, and repacked our store boxes for our last three days, as we were leaving three of our best coolies here to be picked up by two men from Calcutta, who were going up to try to climb Chomiomo. This took some time and I only had time to bath and change before tea. Herbert was lying down with oiled muslin over his face, trying to believe that the pain and discomfort were a little less. I spent most of the evening making a sort of “visor” out of pliable split green bamboo, which will bend almost like whalebone, and an old silk handkerchief. I attached this to his topi – so that the silk shaded all his face and yet did not touch it, and cut eye-holes for him to look through. It felt a little dull and sad to be back on our same route again and down from the high altitudes into the heat, but I was glad to think that Herbert was getting near home and into a warm moist climate, which would probably help his face to heal quickly.
Sat Oct 15. Chungtang 5,350 ft to Singhik 4,800 ft 13 miles
We felt sorry to say good-bye to the three coolies, Nima Dorji, Kiter and Ang Chiring. The first two had been Margarets and my bedding coolies and had made our beds each night and packed them up each morning for us. We looked at the book which Nima Dorji had got from the Himalayan club with his record in it – and a splendid record it was. He had been with the 1924 Everest Expedition – The Bavarian expedition to Kinchinjunga, Kamet and Nanda Devi. He had splendid chits from all the expeditions. Smythe found him so intelligent that he made him his special cinema coolie and he carried the cinema apparatus to within 400 ft of the top of Mount Kamet and when the cooks could go no higher, Nima Dorji did the cooking. He is a short flat faced little man, but must be as strong as a lion. Kiter and Ang Chiring were both taller and rather good-looking and both have excellent records too.
Herbert’s face and general health were better this morning and I felt a little happier about him. The visor worked quite well and was much more comfortable than the handkerchief tied over it.
We crossed the bridge – looked back at the “Criminals rock” – and up the two high valleys behind us with regret to have them behind, and set our faces towards these three hot days marching back to Gantok.
I had quite made up my mind to ride most of the way, when the path was ;not too steeply downhill – for now we had no need to get into training – so one might just as well avoid getting unnecessarily warm. Its odd, retracing ones steps over the same road after a week or two’s interval, to find how well one remembers some bits of the road and how entirely one forgets others. We met several Sikkimese on the road and were again struck by the marked contrast between them and the Tibetan types in the upper valleys – The Sikkimese women, with their pale oval faces, have general sweet expressions, and look modest and demure, an effect perhaps heightened by their Biblical looking white dress and the white cloth, which they were as a sort of coif on their heads.
The day’s march was uneventful and its not necessary to describe it, as I have done so on the upward route. We lunched by the big “Water Chute”, largely because we could get away from the leeches, by sitting right out on the bare rocks. Leeches are a curse in these hills and valleys and one has to choose a place to sit with great care. A charming looking mossy or a nice “grassy” bank would almost certainly be alive with them.
One could not help being struck by the contrast between the bare plains and hills we had left and these valleys where there is much too much of everything. There are so many individual lovlinesses, but “one cant see the wood for the trees” and ones eyes get tired of trying to pick the individual plant or tree out of the masses of vegetation.
We reached the bungalow a little before three and enjoyed the Chungas of marwar that were waiting for us. The view up the Talung valley still ended in blue mist and fat white clouds and no glimpse of Kinchinjunga – nor did it clear as the evening went on. We reclined in long chairs on the verandah and read old magasines – (with which all the bungalows are stocked) till tea-time. It was hot enough here to have tea on the open verandah and its a lovely spot to sit, with the glorious view spread out before one and the gay flowers in the garden all round.
Herbert seemed distinctly better and more cheerful, though eating and drinking were still frightfully painful to him.
We parted for the night with promises that which ever of us woke first, should rouse the others if the famous view were showing.
Sunday Oct 16th Singhik 4,600 ft to Dikchu 2,110 ft 11 miles
Twice during the night I was woken by the light of the almost full moon and jumped up in bed, thinking it was day. Each time I peered out of the window near my bed, but no snow mountains were visible – nor were they when at last it was daylight. It was a definite disappointment that we had not seen this famous view of Kinchenjunga. Looking through the bungalow visitors book, we gathered from remarks written there, that till the clear month of November comes in it is very rarely to be seen.
Soon after leaving the bungalow we heard a party of laughing thrushes. I had never heard nor even heard of them before and could not think what they were – The noise they make is absurdly like shrill and rather hysterical laughter.
At Mangan, a small village about a couple of miles from Singhik, the coolies had mostly stopped to have a drink in the liquor shop. The two Marwaris came out of their shop and we had quite a long chat with them. They gave us apples, which we ate while we were talking and they also fetched some cardemum seeds for Margaret to taste. They told us that a convoy of machine guns and ammunition had recently gone over the Natu La Pass into Tibet. Whether or no this is true we cant tell. We talked of trade – the poor price that cardemums are fetching this year – the different methods of smoking – which subject cropped up because of Rex’s pipe which he was just lighting, and a variety of other things.
Mangan is fairly near two monasteries, Ringim, which lies above it, and Talung, which is three or four miles away across the Teesta, which is panned by a suspension bridge, below the village – We had not the energy to go out of our way to visit either of these. Again the days march was uneventful, except that we met Mr. Spence and his friend on their way up to attempt the ascent of Chomiomo.
Margaret pretended that she was frightened of crossing the Rongrong bridge – or, as she persisted in calling it, The Bridge of St Louis Ray, so we followed the syces example and laid the offering of a freshly gathered leaf on it as we began the crossing.
It was hot, but did not seem so hot as when we went up, perhaps we felt it less because the road was mostly down hill and also the breeze blows up the valley and so was in our faces.
We reached Dikchu in time for lunch – hot and rather thirsty and were very glad to get some of the still green oranges from the trees in the bungalow garden, to make orange squash.
After bathing and changing I spent a good part of the afternoon and evening writing and searching for the names of various trees in a book which Rex had with him. It was not as hot at Dikchu as it had been on the way up, but when the lights were lighted on the verandah, the flying insects were just a numerous, especially small crickets by the dozen, as well as lots of lovely moths. Margaret was so bothered by mosquitoes – being fresh from England, that she had to wrap her legs in a mackintosh.
Two of the coolies came complaining of head ache – one man and one woman – The man was picturesque in his description of how he felt. He pointed his first fingers at his temples on either side and made motions as if they were boreing into his head. I sent them off with asperin and a pinch of tea each – rather suspecting the liquor at Mangan. It may, however have been the result of heat and low altitude which these people dont like.
It was funny to be under a mosquito net, with only a sheet over one, when so few nights before we had been wrapped in all the wool we could find.
Monday Oct 17th Dikchu 2,150 ft to Gantok 5,800 ft 13 miles
Our good weather was holding. We had not had a single wet morning and this was our last days march. We walked the short way along to the bridge over the Dikchu, “Staggering Water” which is the descriptive translation of its name – and then mounted our ponies for the nine mile ascent to the Penlong La – The cicadas, of which all these forests are full, seemed to be making a particularly shrill and violent noise. We had left the Teesta, which we had traced to its sources and shall not see it again till we reach Singtam to-morrow. We soon passed some of our coolies, who were finding the steep ascent in the heat, more trying – or so it appeared – than the ascent of the Donkya La at high altitude – All a matter of what one is accustomed to, I suppose!
About 5 miles from Dikchu, a path leads down into the valley on ones left, with a sign board, indicating that it goes to Tumlong Monastery – We could see the roof of the Monastery amongst the trees on the opposite side of the valley – Until fairly recently Tumlong was the official capital of Sikkim and the maharaja and his court lived there. In those days the religious side of his office as ruler was more important than the political one, but modern conditions made it advisable for him to remove to the less remote and more important trading centre of Gantok. It was at Tumlong that Hooker and D. Campbell were imprisoned in 1850. I believe that scarcely any traces of the town remain – so quickly does the damp climate and the all covering vegetation of these valleys do its work – but the Monastery is still important.
Further on we had great difficulty in getting past a big train of 16 or 20 mules. On whichever side we tried to pass, the mules in front immediately got on to that side too and would not give way – At last after a good deal of shouting and laughing we did get ahead of them. About a mile from the Penlong Pass there is a most popular liquor shop. Its not surprising that it is popular, lying as it does about 8 miles up a steep hot ascent. Rex insisted on staying there to see all the coolies out of it – The other three of us went on, walking up to the Pass, where we waited for a little while and then decided to push on and choose a place for lunch as we should be a little late to have it in Gantok. We rejected several promising looking places on account of leeches and finally sat down in some shade on the bare road, as being the only safe spot. It was nearly an hour later and we had finished our lunch when Rex joined us – We had now come about a mile and a half on the Gantok side of the Penlong La and had another 2 ½ miles to go – About a mile out of Gantok – the State Engineer, Mr Jali met us and accompanied us to the bungalow, where, for the last time, four Chungas of Marwar were waiting for us. We bathed and changed and Margaret and I sat out on the terrace behind the bungalow till tea-time – After tea she and I walked along to call on Mrs Dudley and found her rather worried, as her husband had just come in from tour with a bad attack of malaria and was in bed – This prevented their coming to dinner with us as we had intended to ask them to do – But she said she would like us to stay and talk for a little – and she gave us a most amusing account of the Governor’s visit which had taken place while we were on our trip.
We were glad of a fire again at this altitude and sat round it for a while after dinner – but we never managed to stay awake very late, after getting up about 5.30 and being out in the air all day. Enquiries brought us news that the three Baby Austin Cars, which were to take us to Darjeeling had arrived safely and that the road was open all the way.
Tuesday Oct 18th Gantok 5,800 ft to Darjeeling 7,000 ft about 70 miles
Via Teesta Bridge: Reang and Rangli Rangliot
The little cars had been ordered to be at the Rest House at 9.30 – but as were all ready by 9 o’clock Mr Jali, who had come round to say good-bye to us, sent down to call them up and we left about 9.15. Mrs Dudley also came to see us off.
The road was in wonderfully good condition, partly because the Governor had visit Gantok the previous week – so all road repairs had been hurried on, so as to make his journey as easy and pleasant as possible. Its interesting and at the same time a little disheartening to travel in a car over roads that one has previously traversed on foot or on a pony. What seemed a good days march goes by in a flash. It seemed no time before we were passing below Matam bungalow, where we had slept amongst the orange trees on our upward route.
The beautiful morning showed off the splendid valley scenery to great advantage. The cart road drops steeply in a series of big zig-zags, down the mountain side from Gantok before it reaches the valley of the Rongi chu – After that the descent as it follows the Rongi river to its junction with the Teesta at Singtam, is gradual. From Singtam the road follows the left bank of the Teesta and the gradient is still very gentle in most places – the tall trees made the road shady and we were grateful for it as it was hot in the valley.
We gave up our passes permitting us to travel in Sikkim, when we left Rangpo. We had found the Sikkim officials and the people kind and courteous and enjoyed our wandering amongst them very much.
A few miles from Teesta Bridge, our car stopped every time that we had to negociate an up-gradient – It soon became apparent that we had run out of petrol. We waited for Rex and Margaret, in the next car and asked if they could spare some – but they had not much – However the driver said that he thought the third car which was carrying Rex’s luggage and servant, had plenty – so we agreed to wait for that. Rex said they would go on to Teesta Bridge and if we did not turn up there twenty minutes after them we would send the car back with petrol for us.
The third car soon caught us up and gave us a bottle full of petrol out of their tank. We drove on for about ten minutes and saw the first car drawn up by the road-side. They also had run out of petrol! Luckily the third car could still spare a bottle full and so we all got on to Teesta Bridge. A good many people were working on the big new re-inforced concrete bridge, which is to be opened next year – and which makes the old suspension bridge look very small and rickety. We crossed on to the right bank and filled up with petrol in the village.
We now had the choice of two routes – one via Peshok down which we had come on our outward journey which was slightly the shorter, but also the steeper – and one via Rangli Rangliot. We chose the latter, partly because of the easier gradient and partly because I had never been up it. We had come 38 miles.
It was now nearly 1 o’clock, and though we were more than half way, most of the rest of our journey was to be real mountain climbing. Our road continued by the Teesta down hill for about 4 miles – almost to Reang, where the altitude is about 700 ft. From there in a distance of some 18 miles to Ghoom we had to climb to the altitude of 7,500 ft, while the final 4 miles into Darjeeling are slightly down-hill. It was hot in the valley, so we decided to wait for lunch till we had climbed a little into a fresher atmosphere – We found a nice spot in shady forest, after a mile or two of climbing, during which we had had to stop to fill boiling radiators with cool water from a waterfall. We spent a pleasant lazy hour over lunch and then got on the road again. From now for many miles the road ran up through tea-gardens, and commanded lovely views back over the Teesta valley. It was very narrow in most places, with scarcely room to pass the pack ponies, carrying tea down to the railway in the valley or bringing back odd things from the bazaar.
Some of the gradients were tremendous and practically nowhere was there any rest for the cars from climbing so that every few miles we had to stop to fill up the radiators with cold water. Here and there we passed groups of huts belonging to the tea-garden coolies, their little gardens gay with marigolds – the big African ones, which they use so much on their religious festivals, both for temple worship and to decorate themselves and their houses.
As we climbed the air, naturally got colder and about halfway up we ran into clouds. There is often a belt of mist along the southern face of the Himalayas about here. We passed the police station and little village of Rangli Rangliot and a little later reached Takda, which was built just before the war as a Ghurka cantonment, but later abandoned. The old officers mess was bought by the local planters for a Club, and the little bungalows have been bought by various people who cannot afford Darjeeling prices but want a little home in the hills – so now there is a small English community there and two enterprising girls have started a kindergarten school. Above Takda the road runs through Government Reserve Forest and is well graded and fairly wide – that is to say two ordinary cars can pass one another easily anywhere along it. A few miles above Takda the road joins that by which we had left Darjeeling at a village which is always known as the “Six Mile Busti” because it is six miles out of Ghoom. The steep part of the ascent was now over and we had an easy run along the cart road into Ghoom, crossing over the spur of the “Three Mile Busti” and seeing all the familiar land marks in Darjeeling once again – the Church – Government House – the Prayer flags on Observatory Hill and so on.
We reached Darjeeling at 4-30, with a certain pleasure in getting back to the comforts of civilization but as far as I was concerned, a real regret that our trip was over.
?Earlier version of first page? ?original log? - Pinned to back of account
Trip to Donkya La
Left Darjeeling by Baby Austin at 9.15. Reached Teesta Bridge via Peshik Rd. a little before 12 o’clock. Left Teesta Bridge 12.15 reached Santakhola (Badam) at 1.45. Road quite good. Stopped for lunch. Left again about 2.45 and reached Matam about 3.15. Stayed the night. Ponies and coolies with all the heavy luggage had been sent from Darjeeling 3 days previously and were waiting for us there.
Matam is a much nicer bungalow to sleep in the Sankaphila – It is higher cooler and better situated and there are very few mosquitoes. Small red ants are a nuicance getting into store boxes etc.
In making arrangements, it is well not to arrange to go through to Gantok by car till the rains are well over as the road so often slips above Singtam. Coolies and ponies should therefore enquire at Singtam if the road is alright between there and Mantam and if it is not, should wait there for light baggage.
Oct 3 Matam to Gantok Left Matam 8.10 Reached Gantok about 11.20. Several slips ont he road and cars were held up.