JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO DZONGRI AND THE GUICHI LA
Details of Trek
Mr. and Mrs. H.P.V. Townend – Mrs Marion Atkins – Mrs. Barbara Griffin – Mr. Rex Fawcus – Mr. Richard Gardner and Dr. W.A. Jenkins.
Darjeeling – Tonglu – Sandak-Phu
Phalut – Phaluk – Megothang.
Gombathang – Churung Chu
Alukthang – Chemthang
Alukthang – Dzongri – Prang Chu
Yoksam – Pamionchi – Rinchenpong
Chakung – Badamtam – Darjeeling.
Total distance 195 miles.
Highest point – Gurcha La 16,600 ft.
Lowest point – Rangeet below Badamtam. 1000 ft.
Time Friday 27th September – Monday 14 October 1935, 15 days.
Journey on foot – 35 porters carried tents and stores.
Inclusive cost Rs. 10/12/- per day per head.
Looking Wearwards from Darjeeling, the horizon is made by a high ridge of hills, varying in altitude from about 8,000 to 12,000 ft. North-westwards stand the magnificent group of snow mountains with Kangchenjunga as their crowning point. Crowded into quite a small area, so that the eye can take them in in one glance, are Kanghenjunga, 28,148 t. Jannu, 25,294 ft, Kabru, 24,002, the Talung Pk, 23,081, Simvu 22,369 ft, Pandim, 22,010, Ratong, 2,000 and several more at 20,000 and 19,0000.
The object of our trip this Autumn, was to reach a pass, called the Guichi or Gochak La (La – Pass) between Pandim and the Talung Peak, from which one can look down on to the Talung Glacier, and across it at the huge ice precipices of Kangchenjunga and Simvu. There are two ways of approaching the southern side of this great group of snows from Darjeeling. The most direct so far as direction is concerned, climbs over innumerable ridges and down into the hot river valleys between them, constantly dropping to between two and three thousand feet and rising to five, six or seven as the days go on, the last two or three days being through thick leech infested jungle, again steeply up and down, with a final climb of 7,000 ft in seven miles to the uplands of Dzongri which, at an altitude of just over 13,000 ft, lies on the threshold of the snows. The other route is along the high ridge to the west, which keeps on the or near the crest of the ridge for two days march after the regular tourist route is left a few miles beyond Phalut, and scarcely drops below 11,000 ft. After leaving the crest of the ridge several passes of 14,000 and 15,000 ft have to be crossed, with beautiful valleys between them, till Dzongri is reached. Though the comparatively few parties who have visited Dzongri have nearly all chosen to go out by the valley route and back by the ridge. We decided to do the reverse, and go out by the high ridge. We had various reasons for doing this. The two main ones were that by this route we should have several days at high altitudes in which to get acclimatized before attacking the Guichi La, and that we should not have to climb the seven thousand feet from the Praig Chu valley to Dzongri in one piece, but could clamber down them instead.
The arrangements for a party of seven over this route took some careful thinking out, for as far as we knew, for ten days we should not be able to get any sort of provisions for ourselves or our porters, not even milk. We had a varied collection of tents, mostly borrowed from the Himalayan Club, of which four of us were members, and one about to join. I have been corresponding with the man whom we had engaged as Sirdar for some weeks, and he had a fine collection of porters ready to go out with us, many of them who had been out on the various expeditions to Everest Kangchenjunga and Nanga Parbat. Nursang, the Sirdar is an ex-soldier from a Gurkha regiment, who fought in France, Asia Minor, and was wounded and imprisoned by the Turks. Since he retired, he has been on the 1922 1924, and 1933 Everest Expeditions, and the 1929, 1930 and 1931 Expeditions to Kanchenjunga. It was on the 1930 Kangchenjunga Expedition that he came to know Dzongri and the country round, and later he visited it again with a casual traveller. Amongst our 34 porters there were several who knew our route. One had been up only this spring as far as the Guichi La with a young American, who crossed the pass and made his way back by the valley the other side. Nursang and I had several conferences during which we worked out the weights of the baggage we should have to take, and how many loads it would make, and then how many porters it would take to carry it, and how many more men it would take to carry the food for them. Nursang did his arithmetic out loud in Nepali and wrote it down in a script called Nagri, which Herbert can read. Our results tallied very well, and everything was ready the day before our porters were to start. They preceeded us by a day, as there is a motorable cart road for the first sixteen miles, of which we took advantage, thus avoiding staing at the first Rest house on that route, and so saving a day.
At 9.30 on Thursday the 26th of September, the porters were told to assemble on the lawn in front of this club. Some of them were already there when I when down to breakfast at 8 o’clock. Nursang did all the apportioning of the loads, and though it took some time, it was done without any fuss or argument, and all I did was to lean over the balcony outside our room and watch. Dr Jenkins, who was one of our party “lent” with me, and also went down and took some photos. When the party were ready to move off about 11 o’clock, they all looked up and saluted us as they filed away, and I felt quite a thrill when I thought that next time I saw them we should be really off. Nursang had got himself up on great style – he had a plus-four suit in light brown tweed, with dark lines on it in a large check, brightly tinted stockings, a good pair of boots, and on his head, the felt hat turned up at the side, which is the favourite wear of Gurkhas.
The following morning we left Darjeeling by car at 9.15, seen off by members of the Everest Reconnaisance party, who had come back the night before. We picked up two members of the party, Marian Atkins and Richard Gardiner, in Ghum, four miles on our way. About a quarter of a mile beyond Ghum one of the cars, which had been going badly broke down, so some of us went back to Ghum in the sound one, and brought out a relief car, into which we transferred the rest of the passengers and luggage. The remainder of the car journey was without any special incident, and took us along a wide winding cart road fairly level for about seven miles, wooded hillside rising steeply on the left, and falling away to the plains on the south. At the village of Sukia we left the cart road and got on to a forest road, which, crossing to the North side of the spur, drops fairly steeply to Manibanjan, where a few of our porters were waiting to take such luggage as we had brought in the cars. From Manibanjan we had to take to our feet, and were faced by a steady climb of three thousand, five hundred feet in some seven miles. We ventured on a short cut straight up the grassy mountain side. It was a fine sunny morning and we were soon extremely hot and very short of breath, and rather glad when the short cut joined the path, which was much more gently graded, and kept to a certain extent in the shade of the woods. Practically all the scenery in the Darjeeling and Sikkim Hills is beautiful, but one gets so used to it, and to the magnificence of the Snows, that one almost forgets to mention or even think of, the beauty of the near-by mountain-sides, with woods and water-falls, rocks, grassy open spaces, ferns, mosses and flowers. Such was the sort of scenery we were passing through as we toiled up and up to Tonglu. We stopped for lunch on an open “alp” where some fallen trees made convenient benches for sitting on, and reached the bungalow about 3 o’clock. The traveller’s Rest Houses are designed and furnished to accommodate four people, so seven seemed rather a crowd, but we shook down and fitted in not too badly. Herbert and I and Richard Gardiner had those “Lielo” pneumatic mattresses, which are most convenient for travelling, and which I found comfortable but which Herbert said he found difficult to balance on. I suppose he is a more restless sleeper than I. Clouds had rolled up before we reached Tonglu and we had no snow views that evening, though there is a good view of the Kangchenjunga group from there.
The next day’s march rises and falls considerably along the ridge, and the vegetation is consequently varied. At Tenglu’s 10,000 ft one is just on the edge of the rhododendrons and silver firs. Dropping from there, one passes through some miles of bamboo jungle, with attractive roadside flowers. The tall blue aconite (Monk’s Hood) which is so dangerous to the cattle is perhaps the most handsome, though there are a lot of pretty polygonums, which are much more showy than their English cousins. There was one specially handsome one, which covered large tracts of mountainside. It was almost like a rambling shrub four or five feet high, and covered with heads of pinkywhite blossom something between spiraea and meadow-sweet. Quantities of the pink ground orchid, satyrium, were still flowering, and everywhere, however high or low we went, several species of anaphaliums, herbs about 6 inches to a foot high, with greyish foliage and heads of flowers like tiny white everlasting daisies. Near Tonglu where we took a short cut over a grassy hill-top, the ground was almost covered with a swertia whose flowers of an opalescent blue gave a lovely colour effect. In other places I only saw odd plants of this particular swertia, as well as other species with white and green flowers, from one of which I believe the drug chirita is obtained. All round there were signs of passed beauty. Golden potentillas, yellow ragwort, clumps of St John’swort were not long over, while fields of iris must have looked lovely in the early summer, when the rhododendrons had done flowering. I was on the look-out for one of the famous Himalayan poppies, mecanopsis Wallachii, which I had found with remnents of flowers still on it at this time of year, when I went to Phalut a few years ago. Nursang found it before I did. He was waiting round a corner for us with a plant he had collected from down the khud. As he held it in his hand, with its root resting on the ground, it reached up to his shoulder, so even taking into account that he is of the usual small stature of the gurkhas, it is still a tall plant. The general growth, and the shape of the plant is like a hollyhock, but the side branchlets which bear the flowers, are longer, so the shape of the whole plant is more pyramidical in form. This species has flowers of three or four different shades. I have seen pale blue, mauve, deep wine-colour and yellow. Our present specimen was mauve. Later I saw a good many more plants, but scarcely any still in bloom.
After dropping down from 10,000 ft to about 8,300 through bamboo jungle, for about six miles begins an almost continuous climb of about 8 /12 miles to Sandakphu at 11,766 ft. The mountain sides become more and more open, rocky, and beautiful as one climbs. After four miles of ascent we reached the village of Kalapokri (The Black Pond) near which we had our lunch, seated on rugs and mats brought out for us by the villagers, who were some sort of relations, or “Jatbhais” of Nursang’s. In fact he seemed to have relations scattered all along the ridge as far as the ordinary track runs, which made it very easy for us to get supplies. My shirt and vest were so wet with perspiration induced by the effort of climbing up in the hot sun from the sheltered saddle, that I retired behind some bushes, took them off and put on a pull-over instead, before sitting down to lunch in the cool mountain breeze, and hung my damp garments out on the bushes to dry. After lunch we climbed again for about a mile, when Nursang led us by a fine short-cut path contouring a ridge and saving us a bit of steep climb and descent, before the final steep two and a half mile ascent to Sandakphu. I have twice been up that path on horseback, but it seems considerably longer on foot! Our party strung out considerably, Richard Gardiner and Rex Fawcus forging ahead up the steepest short cuts, followed by Herbert and the girls all going their own pace, while Dr Jenkins and I preferred to plod steadily up the regular path. It was grand to sit down and drink quantities of tea when we got in. The snows were hidden under clouds, so there was not much temptation to linger out of doors. Rex and Marion and I tackled the task of sorting, ticketing and pressing the flowers we had collected during the day, before we took our turn at the bath tubs, while Richard was busy with maps and protractors plotting out our route. Herbert elected himself chief fire-maker, and went from room to room with the bellows.
I called the party from their bed about 5.15 the next morning to watch the sun-rise- Everest and her Sister peaks were showing when I got up, but clouds veiled them before the sun rose, and they did not clear again till later. Still the light coming on the Kankchenjunga group was lovely. The valleys below us were filled with cloud and whisps of cloud kept on sailing across the snows.
The march from Sandakphu to Phalut is a less arduous one than the previous day’s, switchbacking along the crest of the ridge between 11,000 and 12,000 ft, and keeping above the thick bamboo jungle in the world of rhododendrons, silver firs, and open grassy mountain tops, which earlier in the year are evidently covered with mountain flowers. Small mauve asters, the yellow saxifgaga diversifolia, a small bright pink geranium, several sorts of corydalis, (white, mauve, and yellow) (the fumitory) and a blue gentian, which I have never seen with its flowers open to the sun, were still in flower, with the ever present anaphalis. We also found one or two lingering flowers of a low-growing white anemone, slightly tinged with blue, which Rex had seen flowering profusely in the spring season, and almost covering the ground in places. Oh! I forgot to mention that the tall blue aconite was fairly common in the more sheltered dips of the ridge. All travellers along this section of the road remark on the curious fact that here and there large tracts of the Silver fir forest are dead, - - not just a tree here and there, but whole armies of them, some still standing gaunt and bare, and some fallen and rotting away. Various explainations are offered. Some say they have been struck by lightening, some that they have been killed by a forest fire, some that they are on the boundry of British India and Nepal, and that they have been cut in some way that causes them to die, so that the boundry may be clearly marked. I dont know what the facts are, but am inclined to think that for some reason the dead trees began their life at the same time, and that their span of life is up. The finish of the day’s march is a climb of about 1,500 ft in a mile, and is accomplished by a series of zigzags up a bare mountain-side, to where the bungalow stands, just below the crest.
It was a fine morning with the Kangchenjunga group showing finely, and the Everest group too at times, though the photographers were irritated by clouds that swept across just at the moments when they wanted to take their pictures. We breakfasted out of doors in the bright sunlight, and told one another that this was the last meal we should eat off a table for some time to come. Soon after 7.30 we were on the road. Our first 7 miles were still on the ordinary tourist route. Looking across from Phalut, the next peak, Singalila, some three hundred feet higher, looks so close that one thinks one will reach it in no time. Actually it took us an hour to drop down 800 ft and cross a long saddle, and almost an hour to climb the 1,100 ft to its top. Its very steep, but a beautiful climb, with a glorious view from the top, which is ornamented with the usual cairn, and a collection of prayer flags. From here we dropped steadily for about 2,500 ft through forest of rhododendron, maple, rose and other high altitude shrubs and trees, which gradually gave way to sense mixed jungle. About 11.30 we reached the ruined bungalow of Chiabanjan. I have never sorted out the history of this old Rest House, but I have found out this much, and that is that it was already falling into desrepair when Col Waddell travelled this way about 1898. Now it is only some ruined walls, standing on a grassy saddle, with the thick forest all round. Near the old bungalow, a clear stream of water comes down the hillside, in a series of minature cascades. Here we rested for half an hour, and drank gratefully from the stream. The most extraordinary gurgling sounds disturbed the quiet of the place. We enquired from one another whether some member of the party were suffering from severe indegistion, but all denied it. The tiffin porters explained it, and said the noise came from a hut on the far side of the clearing, where the inhabitants were making butter by shaking milk about in a goat-skin. It was with a certain pleasurable feeling of anticipation that we left Chiabanjan and plunged, or rather, climbed into the wilds. From the clearing we found a small path going up through the forest. It climbed and climbed in a series of rock staircases for three quarters of an hour, when we emerged on to a more open mountain-side, where groups of rocks and clumps of barberry and other thorny shrubs, broke up the open stretches of grass. Our path now contured the hill-side, climbing gently towards the top. We stopped for lunch a little below the summit, finding sheltered nooks in which to recline out of the cold wind. After lunch having climbed a little, and crossed the mountain top, and scrambled steeply down a little, we followed the top of the ridge for some twenty minutes, when coming round a knob of the hill, we saw all our porters settled down, with fires going cooking their food, and the tents opened out a ready to pitch. We were worried, for we knew we must have at least another three or four miles to go before the place where we had intended to pitch camp. The Sirdar Nursang had turned aside from the saddle between Phalut and Singalila, to arrange for the purchase of a sheep and other food-stuffs from some of his many relations, but we knew he was not far behind, as he had caught us up as we were leaving our lunch place, and presumably had only rested for a few minutes to take a little food. While waiting for him we questioned the cook and porters as to why they had stopped so soon. They said that two Yak herds, who were looking after a few Yaks just a little down the ridge on the Nepal side, had reported that there was no water at either of the two camping places we had intended to make use of. Water is the difficulty along this particular ridge. There are one or two springs, and one or two small ponds or “pokris”, all of which are liable to dry up at times. By the time we had talked to the porters, and tried to talk to the Yak herds, Nursang arrived, and at the same time it began to rain, so we decided that it was best to camp there, but warned the porters that they would have to get through to the camping place at Migothang the next day. The place where we were was a small hollow, between grassy hill-tops, with a small black uninviting-looking pond at the bottom of it. It was difficult to find flat spaces enough for our tents, but they got them pitched fairly quickly, while the gentle rain became gradually steadier and steadier. Our spirits slightly damped, we gathered in the big tent, which was also Herbert’s and my sleeping quarters, for tea. Towards the end of the meal I was somewhat worried to notice a suspicious looking dampness down all the seams, but the rain slacked off, and nothing more happened for a while. Supper came very early, between 6 o’clock and 6.30 as far as I remember, and towards the end of it, the rain came on again, and the damp patches spread alarmingly, untill by the time the rest of the party had gone off to their various tents, our was definitely leaking, except for about three feet on either side of the ridge-pole. It was a judgement on me for I had not tested the tent before starting, but believed the Government Department from whom I had borrowed it, when they said it was perfectly waterproof. I fairly quickly made up my mind what to do. I have my bedding moved into the “forty-pounder” in which the two girls were sleeping, and into which we fitted like three sardines, and we put Herbert’s “lielo” inflated rubber mattress on top of a row of store boxes, right down the middle of the big tent, and made up his bed on that, ramming two walking-sticks into the ground on either side to help to keep him balanced on this rather precarious bed. He says he slept comparatively well. Dr Jenkins had such a vivid dream that during the night Herbert came into the tent where he and Rex were sleeping, and heard and saw all the detail of his settling in so clearly, that he was amazed when he woke in the morning and found Herbert was not there. In the morning the floors of the girls tent and the big tent were regular bogs, for we had pitched them in what turned out to be practically the bed of a mountain stream, and in spite of the trenches round, the water had flowed in. Richard’s little mountain Meade had just protected him, but only just. The idea had been that if we had wet weather, the three men should use the big tent and Herbert and I would use the Kamet tent, in which Rex and Dr Jenkins were sleeping. What we should have done if the weather had remained wet I dont know. We made some readjustments. That is to say we put the big outer fly that we had brought for the Kamet tent, over the big tent, while they used a few old ground sheets for a kitchen. Luckily the weather was kind, and we had no more rain to speak of, except one or two slight and gentle showers just at sundown.
Mercifully it was a fine morning, so that we did not have to breakfast in the tent with the quagmire floor, but had the store boxes moved outside, and had our meal in the open. We had no time to wait and allow the tents to dry a bit, for we had such a long march before us that we knew we must get away in good time, so 7.30 saw us on the road. It was a glorious morning, and it was a glorious march, though towards the end of the day we began to think we had had a little too much of it. We kept more or less along the top of the great ridge which forms the boundry between Sikkim and Nepal. I lost count of the number of mountain tops we climbed over, and those we contoured a little before reaching the summit. Sometimes the track kept right on the summit of the ridge, sometimes it was on the Nepal side, and sometimes on the Sikkim side. I dont think it is much of an exaggeration to say that it was never level for more than a hundred yards, and that not often. As soon as we had climbed to the top of one hill, we scrambled down the other side, only to start immediately on climbing the next. On our left we looked across ridge after ridge of blue mountains as far as the eye could see, to where, here and there on the horizon, we could see far off snow peaks. The Everest group were looking different from a new angle, Makalu entirely masking Everest itself. Further to the north Nursang pointed out three snow peaks, and told us that just below them lies the district of Sola Khambu from which the Sherpa porters come. I dont remember seeing the Kangchenjunga group at all that day. As we were travelling directly towards it I suppose it was shut out from us by high rocky mountains between us and it. It was not till 9.15 that we reached about the spot where we should have camped the previous night and we found that there was water in the little black pool, though not as much as there had been in our “pokri” at Phaluk, as we were told the previous nights camping place was called. I had brought water with which to treat muddy water, and so we should not have found it too bad. Soon after this we climbed almost to the top of a mountain called Lampheram, 12,808 ft high. Hereabouts I saw the first plants of a lovely polygonum, (polygonum vaccinifolium), which at a little distance gives the impression that it is a deep pink heather. It is very common at those altitudes, and the next rocky mountain and the ridge for miles beyond was covered with it. Beyond Lampheram the track dropped down in almost precipitous hill-side, too steep to be called a staircase. Every now and again there was a drop of four or five feet down a rock face, which was awkward for the laden porters, though they did not seem to bother much about it. At the bottom we got a lovely drink of spring water, where a trickle came down the hill side and got caught in a series of tiny rock pools. Having come down like this, we immediately had to go up again in exactly the same fashion, only higher. We kept on seeing deceptive false tops, and having to do another climb when we thought we were going to have a bit of down hill to refresh our lungs. At last we got on to the crest of the ridge, and it was almost a knife edge for a while, and for several miles it kept practically on the top, occasionally contouring a little to avoid some rocky top, and going sometimes on the Nepal side and sometimes on the Sikkim side. We lunched on a narrow saddle where a bank covered with the pink polygonum made a comfortable bank to lean against. The Nepal or Western side of the ridge was covered with groups of barberry, rose and current bushes, where they could find places to grow on the steep rock faces, and between, stretches of coarse grass and the remains of Alpine plants, and always the pink polygonum. The East or Sikkim side of the ridge is just as steep, but the character is quite different. From a little below the summit, rhododendron forest clothes the slopes, mixed here and there with maples and mountain ash. Its a matter of rainfall I suppose. For about an hour and a half we went up and down the small ascents and descents of this magnificent rocky crest, and I was full of hope that we should not have any more big climbs, but the hope was not justified, for about a quarter past three we came to the bottom of a steep mountain which it took us fifty minutes to climb. I think we all found it a bit heart breaking, for we had been on the march since 7.30 a.m. A very definite false top about two-thirds of the way up, caused loud groans! Marian and I were the rear guard, and our hopes were crushed almost before they were born! It was grand when we did get to the top, and felt almost sure that the rest of the route to the camp was on the down grade. Half an hour of steep descent, followed by twenty minutes mildly down hill over slatey looking slabs, brought us to the open meadows of Migothang, where the tents were already pitched and Tehley, the cook, had tea ready, which we drank out of our porridge bowls, since the tiffin porters, with the cups were a bit behind. About a mile from the camp we had met four of our porters going out to bring in the three or four men who were still behind. They were all as smiling and cheerful as could be, and seemed to think nothing of starting back after that long day, to climb perhaps a mile or two, and bring in another load. Our of our thirty four porters, there were only four who were not first class, and invariably came in late when it was a long march. Having learnt which they were, we shifted spare stores and porter’s rations on to them, so that it did not matter to anyone but themselves if they were behind time, the only error being that the bag containing all the porters salt was given to one of them the following day, and he did not get into camp at all that night, but rolled up the next morning early. The porters took discipline into there own hands, and I afterwards heard that they allowed him, and his companion, no salt for a week, which is a great deprivation to a Tibetan or Nepali. As light threatening of rain at Migothang came to nothing, and we had a comfortable dry night and woke to find a glorious morning. Migothang is a beautiful spot. Grassy undulating meadows lie at an altitude of about 13,000 ft in a wide valley between the main ridge along which we were travelling, and a subsiduary spur, where the Yangwa river flows down to join the Tambur River in Nepal. We thought the country a bit Scotch in Character, and very beautiful.
We were an hour later starting from camp on this morning, which in a way was a pity, because by the time we had climbed to the top of the Ghara La, a 14,000 ft, knife edge pass on the top of our big main ridge, the fat white clouds had been sucked up from the valleys, and were settling down on the great snows, so that we only got peeps of them, and conditions were not favourable for the photographers. Our route had lain along the floor of the valley for about forty minutes, where the open meadows were full of the dried plants of the deep crimson primula Sikkimensis, (like a tall red polyanthus). How I wished they were in flower! I had to content myself with collecting a handful of seed. Rhododendron woods clothed the steep sides of the valley, and the pink polygonum and several yellow saxifrages tucked themselves into rocky corners. An hour and a quarter’s climbing brought us to the top of the pass, and the splendid peeps of the Kangchenjunga group of snows, between the billows of white cloud. “Pansy” as we had nick-names one of our tiffin-porters, since they were both called Angtsering, produced from his pocket a string of six or eight small white prayer flags, which he hung on some of the poles stuck into the cairns of stones. He took off his hat and bowed deeply to them when they were in place. I asked him who the roughly printed figure on them represented, and he said it was Chn-re-dzi, the Merciful spirit, who is (as a rule) incarnate in the Dalai Lama. I have slipped in that “as a rule” because the new incarnation has not yet been found, so we dont know where Chn-re-dzi is at the moment.
The march from Migothang to Gamothang is difficult to describe without being long-winded, but it is such a fine one that it is a pity not to try to give some impression of it. Ever since leaving Ghum five days before we had been travelling along the great ridge which goes northwards to Kangchenjunga. We dropped off it to camp at Nigothang, and climbed on to it again at the Ghara La. From here we left the ridge, which was now getting very high, and for two days we travelled parallel to it, crossing spurs which run Eastwards from it at between 14,000 and 15,000 ft, and dipping into valleys between 12,000 and 13,000 ft between them. On our left hand, the ridge, now a barrier of high rocky mountain peaks, shut off the views of Nepal. On our right the mountains fell away in a sort of Amphitheatre to the deep valleys of Sikkim. In front of us was the great massif of mountains which was our objective. Almost as soon as we had crossed the pass, we found eidelweiss, but rather faded and shabby. Its day was evidently done. Not so the deep blue gentians. There were two sorts, the smaller was gentian ornate, and the larger gentiana amaena., both in full flower. Big clumps of them grew generally at the foot of rocks, on the warm side, with their flowrs opening to the sun, and looking glorious. Just about there too I saw what might at the first glance have been a small bit of turquoise lying by the side of the track. It was a large-flowered carydalis, and look as I would it was the only specimen I saw. Hari Babu, the botanist, seized on it, directly he saw it on my return, and said “good thing”. We crossed three more passes, the Tiger Pass (14,350), The Devil’s Pass Dui La (14,900) and the Ome La or Milk Pass (15,000). Between them was attractive rocky alpine country, with little mountain tarns scattered here and there, and interesting plants, such as the wooly saussurea, which roughly speaking looks like a small cabbage carefully wrapped in extremely fine cotton-wool. If you pull back the wooly bracts (I think they are bracts and not a calyx) inside you find a large flower rather like a sunflower, only with the outside petals very small. We also saw the giant rhubarb in flower. At a little distance the plant looks like a fairly thick post or pillar about 5 ft high, and of a creamy yellow colour, and has a most odd appearance dotted over the mountain sides. On nearer inspection one finds that there are leaves growing at intervals up a stout stalk, and the flowers are situated underneath them. Each leaf turns down to cover the flower, its point coming well down past the middle of the leaf below, and this is what gives the appearance of a thick solid pillar to the plant. Both in this and the previous plant, the flower is wonderfully protected. Earlier in the year, before the flower stem springs up, the stalks of the surrounding leaves can be eaten just like our rhubarb. We had an excellent dish of what I think is a smaller variety of rhubarb when we were up in North Sikkim in the spring.
It was just after 3 o’clock when we crossed the Om La. There is an extra-specially good view of the Snows from there, but they were hidden under clouds. From the pass the rest of our walk was steeply down hill, too steeply for the comfort of some of the party, who arrived at Gamothang about 4.30, feeling rather exhausted. Gamothang is a fine wide valley, with a clear rapidly running river flowing down it. The Hill sides are clothed with rhododendron and fir trees, and patches of them stand on the valley floor in places, but there is a good deal of open meadow like land, which makes it a delightful place in which to camp. Richard Gardiner’s aneroid made the height 12,530 ft. The poor sheep which had walked patiently and unwillingly with us from Phalut, met his end here, and supplied us with excellent mutton for several days.
Each morning when we woke to a fine day, we congratulated ourselves, for it was early in the year to count on fine weather. It was a beautiful morning at Gamothang. In spite of the fact that the porters under the directions of Namkhang had to build a bridge across the stream, we were away from camp just before 8 o’clock, and had a long climb out of the valley, up through the rhododendron woods, which after a while gave place to open mountain-side. After about an hour we reached a saddle, and had a short rest. Our path now contoured round the end of a big spur. We put up some partridges, so Walter Jenkins took his gun, and went on ahead to see if he could get a few, but I think our large party had disturbed the birds too throughly, and he had no luck. We reached our highest point on the spur at 9.45, and from there had a steep drop of about 500 or 600 feet into a lovely green sunny valley, with a clear stream babbling through it in a series of eccentric curves. I dont know whether it was the sunshine or the spirit of the valley but we all seemed very gay here. The porters were all laughing and joking, and after a few minutes rest, some of them began pulling off their boots and stockings preparatory to carrying us over the water. Being carried pig-a-back through a stream is not a dignified performance, and we all laughed heartily at each other, hastened to get out cameras, but I think all failed to get the snap shots they wanted. Richard Gardiner who is some 6’3” tall was carried over by a comparatively small porter, and his efforts to draw his long legs up to keep them out of the water caused a good deal of mirth. For the next two hours we climbed over ridges and down into valleys, contoured rocky barren hill-sides, and made a steep ascent of 1000 feet to the highland grazing ground of Pangdin at an altitude of about 14,000 feet. We ought to have had fine views from all the saddles we crossed, but the great white cumulous clouds had crept up the valleys and settled over all the snows. We ourselves climbed into them at Pangdin, and the mist in which we moved made it cold and gave a somewhat desolate appearance to the landscape. The bit of country we were on might have been down-land in a dryer climate, but the tremendous rainfall of Sikkim made a great deal of it boggy, and sent small streamlets meandering through it in all directions. Mosses, lichens, dwarf rhododendrons, and many sorts of small flowering plants their flowers dead and gone to seed, were more plentiful than grass. It was already nearly one o’clock, and we stopped for lunch, but the difficulty of finding dry ground on which to sit, and a spot in which we were sheltered from the cold wind, made us wish we had stopped lower down. The hot soup at the beginning, and the peppermint bull-eyes at the end of lunch were specially popular. Our climbing was by no means over, and we had another stiff pull up a mountain-side, very bare and bleak, and made a little more inhospitable by a certain uncertainty as to whether we were going the right way. Nursang had promised to leave marks for us, but they were very few and far between. It appears that he had put down bits of wood, pointed at one end, to indicate direction, and that one of the porters seeing such eligable bits of fire wood, had collected them and taken them along. Well, we climbed our mountain and scrambled round its shoulder and along the face of it for a white, guessing that the great trough below us, filled with thick white mist, was the Churang Chu valley where we intended to camp for the night. The problem was where to descend into it. The mountainside was covered with little sheep and yak tracks. We knew that there was a path leading sharply down into the valley somewhere, and that there was another track leading Westwards along the valley side to the Kang La pass into Nepal. Marion and I, a little lower down the hill side than the others, and found a bit of paper stuck on to the branch of a small bush beside a small path, and called to the others to come and see, but they had just found the prints of many porters feet in the soft earth of another small path. It seemed obvious if the porters had gone tht way it must be right, so we stepped out briskly along a fairly level stretch. After a while, realizing that our tiffin porters were out of sight behind us in the mist, we stepped to shout to them. It was lucky we did, for Nursang in the valley below heard our shouts. He had already gone westwards from the camping place, to call down some of the porters who had taken the wrong path, and in whose foot-steps we had been following. Guessing what had happened from the direction of our voices, he took a short cut over rocks and throughbushes up the mountain-side, and managed to cut us off. We were well on the way to the Kang La and Nepal. He wanted us to retrace our steps, and go down the proper path, but we hated the thought of going back, especially as it meant uphill work, and asked if we could not go down by the way he had come up. He said that there was no path but that it was possible, and we elected to try it. Down the mountain-side was easy enough. It was mostly a scramble through scrub and bushes, but when we got down to the river-side, it became more difficult. A maze of big rocks blocked the floor of the valley here, and over these we maee our way, each convinced that the route we had chosen was the best, and most of us going by different ones. Nursang kept on saying that he was sorry that the Memsahib and the Mis-Sahibs should be put to so much trouble, when all the while the memsahib and mis-sahibs were throughly enjoying it. In fact I have an idea that Barbara in company with Richard, climbed on to the highest possible rocks just in order to have the pleasure on finding an ingenious way of descent. What eyes we had to spare for beauty had plenty to feast upon. Curious coloured lichens painted patterns on the splendid piles of rocks, which supported clumps of ferns and dwarf bushes already touched by Autumn tints. Here and there small streams flowing down to join the river made clear pools, full of waving water weed, and reflecting the beauties above. It was a place where I could have lingered happily for a day, but it was getting late and we had to push on. After perhaps half an hour of scrambling, we emerged on the path we should have followed down the hill-side. It crossed a fine waterfall, and dropped steeply beside it to the Churang Chu. The valley at this slightly lower altitude, was full of tall rose and current bushes, mixed with rhododendron and berberis, and occasional small maples and mountain-ash trees, making a thick wood ten or twelve feet high. Down through this our path precipitated itself over wet slippery rocks, till it reached a rough wooden bridge over the river, from where a few minutes walk brought us to our tents, fitted in with some difficulty amongst the bushes, but looking snug and comfortable. It was twenty minutes to five when we reached them, so we had had another long day, and once more we thanked God for tea, which old Tehlay, the cook rapidly produced. It was hard to believe that at Gamothang and by the Churang Chu, in these sheltered valleys, full of lavish vegetation, we were at a higher altitude than on the bare hill-tops of Phalut and Dzongri, yet so it was, and the night temperatures bore it out. Richard’s thermometre registered 16° for the lowest night temperature, and in the morning every leaf and every blade of grass was frosted with white rime. The cold after sundown did not tempt us to stay up late at night. Supper generally arrived between 6.30 and 7 o’clock, and most of us crawled into our sleeping sacks soon after 8’o’clock. Herbert’s different styles of wearing a Balacalaver cap gave endless amusement to the company, and often his remarks set the girls off into such fits of giggling that they had some difficulty in swallowing their food. Our late arrivals in camp, and the amount of housekeeping there is to do for so large a party did not leave me any spare time for writing up a journal or doing much in the way of sorting and drying my flower collections.
On another lovely morning, we left the Churang Chu at a quarter to eight, and climbed steeply for an hour out of the valley. Just above and West of our camp the valley splits into two, making rather a narrow “Y”. Up the more southerly of these two vallies we caught glimpses of the Kang Peak, a solid looking block of snow, and up the other branch we could see the more graceful Ratong Peak and part of Koktang. The deep wooded valleys made a fine frame for the snow. As we reached the top of the climb from the valley, and came out onto open undulating ground we saw a lot of ponies grazing. The path continued to rise and fall gently over the Dzongri uplands for about half an hour, till topping a small hill, we were faced with a magnificent view of the three snow peaks of Pandim (22,010 ft) Tingchingkang (no height given on the map, but about 19,000 ft) and Jubonu (19,530 ft) only a few miles away. The view burst upon us so suddenly, and was so magnificent, that for a moment we were quite staggered by it. For two days we had scarcely seen the snows and now suddenly they seemed so near. When we had drunk in a little of the beauty of the dazzling snow, we saw just ahead of us the rough stone hut of the yak-herds: with a number of yaks grazing near by, and on a slight rise beyond the hut, four chortens outlined against the snows. The photographers, Walter Jenkins, Richard Gardiner, and Barbara Griffin soon had their cameras out and got to work, while the rest of us strolled on to the hut, where our porters had already thrown down their burdens, and paused for a little rest and refreshment in the way of tea, and the famous Tibetan cheese, which is as hard as a rock. A couple of yakherds and two rather charming children, a boy of about ten and a girl probably a year younger, were the sole inhabitants of Dzongri. We sat and rested by the hut for a while, the children gazing upon us with the most intense interest. It is not unlikely that we were the first Europeans they had seen, for its not often that Europeans visit their little town of Yoksun. Nursang busied himself about buying supplies of milk and butter, and asked questions about the state of the road to Yoksun for our return journey in a few days time, which were answered satisfactorily. The photographers, still busy with their cameras, came up and took pictures of the yaks and the children. It was lovely sitting in the sun and we idled away three quarters of an hour from the time we saw the snows, till we started on our way again. To the north-west, rising close beside us, was the cone-shaped rock peak of Kabur, rising some 2,500 ft above Dzongri’s 13,100 ft, and shutting out the view of Kangchenjunga and the other great snows to the south and West of him. We wished we had time to stay at Dzongri and climb Kabur, but our number of days was strictly limited, and we had to stick to our programme. For an hour our path undulated over marshy and rocky uplands, where stretches of dwarf rhododendrons grew on the dryer banks, while moss and grass and damp-loving plants covered the earth, and gaultherias spread their woody stems closely over the rocks, and offered us their bright sapphire blue edible berries, which the porters consumed in considerable quantities, but which we did not find very palatable. They taste just like winter-green smells, but have a pleasant crisp feel about them as if they were frozen, and leave a fresh feeling in the mouth. From the edge of the Dzongri uplands, there is a sudden descent into the deep valley of the Praig Chu. For 1,000 feet a well marked path crops through rhododendron forest in a long series of sharp zig-zags, where reaching the edge of the river, it follows up the right bank, through delightful open woodland of small trees. We found a charming mossy bank beside the stream, where we reclined at ease and ate our lunch. Richard amused himself by taking close up snap shots as we dosed after the meal, and some of them are rather amusing. We got under way again about 1.30, and for another hour and a half we made our way steadily up the Praig Chu valley. The trees gradually gave way to bushes, and the bushes to alpine meadows, which earlier in the year must have been thick with flowers. The eastern wall of the valley was formed by Jubonu, Tingchingkang, and Pandim, and the Western one by a high rocky range, over the tops of which we could see little scraps of higher snow peaks appearing. As we neared our amping-place, we could see a wall of morain across the head of the valley, and beyond it the great bulk of Kanchenjunga.
Though only 3 o’clock when we reached camp, there was a chilly breeze blowing and the sun had gone behind the western hills. The porters had not finished pitching the tents, so Herbert threw himself down on the lee side of a rock, and shouted to everyone to come and sit on him to keep him warm. We all rushed to obey, with much merriment, and such good effect that in the photo which Walter Jenkins had the presence of mind to take, Herbert is scarcely visible. It was nice to be earlier into camp, after three days when we had not arrived till between 4.30 and 5.o’clock. that night by the light of a half grown moon, we saw a wonderful light effect on the three great snow peaks above us. A light mist wrapped their skirts, and above it the three beautiful cones of snow rose like ghosts in the moonlight.
We were in luck with the weather, and were blessed with a beautiful clear dawn. Pandim rose right above us, dark against the morning sky, while the rising sun shone on the splendid bulk of Kangchenjunga, framed by the dark walls of the valley. It was cold. There was white frost over everything. Our camp was 1200 feet higher than that of the previous night, but the thermometre only registered one more degree of frost. The night minimum had been 15°. The souls of the photographers were almost floating above such mundane matters as breakfast, seeing visions of the photos they were going to take, and fearing to linger too long over their food lest the clouds should roll up and obscure the view. Richard, hung round with cameras, exposure metres, and camera stands, disappeared up the slopes of Pandim. Herbert, map in hand soon followed in the same direction, being possessed by a great curiousity to see the peaks on the other side of the rocky western wall of the valley. Marion and Rex were off somewhere too. Household affairs delayed me a little, but Barbara, and Walter kindly waited for me, and taking a diagonal line we traversed the slopes of Pandim, climbing high above the direct valley path, in order to get better views of the snows. It was a grand morning on which to enjoy a grand scene. It was hard to grasp the enormous scale of the landscape, but not its beauty. We were entranced by a natural phenomenon which I had never seen before. Where small streams ran down from the mountain, and splashed over rocks, the spray had damped the grasses and leaves on their banks and each leaf and each blade was enclosed in its own bottle of ice, shining in the bright sun.
Drawing near the head of the valley, we thought we had better descend, and follow the regular track over the morain. Again we each thought that we could pick the best path down the mountain, and scrambled down in parties of one! At the bottom I joined up with Rex, and to-gether we approached a line of battered chortens, mans last mark of respect to the great mountain spirits. We were careful to keep the Chortens on our right, and murmured the “Om mani padmi om” as we went past them, for I always believe in paying respect to the local deities, and keeping on good terms with them, especially when it happens that the diety is the good Lord Buddha, with the distant spirit of Kangchenjunga behind him. We had spent two hours wandering along the flanks of Pandim, to the foot of the moraine, and it took us 35 minutes to climb it. Another lovely view awaited us at the top. Before us lay a small lake of a beautiful turquoise blue, lying between steep hills. We stopped to rest on its brink, and found the water as clear as crystal. Our rest was followed by a fairly steep climb up the valley beyond, out of which we clambered into a tangle of morains. Glaciers from the peaks on either hand pushed their morains down to meet each other, and they had created a chaos of rocks such as I have never seen. Over one side of this we had to pick our way, guided by scraps of bright green paper cinema advirtisments, which Namkhang had thoughtfully put on rocks and weighted down with stones. The next section of our route was much easier, for it lay over the dried up beds of two or three mountain lakes. Some excitement was caused by finding the footprints of an animal in the soft damp sand. We discussed the possibility of its being a leopard or a wolf. I am inclined to think it was a wolf, but snow leopards go as high and higher than this, for one crossed the Donkhya La just in front of G.B. on one occasion, and they followed its tracks all the way over. We lunched on the edge of these dried up lakes, leaning back against a steep bank. The snow peaks had all retired under a mantle of cloud. Marian, finishing her lunch, lent back to rest with her hands behind her head. “Goodness” she cried, pointing upwards, “look at that!” There, clear above us, sticking through the clouds, and looking almost as if it might fall on us, was the huge pointed top of Pandim.
It only took us about half an hour after lunch to reach our camping ground. The valley took a bend and widened out into meadows with a stream running through the middle of them, and in a sheltered spot near to some rocks, our camp was already pitched. Immediately above it was a snow saddle on the shoulder of Pandim, which most of us took to the Guicha La, but argument arose whether another lower but more indefinite dip in the high ridge to the north of us might not be the pass. Namkhang and all the porters who had been up there before said that the first saddle was the true pass, but the second one answered more closely to Freshfield’s description of it. (Freshfield was the man who many years ago made a complete circuit of Kangchenjunga.) With great energy Richard and Rex started off to explore it, and came back with the news that it seemed to be quite an easy saddle, and that they thought there was some sort of track over it. After a lot of discussion we decided that we would go to the other Pass in the morning, partly because we believed that from it we should have a better view. We decided that the earlier we could reach the top the better it would be. I promised to do my best to call the camp at 4 a.m. It was arranged that we should just have sandwiches and tea for breakfast, and take flasks of soup and biscuits and chocolate to the top of the pass with us. It was very cold at Chemthang as these mountain meadows are called. We piled on all our warmest clothes and wrapped shawls and rugs round us as we sat at supper. The thermometer registered 8° as the lowest night temperature, so it is not surprising that it seemed chilly. The marvel is that one gets and keeps so warm in a sleeping bag. I never use a hot-water bottle, but no matter how cold it has been outside, I am always as warm as toast (The proverbial toast, not the genuine article, which is usually cold) a few minutes after I have crawled into it. I woke a few times during the night, partly I suppose because I was detirmined not to over-sleep. At 4 o’clock, I got out of my bag, and wrapping a blanket round me, went out of the tent. It was still quite dark. The moon had set but the stars were brilliant, and it seemed mysterious in that hollow among the mountains. First of all I went and roused the cook and porters, and then I called the rest of the party. There were shouts for our orderleys to take our boots which were frozen, and thaw them. Unfortunately the sandwiches were frozen too which did not make them very palatable on such a cold morning. However nothing matterd much except getting to the top of the pass before the clouds came up and shut out the view. It was still only twilight when we lift camp, and started our climb to the pass, which was about 1,000 feet above us, and approached up a steep slope mostly covered with snow. There was nothing difficult about the climb, except the inevitable shortness of breath which is unavoidable at high altitudes. Of course one had to be careful, both on the snow and on the ribs of loose scree, which appeared through the snow here and there. On the scree the chief danger was that of setting the loose stones rolling and hitting the climbers below. On the snow it was just a matter of being careful of ones footing for a slip might have meant a very uncomfortable fall. However the snow was in beautiful condition. It was just of the consistancy when the feet do not sink in, but soft enough to allow of kicking foot-holds. It took most of us about an hour and a half to reach the top, but Marian beat us all by about twenty minutes. She took a more direct and steeper route than that followed by the rest of us, and added to that she is a good climber.
Every pass has its individual characteristics. The Donkhya La, in Northern Sikkim, which I had crossed for the second time in the spring, and which is some 1,500 feet higher than the Guicha La, commands a tremendously extensive view northwards over the plains of Tibet, giving one a feeling of having a almost god-like vision. Distant snow mountains we had seen from there, were at least 100 miles away. On either hand the pass is shut in by rocky crags, which cut off the views of the snowy range, over which this pass cuts its way. The Guicha La is quite different. Immense snow peaks rise all round it, except for two narrow gashes, the Praig Chu valley up which we had come, and the Talung Valley, a deep cut between us, and the towering mass of Kangchenjunga, whose huge ice precipices rose on its far side only about five miles away. We were right on the shoulder of Pandim, whose lovely cone of snow was close above us. Immediately opposite across the Talung Valley, was Simvo, another 22,000 foot peak, separated from Kanchenjunga by the sharp dip of the Cloud Gap. Immediately on our left, or western side beyond about a mile of rocky ridge, rose an impressive peak, which we believed to be the 23,000 foot Talung Peak, and continued so to believe till after we returned to Darjeeling, and discovered it to be a much smaller 19,000 ft peak marked on the old maps as the Guicha Peak. It exactly masked the Talung Peak from where we stood, as the Dome and the Forked Peak and other smaller snows, masked the much higher Kabru, and other bigger peaks lying behind them. The effect of these majestic peaks looking down on us, produced a different effect from the birds eye view from the Donkhya, and made one feel more as if the gods were looking down on us. It was magnificent and impressive, and also geographically very interesting. We had out our maps and a compass and set to work to identify the peaks round us, which was no easy task, for the map was inaccurate, and our initial mistake about the Talung put us out considerably. The three photographers were busy with their cameras. Most of the mountains were clear, but just as we reached the summit of the pass, clouds creeping up the Talung valley, rose and shrouded the beautiful peak of Siniolchu, which lay across the Talung Valley away to the North East. Luckily the draught did not seem to be bringing more clouds our way, and the nearer mountains remained clear all the time we were on the pass, which must have been well over two hours, though I did not take the time. when we could turn our minds for a little while from the mountains, we sat on some rocks and had a second breakfast of soup and biscuits and sandwiches. It had been cold when we first reached the top, but with the sun well up, it was pleasant, and we left with some regret. Most of our porters had gone back to make a camp for us a little nearer Dzongri than where we had camped beside the Praig Chu on the way up. That part of the valley, by the way, is called Alukthang.
Richard Gardiner remained on top of the pass with one porter to carry his case of surveying instruments. He had some provisions with him, and we promised to send men with lanterns to meet him if he did not reach the camp before dark. The descent from the pass was easy enough and took us about three quarters of an hour. We were back at the site of the previous night’s camp about 10 o’clock, and one or two porters still there, with fire and a kettle, ready to make us tea, which we much enjoyed.
There were some interesting plants on the rocky slopes just under the snow. A sort of “tansy” (Tanacetum gossypium) was very attractive to look at. It was a small busy plant only a few inches high, its leaves and stalks thickly covered with fine silver hairs, and bearing bunches of bright yellow flowers, closely resembling the English tansy, but the contrast of the bright yellow with the silver foliage makes it a much more picturesque plant than its English cousin. We did not experiment to see whether we could make tansy tea with it. Another quaint plant was a sort of sassaurea (Sassaurea tridactyla), which looked like a small nettle, covered with fine silver-grey wool, only its flowers grew just underneath each leaf, and the leaf turned down slightly over them, thus acting both as a blanket and an umbrella. There was a lot of the giant rhubarb which I have described earlier scattered about the rocky slopes, and many coloured lichens on the rocks.
Retracing our steps down the valley was a quicker business than coming up. We reached our old camp site of two nights before at a quarter to two, in spite of the fact that we had not left our Chemthang camp at the foot of the Guicha La till 10.30, and had stopped an hour for lunch. On this occasion we pushed on for another three quarters of an hour to a good camp site, which the porters call Alukphuk, “phuk” meaning “cave”, where a huge over-hanging rock, makes what they call a cave in Sikkim, and where there were quantities of fire-wood. We had not been long in camp, when Richard Gardiner turned up, having come through from the top of the Guicha La, with practically no stop.
Our next days march was a short and easy one to Dzongri, in spite of an hour’s steep climb from the valley of the Praig Chu to the Dzongri plateau. Herbert and I took it very slowly, and I collected a good many plants, but even so our walk only took just over three hours, and we were in Dzongri by 11.20. We throughly enjoyed having an afternoon in which we could mess about, and attend to our various hobbies. Walter Jenkins guided by the Yak Herd’s small son and daughter, went off with his gun, but he did not get anything, though there are a lot of blood-pheasant, and partridges of a sort there. For the first time we had a big camp fire to sit round in the evening. Our men made seats for us, by rolling up boulders, and fetching the half tree-trunks which made the roof of the yak-herd’s hut to lay from one to the other to make benches. The yak herd showed no surprise at having large portions of his roof lifted off, and when I remonstrated about it Nursang merely said, “He can take them back to-morrow”. It was a splendid opportunity to get the blotting paper in which I was drying my botanical specimens, throughly aired by the fire, but as there was a breeze blowing, I insisted on the whole party helping with the job, and holding the sheets near the flames. Supper was eaten with a certain amount of difficulty, sitting round the fire, wrapped in blankets. Knives and forks, salt and pepper were constantly lost in the folds of our wraps, but I done think anything, even the smoke, seriously interfered with the business of eating. We amused ourselves by singing songs, but the success of the party as community singers was not very great. Four of us were over forty, and the other three were still in their early or middle twenties, so our knowledge of suitable songs did not coincide, and was roughly divided into pre-war and post-war. Our only common ground was “Old Man River” and Hymns, and we raised a fairly satisfactory noise over “Lead Kindly Light”, “Rock of Ages” and a few more old favourites. The night’s rest was somewhat disturbed for some of us by the fact that the small ponies who were grazing round about seemed to think the guy-ropes of our tents good things to play “touch-last” amongst.
We woke to another lovely morning, and were full of regret that we were leaving the heights, and plunging into the deep valleys. Sitting once more round the camp-fire for breakfast, a big rounded hill, called by Freshfield “The Belevedere” stood between us and the sunrise. Just before the sun topped the hill, its edge seemed to be rimmed with a bright silver halo - - a sort of heavenly radience - - Two or three tall prayer flags which had been erected there by some devout Budhist, were transformed by the same wonderful effect. Our day’s journey took us in a south-easterly direction under the southern flank of this hill, which is part of a spur running out from the main Kankchenjunga ridge, between the valleys of the Praig Chu and the Ratong Chu. For about three miles the path keeps fairly level coming on to the top of the ridge beyond the Belevedere, at a place called Mon Baptse, where there is said to be a cave. From here there is a fine view north up the Praig Chu Valley. Kangchenjunga in the background, somewhat hiddben by the nearersnows, running from Little Kabru or Ratong on the West to Jubonu on the East. Looking a little East of South from here, the plateau of Yoksam stands out very clearly across the gorge of the Praig Chu, and it looks remarkably close, giving one little inkling of the arduous miles that lie between Mon Laptsa and it. The path, such as it is, now drops nearly 6,000 ft in 7 miles, down, down, down through thick forest, with very few open spaces, till it reaches a bridge over the Praig Chu. We reached this spot at 12.30, a good deal earlier than we had expected, for the accounts of the few travellers who had been by this route had given us to understand that the track would probably be overgrown with nettles and other stinging plants, and blocked by fallen trees, so that our progress would be slow. It must have been improved by the Yak herds of recent years, for though not much of a path, it was nowhere seriously blocked. We had to get underneath one fallen tree, and once or twice where there had been small land slips, we had to clamber down an almost precipitous bank, clinging on to trees and creepers. The Praig Chu at the point where it is bridges, is in a tremendous gorge. The huge wooded cliffs rose above us on either side, majestic but oppressive. There was some difficulty in finding space to pitch our tents, but by a little clearing of undergrowth it was done. While Nursang and the porters were attending to this, we ate our lunch, seated somewhat precariously on a great sloping rock, which hung over the river. Luckily the slope was inwards to the land. Tehley, the cook, had a magnificent great cave for his kitchen. We were back in the leech area, in fact the place we were in has an evil reputation for leeches. Luckily a long spell of fine weather had discouraged them, and we were not greatly bothered by them, though glad to have the porters take the precaution of sprinkling hot ashes over the ground of the tent floor, and sweeping them about to burn up any intruders, before they laid out our bedding. My impression is that most of the afternoon was taken up by washing ourselves, and changing our clothes. The men had the added labour of shaving off their beards. It was many days since it had been warm enough to do much washing, and changing clothes had not been thought of. Richard wandered round with a small camera, taking snap-shots unbeknown of people at their toilets, but sad to relate something went wrong with the film, so what we feel would have been an amusing series of pictures were lost to the world. Though we were down to a little below 6,000 ft, a camp fire was still pleasant and we had a most successful one built across a space between rocks. It was still smouldering when we woke in the morning.
The march to Yoksum, though it eventually landed us about 1,500 ft lower than we had been at the Bridge, started with a stiff climb out of the gorge, and continued in a series of sharp ascents and descents through the forest and over streams for four and a half hours. We marched on to the Dzongri plateau and into the first cultivated land we had seen since we left Darjeeling, at about mid-day. We had just made a very steep descent to a stream, and a very steep climb from it, and emerged from the forest very hot and thirsty. We stopped to rest in the cool breeze, and some women and boys who were working a little way down the hill-side in their fields, approached us rather shyly, and offered us two or three elderly and somewhat over-grown cucumbers, which we sliced up with our pen-knives and consumed gratefully. It took us about another half hour to reach the village of Yuksom, and we found it quite exciting to see houses and people again, after so many days without them. The local inhabitants were even more excited to see us, for European travellers are rare things in Yoksum. We found our way through the village street, to an upland grass field, where preparations had been made for our arrival, and where our men were already pitching the tents. Word had been sent that we were coming, and the Kazi had put up a booth of green granches, with a table down the middle of it, and a high bench covered with Tibetan rugs on either side, where we were served with Marwa, the beer of Sikkim. We ate our lunch in the booth, after formal greetings had been exchanged between our selves and the gentry of the place. The hot day and our somewhat exhausting walk had given us an excellent thirst, and we sucked the Marwa out of the chungas through the little bamboo pipes with avidity. Marian Atkins took a bit of film of the party emerging after lunch, and there seems to be some slight uncertainty about the walk of some of the party, but we hope it was only the effect of an inexperienced hand with a cine-kodak.
My next job was to interview the Kazi and his sattelites, and make some rather intricate arrangements about getting supplies of fresh food sent up to the base camp of mr Cooke, who has going to make an attempt to climb Kabru, a mountain just beyond Dzongri, a few weeks later. My head did not feel very clear, but as the arrangements all worked out to plan I suppose I was sufficiently in control of my faculties to make no mistakes. We sat on the grass in the field, Herbert and myself in the centre, the great men near us, their wives and children in an outer ring, and the lesser folk standing on the outskirts. The arrangements being completed, we were presented with some eggs, milk and vegetables, so I retired to me tent to see what I could scratch up in the way of a return gift. Luckily I had an odd saucer of bright scarlet bakerlite, so I arranged a collection of sweet biscuits on it, and our last packet of chocolate. It was received with evident pleasure, and evidently thought much of, for a little later another deputation arrived with a few more eggs and another bottle of milk. I also took out a jar of peppermint bull-eyes, and offered them all round, with difficulty restraining the recipients from pouching them in the bosoms of the garments till some future time. Herbert was caught with one leg in and one leg out of his riding breeches by the party bearing the second gift, the leader of which was the Kazi’s buxum wife. He remained sitting on his bedding in a majestic manner, and bowed with dignity, so the exchange of civilities went off well in spite of his prediciment.
There is a famous monastery, Dubdi, about a thousand feet up the hill-side above Yoksum, but we were too lazy to climb up to it. The small Sikkim monasteries are all much alike, and it looked a long way up! It is famous because it was on that spot, so legend says, that three holy lamas from the north, the west and the south met, and decided that Budhism must be introduced into Sikkim, and they chose as the king of the country an ancestor of the present Royal family.
Just as all our baggage was going off the following morning, a most venerable looking lama in yellow robes, arrived on a pony, dismounted and greeted me and said he had come to ask me to give him medicine. What sort of medicine?” I asked. “Medicine for the stomach and medicine for fever” he replied. Luckily I had a good stock of the cheap government made quinine, and two large bottles of effervescing Epsom-salts in large tabloids, which had been given me by Dr Warren on his return from the Everest Reconnaisance. Calling back the porter with my suit-case, I gave the old man a couple of tubes of quinine pills, and one bottle of Epsom Salts, begging him not to try to take them all at the same time. He placed a ceremonial white scarf round my neck, and as is the manner of the Tibetans and Sikkimese, he joined the procession who were accompanying us on the start of our journey. I begged them all not to trouble themselves, but they know their etiquette, and can judge to a nicity the distance that the rank of their guests demands. We were glad when farewells were said, and we plunged steeply down hill to the river, climbed another steep ridge, dropped again to another river, climbed yet again, and scrambled down to a third river, where six ponies of varying sizes and merits were waiting us. It was very hot, and we were glad of mounts of any sort, for it was a long steep climb to Pamionchi monastry and bungalow. Half way up the hill a village had prepared a booth and chungas of marwa for us, as well as plates full of bananas and guavas. We did hearty justice both to the food and the drink. I happened to have handy an almost unused Balacalava cap, which I presented to the Headman, with a few rupees “for the servants”. We perhaps rather mistakenly decided to push on to Pamionchi for lunch, and got there rather late. However we had done so well on the bananas etc, that we were by no means starving. A porter had come out to meet us with fresh supplies, so we enjoyed bread only three days old, and devoured at the same time letters and papers of the past two weeks.
There is not much to tell of the next three and a half days. We dropped into deep valleys, and climbed over high ridges. It was very hot in the valleys, and some of us enjoyed bathing in the mountain streams. Rinchingpong and Chakung bungalows are both luckily on the tops of ridges, above mosquito level, and with pleasant views. On our last day which was a Sunday, we crossed the Rammam river about 10 o’clock in the morning and entered British India again. For some way we had been passing people going in to the Sunday market, dressed in their Sunday best. Just by the bridge, when we were hot and thirsty, we bought 4 lbs of small tomatoes, about the size of good-sized strawberries, and perching on the wall at the end of the bridge, we ate the lot. Later we passed through Singla Bazaar, where the market was crowded with buyers and sellers, and crossing another bridge over the Chota Rungeet, found ourselves on the edge of a tea-garden, and back in civilization once more. We spent that night at Badamtam bungalow, which at 2,500 feet was a good deal lower than any other place in which we had stayed. We watched a wonderful effect of moonlit sky, making a sort of silver radience, behind a dark ridge of mountains, before the moon herself appeared. It was a clear night and the moon was full, and the effect of her light over the dark hills and valleys was beautiful. Nursang, who had faithfully produced marwa for us each evening since we had got back to the villages, brought the usual chunga for each of us, but it must have been double strength, for after drinking a comparatively small amount we all became most chatty and confidential, except Barbara, who, it seems, had had her suspicions of this marwa from the first. Marian said she would tell us how she lost her reputation with a curate, and she started on a long tale, in which however, we could find no reason for her reputation being smirched. A neighbouring planter had kindly arranged ponies for all seven of us, to take us up the hill to the cart road below Darjeeling, a ride of about six miles, and all steeply up hill. It was a glorious morning, and we had some good views of the snows, amongst which we had so recently been. With the aid of cars we were in Darjeeling soon after 10 o’clock, drinking coffee on the terrace of the Planter’s Club, greeting friends and answering questions, but all the same very sorry that the holiday was over.