LJT, Marnie Atkins, Barbara Griffin
Thangu Rest House – Altitude: 12,800 ft.
May 28th, 1935.
Although this is the 6th day since we left Gangtok, I do not seem to have had any opportunity to write an account of my jouneyings. This is the first time I have done a trek without ponies and the day’s ,takes a good deal longer. Also this time I have all the arrangements to look after, which take up a bit of time. Another factor has been that there have been people in several of the bungalows, so that we have sat a long time over supper and talked afterwards. A young sapper has been at three of the bungalows with us – a very shy young man – and at Lachen, our last stop, Mr. Dudley, the General Secretary to H.H. the Maharaja of Sikkim, happened to be at the bungalow and we all went to tea with the dear little missionary. Miss Kronquist who has been so good in helping me to make all my arrangements. We took the shy young man along with us and he did not say much but ate a good tea. We all dined together as well, and there was not a moment to write.
I have two young Bengali botanists out with us, one of whom is a splendid little sportsman – neither of them can speak of write English, but they can reel off Greek and Latin names with the greatest facility. It seems quite uncanny. They keep my nose to the grindstone for at least an hour every evening writing up the Field Collection books. I am glad to do it and learn a bit of botany in the process, but it takes a big share of our time in the bungalows.
Most days we get in between 3-30 and 4 o’clock. In the first few places, where it is hot or warm, we bathe as soon as the water is ready and then have tea but now it is cold we like our tea better than our baths. Tonight we have our last baths for six days as from to-morrow we shall be in tents.
Though I have written about the deep Sikkim Valleys so often before, I must just give a short sketch of our journey. The two girls, Marion Atkins and Barbara Griffin arrived in Gangtok just before lunch on the 22nd and Mrs. Williamson put them up at the Residency which was most convenient for us all. They were both in a great state of excitement. I ran them round to see the Monsastery and the Gangtok market in the afternoon. My men from Lachan and Darjeeling also arrived that day. From Darjeeling came the cook, Tilli – always called Cocoagam by G.B.Gourlay and now well-known by that name, and one porter who had been out with me before. He is a wild looking fellow, but a good sort. He walks with us with a large basket on his back in which we throw all our mackintoshes, extra coats, cameras, packets of lunch and any other oddments we think we may want on the road as well as my little tea-basket in which we made tea to drink with our lunch. He also makes our beds and does up our bedding, washes up helps to hand things at table. From Lachen a delightful man called Namkhang, who was largely brought up by Mrs. Kronquist and who is much beloved by G.B.Gourlay came with five mules, which have come as far as this place, since the porters from this place do not like coming down into the warm valleys to carry loads. We paid off our mules here this morning and start to-morrow with porters. G.B Gourlay did not speak a bit too highly of Namkhang. He is the nicest creature. To begin with he is so beautifully clean and tidy and very nice-looking. He is quiet and most efficient and seems to have great authority over all the local people. I have never known a bunch of transport get away with so little talk or fuss and it is the same with every thing on the road. Namkhang seems able to produce anything we ask for and I have not had to use my large “Parwana” from the Sikkim Government, instructing all and sundry to sell us food, milk etc., and give us any help we need. He waits on us at table rather as if it is a religious ceremony and is most intelligent into the bargain. I had a long talk with him the other evening about the history of his people – this colony of Tibetans settled in Lachen.
Our transport left Gangtok about 9-30 on the morning of the 23rd and we followed about 10 o’clock riding the Williamson’s ponies up to the Penlong La –that is the pass about 4 miles away and 500 ft. higher than Gangtok. From there we took to our feet, a steady downhill walk of 9 miles and a drop of 4,000 ft. Its typical lower Sikkim scenery, steep hillsides covered with thick forest, trees, creepers, ferns, tree ferns, bamboos filling every inch of available ground and every tree covered again with ferns, orchids and all sorts of other plants, for Sikkim is a great country of “Ephyhpites”. Waterfalls dash down the mountain sides at every turn of the road and here and there rock cliffs that are too sheer for any plant to grow upon show through the mantle of green. Dikchu stands at the junction of a small mountain torrent of the same name, which most aptly means “staggering water”, and the Teesta river. It was not half so hot as we expected there, and we spent quite a pleasant night using mosquito nets for the last time. One can never dine with a lamp on the table at Dikchu, or else one gets one’s soup and gravy full of moths and other flying creatures. Our marches average about 13 miles a day as far as this and we have now climbed to just under 13,000 ft. but actually we have done far more climbing than that for there are many long downs on the road as well as ups. Marian Atkins has a pony, but Barbara Griffin and I are doing the whole expedition on foot, and though we are managing it quite well, we are generally quite pleased when we arrive at the Bungalow. It was a tiring march our third day out, as there was a difference of 4,000 ft. between the bungalow we left in the morning and that we reached in the afternoon, but we must have climbed at least another two thousand for the road was like a switch back, with one tremendous drop to cross the Teesta. Also the surface was nothing but rough rock the whole way.
Each day the scenery has become more beautiful, at least to my mind, as we rise from the thick damp forests to more open mountain sides, covered with familiar English trees, such as pines and firs of different sorts, larch, birch, sycamore and so on. Yesterday’s march almost baffles description. It was Rhododendrons all the way and primulas by the million. Rather lower down the huge red rhododendron trees had been almost past their flowering season, and we had begun to see a few tall, semi-climbing ones with beg cream bells. (Rhododendron Dalhousii). Above Lachen (8,800 ft.) we plunged into the heart of the rhododendron country. The big cream one went on, and another shrubby tree with delicious pale sulphur-coloured flowers, the buds of which had the most amusing red tips to their noses, began to appear and became more and more common, till round about this bungalow whole mountain sides are covered with it. Another enchanting variety with flowers rather small, of every shade of flame (Rhododendro Royalii) became quite common, growing both inside the woods and out on the open mountain sides. A very small shrub, more like an azalea in size and growth, grew in huge clumps, with rose-du-barri flowers. About half way between Lachen and Thangu, where the steep forest covered mountain sides, give way to much more open country, the flame coloured rhododendron faded out, and its place was taken by one, or several, pinky mauve ones varying in shade from not much off white to deep reddish purple, and mixing most beautifully with the pale sulphur and cream ones. About here we began seeing three or four varieties of dwarf rhododendrons, two of them growing to a couple of feet and bearing white or delicious bluish pink flowers, and the third a tiny thing, scarcely as tall as heather and with very much the same habit of growth and flowers of the same colour. Yaks also made their appearance about this time with adorable woolly calves, which gazed at us with wondering eyes.
I have written all this about rhododendrons, but I have not yet begun on the other flowers. A few miles above Lachen we began to see clumps of a mauve primula, (Primula Denticulata), like a big cowslip and they became more and more common, till they were everywhere and crossing a bit of sort of moorland big stretches of ground were mauve with them. At about this altitude another primula became plentiful. It was a deep reddish purple, with flowers like an auricular and silver grey leaves which look a little as if they might have been dipped in the flour bin. (Primula Royalii). This does not make it sound very pretty, but it is really an enchanting thing. After crossing this bit of flat land where there are three small villages, that is to say, collections of about half a dozen stone huts, the last four or five miles of the road to Thangu run up a wide valley with the river brawling noisely on the left a hundred feet or so below the road to begin with, but later on the same level and the whole valley and mountain side just a garden of flowers. We kept on seeing new things and were thrilled to find one of the blue poppies which I had not seen before. There is a tendency to speak about the blue poppy as if there were only one sort, but in reality there are several which grow at varying altitudes. This one was growing in the woods at something over 12,000 ft. From a fat rosette of leaves spring two or three stalks about 18 inches tall each bearing a large sapphire blue blossom. (Mecanopsis Simplicifollis). We kept on crying out to one another to look at fresh beauties, and it was lucky that there was so much that was beautiful to see, for Barbara and I were both beginning to find the march just a little long. It was the usual 13 miles, but the altitude was getting rather high. We had risen from 8,800 ft. at Lachen to 12,800 ft. at Thangu and the last mile was a bit of a drag. However there was a delightful welcome for us at the bungalow. Namkhang had gone on ahead and the Chowkidar of Thangu is a delightful old character, whom I remembered well from my trip 3 years ago. They had a roaring wood fire going and three long cane chairs drawn up in front of it. They put us into the chairs and took off our boots and lifted up our feet and put them on the long footrests of the chairs, and then brought us tea where we reclined. We could not have been more tenderly waited on anywhere in the world.
June 3rd., 1935.
After five nights out in tents and six days without a bath or changing our clothes, we are back under a roof once more and though sorry that the more adventurous part of our trip is over, it certainly is nice to have a good soak in hot water, put on clean clothes, sit on a chair and eat off a table again. We have had a wonderful trip, and been most successful from every point of view. Except for a few headaches, the two girls have done splendidly. At our first camp above Thangu, Barbara and I both suffered from altitude sickness. Hers came on gradually but mine was as sudden as sea-sickness. I felt perfectly well when we arrived at our camp at the head of the Jha Chu valley, with the immense snows of Kangchenjhaw (Old snow Whiskers) right above us and his glaciers feeding the river that flowed past our feet. I had been seeing to the bedding being arranged to our liking in the tents and so on and quite suddenly I had to bolt behind a rock and was sick as a dog and after that felt practically well again though I had not a very hearty appetite for the next 24 hours. Barbara also recovered very quickly. Marian Atkins who had ridden practically the whole march, only had a slight lead. I have always heard that one feels altitude quicker if one is making a good deal of physical effort, but also that one acclimatises quicker. It certainly was so with our party. A couple of days later, when Barbara and I were quite comfortable, Marian was distinctly bothered by the altitude.
This is only a letter and not a complete journal of the trip which I shall have to tackle when I get home, from rough pencil notes made in our little tents. So I will only give you a brief sketch of our movements.
We stayed two nights at Thangu partly to acclimatize and partly because we thought it could be pleasant to have a quietish day before plunging out into camp. We paid off our mules and took on our local porters, arranged by Mamkhang. They are a splendid dozen of men, dressed in thick woollen tsubas, high coloured felt boots and fur hats or “Trilbys” as the fancy takes them. They are always cheerful and do not mind how much trouble they take to do one any service. There certainly does not seem to be any sort of difficulty about a woman managing them. They are completely natural and unspoilt, ready to laugh at anything, beamingly grateful for the gift of a few cheap cigarettes and always on the lookout to lend a hand. Namkhang reported after the first couple of days that the porters liked the Men Sahib and the Miss Sahibs very much because they laugh so much, so we have earned a good chit for not being irritable at high altitudes.
The day before we left Thangu, Mr. Dudley, the Maharaja of Sikkim’s General Secretary, and Rai Bahadur Norbhu, Personal Assistant to the Political Officer in Sikkim, arrived on their way up to settle a dispute with Tibet about the Tibetan boundary in the north of Sikkim. We gave them tea and they gave us a most excellent dinner. Norbhu easily outshone us all, for he was dressed in a robe of the most lovely cinnamon brocade, lined with turquoise-blue and he wore one long turquoise earring, which touched his shoulder and a little button in the other ear. We had some interesting talk with him about the history of Sikkim and about several trips he has made to Lhasa.
We were off with our train of porters by 8 o’clock the following morning, Tilli, the cook, looking rather like a caricature amongst the loosely robed Tibetan figures. He wears a neat pair of knickerbockers and a coat buttoned tightly down the front, putties and boots, and a little round pill-box hat on his head and in his hand he carries an umbrella. He and the porters soon forged ahead and the girls and I were left with our personal escort of Namkhang, and Angtsering, with his wild hair and his wild hair and his big basket on his back containing all the food and oddments that we think we may possibly need during the day. We also had with us the little Bengali botanist and the very picturesque Lepcha porter, who is carrying the basket in which he collects his specimens. (The Lepchas are the original inhabitants of Sikkim and are a regular woodland people, with a strong natural turn for botany). Yet another member of the party was the Sikkimese road-overseer and his servant, who accompanied me to see where I should select the site for the Himalayan hut.
It was a wonderful morning and the sheets of rhododendrons on the hillsides and the sparkling snow peaks all round looked magnificent. Instead of following the ordinary route north from Thangu, we took a rough track to the east, and were soon climbing steeply into the mouth of a fine valley. After about half an hour of steep climbing, during which we had to stop constantly to puff and pant, we got well up into the valley high on the hill side, where the path undulated along for some miles. The river roared below us and the steep grass and rocky slopes of the mountains rose steeply from it, most of them still snow crowned and with great drifts of snow lying almost as low as our path. We soon began to get good views of the huge massive snow slopes of Kangchenjhaw at the head of the valley and of another splendid snow mountain called Chombo on our left. Presently the valley divided into three, of which we took the middle one, after scrambling over several old moraine banks, of which there were a confusion, and crossing the river on a bridge made of a few tree trunks, we followed up the left bank of the river. Namkhang had asked permission to hurry on ahead, as some of his servants were encamped in the valley in charge of his yaks and he wanted to have some yak milk ready for us to drink. We stopped for lunch and a rest about 12-30, reclining on the dwarf rhododendron bushes, which are about the size of heather and make the same sort of springy couch and getting our drink from a clear little brooklet, which came tumbling down some rock cliffs on our right. About another half hour’s walking brought us in view of a group of yak-hair tents on the opposite side of the river, with Namkhang’s picturesque figure hurrying down to the river bank. He had every intention of carrying us over one by one on his back, but as Marion Atkins had her pony, we were ferried across in turn by it – a performance which I fancy it found thoroughly annoying. Namkhang’s servants were a man and a woman with an eight months old baby and they ran with rugs and spread them outside the tent for us to sit on, while Namkhang appeared with a large brass saucepan full of hot yak’s milk, which he poured into our sups with a brass ladle. The milk was delicious. It is very rich and just a trifle sweeter than cow’s milk. A family of Tibetans from a neighbouring tent all came and gazed solemnly at us. The women were wearing the curious hooped Tibetan headdress and they and their children were coated in dirt. The Sikkimese road-overseer and his servant disappeared inside the tent to drink Tibetan tea. When we had drunk as much milk as we could manage and tasted fresh made Tibetan cheese, which had no flavour at all, I asked if we might go inside the tent and see the baby. These yak-hair tents are extraordinary things. The weave is so open that you can see the sky through the material and smoke of the fire can escape quite easily and yet the people vow that no rain comes through. I suppose the hair is full of natural oil. The tent is pitched on a low circular stone wall, inside which are ranged the household goods, such as saddles, bundles of bedding, milk churns and so on. At the far end of the tent opposite the entrance is a rough stone altar with a tiny Budha on it, and in the middle of the tent the stone fireplace, with a yak-dung fire burning in it.
The road-overseer was sitting cross-legged on a mat, sipping Tibetan tea out of a bowl, while his servant sat behind him and on the opposite side of the fire, the baby was sitting up in a sort of nest of blankets, gazing solemnly round at the unwonted doings. I put a rupee into its little hand, which it immediately tried to put into its mouth, but which the mother was quick enough to rescue and after a polite speeches, we made our farewells.
For the next couple of miles to the camp, the road-overseer and I were looking for suitable sites for the hut and found one ideal one about half a mile short of our tents and the foot of the Sebu La. I do not really know what the exact altitude of a camp was but it must have been between 16,000 and 16,500 ft., and as I mentioned earlier in this letter, it was a quite enough rise to give us a certain amount of mountain-sickness.
Both Barbara and I were out of our tents at sunrise which is about 4-30 A.M. these days, and Kangchenjhaw looked wonderful towering right above us, but we did not get the entrancing beauty of the sunrise effect, as we were camped on the west of the mountain. Four thirty seems very early to be up, but it is not really so bad, when one has crept into one sleeping sack and gone to sleep about 8-30 P.M. We were close enough to Kanchenjhaw and his sister peaks, to see the wonderful green colours in the ice of their glaciers.
There is not much to do in the way of toilet in little tents at those altitudes, but there is one very important thing and that is rubbing glacier-cream or “antilux” well into one’s skin all over the face and hands to protect them from sun and wind burn. It makes one look rather like a red Indian, but is wonderfully effective, for we have all come down from the heights without even one peeled nose between us. We eschewed washing our faces, but used to rub the antilux and any incidental dirt off with cold cream and cotton wool of an evening. We usually managed to wash our hands in the evening and again in the morning and we also cleaned our teeth each morning, but it was far too cold to do it after supper at night. In spite of the previous night’s sickness, we made a fairly hearty breakfast of boiled eggs and bread and marmalade and the camp was all packed up and we were off before 8 o’clock bidding farewell to the road-overseer and to Hari Babu, the botanist, who were going round by the valley routes to meet us at Mome Samdong and Yumthang respectively. The first away were the five yaks carrying our firewood, their bells clanking at their necks and their driver whistling at them through his teeth. We followed a few minutes later with Namkhang and the porters. For about a quarter of an hour it was easy-going along the valley floor and then we turned up the huge hillside or morain, (I do not know which), which forms the northern edge of the Jha Chu valley. It was so steep that we only just did not have to use our hands to climb and was, as near as we could guess, about 600 or 700 ft. high. At any rate it took us about 50 minutes to get to the top, for we had to stop and pant every few steps. We were nearer than ever to the glaciers of Kanchenjhaw and were able to see ice caves in the snouts of two of them.
For a mile or so we crossed the undulating yak pastures and then had another sharp scramble up a spur of the mountain and a precipitous drop down over scree and rock for probably 800 or 900 ft. From the top of the spur another lovely mountain Chomiomo came into view – a 23,000 that was climbed by G.B.Gourlay 2 years ago. Several small lakes, as blue as turquoises, also lay below us and we could see the ordinary track which leads round to the Donkhya La a long way below. The mile or so of level ground we crossed after the descent was the roughest possible going as it was all boulders or curious tussocks made we suppose by the mosses and lichens which form the greater part of the vegetation at that altitude. Our climbing for the day was by no means done, for we had to surmount another even higher shoulder of Kanchenjhaw, after which we rested and ate our lunch on the shores of a small lake. After eating I fell asleep in the sun, lying against the hillside on the aromatic little dwarf rhododendrons, and I dreamt that we arrived at the camping ground of Gyagong, which is on the regular route to the Donkhy La and where I stayed three years ago, and I was surprised and delighted to find a little wooden house painted bright pillar-box red. I told my dream to the girls, Namkhang and Angtsering when I woke and the men said that a little house had been built at Gyagong since I was there, but it was not red, only rough grey stone.
It was somewhat unwillingly that I started climbing again, but luckily after mounting a short way up the next spur, we contoured round it and were ploughing up a sort of stony valley when suddenly round a corner, we saw our little tents, all ready pitched and looking very inviting. It was delightful surprise, for I had thought we had another two or three miles to go and was a bit worried as Barbara had developed a headache. Our camp was in a sheltered corner and it was delightfully warm in the tents, with the sun beating down on them. I dosed Barbara with asperin and she lay down for about a quarter of an hour, by which time she said her headache had quite gone. Encouraged by the warmth, I took off not only my boots, but my two pairs of thick woollen socks and aired my feet for awhile. I wrote up notes about the day’s trip as well as the previous day’s, getting a lot of local information from Namkhang, as well as local names, with their meanings, verified by our yak driver and a couple of the porters, who all came and sat in the opening of my tent. The map names are mostly quite wrong or else by mis-spelling just miss the Tibetan meaning. The route we had followed from the Jha Chu valley that day, is used by Tibetans bringing their yaks over to graze, but as far as the local people know, no European had been over it before. Such a switch back route is certainly trying at between 16,000 and 17,000 ft. as this is and though we had only covered 9 ½ or 10 miles, I think it was the stiffest day I have ever done in my life.
The girls came into my tent for tea and we were very warm and comfortable till the sun went down, when the temperature went down with a bang. We soon had to wrap ourselves in thick woollen blankets, and the girls put on their Balacalavas, while I wore my Tibetan hat with the fur ear-flaps. Extra pillows were brought from their tent and we sat on my bedding talking, till Namkhang brought supper at 6-30. The two store boxes were ranged in front of us and the saucepans of food, brought into the tent, where the contents were served straight on to our plates, and so just managed to keep hot. A bit of talk and into our sleeping sacks by about 8 o’clock was the way our day finished.
We had a vine view of Chomiomo, which is a lovely tent shaped peak from the doors of our tents, and we had hoped to watch a nice pink sunrise on it, and its near-by snowy neighbours, but we were disappointed for in the morning it had wrapped itself in lumps of fat white cloud. These lumps of clouds were sitting about on all the high snows on and off most of that day, and were irritating to the photographers, for a mountain would clear, and by the time the camera was out and set, a cloud would have swathed the mountain again. We saw some odd effects on Kanghenjhau, which was close, right above us. We would glance up and see nothing but billows of white cloud, and suddenly, apparantly high up in the sky, would appear a great shining snowfield, ending in cliffs of white and green ice. In a second or two it would be gone like a ghost. About mid-day, it clouded over, or more truly I should say that a cloud came and sat upon us, and one of us happening to glance upwards saw a most strange effect of the sun. Just as it does in fog at home, the sun looked like a white acid-drop, but round it was a large disk, roughly comparable in proportion to the circumference of an umbrella, to the little round bit where the stick goes through, and which was a much lighter grey than the rest of the sky, and was edged by a faint rainbow. I had never heard of it before, but Herbert, in his voracious reading had come across some account of it, and says it is due in some way to the air being full of ice crystals. It did not last long for the cloud rolled away, and left us in bright sunshine again.
Soon after we left our camp, and began to climb gently up a huge swelling bank or hill, we came upon the ruins of an old Tibetan wall and faint indications of a ruined fort. These are the remains of the old Tibetan boundary, which used to span the valley here. Our days march was an easy one of only about 9 miles, and we kept more or less level on the top of this great “down”, rising a little every now and again but never very steeply, untill just the last half mile, when a rapid rise brought us to the top of the big dead morains which guard the northern shores of the sacred lake of Gordama, wrongly so spelt on the map, and which should really be Guru Dogma, the place where the Guru rested, the guru being Guru Rimpochi, the Pundit who was sent for from India to teach the true Budhism to the Tibetans, and whose image is now in practically every Tibetan monastery. The sight was splendid – The lake, about 1 ½ to 2 miles long, and perhaps ¾ of a mile wide lay at our feet, blue as the bluest turquoise, but as clear as crystal and at the end of it rose a huge group of snow mountains, while red-brown hills closed it in on either side, and the moraine on which we stood, and which rose about 50 feet steeply above it, hid it from that side (the north). Only in one place the water flowing out of the lake had made a narrow cut through this great bank, by which it went galloping down to pour itself into the Lachen, some 500 feet below. It had been described to me as green as an emerald, but it was in a different mood when we saw it, and there were only gleams of emerald in the shadows cast by the hills near its brink.
The colouring of the north Sikkim or typical Tibetan scenery is strange, for it lacks green, except a touch of jade in the ice of the glaciers. The prevailing colour of the hills is a yellowish ochre, shading into red, often of quite a deep strong colour. The grey of rocks is there is you look for it, but does not obtrude itself in the general effect. Brilliant shining snows rise above the lower hills, and often at their feet lie these turquoise lakes. It has great beauty and charm, and is in startling contrast to the deep green valleys one journeys through to reach it.
Having drunk in the beauty of the view, we scrambled and slid down the steep bank where the stream cut through it, and crossing the water we walked along to the spot at the north-east corner of the lake where the porters already had our tents pitched, and “Cocoagem” had his fire going under lee of a rock. The short level march had only taken us a little over four hours, and it was only 12.30, so I suggested that instead of eating our eggs cold hard-boiled, we should heat them up in a cheese sauce. The girls thought it a splendid notion so while Cocoagem made the sauce with good English cheddar, mixed with yak butter and yak milk, I peeled and sliced up the eggs, and we soon had a splendid steaming dish.
It was awfully pleasant having a lazy afternoon under such circumstances. The clouds had all rolled away off the mountains, and looking at them along was enough to keep us happy. I wandered about, and collected a lot of tiny plants & scraped lichens off the rocks for Hari Babu, while the girls took photos, and sat on the edge of the lake throwing stones into its blue depths. Later I sat on some bundles of hay outside my tent, and collecting Namkhang, and three or four of the porters, I drew an outline of the mountains, and got them to give me the names of the peaks, and a lot of other local information, and they told me tales of different sorts, and of “Gourlay Sahib’s” climbs. It was about this time that a sad thing happened to Pemba, our pet among the porters. He came asking for medicine for a headache, and when I asked how he had got the pain, he explained, and Namkhang translated, that he had foolishly shouted across the lake, and the mountain deities had thrown his voice back at him, and punished him in this way. I administered asperin, thinking how lucky it is that the influence of the mountain spirits does not affect the potentcy of European drugs. Pemba swallowed the medicine, and lay down, completely covered up with his stripped blanket. A little later, when the rest of the porters and Namkhang started a competition to see who could pitch a large boulder, the furthest, Pemba emerged to see the fun, and said he was quite cured.
This boulder throwing seems an odd amusement after a days march at 17,500 ft, with an eighty pound load on your back. They choose a roundish rock a good deal bigger than a man’s head, and hoisting it on to the right shoulder, they heave it forwards with a swinging movement of the body. Namkhang defeated all the porters save one, and he and this fellow had three shots each for the final victory, but Namkhang could not bring it off. Most evenings they amused themselves with the less active amusement of gambling, but always seemed very happy however cold it was.
As the evening wore on, the mountains became more and more beautiful. We wrapped ourselves in our stripy Lachen blankets, and sat outside the tents watching the gold and pink colours come over the snow, and gradually fade away, unable to tear ourselves away, though it was getting pretty cold. It was nearly 6.30 when we went into my tent, and we did not have to wait long for bowls of hot soup, and some savory stew concocted by Cocoagem.
It was something of a disappointment to wake next morning at 4.30 and find that the lake and the mountains were veiled in a fine white mist, though the sky was perfectly clear above. I snuggled down into my sleeping sack, and snoozed for another hour, till Namkhang and Angtsering brought the early morning tea. By breakfast time, 6.30 a.m. the mist was rolling away fast, and the tops of the mountains were showing above it. By the time we had finished breakfast, it was a heavenly clear morning, with the snows almost completely clear. We arranged to send our caravan on to the next camp, which we thought must be about six or seven miles away, while Namkhang accompanied us along the lake to the foot of the snows, where we intended to climb up to another small glacier lake, into which one of the big glaciers from Kangchenjhau flows direct. It was a marvellous walk. The lake was edged with rocks in many places, and the water seemed immensly deep just beyond them, and was of a clearness and blueness indescribable. Near the rocks, and here the shadows of the hills fell, the colours ran through a whole scale of greens from olive to jade, picked out with patches of indigo. Across the lake the snow peaks were reflected in almost perfect images. About half an hour’s walk brought us to the end of the lake and the foot of the old morain which shut in the smaller lakes above us, and through which the water oozed here and there, to fall in cascades into the Gordamah. It was a stiff climb of two or three hundred feet up a chaos of large boulders, before we topped the moraine, and there at our feet was not one lake but three, the two nearer ones quite small, and the third frozen over, with this marvellous glacier tumbling into it, in huge terraces and staircases of green and white ice. We immediately demanded of Namkhang whether we had time to get to it, and he said he thought we had. We scrambled down 50 feet or so to the first little lake, and clambering over the tangle of boulders we made our way past the second little lake, and stood on the edge of the frozen one, gazing across at the wonderful spectacle of the glacier. Much to our sorrow we found that it had taken us 25 minutes to get from the top of the moraine to this spot, and as it was not half way, and as the remainder looked as if it would be rougher scrambling still, we gave up the idea of getting to the glacier, and contented ourselves with taking photos from where we were. It was a wonderful spot. We must have been at an altitude not far short of 18,000 ft, and on three sides of us, pure white snow peaks rose steeply up for another 3,000 or 4,000 feet, cupping the little lakes between them. I hope our photos will give you a better impression than words can do.
We got back to our camp at 11 a.m. having done the complete circuit of the Lake, and started straight away for the Tso Lhamo. We contoured round the big, bare browny-yellow hills that cut us off from the Lhamo lake, gradually loosing hight till we came down on to a level with the ordinary track, which had been lying right below us. As we rounded the shoulder of the hill, we were met by the true Tibetan hurricane wind, and had’nt much breath left to talk as we plugged along against it. At 12.30 we sheltered behind some rocks, and had our lunch, of Oxo out of the thermos flask, and Chicken knawed from the bone, and we got into Camp at 2 o’clock, having marched we think about 6 or 7 miles. Had we known what a short and easy march it was, we should certainly have gone on to the glacier. Our tents were pitched about half way along the Tso Lhamo, facing west across the lake, and the wind came raging down upon us from the snow barrier on the south east, carrying with it little sharp morcels of snow, for though the sun was shining brightly on us, heavy grey clouds were over most of the snowy range on each side of the Donkhya La, and it evidently was snowing there, and odd flakes blowing on to us. I asked Kamkhang whether he thought we should get over the following day. “Memsahib” he said “We will get over if the snow is up to our waists. The only thing I am afraid about is the pony.” Cold as it was outside in the wind, the hot sun made the tents beautifully warm, and it was nice to be able to look at the lake and some of the snow mountains without going outside. We had one girl amongst our porters, who had come with her brother. Her name was Puki, and she was a most intelligent young thing. She loved any excuse to come into our tents, and very soon got in the way of doing little services such as taking off our boots, rolling up our puttees, fetching water for us to wash in, and so on. She was always entranced when we were rubbing glacier cream on our faces in the morning, or cold cream when we got in from the days march. She would point to the pot and rub her own cheeks, as much as to say that she would like some too, and we would give her a dollop, which she would smear over her face with great delight. I told her she could stay in my tent at this camp, for the wind was so frightful. She sat down with a grin of pleasure, and drew a cigarette out of the folds of her clothing, while she watched me get out pen and paper, and a bit of carbon paper, and write part of the early account of this trip.
Meanwhile the men quickly built a wall about 3 ft high in a semi-circle to protect them from the wind, and they soon had their fire going and were cooking their food. When this was done Puki scuttled off to get her share. In fact she seemed to me to take a very active share in serving the meals. The men used to sit in a circle round their fire, and Puki often seemed to be walking about in the middle dishing out the viands. Soon after sunset the wind dropped, as it nearly always does on the Tibetan plains, and the night was glorious. It is probably imagination, but one seems to be able to see millions more stars when one is up so high. Barbara and I were awake for the dawn soon after 4.30, and you can imagine our joy to find it perfectly clear. The lake had changed from the turquoise of the previous evening to the colour of a pale moonstone, and the snows were palely reflected in it. The sunrise was lovely, though not as rosy as some I have seen. The camp was early afoot for we were breakfasting at 6 o’clock, and planned to leave camp by 7 o’clock, which we did exactly. We could not have had a more beautiful morning, for the sky was a deep intense blue, and there was scarcely a cloud to be seen, and as yet, no wind. From the camp about an hour’s walk over a swelling rise in the plain brought us to the real foot of the pass, and we began the ascent. I very soon had to shed some clothes. First my thick high-necked jersey came off, and was tossed into Angtsering’s basket. Next I took off Herbert’s old Harris tween coat, and gave it to Namkhang to carry. You need not imagine that I had not still plenty of clothes left, for I had a couple of layers of woollen underwear, a khaki shirt, an ordinary pull-over, and a cardigan. After a quarter of an hour’s steep climb over rough rocks with pockets of snow lying here and there, we came to a corner where we looked down into a sort of ravine with a blue mountain tarn lying a the bottom of it, and away below again, the Tso Lhamo, bright blue once more. I was quite glad of the excuse for ten minutes rest, while Barbara took photos. On we went over the rocks and beds of snow, Marian’s pony, from which she had recently dismounted, climbing like a cat. The snow drifts became deeper and longer, and it took a little care to cross them. A couple of porters having carried up their loads, came back to meet us, and one of them took the pony and syce by an old route which climbs much higher, but on which the snow does not lie. The last part of the route is across a very steep scree, on which the snow was still lying thickly. Luckily it was pretty hard. The porters, having deposited their loads at the top, came back, stamping out foot holes for us. They were all smiling and enjoying it no end. After Barbara had taken about a dozen steps, one leg sank in right up to the thigh! She could not pull it out, but protective porters were all about her in an instant. Namkhang who had been leading, stepped back on the slope above her, and seized the seat of her breeches, two porters caught hold of her and tried to pull her out from in front, while two more began working like a couple of terriers at digging her leg out, and soon had it free. There was a lot of hearty laughter going on. Luckily Barbara was not nervous or upset by hights, for the slope was very steep, and dropped down below us for many hundred feet. Barring this incident we got across the two or three hundred yards of snow without any mishap, and I was so intent on the party getting safely over, that for the moment I quite forgot about lack of breath, and it was not till we were on the rocks the other side that I realized that I was panting as if I had come in from a half mile race! Although we were within a few feet of the top, we all had to sit for some minutes to get back our wind, before we scaled that last wee bit. Oh! It was such a view! I thought it was grand last time I saw it, but this time the atmosphere was much clearer, and there was far more snow on the mountains near, and also on the far away ones in Tibet. There we were in the while snow, looking down on the yellowish-red landscape dotted with blue lakes, and beyond it into an infinite distance of range after range of hills , and snow covered mountains that seemed as if they must be dreams they were so far away. We asked the men if they knew how far a distant group was, and they said more than a hundred miles, because it was beyond a certain place, and that was a hundred miles away. We sat on pass in great content, eating chocolate and gingerbread nuts. It was not a bit cold, and as we had reached the crest by 9.45 a.m. we were in no hurry. The Donkhy La is a narrow saddle shaped something like the Tibetan pack saddles. As you climb up one side, you almost fall off the other. On each side of the track (such as it is) there are cairns of stones, decorated with sticks to which prayer flags are attached. Our porters had brought a few fresh flags, and we added a stone each to the cairns. The old flags were much tattered by the winter winds, and must have been there some time, for we were the first across this year.
Southwards the descent from the pass is tremendously steep for a couple of hundred feet, to a wide U shaped valley, walled in on either side by ragged snow-covered peaks. We slid and scrambled down, with a slight feeling of elation that the rest of the days march was going to be down-hill, combined with regret that we were leaving the dry bright climate behind us, and that the most adventurous part of our trip was over. On my previous visit to the top of the valley of the Lachung, there had been great quantities of deep blue gentian and of edelweiss everywhere, but the snow was so newly gone that even the mosses and such grass as there was had scarcely had time to regain their green colour, and were still a sort of yellow-brown. The first flowers we saw were small ranuculus, the flower very like the small yellow celandine, which fills the English woods in spring, only larger, and sitting close to the ground in a rosette of its own leaves. In a mile or two we came to the dwarf rhodenfron, with its heather coloured flowers, and a few other small things, but it was not till we were within a mile or two of Mome Samdong that we saw showy flowers in any quantity again, and then they were lovely: - - primulas, small king-cups, yellow and purple lousewort, a charming cotaneaster, spreading its woody branches flat over the rocks, and covered with a white may-like blossom, with a blush of pink creeping into it, - the dwarf purple rhododendron becoming more plentiful, and the slightly large azeala-like ones some with white and some with blush pink blooms, yellow saxifrage, the weeny sky-blue gentian with flowers not so large as a threepenny bit, and a little leguminous plant with a mass of vetch-like magenta flowers, so intense in colour that it almost seemed to be burning amongst the rocks. Namkhang and I lingered so long collecting plants that the girls reached the camp a little while before us. I was in by 2.30, so we had not made bad time considering the extreme roughness of the road. Our tents looked out on to what might well have been a much prized rock-garden, and for a wonder it was a fine afternoon, which is a rare thing at Mome, so we found life rather pleasant. Mome is a yak-grazing station. Three or four big grassy terraces occupy an angle made by two rivers. Several rough stone huts are scattered about, but there was no one in them for the yaks have not yet come down over the pass. The huts were drifted half full of snow still, and snow was lying low in the hills all round.
It was pleasantly warm, both inside the tents and out, so we took the opportunity of changing our socks, and I even took off my breeches which needed mending and garbing myself in a pair of pyjama trousers I did the necessary sewing, before re-dressing, and wandering out to look at the landscape, and see the lie of the land, since it had been obscured by mist on my previous visit. High rugged mountains rose up all round us, their tops covered with snow. Even the valleys did not make big cuts in the lines of peaks. We were still well above the tree and shrub line, except for the tiny rhododendrons, so the landscape had an austere quality about it. We investigated the huts, and collected a few plants, before tea, and spent most of the time till supper, writing up our notes and journals.
The following morning heavy clouds were sitting on all the hill-tops, and the weather did not look too promising, but Namkhang said we had been lucky not to have rain, for it almost always rains at Mome. Our plan was to stop a second night at Mome, and spend the day climbing as high up the Sebu La as we could manage. We had now made a three-quarter circle round Kangchenjhau, and were on the eastern side of the pass. Five nights before our camp had been tucked under its western side. We left camp about 8 o’clock with Namkhang, and Angtsering, carrying our lunch and mackintoshes etc. We scrambled along a rough hill side for about a mile, as the river was coming down in flood, and the valley floor was wet with melting snow. Later it opened out and we walked over dry land above the river level, where heaps and heaps of flowers were growing amongst the mossy hummocks, and on the edges of the tiny streams that were hurrying down from the melting snow on the mountain sides. We dawdled a great deal watching the birds. There were quantities of snow pigeon, and some lovely birds of a deep royal blue colour, which I have since learnt were Grandala Coelicolor. Namkhang suddenly pointed up the mountainside, where he had spotted a wolf sneaking off. He said there were two, but we could only see the one. He was a fine-looking fellow, with a big tail, and he kept on stopping and looking round and making a strange noise, something between a howl and a bark. It seemed as if her were looking at us, and annoyed at our intrusion into his seldom visited valley. We watched him for a long time, and wished we had a good pair of field glasses with us. Our next excitement was a hot sulpher spring. It oozed out from the foot of a big pile of rocks, and spread into a wide shallow pool, with steam coming off it. We balanced across on stones and found the temperature very much that of a good hot bath, where it flowed into the pool. Some chemical action presumably had made a coating of deep bright green veining like malachite, on many of the rocks, and the disagreable smell of sulpher was unpleasantly strong. Angtsering thought this too good an opportunity to miss, and putting down his basket, he washed his hands and face with great throughness, and pulling out the mud-coloured rag, which served him for a handkerchief, he mopped up with it.
Just ahead of us the valley was closed from side to side by a huge wall of ancient Morain, and we knew that the only way up it was in the left hand corner, from which we were cut off by the raging little river. Namkhang said that he and Angtsering could take off their boots and carry us over this, but then I had not had any experience of their extraordinary ability in keeping their footing in a raging rocky torrent with a person on their back, and I pictured them missing their footing, and the whole lot of us being swept helter skelter down the torrent, so I suggested that we should push on to the foot of the morain, where the river came off it in a number os small channels. Actually it was a mistake, for by the time the channels split, we were amongst a wilderness of rocks and boulders of all sizes, from a cocoanut to a good-sized cottage. Iw as just debating whether to return and let the men carry us over the river as they had suggested, when the thin drizzel which had been falling on us for some time, turned to steady rain. The clouds closed down on us, and it looked as if we were in for a real wet day. I called Namkhang in consultation. It seemed to me not worth going on, for various reasons. Dr Richter had told me not to try to cross the pass if it were misty. It was obvious we should get no views. If we got wet, as we probably should (Especially Barbara who was only wearing a Burbery, which is no good against a days mountain rain) we should have no chance of getting dry in our little tents. The porters had practically no shelter from rain, and said that the yak huts were none of them weather-proof, apart from the fact that they were all full of snow. There was no reason except our own pleasure for going on, as several of the Himalayan Club members had been over the pass in the last year or two, and have got good photos of it.
I therefore suggested to Namkhang that we should go back to Mome, break camp, and move down to Yumthang, the highest bungalow on the Lachung route that day. He agree that it was the best thing to do. Marian, I think was neutral. Barbara was definitely disappointed, and would have liked to have gone on in spite of the rain. I was disappointed too, but I think it was the wisest thing to do, for it rained all that day, and simply drenched all night, so our light little mountain tents would have been anything but comfortable. It was almost 10 o’clock when we started back. We were in camp by 10.30 and had everything packed, and the last porter away by 11 o’clock. Just as we were leaving, the road overseer, who had been with us in the Jha Chu valley, appeared. I had really expected him the previous evening. However he was just in time to see, and take notes about what we think will be the nicest site, if we build a hut at Mome.
The weather had been so far kind, that the rain had just stopped for us to pack up the tens, but it began again almost at once. It was steady and gentle, and not unpleasant to walk through. It in no way spoilt our pleasure in the beauty of the rhododendrons, which soon covered the hill sides with great sweeps of blossom:- mauve, cream, yellow, magenta, pink and white. Where the rhododendrons would give them breathing space, there were drifts of primulas, mauve, maroon and yellow, and lots of other little flowers pushing up through the moss and short grass. All this in as magnificent a setting as the mind of man could well imagine. Rugged snow topped mountains closed the valley in on either side. Water-falls crashed their way down from the melting snows. The river dashed along in an almost continuous series of rapids and waterfalls, its brown water churned to a mass of white foam. Fantastic masses of rock lay all about the valley, with patches of jade and orange lichen brightening up their dull grey tones. I suppose it would have been even more beautiful under a blue sky, but it was incredibly lovely as it was. Barbara sighed constantly for even a tiny gleam of brightness so that she could get some photos. She even took a few in the rain, while I held an umbrella over her, and they have come out not ineffectively.
As our growing appetites began to tell us that it was time to eat, we started looking about for an overhanging rock, under which we could lunch in comfort, and saw none, but our luck with the weather held, and the rain stopped, giving us just nice time to have our lunch, complete with the beloved cup of tea, before it started again with renewed energy. All this time we were losing hight rapidly, and passing from the zone where rhododendron reigned supreme, into others where willow and dwarf maple, and thorny rosetrees, and currants, shared their supremacy. Firs and pines of different sorts came next, and finally we got into forest country, with many English types of trees, but still with lots of rhododendrons. Here, wherever there was a marshy place, tall yellow primulas grew with the utmost grace, their slender stalks bearing a drooping head of pale primrose coloured flowers. Over the rocks, and along the banks of the streams there were masses of a low growing, almost creeping tamarix, with bright, mauve-pink coloured flowers. In one place a stream some 12 foot wide was bridged by a single pine sapling, very round and slippery-looking, placed just above a highfall. We none of us fancied it much, and Marian cleverly found a way across some rapids a little higher up the stream, where we crossed by jumping from one wet rock to another. We did a good deal of that sort of thing one way and another, for all the streams were in flood with the melting snows, and the ordinary stepping stones were often quite covered. At Yumthang the valley widens out into quite a big flat space of rather watery grazing grounds, and we emerged from the edge of the forest to see the bungalow across the valley, with a comfortable plume of smoke going up from its chimney. We begged Marian to bustle her pony along and tell the men to get ready our baths. The pony seemed to know that it was near shelter, and went up the grassy hill-side at a gallop. By the time Barbara and I arrived Marian was already in her bath-tub! Washing and clean clothes are a great pleasure after six days without them. We were willing to wait for our tea till we had had a good wallow in hot water. The rain got heavier and heavier as the evening went on, and I felt glad that we were in a comfortable bungalow, with all our men in dry lodgings.
It was still raining in the morning, but gradually cleared, and by 9 o’clock the sun was out, so we decided to start off at once on an expedition to a glacier away up on the opposite mountain side. We took a particularly engaging porter called Pemba, who has been mentioned before, and a local man as a guide, and left the faithful Angtsering to have a rest. Angtsering’s inner garments which had once been white, were incredibly grimy, so I tactfully pressed a cake of sunlight soap into his hand, saying. “To wash your clothes”. With a beaming smile he looked down at himself, and up again at me and said “Han! Thora thora mila hai” (Yes! a little little dirty). We crossed the river, and our guide plunged into the woods on the opposite side, along a tiny track between the rhododendrons, flame-coloured, mauve and pale sulpher yellow. The path was so narrow that we had to push aside branches and creep under others, but after a few hundred yards up a gentle slope, we got to the real base of the mountain, where the rhododendron forest became a little less dense, and the path a little clearer. It climbed steeply up the mountain-side, through the forest, which was mostly silver fir with an undergrowth of rhododendrons. Very often the path was simply a rock “staircase”, and all the time it was extremely steep. After climbing for about an hour, we reached the lip of a sort of “handing Valley” - - a fold between the high mountains, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 ft above Yumthang, over the edge of which poured a stream in a fine cataract. On the way up we had seen a blood pheasant in the undergrowth, which did not seem very shy, and we had seen lots of lovely flowers as well as the rhododendrons, notably a fine yellow primula, with heads of butter-coloured flowers like a large polyanthus. Before making our way along the hanging valley towards the glacier, we sat on a big rock on the brink of the hill and gazed down on the view below us. The houses of the village and the little red-roofed bungalow, the ponies and the cows all looked like toys. Turning along the hanging valley we found ourselves in the most wonderful world of flowers. Blossoming rhododendrons were everywhere, and wherever they left light and room enough, the ground was covered with plants, either blooming or getting ready to bloom. There were two or three sorts of primulas, blue poppies, a tall deep reddish-pink gentian, heaps of frittilaries, enchantingly graceful, a deep purple cruciferae, with leaves that tasted like mustard, and were pleasant to chew, a pinkish mauve tamarix, creeping over the rocks, plants of the tall yellow Nepal poppy, not yet in flower, and heaps and heaps of the leaves and buds of different sorts of liliaceae, one species of which our guide said was a good vegetable and when I asked the name, I recognised the word “chokli” as the name of the plant which Hooker used to much when he was up in this part of the world and his supplies were cut off. There were also remnents of last year’s plants which must have been preserved under the snow, not-ably the 5 ft tall dried flower stalks of a species of monks-hood, with big rosettes of fresh green leaves already springing up round their feet. Flying about amongst all this wealth of flowers were numbers of birds. We caught glimpses of brilliant colours, and by standing still and watching, we were able to see exactly what these flashing colours were. They were sun-birds or honey suckers. Their breasts were bright gamboges yellow, with a splash of red, and under the body this tailed off into bluish purple. Their backs were vermillion, their heads, black or dark coloured, and they had long red tails. They were there in dozens, and they seemed to turn summersaults and do all sorts of antics in the air, as they flew down to hang on to the flowers and suck the honey. Our guide said they were called kamipichu, which Namkhang said means “drinking from the flowers”, and later I identified them as Fire-tailed sunbirds.
This hanging valley was the nearest thing to fairy-land I have ever been in. We seemed to be transported from the ordinary world. Between the flower-covered hill-sides, the stream from the glacier rushed along, jumping over the rocks in little clouds of white spray. The mountain sides rose probably another 2,000 feet on either side of us, and were so curiously formed at the top, that they looked as if they were crowned with fortifications. The glacier lay a couple of miles ahead, but hidden by a bluff of the mountain. Coming down to the edge of the stream we saw that the Bridge we had heard of, was a single log, thrown across a distance of ten or twelve feet, from one high boulder to another. It looked distressingly rotten, and Pemba and our guide both having tried it several times, decided that it was not safe. They suggested carrying us over, but the stream was coming down with such a force of water that we did not like to risk it. We tried to find our way along the bank we were on, but soon got stuck in impenetrateable thickets of rhododendrons. In view of the fact that we had brought no lunch, and that we had been so close to so many glaciers in the past few days, we decided not to struggle on, but to go home to lunch in the bungalow. I rather regret it now, as I believe the men could have carried us across alright.
We spent a profitable afternoon photographing the porters, which took some time, writing up journals and notes, and exchanging news with Hari Babu, who arrived about 2 o’clock. After tea he kept me busy writing up his Field-Collecting books for all the days since we parted in the Jha Chu valley. After a while Marion kindly took on the job, and freed me to do other things, while Barbara performed her usual kindly office of washing clothes.
The next morning we had a good view of the Kangsi glacier, which we had failed to reach the previous day. It looked most impressive. The air must have been very clear, for the glacier looked remarkably close. It seemed to hang on the mountain-side high above us, step after step, and terrace after terrace of shining green and white ice, piled on each other up and up into the mystery of the cloud-covered mountain-top.
Soon after leaving the bungalow we passed quantities of young wild rhubarb. It was a pity we had not seen it the previous day for we would have had some for supper.
The march from Yumthang to Lachung is extremely varied and almost as beautiful as that from Mome Samdong to Yumthang. At times the path crosses open places where the valley has opened out, and which are reminisicent of some of our English moorelands. Rough grass, moss-covered rocks, low bushes of vacciniums and similar sort of things, clumps of tall white heather (Cassiope selaginoides), and groups of taller shrubs such as wild currants, roses, raspberries, buckthorn and willow, still with many rhododendrons amongst them, make an attractive, but wild-looking landscape. In other places the path runs through thick pine woods, where the old trees have fallen and lie rotting away under a blanket of moss, because they are so remote that it does not pay anyone to carry them away. Long beards of a pale grey-green lichen hang from the boughs of the trees, and give an eerie appearance to the woods, but near the edge of the trees, or where the forest thins a little, masses of the beautiful flame-coloured rhododendron Roylei light up the somber colouring, while at a lower altitude, near Lachung, when the rhododendrons had been left behind, the trunks and branches of the pine trees, and the moss-covered rocks were thickly studied with a small mauve orchid.
Several times during the days march the valley opens out into quite wide maidans, whre streams flow down from the mountains on the west. Two of these maidans were bordered by woods of larch, looking lovely in their young tender spring green. Rather marshy tracts of grass, dotted with big clumps of bushes, serve as grazing grounds for ponies, and numbers of them wandering about and feeding. Most of them were shy, and galloped off at our approach, but a couple were so interested that they followed us for two miles or more. Whenever we stopped and looked round, they stopped too and put their noses to-gether as if they were having a consultation. It would be interesting to know how the owners of these ponies ever get them back again, for they did not seem to be branded in any way, and we saw only one or two primitive huts, obviously uninhabited on this part of the march.
After keeping fairly level for some miles, across this series of maidans, the valley narrows and drops rapidly, and there is an immediate and marked change in the vegetation. Pines dominate the landscape less, rhododendrons disappear, while several lovely plants and shrubs make their appearance. A deep pink spiraea seemed to be everywhere on the hill-sides. Big bushes of a sort of yellow honeysuckle, and a lovely white dutsia became frequent, and the edges of the path were once more bordered with tiny yellow violas and wild strawberries. The latter slowed up our pace immediately, for we found them good eating. Angtsering had a nice way of pinning a large leaf with thorns and so making a cup, which he would fill with strawberries and present to one or other of us.
About a couple of miles above Lachung one can see the Sebu Chu valley breaking through the steep mountain-sides on the eastern bank. This valley must not be confused with the Sebu La which we had thought of crossing, as it is in quite a different place. G.B. and a couple of other men went up it last year, and say it is one of the lovliest in Sikkim. We wished we had time to turn aside and explore it.
For the last mile or two into Lachung one sees more and more frequent signs of cultivation. Little stone-walled fields with crops of buckwheat, maize or millet, show that one is coming near a permanently inhabited place again. Apple and pear trees are dotted here and there, and at Lachung itself there are properly planted orchards belonging to the State, and the apples are of excellent quality, most of them being well-known English varieties which have been introduced.
The Valley near Lachung is a curious shape. The valley bottom is comparatively level, and the mountains rise from it in the form of immense rock cliffs, with an occasional waterfall leaping down them. The Rest House, surrounded by orchards, and with a charming little garden, lies on the right or western bank, and the village, the Scotch Mission the monastery and the big prayer wheels all lie on the eastern bank. The river is spanned by a bridge, strongly build on the cantilever principle.
The march being a short and easy one of 9 miles we were at the bungalow in plenty of time for lunch. The path through the garden was bordered by a tall row of pink and white fox-gloves. A note from Miss Doig, the Scotch Mission lady, with a large loaf of home-made bread was waiting for us. Only those who have eaten bread a fortnight old will realize quite what a treat this was. Miss Doig invited us to tea, and we sent back a grateful acceptance, and an invitation to come to supper with us. After lunch we went to visit the big prayer wheels, which are housed in little “Temples” built over a stream, so that by an ingenious arrangement of flanged wheels, the prayer wheels are kept in constant motion, and a flow of devotion goes constantly up from Lachung, without any effort on the part of the inhabitants. Namkhang and a couple of our porters went with us, and several friendly people joined the party as we went through the village, and accompanied us round the sights. Two or three small boys were like puppies, and would walk so close in front of us, that we were in danger of stepping on them, and Namkhang had to shoo them off. A local inhabitant indicated that we should go to see the mills with which they grind their grain, which are built and worked in very much the same way as the prayer wheels, and which were quite interesting. We were now back amongst the plague of leeches, and really they are a plague.
We refused to climb the high hill to the monastery, as we were due for tea with Miss Doig. We found her in her dear little house, with an enormous spread of scones, home-made jam, cake, to which we did mot ample justice, only to find that it was followed by huge bowls of wild strawberries and cream. We felt that once in a way we were quite justified in over-eating, and did ample justice to the strawberries and cream too.
Miss Doig gave us lots of local information, and told us tales of her wanderings amongst the shepherds and Yak herds on the borders of Tibet. She has been alone in Lachung for years, and no one could look more happy and contented than she does. Our return feast to her was not quite of the same quality as hers to us, but we will hope that a little company of her own kind made up for rather over-roasted mutton, and a slightly under-baked Queen’s Pudding. Tilly generally cooked well, but his fall from virtue on the occasion was explained the next morning. Putting my head out of the door half an hour before we wanted breakfast, I called to him. Angtsering who was passing, jerked his head over his shoulder, with a most knowing look, and said with a grin “He’s asleep! He had a bit to drink last night”. All the same” said I “You must wake him up now. Throw water over him if necessary, and make him cook the breakfast.” In due time breakfast appeared, rather disorganised. That is to say the eggs came, and after an interval, the tea, while angry shouts for toast, produced the syce, proudly carrying the best toast we had had on the whole trip, which he had made himself. He was immediately appointed toast-maker for as many days as were left. The slight confusion was partly due to the fact that poor Namkhang had been suffering agonies with tooth-ache the previous day, and had gone up to the mission house to get his tooth pulled out by Miss Doig’s servant, who was considered the local expert. He made an awful mess of poor Namkhang’s tooth, and took it out in about five bits, so the poor fellow came back looking decidedly shaken. We did what we could for him with the limited means at our disposal, and Marian very kindly said he could have her pony to ride. I forgot to mention that, when I looked out to call the cook, our very pet porter Pemba, appeared at my door, holding his head in both hands, and shaking it sadly from side to side, with a sort of sheepish grin on his face, like a child who has been naughty but has every hope of being forgiven. Pemba murmured something which I took to be a request for medicine, and pointed down his throat, so I administered a couple of asperins. I then remembered that I had been woken up by a sound of loud singing in the middle of the night and had vaguely wondered what it was. Now I understood! Later Namkhang apologised and said that two or three of our porters had met some “brothers”, who had invited them to go and have a drink, and they had gone off, taking Tilly with them! Namkhang said it would not have happened if he had been well and with them. I had made him go off early and lie down in a little side verandah, with a dose of asperin to soothe his tooth-ache.
Glancing back over what I have written, I see that I have forgotten to mention the hot sulpher spring which we visited a little way below Yamthang. It lies on the opposite side of the river from the path. We thought the bridge looked a bit untidy, and when we got to the far side we saw that some attempt had been made to bar it to traffic. However having crossed it we thought we might as well go and see the spring before returning. We saw and smelt signs of the sulphurous waters at once, and climbing a few yards up the hill-side we came to the bath-house. A stone hut, with the usual roof of wooden shingles weighted down with stones, was built just below the spot where the spring oozed out of the rocks, so that the waters could be led directly inside it. There was no one there. We climbed up a ladder, reminiscent of those provided for hens to ascend into their houses, and found ourselves inside the little building. It was divided into two parts. Half had a roughly boarded floor, and was presumably intended as a residence or dressing-room, and the other half, divided from it by a wooden partition was the bath. It was a big wooden tank, about 9 or 10 feet square, and I should think about 4 ft deep. It looked deeper, but the water was so clear that it was difficult to judge. The same sort of primitive wooden ladder as that by which we had ascended, led down into the water, which was quite hot, - - the sort of comfortable temperature of a good hot bath. It all looked perfectly clean, and had it not been for the horrid smell of the fumes, I should have been sorry that I had not made arrangements to bathe there. The Sikkimese and Tibetans are great believers in the curative properties of these hot sulpher springs, of which there are several scattered about in the part of Tibet bordering on Sikkim, as well as three in the eastern part of Sikkim itself. Where the water ran out below the bath, the rocks were more definitely malachite green than they had been at the spring in the valley leading to Sebu La, but there was less of the redish colouring which we thought must indicate the presence of iron there. There was one other thing which interested me greatly near this spring, and that was that where the warm water ran down the hill-side the tall yellow meconopsis Nepalensis (a big yellow poppy that superficially looks more like a hollyhock) was already in flower, whereas, though we had seen heaps of plants before, and saw still more at considerably lower altitudes nowhere else, did they show the slightest sign of getting ready to flower.
Now to go back to our departure from Lachung: - - It was a beautiful morning, and we got a fine views as we went down the valley. I was so sorry to be leaving the high lands for the deep valleys, that even now I find myself quite unwilling to write about it. There is really no need, for you all know about these magnificent wooded valleys now. We did not meet any bears in the village below Lachung, where they are said to be plentiful and to do great damage to the crops. We had got below the wild strawberry area, but were able to refresh ourselves now and again with excellent yellow raspberries. There were a few flowers about, chiefly rather an insignificant forget-me-not and different sorts of balsams, but nothing to compare to the flowers of the higher altitudes. It was getting pretty warm, and the porters were feeling the heat a good deal, and took frequent rests by the wayside, so that we kept on catching them up. The march from Lachung to Chungthang is a short and easy one and were in by lunch time. The afternoon was far from idle, for we had the job of paying off the porters, who were going back from here, while mules took our baggage back to Gangtok. I worked out the arithmetic and then all the porters were summoned and sat round in a big circle, while Namkhang explained to them what they would each get. Each man had his money put into his own hand, a performance which was slightly complicated by the fact that there was not quite enough silver to go round, and some of the men had to be paid by a note, and then had to give back change. It all took a long time, but was done in a most orderly way with no wrangling or grumbling. Having disposed of the porters, I then had an interview with the Local Public Works Dept Overseer, the local Forest Officer, the Road Overseer, who had been out with me. I was sitting at a table with the sketches of the proposed sites for the Himalayan Club huts in front of me, and invited the two Babus to sit down, which they did very carefully, keeping about 2 feet from the table. Hari Babu had come along to join the conference, so I invited him and the road overseer to sit down too. I think they thought this a little presumptuous on their part, but did not like to refuse, so they arranged their chairs about another two feet away from the table, thus everything was done with a proper consideration for position. I dont think either of the Babus understood English very well, but as Hari and the road overseer did not understand it at all, I was able to in Hindustani without fear of hurting anyone’s feelings. The Forest officer was much the most sensible person, and gave me a lot of useful information.
Two days later, as we were nearing Dikchu Bungalow, we met North-bound travellers, who reported that during our absence there had been heavy rains, and that much of the road between Dikchu and Gangtok had been washed away, and that the bridge over the Dik Chu had been damaged, so they did not know whether we should be able to bet to Gangtok by the ordinary route. We did not worry very greatly, but enquired for the latest news directly we reached Dikchu Bungalow. The news was that the bridge had been mended, but that there had been very bad slips on the road. It would be quite impossible to take mules up to Gangtok, and the riding ponies we had ordered to meet us there had not been able to get down. We paid off the mules and engaged porters for the four thousand foot climb to Gangtok, and made up our minds to do it ourselves on foot (Not a very noble resolution, when there was no alternative!) Namkhang arranged that we should ride some of the pack animals for the first three miles, and we perched on piles of blankets piled on top of the pack saddles, and controlled our steeds, in theory, by a single rope from a head-stall, and the two magic words “Do! Do!” which means “stop” and “Chu! Chu!” which means “go on”. Marvellous to relate they work quite well. After dismounting and climbing over about three land slides, which I should not have thought any horse or mule could cross, we came to one which was quite impossible for them, and saying a tender farewell to our dear Namkhang and to the mule driver, we continued our climb. It was indeed the nearest thing to mountaineering we had attempted. For big stretches, the road had gone entirely, and we had to clamber up the hill-side, and either scramble across water-falls from rock to rock, or cross landslides of mud and micha, at a very steep angle, with the earth beneath ones feet so unstable that one thought it might start slipping again at any moment. At last, wet with heat, and very thirsty, we found we had crossed the last bad patch, and climbing the last mile or so to the Penlong La, where the road crossed the ridge above Gangtok, we swung along the last three miles of down-hill cart-road at a good pace, and got in as far as I remember about 3.30
A note, and all preparations for tea, arranged by the Williamsons, awaited us at the Dak-bungalow, and when we had washed and changed we went up to dinner at the Residency. A good finish to a splendid trip.