LJT Trek Notes
In folder labelled:
LJT and Helen Martin
Trip over Boriim La – Seba La etc Spring 1936
Trip to Lhonak Autumn 1936
Journal of a trip from Darjeeling to Gangtok, Yamthang & North Sikkim.
May 13th, 1936.
Helen Martin and I left Darjeeling at 9 o’clock on foot with one “tiffin porter” into whose basket we piled mackintoshes, cameras, field glasses, lunch, bags of apples and lichis, bathing dresses and satchels containing our last minute toilet things, not to mention flasks full of drink and my famous old tea basket, so that the poor fellow was anything but lightly laden. The rest of our party, that is to say a cook and six porters, had gone ahead the previous day, as the march is one of eighteen miles, made up of a drop of 5,500 ft. from Darjeeling to the Rangneet River at Manjitar Bridge, a distance of ten miles, and a climb of 4,200 ft. in eight miles to Namchi bungalow. Darjeeling was misty but in twenty minutes walking down hill to Lebong, we emerged from the cloud, and were able to get lovely views of the great hill sides covered with neat rows of tea-bushes and by patches of jungle. Blue sky and fleecy white clouds, distant blue hills, seen often through the brilliant green of the new foliage of albizzia’s and sal trees, made a lovely world and we felt happy to be leave civilization for three weeks or more.
It seems unnecessary to remark that it got hotter and hotter as we dropped lower and lower into the deep valley of the Rungest. It took us 3 ¼ hours to walk down to the bridge, as we stopped once or twice to take photos. Two small girls were weeping bitterly as their mother washed them at a tank. I thought they would make an amusing picture, but at sight of my camera, the elder one rapidly tossed a ragged old frock over her head, and had to be bribed with a pice (a farthing) to take it off again. News of our coming had been sent ahead to the police outpost at Manjitar, which is on the border of Sikkim, and they had been instructed to hire two local ponies for us to ride up to Namchi. We had ordered the ponies for 12, but now decided to bathe and lunch at the river, so told the police constables to send word across to the village to say we should not want the ponies for another 1 ½ hours. They saluted and beamed and said it would be quite alright. They had had the ponies waiting since 8 o’clock in case we came early! What a country! Actually we stayed two hours for we undressed and bathed, lunched in our bathing dresses, boiled a kettle and made tea, because we quickly drank up all the time squash we had brought, and then bathed again. There was a pleasant cool breeze blowing up the valley from the East and in damp bathing dresses we felt delightfully cool, but we were jolly glad to have a couple of ponies waiting to take us pu the hill. For the first four miles the road is through a fine open sal forest, with magnificent views across the valleys. The latter part of the journey is through more cultivated country and a few scattered villages and for much of the way on the downhill side of the path, is a band of tall bamboos, which at this time of year, when their old leaves have dropped and their new ones are tiny, make an effective foreground to the magnificent mountain scenery. Our small dapple grey ponies were singularly leisurely and had quite definite ideas about the pace at which they were going to travel. I sympathised with them and did not make any attempt to hurry them. Soon after leaving Manjitar, I heard the two syces discussing whether they could take the “chor bata” (literally thieves’ path – short-cut). I called out to them that they could and they were highly delighted first that I understood what they were saying and secondly that Helen and I did not mind being left alone with two such ferocious steeds.
At the first mountain streamlet we came to, the ponies wished to stop and drink. Helen’s was content to suck up water from a pool, but mine pushed on and put its face right into the water sprout made of half a big bamboo, and let the water flow into its mouth. I have never seen a pony do that before, and consider it most intelligent.
It was a beautiful evening and the landscape became more and more beautiful as the shadows lengthened. The road has recently been re-made and is now so good that I think you could take a Baby Austin over it, if you could get it there.
We reached Namchi bungalow about 6 o’clock. It stands well on a high ridge, with a fine view of the snows, which were showing up well this evening. The old bungalow fell down in the earthquake and the new one is not yet finished, but two rooms are habitable, which is we want. It’s going to be very nice when it is finished, with four double bed-rooms and bath rooms and two sitting rooms.
Our faithful porters were all watching for our arrival and had tea ready and hot baths as soon as we wanted them. We enquired whether there was a drink-shop in the village and on being told that there was one, said we should each like a “chunga” full of “marwa” after our baths. You may remember that “marwa” is the millet-beer, drunk in Sikkim and a “chunga”, the bamboo pot out of which it is drunk. It is drunk hot, and is refreshing and thirst quenching. It is said to be only mildly intoxicating, but it seems to make people very chatty.
We have two porters with us who were out with us in the autumn. Most of my special friends are out with one or other of the mountain-climbing expeditions, so I have four men on trial, so to speak. One is a nice-looking fellow, who says he was on Everest in 1924, but has lost his chit. Another is young brother of a good climbing porter, and a third is a little new Sherpa shepherd, who has only just come in from Sola Khombu, the district on the Nepal-Tibet border from which most of the finest porters come. He can speak no Hindi at present and gazes with astonished eyes at the strange world he finds himself in, but he looks the sort of stuff of which first-class porters are made. Lastly, our tiffin porter has come at a moment’s notice, because Ang Tsering, the man who was a week without food on Nanga Parbat and got back alive, got a sore foot and could not come. This budli who is said to be Ang Tsering’s brother has done nobly to-day, though it was a long and steep march for him with a load and he came in smiling and apparently not at all exhausted.
Helen has had two late nights and fell into bed directly after supper. I shall follow her before long and get into the trekking routine of “early to bed and early to rise”.
We are having splendid luck with the weather. I was woken this morning by the sound of someone moving about in the sitting room and saw that it was the cook. Looking at my watch I saw it was 4-20 a.m. and as we had ordered a cup of tea at 6 a.m. I thought Bhirdoj had made a mistake of an hour in the time and slipping on a coat, ran out to tell him. He was quite imperturbed and said he was only preparing. It was quite light and there was not a cloud in the sky or sitting on the snows. It seemed to me that dawn would come soon so I went in and got my camera, exposure meter and note book, and got things set as far as possible for taking a photo of the dawn. It was grand and I took several photos at intervals with different exposures. I like seeing the snows from a different angle. I also studied them through my new field glasses. At 5 o’clock the cook calmly said that tea was ready, so I woke Helen who had been sleeping since 9 the previous night. We dawdled so much over photography, dressing and packing that we did not have breakfast till nearly 7 o’clock and then had it out-of-doors in full view of the snowy range. The day’s march was not a difficult one, though 7 out of the 10 ½ miles are against the collar and about 2 ½ of them a stiff climb. Practically the whole day was through forest, with magnificent views of the valleys below. About an hour after lunch we passed a place where there were masses of bushes covered with delicious yellow raspberries, and having eaten our fill we then took the few flower specimens I had in my collecting tin out, and stuck them in the band of my hat and then set to and filled the tin with raspberries for our supper tonight.
This bungalow of Temi is a charming little place, set in a garden full of flowers. One sees different mountains from here and they only showed fitfully through clouds tonight, but I hope they will be clear in the morning.
We are both feeling a bit stiff from walking steeply up and steeply down hill, but are otherwise flourishing.
As I was up soon after 4 this morning, I am already feeling rather sleepy, though it’s only 8-30 p.m. I shall very soon go off to bed.
May 15th. Sang Rest House.
Our luck with the weather still holds. It’s been a most beautiful day. I was out at 4-30 a.m. to try to get some photos of the snows from Temi. There is a fine view of some of the Kanchenjunga group to the N.W. and N.N.E. another panorama of the north Sikkim groups. I saw a wonderful fiery dawn on the Kanchenjunga group which were just showing above a dark line of near hills, and beneath a layer of heavy grey clouds. I had slipped out in a thin dressing gown and felt a little chilly and by the time I had gone back to put on a pullover as well, the clouds had dropped over the peaks and I could not get a photo. Bits of the snows to the north were showing through cloud and though I took them I doubt whether it will make a picture. These grey morning clouds did not come to anything and seemed to melt away, while great billows and mounds of fat white cumulous clouds rolled over the hills all day and are piled in magnificent castles on the line of peaks that mark the border of Tibet as I look eastwards from this bungalow this evening.
We have been travelling through typical and beautiful lower Sikkim scenery to-day. From Temi we dropped some 4,000 ft. to the Teesta River. The vast hill sides are covered with patches of forest or terraced fields, surrounding peaceful little farms, picturesque thatched houses, whose plaster walls are washed with a certain sort of red earth, of a mellow and charming colour, something like the very best old brick. Often they are timbered too and have quite a tudor air about them. They stand and look so happy amongst their orange groves and fields of maize and millet. We descended the first two miles from Temi by a short cut, much to the distress of the cook who said it was “too rough a path for our ladyships”. We replied that we should undoubtedly meet rougher before we had finished and skipped down it very happily. It was a tiny path linking up one little farm with the next, so that we saw lots of domestic scenes. On the verandah of one house the old grey-haired granny was busy brushing and searching the hair of a young girl in her teens, while a smaller ten-year-old stood looking on with interest. At another corner I signed to Helen to stop and not speak, for there, again on a verandah, was a lovely fat baby, quite naked, absorbed in the job of trying to split a bit of thick bamboo, about 1 ft. long. She had got a sort of short sickle-shaped knife, with which she hacked a notch in the top of this stick, and then she forced the knife down into it with all her little strength, but it did not split. We watched her trying various methods, marvelling that she did not cut herself to bits, because she can’t have been more than 4 at the very outside. It got pretty hot as we dropped towards the river and the road ran along parallel to the river and only a couple of hundred feet above it for three miles or more. We had told the cook and the porters if they saw any ponies, either saddle or pack ones, to hire us a couple on which to ride the five miles up from the river to Sang. We had not much hope that they would be successful, so as we tramped along, dripping with perspiration, towards the bridge, our delight was extreme when we saw two ponies standing in the shade at the other end. One was a light brown with a pack-carrying pad on its back and the other, a small grey with a decrepit saddle. I being the heavier rode the brown while Helen rode the grey. The owner who was with them did not come up the hill himself but sent two boys with us. The one in charge of my pony seemed to have some sort of mesmeric power over it. When he stopped it stopped, when he went on it went on and nothing I could do or so would influence it. It’s true I had not much control, for it only had a string through its mouth and the pad on which I was sitting was so wide and thick that I could not touch the pony anywhere with my heels. Blows on its posterior with my walking stick had no effect. After a little we realized that the boy was enjoying this demonstration of power and I had scarcely said to Helen “I know he is longing to pop behind a rock or a tree and see what happens” when he did it. All that happened was that the pony stopped dead. We were rather amused, but the older boy who was behind did not think it funny at all and spoke some winged words to his companion. The path were travelling up was delightful (seeing that we were sitting on the ponies). It was steep and rocky and shady all the way, running sometimes through open woodland and where it did not, being shaded by a belt of trees on either side. We stopped half-way for lunch and got to the bungalow just after 2 o’clock. The cook marched nobly up ahead of us and bustled round at the bungalow to get it opened up and fires lighted. The porters arrived dripping with perspiration at 4 o’clock but all cheerful as larks. We enjoyed our peaceful afternoon. We have a longish march of 15 miles to Gangtok to-morrow and a lot to do when we get there. I doubt whether I shall have time to add anything to this, as we shall almost inevitably go to dinner with the Dudleys. Mr. Gould, the Resident, is away on tour, so we shall not be staying at the Residency.
We found some pretty pale mauve and cream-coloured orchids to-day and lots of white ones yesterday. I am making a small collection of pressed flowers just for my own pleasure on this trek and not for the Botanical Department.
Dikchu, May 17th.
As I anticipated, I had not time to add to this in Gangtok – so I must cast my mind back and tell you a little about yesterday’s trek. At Sang we decided to be lazy and see if we could hire ponies to take us the 6 miles up through the forest to the Ramtek monastery. I sent a note to the local Kazi to know if there were any ponies for hire in the village and he sent what were evidently his own two – splendid, strong, little beasts with good saddles and nice bells hanging under their chins. We went merrily up through the forest, a lovely road over which I had travelled once before on my return from Gyantze in 1929. On that occasion we got benighted and travelled over it on the pitch dark. I put my reins on my pony’s neck and let him smell his way along. I admired him then for bringing us safely to the bungalow. I admire him more now that I have seen the narrow rocky path wending along the mountain side, crossed frequently by waterfalls and with steep drops on one side of almost the whole way. The last mile or so to the monastery is across an almost perpendicular cliff; where the path has been blasted out of the rock and as the cook truly said if it were not for the trees and bushes clinging here and there to the face of it one would not be able to stand on the edge of it and look down. This bit we had crossed before dark on the previous occasion, but it had been a misty evening with the valley full of cloud so that we did not realise that there was a drop of about 2,000 ft. almost sheer below us. It looked fine on a clear morning with the trees in their spring foliage and the hills across the valley blue as a field of blue bells. It was only 9-15 when we reached the monastery, so we thought we would go in and have a look at it and give our tiffin porter a little time to catch us up. It was a small monastery running very much to type. We took a few photos after we had been round it and in some magical way a whole hour slipped by. Our next stage was a 4-mile walk down hill to the Rongni river below Gangtok and somehow we took 1 ¾ hours over it. The path was all rock and boulders which made it difficult to walk fast over it. At the river we were glad to find a mule and a pony waiting to take us to Gangtok – 5 miles steep uphill – but as we had breakfasted soon after 6 we thought we would have lunch before beginning our ride. When we got up to the scattered little town of Gangtok I turned into the market to the Marwari’s shop there to see my porters’ rations before they were packed. Up on the ridge where the palace, monastery, dak bungalow and the best residential houses are, we met the Maharaja’s private secretary and walking along with him we presently met Mr. and Mrs. Dudley who asked us to tea and dinner and said they would call back at the dak bungalow for us. We were glad in a way that we were not staying with Mr. Gould at the Residency for we had a lot of things to do including repacking stores. However, when we found the number of people at the dak bungalow we began to be rather sorry. There were a padre school master and his wife with whom we shared the middle block of the bungalow which consisted of 2 double bed rooms and a sitting room. In another 2-roomed block there was an Indian Accounts Department Officer and a subaltern on his way to Tibet, and in another block an elderly missionarish looking lady and another Indian touring officer. Having all those people there made it much more difficult to pack and write and see people. I had a series of visitors. One of the old Kazis with a small daughter came; the Head Clerk from the Political Officer’s office who had been instructed by Mr. Gould to do anything I wanted; and, last but very much not lease, Rai Saheb Faquirchand Jali, the State Engineer with whom I had a lot of things to discuss and from whom I wanted a lot of information. All this made us rather rushed over our store-packing and so on before going out to dinner. We got back about 10 o’clock and I sat up till 11.30 writing letters. Helen went to bed a bit earlier. Before I was asleep three or four of our porters came back from the bazaar where they had evidently had a good evening out and settled themselves to sleep immediately outside our window. When I say “settled” it’s rather misleading, for they talked hard and loud till I got up and told them to stop; then they forgot and went on talking again and again and I had to go out and be very cross with them. Since then there have been very humble apologies for their behaviour.
To-day’s march to Dikchu – 3 miles up to the Penlong La (6,000 odd) and 10 miles down to Dikchu (2,000 odd) – was accomplished without any incident. The Maharaja’s private secretary very kindly sent two of his ponies to carry us up to the Penlong La; which gave us a nice start. Dikchu as always is rather too hot to be really pleasant but not bad enough to worry one much. We share the bungalow with a young man who is just back from three week’s climbing in north Sikkim, a member of the Himalayan Club from Calcutta.
May 18th, Singhik.
Only a ten-mile march to-day but mostly uphill and very hot so that we were glad to get in and drink vast quantities of tea. The dirtiest and most untidy of all our porters has appointed himself to take off my boots and putties and socks each day. He is a genial soul whom we christened “The Rag Doll” when he was out with us last year. He removes my socks with as much or more tenderness than I ever exercised in pulling off my babies’ socks and to-day immediately began to massage my feet and legs. He digs his fingers into the muscles of the calf, all up and down the leg and then in between the bones of the foot. It’s very nice and restful though the pleasure is slightly dimmed by the rather strong odour which comes from him. As he was rubbing my legs I looked down at his tousled head of curly hair ending in a long pig-tail and wondered how much live stock was walking about in it. It was only a few inches from my knee and I hope there were none that were capable of jumping. At Gangtok the cook who does not carry a load and is a very fast walker had pressed on ahead and arrived in Gangtok before us. He took off our boots and putties and when he removed Helen’s socks he calmly said “Your toe-nails are too long” and drawing a nail file from one of the little packets on his kukri (he is a Nepali Gurkha, so carries a kukri) he set to file her nails! It made us laugh a lot. We came through beautiful valley scenery to-day and had some nice views of the lesser snows. We met several interesting travellers on the way. Near this place is a village and in the village a Marwari shop, a branch of the people I deal with in Gangtok. One of the Marwaris with his wife and family was on transfer and we met them near Dikchu. There were several young sons and small children and a baby as well as the carefully veiled wife – most of them mounted. We had a little chat with them and as the wife passed she stretched out a hand to touch Helen’s head with a gesture of blessing and at the same time drew aside her veil and revealed an extremely ugly fact with a mouthful of dreadfully pan-stained teeth. I wished she had not unveiled for I had a vision of something lovely behind that thin screen of silk and would rather have gone on believing it to be such. Further up the road we passed a party of Tibetans who had stopped with their mules for a midday rest. One of them jumped to his feet all smiles and asked us where we were going etc. and I, in turn, asked where they had come from. They said from Lechen, so I asked if he knew Namkhang, the charming man who was out with me last year. Of course they did and then this man said he had been twice out with “Gourlay Saheb” and his name was Girti. I remembered the name at once for I tried to get him last year. We exchanged all the news and passed on our way. Further on we met another party of Tibetans from Lachen one of whom had been out with me last year. They are all taking their mules down to bring up supplies of rice. I’m sorry, I’m sleepy and must go off to bed. I am generally up before 5, so like early nights.
Yumthang. Altitude 11,800 ft. May 21st.
I see that the last I was able to write of my journal was at Singhik bungalow – and even then I was so sleepy that I had to go off to bed before I finished the account of the day’s march. We found the day a bit hot and a little tiring to the feet as the road is roughly cobbled where it is not the natural rock. Singhik is a delightful little bungalow with a wonderful view westwards up the Talung valley to Kangchenjunga and his surrounding group of snows. Bits of the mountains were showing in the evening, and so anxious was I that we should not miss the sunrise on the snows that I woke several times in the night. I had pulled my bed in front of a window which looks directly at them. Waking at 4:30, to my great disappointment, I saw the head of the valley full of grey cloud. I had never been lucky enough to see the view from Singhik and snuggled down in bed again feeling very sad. However, scarcely had I put my head back on the pillow, when I saw that the clouds were beginning to drift away and the top of Kangchenjunga sticking through them. I hopped out of bed and ran to the other side of the bungalow to call Helen. She was out just in time to see the rosy light on the snow. The cloud was drifting away fast and one after another the snow mountains were appearing. We were both busy with our cameras, and later I also took some compass bearings and made some sketches of how the mountains run as seen from the angle. It was intensely interesting to me, for I have never seen them from the west before. We did at last manage to tear ourselves away from the magnificent view, and get dressed and have breakfast.
The next day’s march to Chungthang was not quite so hot, as we were getting a little higher - - but it was quite hot enough - - so that I again took off my shirt and vest and hung them out to dry while we were having lunch, wearing a light woollen pull-over meanwhile.
We again met several friends on the road and also two elderly missionary ladies, whose appearance in what they considered suitable trekking costume was so comical that Helen and I simply dared not look at one another, as we stopped to have a little conversation with them. They were both wearing breeches of a sort, but gave an impression of having quantities of bulky underclothing underneath them. On their upper portions they wore sleeveless white silk jumper-blouses with open-work lace at the neck. These garments were quite shapeless and worn outside the breeches, reaching halfway down the hips (Helen declared they were down to their knees - - but I think she let her imagination run away with her a little.) One was crowned with a large white topi and the other with an immense terai hat, with a stiff brim and what was perhaps the most alarming thing of all was that they were both equipped with the most appallingly badly fitting false teeth, which looked as if they might drop out of their mouths at any time. At the same moment that we met them, we also met a troup of Lachen people, with their mules, and out of the middle of them burst the favourite of all the porters we had last year - - Pemba - - who always reminded me of a nice Newfoundland dog. He said he had heard that I was coming up to Sikkim and now he must come with me, whether I gave him any pay or not: I protested that I had fixed up for men from the other valley, but he asked what did they know about crossing the Sebu La, whereas he had been over it twice with Gourlay Sahib. This clinched the matter, and I told him he could come, so he collected various blankets and odd garments and said cheerfully that his brother and friends could see after selling their flour and potatoes and buying rice, and turned back with us. There was also with the troup another man and one girl who was with us last year, who both said they would like come, but I could not take any more.
At Chungthang one really feels that one is at the beginning of the high lands. The thick forest, full of mosses and ferns and hung about with creepers, is left behind and one gets among trees of more Europeans varities, with great hill tops of grass and rock above them.
Chungthang was already inhabited by a young Survey Officer - - a member of the Himalayan Club, who had been spending a few weeks in North Sikkim. It was rather lucky that we met him for he has been able to give us some most useful and cheering information about the Karpo La – the last of the three passes which we hope to cross. He did not cross it, but climbed up to it and looked down the other side. No European has been over it since about 1895 and he left no information about it, except an impression that it was not very difficult.
From Chungthang to Lachung is a lovely march. It is only 10 miles and a rise of 3,000 ft, but it is a steady and satisfactory rise, for having gained height one does not have to dip right down again as so often happens on these hill tracks. The splendid rocky peaks on either side of the valley had a good deal of snow on them and the river was rushing furiously fed by the melting of the snows higher up. Pemba, accustomed to living at about 13,000 ft, got very hot, carrying the big porters tent and before long had removed all his clothes except a small pair of cotton drawers and a fur hat. He’s a fine physique – very big for a hill man and looked an effective figure, sitting on a rock, with his light golden skin glistening with sweat!
It was a beautiful day and we lunched in a most delightful spot – an open wood of oaks (very different from our English oaks) sitting on a soft bank of dry leaves beside a clear stream. We reached Lachung at 3:15 and immediately bathed and changed and went up to tea with Miss Doig, the Scotch Missionary lady, who has been so helpful over making arrangements for us. She had invited us to tea and had a magnificent spread of food ready for us. There were plates full of wild strawberries to start with, and then we had scones and cakes and all manner of good things.
After tea the village Pipan (Headman) came to interview us about our local porters. He was very grubby and not at all well dressed. Miss Doig carefully put him on a chair very close to the open French window, as at close quarters he was distinctly “high”. There was obviously a little annoyance that I had picked up a Lachen man – I said I insisted upon having him because, firstly, he was an old friend, and secondly he knows some of the passes. Having settled about the porters and their rations, we then got on to the subject of having two loads of fire wood, and some eggs and chickens sent up to meet us at Mome Samdong on the 27th and here we got into very deep diplomacy. Apparantly he wanted his son to go up with one of his horses, instead of sending two men - - but it took a long time for this to appear. He was anxious to drive as good a bargain as possible and even went the length of saying that there was some difficulty about wood - - (that! in this valley full of pine trees that die and can be picked for the asking!!) I replied that I could not dream of putting him to any trouble, and that I would get wood and a couple of tikka porters from the Chowkidar at Thangu who always has plenty of good wood at 2 annas for 80 lbs. This was not at all what the old man wanted - - and the terrible difficulty of getting wood in the valley full of trees, suddenly vanished away! His gestures and the expression on his face were extra-ordinarily amusing. I wished I could understand exactly what he was saying, instead of talking through an interpreter. We invited Miss Doig to come to supper with us, but she had a strained knee and did not want to walk on it, so did not come. It suited us rather well to be alone, because we wanted to repack and to dump all the things we can spare at Lachung, where we shall return on June 1st.
The march from Chungthang to Lachung may be a lovely one, but it is nothing compared with that from Lachung to Yumthang. It is nine miles of surpassing beauty. We had a perfect day and the rhododendrons were in the full glory of flower, as well as the primulas: First we passed through an area where blood red and pale sulphur yellow rhododendrons predominated. Then we found small bushes with rose du Barri flowers, big trees of a glorious salmon-pink shading into cream, and in open places, tiny bushes some not more than a foot high with heather-purple flowers, and others about two feet high with flowers of pink, white, and yellow. Here and there were bushes of the wonderful orange-flame rhododendron Royalii. Mauve rhododendrons of all shades later predominated over the red and again we passed through a whole wood of lovely white blossomed trees. There were various shades of pink and red scattered about as well – and here and there through the woods, drifts of mauve primula denticulate and deep red purple primula Royalii. I photographed a lot of the flowers and gathered 21 distinct varieties of rhododendron. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we took nearly nine hours to walk the 9 miles and rise 3,000 ft! Taking close up pictures of lowers takes an awful long time - - so I hope the photos will come out.
We have had a day’s halt here at Yumthang to-day, and it has been a great boon to us and to our Darjeeling porters. Clothes have been washed and stockings darned. Several men have come with requests for darning wool.
It is the first wet day we have had. The rain has not been constant and heavy; but it was showery till about 3 o’clock and then cleared till about 7. We were very glad to was not our first day in tents and are praying that it will be fine to-morrow when we plunge into the unknown. We have no idea how long it will take us to get up to the Börum La or whether we shall have to camp this side of it to-morrow.
Interspersed with such odd jobs as seeing the tents pitched and checking how many new tent pegs are needed and little things like that, I spent the whole morning and an hour after lunch, sorting, describing and pressing my botanical specimens. After that I went out for a stroll and got more flowers, including mandragora - - the mandrake of the Bible. The chowkidar was quite troubled when he saw the plant lying on the table. He says it’s bad poison and if you so much as get some of the juice on your skin it makes a sore. I also found lots of wild rhubarb and brought back a big bundle: We have eaten several local products on the way up. A certain variety of fern in its young curly state is a reasonably good sort of spinach. Bamboo shoots au gratin, made an excellent savoury one night - - and for two marches beyond Dikchin we gorged on yellow raspberries and watercress, and between Chungthang and Lachung on wild strawberries.
How much of this I shall be able to write while we are in tents I don’t know. I am going to bed early to-night for we want to be up early and on the road before 7 o’clock if possible.
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Camp somewhere above the junction of the Börum Chu with the Lachen Chu.
Our first objective is accomplished! We have crossed the Börum La - - or as I rather suspect a pass just to the North of it, with a peak in between. Our local men certainly did not take us by the path marked on the map, but by taking compass bearings every now and again and comparing the country with the map, we were able to keep track fairly accurately of where we were. As far as we know we are not only the first women but the first Europeans (Have since discovered that Claude White crossed it in the nineties) to cross the Pass. Our men from the Lachung valley had been up to it but never over. Our one man - - Pemba, from the Lachen Valley, had been near it on the other side, but had never crossed it. My slight anxiety when I realized that we were not going for the Pass as marked on the map, was that we should not be able to get down the valley on the other side - - but here we are! Pemba has guided us to a place where his people have made a rough hut on the edge of the forest, so there is extra shelter for the porters and the cook is very pleased to have a better place to cook in than under a fly-sheet in the lea of a rock.
We left Yumthang bungalow at 7 a.m yesterday. It was not raining, but cloudy and visibility was not good. Instead of crossing the river and following the ordinary route, we kept up the west bank of the Lachung river for ¾ of an hour, following a tiny path, sometimes through thick forest of rhododendrons and pine trees, and sometimes crossing little open meadows, covered with patches of dwarf rhododendron. Just about three quarters of an hour’s walk from the bungalow a river called the Lhako Chu comes down from the mountains, and up this we turned westwards and followed up its northern side, generally high above it, right to its source at the Börum La - -or perhaps I should call it the Little Börum La, for as we looked back at the two passes, the one we had come over looked the narrower, but a trifle higher. For an hour we climbed very steeply through thick forest. Everywhere the rhododendrons were flowering divinely. It’s so marvellous to me the way they flower under the shadow of the pines. It’s fascinating to see the bushes of pale mauve “Companulatum” and the pale cream “Wightii” shining in the gloom of the dark wood.
At the top of the forest we emerged on to the vast rocky hill-sides, the river roaring in the valley below us, and on each side ragged toothed mountains, draped in snow, appearing and disappearing through the mist. It was just as well that we had some local man with us, for the path, where there was one, was of the very vaguest and even the local men had to consult together once or twice to make sure which way to go. The snow was so lately off the slopes, that there were not many flowers yet in bloom except such of the dwarf rhododendrons as grow so high. For a while we followed along a wonderful narrow topped ridge, clothed with the charming little pale pink and white azalea-like rhododendron anthopogon. Later we scrambled across steep slopes with frequent screes down them. Here the plants of the true alpine flowers were already starting their new growth, but they wont be in flower for another month at least. There was one special stretch of rocky hillside which will be blue with gentians in another six weeks.
We longed for the clouds to clear away from us and allow us to see the magnificent views that we knew were all round us. At times we had to do some extremely rough scrambling over rocks, climbing considerably at the same time, which made us very breathless - - for we were getting pretty high by this time. At 12 o’clock we stopped for lunch. By this time we were in a world of rock and snow and not much vegetation. Our men, pointing up a steep steep rock hill in front, said that there was a “maidan” (flat place) up there and suggested that we should camp there, about 1,000 ft below the Pass. We agreed, as we felt it would be too tiring to tackle the pass that evening, and also three of our porters had gone astray and we could not go on without them: We realized that we must be at a fairly high altitude, when we found that a cup of soup and a nibble of biscuit was all we wanted for lunch.
Our last climb was terrifficly steep and must have been about 800 ft as it took us three quarters of an hour. The “maidan”, described by the Lachung porters, was a wilderness of huge rocks, with the Pass to the south west, a snowy saddle and jagged snow covered peaks all round: With difficulty our men cleared space enough for our two little tents - - end to end - - and fixed up the kitchen and their own big tent. The three stray porters arrived during this time, to our very great relief. They had climbed down to the river bed, thinking it would an easier route, but it proved more difficult.
We sat and watched the camp being prepared, giving a few suggestions now and again, and by the time the tents were fixed I realized that I was suffering from my usual bout of high altitude sickness. I managed to drink a cup of tea and a little later was slightly sick. Then feeling more comfortable, I crawled into my sleeping bag, and wrapping all the woolies I could find round me, remained there till morning, partly sleeping and partly in a pleasant state of coma. It seemed to grieve the cook that I would not have any dinner, but he confessed this morning that he was not able to eat any himself. Helen had a slight head-ache, but ate her dinner, only later she got a splitting head and had to take a big does of asperin. We had come up rather quickly - - about 4,000 ft - -that is from 11,000 to about 15,600 in less than six hours. We had a few showers during the night, but our tents have double flies, so we were quite snug and comfortable. We felt perfectly fit in the morning and breakfasted happily off boiled eggs. (Yes! It is possible to boil them at that height and make excellent tea too.)
It took a little time for the men to cook their food and strike camp and it was 8 o’clock when the cavalcade moved off. Sad to say we were still living in the clouds, so could not do much photography. There was a handsome glacier falling from the mountains just to the north of us and when we had climbed a little way above our camp we saw that it fell into a frozen lake. We guessed the lake to be at least a quarter of a mile across and in the opinion of the cook and the head porter, about a mile round. Some pale gleams of sun through the clouds encouraged us to take photos, but I’m afraid they wont be very good: from about here our real climb started. We got on to snow that was not bad going, except that it occasionally let one through up to the knee. Our own Sherpa porters and the cook from Darjeeling all have rubber soled shoes and the local men their own felt boots soles with soft leather and how any of them can stand upright on snow - - much less carry a load of 80 lbs across it I don’t know. After climbing a bit on snow we got on to a rib of rock that ran very steeply for about two thirds of the way towards the top of the Pass. I found myself frightfully short of breath and could only labour up a few steps and then pause to pant. Helen seemed to go up better than I did. I was glad to make the excuse to stop and take some photos and really recover my breath - - but it was gone again in half a dozen steps! We crossed again from snow to rock at the foot of the peak on the right and scrambled up over great boulders. My own inclination had been to keep on the snow and I feel sure it would have been easier: Luckily we had been warned that the saddle we saw was not the top, and I was prepared for more of a climb after reaching it, than there actually was, and at 9:40 we had reached the summit and looked down into another rocky moraine-strewn valley surrounded by sharp needle topped peaks, with the wintersnow still clinging to their sides. Below us the snow slope, the only way of going down, dropped away tremendously steeply. The snow was getting just a little soft and the descent caused a good deal of hilarity, as every now and again the snow crust would give and let a leg right through to the knee or the thigh: It took us twenty minutes to get down the snow slope, and the weather was kind enough to clear a little and allow us to take some photos when we got to the bottom. The view from there I think has verified what I suspected from the map, and I have taken photos of the two passes and compass bearings of them. After this we began our descent of the valley, scrambling over rocks and down moraines crossing patches of snow and leaping over the little brooks which were carrying off the water from the surrounding mountains. About an hour later we caught up our porters, who had gone on while we were taking photos. They were resting on a flattish place where there was a little grass and a few dwarf bushes. Pointing to quite a big grassy flat about one and a half miles lower down the valley, they suggested that we might camp there. I said not a bit of it. It was only 11:15, and we must push on and get as near as we could to the Lachen river to-night, or we should never be able to carry out my programme and get to Thangu Rest House to-morrow. I was still believing we should find some sort of a track, for the map shows a nice line of red dots - - but we found nothing of the sort. We went on scrambling over rocks till we reached the big maidan which we had seen from above where we had lunch - - and from then on the going, instead of getting better, got worse. To begin with Helen and I thought we saw a path on the left bank of the river and crossing rather precariously by jumping from rock to rock, we later discovered that it was not a path at all and after a half a mile of very difficult going, we became sure that we were on the wrong bank. We debated whether to go back, for crossing seemed very difficult. However, we decided to trust our luck and go on and presently found a place where the river running very narrowly between rocks, some kind human beings had put a huge flat stone across to make a bridge. There have evidently been a great many landslides in the last year or two and from 12: 45 when we finished our lunch, we have spent a great deal of our time walking on the sides of our feet across slopes of about this angle / sometimes they were loose rock, sometimes scree, and sometimes wet sort of turf.
As the time wore on we began to look forward to camp very much. We got back into the fairy-like world of flowering rhododendrons and presently led by Pemba climbed sharply up a hill side into forest and soon emerged on this curious sort of clearing, which one might call a meadow, but for the fact there is no grass on it but masses of the fresh leaves of shepherd’s sorrel and dock. It’s still misty but not actually raining. Our little tents are very snug. “The Rag Doll” has been massaging our legs. He does it so well - - and he is so incredibly dirty and untidy!
It was 3.45 when we arrived here - - so we have had a good day of it - - but I don’t think either of us is unduly tired. We sat in the shed with the porters and had our tea, while our tents were being put up. Pemba’s people’s hut is built of split pine trees, the back wall being a huge rock. He felt very much the host as he sat in the centre of the circle round the fire, entertaining us to tea, and explained that at certain seasons they come up there to collect roots out of the forest, which they dry and grind in some way to make a sort of flour. Hot tea and slices of cake made new women of us. I confess that the last mile or so I had been hoping to see the camp round every corner: We are feeling very pleased that we have got over our first pass.
Dinner is just announced - - and after it I shall turn in for a well deserved night’s rest.
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Camp in the Jha Chu Valley at the foot of the Sebo La.
When I finished writing the day before yesterday, I did not guess that we had such a heavy day ahead of us. We thought that we were camping just above the Junction of the Börum Chu with the Lachen River. Actually it was just over two and a half hours of hard scrambling before we came in sight of the Lachen Valley. The Camp at Börum Piya (Pemba’s hut) had been high above the stream. We slid down to it and crossed on a bridge of a couple of slippery pine logs laid at a curious angle between two rocks. Some kind soul had rigged up a hand rail, which was a normal height from the logs at one end, but only about a foot above them at the other. From the bridge on, with Pemba leading, we scrambled down the valley. Here and there there were traces of a path, but far less than a goat track. Frequently we had to clamber over landslides of big rocks. The flowers all round us were magnificent. We were in the thick of the rhododendrons country again.
I was getting rather worried for I knew it was a good day’s march from the Junction of the rivers to the Thangu Rest House, which was our night’s goal: Just two and a half hours after leaving camp, I was following close on Pemba’s heels and we had climbed up over a big bluff of rocks that stuck out above the river, and as we came to the far edge of them, Pemba clapped his hand to his forehead and exclaimed “Pul tutgiya” (The bridge is broken). There below us on either side of the stream, which by this time was a roaring torrent about 25 ft wide, were the dejected remnants of what had once been a bridge. It was a bitter blow, for it would have been heart-breaking to retrace our steps and follow a track over the mountains from our previous night’s camp. Pemba was not a whit dismayed. He turned his head over his shoulder to me and with a gleaming smile, said “Never mind. We will build a new one.” We slithered down the rocks, followed by the rest of the party: Pemba taking the axe, which I had luckily brought, called to the six men from Lachung to go and help him cut down some small pine trees: and they disappeared up the steep hill-side.
Our Sherpa porters from Darjeeling set to to repair the first bit of the bridge, which was from the shore to a rock about six feet out in the stream, and they made a very good job of it. Meanwhile the Ghurka cook and one of the Sherpas - - namely the Rag Doll, found a place a little lower down, where the stream was narrowed between two rocks and apparantly they intended to do a pole jump across. The Rag Doll took off his boots and socks and solemnly hurled them across to the further bank. Luckily one of the local men stopped the attempt, telling him that if they did fall in, nothing could save them. In what seemed to me an incredibly short space of time, three stout young pine trees with branches neatly stripped off them were hauled down the hill side, and one was pushed out from the rock into the stream and reached the further bank, but at rather a fearsome angle. In a twinkling one of the Lachung men, in his big felt boots, had run across it, regardless of the fact that it was at an alarming slope, and was safe on the further shore. We sent up a cheer of “shabash”” He soon hauled the tree trunk into position on the rock pier of the old bridge, and the other two young trees were pushed across on either side of it. Meantime the cook, with his kukri and some of the Sherpas with their straight Tibetan knives, were splitting bamboos length ways into withies. The cooks jumping pole was rapidly cut into short lengths, and about four of these were bound with the withies at intervals across the tree trunks to brace them in position and keep them from rolling - - and our bridge was ready! The men re-shouldered their loads and we were all safely across by 11 o’clock. The bridge had been built in less than forty minutes, which I think is marvellous, especially in a country like India where it is so difficult to get anything done quickly. I have described the bridge building at such length, because I thought it so interesting and loved the competent way the men set about it: Helen and I have promised them a good drink as soon as we get to a place where drink is obtainable: From the map it looked as if there would be a good track along the river bank, on the opposite side to the real road, which was visible on the further side, which would lead us in four or five easy miles to a village called Talum Samdong, from which it is about another six to Thangu. Reality was again very different. Pemba confidently led us through the forest, but most of the time there was no short of path, and we pushed through bushes, clambered over fallen trees and rocks. It was hard on the porters, poor fellows, all carrying 80 lbs loads on their backs. After an hour of this, which included a bit of a rest, we came to a curious place where evidently a landslide had at some time damned up the valley, and a lake had formed, inundating a forest. The lake, one imagines at last burst through, but has left an unusually flat space and this dead forest behind. Here there were a lot of ponies grazing and the track did improve a little. We stopped for lunch about 12.15, and just at that moment there were loud whistles from a little up the hill side and Pemba’s wife appeared. She was such a pretty girl. It seems that Pemba’s people had returned from buying their rice and given news that we should be arriving in the Lachen Valley about this time, so Mrs Pemba had come to meet us. A few minutes later our head porter, Nima, ran back to say that there was a bridge over the Lachen about a quarter of a mile further up, and they wanted to cross on to the main road. I said certainly, and that we would follow when we had finished our lunch. When we got to the bridge we did not feel quite so pleased about it. The Lachen must be at least 60 ft wide here, probably more and the waters swollen by the melting snows, were swirling down at a tremendous rate. The bridge had evidently been constructed in two pieces on the two sides of the river and had been lowered to meet one another, cantilever fashion. The portion on one side was only about one third of the whole and sloped up quite steeply to meet the other. The actual bridge was made of four pine logs, about one or one and a half feet apart, with cross bars about every two feet. The whole was bound together with bamboo withies and was as springy as a jumping board. Needless to say there was no hand rail. The cook and Pemba and his wife had stayed to see us safely across. The cook enquired anxiously if we could cross it. I said if we had to of course we could. Pemba came running across, quite prepared to carry us over on his back, but that was more than our courage would stand. The cook had cut two sticks with forked ends, his idea being that with one of these in either hand we could sort of balance ourselves. I tried a few steps with them and then handed them back to the cook. The look of the water swirling by underneath and the knowledge that it would be certain death to fall in, made me feel that dignity or no dignity, I would prefer to go over on all fours. Firmly I said “Ham kutta ke maufik jaeger” (I will go like a dog). Once down on hands and knees I really did not mind. The springy action of the bridge could not shake one off one’s balance. Helen followed in like fashion - - and Mrs Pemba greeted us on the far shore with a saucepan full of beautiful hot yak’s milk and a gift of two dozen eggs. We, in turn, presented her with a few full’s eyes and a little money. Where she produced the eggs and milk from we do not know, for she was miles from her home. By this time, it must have been about two o’clock, and we did not really know how far we were from Talum Samdong. It seemed funny to be on a reasonable mule path again after two and a half days of practically no track. We stepped out as briskly as we could, but it was steady uphill, some of it steep, and we can’t have been doing more than two miles an hour. We passed the Lachung porters having a rest by the road side. When we were nearing Talum Samdong I began to feel very sorry for the porters, but did not want to camp there, as firstly it would have meant a very long march to-day and secondly we wanted baths and to wash our clothes. Helen and I also began to feel that the six miles to thanu would be very long ones - - so I told the cook that if he could get thee ponies or mules in Talum Samdong for himself and us to ride on to do so and to let the porters know that I would give eight annas a load and they could hire men or mules to take them to Thangu or if they preferred to carry on they could have the eight annas as extra for themselves.
We arrived in Talum Samdong at 3:5. The cook had already entered into negotiations with a lady for the hire of two ponies and a mule. Our Sherpa porters were having tea in some of the stone huts - - and all said they would carry on. Helen and I sat on the lee side of a holy wall while the lady and her friends went off to catch the ponies and saddle them up. Meantime the Lachung men came in, looking rather weary, but they all preferred to do the six more miles with their loads and have the eight annas in their pockets. The prospect of the money livened them up at once.
Our ponies and the cook’s mule only had the high wooden pack saddles with a few folded oddments of blanket on top of them and watering bridles with a single rope by which to control the animals. We had to stand on rocks and leap on to the animals’ backs and had a comical and not very rapid ride to Thangu. The saddles were not too comfortable, but as Helen said we would probably have accepted giraffes to ride if offered. We had both walked those steep miles to Thangu, climbing to 13,000 ft or nearly so and knew how breath-taking and tiring they can be at the end of a long day. Seated high above the ponies backs we were able to enjoy the incredibly lovely stretch of country. Had several millionairs set out to design rock-gardens on a grand scale they could scarcely have done better. I told you about it last year - - and I must not bore you with too many flowers - - but its lovliness made us call out constantly to one another. We were at Thangu by five o’clock and the porters were all in before six. Owing to the ride at the end we were not at all tired and enjoyed our baths no end. I sat up till ten o’clock sorting and pressing my botanical specimens.
Jha Chu. 27th May. 5:30 a.m.
The weather has turned bad on us. It’s raining and the clouds are right down on top of us. We had hoped to make an early start to cross the Sebu La leaving camp at 6:30 or as soon after as possible. The cook faithfully brought us tea at about 4:30 a.m. but it’s no good trying to move while the weather is like this. Quite probably it will clear a little later and we shall be able to go on our way. Meantime I have completed what there is of a toilet in tents at somewhere between 15,000 ft and 16,000 ft and am glad to occupy the time in writing.
There was some heavy rain during the night when we were in Thangu bungalow, but it cleared to a glorious morning. We were a little later than usual starting on our way, as I had a long talk with the old chowkidar who is quite a famous character in Sikkim. He started life as an orderly to Claude White, the first Political Officer in Sikkim and travelled with him all over the place. He says that they went over the Borum La so we were not the first Europeans to cross it. Still that was back in the “Nineties” - - so we have almost the same pleasure as pioneers.
Yesterday was a delightful and easy day. I don’t think the march is more than ten miles, and though one climbs between 2,000 and 3,000 ft it is easy going, along a great open valley, with turf under ones feet for a good part of the time. There are glorious views of the big snow mountains. Quite close to the south are the sharp peak of Thango and the lovely snowy cock’s comb of Chombo, while ahead lie Kangchenjhap a more solid flat-shaped mountain and a whole group of lesser peaks. We stopped often to take photographs and collect flowers. It must be an earlier season this year, for far more of the little alpine plants are out than were when I came up this valley a few days later last year. There were quantities of a particularly charming tiny primula in shades of mauve and pink. The plants were not more than one inch high at the very most, but grew in clusters so that the flowers made little cushions sometimes two or three inches or more in diameter. We passed two or three summer yak camps. There are lots of yak calves about and they are such engaging little wooly creatures. As we reclined against a rock on beds of dwarf aromatic rhododendrons (Rh anthopogon) to have our lunch, Pemba strode past and seeing us he stopped and drew from his bosom a wad of fresh made Tibetan cheese, which he offered to us to eat. Luckily we had just finished our lunch so were able to decline gracefully and the cheese was returned to its place between his bare chest and woollen tauba.
It was amusing to retrace our last year’s steps. I looked with satisfaction at the site we selected last year for the second Himalayan Club Hut - - which I hope will be built next year. Camp was being pitched as we arrived and we were amused to find the very holes we dug last year for our hips, since then we were not equipped with “Li-Los” as we are now. We spent a pleasant afternoon and evening inspite of a few very light showers. I arranged my day’s botanical collections and wrote a good bit of this journal. It was not unduly cold. Anyhow it was possible to write without ones hands being frozen. The cook turned us out a magnificent dinner - - and we went to bed very happy anticipating a glorious dawn. There were showers during the night which bothered me a bit. Even if it clears a little later I am debating where we ought to try the pass in case a lot of new soft snow has fallen. I suppose we can always go up and retreat again if it is too difficult to get over.
I hear sounds of breakfast approaching. It’s wonderful how these men carry on cheerfully, cook and do all their jobs in spite of the rain. The cook-house is nothing but an old tent-fly stretched on some sticks on the leeside of a rock. I am sorry to say that now - - 6.15 a.m. the weather does not seem much improved. I wonder what news I shall have to give to-morrow.
Later. 10:15 a.m.
It has cleared a bit, but the clouds have not really lifted and we do not think it is safe to try to cross the pass. Both my Sherpas from Darjeeling, who have experience of snow conditions, and the local men, say that if it does not snow more to-day and to-night, the snow that has fallen will be hard by to-morrow and we should be able to cross. It will be awfully disappointing if we cannot.
I have just had a visit from a couple of Tibetans, who are camping with their yaks a little way down the valley. They say it was at their tent I drank milk last year, and that I went into the tent and saw their baby son, who was then only a month or two old. I put a rupee into his hand (which he immediately tried to swallow!) They say he is growing very big and strong and they have brought me a bottle of yak’s milk and a pat of respectably clean yak’s butter as salami; I felt it was necessary for my honour to do my bit again, so I have sent a rupee to the little boy. My man explained with great mirth that the money was not for the father but for the son. They seemed to think it an excellent joke.
We sent Pemba down to the nearest yak camp this morning to get milk and while he has been away he has re-soled his Tibetan boots with bits of yak skin with the fur outside. He says that it is very good for going over snow. Two of the men from Lachung have done the same. One of the Lachung men has been suffering from toothache the last two days, and I have done the best I can for him with iodine on cotton wool and asperin at night. The tooth is past all hope, and if only I had the implements and the courage, I would pull it out - - but I have neither! Marvellous to relate, he says it is much better. We had quite a hospital parade last night. Two men who felt as if they were going to have fever had quinine and seem very flourishing this morning. Pemba says a slight cough has been rapidly cured by liquorice cough drops and a lad with a headache had asperin.
I wonder whether we will get over the La to-morrow!
Camp Mome Samdong. May 28th.
Hurray! We have crossed the Sebu La and are here only one day behind our programme. It was raining and sleeting right up to about 8 o’clock last night and I had really given up hope of being able to cross the Pass to-day. An experienced old porter, who used to go out with some of the early mountaineers in Sikkim, was still hopeful and said he thought the rain was stopping and that any new snow would freeze in the night and that the morrow would be fine. He was correct on all three points. Once or twice during the night I woke and was thankful not to hear the pattering of the rain on the tents. At 4 a.m. I really woke and decided to peep out and see what the weather was like. To my delight I saw clear sky already getting light, with a few late stars shining. A few minutes later I heard the cook stirring and through the thin walls of my tent saw the blaze of a fire being lit. We had agreed to make an early start should the weather be fine. The old porter brought us cups of tea about 4:30, by which time a strong wind had sprung up, which blew everything all over the place, but dried up the tents wonderfully: We breakfasted excellently on porridge followed by egg-bacon and potatoes about 5:30, sitting under the lee of a big rock near the kitchen. I wish I could have taken cine pictures of the cook and assistant porters running to us as fast as they could with the “fry pans” or saucepans full of food. They managed to serve everything marvellously hot.
In spite of the strong and very cold wind, which made things a little difficult, everything was packed and we trailed away from camp at 6:30. The beginning of the climb was only five minutes away. I estimate from the contour lines on the map that we had been camping at about 15,000 ft. The summit of the Pass is 17,600, and the ascent a very stiff one. The first forty minutes were up an old rock-fall, where occasionally one had to use one’s hands to help one up. Then a series of more gentle slopes alternating with stiff pitches up rocks for another two hours, which including many pauses for taking photos - - and breath!! This brought us to the edge of the last great snow slope, which, to our delight we found to be in reasonably good condition: The Ghurka cook, carrying no load, broke the trail. His feet sank in on an average, I should say, about eight or ten inches, but in places up to the knees, but the foot-steps thus made consolidated and were fairly easy to walk in. It took us another hour and a half over the snow to reach the top. The snow-field was so steep that at that altitude and with porters carrying full loads we had to go up in a series of zig-zags - - and frequently sat down to rest.
G.B. Gourlay had always told me that the Sebu La was a fine pass, but we did not anticipate for a moment the magnificent views that were constantly opening out. The great mountain of Kanchenjhau was towering up on our left and the elegant and beautiful cockscomb of fluted ice and snow - - Chombo was close above us on our right. As soon as we got up on to the snow slope and turned to look behind us we saw the most marvellous view of Kangchenjunga, towering like a great cathederal above a tangle of snow peaks, almost any of which would be a mountain famous for its size in any other country: I could pick out all the best known peaks in Western Sikkim and far away I could distinguish some of the lesser ones - - (mere twenty-thousanders) amongst which we were last October. We kept plumping down on the snow and taking photos of this wonderful scene, being afraid that clouds would blow up and obliterate it before we got to the top - - as indeed they partially did: The top of the pass is a knife edge of ragged rock and one has almost to sit astride it to keep in position up there. We were hungry and as soon as we had finished exclaiming at the new panorama of the North and Eastern Sikkim snows that was now revealed to us, we set to and ate ginger-nuts and chocolate. We then put new films into our cameras and spent a long while taking photos with compass bearings. Our porters did not rest long on top, but scramble down the almost perpendicular rock cliff below us, on which and on the terrace below it, there was scarcely any snow. We were exactly an hour on top of the Pass, and half an hour took us down the rock cliff and across a terrace on which there was a fine frozen lake. On a flat rock on the edge of this terrace we stopped for lunch and more photography. It was heavenly warm in the sun. Great snow peaks were all round us and we could not bear to take off our dark glasses. Some how an hour and a quarter slipped away in this wonderful spot before we got under weigh again: The descent took us a good deal longer than we expected: A series of steep rock falls join several of these terraces with quite sizable lakes on them, but so much of the way is over big boulders, that one cannot travel at any pace. It took us one and a half hours to get down to the lowest terrace, from which we had perhaps the most beautiful view of the whole day. Up into the blue sky towered the lovely crest of Chombo and from her skirts a splendid glacier fell in masses of green and white ice, into the frozen lake before us. There were lovely shadows and the whole thing was a magnificent spectacle. Of course I had to take more photos. I do hope they will be a success:
Now arose a difficulty. We had to cross a rushing stream and could not see any rocks suitable to be used as stepping stones. Our tiffin porter, who always stays with us carrying lunch and spare coats and other oddments, nothing daunted, took off his boots and stockings, rolled up his breeks and carried us over. We were now on a huge moraine, but luckily the yaks are brought up this far to graze in summer and we found a rough little path which led us round and over the end of the moraine. It gives you some idea of the scale when I tell you that it took us three quarters of an hour to get down on to the valley floor: Here we had to be carried across another young river - - and it was no easy job for Mingma, as the water was up to his knees and the current running furiously: By this time it was 4:15 and we were both tired - - so that the last half hour down to Mome Samdong, seemed a long one. It was grand to see the tents and everything ready for us, after being ten hours on the road: Tea and a little rest revived us much and I was able to go out quite cheerfully with the contractor who is building the Himalayan Club hut here, to verify the site and decide upon aspect and so on. This did not take more than half an hour I should think, though it is the official reason for my coming up here.
When I got back to my tent, I found the faithful Rag Doll waiting to massage my legs and feet, and I reclined in luxury on my “Li-Lo” while he rubbed and squeezed in a most professional way. He understands so little Hindustani that I have never been able to get out of him where he learnt his art. One of the old porters happening to come to my tent, I got my question put through in Tibetan and the Rag Doll says that he learnt from a very old Lama in Sola Khomba where all the Sherpa come from.
We have made a very short march to-day and are camped just on the edge of the icefield below the snow slopes which lead to the Sebo La. (It is pronounced “Saybo” and the one we crossed yesterday is pronounced “Seeboo”. According to our tiffin porter who has been trying to get at the difference in the two names, the one we crossed yesterday is the White pass and the one we hope to cross to-morrow is the Green pass - - but I am not confident that this has not just been made up to please me.) It’s the most marvellous day. Until one o’clock there was not a cloud in the sky, which is a rare thing in Sikkim. We did think of crossing the Pass this afternoon, but I think we should all have found it a drag, and though one o’clock is early to camp, it is delicious sitting in the sun, and a grand opportunity to air clothes and bedding: We have no idea how long it would take to get to a possible camping place the other side of the Pass. At the Börum La we were able to camp close below the snow saddle on the East, but on the West there was not a suitable camping ground for miles. When you get a very narrow v shaped valley, it’s difficult to find the least bit of flat ground and there is always a certain danger of avalanches and stone falls. Here we are on a hump in the middle of the valley between two streams. The snow saddle of the Pass is not very much above us, but I should think it may be as much as two miles away. I have been sitting in the sun manicuring my nails - - both hands and feet, and giving my feet a good sun bath, which I much enjoyed. Helen went further, and retiring behind a rock, after giving strict instructions to the porters that no one was to go in that direction, she had a complete sunbath and says she feels grand! It seems odd to be able to do this at somewhere about 16,500 ft.
All sorts of odd garments and bits of bedding belonging to the porters are spread over the rocks to dry: To the East of us rise billows of snow fields leading to the pass. On either hand are snow-covered peaks and far away, blocking the view at the West end of the valley is the lovely Chombo which I mentioned so often yesterday: It’s interesting to see her Eastern face, for it is hidden as one goes down the ordinary route, and until Captain Sams came up this valley a week or two ago, one had visited it for some forty years as far as we know. It’s a mountain G.B. is very fond of - - so I hope my photo of this aspect will come out.
We bought a sheep yesterday and having reserved enough to last us the four days to Lachung and the tit bits, we gave the rest to the porters for a feast, with the sad result that several of them have pains in the stomach to-day, and I have had to administer Epsom Salts. They so seldom can afford meat and regard it as a great treat, and, if there is enough of it, an occasion for over-eating.
The skin of the sheep is being carried with us, and Pemba and the old porter Angtemba, have sheared off some of the longest wool and are spending their spare time spinning.
A few minutes after leaving camp this morning, we had to be carried across the Lachen, which is quite a considerable river, but luckily, as it crosses some flattish ground at this point, it spreads out into a wide shallow stream. This saved us going about a mile up the valley to a bridge and down again the other side. When we had gone about half a mile along the hill side, we heard a furious barking and saw the yellow pie-dog who has accompanied us on this trip, rushing frantically along the opposite bank of the river, not having the courage to cross. We shouted to one of the porters who was some way behind, to go back for her - - but desperation gave her courage and she got over by herself: This dog appeared in our train from Lachung and we thought she belonged to one of the Lachung porters, and wondered why she always walked with us. We have since discovered that she is nothing to do with them, and the cook says that the little Sikkim policeman who walked with us for two days up the valley says she comes from Gangtok. Of course we have had to be kind to her, poor beast, and Helen and I have an awful feeling that we shall never get rid of her. She was a most depressed animal when she first joined us, but a little food and kindness have worked wonders and at moments she becomes positively sprightly.
Thinking it over, this has not been such a very short day for though we stopped at 12:15 we had started at 7:15 and it was very hard going all the time. We sloped up the hill side above the Lachen travelling south for about a couple of miles - - but most of the time we were clambering over rock-falls and patches of snow. Then we turned up this valley and had a very steep climb over rock to begin with. The valley levelled out later, but as its floor was nothing but river and swamp of melting snow, we had to travel along the mountain sides, stepping from boulder to boulder, which is a tiring mode of progressing for it needs such close attention.
The Lachung porters made a determined effort tostop and camp at 10:30. They said if we did not camp there we should not find any other place this side of the Pass. I consulted with the cook and the Sherpa porters, and we said, very well, then we will cross the Pass to-day. However we have found this excellent camping place, just at the edge of the snow and if only it stays fine, we shall enjoy crossing the La much more when we are fresh to-morrow morning.
I have never camped so nearly on snow before, but I don’t anticipate that this camp will be quite so cold as some of those up north of the Donkhya La.
Camp somewhere in the Sebo Chu Valley. May 30th.
Well! here we are, having crossed our third pass and penetrated from the main valley of the Lachung into the side valley of the Sebo Chu over the mountain barrier, a thing which we believe no European to have done for some forty years - - and then it was the same Claude White, who crossed the Borum La and seems to have travelled into every at all accessible corner of Sikkim. We have not arrived here without adventures and Heaven knows what pass we have come over! The Lachung men who were given us as guides proved never to have been over the Pass and were quite useless, so I relied on the map - - which is not at all clear and on Captain Sams notes and sketches - - thinking he had been right up to the Pass, which it is now apparant he had not. Still I will start my story at the beginning.
The camp at the foot of the glacier was not so very cold. The cook gave us a marvellous dinner and we turned in about 8:30 hoping for another fine day. I was woken by the gentle sound of snow falling during the night and in the morning our tents and the ground round about were powdered with white. Early tea at 4:30 and the world lightly shrouded in mist, started our day. Later it cleared and I hoped we were going to have just such another day as yesterday. Soon the big white clouds kept on following one another up the valley and enveloping us. It was pretty cold and we had only a limited supply of fuel, as we had had to carry it up with us. We left camp at 7:15 and made our way up the snow covered glacier for two and a half hours. The old porter Angtember was leading, and led us very cleverly for there were holes and crevasses and our course was far from being a straight one. There were places where the snow was in good condition and we could walk comfortably over it. In other places it was treacherous and let one through to the knee or above. The loaded porters went through worse than we did, of course: Luckily it was nowhere frightfully steep, though the gradients were stiff enough at that height. Once one of my legs sank right up to the thigh, and my foot got stuck in some curious way so that I could not pull it out, and one of the porters had to dig it out: All this time the sun and the clouds were struggling for supremacy and sad to say the clouds won and a good part of the time we were in thin mist with frozen ice particles flying about in it. When we reached the top of the glacier, we were on an enormous stretch of snow fields, undulating all round us: There were at least four snow saddles, divided by rocky peaks. It had become apparent long before this that the Lachung men knew nothing: At the top of our climb we all sat down to have a rest, a conference, and a peppermint bull’s eye all round. Pemba, carrying the big porters’ tent was the last to arrive and as he flung himself back on the snow, there was a most alarming crack of the glacier beneath us. I said “Pemba baithgya (has sat down) - - but the joke did not go down very well, as I think all the men were just a little frightened. From Captain Sams’ sketch and compass bearing and my own compass bearing, it was quite clear which Pass he thought was the Sebo La. However, I sent ment to look at three out of the four saddles. Stupidly I let two Lachung men go to the one we thought correct - -and they came back saying it was alright, so we all got up and went off to it, only to find when we had topped the saddle, that there was a most fearsome drop into the valley below. About 40 ft of almost perpendicular snow slope, ended in a ridge of rocks. Looking over this, one saw that it was a cliff of rough rock about 200 or 300 ft high, easy enough no doubt for rock climbers - - and possibly we might all have got down it safely if there had been no loads. Nima Tsering, our head porter and two or three other men went about half way down to see if it were possible: Not only did I not like the look of the rock either for ourselves or loaded porters, but below it stretched a wide snow-field, ending in an abyss of mist, and we did not know what other difficulties we might meet down there: One Sherpa porter said that the next pass to the North East was just as bad - - but a young lad who had been to see the pass still more North East said that it looked much better. We guessed it must lead down into the Sebo Valley eventually so decided to have a look at it. I called down to Nima and the other men to come up again, and Angtemba and the cook said they would go to look at the other Pass. I told Angtemba that, though I much wanted to cross into the Sebo Valley, he was on no account to say the Pass was possible if it involved real danger either to the porters or ourselves. We trailed back across the bulging snow fields - -and again, as were crossing the top there was one of those horrid cracks and I thought quite a distinct movement of the snow under us. The Lachung men were definitely frightened and wanted to go back the way we had come. They now began to say that the way we intended to try was far worse than the one we had abandonded - - but the Sherpa porters all said, what I myself knew, that they were entirely ignorant of the Pass and simply wanted to turn tail. I told them we should do exactly what Angtemba and the cook said. These two, armed with the axe, had meantime disappeared down a steep bulging snow slope, very like the one up which we had come, only steeper. Presently shouts came up for us to follow and down we all went, finding the snow much harder on this north east aspect: After a while the snow fields turned to glacier and part of the space between the two ranges of peaks was a definite ice-cliff. While the other portion was fearfully steep snow slope, close under some snow covered crags, which looked as if they might give rise to an avalanche at the smallest excuse. Angtemba had decided to take us down under a solid looking rock cliff on the left, and was busy cutting steps in the ice: There were about 30 or 40 ft almost perpendicular and then a steep slope where water was trickling between the rock cliff and the glacier and had carried earth and rock with it for perhaps another 60 or 70 ft: We, without packs, got down this without much difficulty. Helen said it was a lucky thing we had not got weak heads. I said all my attention was concentrated on keeping the seat of my breeks out of the mud and water for there were places where it was very tempting to sit one’s way down. The little Ghurkha cook was in front guiding our steps with the utmost care: How on earth the porters get down places like that with their big loads, heaven knows, but they all did without any mishaps. Our real difficulties were now over, though we did not then know it.
Before us stretched a long gentle slope of snow-covered glacier, with the snow in very easy condition for walking on. Birdoj, the cook and Angtemba walked in front, hand in hand, incase of any unsuspected holes or crevasses, so that if one fell the other would hold him. We walked comfortably over the snow for twenty minutes, till it fell in a magnificent cliff - - but here we were able to walk off it on to rocky mountain side - - not good going, since it was all loose boulders, but it was perfectly feasible, and down this we scrambled pretty steeply for another half hour, with the glacier on our right hand, showing every here and there lovely little greenish ice caves, trimmed with icicles, where a tiny stream had undermined its edge. It was drizzling slightly and cloud obscured all distant views, to our great disappointment, but we were cheered by the thought that we had accomplished what we set out to do. Presently the valley flattened out a bit, the glacier ended in the usual dirty muddy snout, and another valley seemed to come in on our left, but was blocked by a great moraine bank. It was a most desolate aspect of tumbled rock and dirty ice all round us, but as it was by this time 12.45, we decided to stop and have lunch. Birdoj stopped with us, and was looking so cold and “peaked” that I gave him a tot of brandy (which he said he had never tasted before) and though he is a Hindu, and will not eat our food like the Sherpas and Tibetans do, he took a couple of biscuits and a bit of chocolate as well as a cup of tea, which we made in our little tea-basket kettle - - and looked all the better for it: I think the little fellow had really been very anxious about Helen and myself. The Sherpa porters look after us splendidly, but they are not used to any sort of civilized life, as he is, and naturally expect anyone who comes into the mountains to be quite prepared to climb.
After lunch, we very soon emerged into the Sebo Chu Valley and to our great delight found faint traces of a yak path almost at once. The Valley is a wide one and the walking was comparatively good after what we have been over recently. About a mile or so down the Valley, we found Pemba and one of the Lachung men waiting to carry us over the river. Pemba had girt his tsuba half way up his thighs, displaying a magnificent pair of muscular legs. He carried me over without any apparant effort, and then of his own accord went back for the cook, who is a tiny little man. Pemba announced in his deep base voice that the cook was so light he was like a loaf, and he could scarcely feel him!
Soon after this we were able to look up the valley we should have come down if we had managed that first “false” pass, and we were more thankful than ever that we had turned back from it, for the valley was evidently a short one and the glacier came down it in a series of tremendous cliffs, ending in masses of loose moraine, while the sides of the valley were either cliffs or very steep scree with snow on it.
I had told our men they could camp as soon as they found wood - - but for several miles there was nothing but the tiny dwarf rhododendron, so we did not get into camp till 3:40. Neither Helen nor I was tired, but it must have been a pretty heavy day for the men: However they are all just as cheerful as usual. What is so charming about the Sherpas, is that they never think of themselves at all, till they have done every possible thing for their masters. I am sorry to say that it has been drizzling off and on ever since we got into camp and though we are snug and dry enough in our little double fly tents, it’s very uncomfortable for the men and does not give them a chance of drying their clothes. Luckily they don’t seem to realize it! We were rather touched by the cook this evening. It was drizzling slightly, our tents were being put up. I said to the cook that I would make tea in the tea-basket and could get his kitchen arranged. I noticed that he was very busy over the quickly made fire, and not attempting to get the fly-sheet up to protect himself from the rain - - and by the time the kettle was boiling he ran to our tent with a dish full of lovely light drop scones! We ate them with golden syrup and I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a tea more!
This camp is in a most lovely spot, though owing to mist and rain we have not been able to appreciate it much. We are on a grassy shelf of the mountain side above the river. I think there are snow peaks above us, but can’t see them. Huge rocks are scattered about and every where there are flowers. The small types of rhododendron, purple primulas and a lovely white primula, like a large flowered, short stalked polyanthus. There are also massed heaps of a very pretty white anemone and a little golden potentilla just coming into flower. I fancy that we shall be in the thick of the flower world all the way down to Lachung. We make one more camp in this valley to-morrow and rather hope to be in Lachung by mid-day the day after to-morrow, but we have very little idea how far it is and the local men, though I think they know the valley as far up as this, seem singularly incapable of giving any definite information.
Camp Sebo Khonma. May 31st.
Such a surprise! After a most lovely half hour’s walk this morning, during which the valley dropped tremendously and our little track climbed down the face of a mountain, while the river simply leaped over a rock cliff, we came into another valley with a larger river coming in from the N.N.E. (20°) the senior Lachung man told us that it was the Sebo Chu Valley down which we thought we had been coming all yesterday afternoon. This was verified by our tiffin coolie, who said that it was the valley he went up with Gourlay Sahib eighteen months ago: Standing where we were, no one would ever have guessed that there was a valley where we had come down - - roughly N.N.W. (310°) The mystery of our Pass deepens! There is no river marked on the map that approximates at all to what we came down.
I am hoping Captain Sams will not have left Darjeeling by the time I get back, so that perhaps he will be able to help me unravel the puzzle. It looks as if we have done a bit of pioneering after all, for the Pass we crossed yesterday is certainly not the one Claude White crossed - - and the probability is that no one has crossed it before.
We have had a very easy day to-day. We lay comparatively late in bed, that is to say the cook brought me my tea at 5:15. The weather seemed so warm that I undressed completely - - rubbed myself all over with dusting powder and put on fresh clothes - - and so felt almost as if I had had a bath. I was slightly anxious lest one of the porters should pop his head in through the tent entrance at any moment, for they have very simple manners!
Unfortunately it was still misty. I don’t think it had been actually raining in the night, but there was damp mist hanging about and every now and again a slight shower. We left camp a little before 8 o’clock and in spite of the misty weather had a most lovely walk down here: I found some beautiful flowers in our upper unknown valley, especially an enchanting primula growing tucked in between rocks. From a Rosette of silver-grey powder foliage, spring large, but short stalked primrose like flowers, just the colour of lilac. I also found a tiny mauve primula not more than ¾” high - - a perfect miniature and its wee flowers so bright that they catch the eye in spite of their minute size: In the Sebo Chu Valley we got into the real rhododendron country of the smaller types of bushes and two and a half hours after leaving camp, we reached the edge of the forest. It was mixed forest of the larger types of rhododendron and silver fir - - all very beautiful: As we sat down for a little rest and to eat our chocolate and biscuits, we thought of the difference in our position at that time yesterday - - with nothing but snow all round us! Just after 12 o’clock we reached this spot. It’s a regular pony and yak camping station, with lots of quite good wooden huts, which is lucky, for it has turned into a real wet day, and I am so glad that our men are all comfortably housed and have unlimited pine-wood to burn. Bungalow life again to-morrow!
Chungthang Rest House. June 2nd.
It has been raining almost without ceasing since I was last writing two days ago in our camp at Sebo Khonma: Strange to say we quite enjoyed our long afternoon and evening in tents there, in spite of the wet weather. I should not have done so had not the cook and porters been well housed. Our tents were perfectly weather proof and it was not cold. I had a splendid afternoon sorting and ticketing all my botanical collection and writing as far as I could, an accurate account with compass bearings and times of the crossing of the “Unknown” Pass. The cook fed us frequently with excellent food - - for tea he produced delicious sort of drop scones, which we ate with golden syrup - - and for dinner he gave us soup, beautifully roasted mutton and a suet pudding.
It was still raining in the morning, but cleared up before we were dressed and a little later the sun came through the clouds and allowed us to realize what a beautiful spot it was in which we were camping. There was a big clearing in the pine forest, with a clean stream running across it close to our tents. All round rose high rocky cliffs, with waterfalls dashing down them, and above them ragged peaks covered with snow. We took quite a number of photos which I hope will give some idea of it: There were many ponies grazing about the place and on our arrival the previous day, the cook had told us that a very good pony was lying dead at the far side of the clearing. We subsequently heard that it had been killed by a bear or wolves. As we made our way down to Lachung, we met quite a number of men coming up, to take their ponies down from this dangerous spot. The rain came on again soon after we left camp and went on steadily all through our four hour’s walk The Lachung men reported that it was about nine miles to Lachung and I should think they were right. Most of the way was through forest, just a rough pony track. Here and there were open places where the valley opened out a bit. On the largest of these were the Sikkim Raj plantations of the valuable drug “Kuth” (Sausurea Lappa - - Costus Root supposed to be the same as the “Costus” of the Ancients) which until recently was only grown in Kashmir: About 11 o’clock we emerged from our Sebo Chu valley and crossed the Lachung River. It was raging and storming down its rocky bed, fed by the heavy rains and melting snows. Another five minutes took us up on to the ordinary mule track which runs right up the main Lachung Valley, and the remaining two and a half miles into Lachung down this comparatively good path, seemed very easy to us. We were in the Lachung Bungalow before 2: o’clock: The cook and a good many of the porters had already arrived and quickly peeled off our wet boots, and socks and put lunch out for us. Almost immediately a messenger came from Miss Doig, bringing us a lovely loaf of bread and a big bundle of newspapers going back to the day we left - - as well as an invitation to tea.
After lunch we luxuriated in our first baths for six days. Meantime the two senior village Pipans (Headmen) had arrived to pay their respects and apologise for various things about which I had been angry. First, the third Pipan (who did not venture to appear on this occasion) had told us that the porters he was sending with us knew all the places I wanted to to to, which they did not. Secondly, we had arranged with him to send a man with a pony carrying two loads of wood, two dozen eggs and two large chickens to meet us at Mome Samdong: We enquired about the price of a sheep and when he said Rs10 - - we said “No” we would just have the chickens. At Mome the man arrived with the sheep - - but no chickens and very bad wood - - so I sent messages to say I was very displeased with the Lachung people and that I should tell the Maharaja that they could not speak the truth or keep their promises etc., etc., and that I should take the sheep and pay Rs7/- for it and not an anna more. Apparently the messenger had reported this to the Pipans and they had come very nervously with gifts of eggs, milk and marwa, to beg my forgiveness. After a little pie-jaw, I accepted their gifts, and gave them each a large slice of plum cake, a handful of raisins and a bar of chocolate. They then retired to the kitchen to have a good gossip with the cook, who no doubt has given them a highly coloured account of our adventures, largely designed to add the more glory to himself. As far as I know they spent most of the rest of the day there.
The Lachung porters had been told to come at 6: p.m. to get their pay, but trooped along at 3:15. The Pipans were immediately produced from the kitchen and given chairs in the sitting-room, while we attended to the great business of paying the men. The cook constituted himself chief interpreter - - why I don’t know, because he does not speak Tibetan - - but several of my Sherpas turned up to help too: It took quite a time to pay six men Rs 13/4/- each - - for there had to be a great deal of counting on the fingers: Then I settled with the Pipans for the price of the sheep, wood and eggs, and they said of course Rs 7/- was a perfectly good price for the sheep and we all parted with mutual expressions of esteme.
Miss Doig had the usual wonderful spread of scones and home-made wild strawberry jams, and was greatly interested to hear about our adventures. She promised to come down later to have supper with us, and meantime said she would send her servant to get the names of the places we had been to, written down as correctly as possible. The cook surpassed himself at dinner and gave us an excellent four course meal, appearing himself to wait, dressed in his little black jodpur trousers and a perfectly clean, though somewhat creased pyjama jacket. He had evidently been giving some instructions to our tiffin porter too - -who though the most willing creature, is not very skilled. We felt that every nerve had been strained to make this dinner a success, which it certainly was.
Afterwards we had Miss Doig’s man in, and got some very interesting information from him: He, and the three of us were in the circle of light from the lamp - - and gradually we were aware that the other end of the room was full of the shadowy figures of our Sherpa porters. Presently someone strode through them and in a deep booming voice said “Salaam Miss Sahib” with a flash of very white teeth. It was Pemba looking singularly wild. He had taken off his fur hat and his long curly hair had flown all over the place. He was not drunk, but I fancy he had had one or two at the equivalent of the village pub, just enough to make him extra genial: He at once realized that an important discussion was going on and sank back amongst the others to listen. It appears that Captain Sams was quite mistaken about the Passes and that the saddle we came over, has probably never been crossed before at all. We got a good many names and meanings which pleased me very much, and about 9 o’clock the party broke up. This I may say, was comparatively late hours for us!
All night long I believed it poured with rain and it was drenching down in the morning: Fortunately the porters don’t seem to mind it much and were as alert and ready to be off as ever. Luckily it is only a ten mile down hill walk from Lachung to Chungthang and we did it easily in four hours and quite enjoyed it in spite of the rain. A fire was lighted and lunch ready for us here and soon after we arrived we got splendid budgets of letters and newspapers and learnt that our respective families were flourishing: The news in the letters and papers that the monsoon has broken in Bengal and the way the rain is pouring down steadily as it if never intends to stop, have made us decide to go to Gangtok and motor from there to Darjeeling, instead of taking a devious route over the hills via Deling Monastery, which we had intended to do had the weather been fine. It would mean one and probably two nights in tents, which we do not think would be much fun in this weather.
We have had a variety of visitors here. A police constable, who walked up these valleys for three days with us, appeared all togged up in his best green uniform with very shiny buttons and presenting a basket of potatoes and a plate of eggs, announced that he was a very knowledgeable man about plants - - knew a lot of their names and where they could be found and that he wished to get a license from the Sikkim Raj to gather roots and seeds for anyone who wished for them. Would I ask His Highness about this: I said that I might go as far as asking Gyalsten Kazi - - but that I would like him to write down his name and what he wanted in some language. He departed and returned later, with his written paper and the local postmaster, who very formally read it aloud to us - - and then assured us that the three or four letters we had just sent ot pose, would be safely delivered. The post goes from here twice a week by runners, carrying spears and bells and takes two days to get into Gangtok. The constable also brought me some rather nice flowers, including orchids. This party had scarcely departed, when the contractor, who is going to build the Himalayan Club Hut, appeared. I sat him down in a chair and we made a little polite conversation rendered rather difficult by his lack of English, but firm determination to keep up his dignity by not talking Hindustani.
Dikchin Rest House. June 4th.
The time has come to end this all too lengthy journal. This is the last rest house before Gangtok. Two ponies have been arranged to carry us up the ten miles and 4,000 ft odd, to the Penlong La above Gangtok to-morrow, from where it is a drop of only 500 ft in three miles into Gangtok. It’s queer to be back in the heat. This place is only 2,000 ft and very shut in, and we are glad we have not got to do the climb to Gangtok on our own feet, as we had to do last year when the road had been washed away.
In so far as we could expect, when the monsoon has just broken with some fury, the weather has been kind. It poured in torrents the whole of the night and early morning that we were in Chungthang but stopped at 8 o’clock just as we wanted to start. It kept fine all morning and we were able to lunch comfortably (though in some fear of leeches) by the way-side: A little rain began to fall just before we got to Singhik bungalow at 2:45, and almost immediately after we got in, it came down in torrents, continuing so all night. Singhik is the bungalow from which there is such a magnificent view of Kangchenjunga - - and expecting no sort of view with all this rain about, I was amazed to see a great white ghost of a mountain, appearing through the rain this morning. Once more the rain cleared off just as we wanted to start, and to-day it has stayed fine till tea-time, but looks as if it may come on again at any moment how. There is nothing very much to record of our journey through these hot but beautiful valleys: The cook gave us such a good tea and dinner last night that we both felt positively stuffed. He also got us marwa - - the Sikkim “beer”. The effect of the food and the drink was to make us very sleepy. Luckily I had finished the last notes and ticketing on my flowers before the marwa appeared, and merely sat in an arm-chair and read the centre sheets of the newspapers of all the days since we left Darjeeling, which Herbert had very cleverly preserved and posted on to us. Very soon after dinner, about 8:30 I should think, we went off to bed, and though I half woke a few times to hear the rain pouring down, I was asleep when the cook brought tea at 5:30.
The Teesta river is rushing down more or less in flood. The waterfalls are magnificent. Where streams and falls cross the path, the usual stepping stones are under water and we gave up all attempt to keep our feet out of the water and simply plunged boldly through.
We were here by 12:15 for it’s an easy downhill march of ten miles. The cook was in before us and turned our hard-boiled lunch eggs into hot eggs ay gratin accompanied by sort of fritters made of the young fern tops he had picked on the way along which were delicious.
The porters after three weeks out are looking very grubby and smelling a bit high at close quarters. They were all dripping with perspiration when they got in here. Being such a not place I thought it would be a splendid opportunity for them to wash themselves and their shirts. I presented the head porter with a cake of Sunlight Soap and suggested that this washing should be done. He replied that it was not good doing it to-day, for they would get just as hot to-morrow, but promised that they will wash when they reach Gangtok: The idea of washing two days running was quite out of the question.
Well! All that is now left of a wonderful trek is getting home again - - and that will be great fun in many ways, though one can’t help feeling regret at leaving the high hills and the care-free life, where one lives in the moment and need not think ahead more than to see that one has enough good food for the next march.
We shall probably be in quite a social whirl to-morrow if Mr Gould, the Political Officer, or Resident is in Gangtok, we shall probably go to tea or dinner with him and which ever meal we don’t have with him, we shall undoubtedly have with the Dudleys and sometime we must squeeze in a call on H.H. the Maharaja: The following day we go in a big car for about three hours down the Teesta Valley and at Teesta Bridge a Baby Austin from Darjeeling will meet us, and take us up the steep and narrow way to Darjeeling in about another three hours.
There will be all sorts of things to be dealt with then, letters and clothes and parties, which we have been so free of all this time. When I say “clothes” - - I should say “arrangements about clothes” for up high we have worn pretty well all we could put on and down here we wear the minimum - - but the choice is so limited to give no brain fag!
Good-bye, Hills - - till October!