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Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index     Next Chapter XI

 

Chapter X

Return from Wallanchoon pass — Procure a bazaar at village — Dance of Lamas — Blacking face, Tibetan custom of — Temple and convent — Leave for Kanglachem pass — Send part of party back to Dorjiling — Yangma Guola — Drunken Tibetans — Guobah of Wallanchoon — Camp at foot of Great Moraine — View from top — Geological speculations — Height of moraines — Cross dry lake-bed — Glaciers — More moraines — Terraces — Yangma temples — Jos, books and furniture — Peak of Nango — Lake — Arrive at village — Cultivation — Scenery — Potatos — State of my provisions — Pass through village — Gigantic boulders Terraces — Wild sheep — Lake-beds — Sun’s power — Piles of gravel and detritus — Glaciers and moraines — Pabuk, elevation of — Moonlight scene — Return to Yangma — Temperature, etc. — Geological causes of phenomena in valley — Scenery of valley on descent.


 

I returned to the village of Wallanchoon, after collecting all the plants I could around my camp; amongst them a common-looking dock abounded in the spots which the yaks had frequented.

The ground was covered, as with heather, with abundance of creeping dwarf juniper, Andromeda, and dwarf rhododendron. On arriving at the village, I refused to receive the Guobah, unless he opened a bazaar at daylight on the following morning, where my people might purchase food; and threatened to bring charges against him before his Rajah. At the same time I arranged for sending the main body of my party down the Tambur, and so back to Sikkim, whilst I should, with as few as possible, visit the Kanglachem (Tibetan) pass in the adjacent valley to the


 

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eastward, and then, crossing the Nango, Kambachen and Kanglanamo passes, reach Jongri in Sikkim, on the south flank of Kinchinjunga.

Strolling out in the afternoon I saw a dance of Lamas; they were disfigured with black paint* and covered with rags, feathers, and scarlet cloth, and they carried long poles with bells and banners attached; thus equipped, they marched through the village, every now and then halting, when they danced and gesticulated to the rude music of cymbals and horns, the bystanders applauding with shouts, crackers, and alms.

I walked up to the convents, which were long ugly buildings, several stories high, built of wood, and daubed with red and grey paint. The priests were nowhere to be found, and an old withered nun, whom I disturbed husking millet in a large wooden mortar, fled at my approach. The temple stood close by the convent, and had a broad low architrave: the walls sloped inwards, as did the lintels: the doors were black, and almost covered with a gigantic and disproportioned painting of a head, with bloody cheeks and huge teeth; it was surrounded by myriads of goggle eyes, which seemed to follow one about everywhere; and though in every respect rude, the effect was somewhat imposing. The similarly proportioned gloomy portals of Egyptian fanes naturally invite comparison; but the Tibetan temples lack the sublimity of these; and the uncomfortable creeping sensation produced by the many sleepless eyes of Boodh’s numerous incarnations is very different from the awe with which we contemplate the outspread wings of the Egyptian symbol, and feel as in the presence of the God who

* I shall elsewhere have to refer to the Tibetan custom of daubing the face with black pigment to protect the skin from the excessive cold and dryness of these lofty regions; and to the ludicrous imposition that was passed on the credulity of MM. Huc and Gabet.


 

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says, “I am Osiris the Great: no man hath dared to lift my veil.”

I had ascended behind the village, but returned down the “via sacra,” a steep paved path flanked by mendongs or low stone dykes, into which were let rows of stone slabs, inscribed with the sacred “Om Mani Padmi om.”—“Hail to him of the lotus and jewel”; an invocation of Sakkya, who is usually represented holding a lotus flower with a jewel in it.

On the following morning, a scanty supply of vcry dirty rice was produced, at a very high price. I had, however, so divided my party as not to require a great amount of food, intending to send most of the people back by the Tambur to Dorjiling. I kept nineteen persons in all, selecting the most willing, as it was evident the journey at this season would be one of great hardship: we took seven days’ food, which was as much as they could carry. At noon, I left Wallanchoon, and mustered my party at the junction of the Tambur and Yangma, whence I dismissed the party for Dorjiling, with my collections of plants, minerals, etc., and proceeded with the chosen ones to ascend the Yangma river. The scenery was wild and very grand, our path lying through a narrow gorge, choked with pine trees, down which the river roared in a furious torrent; while the mountains on each side were crested with castellated masses of rock, and sprinkled with snow. The road was very bad, often up ladders, and along planks lashed to the faces of precipices, and over-hanging the torrent, which it crossed several times by plank bridges. By dark we arrived at Yangma Guola, a collection of empty wood huts buried in the rocky forest-clad valley, and took possession of a couple. They were well built, raised on posts, with a stage and ladder


 

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at the gable end, and consisted of one good-sized apartment. Around was abundance of dock, together with three common English plants.*

The night was calm, misty, and warm (Max. 41·5°, Min. 29°) for the elevation (9,300 feet). During the night, I was startled out of my sleep by a blaze of light, and jumping up, found myself in presence of a party of most sinister-looking, black, ragged Tibetans, armed with huge torches of pine, that filled the room with flame and pitchy smoke. I remembered their arriving just before dark, and their weapons dispelled my fears, for they came armed with bamboo jugs of Murwa beer, and were very drunk and very amiable: they grinned, nodded, kotowed, lolled out their tongues, and scratched their ears in the most seductive manner, then held out their jugs, and besought me by words and gestures to drink and be happy too. I awoke my servant (always a work of difficulty), and with some trouble ejected the visitors, happily without setting the house on fire. I heard them toppling head over heels down the stair, which I afterwards had drawn up to prevent further intrusion, and in spite of their drunken orgies, was soon lulled to sleep again by the music of the roaring river.

On the 29th November, I continued my course north up the Yangma valley, which after five miles opened considerably, the trees disappearing, and the river flowing more tranquilly, and through a broader valley, when above 11,000 feet elevation. The Guobah of Wallanchoon overtook us on the road; on his way, he said, to collect the revenues at Yangma village, but in reality to see what I was about. He owns five considerable villages, and is said to pay a tax of 6000 rupees (600 pounds) to the Rajah of Nepal: this is no doubt a great exaggeration, but the

* Cardamine hirsuta, Limosella aquatica, and Juncus bufonius.


 

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revenues of such a position, near a pass frequented almost throughout the year, must be considerable. Every yak going and coming is said to pay ls., and every horse 4s.; cattle, sheep, ponies, land, and wool are all taxed; he exports also quantities of timber to Tibet, and various articles from the plains of India. He joined my party and halted where I did, had his little Chinese rug spread, and squatted cross-legged on it, whilst his servant prepared his brick tea with salt, butter, and soda, of which he partook, snuffed, smoked, rose up, had all his traps repacked, and was off again.

We encamped at a most remarkable place: the valley was broad, with little vegetation but stunted tree-junipers: rocky snow-topped mountains rose on either side, bleak, bare, and rugged; and in front, close above my tent, was a gigantic wall of rocks, piled—as if by the Titans—completely across the valley, for about three-quarters of a mile. This striking phenomenon had excited all my curiosity on first obtaining a view of it. The path, I found, led over it, close under its west end, and wound amongst the enormous detached fragments of which it was formed, and which were often eighty feet square: all were of gneiss and schist, with abundance of granite in blocks and veins. A superb view opened from the top, revealing its nature to be a vast moraine, far below the influence of any existing glaciers, but which at some antecedent period had been thrown across by a glacier descending to 10,000 feet, from a lateral valley on the east flank. Standing on the top, and looking south, was the Yangma valley (up which I had come), gradually contracting to a defile, girdled by snow-tipped mountains, whose rocky flanks mingled with the black pine forest below. Eastward the moraine stretched south of the lateral valley, above which towered the snowy


 

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peak of Nango, tinged rosy red, and sparkling in the rays of the setting sun: blue glaciers peeped from every gulley on its side, but these were 2000 to 3000 feet above this moraine; they were small too, and their moraines were mere gravel, compared with this. Many smaller consecutive moraines, also, were evident along the bottom of that lateral valley, from this great one up to the existing glaciers. Looking up the Yangma was a flat grassy plain, hemmed in by mountains, and covered with other stupendous moraines, which rose ridge behind ridge, and cut off the view of all but the mountain tops to the north. The river meandered through the grassy plain (which appeared a mile and a half broad at the utmost, and perhaps as long), and cut through the great moraine on its eastern side, just below the junction of the stream from the glacial valley, which, at the lower part of its course, flowed over a broad steep shingle bed.


 
Ancient Moraine thrown across the Yangma Valley, East Nepal

I descended to my camp, full of anxious anticipations for the morrow; while the novelty of the scene, and its striking character, the complexity of the phenomena, the lake-bed, the stupendous ice-deposited moraine, and its remoteness from any existing ice, the broad valley and open character of the country, were all marked out as so many problems suddenly conjured up for my unaided solution, and kept me awake for many hours. I had never seen a glacier or moraine on land before, but being familiar with sea ice and berg transport, from voyaging in the South Polar regions, I was strongly inclined to attribute the formation of this moraine to a period when a glacial ocean stood high on the Himalaya, made fiords of the valleys, and floated bergs laden with blocks from the lateral gulleys, which the winds and currents would deposit along certain lines. On the following morning I carried a barometer to the top of the


 

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moraine, which proved to be upwards of 700 feet above the floor of the valley, and 400 above the dry lake-bed which it bounded, and to which we descended on our route up the valley. The latter was grassy and pebbly, perfectly level, and quite barren, except a very few pines at the bases of the encircling mountains, and abundance of rhododendrons, Andromeda and juniper on the moraines. Isolated moraines occurred along both flanks of the valley, some higher than that I have described, and a very long one was thrown nearly across from the upper end of another lateral gulley on the east side, also leading up to the glaciers of Nango. This second moraine commenced a mile and a half above the first, and abutting on the east flank of the valley, stretched nearly across, and then curving round, ran down it, parallel to and near the west flank, from which it was separated by the Yangma river: it was abruptly terminated by a conical hill of boulders, round whose base the river flowed, entering the dry lake-bed from the west, and crossing it in a south-easterly direction to the western extremity of the great moraine.

The road, on its ascent to the second moraine, passed over an immense accumulation of glacial detritus at the mouth of the second lateral valley, entirely formed of angular fragments of gneiss and granite, loosely bound together by felspathic sand. The whole was disposed in concentric ridges radiating from the mouth of the valley, and descending to the flat; these were moraines in petto, formed by the action of winter snow and ice upon the loose débris. A stream flowed over this débris, dividing into branches before reaching the lake-bed, where its waters were collected, and whence it meandered southward to fall into the Yangma.

From the top of the second moraine, a very curious


 

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Ancient moraines in the Yangma Valley

scene opened up the valley, of another but more stony and desolate level lake-bed, through which the Yangma (here very rapid) rushed, cutting a channel about sixty feet deep; the flanks of this second lake-bed were cut most distinctly into two principal terraces, which were again subdivided into others, so that the general appearance was that of many raised beaches, but each so broken up, that, with the exception of one on the banks of the river, none were continuous for any distance. We descended 200 feet, and crossed the valley and river obliquely in a north-west direction, to a small temple and convent which stood on a broad flat terrace under the black, precipitous, west flank: this gave me a good opportunity of examining the structure of this part of the valley, which was filled with an accumulation, probably 200 feet thick at the deepest part, of angular gravel and enormous boulders, both imbedded in the gravel, and strewed on the flat surfaces of the terraces. The latter were always broadest opposite to the lateral valleys, perfectly horizontal for the short


 

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distance that they were continuous; and very barren; there were no traces of fossils, nor could I assure myself of stratification. The accumulation was wholly glacial; and probably a lake had supervened on the melting of the great glacier and its recedence, which lake, confined by a frozen moraine, would periodically lose its waters by sudden accessions of heat melting the ice of the latter. Stratified silt, no doubt, once covered the lake bottom, and the terraces have, in succession, been denuded of it by rain and snow. These causes are now in operation amongst the stupendous glaciers of north-east Sikkim, where valleys, dammed up by moraines, exhibit lakes hemmed in between these, the base of the glacier, and the flanks of the valleys.

Yangma convents stood at the mouth of a gorge which opened upon the uppermost terrace; and the surface of the latter, here well covered with grass, was furrowed into concentric radiating ridges, which were very conspicuous from a distance. The buildings consisted of a wretched collection of stone huts, painted red, enclosed by loose stone dykes. Two shockingly dirty Lamas received me and conducted me to the temple, which had very thick walls, but was undistinguishable from the other buildings. A small door opened upon an apartment piled full of old battered gongs, drums, scraps of silk hangings, red cloth, broken praying-machines—relics much resembling those in the lumber-room of a theatre. A ladder led from this dismal hole to the upper story, which was entered by a handsomely carved and gilded door: within, all was dark, except from a little lattice-window covered with oil-paper. On one side was the library, a carved case, with a hundred gilded pigeon-holes, each holding a real or sham book, and each closed by a little square door, on which hung a bag full


 

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of amulets. In the centre of the book-case was a recess, containing a genuine Jos or Fo, graced with his Chinese attribute of very long pendulous moustaches and beard, and totally wanting that air of contemplative repose which the Tibetan Lamas give to their idols. Banners were suspended around, with paintings of Lhassa, Teshoo Loombo, and various incarnations of Boodh. The books were of the usual Tibetan form, oblong squares of separate block-printed leaves of paper, made in Nepal or Bhotan from the bark of a Daphne, bound together by silk cords, and placed between ornamented wooden boards. On our way up the valley, we had passed some mendongs and chaits, the latter very pretty stone structures, consisting of a cube, pyramid, hemisphere, and cone placed on the top of one another, forming together the tasteful combination which appears on the cover of these volumes.

Beyond the convents the valley again contracted, and on crossing a third, but much lower, moraine, a lake opened to view, surrounded by flat terraces, and a broad gravelly shore, part of the lake being dry. To the west, the cliffs were high, black and steep: to the east a large lateral valley, filled at about 1500 feet up with blue glaciers, led (as did the other lateral valleys) to the gleaming snows of Nango; the moraine, too, here abutted on the east flank of the Yangma valley, below the mouth of the lateral one. Much snow (from the October fall) lay on the ground, and the cold was pinching in the shade; still I could not help attempting to sketch this wonderfully grand scene, especially as lakes in the Himalaya are extremely rare: the present one was about a mile long, very shallow, but broad, and as smooth as glass: it reminded me of the tarn in Glencoe. The reflected lofty peak of Nango appeared as if frozen


 

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deep down in its glassy bed, every snowy crest and ridge being rendered with perfect precision.


 
Looking across Yangma Valley

Nango is about 18,000 feet high; it is the next lofty mountain of the Kinchinjunga group to the west of Junnoo, and I doubt if any equally high peak occurs again for some distance further west in Nepal. Facing the Yangma valley, it presents a beautiful range of precipices of black rock, capped with a thick crust of snow: below the cliffs the snow again appears continuously and very steep, for 2000 to 3000 feet downwards, where it terminates in glaciers that descend to 14,000 feet. The steepest snow-beds appear cut into vertical ridges, whence the whole snowy face is—as it were—crimped in perpendicular, closely-set, zigzag lines, doubtless caused by the melting process,


 

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which furrows the surface of the snow into channels by which the water is carried off: the effect is very beautiful, but impossible to represent on paper, from the extreme delicacy of the shadows, and at the same time the perfect definition and precision of the outlines.

Towards the head of the lake, its bed was quite dry and gravelly, and the river formed a broad delta over it: the terraces here were perhaps 100 feet above its level, those at the lower end not nearly so much. Beyond the lake, the river became again a violent torrent, rushing in a deep chasm, till we arrived at the fork of the valley, where we once more met with numerous dry lake-beds, with terraces high up on the mountain sides.

In the afternoon we reached the village of Yangma, a miserable collection of 200 to 300 stone huts, nestling under the steep south-east flank of a lofty, flat-topped terrace, laden with gigantic glacial boulders, and projecting southward from a snowy mountain which divides the valley. We encamped on the flat under the village, amongst some stone dykes, enclosing cultivated fields. One arm of the valley runs hence N.N.E. amongst snowy mountains, and appeared quite full of moraines; the other, or continuation of the Yangma, runs W.N.W., and leads to the Kanglachem pass.

Near our camp (of which the elevation was 13,500 feet), radishes, barley, wheat, potatos, and turnips, were cultivated as summer crops, and we even saw some on the top of the terrace, 400 feet above our camp, or nearly 14,000 feet above the sea; these were grown in small fields cleared of stones, and protected by dykes.

The scenery, though dismal, (no juniper even attaining this elevation,) was full of interest and grandeur, from the number and variety of snowy peaks and glaciers all around the elevated horizon; the ancient lake-beds, now green or


 

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brown with scanty vegetation, the vast moraines, the ridges of glacial débris, the flat terraces, marking, as it were with parallel roads, the bluff sides of the mountains, the enormous boulders perched upon them, and strewed everywhere around, the little Boodhist monuments of quaint, picturesque shapes, decorated with poles and banners, the many-coloured dresses of the people, the brilliant blue of the cloudless heaven by day, the depth of its blackness by night, heightened by the light of the stars, that blaze and twinkle with a lustre unknown in less lofty regions: all these were subjects for contemplation, rendered more impressive by the stillness of the atmosphere, and the silence that reigned around. The village seemed buried in repose throughout the day: the inhabitants had already hybernated, their crops were stored, the curd made and dried, the passes closed, the soil frozen, the winter’s stock of fuel housed, and the people had retired into the caverns of their half subterranean houses, to sleep, spin wool, and think of Boodh, if of anything at all, the dead, long winter through. The yaks alone can find anything to do: so long as any vegetation remains they roam and eat it, still yielding milk, which the women take morning and evening, when their shrill whistle and cries are heard for a few minutes, as they call the grunting animals. No other sounds, save the harsh roar and hollow echo of the falling rock, glacier, or snow-bed, disturbed the perfect silence of the day or night.*

I had taken three days’ food to Yangma, and stayed there as long as it lasted: the rest of my provisions I had left below the first moraine, where a lateral valley leads east over the Nango pass to the Kambachen valley, which lay on the route back to Sikkim.

* Snow covers the ground at Yangma from December till April, and the falls are said to be very heavy, at times amounting to 12 feet in depth.


 

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I was premature in complaining of my Wallanchoon tents, those provided for me at Yangma being infinitely worse, mere rags, around which I piled sods as a defence from the insidious piercing night-wind that descended from the northern glaciers in calm, but most keen, breezes. There was no food to be procured in the village, except a little watery milk, and a few small watery potatos. The latter have only very recently been introduced amongst the Tibetans, from the English garden at the Nepalese capital, I believe, and their culture has not spread in these regions further east than Kinchinjunga, but they will very soon penetrate into Tibet from Dorjiling, or eastward from Nepal. My private stock of provisions—consisting chiefly of preserved meats from my kind friend Mr. Hodgson—had fallen very low; and I here found to my dismay that of four remaining two-pound cases, provided as meat, three contained prunes, and one “dindon aux truffes!” Never did luxuries come more inopportunely; however the greasy French viand served for many a future meal as sauce to help me to bolt my rice, and according to the theory of chemists, to supply animal heat in these frigid regions. As for my people, they were not accustomed to much animal food; two pounds of rice, with ghee and chilis, forming their common diet under cold and fatigue. The poorer Tibetans, especially, who undergo great privation and toil, live almost wholly on barley-meal, with tea, and a very little butter and salt: this is not only the case with those amongst whom I mixed so much, but is also mentioned by MM. Huc and Gabet, as having been observed by them in other parts of Tibet.

On the 1st of December I visited the village and terrace, and proceeded to the head of the Yangma valley,


 

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in order to ascend the Kanglachem pass as far as practicable. The houses are low, built of stone, of no particular shape, and are clustered in groups against the steep face of the terrace; filthy lanes wind amongst them, so narrow, that if you are not too tall, you look into the slits of windows on either hand, by turning your head, and feel the noisome warm air in whiffs against your face. Glacial boulders lie scattered throughout the village, around and beneath the clusters of houses, from which it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the native rock. I entered one house by a narrow low door through walls four feet thick, and found myself in an apartment full of wool, juniper-wood, and dried dung for fuel: no one lived in the lower story, which was quite dark, and as I stood in it my head was in the upper, to which I ascended by a notched pole (like that in the picture of a Kamschatk house in Cook’s voyage), and went into a small low room. The inmates looked half asleep, they were intolerably indolent and filthy, and were employed in spinning wool and smoking. A hole in the wall of the upper apartment led me on to the stone roof of the neighbouring house, from which I passed to the top of a glacial boulder, descending thence by rude steps to the narrow alley. Wishing to see as much as I could, I was led on a winding course through, in and out, and over the tops of the houses of the village, which alternately reminded me of a stone quarry or gravel pit, and gipsies living in old lime-kilns; and of all sorts of odd places that are turned to account as human habitations.

From the village I ascended to the top of the terrace, which is a perfectly level, sandy, triangular plain, pointing down the valley at the fork of the latter, and abutting against the flank of a steep, rocky, snow-topped mountain


 

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Diagram of the glacial terraces at the fork of the Yangma Valley

to the northward. Its length is probably half a mile from north to south, but it runs for two miles westward up the valley, gradually contracting. The surface, though level, is very uneven, being worn into hollows, and presenting ridges and hillocks of blown sand and gravel, with small black tufts of rhododendron. Enormous boulders of gneiss and granite were scattered over the surface; one of the ordinary size, which I measured, was seventy feet in girth, and fifteen feet above the ground, into which it had partly sunk. From the southern pointed end I took sketches of the opposite flanks of the valleys east and west. The river was about 400 feet below me, and flowed in a little flat lake-bed; other terraces skirted it,


 

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cut out, as it were, from the side of that I was on. On the opposite flank of the valley were several superimposed terraces, of which the highest appeared to tally with the level I occupied, and the lowest was raised very little above the river; none were continuous for any distance, but the upper one in particular, could be most conspicuously traced up and down the main valley, whilst, on looking across to the eastern valley, a much higher, but less distinctly marked one appeared on it. The road to the pass lay west-north-west up the north bank of the Yangma river, on the great terrace; for two miles it was nearly level along the gradually narrowing shelf, at times dipping into the steep gulleys formed by lateral torrents from the mountains; and as the terrace disappeared, or melted, as it were, into the rising floor of the valley, the path descended upon the lower and smaller shelf.

We came suddenly upon a flock of gigantic wild sheep, feeding on scanty tufts of dried sedge and grass; there were twenty-five of these enormous animals, of whose dimensions the term sheep gives no idea: they are very long-legged, stand as high as a calf, and have immense horns, so large that the fox is said to take up his abode in their hollows, when detached and bleaching, on the barren mountains of Tibet. Though very wild, I am sure I could easily have killed a couple had I had my gun, but I had found it necessary to reduce my party so uncompromisingly, that I could not afford a man both for my gun and instruments, and had sent the former back to Dorjiling, with Mr. Hodgson’s bird-stuffers, who had broken one of theirs. Travelling without fire-arms sounds strange in India, but in these regions animal life is very rare, game is only procured with much hunting and trouble, and to come within shot of a flock of wild sheep was a contingency I


 

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never contemplated. Considering how very short we were of any food, and quite out of animal diet, I could not but bitterly regret the want of a gun, but consoled myself by reflecting that the instruments were still more urgently required to enable me to survey this extremely interesting valley. As it was, the great beasts trotted off, and turned to tantalise me by grazing within an easy stalking distance. We saw several other flocks, of thirty to forty, during the day, but never, either on this or any future occasion, within shot. The Ovis Ammon of Pallas stands from four to five feet high, and measures seven feet from nose to tail; it is quite a Tibetan animal, and is seldom seen below 14,000 feet, except when driven lower by snow; and I have seen it as high as 18,000 feet. The same animal, I believe, is found in Siberia, and is allied to the Big-horn of North America.

Soon after descending to the bed of the valley, which is broad and open, we came on a second dry lake-bed, a mile long, with shelving banks all round, heavily snowed on the shaded side; the river was divided into many arms, and meandered over it, and a fine glacier-bound valley opened into it from the south. There were no boulders on its surface, which was pebbly, with tufts of grass and creeping tamarisk. On the banks I observed much granite, with large mica crystals, hornstone, tourmaline, and stratified quartz, with granite veins parallel to the foliation or lamination.

A rather steep ascent of a mile, through a contracted part of the valley, led to another and smaller lake-bed, a quarter of a mile long and 100 yards broad, covered with patches of snow, and having no lateral valley opening into it: it faced the now stupendous masses of snow and ice which filled the upper part of the Yangma valley. This lake-bed (elevation,


 

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15,186 feet) was strewed with enormous boulders; a rude stone hut stood near it, where we halted for a few minutes at 1 p.m., when the temperature was 42·2°, while the dew-point was only 20·7°.* At the same time, the black bulb thermometer, fully exposed on the snow, rose 54° above the air, and the photometer gave 10·572. Though the sun’s power was so great, there was, however, no appearance of the snow melting, evaporation proceeding with too great rapidity.


 
Kanglachem Pass

Enormous piles of gravel and sand had descended upon the upper end of this lake-bed, forming shelves, terraces, and curving ridges, apparently consolidated by ice, and covered in many places with snow. Following the

* This indicates a very dry state of the air, the saturation-point being 0·133°; whereas, at the same hour at Calcutta it was 0·559°.


 

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stream, we soon came to an immense moraine, which blocked up the valley, formed of angular boulders, some of which were fifty feet high. Respiration had been difficult for some time, and the guide we had taken from the village said we were some hours from the top of the pass, and could get but a little way further; we however proceeded, plunging through the snow, till on cresting the moraine a stupendous scene presented itself. A gulf of moraines, and enormous ridges of débris, lay at our feet, girdled by an amphitheatre of towering, snow-clad peaks, rising to 17,000 and 18,000 feet all around. Black scarped precipices rose on every side; deep snow-beds and blue glaciers rolled down every gulley, converging in the hollow below, and from each transporting its own materials, there ensued a complication of moraines, that presented no order to the eye. In spite of their mutual interference, however, each had raised a ridge of débris or moraine parallel to itself.

We descended with great difficulty through the soft snow that covered the moraine, to the bed of this gulf of snow and glaciers; and halted by an enormous stone, above the bed of a little lake, which was snowed all over, but surrounded by two superimposed level terraces, with sharply defined edges. The moraine formed a barrier to its now frozen waters, and it appeared to receive the drainage of many glaciers, which filtered through their gravelly ridges and moraines.

We could make no further progress; the pass lay at the distance of several hours’ march, up a valley to the north, down which the glacier must have rolled that had deposited this great moraine; the pass had been closed since October, it being very lofty, and the head of this valley was far more snowy than that at Wallanchoon. We halted in the snow from 3 to 4 p.m., during which time I again took angles


 

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and observations; the height of this spot, called Pabuk, is 16,038 feet, whence the pass is probably considerably over 17,000 feet, for there was a steep ascent beyond our position. The sun sank at 3 p.m., and the thermometer immediately fell from 35° to 30·75°.*

After fixing in my note and sketch books the principal features of this sublime scene, we returned down the valley: the distance to our camp being fully eight miles, night overtook us before we got half-way, but a two days’ old moon guided us perfectly, a remarkable instance of the clearness of the atmosphere at these great elevations. Lassitude, giddiness, and headache came on as our exertions increased, and took away the pleasure I should otherwise have felt in contemplating by moonlight the varied phenomena, which seemed to crowd upon the restless imagination, in the different forms of mountain, glacier, moraine, lake, boulder and terrace. Happily I had noted everything on my way up, and left nothing intentionally to be done on returning. In making such excursions as this, it is above all things desirable to seize and book every object worth noticing on the way out: I always carried my note-book and pencil tied to my jacket pocket, and generally walked with them in my hand. It is impossible to begin observing too soon, or to observe too much: if the excursion is long, little is ever done on the way home; the bodily powers being mechanically exerted, the mind seeks repose, and being fevered through over-exertion, it can endure no train of thought, or be brought to bear on a subject.

During my stay at Yangma, the thermometer never rose to 50°, it fell to 14·75° at night; the ground was frozen for several inches below the surface, but at two feet depth its

* At 4 o’clock, to 29·5°, the average dew-point was 16·3°, and dryness 0·55; weight of vapour in a cubic foot, 1·33 grains.


 

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temperature was 37·5°. The black bulb thermometer rose on one occasion 84° above the surrounding air. Before leaving, I measured by angles and a base-line the elevations of the great village-terrace above the river, and that of a loftier one, on the west flank of the main valley; the former was about 400 and the latter 700 feet.

Considering this latter as the upper terrace, and concluding that it marks a water level, it is not very difficult to account for its origin. There is every reason to suppose that the flanks of the valley were once covered to the elevation of the upper terrace, with an enormous accumulation of débris; though it does not follow that the whole valley was filled by ice-action to the same depth; the effect of glaciers being to deposit moraines between themselves and the sides of the valley they fill; as also to push forward similar accumulations. Glaciers from each valley, meeting at the fork, where their depth would be 700 feet of ice, would both deposit the necessary accumulation along the flanks of the great valley, and also throw a barrier across it. The melting waters of such glaciers would accumulate in lakes, confined by the frozen earth, between the moraines and mountains. Such lakes, though on a small scale, are found at the terminations and sides of existing glaciers, and are surrounded by terraces of shingle and débris; these terraces being laid bare by the sudden drainage of the lakes during seasons of unusual warmth. To explain the phenomena of the Yangma valley, it may be necessary to demand larger lakes and deeper accumulations of débris than are now familiar to us, but the proofs of glaciers having once descended to from 8000 to 10,000 feet in every Sikkim and east Nepal valley communicating with mountains above 16,000 feet elevation, are overwhelming, and the glaciers must, in some cases, have been


 

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fully forty miles long, and 500 feet in depth. The absence of any remains of a moraine, or of blocks of rock in the valley below the fork, is I believe, the only apparent objection to this theory; but, as I shall elsewhere have occasion to observe, the magnitude of the moraines bears no fixed proportion to that of the glacier, and at Pabuk, the steep ridges of débris, which were heaped up 200 feet high, were far more striking than the more usual form of moraine.

On my way up to Yangma I had rudely plotted the valley, and selected prominent positions for improving my plan on my return: these I now made use of, taking bearings with the azimuth compass, and angles by means of a pocket sextant. The result of my running-survey of the whole valley, from 10,000 to 16,000 feet, I have given along with a sketch-map of my routes in India, which accompanies this volume.


 
Skulls of Ovis ammon.

Next Chapter XI