Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XII


Chapter XI

Ascend to Nango mountain — Moraines — Glaciers — Vegetation — Rhododendron Hodgsoni — Rocks — Honey-combed surface of snow — Perpetual snow — Top of pass — View — Elevation — Geology — Distance of sound — Plants — Temperature — Scenery — Cliffs of granite and hurled boulders — Camp — Descent — Pheasants — Larch — Himalayan pines — Distribution of Deodar, note on — Tassichooding temples — Kambachen village — Cultivation — Moraines in valley, distribution of — Picturesque lake-beds, and their vegetation — Tibetan sheep and goats — Cryptogramma crispa — Ascent to Choonjerma pass — View of Junnoo — Rocks of its summit — Misty ocean — Nepal peaks — Top of pass — Temperature, and observations — Gorgeous sunset — Descent to Yalloong valley — Loose path — Night scenes — Musk deer.


We passed the night a few miles below the great moraine, in a pine-wood (alt. 11,000 feet) opposite the gorge which leads to the Kambachen or Nango pass, over the south shoulder of the mountain of that name: it is situated on a ridge dividing the Yangma river from that of Kambachen, which latter falls into the Tambur opposite Lelyp.

The road crosses the Yangma (which is about fifteen feet wide), and immediately ascends steeply to the south-east, over a rocky moraine, clothed with a dense thicket of rhododendrons, mountain-ash, maples, pine, birch, juniper, etc. The ground was covered with silvery flakes of birch bark, and that of Rhododendron Hodgsoni, which is as delicate as tissue-paper, and of a pale flesh-colour. I had never before met with this species, and was astonished at the beauty of its foliage, which was of a beautiful bright green, with leaves sixteen inches long.


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Beyond the region of trees and large shrubs the alpine rhododendrons filled the broken surface of the valley, growing with Potentilla, Honeysuckle, Polygonum, and dwarf juniper. The peak of Nango seemed to tower over the gorge, rising behind some black, splintered, rocky cliffs, sprinkled with snow, narrow defiles opened up through these cliffs to blue glaciers, and their mouths were invariably closed by beds of shingly moraines, curving outwards from either, flank in concentric ridges.

Towards the base of the peak, at about 14,000 feet, the scenery is very grand; a great moraine rises suddenly to the north-west, under the principal mass of snow and ice, and barren slopes of gravel descend from it; on either side are rugged precipices; the ground is bare and stony, with patches of brown grass: and, on looking back, the valley appears very steep to the first shrubby vegetation, of dark green rhododendrons, bristling with ugly stunted pines.

We followed a valley to the south-east, so as to turn the flank of the peak; the path lying over beds of October snow at 14,000 feet, and over plashy ground, from its melting. Sometimes our way lay close to the black precipices on our right, under which the snow was deep; and we dragged ourselves along, grasping every prominence of the rock with our numbed fingers. Granite appeared in large veins in the crumpled gneiss at a great elevation, in its most beautiful and loosely-crystallised form, of pearly white prisms of felspar, glassy quartz, and milk-white flat plates of mica, with occasionally large crystals of tourmaline. Garnets were very frequent in the gneiss near the granite veins. Small rushes, grasses, and sedges formed the remaining vegetation, amongst which were the withered stalks of gentians, Sedum, Arenaria, Silene, and many Composite plants.


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At a little below 15,000 feet, we reached enormous flat beds of snow, which were said to be perpetual, but covered deeply with the October fall. They were continuous, and like all the snow I saw at this season, the surface was honeycombed into thin plates, dipping north at a high angle; the intervening fissures were about six inches deep. A thick mist here overtook us, and this, with the great difficulty of picking our way, rendered the ascent very fatiguing. Being sanguine about obtaining a good view, I found it almost impossible to keep my temper under the aggravations of pain in the forehead, lassitude, oppression of breathing, a dense drizzling fog, a keen cold wind, a slippery footing, where I was stumbling at every few steps, and icy-cold wet feet, hands, and eyelids; the latter, odd as it sounds, I found a very disagreeable accompaniment of continued raw cold wind.

After an hour and a half’s toilsome ascent, during which we made but little progress, we reached the crest, crossing a broad shelf of snow between two rocky eminences; the ridge was unsnowed a little way down the east flank; this was, in a great measure, due to the eastern exposure being the more sunny, to the prevalence of the warm and melting south-east winds that blow up the deep Kambachen valley, and to the fact that the great snow-beds on the west side are drifted accumulations.* The mist cleared

* Such enormous beds of snow in depressions, or on gentle slopes, are generally adopted as indicating the lower limit of perpetual snow. They are, however, winter accumulations, due mainly to eddies of wind, of far more snow than can be melted in the following summer, being hence perennial in the ordinary sense of the word. They pass into the state of glacier ice, and, obeying the laws that govern the motions of a viscous fluid, so admirably elucidated by Forbes (“Travels in the Alps”), they flow downwards. A careful examination of those great beds of snow in the Alps, from whose position the mean lower level of perpetual snow, in that latitude, is deduced, has convinced me that these are mainly due to accumulations of this kind, and that the true limit of perpetual snow, or that point where all that falls melts, is much higher than it is usually supposed to be.


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off, and I had a partial, though limited, view. To the north the blue ice-clad peak of Nango was still 2000 feet above us, its snowy mantle falling in great sweeps and curves into glacier-bound valleys, over which the ice streamed out of sight, bounded by black aiguilles of gneiss. The Yangma valley was quite hidden, but to the eastward the view across the stupendous gorge of the Kambachen, 5000 feet below, to the waste of snow, ice, and rock, piled in confusion along the top of the range of Junnoo and Choonjerma, parallel to this but higher, was very grand indeed: this we were to cross in two days, and its appearance was such, that our guide doubted the possibility of our doing it. A third and fourth mountain mass (unseen) lay beyond this, between us and Sikkim, divided by valleys as deep as those of Yangma and Kambachen.

Having hung up my instruments, I ascended a few hundred feet to some naked rocks, to the northward; they were of much-crumpled and dislocated gneiss, thrown up at a very high angle, and striking north-west. Chlorite, schist, and quartz, in thin beds, alternated with the gneiss, and veins of granite and quartz, were injected through them.

It fell calm; when the distance to which the voice was carried was very remarkable; I could distinctly hear every word spoken 300 to 400 yards off, and did not raise my voice when I asked one of the men to bring me a hammer.

The few plants about were generally small tufted Arenarias and woolly Compositæ, with a thick-rooted Umbellifer that spread its short, fleshy leaves and branches flat on the ground; the root was very aromatic, but wedged close in the rock. The temperature at 4 p.m. was 23°, and bitterly


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cold; the elevation, 15,770 feet; dew-point, 16°. The air was not very dry; saturation-point, 0·670°, whereas at Calcutta it was 0·498° at the same hour.

The descent was to a broad, open valley, into which the flank of Nango dipped in tremendous precipices, which reared their heads in splintered snowy peaks. At their bases were shoots of débris fully 700 feet high, sloping at a steep angle. Enormous masses of rock, detached by the action of the frost and ice from the crags, were scattered over the bottom of the valley; they had been precipitated from above, and gaining impetus in their descent, bad been hurled to almost inconceivable distances from the parent cliff. All were of a very white, fine-grained crystallised granite, full of small veins of the same rock still more finely crystallised. The weathered surface of each block was black, and covered with moss and lichens; the others beautifully white, with clean, sharp-fractured edges. The material of which they were composed was so hard that I found it difficult to detach a specimen.

Darkness had already come on, and the coolies being far behind, we encamped by the light of the moon, shining through a thin fog, where we first found dwarf-juniper for fuel, at 13,500 feet. A little sleet fell during the night, which was tolerably fine, and not very cold; the minimum thermometer indicating 14·5°.

Having no tent-poles, I had some difficulty in getting my blankets arranged as a shelter, which was done by making them slant from the side of a boulder, on the top of which one end was kept by heavy stones; under this roof I laid my bed, on a mass of rhododendron and juniper-twigs. The men did the same against other boulders, and lighting a huge fire opposite the mouth of my ground-nest, I sat cross-legged on the bed to eat my supper; my face


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scorching, and my back freezing. Rice, boiled with a few ounces of greasy dindon aux truffes was now my daily dinner, with chili-vinegar and tea, and I used to relish it keenly: this finished, I smoked a cigar, and wrote up my journal (in short intervals between warming myself) by the light of the fire; took observations by means of a dark-lantern; and when all this was accomplished, I went to roost.

December 5.—On looking out this morning, it was with a feeling of awe that I gazed at the stupendous ice-crowned precipices that shot up to the summit of Nango, their flanks spotted white at the places whence the gigantic masses with which I was surrounded had fallen; thence my eye wandered down their black faces to the slope of débris at the bottom, thus tracing the course which had probably been taken by that rock under whose shelter I had passed the previous night.

Meepo, the Lepcha sent by the rajah, had snared a couple of beautiful pheasants, one of which I skinned, and ate for breakfast; it is a small bird, common above 12,000 feet, but very wild; the male has two to five spurs on each of its legs, according to its age; the general colour is greenish, with a broad scarlet patch surrounding the eye; the Nepalese name is “Khalidge.” The crop was distended with juniper berries, of which the flesh tasted strongly, and it was the very hardest, toughest bird I ever did eat.

We descended at first through rhododendron and juniper, then through black silver-fir (Abies Webbiana), and below that, near the river, we came to the Himalayan larch; a tree quite unknown, except from a notice in the journals of Mr. Griffith, who found it in Bhotan. It is a small tree, twenty to forty feet high, perfectly similar in general characters to a European larch, but with larger cones,


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which are erect upon the very long, pensile, whip-like branches; its leaves,—now red—were falling, and covering the rocky ground on which it grew, scattered amongst other trees. It is called “Saar” by the Lepchas and Cis-himalayan Tibetans, and “Boarga-sella” by the Nepalese, who say it is found as far west as the heads of the Cosi river: it does not inhabit Central or West Nepal, nor the North-west Himalaya. The distribution of the Himalayan pines is very remarkable. The Deodar has not been seen east of Nepal, nor the Pinus Gerardiana, Cupressus torulosa, or Juniperus communis. On the other hand, Podocarpus is confined to the east of Katmandoo. Abies Brunoniana does not occur west of the Gogra, nor the larch west of the Cosi, nor funereal cypress (an introduced plant, however) west of the Teesta (in Sikkim). Of the twelve* Sikkim and Bhotan Coniferæ (including yew, junipers, and Podocarpus) eight are common to the North-west Himalaya (west of Nepal), and four† are not: of the thirteen natives of the north-west provinces, again, only five‡ are not found in Sikkim, and I have given their names below, because they show how European the absent ones are, either specifically or in affinity. I have stated that the Deodar is possibly a variety of the Cedar of Lebanon. This is now a prevalent opinion, which is strengthened by the fact that so many more Himalayan plants are now ascertained to be European than had been supposed before they were compared with European specimens; such are the yew, Juniperus communis, Berberis vulgaris, Quercus Ballota, Populus alba and Euphratica, etc.

* Juniper, 3; yew, Abies Webbiana, Brunoniana, and Smithiana: Larch, Pinus excelsa, and longifolia, and Podocarpus neriifolia.
† Larch, Cupressus funebris, Podocarpus neriifolia, Abies Brunoniana.
‡ A juniper (the European communis), Deodar (possibly only a variety of the Cedar of Lebanon and of Mount Atlas), Pinus Gerardiana, P. excelsa, and Crupressus torulosa.


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The cones of the Deodar are identical with those of the Cedar of Lebanon: the Deodar has, generally longer and more pale bluish leaves and weeping branches,* but these characters seem to be unusually developed in our gardens; for several gentlemen, well acquainted with the Deodar at Simla, when asked to point it out in the Kew Gardens, have indicated the Cedar of Lebanon, and when shown the Deodar, declare that they never saw that plant in the Himalaya!

At the bottom of the valley we turned up the stream, and passing the Tassichooding convents† and temple, crossed the river—which was a furious torrent, about twelve yards wide—to the village of Kambachen, on a flat terrace a few feet above the stream. There were about a dozen houses of wood, plastered with mud and dung, scattered over a grassy plain of a few acres, fenced in, as were also a few fields, with stone dykes. The only cultivation consists of radishes, potatos, and barley: no wheat is grown, the climate being said to be too cold for it, by which is probably meant that it is foggy,—the elevation (11,380 feet)

* Since writing the above, I have seen, in the magnificent Pinetum at Dropmore, noble cedars, with the length and hue of leaf, and the pensile branches of the Deodar, and far more beautiful than that is, and as unlike the common Lebanon Cedar as possible. When it is considered from how very few wild trees (and these said to be exactly alike) the many dissimilar varieties of the C. Libani have been derived; the probability of this, the Cedar of Algiers, and of the Himalayas (Deodar) being all forms of one species, is greatly increased. We cannot presume to judge from the few cedars which still remain, what the habit and appearance of the tree may have been, when it covered the slopes of Libanus, and seeing how very variable Coniferæ are in habit, we may assume that its surviving specimens give us no information on this head. Should all three prove one, it will materially enlarge our ideas of the distribution and variation of species. The botanist will insist that the typical form of cedar is that which retains its characters best over the greatest area, namely, the Deodar; in which case the prejudice of the ignorant, and the preconceived ideas of the naturalist, must yield to the fact that the old familiar Cedar of Lebanon is an unusual variety of the Himalayan Deodar.
† These were built by the Sikkim people, when the eastern valleys of Nepal belonged to the Sikkim rajah.


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being 2000 feet less than that of Yangma village, and the temperature therefore 6° to 7° warmer; but of all the mountain gorges I have ever visited, this is by far the wildest, grandest, and most gloomy; and that man should hybernate here is indeed extraordinary, for there is no route up the valley, and all communication with Lelyp,* two marches down the river, is cut off in winter, when the houses are buried in snow, and drifts fifteen feet deep are said to be common. Standing on the little flat of Kambachen, precipices, with inaccessible patches of pine wood, appeared to the west, towering over head; while across the narrow valley wilder and less wooded crags rose in broken ridges to the glaciers of Nango. Up the valley, the view was cut off by bluff cliffs; whilst down it, the scene was most remarkable: enormous black, round-backed moraines, rose, tier above tier, from a flat lake-bed, apparently hemming in the river between the lofty precipices on the east flank of the valley. These had all been deposited at the mouth of a lateral valley, opening just below the village, and descending from Junnoo, a mountain of 25,312 feet elevation, and one of the grandest of the Kinchinjunga group, whose top—though only five miles distant in a straight line—rises 13,932 feet† above the village. Few facts show more decidedly the extraordinary steepness and depth of the Kambachen valley near the village, which, though nearly 11,400 feet above the sea, lies between two mountains only eight miles apart, the one 25,312 feet high, the other (Nango), 19,000 feet.

The villagers received us very kindly, and furnished us

* Which I passed, on the Tambur, on the 21st Nov. See page 204.
† This is one of the most sudden slopes in this part of the Himalaya, the angle between the top of Junnoo and Kambachen being 2,786 feet per mile, or 1 in 1·8. The slope from the top of Mont Blanc to the Chamouni valley is 2,464 feet per mile, or 1 in 2·1. That from Monte Rosa top to Macugnaga greatly exceeds either.


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with a guide for the Choonjerma pass, leading to the Yalloong valley, the most easterly in Nepal; but he recommended our not attempting any part of the ascent till the morrow, as it was past 1 p.m., and we should find no camping-ground for half the way up. The villagers gave us the leg of a musk deer, and some red potatos, about as big as walnuts—all they could spare from their winter-stock. With this scanty addition to our stores we started down the valley, for a few miles alternately along flat lake-beds and over moraines, till we crossed the stream from the lateral valley, and ascending a little, camped on its bank, at 11,400 feet elevation.

In the afternoon I botanized amongst the moraines, which were very numerous, and had been thrown down at right-angles to the main valley, which latter being here very narrow, and bounded by lofty precipices, must have stopped the parent glaciers, and effected the heaping of some of these moraines to at least 1000 feet above the river. The general features were modifications of those seen in the Yangma valley, but contracted into a much smaller space.

The moraines were all accumulated in a sort of delta, through which the lateral river debouched into the Kambachen, and were all deposited more or less parallel to the course of the lateral valley, but curving outwards from its mouth. The village-flat, or terrace, continued level to the first moraine, which had been thrown down on the upper or north side of the lateral valley, on whose and curving steep flanks it abutted, and curving outwards seemed to encircle the village-flat on the south and west; where it dipped into the river. This was crossed at the height of about 100 feet, by a stony path, leading to the bed of the rapid torrent flowing through shingle and boulders,


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beyond which was another moraine, 250 feet high, and parallel to it a third gigantic one.

Ancient moraines in the Kambachen Valley

Ascending the great moraine at a place where it overhung the main river, I had a good coup-a’œil of the whole. The view south-east up the glacial valley—(represented in the accompanying cut)—to the snowy peaks south of Junnoo, was particularly grand, and most interesting from the precision with which one great distant existing glacier was marked by two waving parallel lines of lateral moraines, which formed, as it were, a vast raised gutter, or channel, ascending from perhaps 16,000 feet elevation, till it was hidden behind a spur in the valley. With a telescope I could descry many similar smaller glaciers, with huge accumulations of shingle at their terminations; but this great one was beautifully seen by the naked eye, and formed a very curious feature in the landscape.


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Between the moraines, near my tent, the soil was perfectly level, and consisted of little lake-beds strewn with gigantic boulders, and covered with hard turf of grass and sedge, and little bushes of dwarf rhododendron and prostrate juniper, as trim as if they had been clipped. Altogether these formed the most picturesque little nooks it was possible to conceive; and they exhibited the withered remains of so many kinds of primrose, gentian, anemone, potentilla, orchis, saxifrage, parnassia, campanula, and pedicularis, that in summer they must be perfect gardens of wild flowers. Around each plot of a few acres was the grand ice-transported girdle of stupendous rocks, many from 50 to 100 feet long, crested with black tabular-branched silver firs, conical deep green tree-junipers, and feathery larches; whilst amongst the blocks grew a profusion of round masses of evergreen rhododendron bushes. Beyond were stupendous frowning cliffs, beneath which the river roared like thunder; and looking up the glacial valley, the setting sun was bathing the expanse of snow in the most delicate changing tints, pink, amber, and gold.

The boulders forming the moraine were so enormous and angular, that I had great difficulty in ascending it. I saw some pheasants feeding on the black berries of the juniper, but where the large rhododendrons grew amongst the rocks I found it impossible to penetrate. The largest of the moraines is piled to upwards of 1000 feet against the south flank of the lateral valley, and stretched far up it beyond my camp, which was in a grove of silver firs. A large flock of sheep and goats, laden with salt, overtook us here on their route from Wallanchoon to Yalloong. The sheep I observed to feed on the Rhododendron Thomsoni and campylocarpum.


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On the roots of one of the latter species a parasitical Broom-rape (Orobanche) grew abundantly; and about the moraines were more mosses, lichens, etc., than I have elsewhere seen in the loftier Himalaya, encouraged no doubt by the dampness of this grand mountain gorge, which is so hemmed in that the sun never reaches it until four or five hours after it has gilded the overhanging peaks.

December 5.—The morning was bright and clear, and we left early for the Choonjerma pass. I had hoped the route would be up the magnificent glacier-girdled valley in which we had encamped; but it lay up another, considerably south of it, and to which we crossed, ascending the rocky moraine, in the clefts of which grew abundance of a common Scotch fern, Cryptogramma crispa!

The clouds early commenced gathering, and it was curious to watch their rapid formation in coalescing streaks, which became first cirrhi, and then stratus, being apparently continually added to from below by the moisture-bringing southerly wind. Ascending a lofty spur, 1000 feet above the valley, against which the moraine was banked, I found it to be a distinct anticlinal axis. The pass, bearing north-west, and the valley we had descended on the previous day, rose immediately over the curved strata of quartz, topped by the glacier-crowned mountain of Nango, with four glaciers descending from its perpetual snows. The stupendous cliffs on its flanks, under which I had camped on the previous night, were very grand, but not more so than those which dipped into the chasm of the Kambachen below. Looking up the valley of the latter, was another wilderness of ice full of enormous moraines, round the bases of which the river wound.


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Ascending, we reached an open grassy valley, and overtook the Tibetans who had preceded us, and who had halted here to feed their sheep. A good-looking girl of the party came to ask me for medicine for her husband’s eyes, which had suffered from snow-blindness: she brought me a present of snuff, and carried a little child, stark naked, yet warm from the powerful rays of the sun, at nearly 14,000 feet elevation, in December! I prescribed for the man, and gave the mother a bright farthing to hang round the child’s neck, which delighted the party. My watch was only wondered at; but a little spring measuring-tape that rolled itself up, struck them dumb, and when I threw it on the ground with the tape out, the mother shrieked and ran away, while the little savage howled after her.

Above, the path up the ascent was blocked with snowbeds, and for several miles we alternately scrambled among rocks and over slippery slopes, to the top of the first ridge, there being two to cross. The first consisted of a ridge of rocks running east and west from a superb sweep of snowy mountains to the north-west, which presented a chaotic scene of blue glacial ice and white snow, through which splintered rocks and beetling crags thrust their black heads. The view into the Kambachen gorge was magnificent, though it did not reveal the very bottom of the valley and its moraines: the black precipices of its opposite flank seemed to rise to the glaciers of Nango, fore-shortened into snow-capped precipices 5000 feet high, amongst which lay the Kambachen pass, bearing north-west by north. Lower down the valley, appeared a broad flat, called Jubla, a halting-place one stage below the village of Kambachen, on the road to Lelyp on the Tambur: it must be a remarkable geological as well as natural feature, for it


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appeared to jut abruptly and quite horizontally from the black cliffs of the valley.

Looking north, the conical head of Junnoo was just scattering the mists from its snowy shoulders, and standing forth to view, the most magnificent spectacle I ever beheld. It was quite close to me, bearing north-east by east, and subtending an angle of 12° 23, and is much the steepest and most conical of all the peaks of these regions. From whichever side it is viewed, it rises 9000 feet above the general mountain mass of 16,000 feet elevation, towering like a blunt cone, with a short saddle on one side, that dips in a steep cliff: it appeared as if uniformly snowed, from its rocks above 20,000 feet (like those of Kinchinjunga) being of white granite, and not contrasting with the snow. Whether the top is stratified or not, I cannot tell, but waving parallel lines are very conspicuous near it, as shown in the accompanying view.*

Junnoo 24,000 ft. from Choonjerma Pass 16,000 ft. East Nepal

Looking south as evening drew on, another wonderful spectacle presented itself, similar to that which I described at Sakkiazung, but displayed here on an inconceivably grander scale, with all the effects exaggerated. I saw a sea of mist floating 3000 feet beneath me, just below the upper level of the black pines; the magnificent spurs of the snowy range which I had crossed rising out of it in rugged grandeur as promontories and peninsulas, between which the misty ocean seemed to finger up like the fiords of Norway,

* The appearance of Mont Cervin, from the Riffelberg, much reminded me of that of Junnoo, from the Choonjerma pass, the former bearing the same relation to Monte Rosa that the latter does to Kinchinjunga. Junnoo, though incomparably the more stupendous mass, not only rising 10,000 feat higher above the sea, but towering 4000 feet higher above the ridge on which it is supported, is not nearly so remarkable in outline, so sharp, or so peaked as is Mount Cervin: it is a very much grander, but far less picturesque object. The whiteness of the sides of Junnoo adds also greatly to its apparent altitude; while the strong relief in which the black cliffs of Mont Cervin protrude through its snowy mantle greatly diminish both its apparent height and distance.


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or the salt-water lochs of the west of Scotland; whilst islets tailed off from the promontories, rising here and there out of the deceptive elements. I was so high above this mist, that it had not the billowy appearance I saw before, but was a calm unruffled ocean, boundless to the south and west, where the horizon over-arched it. A little to the north of west I discerned the most lofty group of mountains in Nepal* (mentioned at p. 185), beyond Kinchinjurga, which I believe are on the west flank of the great valley through which the Arun river enters Nepal from Tibet: they were very distant, and subtended so small an angle, that I could not measure them with the sextant and artificial horizon their height, judging from the quantity of snow, must be prodigious.

From 4 to 5 p.m. the temperature was 24°, with a very cold wind; the elevation by the barometer was 15,260 feet, and the dew-point 10.5°, giving the humidity 0·610, and the amount of vapour 1·09 grains in a cubic foot of air; the same elements at Calcutta, at the same hour, being thermometer 66·5°, dew-point 60·5°, humidity 0·840, and weight of vapour 5·9 grains.

I waited for an hour, examining the rocks about the pass, till the coolies should come up, but saw nothing worthy of remark, the natural history and geology being identical with those of Kambachen pass: I then bade adieu to the sublime and majestic peak of Junnoo. Thence we continued at nearly the same level for about four miles, dipping into the broad head of a snowy valley, and ascending to the second pass, which lay to the south-east.

On the left I passed a very curious isolated pillar of rock,

* Called Tsungau by the Bhoteeas. Junnoo is called Kumbo~Kurma by the Hill-men of Nepal.


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amongst the wild crags to the north-east, whose bases we skirted: it resembles the Capuchin on the shoulder of Mont Blanc, as seen from the Jardin. Evening overtook us while still on the snow near the last ascent. As the sun declined, the snow at our feet reflected the most exquisitely delicate peach-bloom hue; and looking west from the top of the pass, the scenery was gorgeous beyond description, for the sun was just plunging into a sea of mist, amongst some cirrhi and stratus, all in a blaze of the ruddiest coppery hue. As it sank, the Nepal, peaks to the right assumed more definite, darker, and gigantic forms, and floods of light shot across the misty ocean, bathing the landscape around me in the most wonderful and indescribable changing tints. As the luminary was vanishing, the whole horizon glowed like copper run from a smelting furnace, and when it had quite disappeared, the little inequalities of the ragged edges of the mist were lighted up and shone like a row of volcanos in the far distance. I have never before or since seen anything, which for sublimity, beauty, and marvellous effects, could compare with what I gazed on that evening from Choonjerma pass. In some of Turner’s pictures I have recognized similar effects, caught and fixed by a marvellous effort of genius; such are the fleeting hues over the ice, in his “Whalers,” and the ruddy fire in his “Wind, Steam, and Rain,” which one almost fears to touch. Dissolving views give some idea of the magic creation and dispersion of the effects, but any combination of science and art can no more recall the scene, than it can the feelings of awe that crept over me, during the hour I spent in solitude amongst these stupendous mountains.

The moon guided us on our descent, which was to the


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south, obliquely into the Yalloong valley. I was very uneasy about the coolies, who were far behind, and some of them had been frost-bitten in crossing the Kambachen pass. Still I thought the best thing was to push on, and light large fires at the first juniper we should reach. The change, on passing from off the snow to the dark earth and rock, was so bewildering, that I had great difficulty in picking my way. Suddenly we came on a flat with a small tarn, whose waters gleamed illusively in the pale moonlight: the opposite flanks of the valley were so well reflected on its gloomy surface, that we were at once brought to a stand-still on its banks: it looked like a chasm, and whether to jump across it, or go down it, or along it, was the question, so deceptive was the spectral landscape. Its true nature was, however, soon discovered, and we proceeded round it, descending. Of course there was no path, and after some perplexity amongst rocks and ravines, we reached the upper limit of wood, and halted by some bleached juniper-trees, which were soon converted into blazing fires.

I wandered away from my party to listen for the voices of the men who had lingered behind, about whom I was still more anxious, from the very great difficulty they would encounter if, as we did, they should get off the path. The moon was shining clearly in the black heavens; and its bright light, with the pale glare of the surrounding snow, obscured the milky way, and all the smaller stars; whilst the planets appeared to glow with broader orbs than elsewhere, and the great stars flashed steadily and periodically.

Deep black chasms seemed to yawn below, and cliffs rose on all sides, except down the valley, where looking across the Yalloong river, a steep range of mountains rose, seamed


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with torrents that were just visible like threads of silver coursing down broad landslips. It was a dead calm, and nothing broke the awful silence but the low hoarse murmur of many torrents, whose mingled voices rose and fell as if with the pulsations of the atmosphere; the undulations of which appeared thus to be marked by the ear alone. Sometimes it was the faintest possible murmur, and then it rose swelling and filling the air with sound: the effect was that of being raised from the earth’s surface, and again lowered to it; or that of waters advancing and retiring. In such scenes and with such accompaniments, the mind wanders from the real to the ideal, the larger and brighter lamps of heaven lead us to imagine that we have risen from the surface of our globe and are floating through the regions of space, and that the ceaseless murmur of the waters is the Music of the Spheres.

Contemplation amid such soothing sounds and impressive scenes is very seductive, and withal very dangerous, for the temperature was at freezing-point, my feet and legs were wet through, and it was well that I was soon roused from my reveries by the monosyllabic exclamations of my coolies. They were quite knocked up, and came along grunting, and halting every minute to rest, by supporting their loads, still hanging to their backs, on their stout staves. I had still one bottle of brandy left, with which to splice the main brace. It had been repeatedly begged for in vain, and being no longer expected, was received with unfeigned joy. Fortunately with these people a little spirits goes a long way, and I kept half for future emergencies.

We camped at 13,290 feet, the air was calm and mild to the feeling, though the temperature fell to 22·75°. On


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the following morning we saw two musk-deer,* called “Kosturah” by the mountaineers. The musk, which hangs in a pouch near the navel of the male, is the well-known object of traffic with Bengal. This creature ranges between 8000 and 13,000 feet, on the Himalaya, often scenting the air for many hundred yards. It is a pretty grey animal, the size of a roebuck, and something resembling it, with coarse fur, short horns, and two projecting teeth from the upper jaw, said to be used in rooting up the aromatic herbs from which the Bhoteeas believe that it derives the odour of musk. This I much doubt, because the animal never frequents those very lofty regions where the herbs supposed to provide the scent are found, nor have I ever seen signs of any having been so rooted up. The Delphinium glaciale smells strongly and disagreeably of musk, but it is one of the most alpine plants in the world, growing at an elevation of 17,000 feet, far above the limits of the Kosturah. The female and young male are very good eating, much better than any Indian venison I ever tasted, being sweet and tender. Mr. Hodgson once kept a female alive, but it was very wild, and continued so as long as I knew it. Two of my Lepchas gave chase to these animals, and fired many arrows in vain after them: these people are fond of carrying a bow, but are very poor shots.

We descended 3000 feet to the deep valley of the Yalloong river which runs west-by-south to the Tambur, from between Junnoo and Kubra: the path was very bad, over quartz, granite, and gneiss, which cut the shoes and feet severely. The bottom of the valley, which is elevated 10,450 feet, was filled with an immense accumulation of

* There are two species of musk-deer in the Himalaya, besides the Tibetan kind, which appears identical with the Siberian animal originally described by Pallas.


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angular gravel and débris of the above rocks, forming on both sides of the river a terrace 400 feet above the stream, which flowed in a furious torrent. The path led over this deposit for a good many miles, and varied exceedingly in height, in some places being evidently increased by landslips, and at others apparently by moraines.

Tibetan charm-box

Next Chapter XII