Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XVII


at Dorjiling. The same day, at about the same elevation, I gathered sixty species of fern, many of very tropical forms.* No doubt the range of such genera is extended in proportion to the extreme damp and equable

* They consisted of the above-mentioned Trichomanes, three Hymenophyllæ, Vittaria, Pleopeltis, and Marattia, together with several Se1aginellas.


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climate, here, as about Dorjiling. Tree-ferns are however absent, and neither plantains, epiphytical Orchideæ, nor palms, are so abundant, or ascend so high as on the outer ranges. About Yoksun itself, which occupies a very warm sheltered flat, many tropical genera occur, such as tall bamboos of two kinds, grasses allied to the sugar-cane, scarlet Erythrina, and various Araliaceæ, amongst which was one species whose pith was of so curious a structure, that I had no hesitation in considering the then unknown Chinese substance called rice-paper to belong to a closely allied plant.*

The natives collect the leaves of many Aralias as fodder for cattle, for which purpose they are of the greatest service in a country where grass for pasture is so scarce; this is the more remarkable, since they belong to the natural family of ivy, which is usually poisonous; the use of this food, however, gives a peculiar taste to the butter. In other parts of Sikkim, fig-leaves are used for the same purpose, and branches of a bird-cherry (Prunus), a plant also of a very poisonous family, abounding in prussic acid.

We were received with great kindness by the villagers of Yoksun, who had awaited our return with some anxiety, and on hearing of our approach had collected large supplies of food; amongst other things were tares (called by the Lepchas “Kullai”), yams (“Book”), and a bread made by bruising together damp maize and rice into tough thin cakes (“Ketch-ung tapha”). The Lamas of Doobdi were especially civil, having a favour to ask, which was that I would intercede with Dr. Campbell to procure the permission of the Nepalese

* The Chinese rice-paper has long been known to be cut from cylinders of pith which has always a central hollow chamber, divided into compartments by septa or excessively thin plates. It is only within the last few months that my supposition has been confirmed, by my father’s receiving from China, after many years of correspondence, specimens of the rice-paper plant itself, which very closely resemble, in botanical characters, as well as in outward appearance of size and habit, the Sikkim plant.


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to reopen the Kanglanamo pass, and thus give some occupation to their herds of yaks, which were now wandering idly about.

I botanized for two days on the Yoksun flat, searching for evidence of lacustrine strata or moraines, being more than ever convinced by the views I had obtained of this place from Mon Lepcha, that its uniformity of surface was due to water action. It is certainly the most level area of its size that I know of in Sikkim, though situated in one of the deepest valleys, and surrounded on almost all sides by very steep mountains; and it is far above the flat gravel terraces of the present river-beds. I searched the surface of the flat for gravel beds in vain, for though it abounds in depressions that must have formerly been lake-beds, and are now marshes in the rainy season, these were all floored with clay. Along the western edge, where the descent is very steep for 1,800 feet to the Ratong, I found no traces of stratified deposits, though the spurs which projected from it were often flattened at top. The only existing lake has sloping clay banks, covered with spongy vegetable mould; it has no permanent affluent or outlet, its present drainage being subterranean, or more probably by evaporation; but there is an old water-channel several feet above its level. It is eighty to a hundred yards across, and nearly circular; its depth three or four feet, increased to fifteen or sixteen in the rains; like all similar pools in Sikkim, it contains little or no animal life at this season, and I searched in vain for shells, insects, or frogs. All around were great blocks of gneiss, some fully twelve feet square.

The situation of this lake is very romantic, buried in a tall forest of oaks and laurels, and fringed by wild camellia shrubs; the latter are not the leafy, deep green, large-blossomed plants of our greenhouses, but twiggy bushes with


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small scattered leaves, and little yellowish flowers like those of the tea-plant. The massive walls of a ruined temple rise close to the water, which looks like the still moat of a castle: beside it are some grand old funereal cypresses, with ragged scattered branches below, where they struggle for light in the dense forest, but raising their heads aloft as bright green pyramids.

Altar and song-boom at Yoksun

After some difficulty I found the remains of a broad path that divided into two; one of them led to a second ruined temple, fully a mile off, and the other I followed to a grove, in which was a gigantic chait; it was a beautiful lane throughout, bordered with bamboo, brambles, gay-flowered Melastomaceæ like hedge-roses, and scarlet Erythrina: there were many old mendongs and chaits on the way,


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which I was always careful to leave on the right hand in passing, such being the rule among Boodhists, the same which ordains that the praying-cylinder or “Mani” be made to revolve in a direction against the sun’s motion.

This great chait is the largest in Sikkim; it is called “Nirbogong,” and appears to be fully forty feet high; facing it is a stone altar about fifteen feet long and four broad, and behind this again is a very curious erection called “Song-boom,” used for burning juniper as incense; it resembles a small smelting furnace, and consists of an elongated conical stone building eight feet high, raised on a single block; it is hollow, and divided into three stories or chambers; in the lower of which is a door, by which fuel is placed inside, and the smoke ascending through holes in the upper slabs, escapes by lateral openings from the top compartment. These structures are said to be common in Tibet, but I saw no other in Sikkim.

During my stay at Yoksun, the weather was very cold, especially at night, considering the elevation (5,600 feet): the mean temperature was 39°, the extremes being 19·2° and 60°; and even at 8 a.m. the thermometer, laid on the frosty grass, stood at 20°; temperatures which are rare at Dorjiling, 1,500 feet higher. I could not but regard with surprise such half tropical genera as perennial-leaved vines, Saccharum, Erythrina, large bamboos, Osbeckia and cultivated millet, resisting such low temperatures.*

On the 14th January I left Yoksun for the lake and temples of Catsuperri, the former of which is by much the largest in Sikkim. After a steep descent of 1800 feet, we reached the Ratong, where its bed is only 3,790 feet above

* This is no doubt due to the temperature of the soil being always high: I did not sink a thermometer at Yoksun, but from observations taken at similar elevations, the temperature of the earth, at three feet depth, may be assumed to be 55°.


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the sea; it is here a turbulent stream, twelve yards across, with the usual features of gravel terraces, huge boulders of gneiss and some of the same rock in situ, striking north-east. Some idea of its velocity may be formed from the descent it makes from the foot of Mon Lepcha, where the elevation of its bed was 7,150 feet, giving a fall of 3,350 feet in only ten miles.

Hence I ascended a very steep spur, through tropical vegetation, now become so familiar to me that I used to count the number of species belonging to the different large natural orders, as I went along. I gathered only thirty-five ferns at these low elevations, in the same space as produces from fifty to sixty in the more equable and humid regions of 6000 feet; grasses on the other hand were much more numerous. The view of the flat of Yoksun from Lungschung village, opposite to it, and on about the same level, is curious; as is that of the hamlet of Lathiang on the same side, which I have before noticed as being placed on a very singular flat shelf above the Ratong, and is overhung by rocks.

Ascending very steeply for several thousand feet, we reached a hollow on the Catsuperri spur, beyond which the lake lies buried in a deep forest. A Lama from the adjacent temple accompanied us, and I found my people affecting great solemnity as they approached its sacred bounds; they incessantly muttered “Om mani,” etc., kotowed to trees and stones, and hung bits of rag on the bushes. A pretence of opposing our progress was made by the priest, who of course wanted money; this I did not appear to notice, and after a steep descent, we were soon on the shores of what is, for Sikkim, a grand sheet of water, (6,040 feet above the sea), without any apparent outlet: it may be from three to five hundred yards across in the rains, but was much less now, and was bordered by a broad marsh of bog moss (Sphagnum), in which were abundance of Azolla,


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colouring the waters red, and sedges. Along the banks were bushes of Rhododendron barbatum and Berberis insignis,* but the mass of the vegetation was similar to that of Dorjiling.

We crossed the marsh to the edge of the lake by a rude paved way of decaying logs, through which we often plunged up to our knees. The Lama had come provided with a piece of bark, shaped like a boat, some juniper incense and a match-box, with which he made a fire, and put it in the boat, which he then launched on the lake as a votive offering to the presiding deity. It was a dead calm, but the impetus he gave to the bark shot it far across the lake, whose surface was soon covered with a thick cloud of white smoke. Taking a rupee from me, the priest then waved his arm aloft, and pretended to throw the money into the water, singing snatches of prayers in Tibetan, and at times shrieking at the top of his voice to the Dryad who claims these woods and waters as his own. There was neither bird, beast, nor insect to be seen, and the scenery was as impressive to me, as the effect of the simple service was upon my people, who prayed with redoubled fervour, and hung more rags on the bushes.

I need hardly say that this invocation of the gods of the woods and waters forms no part of Lama worship; but the Lepchas are but half Boodhists; in their hearts they dread the demons of the grove, the lake, the snowy mountain and the torrent, and the crafty Lama takes advantage of this, modifies his practices to suit their requirements, and is content with the formal recognition of the spiritual supremacy of the church. This is most remarkably shown in their acknowledgment of the day on which offerings had been made from time immemorial by the pagan Lepchas to

* This magnificent new species has not been introduced into England; it forms a large bush, with deep-green leaves seven inches long, and bunches of yellow flowers.


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the genius of Kinchinjunga, by holding it as a festival of the church throughout Sikkim.*

The two Catsuperri temples occupy a spur 445 feet above the lake, and 6,485 feet above the sea; they are poor, and only remarkable for a miserable weeping-willow tree planted near them, said to have been brought from Lhassa. The monks were very civil to me, and offered amongst other things a present of excellent honey. One was an intelligent man, and gave me much information: he told me that there were upwards of twenty religious establishments in Sikkim, containing more than 1000 priests. These have various claims upon the devout: thus, Tassiding, Doobdi, Changachelling, and Pemiongchi, are celebrated for their antiquity, and the latter also for being the residence of the head Lama; Catsuperri for its lake; Raklang for its size, etc. All are under one spiritual head, who is the Tupgain Lama, or eldest son of the Rajah; and who resides at the Phadong convent, near Tumloong: the Lama of Pemiongchi is, however, the most highly respected, on account of his age, position, and sanctity. Advancement in the hierarchy is dependent chiefly on interest, but indirectly on works also; pilgrimages to Lhassa and Teshoo Loombo are the highest of

* On that occasion an invocation to the mountain is chanted by priests and people in chorus. Like the Lama’s address to the genius of Catsuperri lake, its meaning, if it ever had any, is not now apparent. It runs thus:—

“Kanchin-jinga, Pemi Kadup
 Gnetche Tangla, Dursha tember
 Zu jinga Pemsum Serkiem
 Dischze Kubra Kanchin tong.”

This was written for me by Dr. Campbell, who, like myself, has vainly sought its solution; it is probably a mixture of Tibetan and Lepcha, both as much corrupted as the celebrated “Om mani padmi boom,” which is universally pronounced by Lepchas “Menny pemmy boom.” This reminds me that I never got a solution of this sentence from a Lama, of whatever rank or learning; and it was only after incessant inquiry, during a residence of many years in Nepal, that Mr. Hodgson at last procured the interpretation, or rather paraphrase: “Hail to him (Sakya) of the lotus and the jewel,” which is very much the same as M. Klaproth and other authorities have given.


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these, and it is clearly the interest of the supreme pontiffs of those ecclesiastical capitals to encourage such, and to intimate to the Sikkim authorities, the claims those who perform them have for preferment. Dispensations for petty offences are granted to Lamas of low degree and monks, by those of higher station, but crimes against the church are invariably referred to Tibet, and decided there.

The election to the Sikkim Lamaseries is generally conducted on the principle of self-government, but Pemiongchi and some others are often served by Lamas appointed from Tibet, or ordained there, at some of the great convents. I never heard of an instance of any Sikkim Lama arriving at such sanctity as to be considered immortal, and to reappear after death in another individual, nor is there any election of infants. All are of the Ningma, Dookpa, or Shammar sect, and are distinguished by their red mitres; they were once dominant throughout Tibet, but after many wars* with the yellow-caps, they were driven from that country, and took refuge principally in the Himalaya. The Bhotan or Dhurma†

* The following account of the early war between the red and the yellow-mitred Lamas was given me by Tchebu Lama:—For twenty-five generations the red-cape (Dookpa or Ningma) prevailed in Tibet, when they split into two sects, who contended for supreme power; the Lama of Phado, who headed the dissenters, and adopted a yellow mitre, being favoured by the Emperor of China, to whom reference was made. A persecution of the red Lamas followed, who were caught by the yellow-caps, and their mitres plunged into dyeing vats kept always ready at the Lamaseries. The Dookpa, however, still held Teshoo Loombo, and applied to the Sokpo (North Tibet) Lamas for aid, who bringing horses and camels, easily prevailed over the Gelookpa or yellow sect, but afterwards treacherously went over to them, and joined them in an attack on Teshoo Loombo, which was plundered and occupied by the Gelookpas. The Dookpa thereafter took refuge in Sikkim and Bhotan, wbence the Bhotan Rajah became their spiritual chief under the name of Dhurma Rajah, and is now the representative of that creed. Goorucknath is still the Dookpa’s favourite spiritual deity of the older creed, which is, however, no longer in the ascendant. The Dalai Lama of Teshoo Loombo is a Gelookpa, as is the Rimbochay Lama, and the Potala Lama of Lhassa, according to Tchebu Lama, but Turner (“Travels in Tibet,” p. 315) says the contrary; the Gelookpa consider Sakya Thoba (or Tsongkaba) alias Mahamouni, as their great avatar.
† Bhotan is generally known as the Dhurma country. See note, page 136.


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Rajah became the spiritual head of this sect, and, as is well known, disputes the temporal government also of his country with the Deva Rajah, who is the hereditary temporal monarch, and never claims spiritual jurisdiction. I am indebted to Dr. Campbell for a copy and translation of the Dhurma Rajah’s great seal, containing the attributes of his spirituality, a copy of which I have appended to the end of this chapter.

The internal organisation of the different monastic establishments is very simple. The head or Teshoo Lama* rules supreme; then come the monks and various orders of priests, and then those who are candidates for orders, and dependents, both lay-brothers and slaves: there are a few nunneries in Sikkim, and the nuns are all relatives or connections of the Rajah, his sister is amongst them. During the greater part of the year, all lead a more or less idle life; the dependents being the most occupied in carrying wood and water, cultivating the land, etc.

The lay-brothers are often skilful workmen, and are sometimes lent or hired out as labourers, especially as housebuilders and decorators. No tax of any kind is levied on the church, which is frequently very rich in land, flocks, and herds, and in contributions from the people: land is sometimes granted by the Rajah, but is oftener purchased by the priests, or willed, or given by the proprietor. The services, to which I have already alluded, are very irregularly performed; in most temples only on festival days, which correspond to the Tibetan ones so admirably described in MM. Huc and Gabet’s narrative; in a few, however, service is performed daily, especially in such as stand near frequented roads, and hence reap the richest harvest.

* I have been informed by letters from Dr. Campbell that the Pemiongchi Lama is about to remove the religious capital of Sikkim to Dorjiling, and build there a grand temple and monastery; this will be attractive to visitors, and afford the means of extending our knowledge of East Tibet.


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Like all the natives of Tibet and Sikkim, the priests are intolerably filthy; in some cases so far carrying out their doctrines as not even to kill the vermin with which they swarm. All are nominally bound to chastity, but exemptions in favour of Lamas of wealth, rank, or power, are granted by the supreme pontiffs, both in Tibet and Sikkim. I constantly found swarms of children about the Lamaseries, who were invariably called nephews and nieces.

Descending from the Catsuperri temples, I encamped at the village of Tengling (elevation 5,257 feet), where I was waited upon by a bevy of forty women, Lepchas and Sikkim Bhoteeas, accompanied by their children, and bringing presents of fowls, rice and vegetables, and apologising for the absence of their male relatives, who were gone to carry tribute to the Rajah. Thence I marched to Changachelling, first descending to the Tengling river, which divides the Catsuperri from the Molli ridge, and which I crossed.

Tree-ferns here advance further north than in any other part of Sikkim. I did not visit the Molli temples, but crossed the spur of that name, to the Rungbee river, whose bed is 3,300 feet above the sea; thence I ascended upwards of 3,500 feet to the Changachelling temples, passing Tchongpong village. The ridge on which both Pemiongchi and Changachelling are built, is excessively narrow at top; it is traversed by a “via Sacra,” connecting these two establishments; this is a pretty wooded walk, passing mendongs and chaits hoary with lichens and mosses; to the north the snows of Kinchinjunga are seen glimmering between the trunks of oaks, laurels, and rhododendrons, while to the south the Sinchul and Dorjiling spurs shut out the view of the plains of India.

Changachelling temples and chaits crown a beautiful


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rocky eminence on the ridge, their roofs, cones and spires peeping through groves of bamboo, rhododendrons, and arbutus; the ascent is by broad flights of steps cut in the mica-slate rocks, up which shaven and girdled monks, with rosaries and long red gowns, were dragging loads of bamboo stems, that produced a curious rattling noise. At the summit there is a fine temple, with the ruins of several others, and of many houses: the greater part of the principal temple, which is two-storied and divided into several compartments, is occupied by families. The monks were busy repairing the part devoted to worship, which consists of a large chamber and vestibule of the usual form: the outside walls are daubed red, with a pigment of burnt felspathic clay, which is dug hard by. Some were painting the vestibule with colours brought from Lhassa, where they had been trained to the art. Amongst other figures was one playing on a guitar, a very common symbol in the vestibules of Sikkim temples: I also saw an angel playing on the flute, and a snake-king offering fruit to a figure in the water, who was grasping a serpent. Amongst the figures I was struck by that of an Englishman, whom, to my amusement, and the limner’s great delight, I recognised as myself. I was depicted in a flowered silk coat instead of a tartan shooting jacket, my shoes were turned up at the toes, and I had on spectacles and a tartar cap, and was writing notes in a book. On one side a snake-king was politely handing me fruit, and on the other a horrible demon was writhing.

A crowd had collected to see whether I should recognise myself, and when I did so, the merriment was extreme. They begged me to send them a supply of vermilion, goldleaf, and brushes; our so called camel’s-hair pencils being much superior to theirs, which are made of marmot’s hair.


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I was then conducted to a house, where I found salted and buttered tea and Murwa beer smoking in hospitable preparation. As usual, the house was of wood, and the inhabited apartments above the low basement story were approached by an outside ladder, like a Swiss cottage: within were two rooms floored with earth; the inner was small, and opened on a verandah that faced Kinchinjunga, whence the keen wind whistled through the apartment.

The head Lama, my jolly fat friend of the 20th of December, came to breakfast with me, followed by several children, nephews and nieces he said; but they were uncommonly like him for such a distant relationship, and he seemed extremely fond of them, and much pleased when I stuffed them with sugar.

Changachelling hill is remarkable for having on its summit an immense tabular mass of chlorite slate, resting apparently horizontally on variously inclined rocks of the same: it is quite flat-topped, ten to twelve yards each way, and the sides are squared by art; the country people attribute its presence here to a miracle.

The view of the Kinchin range from this spot being one of the finest in Sikkim, and the place itself being visible from Dorjiling, I took a very careful series of bearings, which, with those obtained at Pemiongchi, were of the utmost use in improving my map, which was gradually progressing. To my disappointment I found that neither priest nor people knew the name of a single snowy mountain. I also asked in vain for some interpretation of the lines I have quoted at page 365; they said they were Lepcha worship, and that they only used them for the gratification of the people, on the day of the great festival of Kinchinjunga.

Hence I descended to the Kulhait river, on my route back to Dorjiling, visiting my very hospitable tippling friend,


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the Kajee of Lingcham, on the way down: he humbly begged me to get him a pair of spectacles, for no other object than to look wise, as he had the eyes of a hawk; he told me that mine drew down universal respect in Sikkim, and that I had been drawn with them on, in the temple at Changachelling; and that a pair would not only wonderfully become him, but afford him the most pleasing recollections of myself. Happily I had the means of gratifying him, and have since been told that he wears them on state occasions.

I encamped by the river, 3,160 feet above the sea, amongst figs and plantains, on a broad terrace of pebbles, boulders and sand, ten feet above the stream; the rocks in the latter were covered with a red conferva. The sand on the banks was disposed in layers, alternately white and red, the white being quartz, and the red pulverised garnets. The arranging of these sand-bands by the water must be due to the different specific gravities of the garnet and quartz; the former being lighter, is lifted by the current on to the surface of the quartz, and left there when the waters retire.

On the next day I ascended Hee hill, crossed it at an elevation of 7,290 feet, and camped on the opposite side at 6,680 feet, in a dense forest. The next march was still southward to the little Rungeet guard-house, below Dorjiling spur, which I reached after a fatiguing walk amidst torrents of rain. The banks of the little Rungeet river, which is only 1,670 feet above the sea, are very flat and low, with broad terraces of pebbles and shingle, upon which are huge gneiss boulders, fully 200 feet above the stream.

On the 19th of January, I ascended the Tukvor spur to Dorjiling, and received a most hospitable welcome from my friend Mr. Muller, now almost the only European inhabitant of the place; Mr. Hodgson having gone down on a shooting excursion in the Terai, and Dr. Campbell being on duty


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on the Bhotan frontier. The place looked what it really was—wholly deserted. The rain I had experienced in the valley, had here been snow, and the appearance of the broad snowed patches clear of trees, and of the many houses without smoke or inhabitant, and the tall scattered trees with black bark and all but naked branches, was dismal in the extreme. The effect was heightened by an occasional Hindoo, who flitted here and there along the road, crouching and shivering, with white cotton garments and bare legs.

The delight of my Lepcha attendants at finding themselves safely at home again, knew no bounds; and their parents waited on me with presents, and other tokens of their goodwill and gratitude. I had no lack of volunteers for a similar excursion in the following season, though with their usual fickleness, more than half failed me, long before the time arrived for putting their zeal to the proof.

I am indebted to Dr. Campbell for the accompanying impression and description of the seal of the Dhurma Rajah, or sovereign pontiff of Bhotan, and spiritual head of the whole sect of the Dookpa, or red-mitred Lama Boodhists. The translations were made by Aden Tchehu Lama, who accompanied us into Sikkim in 1849, and I believe they are quite correct. The Tibetan characters run from left to right.

   The seal of the Dhurma Rajah is divided into a centre portion and sixteen rays. In the centre is the word Dookyin, which means “The Dookpa Creed”; around the “Dookyin” are sixteen similar letters, meaning “I,” or “I am.” The sixteen radial compartments contain his titles and attributes, thus, commencing from the centre erect one, and passing round from left to right:—

  1. I am the Spiritual and Temporal Chief of the Realm.
  2. The Defender of the Faith.
  3. Equal to Saruswati in learning.
  4. Chief of all the Boodhs.
  5. Head expounder of the Shasters.
  6. Caster out of devils.
  7. The most learned in the Holy Laws.
  8. An Avatar of God (or, by God’s will).
  9. Absolver of sins.
  10. I am above all the Lamas of the Dookpa Creed.
  11. I am of the best of all Religions—the Dookpa.
  12. The punisher of unbelievers.
  13. Unequalled in expounding the Shasters.
  14. Unequalled in holiness and wisdom.
  15. The head (or fountain) of all Religious Knowledge.
  16. The Enemy of all false Avatars.

Next Chapter XVII