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Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XIX

 

Chapter XVIII

Arrangements for second journey into Sikkim — Opposition of Dewan — Lassoo Kajee — Tendong — Legend of flood — Lama of Sillok-foke — Namtchi — Tchebu Lama — Top of Tendong — Gigantic oak — Plants — Teesta valley — Commencement of rains — Bhomsong — Ascent to Lathiang — View — Bad road — Orcbids — Gorh — Opposition of Lama — Arrival of Meepo — Cross Teesta — Difficulties of travelling — Lepchas swimming — Moxa for sprains — Singtam — Grandeur of view of Kinchinjunga — Wild men — Singtam Soubah — Landslips — Bees’-nests and honey-seekers — Leeches, etc. — Chakoong — Vegetation — Gravel terraces — Unpleasant effects of wormwood — Choongtam, scenery and vegetation of — Inhabitants — Tibetan salute — Lamas — Difficulty of procuring food — Contrast of vegetation of inner and outer Himalaya — Rhododendrons — Yew — Abies Brunoniana — Venomous snakes — Hornets and other insects — Choongtam temple — Pictures of Lhassa — Minerals — Scenery.


 

After my return from the Terai, I was occupied during the month of April in preparations for an expedition to the loftier parts of Sikkim. The arrangements were the same as for my former journey, except with regard to food, which it was necessary should be sent out to me at intervals; for we had had ample proof that the resources of the country were not equal to provisioning a party of from forty to fifty men, even had the Dewan been favourable to my travelling, which was clearly not the case.

Dr. Campbell communicated to the Rajah my intention of starting early in May for the upper Teesta valley, and,


 

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in the Governor-General’s name, requested that he would facilitate my visiting the frontier of Sikkim, north-east of Kinchinjunga. The desired permission was, after a little delay, received; which appeared to rouse the Dewan to institute a series of obstructions to my progress, which caused so many delays that my exploration of the country was not concluded till October, and I was prevented returning to Dorjiling before the following Christmas.

Since our visit to the Rajah in December, no Vakeel (agent) had been sent by the Durbar to Dorjiling, and consequently we could only communicate indirectly with his Highness, while we found it impossible to ascertain the truth of various reports promulgated by the Dewan, and meant to deter me from entering the country. In April, the Lassoo Kajee was sent as Vakeel, but, having on a previous occasion been dismissed for insolence and incapacity, and again rejected when proposed by the Dewan at Bhomsong, he was refused an audience; and he encamped at the bottom of the Great Rungeet valley, where he lost some of his party through fever. He retired into Sikkim, exasperated, pretending that he had orders to delay my starting, in consequence of the death of the heir apparent; and that he was prepared to use strong measures should I cross the frontier.

No notice was taken of these threats: the Rajah was again informed of my intended departure, unless his own orders to the contrary were received through a proper accredited agent, and I left Dorjiling on the 3rd of May, accompanied by Dr. Campbell, who insisted on seeing me fairly over the frontier at the Great Rungeet river.

Arrangements were made for supplies of rice following me by instalments; our daily consumption being 80 lbs., a man’s load. After crossing into Sikkim, I mustered my


 

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party at the Great Rungeet river. I had forty-two in all, of whom the majority were young Lepchas, or Sikkim-born people of Tibetan races: all were active and cheerful looking follows; only one was goitred, and he had been a salt-trader. I was accompanied by a guard of five Sepoys, and had a Lepcha and Tibetan interpreter. I took but one personal servant, a Portuguese half-caste (John Hoffman by name), who cooked for me: he was a native of Calcutta, and though hardy, patient, and long-suffering, and far better-tempered, was, in other respects, very inferior to Clamanze, who had been my servant the previous year, and who, having been bred to the sea, was as handy as he was clever; but who, like all other natives of the plains, grew intolerably weary of the hills, and left me.

The first part of my route lay over Tendong, a very fine mountain, which rises 8,613 feet, and is a conspicuous feature from Dorjiling, where it is known as Mount Ararat. The Lepchas have a curious legend of a man and woman having saved themselves on its summit, during a flood that once deluged Sikkim. The coincidence of this story with the English name of Ararat suggests the probability of the legend being fabulous; but I am positively assured that it is not so, but that it was current amongst the Lepchas before its English name was heard of, and that the latter was suggested from the peculiar form of its summit resembling that given in children’s books as the resting-place of the ark.

The ascent from the Great Rungeet (alt. 818 feet) is through dry woods of Sal and Pines (P. longifolia). I camped the first night at the village of Mikk (alt. 3,900 feet), and on the following day ascended to Namtc (alt. 5,600 feet).


 

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On the route I was met by the Lama of Silokfoke Goompa. Though a resident on the Lassoo Kajee’s estates, he politely brought me a present, at the same time apologising for not waiting till I had encamped, owing to his excessive fat, which prevented his climbing. I accepted his excuses, though well aware that his real reason was that he wished to pay his respects, and show his good feeling, in private. Besides his ordinary canonicals, he carried a tall crozier-headed staff, and had a curious horn slung round his neck, full of amulets; it was short, of a transparent red colour, and beautifully carved, and was that of the small cow of Lhassa, which resembles the English species, and is not a yak (it is called “Tundro”).

Namtchi was once a place of considerable importance; and still possesses a mendong, with six rows of inscribed slabs; a temple, and a Lama attached thereto: the latter waited on me soon after I had encamped, but he brought no present, and I was not long kept in suspense as to his motives. These people are poor dissemblers; if they intend to obstruct, they do it clumsily and hesitatingly: in this instance the Lama first made up to my people, and, being coolly received, kept gradually edging up to my tent-door, where, after an awkward salute, he delivered himself with a very bad grace of his mission, which was from the Lassoo Kajee to stop my progress. I told him I knew nothing of the Lassoo Kajee or his orders, and should proceed on the following morning: he then urged the bad state of the roads, and advised me to wait two days till he should receive orders from the Rajah; upon which I dismissed him.

Soon afterwards, as I sat at my tent-door, looking along the narrow bushy ridge that winds up the mountain, I saw twenty or thirty men rapidly descending the rocky


 

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path: they were Lepchas, with blue and white striped garments, bows and quivers, and with their long knives gleaming in the sun: they seemed to be following a figure in red Lama costume, with a scarlet silk handkerchief wound round his head, its ends streaming behind him. Though expecting this apparition to prove the renowned Kajee and his myrmidons, coming to put a sudden termination to my progress, I could not help admiring the exceeding picturesqueness of the scenery and party. My fears were soon dissipated by my men joyfully shouting, “The Tchebu Lama! the Tchebu Lama!” and I soon recognised the rosy face and twinkling eyes of my friend of Bhomsong, the only man of intelligence about the Rajah’s court, and the one whose services as Vakeel were particularly wanted at Dorjiling.

He told me that the Lassoo Kajee had orders (from whom, he would not say) to stop my progress, but that I should proceed nevertheless, and that there was no objection to my doing so; and he despatched a messenger to the Rajah, announcing my progress, and requesting him to send me a guide, and to grant me every facility, asserting that he had all along fully intended doing so.

On the following morning the Lama proceeded to Dorjiling, and I continued the ascent of Tendong, sending my men round the shoulder to Temi in the Teesta valley, where I proposed to pass the night. The road rapidly ascends by a narrow winding path, covered with a loose forest of oaks, rhododendrons, and various shrubs, not found at equal elevations on the wetter Dorjiling ranges: amongst, them the beautiful laburnum-like Piptanthus Nepalensis, with golden blossoms, was conspicuous. Enormous blocks of white and red stratified quartz, and slate, some 20 and even 40 yards long, rest on the narrow


 

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ridge at 7000 feet elevation. The last ascent is up a steep rounded cone with a broad flat top, covered with dwarf bamboo, a few oaks, laurels, magnolias, and white-flowered rhododendron trees (R. argenteum), which obstructed the view. I hung the barometers near one of the many chaits on the summit, where there is also a rude temple, in which worship is performed once a year. The elevation is 8,671 feet by my observations.* The geological formation of Tendong in some measure accounts for its peculiar form. On the conical summit are hard quartzoze porphyries, which have apparently forced up the gneiss and slates, which dip in all directions from the top, and are full of injected veins of quartz. Below 7000 feet, mica-schist prevails, always inclined at a very high angle; and I found jasper near Namtchi, with other indications of Plutonic action.

The descent on the north side was steep, through a rank vegetation, very different from that of the south face. The oaks are very grand, and I measured one (whose trunk was decayed, and split into three, however), which I found to be 49 feet in girth at 5 feet from the ground. Near Temi (alt. 4,770 feet) I gathered the fruit of Kadsura, a climbing plant allied to Magnolia, bearing round heads of large fleshy red drupes, which are pleasantly acid and much eaten; the seeds are very aromatic.

From Temi the road descends to the Teesta, the course of which it afterwards follows. The valley was fearfully hot, and infested with mosquitos and peepsas. Many fine plants grew in it:† I especially noticed Aristolochia saccata,

* 8,663 by Col. Waugh’s trigonometrical observations.
† Especially upon the broad terraces of gravel, some of which are upwards of a mile long, and 200 feet above the stream: they are covered with boulders of rock, and are generally opposite feeders of the river.


 

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which climbs the loftiest trees, bearing its curious pitcher-shaped flowers near the ground only; its leaves are said to be good food for cattle. Houttuynia, a curious herb allied to pepper, grew on the banks, which, from the profusion of its white flowers, resembled strawberry-beds; the leaves are eaten by the Lepchas. But the most magnificent plant of these jungles is Hodgsonia, (a genus I have dedicated to my friend, Mr. Hodgson), a gigantic climber allied to the gourd, bearing immense yellowish-white pendulous blossoms, whose petals have a fringe of buff-coloured curling threads, several inches long. The fruit is of a rich brown, like a small melon in form, and contains six large nuts, whose kernels (called “Katior-pot” by the Lepchas) are eaten. The stem, when cut, discharges water profusely from whichever end is held downwards. The “Took” (Hydnocarpus) is a beautiful evergreen tree, with tufts of yellow blossoms on the trunk: its fruit is as large as an orange, and is used to poison fish, while from the seeds an oil is expressed. Tropical oaks and Terminalias are the giants of these low forests, the latter especially, having buttressed trunks, appear truly gigantic; one, of a kind called “Sung-lok,” measured 47 feet in girth, at 5 feet, and 21 at 15 feet from the ground, and was fully 200 feet high. I could only procure the leaves by firing a ball into the crown. Some of their trunks lay smouldering on the ground, emitting a curious smell from the mineral matter in their ashes, of whose constituents an account will be found in the Appendix.

Birds are very rare, as is all animal life but insects, and a small fresh-water crab, Thelphusa, (“Ti-hi” of the Lepchas). Shells, from the absence of lime, are extremely scarce, and I scarcely picked up a single specimen: the most common are species of Cyclostoma.


 

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The rains commenced on the 10th of May, greatly increasing the discomforts of travelling, but moderating the heat by drenching thunder-storms, which so soaked the men’s loads, that I was obliged to halt a day in the Teesta valley to have waterproof covers made of platted bamboo-work, enclosing Phrynium leaves. I was delighted to find that my little tent was impervious to water, though its thickness was but of one layer of blanket: it was a single ridge with two poles, 7 feet high, 8 feet long, and 8 feet broad at the base, forming nearly an equilateral triangle in front.

Bhomsong was looking more beautiful than ever in its rich summer clothing of tropical foliage. I halted during an hour of heavy rain on the spot where I had spent the previous Christmas, and could not help feeling doubly lonely in a place where every rock and tree reminded me of that pleasant time. The isolation of my position, the hostility of the Dewan, and consequent uncertainty of the success of a journey that absorbed all my thoughts, the prevalence of fevers in the valleys I was traversing, and the many difficulties that beset my path, all crowded on the imagination when fevered by exertion and depressed by gloomy weather, and my spirits involuntarily sank as I counted the many miles and months intervening between me and my home.

The little flat on which I had formerly encamped was now covered with a bright green crop of young rice. The house then occupied by the Dewan was now empty and unroofed; but the suspension bridge had been repaired, and its light framework of canes, spanning the boiling flood of the Teesta, formed a graceful object in this most beautiful landscape. The temperature of the river was 58°, only 7° above that of mid-winter, owing to the now melting snows.


 

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I had rather expected to meet either with a guide, or with some further obstruction here, but as none appeared, I proceeded onwards as soon as the weather moderated.


 
Pandanus. Sikkim screw-pine

Higher up, the scenery resembles that of Tchintam on the Tambur: the banks are so steep as to allow of no road, and the path ascends from the river, at 1000 feet, to Lathiang village, at 4,800 feet, up a wild, rocky torrent that descends from Mainom to the Teesta. The cliffs here are covered with wild plantains and screw-pines (Pandanus),


 

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50 feet high, that clasp the rocks with cable-like roots, and bear one or two crowns of drooping leaves, 5 feet long: two palms, Rattan (Calamus) and Areca gracilis, penetrate thus far up the Teesta valley, but are scarcely found further.

From the village the view was superb, embracing the tropical gulley below, with the flat of Bhomsong deep down in the gorge, its bright rice-fields gleaming like emeralds amid the dark vegetation that surrounded it; the Teesta winding to the southward, the pine-clad rocky top of Mainom, 10,613 feet high, to the south-west, the cone of Mount Ararat far to the south, to the north black mountains tipped with snow, and to the east the magnificent snowy range of Chola, girdling the valley of the Ryott with a diadem of frosted silver. The coolies, each carrying upwards of 80 lb. load, had walked twelve hours that day, and besides descending 2000 feet, they had ascended nearly 4000 feet, and gone over innumerable ups and downs besides.

Beyond Lathiang, a steep and dangerous path runs along the east flank of Mainom, sometimes on narrow ledges of dry rock, covered with long grass, sometimes dipping into wooded gullies, full of Edgeworthia Gardneri and small trees of Andromeda and rhododendron, covered with orchids* of great beauty.

Descending to Gorh (4,100 feet), I was met by the Lama of that district, a tall, disagreeable-looking fellow, who informed me that the road ahead was impassable. The day being spent, I was obliged to camp at any rate; after which he visited me in full canonicals, bringing me a handsome present, but assuring me that he had no

* Especially some species of Sunipia and Cirrhopetalum, whicb have not yet been introduced into England.


 

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authority to let me advance. I treated him with civility, and regretted my objects being so imperative, and my orders so clear, that I was obliged to proceed on the following morning: on which he abruptly decamped, as I suspected, in order to damage the paths and bridges. He came again at daylight, and expostulated further; but finding it of no use, he volunteered to accompany me, officiously offering me the choice of two roads. I asked for the coolest, knowing full well that it was useless to try and out-wit him in such matters. At the first stream the bridge was destroyed, but seeing the planks peeping through the bushes in which they had been concealed, I desired the Lama to repair it, which he did without hesitation. So it was at every point: the path was cumbered with limbs of trees, crossing-stones were removed from the streams, and all natural difficulties were increased. I kept constantly telling the Lama that as he had volunteered to show me the road, I felt sure he intended to remove all obstacles, and accordingly I put him to all the trouble I possibly could, which he took with a very indifferent grace. When I arrived at the swinging bridge across the Teesta, I found that the canes were loosened, and that slips of bamboo, so small as nearly to escape observation, were ingeniously placed low down over the single bamboo that formed the footing, intended to trip up the unwary passenger, and overturn him into the river, which was deep, and with a violent current. Whilst the Lama was cutting these, one of my party found a charcoal writing on a tree, announcing the speedy arrival from the Rajah of my old guide, Meepo; and he shortly afterwards appeared, with instructions to proceed with me, though not to the Tibetan frontier. The lateness of the season, the violence of the rains, and the fears, on the Rajah’s part, that I might


 

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suffer from fever or accident, were all urged to induce me to return, or at least only to follow the west branch of the Teesta to Kinchinjunga. These reasons failing, I was threatened with Chinese interference on the frontier. All these objections I overruled, by refusing to recognise any instructions that were not officially communicated to the Superintendent of Dorjiling.

The Gorh Lama here took leave of me: he was a friend of the Dewan, and was rather surprised to find that the Rajah had sent me a guide, and now attempted to pass himself off as my friend, pompously charging Meepo with the care of me, and bidding me a very polite farewell. I could not help telling him civilly, but plainly, what I thought of him; and so we parted.

Meepo was very glad to join my party again: he is a thorough Lepcha in heart, a great friend of his Rajah and of Tchebu Lama, and one who both fears and hates the Dewan. He assured me of the Rajah’s good wishes and intentions, but spoke with great doubt as to the probability of a successful issue to my journey: he was himself ignorant of the road, but had brought a guide, whose appearance, however, was against him, and who turned out to be sent as a spy on us both.

Instead of crossing the Teesta here, we kept on for two days up its west bank, to a cane bridge at Lingo, where the bed of the river is still only 2000 feet above the sea, though 45 miles distant from the plains, and flowing in a valley bounded by mountains 12,000 to 16,000 feet high. The heat was oppressive, from the closeness of the atmosphere, the great power of the sun, now high at noon-day, and the reflection from the rocks. Leeches began to swarm as the damp increased, and stinging flies of various kinds. My clothes were drenched with perspiration during five


 

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hours of every day, and the crystallising salt irritated the skin. On sitting down to rest, I was overcome with languor and sleep, and, but for the copious supply of fresh water everywhere, travelling would have been intolerable. The Coolies were all but naked, and were constantly plunging into the pools of the rivers; for, though filthy in their persons, they revel in cold water in summer. They are powerful swimmers, and will stem a very strong current, striking out with each arm alternately. It is an animated sight when twenty or thirty of these swarthy children of nature are disporting their muscular figures in the water, diving after large fish, and sometimes catching them by tickling them under the stones.

Of plants I found few not common at similar elevations below Dorjiling, except another kind of Tree-fern,* whose pith is eaten in times of scarcity. The India-rubber fig penetrates thus far amongst the mountains, but is of small size. A Gentian, Arenaria, and some sub-alpine plants are met with, though the elevation is only 2000 feet, and the whole climate thoroughly tropical: they were annuals usually found at 7000 to 10,000 feet elevation, and were growing here on mossy rocks, cooled by the spray of the river, whose temperature was only 56·3°. My servant having severely sprained his wrist by a fall, the Lepchas wanted to apply a moxa, which they do by lighting a piece of puff-ball, or Nepal paper that burns like tinder, laying it on the skin, and blowing it till a large open sore is produced: they shook their heads at my treatment, which consisted in transferring some of the leeches from our persons to the inflamed part.

* Alsophila spinulosa, the “Pugjik” of the Lepchas, who eat the soft watery pith: it is abundant in East Bengal and the Peninsula of India. The other Sikkim Tree-fern, A. gigantea, is far more common from the level of the plains to 6,500 elevation, and is found as far south as Java.


 

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After crossing the Teesta by the cane bridge of Lingo, our route lay over a steep and lofty spur, round which the river makes a great sweep. On the ascent of this ridge we passed large villages on flats cultivated with buckwheat. The saddle is 5,500 feet high, and thence a rapid descent leads to the village of Singtam, which faces the north, and is 300 feet lower, and 3000 feet above the river, which is here no longer called the Teesta, but is known as the Lachen-Lachoong, from its double origin in the rivers of these names, which unite at Choongtam, twenty miles higher up. Of these, the source of the Lachen is in the Cholamoo lakes in Tibet; while the Lachoong rises on the south flank of Donkia mountain, both many marches north of my present position. At Singtam the Lacben-Lachoong runs westward, till joined by the Rihi from the north, and the Rinoong from the west, after receiving which it assumes the name of Teesta: of these affluents, the Rinoong is the largest, and drains the south-east face of Kinchinjunga and Pundim, and the north of Nursing: all which mountains are seen to the north-north-west of Singtam. The Rinoong valley is cultivated for several miles up, and has amongst others the village and Lamasery of Bah. Beyond this the view of black, rugged precipices with snowy mountains towering above them, is one of the finest in Sikkim. There is a pass in that direction, from Bah over the Tckonglah to the Thlonok valley, and thence to the province of Jigatzi in Tibet, but it is almost impracticable.


 
View of Kinchinjunga from Singtam, looking north-westward

A race of wild men, called “Harrum-mo,” are said to inhabit the head of the valley, living in the woods of a district called Mund-po, beyond Bah; tbey shun habitations, speak an unintelligible tongue, have more hair on the face than Lepchas, and do not plait that of their heads, but


 

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wear it in a knot; they use the bow and arrow, and eat snakes and vermin, which the Lepchas will not touch. Such is the account I have heard, and which is certainly believed in Sikkim: similar stories are very current in half civilized countries; and if this has any truth, it possibly refers to the Chepangs,* a very remarkable race, of doubtful affinity and origin, inhabiting the Nepal forests.

At Singtam I was waited on by the Soubah of the district, a tall portly Bhoteea, who was destined to prove a most active enemy to my pursuits. He governs the country between Gorh and the Tibet frontier, for the Maha-Raanee (wife of the Rajah), whose dowry it is; and she being the Dewan’s relative, I had little assistance to expect from her agent. His conduct was very polite, and he brought me a handsome offering for myself; but after delaying me a day on the pretext of collecting food for my people, of which I was in want, I was obliged to move on with no addition to my store, and trust to obtaining some at the next village, or from Dorjiling. Owing, however, to the increasing distance, and the destruction of the roads by the rains, my supplies from that place were becoming irregular: I therefore thought it prudent to reduce my party, by sending back my guard of Sepoys, who could be of no further use.

From this point the upper portion of the course of the Teesta (Lachen-Lachoong) is materially different from what it is lower down; becoming a boisterous torrent, as suddenly as the Tambur does above Mywa Guola. Its bed is narrower, large masses of rock impede its course, nor is there any place where it is practicable for rafts at any season; the only means of passing it being by cane bridges that are thrown across, high above the stream.

* Hodgson, in “Bengal Asiatic Society’s Journal” for 1848.


 

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The slope on either side of the valley is very steep; that on the north, in particular, appearing too precipitous for any road, and being only frequented by honey seekers, who scale the rocks by cane ladders, and thus reach the pendulous bees’-nests, which are so large as in some instances to be conspicuous features at the distance of a mile. This pursuit appeared extremely perilous, the long thread-like canes in many places affording the only footing, over many yards of cliff: the procuring of this honey, however, is the only means by which many of the idle poor raise the rent which they must pay to the Rajah.

The most prominent effect of the steepness of the valleys is the prevalence of land-slips, which sometimes descend for 3000 feet, carrying devastation along their course: they are caused either by the melting of the snow-beds on the mountains, or by the action of the rains on the stratified rocks, and are much increased in effect and violence by the heavy timber-trees which, swaying forwards, loosen the earth at their roots, and give impetus to the mass. This phenomenon is as frequent and destructive as in Switzerland, where, however, more lives are lost; from the country being more populous, and from the people recklessly building in places particularly exposed to such accidents. A most destructive one had, however, occurred here the previous year, by which a village was destroyed, together with twelve of its inhabitants, and all the cattle. The fragments of rock precipitated are sometimes of enormous size, but being a soft mica-schist, are soon removed by weathering. It is in the rainy season that landslips are most frequent, and shortly after rain they are pretty sure to be heard far or near. I crossed the débris of the great one alluded to, on the first march beyond Singtam: the whole face of the mountain appeared more or less torn up for fully


 

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a mile, presenting a confused mass of white micaceous clay, full of angular masses of rock. The path was very difficult and dangerous, being carried along the steep slope, at an angle, in some places, of 35°; and it was constantly shifting, from the continued downward sliding, and from the action of streams, some of which are large, and cut deep channels. In one I had the misfortune to lose my only sheep, which was carried away by the torrent. These streams were crossed by means of sticks and ricketty bamboos, and the steep sides (sometimes twenty or thirty feet high), were ascended by notched poles.

The weather continued very hot for the elevation (4000 to 5000 feet), the rain brought no coolness, and for the greater part of the three marches between Singtam and Chakoong, we were either wading through deep mud, or climbing over rocks. Leeches swarmed in incredible profusion in the streams and damp grass, and among the bushes: they got into my hair, hung on my eyelids, and crawled up my legs and down my back. I repeatedly took upwards of a hundred from my legs, where the small ones used to collect in clusters on the instep: the sores which they produced were not healed for five months afterwards, and I retain the scars to the present day. Snuff and tobacco leaves are the best antidote, but when marching in the rain, it is impossible to apply this simple remedy to any advantage. The best plan I found to be rolling the leaves over the feet, inside the stockings, and powdering the legs with snuff.

Another pest is a small midge, or sand-fly, which causes intolerable itching, and subsequent irritation, and is in this respect the most insufferable torment in Sikkim; the minutest rent in one’s clothes is detected by the acute senses of this insatiable bloodsucker, which is itself so


 

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small as to be barely visible without a microscope. We daily arrived at our camping-ground, streaming with blood, and mottled with the bites of peepsas, gnats, midges, and mosquitos, besides being infested with ticks.

As the rains advanced, insects seemed to be called into existence in countless swarms; large and small moths, cockchafers, glow-worms, and cockroaches, made my tent a Noah’s ark by night, when the candle was burning; together with winged ants, May-flies, flying earwigs, and many beetles, while a very large species of Tipula (daddy-long-legs) swept its long legs across my face as I wrote my journal, or plotted off my map. After retiring to rest and putting out the light, they gradually departed, except a few which could not find the way out, and remained to disturb my slumbers.

Chakoong is a remarkable spot in the bottom of the valley, at an angle of the Lachen-Lachoong, which here receives an affluent from Gnarem, a mountain 17,557 feet high, on the Chola range to the east.* There is no village, but some grass huts used by travellers, which are built close to the river on a very broad flat, fringed with alder, hornbeam, and birch: the elevation is 4,400 feet, and many European genera not found about Dorjiling, and belonging to the temperate Himalaya, grow intermixed with tropical plants that are found no further north. The birch, willow, alder, and walnut grow side by side with wild plantain, Erythrina, Wallichia palm, and gigantic bamboos: the Cedrela Toona, figs, Melastoma, Scitamineæ, balsams, Pothos, peppers, and gigantic climbing vines, grow mixed with brambles, speedwell, Paris, forget-me-not, and nettles

* This is called Black Rock in Col. Waugh’s map. I doubt Gnarem being a generally known name: the people hardly recognise the mountain as sufficiently conspicuous to bear a name.


 

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that sting like poisoned arrows. The wild English strawberry is common, but bears a tasteless fruit: its inferiority is however counterbalanced by the abundance of a grateful yellow raspberry. Parasitical Orchids (Dendrobium nobile, and densiflorum, etc.), cover the trunks of oaks, while Thalictrum and Geranium grow under their shade. Monotropa and Balanophora, both parasites on the roots of trees (the one a native of north Europe and the other of a tropical climate), push their leafless stems and heads of flowers through the soil together: and lastly, tree-ferns grow associated with the Pteris aquilina (brake) and Lycopodium clavatum of our British moors; and amongst mosses, the superb Himalayan Lyellia crispa,* with the English Funaria hygrometrica.

The dense jungles of Chakoong completely cover the beautiful flat terraces of stratified sand and gravel, which rise in three shelves to 150 feet above the river, and whose edges appear as sharply cut as if the latter had but lately retired from them. They are continuous with a line of quartzy cliffs, covered with scarlet rhododendrons, and in the holes of which a conglomerate of pebbles is found, 150 feet above the river. Everywhere immense boulders are scattered about, some of which are sixty yards long: their surfaces are water-worn into hollows, proving the river to have cut through nearly 300 feet of deposit, which once floored its valley. Lower down the valley, and fully 2000 feet above the river, I had passed numerous angular blocks resting on gentle slopes where no landslips could possibly have deposited them; and which I therefore refer to ancient glacial action: one of these,

* This is one of the most remarkable mosses in the Himalaya mountains, and derives additional interest from having been named after the late Charles Lyell, Esq., of Kinnordy, the father of the most eminent geologist of the present day.


 

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near the village of Niong, was nearly square, eighty feet long, and ten high.

It is a remarkable fact, that this hot, damp gorge is never malarious; this is attributable to the coolness of the river, and to the water on the flats not stagnating; for at Choongtam, a march further north, and 1,500 feet higher, fevers and ague prevail in summer on similar flats, but which have been cleared of jungle, and are therefore exposed to the sun.

I had had constant headache for several mornings on waking, which I did not fail to attribute to coming fever, or to the unhealthiness of the climate; till I accidentally found it to arise from the wormwood, upon a thick couch of the cut branches of which I was accustomed to sleep, and which in dry weather produced no such effects.*

From Chakoong to Choongtam the route lay northwards, following the course of the river, or crossing steep spurs of vertical strata of mica-schist, that dip into the valley, and leave no space between their perpendicular sides and the furious torrent. Immense landslips seamed the steep mountain flanks; and we crossed with precipitation one that extended fully 4000 feet (and perhaps much more) up a mountain 12,000 feet high, on the east bank: it moves every year, and the mud and rocks shot down by it were strewn with the green leaves and twigs of shrubs, some of the flowers on which were yet fresh and bright, while others were crushed: these were mixed with gigantic trunks of pines, with ragged bark and scored timbers. The talus which had lately been poured into the valley formed a gently sloping bank, twenty feet high, over which the Lachen-

* This wormwood (Artemisia Indaca) is one of the most common Sikkim plants at 2000 to 6000 feet elevation, and grows twelve feet high: it is a favourite food of goats.


 

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Lachoong rolled, from a pool above, caused by the damming up of its waters. On either side of the pool were cultivated terraces of stratified sand and pebbles, fifty feet high, whose alder-fringed banks, joined by an elegant cane bridge, were reflected in the placid water; forming a little spot of singular quiet and beauty, that contrasted with the savage grandeur of the surrounding mountains, and the headstrong course of the foaming torrent below, amid whose deafening roar it was impossible to speak and be heard.


 
Cane-bridge and Tukcham mountain

The mountain of Choongtam is about 10,000 feet high; it divides the Lachen from the Lachoong river, and terminates a lofty range that runs for twenty-two miles south from the lofty mountain of Kinchinjhow. Its south exposed face is bare of trees, except clumps of pines towards the top, and is


 

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very steep, grassy, and rocky, without water. It is hence quite unlike the forest-clad mountains further south, and indicates a drier and more sunny climate. The scenery much resembles that of Switzerland, and of the north-west Himalaya, especially in the great contrast between the southern and northern exposures, the latter being always clothed with a dense vegetation. At the foot of this very steep mountain is a broad triangular flat, 5,270 feet above the sea, and 300 feet above the river, to which it descends by three level cultivated shelves. The village, consisting of a temple and twenty houses, is placed on the slope of the hill. I camped on the flat in May, before it became very swampy, close to some great blocks of gneiss, of which many lie on its surface: it was covered with tufts of sedge (like Carex stellulata), and fringed with scarlet rhododendron, walnut, Andromeda, Elæagnus (now bearing pleasant acid fruit), and small trees of a Photinia, a plant allied to hawthorn, of the leaves of which the natives make tea (as they do of Gualtheria, Andromeda, Vaccinium, and other allied plants). Rice, cultivated* in pools surrounded by low banks, was just peeping above ground; and scanty crops of millet, maize, and buckwheat flourished on the slopes around.

The inhabitants of Choongtam are of Tibetan origin; few of them had seen an Englishman before, and they flocked out, displaying the most eager curiosity: the Lama and Phipun (or superior officer) of the Lachoong valley came to pay their respects with a troop of followers, and there was lolling out of tongues, and scratching of ears, at every sentence spoken, and every object of admiration.

* Choongtam is in position and products analogous to Lelyp, on the Tambur (vol. i, page 204). Rice cultivation advances thus high up each valley, and at either place Bhoteeas replace the natives of the lower valleys.


 

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This extraordinary Tibetan salute at first puzzled me excessively, nor was it until reading MM. Huc and Gabet’s travels on my return to England, that I knew of its being the ton at Lhassa, and in all civilised parts of Tibet.

As the valley was under the Singtam Soubah’s authority, I experienced a good deal of opposition; and the Lama urged the wrath of the gods against my proceeding. This argument, I said, had been disposed of the previous year, and I was fortunate in recognising one of my Changachelling friends, who set forth my kindly offices to the Lamas of that convent, and the friendship borne me by its monks, and by those of Pemiongchi. Many other modes of dissuading me were attempted, but with Meepo’s assistance I succeeded in gaining my point. The difficulty and delays in remittance of food, caused by the landslips having destroyed the road, had reduced our provisions to a very low ebb; and it became not only impossible to proceed, but necessary to replenish my stores on the spot. At first provisions enough were brought to myself, for the Rajah had issued orders for my being cared for, and having some practice among the villagers in treating rheumatism and goîtres, I had the power of supplying my own larder; but I found it impossible to buy food for my people. At last, the real state of the case came out; that the Rajah having gone to Choombi, his usual summer-quarters in Tibet, the Dewan had issued orders that no food should be sold or given to my people, and that no roads were to be repaired during my stay in the country; thus cutting off my supplies from Dorjiling, and, in short, attempting to starve me out. At this juncture, Meepo received a letter from the Durbar purporting to be from the Rajah, commanding my immediate return, on the grounds that I had been long enough in the country for my objects: it was not


 

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addressed to me, and I refused to receive it as an official communication; following up my refusal by telling Meepo that if he thought his orders required it, he had better leave me and return to the Rajah, as I should not stir without directions from Dr. Campbell, except forwards. He remained, however, and said he had written to the Rajah, urging him to issue stringent orders for my party being provisioned.

We were reduced to a very short allowance before the long-expected supplies came, by which time our necessities had almost conquered my resolution not to take by force of the abundance I might see around, however well I might afterwards pay. It is but fair to state that the improvident villagers throughout Sikkim are extremely poor in vegetable food at this season, when the winter store is consumed, and the crops are still green. They are consequently obliged to purchase rice from the lower valleys, which, owing to the difficulties of transport, is very dear; and to obtain it they barter wool, blankets, musk, and Tibetan produce of all kinds. Still they had cattle, which they would willingly have sold to me, but for the Dewan’s orders.

There is a great difference between the vegetation of Dorjiling and that of similar elevations near Choongtam situated far within the Himalaya: this is owing to the steepness and dryness of the latter locality, where there is an absence of dense forest, which is replaced by a number of social grasses clothing the mountain sides, many new and beautiful kinds of rhododendrons, and a variety of European genera,* which (as I have elsewhere noticed) are either

* Deutzia, Saxifraga caliata, Thalictrum, Euphorbia, yellow violet, Labiatæ, Androsace, Leguminosæ, Coriaria, Delphinium, currant, Umbelliferæ, primrose, Anemone, Convallaria, Roscœa, Mitella, Herminium, Drosera.


 

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wholly absent from the damper ranges of Dorjiling, or found there several thousand feet higher up. On the hill above Choongtam village, I gathered, at 5000 to 6000 feet, Rhododendron arboreum and Dalhousiæ, which do not generally grow at Dorjiling below 7,500 feet.* The yew appears at 7000 feet, whilst, on the outer ranges (as on Tonglo), it is only found at 9,500 to 10,000 feet; and whereas on Tonglo it forms an immense tall tree, with long sparse branches and slender drooping twigs, growing amongst gigantic magnolias and oaks, at Choongtam it is small and rigid, and much resembling in appearance our churchyard yew.† At 8000 feet the Abies Brunoniana is found; a tree quite unknown further south; but neither the larch nor the Albies Smithiana (Khutrow) accompanied it, they being confined to still more northern regions.

I have seldom had occasion to allude to snakes, which are rare and shy in most parts of the Himalaya; I, however, found an extremely venomous one at Choongtam; a small black viper, a variety of the cobra di capello,‡

* I collected here ten kinds of rhododendron, which, however, are not the social plants that they become at greater elevations. Still, in the delicacy and beauty of their flowers, four of them, perhaps, excel any others; they are, R. Aucklandii, whose flowers are five inches and a half in diameter; R. Maddeni, R. Dalhousiæ, and R. Edgeworthii, all white-flowered bushes, of which the two first rise to the height of small trees.
† The yew spreads east from Kashmir to the Assam Himalaya and the Khasia mountains; and the Japan, Philippine Island, Mexican, and other North American yews, belong to the same widely-diffused species. In the Khasia (its most southern limit) it is found as low as 5000 feet above the sea-level.
‡ Dr. Gray, to whom I am indebted for the following information, assures me that this reptile is not specifically distinct from the common Cobra of India; though all the mountain specimens of it which he has examined retain the same small size and dark colour. Of the other Sikkim reptiles which I procured seven are Colubridæ and innocuous; five Crotalidæ are venomous, three of which are new species belonging to the genera Parias and Trimesurus. Lizards are not abundant, but I found at Choongtam a highly curious one, Plestiodon Sikkimensis, Gray; a kind of Skink, whose only allies are two North American congeners; and a species of Agama (a chameleon-like lizard) which in many important points more resembled an allied American genus than an Asiatic one. The common immense earth-worm of Sikkim, Ichthyophis glutinosus, is a native of the Khasia mountains, Singapore, Ceylon and Java. It is a most remarkable fact, that whereas seven out of the twelve Sikkim snakes are poisonous, the sixteen species I procured in the Khasia mountains are innocuous.


 

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which it replaces in the drier grassy parts of the interior of Sikkim, the large cobra not inhabiting in the mountain regions. Altogether I only collected about twelve species in Sikkim, seven of which are venomous, and all are dreaded by the Lepchas. An enormous hornet (Vespa magnifica, Sm.), nearly two inches long, was here brought to me alive in a cleft-stick, lolling out its great thorn-like sting, from which drops of a milky poison distilled: its sting is said to produce fatal fevers in men and cattle, which may very well be the case, judging from that of a smaller kind, which left great pain in my hand for two days, while a feeling of numbness remained in the arm for several weeks. It is called Vok by the Lepchas, a common name for any bee: its larvæ are said to be greedily eaten, as are those of various allied insects.

Choongtam boasts a profusion of beautiful insects, amongst which the British swallow-tail butterfly (Papilio Machaon) disports itself in company with magnificent black, gold, and scarlet-winged butterflies, of the Trojan group, so typical of the Indian tropics. At night my tent was filled with small water-beetles (Berosi) that quickly put out the candle; and with lovely moths came huge cockchafers (Encerris Griffithii), and enormous and fœtid flying-bugs (of the genus Derecterix), which bear great horns on the thorax. The irritation of mosquito and midge bites, and the disgusting insects that clung with spiny legs to the blankets of my tent and bed, were often as effectual in banishing sleep, as were my anxious thoughts regarding the future.


 

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The temple at Choongtam is a poor wooden building, but contains some interesting drawings of Lhassa, with its extensive Lamaseries and temples; they convey the idea of a town, gleaming, like Moscow, with gilded and copper roofs; but on a nearer aspect it is found to consist of a mass of stone houses, and large religious edifices many stories high, the walls of which are regularly pierced with small square ornamented windows.*

There is nothing remarkable in the geology of Choongtam: the base of the hill consists of the clay and mica slates overlain by gneiss, generally dipping to the eastward; in the latter are granite veins, containing fine tourmalines. Actinolites are found in some highly metamorphic gneisses, brought by landslips from the neighbouring heights. The weather in May was cloudy and showery, but the rain which fell was far less in amount than that at Dorjiling: during the day the sun’s power was great; but though it rose between five and six a.m., it never appeared above the lofty peaked mountains that girdle the valley till eight a.m.

* MM. Huc and Gabet’s account of Lhassa is, I do not doubt, excellent as to particulars; but the trees which they describe as magnificent, and girdling the city, have uniformly been represented to me as poor stunted willows, apricots, poplars, and walnuts, confined to the gardens of the rich. No doubt the impression left by these objects on the minds of travellers from tree-less Tartary, and of Sikkimites reared amidst stupendous forests, must be widely different. The information concerning Lhassa collected by Timkowski, “Travels of the Russian Mission to China” (in 1821) is greatly exaggerated, though containing much that is true and curious. The dyke to protect the city from inundations I never heard of; but there is a current story in Sikkim that Lhassa is built in a lake-bed, which was dried up by a miracle of the Lamas, and that in heavy rain the earth trembles, and the waters bubble through the soil: a Dorjiling rain-fall, I have been assured, would wash away the whole city. Ermann (Travels in Siberia, i., p. 186), mentions a town (Klinchi, near Perm), thus built over subterraneous springs, and in constant danger of being washed away. MM. Huc and Gabet allude to the same tradition under another form. They say that the natives of the banks of the Koko-nor affirm that the waters of that lake once occupied a subterranean position beneath Lhassa, and that the waters sapped the foundations of the temples as soon as they were built, till withdrawn by supernatural agency.


 

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Dark pines crest the heights around, and landslips score their flanks with white seams below; while streaks of snow remain throughout the month at 9000 feet above; and everywhere silvery torrents leap down to the Lachen and Lachoong.


 
Juniperus recurva

Next Chapter XIX