Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XX


Chapter XIX

Routes from Choongtam to Tibet frontier — Choice of that by the Lachen river — Arrival of Supplies — Departure — Features of the valley — Eatable Polygonum — Tumlong — Cross Taktoong river — Pines, larches, and other trees — Chateng pool — Water-plants and insects — Tukcham mountain — Lamteng village — Inhabitants — Alpine monkey — Botany of temperate Himalaya — European and American fauna — Japanese and Malayan genera — Superstitious objections to shooting — Customs of people — Rain — Run short of provisions — Altered position of Tibet frontier — Zemu Samdong — Imposition — Vegetation — Uses of pines — Ascent to Thlonok river — Balanophora wood for making cups — Snow-beds — Eatable mushrooms and Smilacina — Asarabacca — View of Kinchinjunga — Arum-roots, preparation of for food — Liklo mountain — Bebaviour of my party — Bridge constructed over Zemu — Cross river — Alarm of my party — Camp on Zemu river.


From this place there were two routes to Tibet, each of about six days’ journey. One lay to the north-west up the Lachen valley to the Kongra Lama pass, the other to the east up the Lachoong to the Donkia pass. The latter river has its source in small lakes in Sikkim, south of the Donkia mountain, a shoulder of which the pass crosses, commanding a magnificent view into Tibet. The Lachen, on the other hand (the principal source of the Teesta), rises beyond Sikkim in the Cholamoo lakes. The frontier at Kongra Lama was described to me as being a political, and not a natural boundary, marked out by cairns, standing on a plain, and crossing the Lachen river. To both Donkia and Kongra Lama I had every right to go, and was determined, if possible, to reach them, in spite of Meepo’s ignorance, our guide’s endeavours to frighten my party


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and mislead myself, and the country people’s dread of incurring the Dewan’s displeasure.

The Lachen valley being pronounced impracticable in the height of the rains, a month later, it behoved me to attempt it first, and it possessed the attraction of leading to a frontier described as far to the northward of the snowy Himalaya, on a lofty plateau, whose plants and animals were different from anything I had previously seen.

After a week the coolies arrived with supplies: they had been delayed by the state of the paths, and had consequently consumed a great part of my stock, reducing it to eight days’ allowance. I therefore divided my party, leaving the greater number at Choongtam, with a small tent, and instructions to forward all food to me as it arrived. I started with about fifteen attendants, on the 25th of May, for Lamteng, three marches up the Lachen.

Descending the step-formed terraces, I crossed the Lachen by a good cane bridge. The river is a headstrong torrent, and turbid from the vast amount of earthy matter which it bears along; and this character of extreme impetuosity, unbroken by any still bend, or even swirling pool, it maintains uninterruptedly at this season from 4000 to 10,000 feet. It is crossed three times, always by cane bridges, and I cannot conceive any valley of its nature to be more impracticable at such a season. On both sides the mountains rose, densely forest-clad, at an average angle of 35° to 40°, to 10,000 and 15,000 feet. Its extreme narrowness, and the grandeur of its scenery, were alike recalled to my mind, on visiting the Sachs valley in the Valais of Switzerland; from which, however, it differs in its luxuriant forest, and in the slopes being more uniform and less broken up into those imposing precipices so frequent in Switzerland,


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but which are wanting in the temperate regions of the Sikkim Himalaya.

At times we scrambled over rocks 1000 feet above the river, or descended into gorges, through whose tributary torrents we waded, or crossed swampy terraced flats of unstratified shingle above the stream; whilst it was sometimes necessary to round rocky promontories in the river, stemming the foaming torrent that pressed heavily against the chest as, one by one, we were dragged along by powerful Lepchas. Our halting-places were on flats close to the river, covered with large trees, and carpeted with a most luxuriant herbage, amongst which a wild buckwheat (Polygonum*) was abundant, which formed an excellent spinach: it is called “Pullop-bi”; a name I shall hereafter have occasion to mention with gratitude.

A few miles above Choongtam, we passed a few cottages on a very extensive terrace at Tumlong; but between this and Lamteng, the country is uninhabited, nor is it frequented during the rains. We consequently found that the roads had suffered, the little bridges and aids to climb precipices and cross landslips had been carried away, and at one place we were all but turned back. This was at the Taktoong river, a tributary on the east bank, which rushes down at an angle of 15°, in a sheet of silvery foam, eighteen yards broad. It does not, where I crossed it, flow in a deep gulley, having apparently raised its bed by an accumulation of enormous boulders; and a plank bridge was thrown across it, against whose slippery and narrow foot-boards the water dashed, loosening the supports on either bank, and rushing between their foundation stones.

My unwilling guide had gone ahead with some of the

* Polygonum cymosum, Wall. This is a common Himalayan plant, and is also found in the Khasia mountains.


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coolies: I had suspected him all along (perhaps unjustly) of avoiding the most practicable routes; but when I found him waiting for me at this bridge, to which he sarcastically pointed with his bow, I felt that had he known of it, to have made difficulties before would have been a work of supererogation. He seemed to think I should certainly turn back, and assured me there was no other crossing (a statement I afterwards found to be untrue); so, comforting myself with the hope that if the danger were imminent, Meepo would forcibly stop me, I took off my shoes, and walked steadily over: the tremor of the planks was like that felt when standing on the paddle-box of a steamer, and I was jerked up and down, as my weight pressed them into the boiling flood, which shrouded me with spray. I looked neither to the right nor to the left, lest the motion of the swift waters should turn my head, but kept my eye on the white jets d’eau springing up between the woodwork, and felt thankful when fairly on the opposite bank: my loaded coolies followed, crossing one by one without fear or hesitation. The bridge was swept into the Lachen very shortly afterwards.

Towards Lamteng, the path left the river, and passed through a wood of Abies Smithiana.* Larch appears at 9000 feet, with Abies Brunoniana. An austere crab-apple, walnut, and the willow of Babylon (the two latter perhaps cultivated), yellow jessamine and ash, all scarce trees in Sikkim, are more or less abundant in the valley, from 7000 to 8000 feet; as is an ivy, very like the English, but with fewer and smaller yellow or reddish berries;

* Also called A. Khutrow and Morinda. I had not before seen this tree in the Himalaya: it is a spruce fir, much resembling the Norway spruce in general appearance, but with longer pendulous branches. The wood is white, and considered indifferent, though readily cleft into planks; it is called “Seh.”


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and many other plants,* not found at equal elevations on the outer ranges of the Himalaya.

Chateng, a spur from the lofty peak of Tukcham,† 19,472 feet high, rises 1000 feet above the west bank of the river; and where crossed, commands one of the finest alpine views in Sikkim. It was grassy, strewed with huge boulders of gneiss, and adorned with clumps of park-like pines: on the summit was a small pool, beautifully fringed with bushy trees of white rose, a white-blossomed apple, a Pyrus like Aria, another like mountain-ash, scarlet rhododendrons (arboreum and barbatum), holly, maples, and Goughia,‡ a curious evergreen laurel-like tree: there were also Daphnes, purple magnolia, and a pink sweet-blossomed Sphærostema. Many English water-plants§ grew in the water, but I found no shells; tadpoles, however, swarmed, which later in the season become large frogs. The “painted-lady” butterfly (Cynthia Cardui), and a pretty “blue” were flitting over the flowers, together with some great tropical kinds, that wander so far up these valleys, accompanying Marlea, the only subtropical tree that ascends to 8,500 feet in the interior of Sikkim.

The river runs close tinder the eastern side of the

* Wood-sorrel, a white-stemmed bramble, birch, some maples, nut gigantic lily (Lilium giganteum), Euphorbia, Pedicularis, Spiræa, Philadelphus, Deutzia, Indigofera, and various other South Europe and North American genera.
† “Tuk” signifies head in Lepcha, and “cheam” or “chaum,” I believe, has reference to the snow. The height of Tukcham has been re-calculated by Capt. R. Strachey, with angles taken by myself, at Dorjiling and Jillapahar, and is approximate only.
‡ This fine plant was named (Wight, “Ic. Plant.”) in honour of Capt. Gough, son of the late commander-in-chief, and an officer to whom the botany of the peninsula of India is greatly indebted. It is a large and handsome evergreen, very similar in foliage to a fine rhododendron, and would prove an invaluable ornament on our lawns, if its hardier varieties were introduced into this country.
§ Sparganium, Typha, Potamogeton, Callitriche, Utricularia, sedges and rushes.


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valley, which slopes so steeply as to appear for many miles almost a continuous landslip, 2000 feet high.

Lamteng village, where I arrived on the 27th of May, is quite concealed by a moraine to the south, which, with a parallel ridge on the north, forms a beautiful bay in the mountains, 8,900 feet above the sea, and 1000 above the Lachen. The village stands on a grassy and bushy flat, around which the pine-clad mountains rise steeply to the snowy peaks and black cliffs which tower above. It contains about forty houses, forming the winter-quarters of the inhabitants of the valley, who, in summer, move with their flocks and herds to the alpine pastures of the Tibet frontier. The dwellings are like those described at Wallanchoon, but the elevation being lower, and the situation more sheltered, they are more scattered; whilst on account of the dampness of the climate, they are raised higher from the ground, and the shingles with which they are tiled (made of Abies Webbiana) decay in two or three years. Many are painted lilac, with the gables in diamonds of red, black, and white: the roofs are either of wood, or of the bark of Abies Brunoniana, held down by large stones: within they are airy and comfortable. They are surrounded by a little cultivation of buck-wheat, radishes, turnips, and mustard. The inhabitants, though paying rent to the Sikkim Rajah, consider themselves as Tibetans, and are so in language, dress, features, and origin: they seldom descend to Choongtam, but yearly travel to the Tibetan towns of Jigatzi, Kambajong, Giantchi, and even to Lhassa, having always commercial and pastoral transactions with the Tibetans, whose flocks are pastured on the Sikkim mountains during summer, and who trade with the plains of India through the medium of these villagers.

The snow having disappeared from elevations below


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Lamteng village


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11,000 feet, the yaks, sheep, and ponies had just been driven 2000 feet up the valley, and the inhabitants were preparing to follow, with their tents and goats, to summer quarters at Tallum and Tungu. Many had goîtres and rheumatism, for the cure of which they flocked to my tent; dry-rubbing for the latter, and tincture of iodine for the former, gained me some credit as a doctor: I could, however, procure no food beyond trifling presents of eggs, meal, and more rarely, fowls.

On arriving, I saw a troop of large monkeys* gambolling in a wood of Abies Brunoniana: this surprised me, as I was not prepared to find so tropical an animal associated with a vegetation typical of a boreal climate. The only other quadrupeds seen here were some small earless rats, and musk-deer; the young female of which latter sometimes afforded me a dish of excellent venison; being, though dark-coloured and lean, tender, sweet, and short-fibred. Birds were scarce, with the exception of alpine pigeons (Columba leuconota), red-legged crows (Corvus graculus, L.), and the horned pheasant (Meleagris Satyra, L.). In this month insects are scarce, Elater and a black earwig being the most frequent: two species of Serica also flew into my tent, and at night moths, closely resembling European ones, came from the fir-woods. The vegetation in the, neighbourhood of Lamteng is European and North American; that is to say, it unites the boreal and temperate floras of the east and west hemispheres; presenting also a few features peculiar to Asia. This is a subject of very great importance in physical geography; as a country combining the botanical characters of several others, affords materials for tracing the direction in which genera and

* Macacus Pelops? Hodgson. This is a very different species from the tropical kind seen in Nepal, and mentioned at vol. i, p. 278.


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species have migrated, the causes that favour their migrations, and the laws that determine the types or forms of one region, which represent those of another. A glance at the map will show that Sikkim is, geographically, peculiarly well situated for investigations of this kind, being centrically placed, whether as regards south-eastern Asia or the Himalayan chain. Again, the Lachen valley at this spot is nearly equi-distant from the tropical forests of the Terai and the sterile mountains of Tibet, for which reason representatives both of the dry central Asiatic and Siberian, and of the humid Malayan floras meet there.

The mean temperature of Lamteng (about 50°) is that of the isothermal which passes through Britain in lat. 52°, and east Europe in lat. 48°, cutting the parallel of 45° in Siberia (due north of Lamteng itself), descending to lat. 42° on the east coast of Asia, ascending to lat. 48° on the west of America, and descending to that of New York in the United States. This mean temperature is considerably increased by descending to the bed of the Lachen at 8000 feet, and diminished by ascending Tukcham to 14,000 feet, which gives a range of 6000 feet of elevation, and 20° of mean temperature. But as the climate and vegetation become arctic at 12,000 feet, it will be as well to confine my observations to the flora of 7000 to 10,000 feet; of the mean temperature, namely, between 53° and 43°, the isothermal lines corresponding to which embrace, on the surface of the globe, at the level of the sea, a space varying in different meridians from three to twelve degrees of latitude.* At first sight it appears incredible that such a limited area, buried in the depths of the Himalaya, should present nearly all the types of the flora of the north

* On the west coast of Europe, where the distance between these isothermal lines is greatest, this belt extends almost from Stockholm and the Shetlands to Paris.


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temperate zone; not only, however, is this the case, but space is also found at Lamteng for the intercalation of types of a Malayan flora, otherwise wholly foreign to the north temperate region.

A few examples will show this. Amongst trees the Conifers are conspicuous at Lamteng, and all are of genera typical both of Europe and North America: namely, silver fir, spruce, larch, and juniper, besides the yew: there are also species of birch, alder, ash, apple, oak, willow, cherry, bird-cherry, mountain-ash, thorn, walnut, hazel, maple, poplar, ivy, holly, Andromeda, Rhamnus. Of bushes; rose, berberry, bramble, rhododendron, elder, cornel, willow, honeysuckle, currant, Spiræa, Viburnum, Cotoneaster, Hippophæ. Herbaceous plants* are far too numerous to be enumerated, as a list would include most of the common genera of European and North American plants.

Of North American genera, not found in Europe, were Buddleia, Podophyllum, Magnolia, Sassafras? Tetranthera, Hydrangea, Diclytra, Aralia, Panax, Symplocos, Trillium, and Clintonia. The absence of heaths is also equally a feature in the flora of North America. Of European genera, not found in North America, the Lachen valley has Coriaria, Hypecoum, and various Cruciferæ. The Japanese and Chinese floras are represented in Sikkim by Camellia, Deutzia, Stachyurus, Aucuba, Helwingia, Stauntonia, Hydrangea, Skimmia, Eurya, Anthogonium, and Enkianthus. The Malayan by Magnolias, Talauma, many vacciniums and rhododendrons, Kadsura, Goughia, Marlea, both coriaceous and deciduous-leaved Cælogyne, Oberonia, Cyrtosia, Calanthe,

* As an example, the ground about my tent was covered with grasses and sedges, amongst which grew primroses, thistles, speedwell, wild leeks, Arum, Convallaria, Callitriche, Oxalis, Ranunculus, Potentilla, Orchis, Chærophyllum, Galium, Paris, and Anagallis; besides cultivated weeds of shepherd’s-purse, dock, mustard, Mithridate cress, radish, turnip, Thlaspi arvense, and Poa annua.


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and other orchids; Ceropegia, Parochetus, Balanophora, and many Scitamineæ; and amongst trees, by Engelhardtia, Goughia, and various laurels.

Shortly after my arrival at Lamteng, the villagers sent to request that I would not shoot, as they said it brought on excessive rain,* and consequent damage to the crops. My necessities did not admit of my complying with their wish unless I could procure food by other means; and I at first paid no attention to their request. The people, however, became urgent, and the Choongtam Lama giving his high authority to the superstition, it appeared impolitic to resist their earnest supplication; though I was well aware that the story was trumped up by the Lama for the purpose of forcing me to return. I yielded on the promise of provisions being supplied from the village, which was done to a limited extent; and I was enabled to hold out till more arrived from Dorjiling, now, owing to the state of the roads, at the distance of twenty days’ march. The people were always civil and kind: there was no concealing the fact that the orders were stringent, prohibiting my party being supplied with food, but many of the villagers sought opportunities by night of replenishing my stores. Superstitious and timorous, they regard a doctor with great veneration; and when to that is added his power of writing, drawing, and painting, their admiration knows no bounds: they flocked round my tent all day, scratching their ears, lolling out their tongues, making a clucking noise, smiling, and timidly peeping over my shoulder, but flying in alarm when my little dog resented their familiarity by snapping at their legs. The

* In Griffith’s narrative of “Pemberton’s Mission to Bhotan” (“Posthumous Papers, Journal,” p. 283), it is mentioned that the Gylongs (Lamas) attributed a violent storm to the members of the mission shooting birds.


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men spend the whole day in loitering about, smoking and spinning wool: the women in active duties; a few were engaged in drying the leaves of a shrub (Symplocos) for the Tibet market, which are used as a yellow dye; whilst, occasionally, a man might be seen cutting a spoon or a yak-saddle out of rhododendron wood.

During my stay at Lamteng, the weather was all but uniformly cloudy and misty, with drizzling rain, and a southerly, or up-valley wind, during the day, which changed to an easterly one at night: occasionally distant thunder was heard. My rain-gauges showed very little rain compared with what fell at Dorjiling during the same period; the clouds were thin, both sun and moon shining through them, without, however, the former warming the soil: hence my tent was constantly wet, nor did I once sleep in a dry bed till the 1st of June, which ushered in the month with a brilliant sunny day. At night it generally rained in torrents, and the roar of landslips and avalanches was then all but uninterrupted for hour after hour: sometimes it was a rumble, at others a harsh grating sound, and often accompanied with the crashing of immense timber-trees, or the murmur of the distant snowy avalanches. The amount of denudation by atmospheric causes is here quite incalculable; and I feel satisfied that the violence of the river at this particular part of its course (where it traverses those parts of the valleys which are most snowy and rainy), is proximately due to impediments thus accumulated in its bed.

It was sometimes clear at sunrise, and I made many ascents of Tukcham, hoping for a view of the mountains towards the passes; but I was only successful on one occasion, when I saw the table top of Kinchinjhow, the most remarkable, and one of the most distant peaks of


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dazzling snow which is seen from Dorjiling, and which, I was told, is far beyond Sikkim, in Tibet.* I kept up a constant intercourse with Choongtam, sending my plants thither to be dried, and gradually reducing my party as our necessities urged my so doing; lastly, I sent back the shooters, who had procured very little, and whose occupation was now gone.

On the 2nd of June, I received the bad news that a large party of coolies had been sent from Dorjiling with rice, but that being unable or afraid to pass the landslips, they had returned: we had now no food except a kid, a few handfuls of flour, and some potatos, which had been sent up from Choongtam. All my endeavours to gain information respecting the distance and position of the frontier were unavailing; probably, indeed, the Lama and Phipun (or chief man of the village), were the only persons who knew; the villagers calling all the lofty pastures a few marches beyond Lamteng “Bhote” or “Cheen” (Tibet). Dr. Campbell had procured for me information by which I might recognise the frontier were I once on it; but no description could enable me to find my way in a country so rugged and forest-clad, through tortuous and perpetually forking valleys, along often obliterated paths, and under cloud and rain. To these difficulties must be added the deception of the rulers, and the fact (of which I was not then aware), that the Tibet frontier was formerly at Choongtam; but from the Lepchas constantly harassing the Tibetans, the latter, after the establishment of the Chinese rule over their country, retreated first to Zemu Samdong, a few hours walk above Lamteng, then to Tallum Samdong, 2000 feet higher; and, lastly, to

* Such, however, is not the case; Kinchinjhow is on the frontier of Sikkim, though a considerable distance behind the most snowy of the Sikkim mountains.


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Kongra Lama, 16,000 feet up the west flank of Kinchinjhow.

On the third of June I took a small party, with my tent, and such provisions as I had, to explore up the river. On hearing of my intention, the Phipun volunteered to take me to the frontier, which he said was only two hours distant, at Zemu Samdong, where the Lachen receives the Zemu river from the westward: this I knew must be false, but I accepted his services, and we started, accompanied by a large body of villagers, who eagerly gathered plants for me along the road.

The scenery is very pretty; the path crosses extensive and dangerous landslips, or runs through fine woods of spruce and Abies Brunoniana, and afterwards along the river-banks, which are fringed with willow (called “Lama”), and Hippophæ. The great red rose (Rosa macrophylla), one of the most beautiful Himalayan plants, whose single flowers are as large as the palm of the hand, was blossoming, while golden Potentillas and purple primroses flowered by the stream, and Pyrola in the fir-woods.

Just above the fork of the valley, a wooden bridge (Samdong) crosses the Zemu, which was pointed out to me as the frontier, and I was entreated to respect two sticks and a piece of worsted stretched across it; this I thought too ridiculous, so as my followers halted on one side, I went on the bridge, threw the sticks into the stream, crossed, and asked the Phipun to follow; the people laughed, and came over: he then told me that he had authority to permit of my botanising there, but that I was in Cheen, and that he would show me the guard-house to prove the truth of his statement. He accordingly led me up a steep bank to an extensive broad flat, several hundred feet above the river, and forming a triangular base to the great spur which,


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rising steeply behind, divides the valley. This flat was marshy and covered with grass; and buried in the jungle were several ruined stone houses, with thick walls pierced with loopholes: these had no doubt been occupied by Tibetans at the time when this was the frontier.

The elevation which I had attained (that of the river being 8,970 feet) being excellent for botanising, I camped; and the villagers, contented with the supposed success of their strategy, returned to Lamteng.

My guide from the Durbar had staid behind at Lainteng, and though Meepo and all my men well knew that this was not the frontier, they were ignorant as to its true position, nor could we even ascertain which of the rivers was the Lachen.* The only routes I possessed indicated two paths northwards from Lamteng, neither crossing a river: and I therefore thought it best to remain at Zemu Samdong till provisions should arrive. I accordingly halted for three days, collecting many new and beautiful plants, and exploring the roads, of which five (paths or yak-tracks) diverged from this point, one on either bank of each river, and one leading up the fork.

On one occasion I ascended the steep hill at the fork; it was dry and rocky, and crowned with stunted pines. Stacks of different sorts of pine-wood were stored on the flat at its base, for export to Tibet, all thatched with the bark of Abies Brunoniana. Of these the larch (Larix Griffithii, “Sah”), splits well, and is the most durable of any; but the planks are small, soft, and white.† The silver fir (Abies Webbiana, “Dunshing”) also splits well; it is white, soft, and highly prized for durability. The wood

* The eastern afterwards proved to be the Lachen.
† I never saw this wood to be red, close-grained, and hard, like that of the old Swiss larch; nor does it ever reach so great a size.


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of Abies Brunoniana (“Semadoong”) is like the others in appearance, but is not durable; its bark is however very useful. The spruce (Abies Smithiana, “Seh”) has also white wood, which is employed for posts and beams.* These are the only pines whose woods are considered very useful; and it is a curious circumstance that none produce any quantity of resin, turpentine, or pitch; which may perhaps be accounted for by the humidity of the climate.

Pinus longifolia (called by the Lepchas “Gniet-koong,” and by the Bhoteeas “Teadong”) only grows in low valleys, where better timber is abundant. The weeping blue juniper (Juniperus recurva, “Deschoo”), and the arboreous black one (called “Tchokpo”)† yield beautiful wood, like that of the pencil cedar,‡ but are comparatively scarce, as is the yew (Taxus baccata, “Tingschi”), whose timber is red. The “Tchenden,” or funereal cypress, again, is valued only for the odour of its wood: Pinus excelsa, “Tongschi,” though common in Bhotan, is, as I have elsewhere remarked, not found in east Nepal or Sikkim; the wood is admirable, being durable, close-grained, and so resinous as to be used for flambeaux and candles. On the flat were flowering a beautiful magnolia with globular sweet-scented flowers like snow-balls, several balsams, with species of Convallaria, Cotoneaster, Gentian, Spiræa, Euphorbia, Pedicularis, and honeysuckle. On the hill-side were creeping brambles, lovely yellow, purple, pink, and

* These woods are all soft and loose in grain, compared with their European allies.
† This I have, vol. i. p. 256, referred to the J. excelsa of the north-west Himalaya, a plant which under various names is found in many parts of Europe and many parts of Europe and North America; but since then Dr. Thomson and I have had occasion to compare my Sikkim conifers with the north-west Himalayan ones and we have found that this Sikkim species is probably new, and that J. excelsa is not found east of Nepal.
‡ Also a juniper, from Bermuda (J. Bermudiana).


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white primroses, white-flowered Thalictrum and Anemone, berberry, Podophyllum, white rose, fritillary, Lloydia, etc. On the flanks of Tukcham, in the bed of a torrent, I gathered many very alpine plants, at the comparatively low elevation of 10,000 feet, as dwarf willows, Pinguicula, (a genus not previously found in the Himalaya), Oxyria, Adrosace, Tofieldia, Arenaria, saxifrages, and two dwarf heath-like Andromedas.* The rocks were all of gneiss, with granite veins, tourmaline, and occasionally pieces of pure plumbago.

Our guide had remained at Lamteng, on the plea of a sore on his leg from leech-bites: his real object, however, was to stop a party on their way to Tibet with madder and canes, who, had they continued their journey, would inevitably have pointed out the road to me. The villagers themselves now wanted to proceed to the pasturing-grounds on the frontier; so the Phipun sent me word that I might proceed as far as I liked up the east bank of the Zemu. I had explored the path, and finding it practicable, and likely to intersect a less frequented route to the frontier (that crossing the Tekonglah pass from Bah, see p. 13), I determined to follow it. A supply of food arrived from Dorjiling on the 5th of June, reduced, however, to one bag of rice, but with encouraging letters, and the assurance that more would follow at once. My men, of whom I bad eight, behaved admirably, although our diet had for five days chiefly consisted of Polygonum (“Pullop-bi”), wild

* Besides these, a month later, the following flowered in profusion: scarlet Buddleia? gigantic lily, yellow jasmine, Aster, Potentilla, several kinds of orchids, willow-herb (Epilobium), purple Roscœa, Neillia, Morina, many grasses and Umbelliferæ. These formed a rank and dense herbaceous, mostly annual vegetation, six feet high, bound together with Cuscuta, climbing Leguminosæ, and Ceropegia. The great summer heat and moisture here favour the ascent of various tropical genera, of which I found in August several Orchideæ (Calanthe, Microstylis, and Cœlogyne), also Begonia, Bryonia, Cynanchum, Aristolochia, Eurya, Procris, Acanthaceæ, and Cyrtandraseæ.


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leeks (“Lagook”), nettles and Procris (an allied, and more succulent herb), eked out by eight pounds of Tibet meal (“Tsamba”), which I had bought for ten shillings by stealth from the villagers. What concerned me most was the destruction of my plants by constant damp, and the want of sun to dry the papers; which reduced my collections to a tithe of what they would otherwise have been.

From Zemu Samdong the valley runs north-west, for two marches, to the junction of the Zemu with the Thlonok, which rises on the north-east flank of Kinchinjunga: at this place I halted for several days, while building a bridge over the Thlonok. The path runs first through a small forest of birch, alder, and maple, on the latter of which I found Balanophora* growing abundantly: this species produces the great knots on the maple roots, from which the Tibetans form the cups mentioned by MM. Huc and Gabet. I was so fortunate as to find a small store of these knots, cleaned, and cut ready for the turner, and hidden behind a stone by some poor Tibetan, who had never retained to the spot: they had evidently been there a very long time.

In the ravines there were enormous accumulations of ice, the result of avalanches; one of them crossed the river, forming a bridge thirty feet thick, at an elevation of only 9,800 feet above the sea. This ice-bridge was 100 yards broad, and flanked by heaps of boulders, the effects of combined land and snowslips. These stony places were covered with a rich herbage of rhubarb, primroses, Euphorbia, Sedum, Polygonum, Convallaria, and a purple Dentaria (“Kenroop-bi”) a cruciferous plant much eaten as a pot-herb. In the pinewoods a large mushroom (“Onglau,”† Tibet.) was abundant,

* A curious leafless parasite, mentioned at vol. i, p. 133.
Cortinarius Emodensis of the Rev. M. J. Berkeley, who has named and described it from my specimens and drawings. It is also called “Yungla tchamo” by the Tibetans, the latter word signifying a toadstool. Mr. Berkeley informs me that the whole vast genus Cortinarius scarcely possesses a single other edible species; he adds that C. violaceus and violaceo-cinereus are eaten in Austria and Italy, but not always with safety.


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which also forms a favourite article of food. Another pot-herb (to which I was afterwards more indebted than any) was a beautiful Smilacina, which grows from two to five feet high, and has plaited leaves and crowded panicles of white bell-shaped flowers, like those of its ally the lily of the valley, which it also resembles in its mucilaginous properties. It is called “Chokli-bi,”* and its young flower-heads, sheathed in tender green leaves, form an excellent vegetable. Nor must I forget to include amongst the eatable plants of this hungry country, young shoots of the mountain-bamboo, which are good either raw or boiled, and may be obtained up to 12,000 feet in this valley. A species of Asarum (Asarabacca) grows in the pine-woods; a genus not previously known to be Himalayan. The root, like its English medicinal congener, has a strong and peculiar smell. At 10,000 feet Abies Webbiana commences, with a close undergrowth of a small twiggy holly. This, and the dense thicket of rhododendron† on the banks of the river and edges of the wood, rendered the march very fatiguing, and swarms of midges kept up a tormenting irritation.

The Zemu continued an impetuous muddy torrent, whose hoarse voice, mingled with the deep grumbling noise‡ of

* It is also found on the top of Sinchul, near Dorjiling.
† Of which I had already gathered thirteen kinds in this valley.
‡ The dull rumbling noise thus produced is one of the most singular phenomena in these mountains, and cannot fail to strike the observer. At night, especially, the sound seems increased, the reason of which is not apparent, for in these regions, so wanting in animal life, the night is no stiller than the day, and the melting of snow being less, the volume of waters must be somewhat, though not conspicuously, diminished. The interference of sound by heated currents of different density is the most obvious cause of the diminished reverberation during the day, to which Humboldt adds the increased tension of vapour, and possibly an echo from its particles.


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the boulders rolling along its bed, was my lullaby for many nights. Its temperature at Zemu Samdong was 45° to 46° in June. At its junction with the Thlonok, it comes down a steep gulley from the north, foreshortened into a cataract 1000 feet high, and appearing the smaller stream of the two; whilst the Thlonok winds down from the snowy face of Kinchinjunga, which is seen up the valley, bearing W.S.W., about twenty miles distant. All around are lofty and rocky mountains, sparingly wooded with pines and larch, chiefly on their south flanks, which receive the warm, moist, up-valley winds; the faces exposed to the north being colder and more barren: exactly the reverse of what is the case at Choongtam, where the rocky and sunny south-exposed flanks are the driest.

My tent was pitched on a broad terrace, opposite the junction of the Zemu and Thlonok, and 10,850 feet above the sea. It was sheltered by some enormous transported blocks of gneiss, fifteen feet high, and surrounded by a luxuriant vegetation of most beautiful rhododendrons in full flower, willow, white rose, white flowered cherry, thorn, maple and birch. Some great tuberous-rooted Arums* were very abundant; and the ground was covered with small pits, in which were large wooden pestles: these are used in the preparation of food from the arums, to which the miserable inhabitants of the valley have recourse in spring, when their yaks are calving. The roots are bruised with the pestles, and thrown into these holes with water. Acetous fermentation commences in seven or eight days, which is a sign that the acrid poisonous principle is dissipated: the pulpy, sour, and fibrous mass is then boiled and eaten; its nutriment

* Two species of Arisæma, called “Tong” by the Tibetans, and “Sinkree” by the Lepchas.


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being the starch, which exists in small quantities, and which they have not the skill to separate by grating and washing. This preparation only keeps a few days, and produces bowel complaints, and loss of the skin and hair, especially when insufficiently fermented. Besides this, the “chokli-bi,” and many other esculents, abounded here; and we had great need of them before leaving this wild uninhabited region.

I repeatedly ascended the north flank of Tukcham along a watercourse, by the side of which were immense slips of rocks and snow-beds; the mountain-side being excessively steep. Some of the masses of gneiss thus brought down were dangerously poised on slopes of soft shingle, and daily moved a little downwards. All the rocks were gneiss and granite, with radiating crystals of tourmaline as thick as the thumb. Below 12,000 to 13,000 feet the mountain-sides were covered with a dense scrub of rhododendron bushes, except where broken by rocks, landslips, and torrents: above this the winter’s snow lay deep, and black rocks and small glaciers, over which avalanches were constantly falling with a sullen roar, forbade all attempts to proceed. My object in ascending was chiefly to obtain views and compass-bearings, in which I was generally disappointed: once only I had a magnificent prospect of Kinchinjunga, sweeping down in one unbroken mass of glacier and ice, fully 14,000 feet high, to the head of the Thlonok river, whose upper valley appeared a broad bay of ice; doubtless forming one of the largest glaciers in the Himalaya, and increased by lateral feeders that flow into it from either flank of the valley. The south side of this (the Thlonok) valley is formed by a range from Kinchinjunga, running east to Tukcham, where it terminates: from it rises the beautiful mountain Liklo,* 22,582 feet

* D2 of the peaks laid down in Colonel Waugh’s “Trigonometrical Survey from Dorjiling,” I believe to be the “Liklo” of Dr. Campbell’s itineraries from Dorjiling to Lhassa, compiled from the information of the traders (See “Bengal Asiatic Society’s Journal” for 1848); the routes in which proved of the utmost value to me.


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high, which, from Dorjiling, appears as a sharp peak, but is here seen to be a jagged crest running north and south. On the north flank of the valley the mountains are more sloping and black, with patches of snow above 15,000 feet, but little anywhere else, except on another beautiful peak (alt. 19,240 feet) marked D3 on the map. This flank is also continuous from Kinchin; it divides Sikkim from Tibet, and runs north-east to the great mountain Chomiomo (which was not visible), the streams from its north flank flowing into the Arun river (in Tibet). A beautiful blue arch of sky spanned all this range, indicating the dry Tibetan climate beyond.

I made two futile attempts to ascend the Thlonok river to the great glaciers at the foot of Kinchinjunga, following the south bank, and hoping to find a crossing-place, and so to proceed north to Tibet. The fall of the river is not great at this part of its course, nor up to 12,000 feet, which was the greatest height I could attain, and about eight miles beyond my tents; above that point, at the base of Liklo, the bed of the valley widens, and the rhododendron shrubbery was quite impervious, while the sides of the mountain were inaccessible. We crossed extensive snow-beds, by cutting holes in their steep faces, and rounded rocks in the bed of the torrent, dragging one another through the violent current, whose temperature was below 40°.

On these occasions, the energy of Meepo, Nimbo (the chief of the coolies) and the Lepcha boys, was quite remarkable, and they were as keenly anxious to reach the holy country of Tibet as I could possibly be. It was


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sometimes dark before we got back to our tents, tired, with torn clothes and cut feet and hands, returning to a miserable dinner of boiled herbs; but never did any of them complain, or express a wish to leave me. In the evenings and mornings they were always busy, changing my plants, and drying the papers over a sulky fire at my tent-door; and at night they slept, each wrapt in his own blanket, huddled together under a rock, with another blanket thrown over them all. Provisions reached us so seldom, and so reduced in quantity, that I could never allow more than one pound of rice to each man in a day, and frequently during this trying month they had not even that; and I eked out our meagre supply with a few ounces of preserved meats, occasionally “splicing the main brace” with weak rum and water.

At the highest point of the valley which I reached, water boiled at 191·3, indicating an elevation of 11,903 feet. The temperature at 1 p.m. was nearly 70°, and of the wet bulb 55°, indicating a dryness of 0·462, and dew point 47·0. Such phenomena of heat and dryness are rare and transient in the wet valleys of Sikkim, and show the influence here of the Tibetan climate.*

After boiling my thermometer on these occasions, I generally made a little tea for the party; a refreshment to which they looked forward with child-like eagerness. The fairness with which these good-hearted people used to divide the scanty allowance, and afterwards the leaves, which are greatly relished, was an engaging trait in their simple character: I have still vividly before me their sleek swarthy faces and twinkling Tartar eyes, as they lay

* I gathered here, amongst an abundance of alpine species, all of European and arctic type, a curious trefoil, the Parochetus communis, which ranges through 9000 feet of elevation on the Himalaya, and is also found in Java and Ceylon.


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stretched on the ground in the sun, or crouched in the sleet and snow beneath some sheltering rock; each with his little polished wooden cup of tea, watching my notes and instruments with curious wonder, asking, “How high are we?” “How cold is it?” and comparing the results with those of other stations, with much interest and intelligence.

On the 11th June, my active people completed a most ingenious bridge of branches of trees, bound by withes of willow; by which I crossed to the north bank, where I camped on an immense flat terrace at the junction of the rivers, and about fifty feet above their bed. The first step or ascent from the river is about five feet high, and formed of water-worn boulders, pebbles, and sand, scarcely stratified: the second, fully 1000 yards broad, is ten feet high, and swampy. The uppermost is fifteen feet above the second, and is covered with gigantic boulders, and vast rotting trunks of fallen pines, buried in an impenetrable jungle of dwarf small-leaved holly and rhododendrons. The surface was composed of a rich vegetable mould, which, where clear of forest, supported a rank herbage, six to eight feet high.*

Our first discovery, after crossing, was of a good bridge across the Zemu, above its junction, and of a path leading

* This consisted of grasses, sedges, Bupleurum, rhubarb, Ranunculus, Convallaria, Smilacina, nettles, thistles, Arum, balsams, and the superb yellow Meconopsis Nepalensis, whose racemes of golden poppy-like flowers were as broad as the palm of the hand; it grows three and even six feet high, and resembles a small hollyhock; whilst a stately Heracleum, ten feet high, towered over all. Forests of silver fir, with junipers and larch, girdled these flats and on their edges grew rhododendrons, scarlet Spiræa, several honeysuckles, white Clematis, and Viburnum. Ferns are much scarcer in the pine-woods than elsewhere in the forest regions of the Himalaya. In this valley (alt. 10,850 feet), I found only two kinds; Hymenophyllum, Lomaria, Cystopteris, Davallia, two Polypodia, and several Aspidia and Asplenia. Selaginella ascends to Zemu Samdong (9000 feet). The Pteris aquilina (brake) does not ascend above 10,000 feet.


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down to Zemu Samdong; this was, however, scarcely traceable up either stream. My men were better housed here in sheds: and I made several more ineffectual attempts to ascend the valley to the glaciers. The path, gradually vanishing, ran alternately through fir-woods, and over open grassy spots, covered with vegetation, amongst which the gigantic arum was plentiful, whose roots seemed to be the only attraction in this wet and miserable valley.

On my return one day, I found my people in great alarm, the Phipun having sent word that we were on the Tibet side of the rivers, and that Tibetan troops were coming to plunder my goods, and carry my men into slavery. I assured them he only wanted to frighten them; that the Cheen soldiers were civil orderly people; and that as long as Meepo was with us, there was no cause for fear. Fortunately a young musk-deer soon afterwards broke cover close to the tent, and its flesh wonderfully restored their courage: still I was constantly harassed by threats; some of my people were suffering from cold and bowel complaints, and I from rheumatism; while one fine lad, who came from Dorjiling, was delirious with a violent fever, contracted in the lower valleys, which sadly dispirited my party.

Having been successful in finding a path, I took my tent and a few active lads 1000 feet up the Zemu, camping on a high rock above the forest region, at 12,070 feet; hoping thence to penetrate northwards. I left my collections in the interim at the junction of the rivers, where the sheds and an abundance of firewood were great advantages for preserving the specimens. At this elevation we were quite free from midges and leeches (the latter had not appeared above 11,500 feet), but the weather continued so uniformly rainy and bad, that we could make no progress. I repeatedly followed the river for several miles,


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ascending to 13,300 feet; but though its valley widened, and its current was less rapid, the rhododendron thickets below, and the cliffs above, defeated all endeavours to reach the drier climate beyond, of which I had abundant evidence in the arch of brilliant blue that spanned the heavens to the north, beyond a black canopy of clouds that hid everything around, and poured down rain without one day’s intermission, during the eight which I spent here.

Black juniper and young larch

Next Chapter XX