Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XXI


Chapter XX

Camp on Zemu river — Scenery — Falling rocks — Tukcham mountain — Height of glaciers — Botany — Gigantic rhubarb — Insects — Storm — Temperature of rivers — Behaviour of Lachen Phipun — Hostile conduct of Bhoteeas — View from mountains above camp — Descend to Zemu Samdong — Vegetation — Letters from Dorjiling — Arrival of Singtam Soubah — Presents from Rajah — Parties collecting Arum-roots — Insects — Ascend Lachen river — Thakya-zong — Tallum Samdong village — Cottages — Mountains — Plants — Entomology — Weather — Halo — Diseases — Conduct of Singtam Soubah — His character and illness — Agrees to take me to Kongra Lama — Tungu — Appearance of country — Houses — Poisoning by arum-roots — Yaks and calves — Tibet ponies — Journey to Kongra Lama — Tibetan tents — Butter, curds, and churns — Hospitality — Kinchinjhow and Chomiomo — Magnificent Scenery — Reach Kongra Lama Pass.


My little tent was pitched in a commanding situation, on a rock fifty feet above the Zemu, overlooking the course of that river to its junction with the Thlonok. The descent of the Zenlu in one thousand feet is more precipitous than that of any other river of its size with which I am acquainted in Sikkim, yet immediately above my camp it was more tranquil than at any part of its course onwards to the plains of India, whether as the Zemu, Lachen or Teesta. On the west bank a fine mountain rose in steep ridges and shrubby banks to 15,000 feet; on the east a rugged cliff towered above the stream, and from this, huge masses of rock were ever and anon precipitated into the torrent, with a roar that repeatedly spread consternation amongst us. During rains especially, and at night, when the chilled atmospheric currents of air descend, and the sound is not


[ 57 ]


dissipated as in the day-time, the noise of these falls is sufficiently alarming. My tent was pitched near the base of the cliff, and so high above the river, that I had thought it beyond the reach of danger; but one morning I found that a large fragment of granite had been hurled during the night to my very door, my dog having had a very narrow escape. To what depth the accumulation at the base of this cliff may reach, I had no means of judging, but the rapid slope of the river-bed is mainly due to this, and to old moraines at the mouth of the valley below. I have seen few finer sights than the fall of these stupendous blocks into the furious torrent, along which they are carried amid feathery foam for many yards before settling to rest.

Across the Thlonok to the southwards, rose the magnificent mountain of Tukcham, but I only once caught a glimpse of its summit, which even then clouded over before I could get my instruments adjusted for ascertaining its height. Its top is a sharp cone, surrounded by rocky shoulders, that rise from a mass of snow. Its eastern slope of 8000 feet is very rapid (about 38°) from its base at the Zemu river to its summit.

Glaciers in the north-west Himalaya descend to 11,000 feet; but I could not discover any in these valleys even so low as 14,000 feet, though at this season extensive snowbeds remain unmelted at but little above 10,000 feet. The foot of the stupendous glacier filling the broad head of the Thlonok is certainly not below 14,000 feet; though being continuous with the perpetual snow (or névé) of the summit of Kinchinjunga, it must have 14,000 feet of ice, in perpendicular height, to urge it forwards.

All my attempts to advance up the Zemu were fruitlesss and a snow bridge by which I had hoped to cross to the


[ 58 ]


opposite bank was carried away by the daily swelling river, while the continued bad weather prevented any excursions for days together. Botany was my only resource, and as vegetation was advancing rapidly under the influence of the southerly winds, I had a rich harvest: for though Compositæ, Pedicularis, and a few more of the finer Himalayan plants flower later, June is still the most glorious month for show.

Rhododendrons occupy the most prominent place, clothing the mountain slopes with a deep green mantle glowing with bells of brilliant colours; of the eight or ten species growing here, every bush was loaded with as great a profusion of blossoms as are their northern congeners in our English gardens. Primroses are next, both in beauty and abundance; and they are accompanied by yellow cowslips, three feet high, purple polyanthus, and pink large-flowered dwarf kinds nestling in the rocks, and an exquisitely beautiful blue miniature species, whose blossoms sparkle like sapphires on the turf. Gentians begin to unfold their deep azure bells, aconites to rear their tall blue spikes, and fritillaries and Meconopsis burst into flower. On the black rocks the gigantic rhubarb forms pale pyramidal towers a yard high, of inflated reflexed bracts, that conceal the flowers, and over-lapping one another like tiles, protect them from the wind and rain: a whorl of broad green leaves edged with red spreads on the ground at the base of the plant, contrasting in colour with the transparent bracts, which are yellow, margined with pink. This is the handsomest herbaceous plant in Sikkim: it is called “Tchuka,” and the acid stems are eaten both raw and boiled; they are hollow and full of pure water: the root resembles that of the medicinal rhubarb, but it is spongy and inert; it attains a length of four


[ 59 ]


feet, and grows as thick as the arm. The dried leaves afford a substitute for tobacco; a smaller kind of rhubarb is however more commonly used in Tibet for this purpose; it is called “Chula.”

The elevation being 12,080 feet, I was above the limit of trees, and the ground was covered with many kinds of small-flowered honeysuckles, berberry, and white rose.*

I saw no birds, and of animals only an occasional muskdeer. Insects were scarce, and quite different from what I had seen before; chiefly consisting of Phryganea (Mayfly) and some Carabidæ (an order that is very scarce in the Himalaya); with various moths, chiefly Geometræ.

The last days of June (as is often the case) were marked by violent storms, and for two days my tent proved no protection; similar weather prevailed all over India, the barometer falling very low. I took horary observations of the barometer in the height of the storm on the 30th: the tide was very small indeed (·024 inch, between 9.50 a.m. and 4 p.m.), and the thermometer ranged between 47° and 57·8°, between 7 a.m. and midnight. Snow fell abundantly as low as 13,000 feet, and the rivers were much swollen, the size and number of the stones they rolled along producing a deafening turmoil. Only 3·7 inches of rain fell between the 23rd of June and the 2nd of July; whilst 21 inches fell at Dorjiling, and 6·7 inches at Calcutta. During the same period the mean temperature was 48°; extremes, 62°/36.5°. The humidity was nearly at saturation-point, the wind southerly, very raw and cold, and drizzling rain constantly

* Besides these I found a prickly Aralia, maple, two currants, eight or nine rhododendrons, many Sedums, Rhodiola, white Clematis, red-flowered cherry, birch, willow, Viburnum, juniper, a few ferns, two Andromedas, Menziesia, and Spircæa. And in addition to the herbs mentioned above, may be enumerated Parnassia, many Saxifrages, Soldanella, Draba, and various other Cruciferæ, Nardostachys, (spikenard), Epilobium, Thalictrum, and very many other genera, almost all typical of the Siberian, North European, and Arctic floras.


[ 60 ]


fell. A comparison of thirty observations with Dorjiling gave a difference of 14° temperature, which is at the rate of 1° for every 347 feet of ascent.*

The temperature of these rivers varies extremely at different parts of their course, depending on that of their affluents. The Teesta is always cool in summer (where its bed is below 2000 feet), its temperature being 20° below that of the air; whereas in mid-winter, when there is less cloud, and the snows are not melting, it is only a few degrees colder than the air.† At this season, in descending from 12,000 feet to 1000 feet, its temperature does not rise 10°, though that of the air rises 30° or 40°. It is a curious fact, that the temperature of the northern feeders of the Teesta, in some parts of their course, rises with the increasing elevation! Of this the Zemu afforded a curious example: during my stay at its junction with the Thlonok it was 46°, or 6° warmer than that river; at 1,100 feet higher it was 48°, and at 1,100 feet higher still it was 49°! These observations were repeated in different weeks, and several times on the same day, both in ascending and descending, and always with the same result: they told, as certainly as if I had followed the river to its source, that it rose in a drier and comparatively sunny climate, and flowed amongst little snowed mountains.

* Forty-seven observations, comparative with Calcutta, gave 34·8° difference, and if 5.5° of temperature be deducted for northing in latitude, the result is 1° for every 412 feet of ascent. My observations at the junction of the rivers alt. 10,850 feet), during the early part of the mouth, gave 1° to 304 feet, as the result of twenty-four observations with Dorjiling, and 1° to 394 feet, from seventy-four observations with Calcutta.
† During my sojourn at Bhomsong in mid-winter of 1848 (see v. i. p.305), the mean temperature of the Teesta was 51°, and of the air 52·3°; at that elevation the river water rarely exceeds 60° at midsummer. Between 4000 feet and 300 (the plains) its mean temperature varies about 10° between January and July; at 6000 feet it varies from 55° to 43° during the same period; and at 10,000 feet it freezes at the edges in winter and rises to 50° in July.


[ 61 ]


Meanwhile, the Lachen Phipun continued to threaten us, and I had to send back some of the more timorous of my party. On the 28th of June fifty men arrived at the Thlonok, and turned my people out of the shed at the junction of the rivers, together with the plants they were preserving, my boards, papers, and utensils. The boys came to me breathless, saying that there were Tibetan soldiers amongst them, who declared that I was in Cheen, and that they were coming on the following morning to make a clean sweep of my goods, and drive me back to Dorjiling. I had little fear for myself, but was anxious with respect to my collections: it was getting late in the day, and raining, and I had no mind to go down and expose myself to the first brunt of their insolence, which I felt sure a night of such weather would materially wash away. Meepo was too frightened, but Nimbo, my Bhotan coolie Sirdar, volunteered to go, with two stout fellows; and he accordingly brought away my plants and papers, having held a parley with the enemy, who, as I suspected, were not Tibetans. The best news he brought was, that they were half clad and without food; the worst, that they swaggered and bullied: he added, with some pride, that he gave them as good as he got, which I could readily believe, Nimbo being really a resolute fellow,* and accomplished in Tibet slang.

On the following morning it rained harder than ever, and the wind was piercingly cold. My timid Lepchas huddled behind my tent, which, from its position, was only to be stormed in front. I dismantled my little observatory, and packed up the instruments, tied my dog, Kinchin, to one of the tent-pegs, placed a line of stones opposite

* In East Nepal he drew his knife on a Ghorka sepoy; and in the following winter was bold enough to make his escape in chains from Tumloong.


[ 62 ]


the door, and seated myself on my bed on the ground, with my gun beside me.

The dog gave tongue as twenty or thirty people defiled up the glen, and gathered in front of my tent; they were ragged Bhoteeas, with bare heads and legs, in scanty woollen garments sodden with rain, which streamed off their shaggy hair, and furrowed their sooty faces: their whole appearance recalled to my mind Dugald Dalgetty’s friends, the children of the mist.

They appeared nonplussed at seeing no one with me, and at my paying no attention to them, whilst the valiant Kinchin effectually scared them from the tent-door. When they requested a parley, I sent the interpreter to say that I would receive three men, and that only provided all the rest were sent down immediately; this, as I anticipated, was acceded to at once, and there remained only the Lachen Phipun and his brother. Without waiting to let him speak, I rated him soundly, saying, that I was ready to leave the spot when he could produce any proof of my being in Bhote (or Cheen), which he knew well I was not; that, since my arrival at Lachen, he had told me nothing but lies, and had contravened every order, both of the Rajah and of Tchebu Lama. I added, that I had given him and his people kindness and medicine, their return was bad, and he must go about his business at once, having, as I knew, no food, and I having none for him. He behaved very humbly throughout, and finally took himself off much discomfited, and two days afterwards sent men to offer to assist me in moving my things.

The first of July was such a day as I had long waited for to obtain a view, and I ascended the mountain west of my camp, to a point where water boiling at 185·7° (air 42°), gave an elevation of 14,914 feet. On the top of the range,


[ 63 ]


about 1000 feet above this, there was no snow on the eastern exposures, except in hollows, but on the west slopes it lay in great fields twenty or thirty feet thick; while to the north, the mountains all appeared destitute of snow, with grassy flanks and rugged tops.

Drizzling mist, which had shrouded Tukcham all the morning, soon gathered on this mountain, and prevented any prospect from the highest point reached; but on the ascent I had an excellent view up the Zemu, which opened into a broad grassy valley, where I saw with the glass some wooden sheds, but no cattle or people. To reach these, however, involved crossing the river, which was now impossible; and I reluctantly made up my mind to return on the morrow to Zemu Samdong, and thence try the other river.

On my descent to the Thlonok, I found that the herbaceous plants on the terraces had grown fully two feet during the fortnight, and now presented almost a tropical luxuriance and beauty. Thence I reached Zemu Samdong in one day, and found the vegetation there even more gay and beautiful: the gigantic lily was in full flower, and scenting the air, with the lovely red rose, called “Chirring” by the Tibetans. Neillia was blossoming profusely at my old camping-ground, to which I now returned after a month’s absence.

Soon after my arrival I received letters from Dr. Campbell, who had strongly and repeatedly represented to the Rajah his opinion of the treatment I was receiving; and this finally brought an explicit answer, to the effect that his orders had been full and peremptory that I should be supplied with provisions, and safely conducted to the frontier. With these came letters on the Rajah’s part from Tchebu Lama to the Lachen Phipun, ordering him to take me to the pass, but not specifying its position; fortunately,


[ 64 ]


however, Dr. Campbell sent me a route, which stated the pass to be at Kongra Lama, several marches beyond this, and in the barren country of Tibet.

On the 5th of July the Singtam Soubah arrived from Chola (the Rajah’s summer residence): he was charged to take me to the frontier, and brought letters from his highness, as well as a handsome present, consisting of Tibet cloth, and a dress of China silk brocaded with gold: the Ranee also sent me a basket of Lhassa sweetmeats, consisting of Sultana raisins from Bokhara, sliced and dried apricots from Lhassa, and Diospyros fruit from China (called “Gubroon” by the Tibetans). The Soubah wanted to hurry me on to the frontier and back at once, being no doubt instigated to do so by the Dewan’s party, and by his having no desire to spend much time in the dreary lofty regions I wanted to explore. I positively refused, however, to start until more supplies arrived, except he used his influence to provide me with food; and as he insisted that the frontier was at Tallum Samdong, only one march up the Lachen, I foresaw that this move was to be but one step forward, though in the right direction. He went forward to Tallum at once, leaving me to follow.

The Lamteng people had all migrated beyond that point to Tungu, where they were pasturing their cattle: I sent thither for food, and procured a little meal at a very high price, a few fowls and eggs; the messenger brought back word that Tungu was in Tibet, and that the villagers ignored Kongra Lama. A large piece of yak-flesh being brought for sale, I purchased it; but it proved the toughest meat I ever ate, being no doubt that of an animal that had succumbed to the arduous duties of a salt-carrier over the passes: at this season, however, when the calves are not a month old, it was in vain to expect better.


[ 65 ]


Large parties of women and children were daily passing my tent from Tungu, to collect arum-roots at the Thlonok, all with baskets at their backs, down to rosy urchins of six years old: they returned after several days, their baskets neatly lined with broad rhododendron leaves, and full of a nauseous-looking yellow acid pulp, which told forcibly of the extreme poverty of the people. The children were very fair; indeed the young Tibetan is as fair as an English brunette, before his perennial coat of smoke and dirt has permanently stained his face, and it has become bronzed and wrinkled by the scorching sun and rigorous climate of these inhospitable countries. Children and women were alike decked with roses, and all were good-humoured and pleasant, behaving with great kindness to one another, and unaffected politeness to me.

During my ten days’ stay at Zemu Samdong, I formed a large collection of insects, which was in great part destroyed by damp: many were new, beautiful, and particularly interesting, from belonging to types whose geographical distribution is analogous to that of the vegetation. The caterpillar of the swallow-tail butterfly (Papilio Machaon), was common, feeding on umbelliferous plants, as in England; and a Sphynx (like S. Euphorbiæ) was devouring the euphorbias; the English Cynthia Cardui (painted-lady butterfly) was common, as were “sulphurs,” “marbles,” Pontia (whites), “blues,” and Thecla, of British aspect but foreign species. Amongst these, tropical forms were rare, except one fine black swallow-tail. Of moths, Noctuæ and Geometræ abounded, with many flies and Tipulæ. Hymenoptera were scarce, except a yellow Ophion, which lays its eggs in the caterpillars above-mentioned. Beetles were most rare, and (what is remarkable) the wood-borers (longicorns and Curculio) particularly so. A large Telephora was


[ 66 ]


very common, and had the usual propensity of its congeners for blood; lamellicorns were also abundant.

On the 11th of July five coolies arrived with rice: they had been twenty days on the road, and had been obliged to make great detours, the valley being in many places impassable. They brought me a parcel of English letters; and I started up the Lachen on the following day, with renewed spirits and high hopes. The road first crossed the Zemu and the spur beyond, and then ascended the west bank of the Lachen, a furious torrent for five or six miles, during which it descends 1000 feet, in a chasm from which rise lofty black pine-clad crags, topped by snowy mountains, 14,000 to 16,000 feet high. One remarkable mass of rock, on the east bank, is called “Sakya-zong” (or the abode of Sakya, often pronounced Thakya, one of the Boodhist Trinity); at its base a fine cascade falls into the river.

Above 11,000 feet the valley expands remarkably, the mountains recede, become less wooded, and more grassy, while the stream is suddenly less rapid, meandering in a broader bed, and bordered by marshes, covered with Carex, Blysmus, dwarf Tamarisk, and many kinds of yellow and red Pedicularis, both tall and beautiful. There are far fewer rhododendrons here than in the damper Zemu valley at equal elevations, and more Siberian, or dry country types of vegetation, as Astragali of several kinds, Habenaria, Epipactis, dandelion, and a caraway, whose stems (called in Tibet “Gzira”) are much sought for as a condiment.* The Singtam Soubah and Lachen Phipun

* Umbelliferæ abound here; with sage, Ranunculus, Anemone, Aconites, Halenia, Gentians, Panax, Euphrasia, speedwell, Prunella vulgaris, thistles, bistort, Parnassia, purple orchis, Prenanthes, and Lactuca. The woody plants of this region are willows, birch, Cotoneaster, maple, three species of Viburnum, three of Spiræa, Vaccinium, Aralia, Deutzia, Philadelphus, rhododendrons, two junipers, silver fir, larch, three honeysuckles, Neillia, and a Pieris, whose white blossoms are so full of honey as to be sweet and palatable.


[ 67 ]


received me at the bridge (Samdong), at Tallum, and led me across the river (into Cheen they affirmed) to a pretty green sward, near some gigantic gneiss boulders, where I camped, close by the river, and 11,480 feet above the sea.

The village of Tallum consists of a few wretched stone huts, placed in a broad part of the valley, which is swampy, and crossed by several ancient moraines, which descend from the gulleys on the east flank.* The cottages are from four to six feet high, without windows, and consist of a single apartment, containing neither table, chair, stool, nor bed; the inmates huddle together amid smoke, filth, and darkness, and sleep on a plank; and their only utensils are a bamboo churn, copper, bamboo, and earthenware vessels, for milk, butter, etc.

Grassy or stony mountains slope upwards, at an angle of 20°,† from these flats to 15,000 feet, but no snow is visible, except on Kinchinjhow and Chomiomo, about fifteen miles up the valley. Both these are flat-topped, and dazzlingly white, rising into small peaks, and precipitous on all sides; they are grand, bold, isolated masses, quite unlike the ordinary snowy mountains in form, and far more imposing even than Kinchinjunga, though not above 22,000 feet in elevation.

Herbaceous plants are much more numerous here than in any other part of Sikkim; and sitting at my tent-door, I could, without rising from the ground, gather forty-three plants,‡ of which all but two belonged to English genera.

* I have elsewhere noticed that in Sikkim, the ancient moraines above 9000 feet are almost invariably deposited from valleys opening to the westward.
† At Lamteng and up the Zemu the slopes are 40° and 50°, giving a widely different aspect to the valleys.
‡ In England thirty is, on the average, the equivalent number of plants, which in favourable localities I have gathered in an equal space. In both cases many are seedlings of short-lived annuals, and in neither is the number a test of the luxuriance of the vegetation; it but shows the power which the different species exert in their struggle to obtain a place.


[ 68 ]


In the rich soil about the cottages were crops of dock, shepherd’s-purse, Thlaspi arvense, Cynoglossum of two kinds (one used as a pot-herb), balsams, nettle, Galeopsis, mustard, radish, and turnip. On the neighbouring hills, which I explored up to 15,000 feet, I found many fine plants, partaking more or less of the Siberian type, of which Corydalis, Leguminosæ, Artemisia, and Pedicularis, are familiar instances. I gathered upwards of 200 species, nearly all belonging to north European genera. Twenty-five were woody shrubs above three feet high, and six were ferns;* sedges were in great profusion, amongst them three of British kinds: seven or eight were Orchideæ, including a fine Cypripedium.

The entomology of Tallum, like its botany, was Siberian, Arctic types occurring at lower elevations than in the wetter parts of Sikkim. Of beetles the honey-feeding ones prevailed, with European forms of others that inhabit yak-droppings.† Bees were common, both Bombus and Andræna, but there were no wasps, and but few ants. Grasshoppers and other Orthoptera were rare, as were Hemiptera; Tipula was the common dipterous insect, with a small sand-fly: there were neither leeches, mosquitos, ticks, nor midges. Pigeons, red-legged crows, and hawks were the common birds; with a few waders in the marshes.

Being now fairly behind most of the great snow and rain-collecting mountains, I experienced a considerable

* Cryptogramma crispa, Davallia, two Aspidia, and two Polypodia. I gathered ten at the same elevation, in the damper Zemu valley (see p. 49, note). I gathered in this valley a new species of the remarkable European genus Struthiopteris, which has not been found elsewhere in the Himalaya.
† As Aphodius and Geotrupes. Predaceous genera were very rare, as Carabus and Staphylinus, so typical of boreal regions. Coccinella (lady-bird), which swarms at Dorjiling, does not ascend so high, and a Clytus was the only longicorn. Bupretis, Elater, and Blaps were found but rarely. Of butterflies, the Machaon seldom reaches this elevation, but the painted-lady, Pontia, Colias, Hipparchia, Argynnis, and Polyommatus, are all found.


[ 69 ]


change in the climate, which characterises all these rearward lofty valleys, where very little rain falls, and that chiefly drizzle; but this is so constant that the weather feels chilly, raw, and comfortless, and I never returned dry from botanising. The early mornings were bright with views northwards of blue sky and Kinchinjhow, while to the south the lofty peak of Tukcham, though much nearer, was seldom seen, and black cumuli and nimbi rolled up the steep valley of the Lachen to be dissipated in mist over Tallum. The sun’s rays were, however, powerful at intervals during the forenoon, whence the mean maximum temperature of July occurred at about 10 a.m. The temperature of the river was always high, varying with the heat of the day from 47° to 52°; the mean being 50°.

These streams do not partake of the diurnal rise and fall, so characteristic of the Swiss rivers and those of the western Himalaya, where a powerful sun melts the glaciers by day, and their head-streams are frozen by night. Here the clouds alike prevent solar and nocturnal radiation, the temperature is more uniform, and the corroding power of the damp southerly wind that blows strongly throughout the day is the great melting agent. One morning I saw a vivid and very beautiful halo 20° distant from the sun’s disc; it was no doubt caused by snow in the higher regions of the atmosphere, as a sharp shower of rain fell immediately afterwards: these are rare phenomena in mountainous countries.

The Singtam Soubah visited me daily, and we enjoyed long friendly conversations: he still insisted that the Yangchoo (the name he gave to the Lachen at this place) was the boundary, and that I must not go any further. His first question was always “How long do you intend to remain here? have you not got all the plants and stones


[ 70 ]


you want? you can see the sun much better with those brasses and glasses* lower down; it is very cold here, and there is no food:”—to all which I had but one reply, that I should not return till I had visited Kongra Lama. He was a portly man, and, I think, at heart good-natured: I had no difficulty in drawing him on to talk about Tibet, and the holy city of Teshoo Loombo, with its thousands of gilt temples, nunneries, and convents, its holiest of all the holy grand Lamas of Tibet, and all the wide Boodhist world besides. Had it even been politic, I felt it would be unfair to be angry with a man who was evidently in a false position between myself and his two rulers, the Rajah and Dewan; who had a wife and family on the smiling flanks of Singtam, and who longed to be soaking in the warm rain of Sikkim, drinking Murwa beer (a luxury unknown amongst these Tibetans) and gathering in his crops of rice, millet, and buckwheat. Though I may owe him a grudge for his subsequent violence, I still recall with pleasure the hours we spent together on the banks of the Lachen. In all matters respecting the frontier, his lies were circumstantial; and he further took the trouble of bringing country people to swear that this was Cheen, and that there was no such place as Kongra Lama. I had written to ask Dr. Campbell for a definite letter from Tchebu Lama on this point, but unfortunately my despatches were lost; the messenger who conveyed them missed his footing in crossing the Lachen, and escaped narrowly with life, while the turban in which the letters were placed was carried down the current.

Finally the Soubah tried to persuade my people that one so incorrigibly obstinate must be mad, and that they had better leave me. One day, after we had had a long

* Alluding to the sextant, etc.


[ 71 ]


discussion about the geography of the frontier, he inflamed my curiosity by telling me that Kinchinjhow was a very holy mountain; more so than its sister-peaks of Chumulari and Kinchinjunga; and that both the Sikkim and Tibetan Lamas, and Chinese soldiers, were ready to oppose my approach to it. This led to my asking him for a sketch of the mountains; he called for a large sheet of paper, and some charcoal, and wanted to form his mountains of sand; I however ordered rice to be brought, and though we had but little, scattered it about wastefully. This had its effect: he stared at my wealth, for he had all along calculated on starving me out, and retired, looking perplexed and crestfallen. Nothing puzzled him so much as my being always occupied with such, to him, unintelligible pursuits; a Tibetan “cui bono?” was always in his mouth: “What good will it do you?” “Why should you spend weeks on the coldest, hungriest, windiest, loftiest place on the earth, without even inhabitants?” Drugs and idle curiosity he believed were my motives, and possibly a reverence for the religion of Boodh, Sakya, and Tsongkaba. Latterly he had made up his mind to starve me out, and was dismayed when he found I could hold out better than himself, and when I assured him that I should not retrace my steps until his statements should be verified by a letter from Tchebu; that I had written to him, and that it would be at least thirty days before I could receive an answer.

On the 19th of July he proposed to take me to Tungu, at the foot of Kinchinjhow, and back, upon ponies, provided I would leave my people and tent, which I refused to do. After this I saw little of him for several days, and began to fear he was offended, when one morning his attendant came to me for medicine with a dismal countenance, and


[ 72 ]


in great alarm: he twisted his fingers together over his stomach to symbolise the nature of the malady which produced a commotion in his master’s bowels, and which was simply the colic. I was aware that he had been reduced to feed upon “Tong” (the arum-root) and herbs, and had always given him half the pigeons I shot, which was almost the only animal food I had myself. Now I sent him a powerful dose of medicine; adding a few spoonfuls of China tea and sugar for friendship.

On the 22nd, being convalescent, he visited me, looking wofully yellow. After a long pause, during which he tried to ease himself of some weighty matter, he offered to take me to Tungu with my tent and people, and, thence to Kongra Lama, if I would promise to stay but two nights. I asked whether Tungu was in Cheen or Sikkim; he replied that after great enquiry he had heard that it was really in Sikkim; “Then,” said I, “we will both go to-morrow morning to Tungu, and I will stay there as long as I please:” he laughed, and gave in with apparent good grace.

After leaving Tallum, the valley contracts, passing over great ancient moraines, and again expanding wider than before into broad grassy flats. The vegetation rapidly diminishes in stature and abundance, and though the ascent to Tungu is trifling, the change in species is very great. The Spiræa, maple, Pieris, cherry, and larch disappear, leaving only willow, juniper, stunted birch, silver fir, white rose, Aralia, berberry, currant, and more rhododendrons than all these put together;*

* Cyananthus, a little blue flower allied to Campanula, and one of the most beautiful alpines I know, covered the turfy ground, with Orchis, Pedicularis, Gentian, Potentilla, Geranium, purple and yellow Meconopsis, and the Artemisia of Dorjiling, which ascends to 12,000 feet, and descends to the plains, having a range of 11,500 feet in elevation. Of ferns, Hymenophyllum, Cistopteris, and Cryptogramma crispa ascend thus high.


[ 73 ]


while mushrooms and other English fungi* grew amongst the grass.

Tungu village

Tungu occupies a very broad valley, at the junction of the Tungu-choo from the east, and the Lachen from the north. The hills slope gently upwards to 16,000 feet, at an average angle of 15°; they are flat and grassy at the base, and no snow is anywhere to be seen.† A stupendous rock, about fifty feet high, lay in the middle of the valley,

* One of great size, growing in large clumps, is the English Agaricus comans, Fr., and I found it here at 12,500 feet, as also the beautiful genus Crucibulum, which is familiar to us in England, growing on rotten sticks, and resembling a diminutive bird’s nest with eggs in it.
† In the wood-cut the summit of Chomiomo is introduced, as it appears from a few hundred feet above the point of view.


[ 74 ]


broken in two: it may have been detached from a cliff, or have been transported thither as part of an ancient moraine which extends from the mouth of the Tungu-choo valley across that of the Lachen. The appearance and position of this great block, and of the smaller piece lying beside it, rather suggest the idea of the whole mass having fallen perpendicularly from a great height through a crevasse in a glacier, than of its having been hurled from so considerable a distance as from the cliffs on the flanks of the valley: it is faithfully represented in the accompanying woodcut. A few wooden houses were collected near this rock, and several black tents were scattered about. I encamped at an elevation of 12,750 feet, and was waited on by the Lachen Phipun with presents of milk, butter, yak-flesh, and curds; and we were not long before we drowned old enmity in buttered and salted tea.

On my arrival I found the villagers in a meadow, all squatted cross-legged in a circle, smoking their brass and iron pipes, drinking tea, and listening to a letter from the Rajah, concerning their treatment of me. Whilst my men were pitching my tent, I gathered forty plants new to me, all of Tartarian types.* Wheat or barley I was assured had been cultivated at Tungu when it was possessed by Tibetans, and inhabited by a frontier guard, but I saw no appearance of any cultivation. The fact is an important one, as barley requires a mean summer temperature of 48° to come to maturity. According to my observations, the

* More Siberian plants appeared, as Astragali, Chenopodium, Artemisia, some grasses, new kinds of Pedicularis, Delphinium, and some small Orchids. Three species of Parnassia and six primroses made the turf gay, mixed with saxifrages, Androsace and Campanula. By the cottages was abundance of shepherd’s-purse, Lepidium, and balsams, with dock, Galeopsis, and Cuscuta. Several low dwarf species of honeysuckle formed stunted bushes like heather; and Anisodus, a curious plant allied to Hyoscyamus, whose leaves are greedily eaten by yaks, was very common.


[ 75 ]


mean temperature of Tungu in July is upwards of 50°, and, by calculation, that of the three summer months, June, July, and August, should be about 46·5°. As, however, I do not know whether these cerealia were grown as productive crops, much stress cannot be laid upon the fact of their having been cultivated, for in a great many parts of Tibet the barley is annually cut green for fodder.

In the evening the sick came to me: their complaints, as usual, being rheumatism, ophthalmia, goitres, cuts, bruises, and poisoning by Tong (Arum), fungi, and other deleterious vegetables. At Tallum I attended an old woman who dressed her ulcers with Plantago (plantain) leaves, a very common Scotch remedy; the ribs being drawn out from the leaf, which is applied fresh: it is rather a strong application.

On the following morning I was awakened by the shrill cries of the Tibetan maidens, calling the yaks to be milked, “Toosh—toosh—toooosh,” in a gradually higher key; to which Toosh seemed supremely indifferent, till quickened in her movements by a stone or stick, levelled with unerring aim at her ribs; these animals were changing their long winter’s wool for sleek hair, and the former hung about them in ragged masses, like tow. Their calves gambolled by their sides, the drollest of animals, like ass-colts in their antics, kicking up their short hind-legs, whisking their bushy tails in the air, rushing up and down the grassy slopes, and climbing like cats to the top of the rocks.

The Soubah and Phipun came early to take me to Kongra Lama, bringing ponies, genuine Tartars in bone and breed. Remembering the Dewan’s impracticable saddle at Bhomsong, I stipulated for a horse-cloth or pad, upon which I had no sooner jumped than the beast threw back his ears, seated himself on his haunches, and, to my


[ 76 ]


consternation, slid backwards down a turfy slope, pawing the earth with his fore-feet as he went, and leaving me on the ground, amid shrieks of laughter from my Lepchas. My steed being caught, I again mounted, and was being led forward, when he took to shaking himself like a dog till the pad slipped under his belly, and I was again unhorsed. Other ponies displayed equal prejudices against my mode of riding, or having my weight anywhere but well on their shoulders, being all-powerful in their fore-quarters; and so I was compelled to adopt the high demi-pique saddle with short stirrups, which forced me to sit with my knees up to my nose, and to grip with the calves of my legs and heels. All the gear was of yak or horse-hair, and the bit was a curb and ring, or a powerful twisted snaffle.

The path ran N.N.W. for two miles, and then crossed the Lachen above its junction with the Nunee* from the west: the stream was rapid, and twelve yards in breadth; its temperature was 48°. About six miles above Tungu, the Lachen is joined by the Chomio-choo, a large affluent from Chomiomo mountain. Above this the Lachen meanders along a broad stony bed; and the path rises over a great ancient moraine, whose level top is covered with pools, but both that and its south face are bare, from exposure to the south wind, which blows with fury through this contracted part of the valley to the rarified atmosphere of the lofty, open, and dry country beyond. Its north slope, on the contrary, is covered with small trees and brushwood, rhododendron, birch, honeysuckle, and mountain-ash. These are the most northern shrubs in Sikkim, and I regarded them with deep interest, as being possibly the

* I suspect there is a pass by the Nunee to the sheds I saw up the Zemu valley on the 2nd of July, as I observed yaks grazing high up the mountains: the distance cannot be great, and there is little or no snow to interfere.


[ 77 ]


last of their kind to be met with in this meridian, for many degrees further north: perhaps even no similar shrubs occur between this and the Siberian Altai, a distance of 1,500 miles. The magnificent yellow cowslip (Primula Sikkimensis) gilded the marshes, and Caltha,* Trollius, Anemone, Arenaria, Draba, Saxifrages, Potentillas, Ranunculus, and other very alpine plants abounded.

At the foot of the moraine was a Tibetan camp of broad, black, yak-hair tents, stretched out with a complicated system of ropes, and looking at a distance—(to borrow M. Huc’s graphic simile)—like fat-bodied, long-legged spiders! Their general shape is hexagonal, about twelve feet either way, and they are stretched over six short posts, and encircled with a low stone wall, except in front. In one of them I found a buxom girl, the image of good humour, making butter and curd from yak-milk. The churns were of two kinds; one being an oblong box of birch-bark, or close bamboo wicker-work, full of branched rhododendron twigs, in which the cream is shaken: she good-naturedly showed me the inside, which was frosted with snow-white butter, and alive with maggots. The other churn was a goat-skin, which was rolled about, and shaken by the four legs. The butter is made into great squares, and packed in yak-hair cloths; the curd is eaten either fresh, or dried and pulverised (when it is called “Ts’cheuzip”).

Except bamboo and copper milk-vessels, wooden ladles, tea-churn, and pots, these tents contained no furniture but goat-skins and blankets, to spread on the ground as a bed. The fire was made of sheep and goats’-droppings, lighted with juniper-wood; above it hung tufts of yaks’-hair, one

* This is the C. scaposa, n. sp. The common Caltha palustris, or “marsh marigold” of England, which is not found in Sikkim, is very abundant in the north-west Himalaya.


[ 78 ]


for every animal lost during the season,* by which means a reckoning is kept. Although this girl had never before seen a European, she seemed in no way discomposed at my visit, and gave me a large slice of fresh curd.

Beyond this place (alt. 14,500 feet), the valley runs up north-east, becoming very stony and desolate, with green patches only by the watercourses: at this place, however, thick fogs came on, and obscured all view. At 15,000 feet, I passed a small glacier on the west side of the valley, the first I had met with that descended nearly to the river, during the whole course of the Teesta.

Five miles further on we arrived at the tents of the Phipun, whose wife was prepared to entertain us with Tartar hospitality: magnificent tawny Tibet mastiffs were baying at the tent-door, and some yaks and ponies were grazing close by. We mustered twelve in number, and squatted cross-legged in a circle inside the tent, the Soubah and myself being placed on a pretty Chinese rug. Salted and buttered tea was immediately prepared in a tea-pot for us on the mat, and in a great caldron for the rest of the party; parched rice and wheat-flour, curd, and roasted maize† were offered us, and we each produced our wooden cup, which was kept constantly full of scalding tea-soup, which, being made with fresh butter, was very good. The flour was the favourite food, of which each person dexterously formed little dough-balls in his cup, an operation I could not well manage, and only succeeded in making a nauseous paste, that stuck to my jaws and in my throat. Our

* The Siberians hang tufts of horse-hair inside their houses from superstitious motives (Ermann’s “Siberia,” i., 281).
† Called “pop-corn” in America, and prepared by roasting the maize in an iron vessel, when it splits and turns partly inside out, exposing a snow-white spongy mass of farina. It looks very handsome, and would make a beautiful dish for dessert.


[ 79 ]


hostess’ hospitality was too exigeant for me, but the others seemed as if they could not drink enough of the scalding tea.

We were suddenly startled from our repast by a noise like loud thunder, crash following crash, and echoing through the valley. The Phipun got up, and coolly said, “The rocks are falling, it is time we were off, it will rain soon.” The moist vapours had by this time so accumulated, as to be condensed in rain on the cliffs of Chomiomo and Kinchinjhow; which, being loosened, precipitated avalanches of rocks and snow. We proceeded amidst dense fog, soon followed by hard rain; the roar of falling rocks on either hand increasing as these invisible giants spoke to one another in voices of thunder through the clouds. The effect was indescribably grand: and as the weather cleared, and I obtained transient peeps of their precipices of blue ice and black rock towering 5000 feet above me on either hand, the feeling of awe produced was almost overpowering. Heavy banks of vapour still veiled the mountains, but the rising mist exposed a broad stony track, along which the Lachen wandered, split into innumerable channels, and enclosing little oases of green vegetation, lighted up by occasional gleams of sunshine. Though all around was enveloped in gloom, there was in front a high blue arc of cloudless sky, between the beetling cliffs that formed the stern portals of the Kongra Lama pass.

Next Chapter XXI