Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XXIV


Chapter XXIII

Donkia glaciers — Moraines — Dome of ice — Honey-combed surface — Rocks of Donkia — Metamorphic action of granite veins — Accident to instruments — Sebolah pass — Bees, and May-flies — View — Temperature — Pulses of party — Lamas and travellers at Momay — Weather and climate — Dr. Campbell leaves Dorjiling for Sikkim — Leave Momay — Yeumtong — Lachoong — Retardation of vegetation at low elevations — Choongtam — Landslips and debacle — Meet Dr. Campbell — Motives for his journey — Second visit to Lachen valley — Autumnal tints — Red currants — Lachen Phipun — Tungu — Scenery — Animals — Poisonous rhododendrons — Fire-wood — Palung — Elevations — Sitong — Kongra Lama — Tibetans — Enter Tibet — Desolate scenery — Plants — Animals — Geology — Cholamoo lakes — Antelopes — Return to Yeumtso — Dr. Campbell lost — Extreme cold — Headaches — Tibetan Dingpun and guard — Arms and accoutrements — Temperature of Yeumtso — Migratory birds — Visit of Dingpun — Yeumtso lakes.


On the 20th of September I ascended to the great Donkia glaciers, east of Momay; the valley is much longer than that leading to the Kinchinjhow glacier, and at 16,000 or 17,000 feet elevation, containing four marshes or lakes, alternating with as many transverse moraines that have dammed the river. These moraines seem in some cases to have been deposited where rocks in the bed of the valley obstructed the downward progress of the ancient glacier; hence, when this latter finally retired, it rested at these obstructions, and accumulated there great deposits, which do not cross the valley, but project from each side obliquely into it. The rocks in situ on the floor of the valley are all moutonnéed and polished on the top, sides, and face looking up the valley, but are rugged on


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that looking down it: gigantic blocks are poised on some. The lowest of the ancient moraines completely crosses the river, which finds, its way between the boulders.

Under the red cliff of Forked Donkia the valley becomes very broad, bare, and gravelly, with a confusion of moraines, and turns more northwards. At the angle, the present terminal moraine rises like a mountain (I assumed it to be about 800 feet high),* and crosses the valley from N.N.E. to S.S.W. From the summit, which rises above the level of the glacier, and from which I assume its present retirement, a most striking scene opened. The ice filling an immense basin, several miles broad and long, formed a low dome,† with Forked Donkia on the west, and a serried range of rusty-red scarped mountains, 20,000 feet high on the north and east, separating large tributary glaciers. Other still loftier tops of Donkia appeared behind these, upwards of 22,000 feet high, but I could not recognise the true summit (23,176 feet). The surface was very rugged, and so deeply honey-combed that the foot often sank from six to eight inches in

* This is the largest and longest terminal moraine backed by an existing glacier that I examined with care: I doubt its being so high as the moraine of the Allalein glacier below the Mat-maark sea in the Sachs valley (Valais, Switzerland); but it is impossible to compare such objects from memory: the Donkia one was much the most uniform in height.
† This convexity of the ice is particularly alluded to by Forbes (“Travels in the Alps,” p.386), as the “renflément” of Rendu and “surface bombee” of Agassiz, and is attributed to the effects of hydrostatic pressure tending to press the lower layers of ice upwards to the surface. My own impression at the time was, that the convexity of the surface of the Donkia glacier was due to a subjacent mountain spur running south from Donkia itself. I know, however, far too little of the topography of this glacier to advance such a conjecture with any confidence. In this case, as in all similar ones, broad expanses being covered to an enormous depth with ice, the surface of the latter must in some degree be modified by the ridges and valleys it conceals. The typical “surface bombee,” which is conspicuous in the Himalaya glaciers, I was wont (in my ignorance of the mechanical laws of glaciers) to attribute to the more rapid melting of the edges of the glacier by the radiated heat of its lateral moraines and of the flanks of the valley that it occupies.


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crisp wet ice. I proceeded a mile on it, with much more difficulty than on any Swiss glacier: this was owing to the elevation, and the corrosion of the surface into pits and pools of water; the crevasses being but few and distant. I saw no dirt-bands on looking down upon it from a point I attained under the red cliff of Forked Donkia, at an elevation of 18,307 feet by barometer, and 18,597 by boiling-point. The weather was very cold, the thermometer fell from 41° to 34°, and it snowed heavily after 3 p.m.

The strike of all the rocks (gneiss with granite veins) seemed to be north-east, and dip north-west 30°. Such also were the strike and dip on another spur from Donkia, north of this, which I ascended to 19,000 feet, on the 26th of September: it abutted on the scarped precipices, 3000 feet high, of that mountain. I had been attracted to the spot by its bright orange-red colour, which I found to be caused by peroxide of iron. The highly crystalline nature of the rocks, at these great elevations, is due to the action of veins of fine-grained granite, which sometimes alter the gneiss to such an extent that it appears as if fused into a fine granite, with distinct crystals of quartz and felspar; the most quartzy layers are then roughly crystallized into prisms, or their particles are aggregated into spheres composed of concentric layers of radiating crystals, as is often seen in agates. The rearrangement of the mineral constituents by heat goes on here just as in trap, cavities filled with crystals being formed in rocks exposed to great heat and pressure. Where mica abounds, it becomes black and metallic; and the aluminous matter is crystallised in the form of garnets.

At these great heights the weather was never fine for more than an hour at a time, and a driving sleet followed by thick snow drove me down on both these occasions.


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Summit of forked Donkia, and

Another time I ascended a third spur from this great mountain, and was overtaken by a heavy gale and thunderstorm, the latter is a rare phenomenon: it blew down my tripod and instruments which I had thought securely Propped with stones, and the thermometers were broken, but fortunately not the barometer. On picking up the latter, which lay with its top down the hill, a large bubble of air appeared, which I passed up and down the tube, and then allowed to escape; when I heard a rattling of broken glass in the cistern. Having another barometer*

* This barometer (one of Newman’s portable instruments) I have now at Kew: it was compared with the Royal Society’s standard before leaving England; and varied according to comparisons made with the Calcutta standard 0·.012 during its travels; on leaving Calcutta its error was 0; and on arriving in England, by the standard of the Royal Society, +·004. I have given in the Appendix some remarks on the use of these barometers, which (though they have obvious defects), are less liable to derangement, far more portable, and stand much heavier shocks than those of any other construction with which I am familiar.


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at my tent, I hastened to ascertain by comparison whether the instrument which had travelled with me from England, and taken so many thousand observations, was seriously damaged: to my delight an error of 0·020 was all I could detect at Momay and all other lower stations. On my return to Dorjiling in December, I took it to pieces, and found the lower part of the bulb of the attached thermometer broken off, and floating on the mercury. Having quite expected this, I always checked the observations of the attached thermometer by another, but—how, it is not easy to say—the broken one invariably gave a correct temperature.

View from an elevation of 18,000 feet of the east top of Kinchinjhow, and of Tibet, over the ridge that connects it with Donkia. Wild sheep (Ovis Ammon) in the foreground


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The Kinchinjhow spurs are not accessible to so great an elevation as those of Donkia, but they afford finer views over Tibet, across the ridge connecting Kinchinjow with Donkia.

Broad summits here, as on the opposite side of the valley, are quite bare of snow at 18,000 feet, though where they project as sloping hog-backed spurs from the parent mountain, the snows of the latter roll down on them and form glacial caps, the reverse of glaciers in valleys, but which overflow, as it were, on all sides of the slopes, and are ribboned* and crevassed.

On the 18th of September I ascended the range which divides the Lachen from the Lachoong valley, to the Sebolah pass, a very sharp ridge of gneiss, striking north-west and dipping north-east, which runs south from Kinchinjhow to Chango-khang. A yak-track led across the Kinchinjhow glacier, along the bank of the lake, and thence westward up a very steep spur, on which was much glacial ice and snow, but few plants above 16,000 feet. At nearly 17,000 feet I passed two small lakes, on the banks of one of which I found bees, a May-fly (Ephemera) and gnat; the two latter bred on stones in the water, which (the day being fine) had a temperature of 53°, while that of the large lake at the glacier, 1000 feet lower, was only 39°.

The view from the summit commands the whole castellated front of Kinchinjhow, the sweep of the Donkia cliffs to the east, Chango-khang’s blunt cone of ribbed snow† over head, while to the west, across the grassy Palung dunes rise Chomiomo, the Thlonok mountains, and Kinchinjunga

* The convexity of the curves, however, seems to be upwards. Such reversed glaciers, ending abruptly on broad stony shoulders quite free of snow, should on no account be taken as indicating the lower limit of perpetual snow.
† This ridging or furrowing of steep snow-beds is explained at vol. i, p. 237


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in the distance.* The Palung plains, now yellow with withered grass, were the most curious part of the view: hemmed in by this range which rises 2000 feet above them, and by the Lachen hills on the east, they appeared a dead level, from which Kinchinjhow reared its head, like an island from the ocean.† The black tents of the Tibetans were still there, but the flocks were gone. The broad fosse-like valley of the Chachoo was at my feet, with the river winding along its bottom, and its flanks dotted with black juniper bushes.

The temperature at this elevation, between 1 and 3 p.m., varied from 38° to 59°; the mean being 46·5°, with the dew-point 34·6°. The height I made 17,585 feet by barometer, and 17,517 by boiling-point. I tried the pulses of eight, persons after two hours’ rest; they varied from 80 to 112, my own being 104. As usual at these heights, all the party were suffering from giddiness and headaches.

Throughout September various parties passed my tent at Momay, generally Lamas or traders: the former, wrapped in blankets, wearing scarlet and gilt mitres, usually rode grunting yaks, which were sometimes led by a slave-boy or a mahogany-faced nun, with a broad yellow sheep-skin cap with flaps over her ears, short petticoats, and striped boots. The domestic utensils, pots, pans, and bamboos of butter,

* The latter bore 241° 30′; it was distant about thirty-four miles, and subtended an angle of 3° 2′ 30″. The rocks on its north flanks were all black, while those forming the upper 10,000 feet of the south face were white: hence, the top is probably granite, overlaid by the gneiss on the north.
† It is impossible to contemplate the abrupt flanks of all these lofty mountains, without contrasting them with the sloping outlines that prevail in the southern parts of Sikkim. All such precipices are, I have no doubt, the results of sea action; and all posterior influence of sub-aerial action, aqueous or glacial, tends to wear these precipices into slopes, to fill up valleys and to level mountains. Of all such influences heavy rain-falls and a luxuriant vegetation are probably the most active; and these features are characteristic of the lower valleys of Sikkim, which are consequently exposed to very different conditions of wear and tear from those which prevail on these loftier rearward ranges.


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tea-churn, bellows, stools, books, and sacred implements, usually hung rattling on all sides of his holiness, and a sumpter yak carried the tents and mats for sleeping. On several occasions large parties of traders, with thirty or forty yaks* laden with planks, passed, and occasionally a shepherd with Tibet sheep, goats, and ponies. I questioned many of these travellers about the courses of the Tibetan rivers; they all agreed† in stating the Kambajong or Chomachoo liver, north of the Lachen, to be the Arun of Nepal, and that it rose near the Ramchoo lake (of Turner’s route). The lake itself discharges either into the Arun, or into the Painomchoo (flowing to the Yaru); but this point I could never satisfactorily ascertain. The weather at Momay, during September, was generally bad after 11 a.m.: little snow or rain fell, but thin mists and drizzle prevailed; less than one inch and a half of rain was collected, though upwards of eleven fell at Calcutta, and rather more at Dorjiling. The mornings were sometimes fine, cold, and sunny, with a north wind which had blown down the valley all night, and till 9 a.m., when the south-east wind, with fog, came on. Throughout the day a north current blew above the southern; and when the mist was thin; the air sparkled with spiculæ of snow, caused by the cold dry upper current condensing the vapours of the lower. This southern current passes over the tops of the loftiest mountains, ascending to 24,000 feet, and discharging frequent showers

* About 600 loaded yaks are said to cross the Donkia pass annually.
† One lad only, declared that the Kambajong river flowed north-west to Dobtah and Sarrh, and thence turned north to the Yaru; but all Campbell’s itineraries, as well as mine, make the Dobtah lake drain into the Chomachoo, north of Wallanchoon; which latter river the Nepalese also affirm flows into Nepal, as the Arun. The Lachen and Lachoong Phipuns both insisted on this, naming to me the principal towns on the way south-west from Kambajong along the river to Tingri Maidan, via Tashirukpa Chait, which is north of Wallanchoon pass.


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in Tibet, as far north as Jigatzi, where, however, violent dry easterly gales are the most prevalent.

The equinoctial gales set in on the 21st, with a falling barometer, and sleet at night; on the 23rd and 24th it snowed heavily, and being unable to light a fire at the entrance of my tent, I spent two wretched days, taking observations; on the 25th it cleared, and the snow soon melted. Frosty nights succeeded, but the thermometer only fell to 31° once during the month, and the maximum once rose to 62·5°. The mean temperature from the 9th to the 30th September was 41·6°,* which coincided with that of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.; the mean maximum, 52·2°, minimum, 34·7°, and consequent range, 17·5°.† On seven nights the radiating thermometer fell much below the temperature of the air, the mean being 10·5° and maximum 14·2°; and on seven mornings the sun heated the black-bulb thermometer considerably, on the mean to 62·6° above the air; maximum 75·2°, and minimum, 43°. The greatest heat of the day occurred at noon: the most rapid rise of temperature (5°) between 8 and 9 a.m., and the greatest fall (5·5°), between 3 and 4 p.m. A sunk thermometer fell from 52·5° to 51·5° between the 11th and 14th, when I was obliged to remove the thermometer owing to the accident mentioned above. The mercury in the barometer rose and fell contemporaneously with that at Calcutta and Dorjiling, but the amount of tide was considerably less, and, as is usual during the equinoctial month, on some days it scarcely moved, whilst on others it rose and fell rapidly. The tide amounted to 0·062 of an inch.

On the 28th of the month the Singtam Soubah came up

* The result of fifty-six comparative observations between Calcutta and Momay, give 40·6° difference, which, after corrections, allows 1° Fahr. for every 438 feet of ascent.
† At Dorjiling the September range is only 9·5°; and at Calcutta 10°.


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from Yeumtong, to request leave to depart for his home, on account of his wife’s illness; and to inform me that Dr. Campbell had left Dorjiling, accompanied (in compliance with the Rajah’s orders) by the Tchebu Lama. I therefore left Momay on the 30th, to meet him at Choongtam, arriving at Yeumtong the same night, amid heavy rain and sleet.

Autumnal tints reigned at Yeumtong, and the flowers had disappeared from its heath-like flat; a small eatable cherry with a wrinkled stone was ripe, and acceptable in a country so destitute of fruit.* Thence I descended to Lachoong, on the 1st of October, again through heavy rain, the snow lying on the Tunkra mountain at 14,000 feet. The larch was shedding its leaves, which turn red before they fall; but the annual vegetation was much behind that at 14,000 feet, and so many late flowerers, such as Umbelliferæ and Compositæ, had come into blossom, that the place still looked gay and green: the blue climbing gentian (Crawfurdia) now adorned the bushes; this plant would be a great acquisition in English gardens. A Polygonum still in flower here, was in ripe fruit near Momay, 6000 feet higher up the valley.

On the following day I made a long and very fatiguing march to Choongtam, but the coolies were not all able to accomplish it. The backwardness of the flora in descending was even more conspicuous than on the previous day: the jungles, at 7000 feet, being gay with a handsome Cucurbitaceous plant. Crossing the Lachoong cane-bridge, I paid the tribute of a sigh to the memory of my poor dog, and reached my old camping-ground at Choongtam by

* The absence of Vaccinia (whortleberries and cranberries) and eatable Rubi (brambles) in the alpine regions of the Himalaya is very remarkable, and they are not replaced by any substitute. With regard to Vaccinium, this is the more anomalous, as several species grow in the temperate regions of Sikkim.


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10 p.m., having been marching rapidly for twelve hours. My bed and tent came up two hours later, and not before the leeches and mosquitos had taxed me severely. On the 4th of October I heard the nightingale for the first time this season.

Expecting Dr. Campbell on the following morning, I proceeded down the river to meet him: the whole valley was buried under a torrent or débacle of mud, shingle, and boulders, and for half a mile the stream was dammed up into a deep lake. Amongst the gneiss and granite boulders brought down by this débacle, I collected some actinolites; but all minerals are extremely rare in Sikkim and I never heard of a gem or crystal of any size or beauty, or of an ore of any consequence, being found in this country.

I met my friend on the other side of the mud torrent, and I was truly rejoiced to see him, though he was looking much the worse for his trying journey through the hot valleys at this season; in fact, I know no greater trial of the constitution than the exposure and hard exercise that is necessary in traversing these valleys, below 5000 feet, in the rainy season: delay is dangerous, and the heat, anxiety, and bodily suffering from fatigue, insects, and bruises, banish sleep, and urge the restless traveller onward to higher and more healthy regions. Dr. Campbell had, I found, in addition to the ordinary dangers of such a journey, met with an accident which might have proved serious; his pony having been dashed to pieces by falling over a precipice, a fate he barely escaped himself, by adroitly slipping from the saddle when he felt the animal’s foot giving way.

On our way back to Choongtam, he detailed to me the motives that had led to his obtaining the authority of the Deputy-Governor of Bengal (Lord Dalhousie being absent)


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for his visiting Sikkim. Foremost, was his earnest desire to cultivate a better understanding with the Rajah and his officers. He had always taken the Rajah’s part, from a conviction that he was not to blame for the misunderstandings which the Sikkim officers pretended to exist between their country and Dorjiling; he had, whilst urgently remonstrating with the Rajah, insisted on forbearance on my part, and had long exercised it himself. In detailing the treatment to which I was subjected, I had not hesitated to express my opinion that the Rajah was more compromised by it than his Dewan: Dr. Campbell, on the contrary, knew that the Dewan was the head and front of the whole system of annoyance. In one point of view it mattered little who was in the right; but the transaction was a violation of good faith on the part of the Sikkim government towards the British, for which the Rajah, however helpless, was yet responsible. To act upon my representations alone would have been unjust, and no course remained but for Dr. Campbell to inquire personally into the matter. The authority to do this gave him also the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the country which we were bound to protect, as well by our interest as by treaty, but from which we were so jealously excluded, that should any contingency occur, we were ignorant of what steps to take for defence, and, indeed, of what we should have to defend.

On the 6th of October we left Choongtam for my second visit to the Kongra Lama pass, hoping to get round by the Cholamoo lakes and the Donkia pass. As the country beyond the frontier was uninhabited, the Tchebu Lama saw no difficulty in this, provided the Lachen Phipun and the Tibetans did not object. Our great obstacle was the Singtam Soubah, who (by the Rajah’s order) accompanied


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us to clear the road, and give us every facility, but who was very sulky, and undisguisedly rude to Campbell; he was in fact extremely jealous of the Lama, who held higher authority than he did, and who alone had the Rajah’s confidence.

Our first day’s march was of about ten miles to one of the river-flats, which was covered with wild apple-trees, whose fruit, when stewed with sugar, we found palatable. The Lachen river, though still swollen, was comparatively clear; the rains usually ceasing, or at least moderating, in October: its water was about 5° colder than in the beginning of August.

During the second day’s march we were stopped at the Taktoong river by the want of a bridge, which the Singtam Soubah refused to exert himself to have repaired; its waters were, however, so fallen, that our now large party soon bridged it with admirable skill. We encamped the second night on Chateng, and the following day made a long march, crossing the Zemu, and ascending half-way to Tallum Samdong. The alpine foliage was rapidly changing colour; and that of the berberry turning scarlet, gave a warm glow to the mountain above the forest. Lamteng village was deserted: turnips were maturing near the houses, and buckwheat on the slope behind; the latter is a winter-crop at lower elevations, and harvested in April. At Zemu Samdong the willow-leaves were becoming sear and yellow, and the rose-bushes bore enormous scarlet hips, two inches long, and covered with bristles; they were sweet, and rather good eating. Near Tungu (where we arrived on the 9th) the great Sikkim currant was in fruit; its berries are much larger than the English, and of the same beautiful red colour, but bitter and very acid; they are, however, eaten by the Tibetans, who call them “Kewdemah.”


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Near the village I found Dr. Campbell remonstrating with the Lachen Phipun on the delays and rude treatment I had received in June and July: the man, of course, answered every question with falsehoods, which is the custom of these people, and produced the Rajah’s orders for my being treated with every civility, as a proof that he must have behaved as he ought! The Singtam Soubah, as was natural, hung back, for it was owing to him alone that the orders had been contravened, and the Phipun appealed to the bystanders for the truth of this.

The Phipun (accompanied by his Larpun or subordinate officer) had prepared for us a sumptuous refreshment of tea soup, which was brewing by the road, and in which all animosities were soon washed away. We took up our abode at Tungu in a wooden but under the great rock, where we were detained for several days by bad weather. I was assured that during all August and September the weather had been uniformly gloomy, as at Momay, though little rain had fallen.

We had much difficulty in purchasing a sufficient number of blankets* for our people, and in arranging for our journey, to which the Lachen Phipun was favourable, promising us ponies for the expedition. The vegetation around was wholly changed since my July visit: the rhododendron scrub was verdigris-green from the young leaves which burst in autumn, and expose at the end of each branchlet a flower-bud covered with resinous scales, which are thrown off in the following spring. The jungle was spotted yellow with the withered birch, maple and mountain-ash, and scarlet with berberry bushes; while above, the pastures were yellow-brown with the dead grass, and streaked with snow.

* These were made of goat’s wool, teazed into a satiny surface by little teazle-like brushes of bamboo.


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Amongst other luxuries, we procured the flesh of yak calves, which is excellent veal: we always returned the foot for the mother to lick while being milked, without which she yields nothing. The yak goes nine months with calf, and drops one every two years, bearing altogetber ten or twelve: the common Sikkim cow of lower elevations, at Dorjiling invariably goes from nine and a half to ten months, and calves annually: ponies go eleven months, and foal nearly every year. In Tibet the sheep are annually sheared; the ewes drop their young in spring and autumn, but the lambs born at the latter period often die of cold and starvation, and double lambing is unknown; whereas, in the plains of Bengal (where, however, sheep cannot be said to thrive without pulse fodder) twins are constantly born. At Dorjiling the sheep drop a lamb once in the season. The Tibetan mutton we generally found dry and stringy.

In these regions many of my goats and kids had died foaming at the mouth and grinding their teeth; and I here discovered the cause to arise from their eating the leaves of Rhododendron cinnabarinum* (“Kema Kechoong,” Lepcha: Kema signifying Rhododendron): this species alone is said to be poisonous; and when used as fuel, it causes the face to swell and the eyes to inflame; of which I observed several instances. As the subject of fire-wood is of every-day interest to the traveller in these regions, I may here mention that the rhododendron woods afford poor fires; juniper burns the brightest, and with least smoke. Abies Webbiana, though emitting much smoke, gives a cheerful fire, far superior to larch,† spruce, or Abies Brunoniana. At Dorjiling, oak is the common

* The poisonous honey produced by other species is alluded to at vol. i., p. 201. An Andromeda and a Gualtheria, I have been assured are equally deleterious.
† The larch of northern Asia (Larix Europœa) is said to produce a pungent smoke, which I never observed to be the case with the Sikkim species.


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fuel; alder is also good. Chestnut is invariably used for blacksmith’s charcoal. Magnolia has a disagreeable odour, and laurel burns very badly.

The phenomenon of phosphorescence is most conspicuous on stacks of fire-wood. At Dorjiling, during the damp, warm, summer months (May to October), at elevations of 5000 to 8000 feet, it may be witnessed every night by penetrating a few yards into the forest—at least it was so in 1848 and 1849; and during my stay there billets of decayed wood were repeatedly sent to me by residents, with inquiries as to the cause of their luminosity. It is no exaggeration to say that one does not need to move from the fireside to see this phenomenon, for if there is a partially decayed log amongst the fire-wood, it is almost sure to glow with a pale phosphoric light. A stack of fire-wood, collected near my host’s (Mr. Hodgson) cottage, presented a beautiful spectacle for two months (in July and August), and on passing it at night, I had to quiet my pony, who was always alarmed by it. The phenomenon invariably accompanies decay, and is common on oak, laurel (Tetranthera), birch, and probably other timbers; it equally appears on cut wood and on stumps, but is most frequent on branches lying close to the ground in the wet forests. I have reason to believe that it spreads with great rapidity from old surfaces to freshly cut ones. That it is a vital phenomenon, and due to the mycelium of a fungus, I do not in the least doubt, for I have observed it occasionally circumscribed by those black lines which are often seen to bound mycelia on dead wood, and to precede a more rapid decay. I have often tried, but always in vain, to coax these mycelia into developing some fungus, by placing them in damp rooms, etc. When camping in the mountains, I frequently caused the natives to bring


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phosphorescent wood into my tent, for the pleasure of watching its soft undulating light, which appears to pale and glow with every motion of the atmosphere; but except in this difference of intensity, it presents no change in appearance night after night. Alcohol, heat, and dryness soon dissipate it; electricity I never tried. It has no odour, and my dog, who had a fine sense of smell, paid no heed when it was laid under his nose.*

The weather continuing bad, and snow falling, the country people began to leave for their winter-quarters at Lamteng. In the evenings we enjoyed the company of the Phipun and Tchebu Lama, who relished a cup of sugarless tea more than any other refreshment we could offer. From them we collected much Tibetan information:—the former was an inveterate smoker, using a pale, mild tobacco, mixed largely with leaves of the small wild Tibetan Rhubarb, called “Chula.” Snuff is little used, and is principally procured from the plains of India.

We visited Palung twice, chiefly in hopes that Dr. Campbell might see the magnificent prospect of Kinchinjhow from its plains: the first time we gained little beyond a ducking, but on the second (October the 15th) the view was superb; and I likewise caught a glimpse of Kinchinjunga from the neighbouring heights, bearing south 60° west and distant forty miles. I also measured barometrically the elevation at the great chait on the plains, and found it

* As far as my observations go, this phenomenon of light is confined to the lower orders of vegetable life, to the fungi alone, and is not dependent on irritability. I have never seen luminous flowers or roots, nor do I know of any authenticated instance of such, which may not be explained by the presence of mycelium or of animal life. In the animal kingdom, luminosity is confined, I believe, to the Invertebrata, and is especially common amongst the Radiata and Mollusca; it is also frequent in the Entromostracous Crustacea, and in various genera of most orders of insects. In all these, even in the Sertulariæ, I have invariably observed the light to be increased by irritation, in which respect the luminosity of animal life differs from that of vegetable.


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15,620 feet, and by carefully boiled thermometers, 15,283, on the 13th October, and 15,566 on the 15th: the difference being due to the higher temperature on the latter day, and to a rise of 0·3° on both boiling-point thermometers above what the same instruments stood at on the 13th. The elevation of Tungu from the October barometrical observations was only seven feet higher than that given by those of July; the respective heights being 12,766 feet in July, and 12,773 in October.* The mean temperature had fallen from 50° in July to 41°, and that of the sunk thermometer from 57° to 51·4°. The mean range in July was 23·3°, and in October 13·8°; the weather during the latter period being, however, uniformly cold and misty, this was much below the mean monthly range, which probably exceeds 30°. Much more rain fell in October at Tungu than at Dorjiling, which is the opposite to what occurs during the rainy season.

October 15th. Having sent the coolies forward, with instructions to halt and camp on this side of the Kongra Lama pass, we followed them, taking the route by Palung, and thence over the hills to the Lachen, to the east of which we descended, and further up its valley joined the advanced party in a rocky glen, called Sitong, an advantageous camping ground, from being sheltered by rocks which ward off the keen blasts: its elevation is 15,370 feet above the sea, and the magnificent west cliff of Kinchinjhow towers over it not a mile distant, bearing due east,

* The elevation of Tungu by boiling-point was 12,650 feet by a set of July observations, 12,818 by a set taken on the 11th of October, and 12,544 by a set on the 14th of October: the discrepancies were partly due to the temperature corrections, but mainly to the readings of the thermometers, which were—

July 28, sunset
Oct. 11, noon
Oct. 14, sunset
air 47·3°
air 37·6°
air 45·3°
elev. 12,650
elev. 12,818
elev. 12,544


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and subtending an angle of 24·3°. The afternoon was misty, but at 7 p.m. the south-east wind fell, and was immediately succeeded by the biting north return current, which dispelled the fog: hoar-frost sparkled on the ground, and the moon shone full on the snowy head of Kinchinjhow, over which the milky-way and the broad flashing orbs of the stars formed a jewelled diadem. The night was very windy and cold, though the thermometer fell no lower than 22°, that placed in a polished parabolic reflector to 20°, and another laid on herbage to 17·5°.

On the 16th we were up early. I felt very anxious about the prospect of our getting round by Donkia pass and Cholamoo, which would enable me to complete the few remaining miles of my long survey of the Teesta river, and which promised immense results in the views I should obtain of the country, and of the geology and botany of these lofty snowless regions. Campbell, though extremely solicitous to obtain permission from the Tibetan guard, (who were waiting for us on the frontier), was nevertheless bound by his own official position to yield at once to their wishes, should they refuse us a passage.

The sun rose on our camp at 7.30 a.m., when the north wind fell; and within an hour afterwards the temperature had risen to 45°. Having had our sticks* warmed and handed to us, we started on ponies, accompanied by the Lama only, to hold a parley with the Tibetans; ordering the rest of the party to follow at their leisure. We had not proceeded far when we were joined by two Tibetan Sepoys, who, on our reaching the pass, bellowed

* It was an invariable custom of our Lepcba and Tibetan attendants, to warm the handles of our sticks in cold weather, before starting on our daily marches. This is one of many little instances I could adduce, of their thoughtfulness and attention to the smallest comforts of the stranger and wanderer in their lands.


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lustily for their companions; when Campbell and the Lama drew up at the chait of Kongra Lama, and announced his wish to confer with their commandant.

My anxiety was now wound up to a pitch; I saw men with matchlocks emerging from amongst the rocks under Chomiomo, and despairing of permission being obtained, I goaded my pony with heels and stick, and dashed on up the Lachen valley, resolved to make the best of a splendid day, and not turn back till I had followed the river to the Cholamoo lakes: The Sepoys followed me a few paces, but running being difficult at 16,000 feet, they soon gave up the chase.

A few miles ride in a north-east direction over an open, undulating country, brought me to the Lachen, flowing westwards in a broad, open, stony valley, bounded by Kinchinjhow on the south, (its face being as precipitous as that on the opposite side), and on the north by the Peukathlo, a low range of rocky, sloping mountains, of which the summits were 18,000 to 19,000 feet above the sea. Enormous erratic blocks of gneiss strewed the ground, which was sandy or gravelly, and cut into terraces along the shallow, winding river, the green and sparkling waters of which rippled over pebbles, or expanded into lagoons. The already scanty vegetation diminished rapidly: it consisted chiefly of scattered bushes of a dwarf scrubby honeysuckle and tufts of nettle, both so brittle as to be trodden into powder, and the short leafless twiggy Ephedra, a few inches higher. The most alpine rhododendron (R. nivale) spread its small rigid branches close to the ground; the hemispherical Arenaria, another type of sterility, rose here and there, and tufts of Myosotis, Artemisia, Astragali, and Adrosace, formed flat cushions level with the soil. Grass was very scarce, but a running wiry sedge (Carex Moorcroftii)


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bound the sand, like the Carex arenaria of our English coasts.

A more dismally barren country cannot well be conceived, nor one more strongly contrasting with the pastures of Palung at an equal elevation. The long lofty wall of Kinchinjhow and Donkia presents an effectual barrier to the transmission of moisture to the head of the Lachen valley, which therefore becomes a type of such elevations in Tibet. As I proceeded, the ground became still more sandy, chirping under the pony’s feet; and where harder, it was burrowed by innumerable marmots, foxes, and the “Goomchen,” or tail-less rat (Lagomys badius), sounding hollow to the tread, and at last becoming so dangerous that I was obliged to dismount and walk.

The geological features changed as rapidly as those of the climate and vegetation, for the strike of the rocks being north-west, and the dip north-east, I was rising over the strata that overlie the gneiss. The upper part of Kinchinjhow is composed of bold ice-capped cliffs of gneiss; but the long spurs that stretch northwards from it are of quartz, conglomerates, slates, and earthy red clays, forming the rounded terraced hills I had seen from Donkia pass. Between these spurs were narrow valleys, at whose mouths stupendous blocks of gneiss rest on rocks of a much later geological formation.

Opposite the most prominent of these spurs the river (16,800 feet above the sea) runs west, forming marshes, which were full of Zannichellia palustris and Ranunculus aquatilis, both English and Siberian plants: the waters contained many shells, of a species of Lymnæa;* and the soil

* This is the most alpine living shell in the world; my specimens being from nearly 17,000 feet elevation; it is the Lymnæa Hookeri, Reeve (“Proceedings of the Zoological Society,” No. 204).


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near the edge, which was covered with tufts of short grass, was whitened with effloresced carbonate of soda. Here were some square stone enclosures two feet high, used as pens, and for pitching tents in; within them I gathered some unripe barley.

Beyond this I recognised a hill of which I had taken bearings from Donkia pass, and a few miles further, on rounding a great spur of Kinchinjunga, I arrived in sight of Cholamoo lakes, with the Donkia mountain rearing its stupendous precipices of rock and ice on the east. My pony was knocked up, and I felt very giddy from the exertion and elevation; I had broken his bridle, and so led him on by my plaid for the last few miles to the banks of the lake; and there, with the pleasant sound of the waters rippling at my feet, I yielded for a few moments to those emotions of gratified ambition which, being unalloyed by selfish considerations for the future; become springs of happiness during the remainder of one’s life.

The landscape about Cholamoo lakes was simple in its elements, stern and solemn; and though my solitary situation rendered it doubly impressive to me, I doubt whether the world contains any scene with more sublime associations than this calm sheet of water, 17,000 feet above the sea, with the shadows of mountains 22,000 to 24,000 feet high, sleeping on its bosom.

There was much short grass about the lake, on which large antelopes, “Chiru” (Antilope Hodgsoni),* and deer, “Goa” (Procapra picticaudata, Hodgson), were feeding. There were also many slate-coloured hales with white rumps

* I found the horns of this animal on the south side of the Donkia pass, but I never saw a live one except in Tibet. The Procapra is described by Mr. Hodgson, “Bengal As. Soc. Jour., 1846, p. 388,” and is introduced into the cut at p. 139.


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(Lepus oiostolus), with marmots and tail-less rats. The abundance of animal life was wonderful, compared with the want of it on the south side of Donkia pass, not five miles distant in a straight line! it is partly due to the profusion of carbonate of soda, of which all ruminants are fond, and partly to the dryness of the climate, which is favourable to all burrowing quadrupeds. A flock of common English teal were swimming in the lake, the temperature of which was 55°.

Antelope's head

* The accompanying figures of the heads of the Chiru (Antilope Hodgsoni), were sketched by Lieut. Maxwell (of the Bengal Artillery), from a pair brought to Dorjiling; it is the so-called unicorn of Tibet, and of MM. HuC and Gabet’s narrative,—a name which the profile no doubt suggested.


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I had come about fifteen miles from the pass, and arrived at 1 p.m., remaining half an hour. I could not form an idea as to whether Campbell had followed or not, and began to speculate on the probability of passing the night in the open air, by the warm side of my steed. Though the sun shone brightly, the wind was bitterly cold, and I arrived at the stone dykes of Yeumtso at 3 p.m., quite exhausted with fatigue and headache. I there found, to my great relief, the Tchebu Lama and Lachen Phipun: they were in some alarm at my absence, for they thought I was not aware of the extreme severity of the temperature on the north side of the snows, or of the risk of losing my way; they told me that after a long discourse with the Dingpun (or commander) of the Tibetan Sepoys, the latter had allowed all the party to pass; that the Sepoys had brought on the coolies, who were close behind, but that they themselves had seen nothing of Campbell; of whom the Lama then went in search.

The sun set behind Chomiomo at 5 p.m., and the wind at once dropped, so local are these violent atmospheric currents, which are caused by the heating of the upper extremities of these lofty valleys, and consequent rarefaction of the air. Intense terrestrial radiation immediately follows the withdrawal of the sun’s rays, and the temperature sinks rapidly.

Soon after sunset the Lama returned, bringing Campbell; who, having mistaken some glacier-fed lakes at the back of Kinchinjhow for those of Cholamoo, was looking for me. He too had speculated on having to pass the night under a rock, with one plaid for himself and servant; in which case I am sure they would both have been frozen to death, having no pony to lie down beside. He told me that after I had quitted Kongra Lama, leaving him with


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the Tchebu Lama and Phipun, the Dingpun and twenty men came up, and very civilly but formally forbade their crossing the frontier; but that upon explaining his motives, and representing that it would save him ten days’ journey, the Dingpun had relented, and promised to conduct the whole party to the Donkia pass.

We pitched our little tent in the corner of the cattle-pen, and our coolies soon afterwards came up; mine were in capital health, though suffering from headaches, but Campbell’s were in a distressing state of illness and fatigue, with swollen faces and rapid pulses, and some were insensible from symptoms like pressure on the brain;* these were chiefly Ghorkas (Nepalese). The Tibetan Dingpun and his guard arrived last of all, he was a droll little object, short, fat, deeply marked with small-pox, swarthy, and greasy; he was robed in a green woollen mantle, and was perched on the back of a yak, which also carried his bedding, and cooking utensils, the latter rattling about its flanks, horns, neck, and every point of support: two other yaks bore the tents of the party. His followers were tall savage looking fellows, with broad swarthy faces, and their hair in short pig-tails. They wore the long-sleeved cloak, short trousers, and boots, all of thick woollen, and felt caps on their heads. Each was armed with a long matchlock slung over his back, with a moveable rest having two prongs like a fork, and a hinge, so as to fold up along the barrel, when the prongs project behind the shoulders like antelope horns, giving the uncouth warrior a droll appearance.

* I have never experienced bleeding at the nose, ears, lips or eyelids, either in my person or that of my companions, on these occasions; nor did I ever meet with a recent traveller who has. Dr. Thomson has made the same remark, and when in Switzerland together we were assured by Auguste Balmat, François Coutet, and other experienced Mont Blanc guides, that they never witnessed these symptoms nor the blackness of the sky, so frequently insisted upon by alpine travellers.


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A dozen cartridges, each in an iron case, were slung round the waist, and they also wore the long knife, flint, steel, and iron tobacco-pipe, pouch, and purse, suspended to a leathern girdle.

The night was fine, but intensely cold, and the vault of heaven was very dark, and blazing with stars; the sir was electrical, and flash lightning illumined the sky; this was the reflection of a storm that was not felt at Dorjiling, but which raged on the plains of India, beyond the Terai, fully 120 miles, and perhaps 150, south of our position. No thunder was heard. The thermometer fell to 5°, and that in the reflector to 3.5°; at sunrise it rose to 10°, and soon after 8 a.m. to 33°; till this hour the humidity was great, and a thin mist hung over the frozen surface of the rocky ground; when this dispersed, the air became very dry, and the black-bulb thermometer in the sun rose 60° above the temperature in the shade. The light of the sun, though sometimes intercepted by vapours aloft, was very brilliant.*

This being the migrating season, swallows flitted through the air; finches, larches, and sparrows were hopping over the sterile soil, seeking food, though it was difficult to say what. The geese† which had roosted by the river, cackled; the wild ducks quacked and plumed themselves; ouzels and waders screamed or

* My black glass photometer shut out the sun’s disc at 10.509 inches, from the mean of four sets of observations taken between 7 and 10 a.m.
† An enormous quantity of water-fowl breed in Tibet, including many Indian species that migrate no further north. The natives collect their eggs for the markets at Jigatzi, Giantchi, and Lhassa, along the banks of the Yarn river, Ramchoo, and Yarbru and Dochen lakes. Amongst other birds the Sara, or great crane of India (see “Turner’s Tibet,” p. 212), repairs to these enormous elevations to breed. The fact of birds characteristic of the tropics dwelling for months in such climates is a very instructive one, and should be borne in mind in our speculations upon the climate supposed to be indicated by the imbedded bones of birds.


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chirped; and all rejoiced as they prepared themselves for the last flight of the year, to the valleys of the southern Himalaya, to the Teesta, and other rivers of the Terai and plains of India.

The Dingpun paid his respects to us in the morning, wearing, besides his green cloak, a white cap with a green glass button, denoting his rank; he informed us that he had written to his superior officer at Kambajong, explaining his motives for conducting us across the frontier, and he drew from his breast a long letter, written on Daphne* paper, whose ends were tied with floss silk, with a large red seal; this he pompously delivered, with whispered orders, to an attendant, and sent him off. He admired our clothes extremely,† and then my percussion gun, the first he had seen; but above all he admired rum and water, which he drank with intense relish, leaving a mere sip for his comrades at the bottom of his little wooden cup, which they emptied, and afterwards licked clean, and replaced in his breast for him. We made a large basin full of very weak grog for his party, who were all friendly and polite; and having made us the unexpected offer of allowing us to rest ourselves for the day at Yeumtso, he left us, and practised his men at firing at a mark, but they were very indifferent shots.

I ascended with Campbell to the lake he had visited

* Most of the paper used in Tibet is, as I have elsewhere noticed, made from the bark of various species of Daphneæ, and especially of Edgeworthia Gardneri, and is imported from Nepal and Bhotan; but the Tibetans, as MM. Huc and Gabet correctly state, manufacture a paper from the root of a small shrub: this I have seen, and it is of a much thicker texture and more durable than Daphne paper. Dr. Thomson informs me that a species of Astragalus is used in western Tibet for this purpose, the whole shrub, which is dwarf, being reduced to pulp.
† All Tibetans admire sad value English broad-cloth beyond any of our products. Woollen articles are very familiar to them, and warm clothing is one of the first requisites of life.


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on the previous day, about 600 or 800 feet above Yeumtso, and 17,500 feet above the sea: it is a mile and a half long, and occupies a large depression between two rounded spurs, being fed by glaciers from Kinchinjhow. The rocks of these spurs were all of red quartz and slates, cut into broad terraces, covered with a thick glacial talus of gneiss and granite in angular pebbles, and evidently spread over the surface when the glacier, now occupying the upper end of the lake, extended over the valley.

The ice on the cliffs and summit of Kinchinjhow was much greener and clearer than that on the south face (opposite Palung); and rows of immense icicles hung from the cliffs. A conferva grew in the waters of the lake, and short, hard tufts of sedge on the banks, but no other plants were to be seen. Brahminee geese, teal, and widgeon, were swimming in the waters, and a beetle (Elaphrus) was coursing over the wet banks; finches and other small birds were numerous, eating the sedge-seeds, and picking up the insects. No view was obtained to the north, owing to the height of the mountains on the north flank of the Lachen.

At noon the temperature rose to 52·5°, and the black-bulb to 104·5°; whilst the north-west dusty wind was so dry, that the dew-point fell to 24·2°.

Next Chapter XXIV