Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XXV


Chapter XXIV

Ascent of Bhomtso — View of snowy mountains — Chumulari — Arun river — Kiang-lah mountains — Jigatzi — Lhama — Dingcham province of Tibet — Misapplication of term “Plain of Tibet” — Sheep, flocks of — Crops — Probable elevation of Jigatzi — Yarn — Tsampu river — Tame elephants — Wild horses — Dryness of air — Sunset beams — Rocks of Kinchinjhow — Cholamoo lakes — Limestone — Dip and strike of rocks — Effects of great elevation on party — Ascent of Donkia — Moving piles of débris — Cross Donkia pass — Second Visit to Momay Samdong — Hot springs — Descent to Yeumtong — Lachoong — Retardation of vegetation again noticed — Jerked meat — Fish — Lose a thermometer — Lepcha lad sleeps in hot spring — Keadom — Bucklandia — Arrive at Choongtam — Mendicant — Meepo — Lachen-Lachoong river — Wild grape — View from Singtam of Kinchinjunga — Virulent nettle.


In the afternoon we crossed the valley, and ascended Bhomtso, fording the river, whose temperature was 48°. Some stupendous boulders of gneiss from Kinchinjhow are deposited in a broad sandy track on the north bank, by ancient glaciers, which once crossed this valley from Kinchinjhow.

The ascent was alternately over steep rocky slopes, and broad shelf-like flats; many more plants grew here than I had expected, in inconspicuous scattered tufts.* The rocks

* Besides those before mentioned, there were Fescue-grass (Festuca ovina of Scotland), a strong-scented silky wormwood (Artemisia), and round tufts of Oxytropis chiliophylla, a kind of Astralagus that inhabits eastern and western Tibet; this alone was green: it formed great circles on the ground, the centre decaying, and the annual shoots growing outwards, and thus constantly enlarging the circle. A woolly Leontopodium, Androsace, and some other plants assumed nearly the same mode of growth. The rest of the vegetation consisted of a Sedum, Nardostachys Jatamansi, Meconopsis horridula, a slender Androsace, Gnaphalium, Stipa, Salvia, Draba, Pedicularis, Potentilla or Sibbaldia, Gentiana and Erigeron alpinus of Scotland. All these grow nearly up to 18,000 feet.


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were nearly vertical strata of quartz, hornstone, and conglomerate, striking north-west, and dipping south-west 80°. The broad top of the hill was also of quartz, but covered with angular pebbles of the rocks transported from Kinchinjhow. Some clay-stone fragments were stained red with oxide of iron, and covered with Parmelia miniata;* this, with Borrera, another lichen, which forms stringy masses blown along by the wind, were the only plants, and they are among the most alpine in the world.

Bhomtso is 18,590 feet above the sea by barometer, and 18,305 by boiling-point: it presented an infinitely more extensive prospect than I had ventured to anticipate, commanding all the most important Sikkim, North Bhotan, and Tibetan mountains, including Kinchinjunga thirty-seven miles to the south-west, and Chumulari thirty-nine miles south-east. Due south, across the sandy valley of the Lachen, Kinchinjhow reared its long wall of glaciers and rugged precipices, 22,000 feet high, and under its cliffs lay the lake to which we had walked in the morning: beyond Kongra Lama were the Thlonok mountains, where I had spent the month of June, with Kinchinjunga in the distance. Westward Chomiomo rose abruptly from the rounded hills we were on, to 22,000 feet elevation, ten miles distant. To the east of Kinchinjhow were the Cholamoo lakes, with the rugged mass of Donkia stretching in cliffs of ice and snow continuously southwards to forked Donkia, which overhung Momay Samdong.

A long sloping spur sweeps from the north of Donkia first north, and then west to Bhomtso, rising to a height of more

* This minute lichen, mentioned at chapter xxxii, is the most Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine in the world; often occurring so abundantly as to colour the rocks of an orange red. This was the case at Bhomtso, and is so also in Cockburn Island in the Antarctic ocean, which it covers so profusely that the rocks look as if brightly painted. See “Ross’s Voyage,” vol. ii. p. 339.


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than 20,000 feet without snow. Over this spur the celebrated Chumulari* peeps, bearing south-east, and from its isolated position and sharpness looking low and small; it appeared quite near, though thirty-nine miles distant.

Kinchinjhow, Donkia and Cholamoo Lake, from the summit of Bhomtso, looking south; the summit of Chumulari is introduced in the extreme left of the view

North-east of Chumulari, and far beyond it, are several meridional ranges of very much loftier snowy mountains, which terminated the view of the snowy Himalaya; the distance embraced being fully 150 miles, and perhaps much more. Of one of these eastern masses† I afterwards took

* Some doubt still hangs over the identity of this mountain, chiefly owing to Turner’s having neglected to observe his geographical positions. I saw a much loftier mountain than this, bearing from Bhomtso north 87° east, and it was called Chumulari by the Tibetan Sepoys; but it does not answer to Turner’s description of an isolated snowy peak, such as he approached within three miles; and though in the latitude he assigned to it, is fully sixty miles to the east of his route. A peak, similar to the one he describes, is seen from Tonglo and Sinchul (see vol. i., p. 125 and p. 185); this is the one alluded to above, and it is identified by both Tibetans and Lepchas at Dorjiling as the true Chumulari, and was measured by Colonel Waugh, who placed it in lat. 27° 49′ north, long. 89° 18′ east. The latter position, though fifteen miles south of what Turner gives it, is probably correct; as Pemberton found that Turner had put other places in Bhotan twenty miles too far north. Moreover, in saying that it is visible from Purnea in the plains of Bengal, Turner refers to Kinchinjunga, whose elevation was then unknown. Dr. Campbell (“Bengal As. Soc. Jour.,” 1848), describes Chumulari from oral information, as an isolated mountain encircled by twenty-one goompas, and perambulated by pilgrims in five days; the Lachoong Phipun, on the other hand, who was a Lama, and well acquainted with the country, affirmed that Chumulari has many tops, and cannot be perambulated; but that detached peaks near it may be, and that it is to a temple near one of these that pilgrims resort. Again, the natives use these names very vaguely, and as that of Kinchinjunga is often applied equally to all or any part of the group of snows between the Lachen and Tambur rivers, so may the term Chumulari have been used vaguely to Captain Turner or to me. I have been told that an isolated, snow-topped, venerated mountain rises about twenty miles south of the true Chumulari, and is called “Sakya-khang” (Sakya’s snowy mountain), which may be that seen from Dorjiling; but I incline to consider Campbell’s and Waugh’s mountain as the one alluded to by Turner, and it is to it that I here refer as bearing north 115° 30′ east from Bhomtso.
† These are probably the Ghassa mountains of Turners narrative: bearings which I took of one of the loftiest of them, from the Khasia mountains, together with those from Bhomtso, would appear to place it in latitude 28° 10′ and longitude 90°, and 200 miles from the former station, and 90° east of the latter. Its elevation from Bhomtso angles is 24,160 feet. I presume I also saw Chumulari from the Khasia; the most western peak seen thence being in the direction of that mountain. Captain R. Strachey has most kindly paid close attention to these bearings and distances, and recalculated the distances and heights: no confidence is, however, to be placed in the results of such minute angles, taken from immense distances. Owing in part no doubt to extraordinary refraction, the angles of the Ghassa mountain taken from the Khasia give it an elevation of 26,500 feet! which is very much over the truth; and make that of Chumulari still higher: the distance from my position in the Khasia being 210 miles from Chumulari! which is probably the utmost limit at which the human eye has ever discerned a terrestrial object.


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bearings and angular heights from the Khasia mountains, in Bengal, upwards of 200 miles south-east of its position.

Turning to the northward, a singular contrast in the view was presented: the broad sandy valley of the Arun lay a few miles off, and perhaps 1,500 feet below me; low brown and red ridges, 18,000 to 19,000 feet high, of stony sloping mountains with rocky tops, divided its feeders, which appeared to be dry, and to occupy flat sandy valleys. For thirty miles north no mountain was above the level of the theodolite, and not a particle of snow was to be seen beyond that, rugged purple-flanked and snowy-topped mountains girdled the horizon, appearing no nearer than they did from the Donkia pass, and their angular heights and bearings being almost the same as from that point of view. The nearer of these are said to form the Kiang-lah chain, the furthest I was told by different authorities are in the salt districts north of Jigatzi.

To the north-east was the lofty region traversed by Turner on his route by the Ramchoo lakes to Teshoo Loombo; its elevation may be 17,000 feet* above the sea. Beyond it a gorge led through rugged mountains, by which I was told the Painom river flows north-west to the Yaru; and at an immense distance to the north-east were the Khamba mountains, a long blue range, which it is said

* It is somewhat remarkable that Turner nowhere alludes to difficulty of breathing, and in one place only to head-ache (p. 209) when at these great elevations. This is in a great measure accounted for by his having been constantly mounted. I never suffered either in my breathing, head, or stomach when riding, even when at 18,300 feet.


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divides the Lhassan or “U” from the “Tsang” (or Jigatzi) province of Tibet; it appeared fully 100 miles off, and was probably much more; it bore from N. 57° E. to N. 70° E., and though so lofty as to be heavily snowed throughout, was much below the horizon-line of Bhomtso; it is crossed on the route from Jigatzi, and from Sikkim to Lhassa,* and is considered very lofty, from affecting the breathing. About twenty miles to the north-east are some curious red conical mountains, said to be on the west side of the Ramchoo lakes; they were unsnowed, and bore N. 45° 30′ E. and N. 60° 30′ E. A sparingly-snowed group bore N. 26° 30′ E., and another N. 79° E., the latter being probably that mentioned by Turner as seen by him from near Giantchi.

But the mountains which appeared both the highest and the most distant on the northern landscape, were those I described when at Donkia, as being north of Nepal and beyond the Arun river, and the culminant peak of which bore N. 55°. Both Dr. Campbell and I made repeated estimates of its height and distance by the eye; comparing its size and snow-level with those of the mountains near us; and assuming 4000 to 5000 feet as the minimum height of its snowy cap; this would give it an elevation of 23,000 to 25,000 feet. An excellent telescope brought out no features on its flanks not visible to the naked eye, and by the most careful levellings with the theodolite, it was depressed more than 0° 7′ below the horizon of Bhomtso, whence the distance must be above 100 miles.

The transparency of the pale-blue atmosphere of these

* Lhassa, which lies north-east, may be reached in ten days from this, with relays of ponies; many mountains are crossed, where the breath is affected, and few villages are passed after leaving Giantchi, the “Jhansi jeung” of Turner’s narrative. See Campbell’s “Routes from Dorjiling to Lhassa.” (“Bengal As. Soc. Journal.”)


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lofty regions can hardly be described, nor the clearness and precision with which the most distant objects are projected against the sky. From having afterwards measured peaks 200 and 210 miles distant from the Khasia mountains, I feel sure that I underrated the estimates made at Bhomtso, and I have no hesitation in saying, that the mean elevation of the sparingly-snowed* watershed between the Yaru and the Arun will be found to be greater than that of the snowy Himalaya south of it, and to follow the chain running from Donkia, north of the Arun, along the Kiang-lah mountains, towards the Nepal frontier, at Tingri Maidan. No part of that watershed perhaps rises so high as 24,000 feet, but its lowest elevation is probably nowhere under 18,000 feet.

This broad belt of lofty country, north of the snowy Himalaya, is the Dingcham province of Tibet, and runs along the frontier of Sikkim, Bhotan, and Nepal. It gives rise to all the Himalayan rivers, and its mean elevation is probably 15,000 to 15,500 feet: its general appearance, as seen from greater heights, is that of a much less mountainous country than the snowy and wet Himalayan regions; this is because its mean elevation is so enormous, that ranges of 20,000 to 22,000 feet appear low and insignificant upon it. The absence of forest and other obstructions to the view, the breadth and flatness of the valleys, and the undulating character of the lower ranges that

* Were the snow-level in Dingcham, as low as it is in Sikkim, the whole of Tibet from Donkia almost to the Yaru-Tsampu river would be everywhere intersected by glaciers and other impassable barriers of snow and ice, for a breadth of fifty miles, and the country would have no parallel for amount of snow beyond the Polar circles. It is impossible to conjecture what would have been the effects on the climate of northern India and central Asia under these conditions. When, however, we reflect upon the evidences of glacial phenomena that abound in all the Himalayan valleys at and above 9000 feet elevation, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that such a state of things once existed, and that at a comparatively very recent period.


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traverse its surface, give it a comparatively level appearance, and suggest the term “maidan” or “plains” to the Tibetan, when comparing his country with the complicated ridges of the deep Sikkim valleys. Here one may travel for many miles without rising or falling 3000 feet, yet never descending below 14,000 feet, partly because the flat winding valleys are followed in preference to exhausting ascents, and partly because the passes are seldom more than that elevation above the valleys; whereas, in Sikkim, rises and descents of 6000, and even 9000 feet, are common in passing from valley to valley, sometimes in one day’s march.

The swarthy races of Dingcham have been elsewhere described; they are an honest, hospitable, and very hardy people, differing from the northern Tibetans chiefly in colour, and in invariably wearing the pigtail, which MM. Huc and Gabet assure us is not usual in Lhassa.* They are a pastoral race, and Campbell saw a flock of 400 hornless sheep, grazing on short sedges (Carex) and fescue-grass, in the middle of October, at 18,000 feet above the sea. An enormous ram attended the flock, whose long hair hung down to the ground; its back was painted red.

There is neither tree nor shrub in this country; and a very little wheat (which seldom ripens), barley, turnips, and radishes are, I believe, the only crops, except occasionally

* Amongst Lhassan customs alluded to by these travellers, is that of the women smearing their faces with a black pigment, the object of which they affirm to be that they may render themselves odious to the male sex, and thus avoid temptation. The custom is common enough, but the real object is to preserve the skin, which the dry cold wind peels from the face. The pigment is mutton-fat, blackened, according to Tchebu Lama, with catechu and other ingredients; but I believe more frequently by the dirt of the face itself. I fear I do not slander the Tibetan damsels in saying that personal cleanliness and chastity are both lightly esteemed amongst them; and as the Lama naïvely remarked, when questioned on the subject, “the Tibetan women are not so different from those of other countries as to wish to conceal what charms they possess.”


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peas. Other legumes, cabbages, etc., are cultivated in the sheltered valleys of the Yaru feeders, where great heat is reflected from the rocks; and there also stunted trees grow, as willows, walnuts, poplars, and perhaps ashes; all of which, however, are said to be planted and scarce. Even at Teshoo Loombo and Jigatzi* buckwheat is a rare crop, and only a prostrate very hardy kind is grown. Clay teapots and pipkins are the most valuable exports to Sikkim from the latter city, after salt and soda. Jewels and woollen cloaks are also exported, the latter especially from Giantchi, which is famous for its woollen fabrics and mart of ponies.

Of the Yaru river at Jigatzi, which all affirm becomes the Burrampooter in Assam, I have little information to add to Turner’s description: it is sixty miles north of Bhomtso, and I assume its elevation to be 13-14,000 feet;† it takes an immense bend to the northward after

* Digarchi, Jigatzi, or Shigatzi jong (the fort of Shigatzi) is the capital of the “Tsang” province, and Teshoo Loombo is the neighbouring city of temples and monasteries, the ecclesiastical capital of Tibet, and the abode of the grand (Teshoo) Lama, or ever-living Boodh. Whether we estimate this man by the number of his devotees, or the perfect sincerity of their worship, he is without exception one of the most honoured beings living in the world. I have assumed the elevation of Jigatzi to be 13–14,000 feet, using as data Turner’s October mean temperature of Teshoo Loombo, and the decrement for elevation of 400 feet to 1° Fahr.; which my own observations indicate as an approximation to the truth. Humboldt (“Asie Centrale,” iii., p. 223) uses a much smaller multiplier, and infers the elevation of Teshoo Loombo to be between 9,500 and 10,000 feet. Our data are far too imperfect to warrant any satisfactory conclusions on this interesting subject; but the accounts I have received of the vegetation of the Yaru valley at Jigatzi seem to indicate an elevation of at least 13,000 feet for the bed of that river. Of the elevation of Lhassa itself we have no idea: if MM. Huc and Gabet’s statement of the rivers not being frozen there in March be correct, the climate must be very different from what we suppose.
† The Yaru, which approaches the Nepal frontier west of Tingri, and beyond the great mountain described at vol. i. p. 265, makes a sweep to the northward, and turns south to Jigatzi, whence it makes another and greater bend to the north, and again turning south flows west of Lhassa, receiving the Kechoo river from that holy city. From Jigatzi it is said to be navigable to near Lhassa by skin and plank-built boats. Thence it flows south-east to the Assam frontier, and while still in Tibet, is said to enter a warm climate, where tea, silk, cotton, and rice, are grown. Of its course after entering the Assam Himalaya little is known, and in answer to my enquiries why it had not been followed, I was always told that the country through which it flowed was inhabited by tribes of savages, who live on snakes and vermin, and are fierce and warlike. These are no doubt the Singpho, Bor and Bor-abor tribes who inhabit the mountains of upper Assam. A travelling mendicant was once sent to follow up the Dihong to the Burrampooter, under the joint auspices of Mr. Hodgson and Major Jenkins, the Commissioner of Assam; but the poor fellow was speared on the frontier by these savages. The concurrent testimony of the Assamese, that the Dihong is the Yaru, on its southern course to become the Burrampooter, renders this point as conclusively settled as any, resting on mere oral evidence, is likely to be.


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passing Jigatzi, and again turns south, flowing to the west of Lhassa, and at some distance from that capital. Lhassa, as all agree, is at a much lower elevation than Jigatzi; and apricots (whose ripe stones Dr. Campbell procured for me) and walnuts are said to ripen there, and the Dama or Himalayan furze (Caragana), is said to grow there. The Bactrian camel also thrives and breeds at Lhassa, together with a small variety of cow (not the yak), both signs of a much more temperate climate than Jigatzi enjoys. It is, however, a remarkable fact that there are two tame elephants near the latter city, kept by the Teshoo Lama. They were taken to Jigatzi, through Bhotan, by Phari; and I have been informed that they have become clothed with long hair, owing to the cold of the climate; but Tchebu Lama contradicted this, adding, that his countrymen were so credulous, that they would believe blankets grew on the elephants’ backs, if the Lamas told them so.

No village or house is seen throughout the extensive area over which the eye roams from Bhomtso, and the general character of the desolate landscape was similar to that which I have described as seen from Donkia Pass (p. 124). The wild ass* grazing with its foal on the sloping downs,

* This, the Equus Hemionus of Pallas, the untameable Kiang of Tibet, abounds in Dingcham, and we saw several. It resembles the ass more than the horse, from its size, heavy head, small limbs, thin tail, and the stripe over the shoulder. The flesh is eaten and much liked. The Kiang-lah mountains are so named from their being a great resort of this creature. It differs widely from the wild ass of Persia, Sind, and Beloochistan, but is undoubtedly the same as the Siberian animal.


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the hare bounding over the stony soil, the antelope scouring the sandy flats, and the fox stealing along to his burrow, are all desert and Tartarian types of the animal creation. The shrill whistle of the marmot alone breaks the silence of the scene, recalling the snows of Lapland to the mind; the kite and raven wheel through the air, 1000 feet over head, with as strong and steady a pinion as if that atmosphere possessed the same power of resistance that it does at the level of the sea. Still higher in the heavens, long black V-shaped trains of wild geese cleave the air, shooting over the glacier-crowned top of Kinchinjhow, and winging their flight in one day, perhaps, from the Yaru to the Ganges, over 500 miles of space, and through 22,000 feet of elevation. One plant alone, the yellow lichen (Borrera), is found at this height, and only as a visitor; for, Tartar-like, it emigrates over these lofty slopes and ridges, blown about by the violent winds. I found a small beetle on the very top,* probably blown up also, for it was a flower-feeder, and seemed benumbed with cold.

Every night that we spent in Tibet, we enjoyed a magnificent display of sunbeams converging to the east, and making a false sunset. I detailed this phenomenon when seen from the Kymore mountains, and I repeatedly saw it again in the Khasia, but never in the Sikkim Himalaya, whence I assume that it is most frequent in mountain plateaus. As the sun set, broad purple beams rose from a dark, low, leaden bank on the eastern horizon, and spreading up to the zenith, covered the intervening space: they lasted through the twilight, from fifteen to twenty minutes, fading gradually into the blackness of

* I observed a small red Acarus (mite) at this elevation, both on Donkia and Kinchinjhow, which reminds me that I found a species of the same genus at Cockburn Island (in latitude 64° south, longitude 64° 49′ west). This genus hence inhabits a higher southern latitude than any other land animal attains.


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night. I looked in vain for the beautiful lancet beam of the zodiacal light; its position was obscured by Chomiomo.

On the 18th of October we had another brilliant morning, after a cold night, the temperature having fallen to 4°. I took the altitude of Yeumtso by carefully boiling two thermometers, and the result was 16,279 feet, the barometrical observations giving 16,808 feet. I removed a thermometer sunk three feet in the gravelly soil, which showed a temperature of 43°,* which is 12·7° above the mean temperature of the two days we camped here.

Our fires were made of dry yak droppings which soon burn out with a fierce flame, and much black smoke; they give a disagreeable taste to whatever is cooked with them.

Having sent the coolies forward to Cholamoo lake, we re-ascended Bhomtso to verify my observations. As on the previous occasion a violent dry north-west wind blew, peeling the skin from our faces, loading the air with grains of sand, and rendering theodolite observations very uncertain; besides injuring all my instruments, and exposing them to great risk of breakage.

The Tibetan Sepoys did not at all understand our ascending Bhomtso a second time; they ran after Campbell, who was ahead on a stout pony, girding up their long garments, bracing their matchlocks tight over their shoulders, and gasping for breath at every step, the long horns of their muskets bobbing up and down as they toiled amongst the rocks. When I reached the top I found Campbell seated behind a little stone wall which he had raised to keep off the violent wind, and the uncouth warriors in a circle round him, puzzled beyond measure at his admiration of the view. My instruments perplexed them extremely, and in crowding round me, they

* It had risen to 43·5° during the previous day.


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broke my azimuth compass. They left us to ourselves when the fire I made to boil the thermometers went out, the wind being intensely cold. I had given my barometer to one of Campbell’s men to carry, who not coming up, the latter kindly went to search for him, and found him on the ground quite knocked up and stupified by the cold, and there, if left alone, he would have lain till overtaken by death.

The barometer on the summit of Bhomtso stood at 15·548 inches;* the temperature between 11.30 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. fluctuated between 44° and 56°: this was very high for so great an elevation, and no doubt due to the power of the sun on the sterile soil, and consequent radiated heat. The tension of vapour was ·0763, and the dew-point was 5·8°, or 43·5° below the temperature of the air. Such extraordinary dryness† and consequent evaporation, increased by the violent wind, sufficiently accounts for the height of the snow line; in further evidence of which, I may add that a piece of ice or snow laid on the ground here, does not melt, but disappears by evaporation.

The difference between the dry cold air of this elevation and that of the heated plains of India, is very great. During the driest winds of the Terai, in spring, the temperature is 80° to 90°, the tension of vapour is .400 to .500, with a dew-point 22° below the temperature, and upwards of six grains of vapour are suspended in the cubic foot of air; a thick haze obscures the heavens, and clouds of dust rise high in the air; here on the other hand (probably

* The elevation of Bhomtso, worked by Bessel’s tables, and using corrected observations of the Calcutta barometer for the lower station, is 18,590 feet. The corresponding dew-point 4·4° (49·6° below that of the air at the time of observation). By Oltmann’s tables the elevation is 18,540 feet. The elevation by boiling water is 18,305.
† The weight of vapour in a cubic foot of air was no more than ·087 of a grain, and the saturation-point ·208.


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owing to the rarity of the atmosphere and the low tension of its vapours), the drought is accompanied by perfect transparency, and the atmosphere is too attenuated to support the dust raised by the wind.

We descended in the afternoon, and on our way up the Lachen valley examined a narrow gulley in a lofty red spur from Kinchinjhow, where black shales were in situ, striking north-east, and dipping north-west 45°. These shales were interposed between beds of yellow quartz conglomerate, upon the latter of which rested a talus of earthy rocks, angular fragments of which were strewed about opposite this spur, but were not seen elsewhere.

It became dark before we reached the Cholamoo lake, where we lost our way amongst glaciers, moraines, and marshes. We expected to have seen the lights of the camp, but were disappointed, and as it was freezing hard, we began to be anxious, and shouted till the echos of our voices against the opposite bank were heard by Tchebu Lama, who met us in great alarm for our safety. Our camp was pitched some way from the shore, on a broad plain, 16,900 feet above the sea.* A cold wind descended from Donkia; yet, though more elevated than Yeumtso, the climate of Cholamoo, from being damper and misty, was milder. The minimum thermometer fell to 14°.

Before starting for Donkia pass on the following morning, we visited some black rocks which rose from the flat to the east of the lake. They proved to be of fossiliferous limestone, the strata of which were much disturbed: the strike

* This, which is about the level of the lake, gives the Lachen river a fall of about 1,500 feet between its source and Kongra Lama, or sixty feet per mile following its windings. From Kongra Lama to Tallum it is 140 feet per mile; from Tallum to Singtam 160 feet; and from Singtam to the plains of India 50 feet per mile. The total fall from Cholamoo lake to its exit on the plains of India is eighty-five feet per mile. Its length, following its windings, is 195 miles, upwards of double the direct distance.


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appeared in one part north-west, and the dip north-east 45°: a large fault passed east by north through the cliff, and it was further cleft by joints running northwards. The cliff was not 100 yards long, and was about 70 thick; its surface was shivered by frost into cubical masses, and glacial boulders of gneiss lay on the top. The limestone rock was chiefly a blue pisolite conglomerate, with veins and crystals of white carbonate of lime, seams of shale, and iron pyrites. A part was compact and blue, very crystalline, and full of encrinitic fossils, and probably nummulites, but all were too much altered for determination.

This, from its mineral characters, appears to be the same limestone formation which occurs throughout the Himalaya and Western Tibet; but the fossils I collected are in too imperfect a state to warrant any conclusions on this subject. Its occurrence immediately to the northward of the snowy mountains, and in such very small quantities, are very remarkable facts. The neighbouring rocks of Donkia were gneiss with granite veins, also striking north-west and dipping north-east 10°, as if they overlay the limestone, but here as in all similar situations there was great confusion of the strata, and variation in direction and strike.

And here I may once for all confess that though I believe the general strike of the rocks on this frontier to be north-west, and the dip north-east, I am unable to affirm it positively; for though I took every opportunity of studying the subject, and devoted many hours to the careful measuring and recording of dips and strikes, on both faces of Kinchinjhow, Donkia, Bhomtso, and Kongra Lama, I am unable to reduce these to any intelligible system.*

The coolies of Dr. Campbell’s party were completely

* North-west is the prevalent strike in Kumaon, the north-west Himalaya generally, and throughout Western Tibet, Kashmir, etc., according to Dr. Thomson.


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knocked up by the rarified air; they had taken a whole day to march here from Yeumtso, scarcely six miles, and could eat no food at night. A Lama of our party offered up prayers* to Kinchinjhow for the recovery of a stout Lepcha lad (called Nurko), who showed no signs of animation, and had all the symptoms of serous apoplexy. The Lama perched a saddle on a stone, and burning incense before it, scattered rice to the winds, invoking Kinchin, Donkia, and all the neighbouring peaks. A strong dose of calomel and jalap, which we poured down the sick lad’s throat, contributed materially to the success of these incantations.

The Tibetan Sepoys were getting tired of our delays, which so much favoured my operations; but though showing signs of impatience and sulkiness, they behaved well to the last; taking the sick man to the top of the pass on their yaks, and assisting all the party: nothing, however, would induce them to cross into Sikkim, which they considered as “Company’s territory.”

Before proceeding to the pass, I turned off to the east, and re-ascended Donkia to upwards of 19,000 feet, vainly hoping to get a more distant view, and other bearings of the Tibetan mountains. The ascent was over enormous piles of loose rocks split by the frost, and was extremely fatiguing. I reached a peak overhanging a steep precipice, at whose base were small lakes and glaciers, from which flowed several sources of the Lachen, afterwards swelled by the great affluent from Cholamoo lake. A few rocks striking north-east and dipping north-west, projected

* All diseases are attributed by the Tibetans to the four elements, who are propitiated accordingly in cases of severe illness. The winds are invoked in cases of affections of the breathing; fire in fevers and inflammations; water in dropsy, and diseases whereby the fluids are affected; and the God of earth when solid organs are diseased, as in liver-complaints, rheumatism, etc. Propitiatory offerings are made to the deities of these elements, but never sacrifices.


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at the very summit, with frozen snow amongst them, beyond which the ice and precipices rendered it impossible to proceed: but though exposed to the north, there was no perpetual snow in the ordinary acceptation of the term, and an arctic European lichen (Lecidea oreina) grew on the top, so faintly discolouring the rocks as hardly to be detected without a magnifying-glass.

I descended obliquely, down a very steep slope of 35°, over upwards of a thousand feet of débris, the blocks on which were so loosely poised on one another, that it was necessary to proceed with the utmost circumspection, for I was alone, and a false step would almost certainly have been followed by breaking a leg. The alternate freezing and thawing of rain amongst these masses, must produce a constant downward motion in the whole pile of débris (which was upwards of 2000 feet high), and may account for the otherwise unexplained phenomenon of continuous shoots of angular rocks reposing on very gentle slopes in other places.*

The north ascent to the Donkia pass is by a path well selected amongst immense angular masses of rock, and over vast piles of débris: the strike on this, the north face, was again north-east, and dip north-west: I arrived at the top at 3 p.m., throughly fatigued, and found my faithful Lepcha lads (Cheytoong and Bassebo) nestling under a rock with my theodolite and barometers, having been awaiting my arrival in the biting wind for three hours. My pony stood there too, the picture of patience, and laden with

* May not the origin of the streams of quartz blocks that fill gently sloping broad valleys several miles long, in the Falkland Islands, be thus explained? (See “Darwin’s Journal,” in Murray’s Home and Col. Lib.) The extraordinary shifting in the position of my thermometer left among the rocks of the Donkia pass (see p. 129), and the mobile state of the slopes I descended on this occasion, first suggested this explanation to me. When in the Falkland Islands I was wholly unable to offer any explanation of the phenomenon there, to which my attention had been drawn by Mr. Darwin’s narrative.


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minerals. After repeating my observations, I proceeded to Momay Samdong, where I arrived after dusk. I left a small bottle of brandy and some biscuits with the lads, and it was well I did so, for the pony knocked up before reaching Momay, and rather than leave my bags of stones, they passed the night by the warm flank of the beast, under a rock at 18,000 feet elevation, without other food, fire, or shelter.

I found my companion encamped at Momay, on the spot I had occupied in September; he had had the utmost difficulty in getting his coolies on, as they threw down their light loads in despair, and lying with their faces to the ground, had to be roused from a lethargy that would soon have been followed by death.

We rested for a day at Momay, and on the 20th, attempted to ascend to the Donkia glacier, but were driven back by a heavy snow-storm. The scenery on arriving here, presented a wide difference to that we had left; snow lying at 16,500 feet, whereas immediately to the north of the same mountain there was none at 19,000 feet. Before leaving Momay; I sealed two small glass flasks containing the air of this elevation, by closing with a spirit lamp a very fine capillary tube, which formed the opening to each; avoiding the possibility of heating the contents by the hand or otherwise. The result of its analysis by Mr. Muller (who sent me the prepared flasks), was that it contained 36·538 per cent. in volume of oxygen; whereas his repeated analysis of the air of Calcutta gives 21 per cent. Such a result is too anomalous to be considered satisfactory.

I again visited the Kinchinjhow glacier and hot springs; the water had exactly the same temperature as in the previous month, though the mean temperature of the air was 8° or 9° lower. The minimum thermometer fell to 22°, being 10° lower than it ever fell in September.


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We descended to Yeumtong in a cold drizzle, arriving by sunset; we remained through the following day, hoping to explore the lower glacier on the opposite side of the valley: which, however, the weather entirely prevented. I have before mentioned (p. 140) that in descending in autumn from the drier and more sunny rearward Sikkim valleys, the vegetation is found to be most backward in the lowest and dampest regions. On this occasion, I found asters, grasses, polygonums, and other plants that were withered, brown, and seeding at Momay (14,000 to 15,000 feet), at Yeumtong (12,000 feet) green and unripe; and 2000 feet lower still, at Lachoong, the contrast was even more marked. Thus the short backward spring and summer of the Arctic zone is overtaken by an early and forward seed-time and winter: so far as regards the effects of mean temperature, the warmer station is in autumn more backward than the colder. This is everywhere obvious in the prevalent plants of each, and is especially recognisable in the rhododendrons; as the following table shows:—

16,000 to 17,000 feet, R. nivale flowers in July;
    fruits in September=2 months.
13,000 to 14,000 feet, R. anthopogon flowers in June;
    fruits in Oct.=4 months.
11,000 to 12,000 feet, R. campanulatum flowers in May;
    fruits in Nov.=8 months.
8,000 to 9,000 feet, R. argenteum flowers in April;
    fruits in Dec.=8 months.


And so it is with many species of Compositæ and Umbelliferæ, and indeed of all natural orders, some of which I have on the same day gathered in ripe fruit at 13,000 to 14,000 feet, and found still in flower at 9000 to 10,000 feet. The brighter skies and more powerful and frequent solar radiation at the greater elevations, account for this apparent inversion of the order of nature.*

* The distribution of the seasons at different elevations in the Himalaya gives rise to some anomalies that have puzzled naturalists. From the middle of October to that of May, vegetation is torpid above 14,000 feet, and indeed almost uniformly covered with snow. From November till the middle of April, vegetation is also torpid above 10,000 feet, except that a few trees and bushes do not ripen all their seeds till December. The three winter months (December, January, and February) are all but dead above 6000 feet, the earliest appearance of spring at Dorjiling (7000 feet) being at the sudden accession of heat in March. From May till August the vegetation at each elevation is (in ascending order) a month behind that below it; 4000 feet being about equal to a month of summer weather in one sense. I mean by this, that the genera and natural orders (and sometimes the species) which flower at 8000 feet in May, are not so forward at 12,000 feet till June, nor at 16,000 feet till July. After August, however, the reverse holds good; then the vegetation is as forward at 16,000 feet as at 8000 feet. By the end of September most of the natural orders and genera have ripened their fruit in the upper zone, though they have flowered as late as July; whereas October is the fruiting month at 12,000, and November below 10,000 feet. Dr. Thomson does not consider that the more sunny climate of the loftier elevations sufficiently accounts for this, and adds the stimulus of cold, which must act by checking the vegetative organs and hastening maturation.


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I was disappointed at finding the rhododendron seeds still immature at Yeumtong, for I was doubtful whether the same kinds might be met with at the Chola pass, which I had yet to visit; besides which, their tardy maturation threatened to delay me for an indefinite period in the country. Viburnum and Lonicera, however, were ripe and abundant; the fruits of both are considered poisonous in Europe, but here the black berries of a species of the former (called “Nalum”) are eatable and agreeable; as are those of a Gualtheria, which are pale blue, and called “Kalumbo.” Except these, and the cherry mentioned above, there are no other autumnal fruits above 10,000 feet: brambles, strange as it may appear, do not ascend beyond that elevation in the Sikkim Himalaya, though so abundant below it, both in species and individuals, and though so typical of northern Europe.

At Lachoong we found all the yaks that had been grazing till the end of September at the higher elevations, and the Phipun presented our men with one of a gigantic size, and proportionally old and tough. The Lepchas


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barbarously slaughtered it with arrows, and feasted on the flesh and entrails, singed and fried the skin, and made soup of the bones, leaving nothing but the horns and hoofs. Having a fine day, they prepared some as jerked meat, cutting it into thin strips, which they dried on the rocks. This (called “Schat-chew,” dried meat) is a very common and favourite food in Tibet, I found it palatable; but on the other hand, the dried saddles of mutton, of which they boast so much, taste so strongly of tallow, that I found it impossible to swallow a morsel of them.*

We staid two days at Lachoong, two of my lads being again laid up with fever; one of them had been similarly attacked at the same place nearly two months before: the other lad had been repeatedly ill since June, and at all elevations. Both cases were returns of a fever caught in the low unhealthy valleys some months previously, and excited by exposure and hardship. The vegetation at Lachoong was still beautiful, and the weather mild, though snow had descended to 14,000 feet on Tunkra. Compositæ were abundantly in flower, apples

* Raw dried split fish are abundantly cured (without salt) in Tibet; they are caught in the Yaru and great lakes of Ramchoo, Dobtah, and Yarbru, and are chiefly carp, and allied fish, which attain a large size. It is one of the most remarkable facts in the zoology of Asia, that no trout or salmon inhabits any of the rivers that débouche into the Indian Ocean (the so-called Himalayan trout is a species of carp). This widely distributed natural order of fish (Salmonidæ) is however, found in the Oxus, and in all the rivers of central Asia that flow north and west, and the Salmo orientalis, M’Clelland (“Calcutta Journ. Nat. Hist.” iii., p. 283), was caught by Mr. Griffith (Journals, p. 404) in the Bamean river (north of the Hindo Koosh) which flows into the Oxus, and whose waters are separated by one narrow mountain ridge from those of the feeders of the Indus. The central Himalayan rivers often rise in Tibet from lakes full of fish, but have none (at least during the rains) in that rapid part of their course from 10,000 to 14,000 feet elevation: below that fish abound, but I believe invariably of different species from those found at the sources of the same rivers. The nature of the tropical ocean into which all the Himalayan rivers débouche, is no doubt the proximate cause of the absence of Salmonidæ. Sir John Richardson (Fishes of China Seas, etc., “in Brit. Ass. Rep. etc.”), says that no species of the order has been found in the Chinese or eastern Asiatic seas.


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in young fruit, bushes of Cotoneaster covered with scarlet berries, and the brushwood silvery with the feathery heads of Clematis.

I here found that I had lost a thermometer for high temperatures, owing to a hole in the bag in which Cheytoong carried those of my instruments which were in constant use. It had been last used at the hot springs of the Kinchinjhow glacier; and the poor lad was so concerned at his mishap, that he came to me soon afterwards, with his blanket on his back, and a few handfuls of rice in a bag, to make his salaam before setting out to search for it. There was not now a single inhabitant between Lachoong and that dreary spot, and strongly against my wish he started, without a companion. Three days afterwards he overtook us at Keadom, radiant with joy at having found the instrument: he had gone up to the hot springs, and vainly sought around them that evening; then rather than lose the chance of a day-light search on his way back, he had spent the cold October night in the hot water, without fire or shelter, at 16,000 feet above the sea. Next morning his search was again fruitless; and he was returning disconsolate, when he descried the brass case glistening between two planks of the bridge crossing the river at Momay, over which torrent the instrument was suspended. The Lepchas have generally been considered timorous of evil spirits, and especially averse to travelling at night, even in company. However little this gallant lad may have been given to superstition, he was nevertheless a Lepcha, born in a warm region, and had never faced the cold till he became my servant; and it required a stout heart and an honest one, to spend a night in so awful a solitude as that which reigns around the foot of the Kinchinjhow glacier.*

* The fondness of natives for hot springs wherever they occur is very natural and has been noticed by Humboldt, “Pers. Narr.” iv. 195, who states that on Christianity being introduced into Iceland, the natives refused to be baptised in any but the water of the Geysers. I have mentioned at p. 117 the uses to which the Yeumtong hot springs are put; and the custom of using artificial hot baths is noticed at vol. i., page 305.


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The villagers at Keadom, where we slept on the 26th, were busy cutting the crops of millet, maize, and Amaranthus. A girl who, on my way down the previous month, had observed my curiosity about a singular variety of the maize, had preserved the heads on their ripening, and now brought them to me. The peaches were all gathered, and though only half ripe, were better than Dorjiling produce. A magnificent tree of Bucklandia, one of the most beautiful evergreens in Sikkim, grew near this village; it had a trunk twenty-one feet seven inches in girth, at five feet from the ground, and was unbranched for forty feet.* Ferns and the beautiful air-plant Cœlogyne Wallichii grew on its branches, with other orchids, while Clematis and Stauntonia climbed the trunk. Such great names (Buckland, Staunton, and Wallich) thus brought before the traveller’s notice, never failed to excite lively and pleasing emotions: it is the ignorant and unfeeling alone who can ridicule the association of the names of travellers and naturalists with those of animals and plants.

We arrived at Choongtam (for the fourth time) at noon, and took up our quarters in a good house near the temple. The autumn and winter flowering plants now prevailed here, such as Labiatæ, which are generally late at this

* This superb tree is a great desideratum in our gardens; I believe it would thrive in the warm west of England. Its wood is brown, and not valuable as timber, but the thick, bright, glossy, evergreen foliage is particularly handsome, and so is the form of the crown. It is also interesting in a physiological point of view, from the woody fibre being studded with those curious microscopic discs so characteristic of pines, and which when occurring on fossil wood are considered conclusive as to the natural family to which such woods belong. Geologists should bear in mind that not only does the whole natural order to which Bucklandia belongs, possess this character, but also various species of Magnoliaceæ found in India, Australia, Borneo, and South America.


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elevation; and grasses, which, though rare in the damp forest regions, are so common on these slopes that I here gathered twenty-six kinds. I spent a day here in order to collect seeds of the superb rhododendrons* which I had discovered in May, growing on the hills behind. The ascent was now difficult, from the length of the wiry grass, which rendered the slopes so slippery that it was impossible to ascend without holding on by the tussocks.

A ragged Tibetan mendicant (Phud) was amusing the people: he put on a black mask with cowrie shells for eyes, and danced uncouth figures with a kind of heel and toe shuffle, in excellent time, to rude Tibetan songs of his own: for this he received ample alms, which a little boy collected in a wallet. These vagrants live well upon charity; they bless, curse, and transact little affairs of all kinds up and down the valleys of Sikkim and Tibet; this one dealt in red clay teapots, sheep and puppies.

We found Meepo at Choongtam: I had given him leave (when here last) to go back to the Rajah, and to visit his wife; and he had returned with instructions to conduct me to the Chola and Yakla passes, in Eastern Sikkim. These passes, like that of Tunkra (p. 110), lead over the Chola range to that part of Tibet which is interposed between Sikkim and Bhotan. My road lay past the Rajah’s residence, which we considered very fortunate, as apparently affording Campbell an opportunity of a conference with his highness, for which both he and the Tchebu Lama were most anxious.

On the way down the Lachen-Lachoong, we found the valley still flooded (as described at p. 20 and p. 146), and the alders standing with their trunks twelve feet under water;

* These Rhododendrons are now all flourishing at Kew and elsewhere: they are R. Dalhousiæ, arboreum, Maddeni, Edgeworthii, Aucklandii and virgatum.


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Tibetan Phud

but the shingle dam was now dry and hard: it would probably soften, and be carried away by the first rains of the following year. I left here the temperate flora of northern Sikkim, tropical forms commencing to appear: of these the nettle tribe were most numerous in the woods. A large grape, with beautiful clusters of round purple berries, was very fair eating; it is not the common vine of Europe, which nevertheless is probably an Himalayan plant, the Vitis Indica.*

* The origin of the common grape being unknown, it becomes a curious question to decide whether the Himalayan Vitis Indica is the wild state of that plant: an hypothesis strengthened by the fact of Bacchus, etc., having come from the East.


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At Chakoong the temperature of the river, which in May was 54°, was now 51·5° at 3 p.m. We did not halt here, but proceeded to Namgah, a very long and fatiguing march. Thence a short march took us to Singtam, which we reached on the 30th of October. The road by which I had come up was for half the distance obliterated in most parts by landslips,* but they were hard and dry, and the leeches were gone.

Bad weather, and Campbell’s correspondence with the Durbar, who prevented all communication with the Rajah, detained us here two days, after which we crossed to the Teesta valley, and continued along its east bank to Tucheam, 2000 feet above the river. We obtained a magnificent view of the east face of Kinchinjunga, its tops bearing respectively N. 62° W., and N. 63° W.: the south slope of the snowed portion in profile was 34°, and of the north 40°; but both appeared much steeper to the eye, when unaided by an instrument.

The great shrubby nettle (Urtica crenulata) is common here: this plant, called “Mealum-ma,” attains fifteen feet in height; it has broad glossy leaves, and though apparently without stings, is held in so great dread,† that

* I took a number of dips and strikes of the micaceous rocks: the strike of these was as often north-east as north-west; it was ever varying, and the strata were so disturbed, as materially to increase the number and vast dimensions of the landslips.
† The stinging hairs are microscopic, and confined to the young shoots, leaf and flower-stalks. Leschenault de la Tour describes being stung by this nettle on three fingers of his hand only at the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, and the subsequent sneezing and running at the nose, followed by tetanic symptoms and two days’ suffering, nor did the effects disappear for nine days. It is a remarkable fact that the plant stings violently only at this season. I frequently gathered it with impunity on subsequent occasions, and suspected some inaccuracy in my observations; but in Silhet both Dr. Thomson and I experienced the same effects in autumn. Endlicher (“Lindley’s Vegetable Kingdom”) attributes the causticity of nettle-juice to bicarbonate of ammonia, which Dr. Thomson and I ascertained was certainly not present in this species.


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I had difficulty in getting help to cut it down. I gathered many specimens without allowing any part to touch my skin; still the scentless effluvium was so powerful, that mucous matter poured from my eyes and nose all the rest of the afternoon, in such abundance, that I had to hold my head over a basin for an hour. The sting is very virulent, producing inflammation; and to punish a child with “Mealum-ma” is the severest Lepcha threat. Violent fevers and death have been said to ensue from its sting; but this I very much doubt.

Tibetan implements

Next Chapter XXV