In the Forbidden Land
by Arnold Henry Savage Landor
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Previous to arriving at the spot where the Tsuagar flows into the Kali River one meets with many Tibetan, Humli and Rongba encampments.

I camped at Kalika (3205 feet) by the side of a gigantic tree with boughs spreading well over the road, the chaprassis and men erecting a comfortable choepper of mats, foliage, and branches.

I was anxious to get through the hot valley with the greatest possible speed, so, notwithstanding that we had halted very late at night, I roused my men at 3 A.M. and again set forth on the march. Here and there along the road we passed deserted winter dwellings of Shokas, nearly all with broken thatched roofs. Some, however, were roofed with slate, the distinctive mark of residence of the Darma Shokas.

The primitive Shoka water-mills were curious. By a very ingenious contrivance the water of a stream propelled a heavy cylindrical stone revolving on the top of another. The grain fell slowly from a magazine above into a hole pierced in the centre of the upper wheel, and finding its way through a channel between the two cylinders, was ground into fine flour.

Dharchula (3550 feet) the largest Shoka winter settlement, is situated on a fine stretch of flat land some hundred feet above the river; the village consists of twelve long rows of roofless houses very similar in size and shape. Four larger buildings at the extreme limit of the settlement attract notice. One of these is a Daramsalla. The others, two high stone buildings, are a school, hospital and dispensary belonging to the Methodist Episcopal Mission and under the careful supervision of Miss Sheldon, M.D., Miss Brown, and that wonderful pioneer, Dr. H. Wilson. A bungalow of the same mission is built higher up on the hillside.

Between the two spots where from Nepal the Lachu and the Shakta join the Kali, was Dubart (3700 feet), and from thence one gradually rose to 4120 feet at the Relegar River, also a tributary of the larger stream. Having crossed the Rankuti River I ascended still higher by zigzag walking, slowly leaving behind me range after range of mountains beyond the valley of the river; while on the Nepal side, beyond the three nearer ranges, snow peaks of great height and beauty stood out against the sky-line. The highest point on the road was 5450 feet, after which we descended to 5275 feet at Khela Daramsalla, which we did not reach till late at night.

Near Khela on the top of a high mountain stood a tall quadrangular rock not unlike a tower. The natives say that a mere touch causes it to shake and revolve, but this belief is not general, for others deny that it ever moves. I could not spare the time to go and test the facts, nor could I obtain reliable information from any one who had had actual experience. So far as I could see with the aid of my telescope, the rock seemed to be standing firmly on a very solid base. To my regret also, I was unable to visit the curious hot sulphur springs on the Darma Ganga, and the strange cave in which much animal life is lost owing to the noxious gases rising from the ground. I gathered from various reports that this cave or grotto is packed with skeletons of birds and quadrupeds who have unknowingly entered this chamber of death.


Highways and trade routes—The Darma route—The Dholi River—A rough track connecting two valleys—Glaciers—Three ranges and their peaks—Altitudes—Darma, Johar, and the Painkhanda Parganas—The highest peak in the British Empire—Natural boundaries.

THERE are two principal highways from Khela to Hundes: one by the valley of the Dholi or Darma River, the other along the Kali River and over the Lippu Pass.

The trade route via Darma is less frequented than the one by the Lippu, but it is nevertheless of considerable importance, inasmuch as a certain portion of the trade of South-west Tibet with India is carried on through the medium of the Darma Shokas. It consists mainly of borax, salt, wool, skins, cloth, and utensils, in exchange for which the Tibetans take silver, wheat, rice, satoo, ghur, lump candied sugar, pepper, beads of all kinds, and articles of Indian manufacture. For a mountain track, and considering the altitudes to which it rises, the Darma way is comparatively good and safe, notwithstanding that in following upwards the course of the Dholi River the narrow path in many places overhangs deep ravines and precipices. There are many Shoka villages and settlements on the banks of the stream, the most important ones being the Nyu, Sobala, Sela, Nagling (9520 feet), Bahling (10,230 feet), Sona and Tuktung (10,630 feet), Dansu and Yansu, where there is a bridge. On the north-east bank is Goa, facing Dakar, and farther up, at an elevation of 10,400 feet, the Lissar, a rapid tributary with muddy water.

The Dholi springs from a series of comparatively small glaciers north-east of a range forming a branch of the higher Himahlyan chain, and extending in a south-easterly direction as far as the point where the two streams meet. It receives, on its precipitous descent, many small snow-fed tributaries, those from the Katz snowfields and the Nui glacier being the most important. Its way lies in a tortuous channel amidst rocks and ravines, first tending towards the South-East, then due South, and last South-West down to the point where it is joined by the Lissar, coming from the North-West along a line almost parallel on the opposite watershed of the range.

Tyang, Sipu (11,400 feet), and Marcha (10,890 feet), are the three most important Shoka villages on the Lissar.

From Marcha there is a track connecting the valleys of the Lissar and Gori. You ascend the high mountain range west of the Lissar by skirting the northern edge of the Nipchung Kang glacier and keeping south of the Kharsa glacier, and, on a route that is unpopular on account of its constant difficulties and perils, you pass, as you descend in a westerly direction, the Tertcha glacier. South of the Shun Kalpa glacier you reach first Ralem and then Sumdu, which is situated on a tributary of the Gori River, itself a tributary of the Kali. The rugged, barren chain of mountains separating the Gori from the Lissar extends in a general direction from S.S.E. to N.N.E. up to the Ralfo glacier, and there turns in a curve North-West among a succession of perpetual snow-fields and glaciers. The glaciers to the North-East and East of the range outnumber those on the West, but there is one of importance called in its different sections the Kala Baland, the Shun Kalpa, and the Tertcha. There are, along the fifteen most northerly miles of the range, south of the point where it joins the Himahlyan chain, other glaciers of considerable size and importance, but I was not able to ascertain their names, excepting that of the Lissar seva, the most northern of all, forming the source of the Lissar. The inter-Lissar-Gori range is of considerable geographical importance, not only because it forms the boundary between the two parts of Bhot called Darma and Johar, but also because of the magnificent peaks reaching in the Bambadhura an elevation of 20,760 feet, and in a higher unnamed peak, South-East of it, 21,470 feet. There are also the two Kharsa peaks, the one North-West of the glacier bearing its name being 19,650 feet, the one South-West of it slightly over 20,900 feet, and S.S.W. one peak 21,360 feet, another 21,520 feet, and farther still, North of the Telkot glacier, the highest of all, 22,660 feet. In a South-East direction there are peaks 20,700 feet, 20,783 feet, and 21,114 feet high. At the point where the ridge turns South the elevations become lower, the two highest being 19,923 feet and 19,814 feet, the latter situated at the point where a smaller range branches off to the South-East, the principal range running South for the next eleven or twelve miles, with no very remarkable elevations. In the side range there are peaks of 18,280 feet, 17,062 feet, 14,960 feet, 14,960 feet respectively.

In Lat. 29 deg. 59' 10" N. and Long. 80 deg. 31' 45" E. the range again separates into two secondary ridges, one extending South-East, the other South-West, and in turn both these are again subdivided into minor hill ridges, along which no summits are found surpassing 13,000 feet, except the Basili, 13,244 feet.

The Bungadhura Mountain (9037 feet), in close proximity to Khela, terminates the South-Easterly division of the range, separating the Pargana of Darma from that of Askote. The actual boundary line, however, does not follow the higher mountain range as far as the Kali River, but swerves to the south along the ridge overlooking the valley of the River Relegar. These mountains are called the Mangthil.

There is west of the above ridge a second and even more important chain, running out parallel to it from the backbone of the Himahlyan great mountain system. This second ridge contains the highest mountain in the British Empire, Nanda Devi (25,660 feet) with its second peak (24,380 feet), also Trisul (23,406 feet), East Trisul (22,360 feet), and Nanda Kot (22,530 feet). This range and its ramifications divide the valleys of the Gori River (the Pargana of Johar) from the most Western portion of Bhot, the Painkhanda Pargana.

The well-known Milam and Pindari glaciers are one on the Eastern, the other on the South-West side of this range. The Milam highway to Tibet, frequented by the Johari traders, traverses over the Kungribingri Pass (18,300 feet), and the Uttadhura (17,590 feet) directly S.S.W. of it into Hundes.

The Pargana Painkhanda, a region equally Alpine, similarly covered with vast stretches of perpetual snow and extensive glaciers, is in the North-East corner of Garwhal, bordering on Tibet, and along the Dhauli River; intersecting it, another trade route finds its way into Western Tibet by the Niti Pass. Leaving the course of the Dhauli at Jelam (10,100 feet), this track proceeds almost due east, rising to an altitude of 16,600 feet on the Niti, in Lat. 30 deg. 57' 59" N. and Long. 79 deg. 55' 3" E., which is, from all accounts, a very easy pass, and quite free from snow during the summer months. The people of the Painkhanda Pargana use this pass as well as the other passes of Malla Shilanch and Tumzun, besides the Shorhoti, visited by H. R. Strachey some years ago, over which, however, only a small portion of the trade with Hundes is carried, for it is considered the most dangerous of the three. The cold and turbid waters of the Dhauli, swollen by dozens of equally foaming and muddy tributaries, become ultimately the sacred waters of the Ganges.

The three Alpine Parganas, viz., the Painkhanda, Johar, and Darma (Darma, Chaudas, and Bias) are inhabited by races closely allied and akin to those of Tibet proper. The region is collectively named Bhot, although that designation is more particularly applied by the natives of India to that portion of the country which includes Darma, Bias, and Chaudas, and which has for natural boundaries the Kali River to the South-East, separating it from Nepal and the great Himahlyan chain to the North-East, extending from the Lissar Peak in a general direction of about 115 deg..

A ramification leaving the main range at the Darma Pass stretches across from N.N.W. to S.S.E., separating the above-mentioned Darma Ganga from the Kuti River, along which I eventually travelled on my way to Tibet. The main elevations found on this ridge are 18,510 feet on the Darma Pass; north-east of the Rama glacier a peak 20,760 feet; the Gurma Mountain 20,320 feet; and others south of them as high as 20,380 feet, 20,330 feet, 20,260 feet. East of the latter summit is one 20,455 feet.


The word Bhot and its meaning—Tibetan influence—Tibetan abuses—The ever-helpful Chanden Sing—The first Shoka village—Chanden Sing in disgrace—Weaving-loom—Fabrics—All's well that ends well!

THE name Bhot, pronounced Bod, Pote, Tuepoet, or Taipoet, by which this inter-Alpine region is called, means Tibet. In fact Tibet is probably merely a corruption of Tuepoet. These lofty "pattis" of Darma, Bias, and Chaudas nominally form part of the British Empire, our geographical boundary with Nari Khorsum or Hundes (Great Tibet), being the main Himahlyan chain forming the watershed between the two countries. In spite of this actual territorial right, I found at the time of my visit in 1897 that it was impossible not to agree with the natives in asserting that British prestige and protection in those regions were mere myths; that Tibetan influence alone was dominant and prevailing, and Tibetan law enforced and feared. The natives invariably showed abject obsequiousness and servile submission to Tibetans, being at the same time compelled to display actual disrespect to British officials. They were driven to bring the greater number of civil and criminal cases before Tibetan magistrates in preference to having them tried in a British court.

The Tibetans, in fact, openly claimed possession of the "pattis" bordering on Nari Khorsum; and the more obviously to impress our natives with their influence as superior to British, they came over to hibernate on our side, and made themselves quite at home in the warmer valleys and in the larger bazaars. They brought their families with them, and drove before them thousands and thousands of sheep to graze on our pasture-lands; they gradually destroyed our forests in Bias to supply South-Western Tibet with fuel for the summer months. For this they not only paid nothing, but our native subjects had to convey the timber over the high passes without remuneration. Necessarily such unprincipled task-masters did not draw the line at extorting from our natives under any pretence money, food, clothes, and everything else they could possibly levy. Some were known to travel yearly as far south as Lucknow, Calcutta, and Bombay.

So much for the gentleness of the Tibetans—a hermit nation living in a closed country!

Chanden Sing, ever anxious to be polite and helpful, would not hear of my carrying my own sketch and note books as had always been my custom, but insisted on doing so himself.

"Hum pagal neh!" ("I am no fool!") said he with an expression of wounded feelings. "I will take great care of them."

We started up the steep road, having first descended to the level of the River Dholi, 800 feet lower than Khela, crossing by a wooden bridge. The zigzag up the mountain-side seemed endless. Here and there a cool spring of crystal water quenched our thirst, welcome indeed on that tedious ascent in the broiling sun. Six miles above Khela we had risen to 7120 feet, and from this point the incline became less trying. Still we rose to 7450 feet two miles farther on, where under the shade of some magnificent old trees, at Pungo, I halted for lunch. We had entered the first inhabited village of the Shokas, visually but erroneously called Botiyas, and were now in that part of their country called Chaudas.

A pleasant surprise awaited me. A smart-looking lad in European clothes came boldly forward, and, stretching out his hand, shook mine for some considerable time in a jovial and friendly fashion.

"I am a Christian," said he.

"I should say that you were by the way you shake hands."

"Yes, sir," he proceeded. "I have prepared for you some milk, some chapatis (native bread), and some nuts. Please accept them."

"Thank you," I said. "You do not seem to be a bad Christian. What is your name?"

"Master G. B. Walter, sir. I teach in the school."

A crowd of Shokas had collected. Their first shyness having worn off, they proved to be polite and kind. The naive nature and graceful manner of the Shoka girls struck me particularly on this my first introduction to them. Much less shy than the men, they came forward, and joked and laughed as if they had known me all their lives. I wished to sketch two or three of the more attractive.

"Where is my book, Chanden Sing?" I inquired of my bearer.

"Hazur hum mallum neh!" ("I do not know, sir!") was his melancholy answer as he searched his empty pockets.

"Ah! you villain! Is that the care you take of my notes and sketches? What have you done with them?"

"Oh Sahib, I drank some water at the Dholi River. I had the book then in my hand. I must have left it on a stone when I stooped to drink water from the stream," the wretched man explained.

It is hardly necessary to say that Chanden Sing was promptly despatched to the spot he had named, with strict orders not to appear before me again without the book. I spent two or three pleasant hours in having the primitive Shoka weaving-looms, the processes of spinning and cloth manufacture, explained to me. As can be seen from the illustration on p. 42, the weaving looms of the Shokas are in every way similar to those used by the Tibetans proper, and are quite simple in construction. The warp is kept at great tension, and the cloth-beam on which the woven tissue is rolled rests on the woman's lap during the process of weaving. There are no treadles in the Shoka loom, by which the two sets of warp threads are alternately raised or depressed between each time that the transverse thread is passed, and all work is done by hand. The transverse thread is beaten firmly home by means of a heavy prismatic piece of wood. The material used in weaving is yak or sheep's wool, either in its natural colour or dyed in the primary colours of red and blue and yellow, and one secondary only, green. Blue and red are used in the greater and equal proportion; then green. Yellow is very parsimoniously used. The thread is well twisted and is subjected to no preparation before spinning, leaving thus a certain greasiness in the closely-woven material that renders it waterproof. In weaving colour fabrics several shuttles are used.

Shoka women are very adept at this ancient art, and they patiently sit out of doors day after day weaving most intricate and artistic patterns. These coloured tissues, if we except the simpler ones with blue ground and lines for women's garments, are usually very narrow (about seven inches in width), whereas the less elaborate ones, such as the white material of which men's clothes are made, average sixteen inches.

The patterns in these many-coloured materials are woven from memory, and do not contain curves or circles, but are entirely composed of lines and angles, combinations of small lozenges and squares separated by long tri-coloured parallel lines, forming, so far as weaving is concerned, the main Shoka ideas of decoration and ornament. The fabrics are extraordinarily strong. The narrow coloured cloth of better quality is used mostly for making bags in which money and food are carried; the coarser kind for the double sheep-loads.

The more talented of the Shoka young women show much ingenuity in carpet or rather rug making. They have copied the idea from old Chinese rugs which have found their way here via Lhassa, and though upon close examination it is true they differ considerably in quality and manufacture, they are pleasing enough to the eye. These rugs are woven upon coarse thread matting, the coloured material being let in vertically. A soft surface is obtained not unlike in general appearance to that of Persian carpets, but not quite so pleasant to the touch. These small rectangular rugs are offered in the house of Shoka gentlemen to guests to sit on, and are also used to render the Tibetan saddles less uncomfortable.

As time went on I became very anxious as to the missing book, for it contained all my notes of the journey. The thought of its being deposited on a rock washed by a rapid stream into which it might easily slip and be carried away kept me in a state of suspense. At last a staggering figure approached; it was Chanden Sing waving the book triumphantly in the air. He had run the distance of many miles down to the river and back so quickly that when he reached me he was utterly exhausted. He handed me the book, and once more we started, followed by Walter and the whole community, down the steep incline to the river. At this place some of the Shokas seized my hands and placed them on their foreheads, at the same time making deep bows. Others embraced my feet, while the women folks bade me the usual Hindustani "Acha giao" ("Go well").

After some time had been wasted, or at least spent, in receiving these odd salutations, I persuaded them to retrace their steps, and they left me.


Prayer by wind-power—Photography under difficulties—A night of misery—Drying up—Two lady missionaries—Their valuable work—An interesting dinner party—An "eccentric" man's tea party.

TO reach Shosha I had to climb a further three miles, which proved almost as steep as the previous ascent to Pungo.

A curious custom of praying by wind-power, probably borrowed from the Tibetans, prevails among the Shokas. The Tibetans, with a more intense religion than the Shokas, use for this purpose not only the wind but even water to propel their praying machines. Let me explain these simple mechanical contrivances for prayers. One or more rags or pieces of cloth, usually white, but on occasions red or blue, are fastened and hung by one end to a string stretched across a road, a pass, or a path. On crossing a pass for the first time Shokas invariably cut a strip of cloth and place it so that it will flap in the breeze. Also when materials for a new dress are purchased or manufactured, it is customary for them to tear off a narrow strip of the stuff and make a flying prayer of it. As long as there is motion in it there is prayer, so that the natives tie them very fast to sticks, poles, or branches of trees; and certain shrubs and trees in weird romantic spots on the mountains are covered with these religious signs. Moreover, on the top of nearly every Shoka dwelling a vast number of similar little flags can be seen, as well as near their shrines and at the outer gates of a village.

I put up at the Titela Daramsalla, one mile above Shosha village. The weather had been threatening for several days, and a steady downpour came upon us during the evening. Work had been accumulating daily. I decided to develop the large number of plates I had taken on my journey, a job hateful beyond measure when you are on the move. Having duly unpacked all the developing dishes and prepared the different solutions, I set to work to make the shelter completely dark. The next important item required was water, and of this there was plenty in that wretched shanty! I had just developed half-a-dozen negatives, and was delighted at the excellent results, when, in consequence of the storm having grown more violent, the rain began dripping on my head through the leaky roof of the Daramsalla. To move all the trays of developers, baths, and fixing solution would have been a nuisance; besides, I was too interested in my work to be put out by such small trifles, so I patiently stood this new discomfort. I shifted my position continually, merely with the result that the rain dripped alternately on my back, my legs, or my shoulders, according to my position. It fell in torrents, and the roof over me was so leaky that I might as well have been out in the open. I was sitting in a pool of water and could not lay my hands upon anything that was not drenched. Fortunately my boxes and cases were water-tight, or all the instruments and plates would have been damaged.

Annoying as it was, I had to give up work. The best thing to do was to go to sleep. Easier said than done. My bedding and blanket were soaked. The attempts to lie under a waterproof sheet failed, for I felt suffocated, so I passed the cover to my servant, who, rolling himself in it, was soon in the arms of Morpheus. Tired and disgusted, I crouched myself up and eventually fell asleep. I woke up in the morning with a biting pain in my toes. I had been lying face downwards, and had involuntarily stretched my legs during the night. I discovered to my horror that one foot rested in the developing bath and the other in the fixing solution, which I had forgotten to empty out of the large celluloid trays.

The morning was spent in drying up things in the sun, including our clothes, while we, clad in a "doti" (large loin-cloth as used by the natives of India), squatted down in the warmth in order to restore our saturated skins to their natural condition.

I was in the meantime interviewed by many Shokas, applying for medicines, and wishing to sell their native wares.

A pretty girl, from whom I bought a curious set of neck hangings made of musk-deer teeth, wished to be cured of the goitre, a complaint too common, alas! on these hills. Then a child was brought with a nasty tumour in a state of suppuration inside his left ear. Others wished to be cured of pains in the stomach and liver, which are very general among them owing to their abuse of liquor.

Upon hearing that two lady missionaries lived a mile and a half farther on, at Sirka, I gave myself the pleasure of calling upon them. They possessed a nice bungalow at an elevation of 8900 feet above sea level, by the side of which was another structure for the accommodation of converts and servants. Lower on the hillside they had built a dispensary and hospital.

I was received with the utmost courtesy by Miss Sheldon, M.D., and Miss Brown, of the Methodist Episcopal Mission. I have in my lifetime met with many missionaries of all creeds in nearly every part of the globe, but never has it been my luck before to meet two such charming, open-minded, and really hard-working ladies as the two who now so kindly received me.

"Come right in, Mr. Landor," said Miss Sheldon with her delightful American accent, and she shook hands with me in a good, hearty fashion.

The natives had praised to me the charity and helpfulness of this lady. I found this more than justified. By night or day she would never refuse help to the sick, and her deeds of kindness which became known to me are far too numerous to detail in these pages. Perhaps her most valuable quality is her perfect tact—a quality I have found none too common among missionaries. Her patience, her kindly manner towards the Shokas, her good heart, the wonderful cures she wrought among the sick, were items of which these honest mountaineers had everlasting praises to sing. A Shoka was telling me that it was not an uncommon thing for Miss Sheldon to give away all her own food supplies, and even the clothes from her back—courting for herself discomfort, yet happy in her good work.

With it was combined a charming modesty. No word about herself or her actions ever passed her lips. A pioneer in these parts, she evidently must have encountered much difficulty in the beginning. At present her good influence over the Shokas is very considerable. The same can be said of Miss Brown, who was in every way a worthy comrade of Miss Sheldon.

They have both in a comparatively short time become fully acquainted with the Shoka language, and can converse in it as fluently as in English, this fact alone endearing them greatly to the natives.

They were kind enough to ask me to dinner. "It is Sunday," said Miss Sheldon, "and we shall have all our Christians dining with us. You will not mind, I am sure."

I assured her that nothing would interest me more.

I arrived punctually at the hour appointed, and on the verandah of the bungalow were laid some nice clean mats upon which we all sat cross-legged in native fashion. We three Europeans were provided with knife and fork, but all the natives helped themselves with their fingers, which they used with much dexterity. There were among the converts some Hindoos, some Shokas, some Humlis, and a Tibetan woman. All counted, I suppose they were about twenty, and it would be impossible to find a better behaved set of Christians anywhere. They ate heartily and only spoke when they were spoken to.

"I doubt whether I have ever dined with so many good Christians," said I jokingly to Miss Sheldon. "It is delightful."

"They would much like to hear some of the experiences of your travels if you would be kind enough to tell them. That is to say, if you are not too tired and do not mind."

Interpreted by Miss Brown, I related some of my adventures in the country of the Ainu. Rarely have I had such an interested audience. When the story ended they all salaamed me, and an old veteran Gourkha, one of the converts, took my hand and shook it warmly.

"You must not mind, Mr. Landor: you see, we treat our Christians like ourselves,"[4] quickly interrupted Miss Sheldon.

"Oh no, I do not mind," I replied. "On the contrary, I am glad to see it done."

I took my leave and asked the ladies to come to tea with me the next day. The afternoon came and they arrived, when to my horror it flashed across my mind that I had neither cups, nor saucers, nor spoons. I had some tea, but I had no idea in which box it was, and to save my life I could not lay my hands upon it. This caused a frank and delightful remark on the part of Miss Sheldon to Miss Brown.

"Does not Mr. Landor remind you of 'that other' eccentric gentleman that came through here last year?"

The moment she had uttered the words Miss Sheldon saw what she had said, and we all laughed heartily.

"You know, Mr. Landor," put in Miss Brown, "we half foresaw that you would not be provided with these articles of luxury, and we brought our own cups and saucers."

The news was a great relief to me.

"Well now, let me persuade you to take some delicious chocolate instead of tea."

"Very good, we would prefer it. We have not had chocolate for a long time."

A solid block of chocolate was produced weighing twenty-eight pounds, and Chanden Sing set to chip off bits with a stone—a primitive but effective method. In the meantime the kettle was boiling, while my two visitors made themselves as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances on pack-saddle cases.

The tea party went off well, for the ladies, evidently suspecting the "eccentricity" of their host, had come provided not only with cups and saucers, but with spoons, cake, bread, butter, and biscuits!

[4] N.B.—Anglo-Indians very rarely condescend to shake hands with the natives.


Discouraging reports—A steep ascent—How I came to deserve the name of "monkey"—Hard at work—Promoted in rank—Collapse in a gale of wind—Time and labour lost.

THE weather again became rainy and cold. The reports that I received of the state of the roads farther up were not encouraging.

"The track is impassable," said an old Shoka who had just arrived from Garbyang. "The Lippu Pass by which you wish to enter Tibet is still closed, and there is much snow on it still. Then the Jong Pen of Taklakot in Tibet, having been left unpunished for his last years' attack on Lieutenant Gaussen, has now a strong guard of three hundred men to prevent foreigners entering the country. The Dakus (brigands) infesting the region of the Mansarowar Lake seem to be more numerous this year than ever."

I shall come in for a lively time, I thought to myself.

My next camp was at Shankula, 7450 feet above the sea level. It was reached by going over a delightfully cool track, not unlike a shady path through a picturesque park, among tall cedars of Lebanon, beeches and maples, with here and there a stream or spring of water, and hundreds of black-faced, white-bearded monkeys playing and leaping from tree to tree.

I encamped by the river. The day was glorious. In front of me, north-east by east, stood, gigantic and majestic, some high snowy peaks. The valley was narrow, and the remainder of the snowy range of mountains was hidden from sight. What a lovely subject for a picture! I was tempted to halt and get out my paint-box and sketch-book; and abandoning my lunch, which was being cooked, I climbed to the summit of a high peak in order to obtain a more extensive view. The ascent, first on slippery grass, then over slaty rocks, was by no means easy, nor devoid of a certain amount of danger; but so keen was I to get to the top that I reached the summit very quickly, leaving half-way down the mountain slope the two men who had followed me. In places near the top there were rocks to climb that stood almost perpendicular, and it was necessary to use hands as well as feet. It was not unlike climbing up a rough wall. I was nevertheless well repaid for my trouble. The view from that high point of vantage was magnificent, and I confess that I felt almost too ambitious when, having unslung my paint-box, I attempted to reproduce on paper the scene before me.

"I am a fool," said I to myself, "to try and paint that! What painter could do those mountains justice?"

I dashed off the picture as usual very hastily, but never was a rash venture rewarded with poorer result, and those eternal giants remained unpainted.

Disconsolate, I made my way down. It was more difficult even than the climb up. A false step, a slip, and it might have cost my life, especially along the steep precipice, where I had to cling to anything projecting in the wall-like rock. I had gone four thousand feet higher than the camp, reaching an elevation of 11,450 feet above sea level.

It was this performance, watched anxiously from my camp down below, as well as by the army of men belonging to the Deputy Commissioner of Almora, who was also here encamped, that won me the name among the natives of "Chota Sahib," the "Langur," the "small sir," the "monkey," a name of which I have been proud ever since.

Some seventy-three miles from Pithoragarh the Shankula River enters the Kali, the course of the Shankula being roughly from N.N.W. to S.S.E.

The track once crossed, the Shankula stream tends towards the South-East and with a gentle incline rises to 8570 feet at Gibti, where I encamped somewhat above the Gala Daramsalla. I had gone through forests of maple, beech, oak and rhododendrons, with a thick undergrowth of scrub and bamboo.

The Kali River, about two thousand feet down below my camp, marks the boundary between Nepal and Kumaon. From this high point the foaming stream can be seen for miles, winding between thickly wooded hills and mountains like a silver ribbon on a dark reposeful background.

The march from my last camp was a very short one, so I had the greater part of the day left for work. Previously I had usually halted in Daramsallas (stone-walled shelters), and in default of these my men put up for me a neatly-made "Chahna"[5] or "choepper," a hut of mats and branches of trees, in the construction of which the Paharis are wonderfully dexterous. I had also my small "mountain tent," a tente d'abri, quite comfortable enough for ordinary requirements.

It seems, however, that this style of travelling is not considered comme il faut by the officials of India. It is the number and size of one's tents, according to these authorities, that make one a greater or a smaller gentleman! I had put up my tent—three feet high, seven feet long, and four feet wide—by the side of the two double-leaf eighty pound tents of the Deputy Commissioner, but this official and his companions were far from pleased with this act of familiarity. For a double-tented sahib to be seen in company of another sahib whose bijou tent rose from the ground hardly up to one's waist, was infra dig and a serious threat to the prestige of the British in India. I was therefore politely requested to move from my cosy quarters to a more dignified abode lent me by the one-eyed Lal Sing, a Tokudar[6] and brother of the Patwari.[7]

Being thus promoted in everybody's estimation except my own, I wrote and copied out my first article for The Daily Mail, and, having done this, I dined and spent a pleasant evening with Mr. G.

The night was stormy; the wind shook my tent. I went to sleep wrapped in my solitary camel-hair blanket. Some hours later a sharp knock on my head woke me. It was the centre pole of the tent that had moved out of its sockets and had fallen on me. This was followed by a rushing noise of canvas, and I found myself in a moment uncovered and gazing at the stars.

There were white things flying about in the air, and, to my horror, I discovered the leaves of my Daily Mail article scattered in the wind.

I jumped up, but of the ten or twelve foolscap leaves on very thin paper, I only managed to recover two or three. The others soared gracefully to and fro in the air, and I suppose settled eventually in the Kali. This meant recopying the article next day, a tedious job when you are burning to get on.

The sun rose. The camp began to wake up. All were shivering with cold. I took my usual cold bath surrounded by a half-frozen crowd of astonished onlookers, wrapped up in their thick woollen blankets, crouching round me with their chins on their knees.

The tent was recovered after a while, and soon all was ready to start.

[5] Chahna—Pahari. Choepper, Dehsi—Hindustani.

[6] Tokudar—Head-village man.

[7] Patwari—Accountant for a Pargana.


The Nerpani, or "waterless track"—Exaggerated accounts—A long shot—The rescue of two coolies—Picturesque Nature—An involuntary shower-bath—The Chai Pass.

THE renowned Nerpani, or Nerpania, "waterless track," begins at Gibti. Very few travellers have been on this road, and by the accounts brought back many people have been prevented from imitating their example.

Personally I found the track far better than I anticipated. I have been on worse mountain roads among less precipitous cliffs. From what I had heard it seemed as if the greater part of the road for several miles was supported on crowbars fixed in the rock, but such is not the case. Here and there, however, are found along the track spots overhanging precipices; and where the perpendicular cliff did not allow of a road to be cut except at great expense, crowbars have been more or less firmly planted horizontally in the rock, and a narrow path made over them with large slabs of stone. The drop from the path to the river is often from eighteen hundred to two thousand feet, and the path is in many places no wider than six inches. But to any surefooted traveller that would not constitute a real danger. The road is tedious, for the Nerpania cliff along which it has been constructed is subdivided into three smaller cliffs, separated in turn one from the other by ravines. It is thus troublesome to climb up and down some thousands of feet, each time along interminable and badly put together flights of steps, only to descend again on the other side. Some of the descents, especially the last to Gulamla, are precipitous, but with no nails in one's shoes and no stick in one's hand, there is really very little danger for people accustomed to mountaineering.

These are the main elevations on the road: Gibti, 8650 feet, 6750 feet, 7600 feet, 6700 feet, 7100 feet, 6600 feet from Gulamla. At bearings magnetic 350 deg., going close to the river-bed through a gorge, one obtains a fine view of a huge gneiss peak towering on the left side of the Neganza or Nejangar Mountain. This peculiar rock, shaped like a fortress, goes by the name of the Ladjekut Peak and rises where the Nejangar River meets the Kali. Here we pitched our tents.

Towards sunset there was much agitation in camp over the appearance of wild goats on the other side of the Kali River in Nepal.

"Your rifle, Sahib, your rifle!" shouted a chorus of impatient natives. "Quick, quick, your rifle!"

I seized my Mannlicher and followed the excited gang to a place some hundred yards away, where a large boisterous crowd had collected to watch the game.

"Where are they?" said I, as I could not see anything.

"There, there!" they all screamed at the top of their voices, pointing to the summit of the opposite cliff over four hundred yards distant.

"Oh, that is too far."

"No, no, Sahib, please shoot," they all implored.

I put up the Lyman back-sight to four hundred yards, took aim and fired. Down came rolling from rock to rock the poor wild goat, amid the frantic excitement of the crowd around me. It rolled down until it came to the shrub and vegetation, where its progress became slower. It fell on the small trees and, bending them by its weight, it would drop a few seconds later on to a lower one. The trepidation on our side was intense. At last the graceful body stuck across a bigger tree and swung on it for some minutes. The oscillation slowly ceased, and tree and goat became motionless. There our prey stuck fast.

Hatchets were immediately produced, and two tall trees hurriedly cut and felled. A bridge was being spanned to cross the dangerous cold and swift waters of the Kali. A tree was thrown across, and its point just about reached a high rock on the other side. Then, amidst a dead silence, a coolie balanced himself over it. He had nearly reached the opposite bank when there was a crash. The tree broke, and the man was in the water, frightened and screaming pitifully, clutching a branch with convulsive fingers.

Another coolie went to his rescue, but the tree being now swung by the current, he also was pitched into the water. It was only after a terrible moment of suspense that our men had the common sense to draw the tree back towards the shore. One and all joined in a supreme effort, and the two men were eventually saved.

Our way to the next camp was first through a high narrow gorge. A beautiful waterfall on terraces faced us. From 6700 feet, the road ascended to 7650 feet, then on flights of steps and in places over crowbars the weary traveller descended to 7000 feet, where at Malpa the road was for a space nearly level. The Malpa River, running from North to South, was crossed. On the Nepal side across the Kali the vegetation was luxuriant, while on the Kumaon side it was sparse and bare. Farther on another beautiful waterfall.

The track now rose on a steep incline to 8120 feet among huge rocks and boulders. What with the gigantic snow-peaks, the pretty waterfalls, the weird character of the country traversed, one got so interested in one's surroundings that one forgot all about any difficulty of climbing. From barren hills and rocks the track suddenly became clayish and sandy, and in a series of zigzags well shaded by Tchuk, Utish, and Ritch trees, with a thick undergrowth of scrub wood and stunted vegetation, we found ourselves down as low as 6750 feet, ascending immediately after in a very short distance to 8100 feet to Camp Lahmari.

In olden times the path went over the highest part of the cliff, and it took a good walker the whole day to reach from one spring of water to the next, hence the name of "waterless."

Here practically ended the Nerpani (waterless track), and an involuntary shower-bath soon awaited the passer-by, drenching him to the skin, unless he was provided with waterproof and umbrella. The spray descended from a great height for a length of some thirty or forty yards, the road being very narrow and very slippery, so that progress was particularly slow. The name of the waterfall was Takti.

The track, if not more level, was nevertheless better after this to the sore-footed walker. It was less rocky and devoid of the tiresome flights of steps.

On leaving Lahmari we immediately had a steep rise to 9600 feet. Then a drop of 400 feet, and we found ourselves on the Buddi River, a tributary of the Kali. Just above the bridge was a magnificent waterfall, by the left side of which we found a kind of grotto hollowed out under a rock. The Shokas and Tibetans used it as a camping ground.

To our right, high up on the cliffside, was the picturesque village of Buddi (9300 feet), with its two- and three-storeyed houses. Below and over it in long zigzags could be seen the track ascending to the top of Chai-Lek, or Tcheto Pass as the Shokas call it. At bearings magnetic 170 deg. we had the towering Namjun peak, so high that I was told it could be seen even from Almora and Ranikhet.

Then as we proceeded up the steep clayish track, I could not, on looking back, help admiring the magnificent Kali valley with its gigantic cliffs and gorges surmounted by lofty snow peaks. On the Chai Pass the two aneroids I had on me registered an altitude of 11,190 feet. I was now on a small flat tableland. Darcy Bura, the richest Shoka trader from Buddi, had erected here a bargain-house for the purchase and exchange of borax, salt, wool, and other articles from Tibet. On the left side of the road a large cave in the rock had been walled and partly roofed over for the use of wife-seekers from the villages of Buddi and Garbyang. These houses were called Rambangs, and were an old institution among the Shokas, of which I shall have occasion to speak at length later on. As everywhere else, a few high poles with flying prayers and a bell had been placed near the pass.


A series of misfortunes—Tibetan atrocities on British subjects—Tibetan exactions—Revolting cruelty to one of her Majesty's subjects—Assault on a British officer—A smart British Envoy.

MY arrival at Garbyang was watched by hundreds of men, women, and children, all squatting on the edge of the flat mud roofs of their habitations, while a few dozen people followed me respectfully to my camping ground beyond the village. A large tent had been put up for me by Pundit Gobaria's brother, who had been informed of my coming by Anti Ram Sah, my banker at Almora. Mr. G., Deputy Commissioner, arrived later.

I was very anxious to make immediate arrangements to enter Tibet, but all my efforts to obtain reliable followers were of little avail.

I heard to my regret, a day or two later, that the plan of my journey, which with so much trouble and care I had kept secret, had been divulged to the Tibetan authorities. Misfortunes never come singly! Against my will I had been advised to pay a certain sum at Almora, in exchange for which I received a letter of credit on Pundit Gobaria, a rich trader of Garbyang, who was to pay me the amount in silver. Unluckily, Gobaria was still absent in Nepal, and no one else could cash a cheque for the amount I wanted. This was tiresome—all the more so as I had counted on the money. I immediately sent a runner to Almora to have the sum in silver sent at once. This involved much publicity and considerable risk.

Also delay was inevitable. All the passes were closed and fresh snow was falling daily. It was just possible with much difficulty for a man to cross the Lippu Pass, but no baggage could be taken through. I made up my mind to remain a few days in Garbyang, and took this opportunity to have a large Tibetan tent manufactured to shelter my future followers—if ever I could find any—and it might help me, I calculated, to become friendly with the natives, among whom I hoped to find some willing followers.

Doctor H. Wilson, of the Methodist Evangelical Mission, went to much trouble in trying to get together men for me, but though his influence was and is considerable in Bias and Chaudas, his efforts were not crowned with success. The Shokas know well how terribly cruel the Tibetans are. They have suffered at their hands more than once, and even of recent years the Government of India has had reported by its own officers cases of horrible tortures inflicted by the Tibetan authorities on British subjects captured by them on our side of the frontier. Some of the atrocities committed by the Lamas on British subjects are revolting, and it is a matter of great regret and indignation to the Englishmen who visit these regions to think that the weakness of our officials in Kumaon has allowed and is allowing such proceedings still to go on. So incapable are they, in fact, that the Jong Pen of Taklakot in Tibet sends over, "with the sanction of the Government of India," his yearly emissaries to collect Land Revenue[8] from British subjects living on British soil. The Shokas have to pay this tribute, and do so out of fear—in addition to other taxes and trade dues iniquitously exacted by the Tibetans.

On the slightest pretext the Tibetans arrest, torture mercilessly, fine, and confiscate property of, British subjects on British territory.

At the time of my visit there could be seen, in Garbyang and other villages, British subjects (Shokas) who had been mutilated by the Tibetan authorities.

Even Dr. H. Wilson, who had erected a dispensary at Gungi (one march beyond Garbyang), was lately threatened with confiscation—and worse perhaps—if he did not immediately comply with the exactions of the Tibetans. He declined to do so and reported the matter to the Government, relying on a good rifle in the house and his many servants. His determination not to be intimidated seems to have given him temporary security, for the Tibetans are as cowardly, when they think themselves matched, as they are cruel.

Let me quote one example of cruelty which occurred as late as 1896. A Shoka trader, undeniably a British subject, had gone over the border, as is customary with them during the summer, to dispose of his merchandise on the Tibetan market. He and another Shoka, also a British subject, had a quarrel. Aware that the first Shoka was wealthy, the Tibetan authorities took this pretext to arrest him and impose upon him an exorbitant fine, besides the additional punishment of two hundred lashes to be administered to him by order of the Jong Pen. The Shoka remonstrated on the plea that he had done no harm, and that being a British subject they had no right to so punish him. The Jong Pen saw his orders executed, and further commanded his men to cut off the wretched prisoner's hands. He was made over to two soldiers entrusted with the carrying out of the sentence. They led him away to the place of punishment. The Shoka was of a powerful build and possessed courage. Though half dead and covered with wounds, he overcame his guardians and escaped. The alarm was instantly given and a large party of horsemen sent to capture him.

They caught him up, and when at close range fired on him and wounded him in the knee, smashing the kneecap. He was surrounded, pounced upon, beaten mercilessly, and last but not least, all his fingers were one by one crushed into pulp between two heavy stones. In this condition he was dragged before the Lamas, only to be decapitated! Mr. Sturt, an able and just officer, who was then Deputy Commissioner at Almora, became acquainted with these facts, and, having fully ascertained their accuracy, reported them to the Government, strongly advising immediate action against the Tibetans for this and other cruelties that were constantly taking place on our frontier. Though it was undeniably proved that the victim was a British subject, the Government of India took no steps in the matter.

The same year, 1896, Lieutenant Gaussen, who on a shooting trip tried to enter Tibet by the Lippu Pass, was surrounded by Tibetan soldiers, and he and his servants were seriously ill-treated. The British officer received a nasty wound on his forehead, and one of his servants, who behaved heroically, was so cruelly handled that to-day, two years later, I hear he is still an invalid.

Mr. J. Larkin, Deputy Collector at Almora, was then despatched to the frontier. No better man could have been sent. Firm, just, and painstaking, he became popular and much respected among the Shokas. He listened to their troubles and sufferings; he administered justice wherever possible. He refused audience to no one, and during his flying visit became well acquainted with the country, the people, and all that went on. The poor Shokas felt much relieved, thinking that at last the Tibetan abuses would be put an end to. They were not mistaken, at least for a time. The Jong Pen of Taklakot was called upon to answer for his many misdeeds. He refused an interview. Mr. Larkin sent word across the border that he would have no trifling and that he must come, upon which the Jong Pen, with his officers and Lamas, crossed the snowy Lippu Pass. Trembling with fear and bending low to the ground, the Tibetans, with abject servility, entered the tent of our British envoy. The account of the interview, which I received in full from a Shoka gentleman who was present as interpreter, is amusing and curious, showing the mutability and hypocrisy of the Tibetans. In the long run, and being well acquainted with the cowardice of his visitors, Mr. Larkin not only obtained redress on every point but gave the Jong Pen and his officers a severe harangue. The result of the interview was that the collection of the Land Revenue should be put a stop to, and that Tibetan law should no more be administered on our side of the frontier.

Mr. Larkin's visit to Bhot was cut short by urgent orders to return immediately to Almora.

The following year (the year of my visit, 1897), Mr. G., Deputy Commissioner, undid much that the previous officer had accomplished. The Jong Pen, when summoned, declined to come, and sent over deputies in his place. The upshot of it is, that Land Revenue is again paid by the Shokas to the Tibetan tax-collectors through the Peshkar.

I have mentioned these facts as representative of many, and to show how it came that the natives, who had never had any protection from our Government, were disinclined, notwithstanding the temptations I offered them, to brave the dangers of Tibet. I, who later on suffered so much through being betrayed by Shokas, am the first to forgive and not to blame them. Though nominally our subjects, their actual rulers are the Tibetans, and we do nothing to protect them against the exactions and tortures of the intruders. Why then should we expect them to be faithful to us? The Shokas are not treacherous by nature, but they are compelled to be deceitful to protect their lives and their homes. Properly treated, these honest, gentle, good-natured mountaineers would assuredly become loyal and trustworthy subjects of her Majesty.

[8] The sums are now collected by the Political Peskhar and handed over in Garbyang to the Tibetans.


Tibetan threats—My birthday—Ravenous dogs—A big dinner—Shoka hospitality.

THE Jong Pen of Taklakot, on hearing of my proposed visit, sent threats that he would confiscate the land of any man who came in my employ, besides menaces of "flogging" and subsequent "beheading" of myself and any one caught with me. Personally I paid little attention to these intimidations.

Consulting the calendar one day—a thing I did with great regularity in these regions—I made out that it was the first of June, and I then remembered that the following day would be my birthday. Feasts were scarce in these high altitudes, and the prospect before me was that they would in the near future be even scarcer. It therefore occurred to me that I could not better while away a day at least of this weary waiting than by treating myself to a real big feast.

Chanden Sing was despatched round the village to summon up to my tent all the local Bunyas (tradespeople). Rice, flour, eight pounds of butter (ghi), a large quantity of lump sugar, pepper, salt, and a fat sheep were purchased. The latter was forthwith beheaded, skinned, and dressed in the approved fashion by the faithful Chanden Sing, who was indeed a jack of all trades.

Unfortunately, I am a careless house or rather tent keeper, and I entrusted my chaprassis with the job of stowing away the provisions, for which purpose a recess under the native low bedstead served to perfection, holding as it did the different-sized vessels, with the bachri (sheep) in pieces, and the rice, flour, butter, etc.

While this was being done, I worked away hard at writing, and getting interested, continued at it till an early hour of the morning; I got tired at last, and, wrapping myself up in my blanket, I soon went to sleep next to a heap of stones piled up by the cautious Chanden Sing.

"Sahib," had been his warning, "there are many hungry dogs about. If they come, here are a few missiles ready for them!" and he pointed at the ammunition.

"All right; good-night."

The wisdom of this was soon apparent, for I had not slept long when I was aroused by the hollow sound of lip-smacking, apparently arising from more than one mouth, accompanied by the movement of the stretched canvas bed on which I was lying. Jumping to my feet, I alighted upon a living mass of unwelcome guests; but before I even realised what had been going on, they had scampered away, the brutes! carrying between their tightly-closed jaws a last mouthful of my dainties.

The ammunition at my disposal was quickly used up—a poor revenge, even when I heard the yell of a dog I happened to hit in the dark. On striking a match, I found the large brass bowls emptied, the rice and flour scattered all over the tent, and the sheep practically vanished.

I determined not to be done out of this piece of indulgence, which now seemed desirable beyond words, although I crawled back into my blanket, and found for a while oblivion in sleep. I was no sooner up in the morning than I planned a new banquet. But in the nick of time, Mr. G., who had gone a march farther, returned with his escort of policemen, moonshees, pundits, and chaprassis.

"Never mind, Landor," said he kindly, when I had told him of my trouble, "you come and dine with me. These chaps shall get you up a special dinner in their own way."

My stores were put under tribute, instead of the native Bunyas, and we had a very excellent meal indeed. We had Bovril soup and Irish stew, roast mutton, potted tongue, roast chicken, gigantic swan eggs poached on anchovy toast, jam omelette, chow-chow preserves, ginger biscuits, boiled rhubarb, and I must not forget, by the way, an excellent plum cake of no small dimensions, crammed full of raisins and candy, which I had brought from Mrs. G. at Almora to her husband, and to which we did, with blessings for her, the fullest justice.

Thanks to Mr. G. and also to the fortunate coincidence of receiving a batch of letters from parents and friends, which reached me on that day by runner from Khela, I do not think that I could have spent a happier birthday anywhere, and I knew well enough that these were to be the last moments of contentment—an end to the fleshpots of Egypt. After this I should be cut off from civilisation, from comfort even in its primitive form; and to emphasise this fact, it happened that on the very morning following my birthday, Mr. G. left and continued his journey to Almora.

The weather was cold and rain fell in torrents, the thermometer being never above 52 deg. during the warmest hours of the day. My soaked tent stood in a regular pool of water, notwithstanding the double trenches round it, and several Shoka gentlemen had before asked me to abandon it and live in a house. They were all most anxious to extend to me hospitality, which I, not wishing to trouble them, and in order at all hazards to be entirely free and unhampered in my actions, courteously but firmly declined. Nevertheless, quite a deputation arrived on June 4, renewing their request; but I was determined to have my way. In vain! They would not see a Sahib under cold canvas while they themselves had comfortable homes. They held a consultation. Unexpectedly, and notwithstanding my remonstrances, my loads were suddenly seized and carried triumphantly on the backs of a long row of powerful Shokas towards the village. I had to follow nolens volens, and from that day on I grew through constant contact daily more convinced of the genuine friendliness and kindheartedness of these people.

To prevent my coming back, they even pulled down the tent, and, wet as it was, carried it away. Zeheram and Jaimal, two leading Shokas, held my hands and patted me on the back as they led me with every sign of courtesy to my new dwelling.

This turned out to be a fine two-storeyed building with nicely carved wooden door and windows coloured red and green. So great was the anxiety and fear of these good people that I should turn back at this juncture, that some twenty outstretched hands seized me by the arms, while others pushed me from behind up a flight of ten or twelve steps into the house, where I found myself the guest of my good friend Zeheram. I was given the front of the first floor, consisting of two large clean rooms, with a very fair native bedstead, a table and two or more moras (round cane stools covered with skin); and I had no sooner realised that I must stay than presents of sweets, preserved fruit, dried dates, and tea were brought for my acceptance—tea made in the Tibetan fashion with butter and salt in it.

Even if at first I had had slight apprehensions at the expression of such very unusual hospitality, these were soon dispelled, and I was proud to be assured by my host that I was the first Englishman (or for that, European or American) who had been allowed to enter the living part of a Shoka house and partake of food in a Shoka dwelling. The opportunity was too good to be lost, and I was sorely tempted to tarry among them, so as really to get an insight into their mode of living, their customs and manners.


Shoka hospitality—How I obtained much information—On a reconnoitring trip—A terrible slide.

THEY are indeed Nature's gentlemen, these worthy Shokas, and as such they did all in their power to make my stay among them pleasant. It was a contest between them as to who should entertain me first, and who should be the next. Invitations to breakfast and dinner literally poured in; and those convenient "sick headaches," "colds," and "previous engagements," so opportune in more conventional parts, were of no avail here. No card—no friendly note bade one to come and be merry. They generally arrived en masse to fetch me. Pulling and pushing played a not unimportant part in their urging, and to decline was thus out of the question. Indeed I must confess there was but little inclination to decline on my part. When you arrived, your host spread out fine mats and rugs, of Tibetan and ancient Chinese manufacture, and often of great value. In front of a raised seat were displayed in shiny brass bowls the various viands and delicacies which constituted the meal. There was rice always; there was curried mutton, milk and curd with sugar; then chapatis made in Hindustani fashion and Shale, a kind of sweet pancake made of flour, ghi (butter), sugar or honey, also Parsad, a thick paste of honey, burnt sugar, butter and flour, all well cooked together—a dainty morsel even for a jaded palate.

I was invariably made to sit on the raised seat, which I did cross-legged, while the crowd squatted respectfully on the floor round the room, forming a semicircle with me in the center. I generally ate with my fingers in their own manner, a courtesy they particularly appreciated, and although I must have seemed awkward to them at first, I soon acquired a sort of dexterity in manipulating hot food—meat and vegetables, for instance—with my hand. The trick is not very difficult, but it requires practice. You gather up your five fingers downwards in the dish, seizing a mouthful, and with a rapid circular twist of the hand you collect as much sauce as you can round the morsel you have caught. With a still more rapid movement, and before anything has time to drip between your fingers, you half drop and half throw it into your mouth.

I soon found that I could, during these cordial repasts, enlivened as they were by moderate libations of choekti and syrap (wine and spirit distilled from wheat), acquire considerable knowledge of anthropological and ethnological interest, and gather also much valuable information about Tibet and its people. They became, in fact, in the few days I spent among them, confiding to such a degree, and looked upon me so much as one of themselves, that I soon obtained the run of the whole place. They came to confide their grievances and troubles; they related to me their legends and folk-lore. They sang to me their weird songs and taught me their dances. They brought me to their marriages and strange funerals; they took me to their sick men, women, and children, or conveyed them to me for cure. Thus, to my delight, and with such unique chances, my observations of a pathological, physiological, and anatomical character became more interesting to me day by day, and I have attempted to describe in a later chapter some of the things I was able to note.

After lingering in Garbyang for several days, I paid off my two chaprassis, Matan Sing and Narenghiri, and they returned to Almora.

On June 6 I started on a journey towards the frontier, with a view to reconnoitre.

Crossing into Nepal territory below Chongur village, and following upwards the right bank of the Kali River in a direction of 320 deg. (bearings magnetic) I reached Kanwa, a Shoka village on a high cliff-like plateau under which meet the three rivers Kali, Taki, and Kuti. The Kali turns suddenly to 37 deg. (bearings magnetic), while the Kuti River keeps a general direction of 325 deg. (bearings magnetic).

Having crossed again into Kumaon, I struck camp at Gungi. Before entering the village, I passed Dr. Wilson's dispensary, not then completed. In the village the houses were decorated with long poles joined by strings, from which hung and flew gaily in the breeze hundreds of wind prayers. The dwellings were mostly of the ancient, pure Shoka architecture, and not so fine or so clean as those in Garbyang. The place was picturesque, clear-cut against the curious background of the dome-like mountain, the Nabi Shankom, a peak of uncommon beauty with its grey and reddish striped strata. Near it on another mountain is the Gungi Shankom, a gigantic quadrangular rock of a warm yellow and reddish colour, not unlike a huge tower. When I reached its foot, the sun was casting his last dying rays on it, and the picture was so magical that I was tempted to sketch it. As I sat there, the shadow of the coming night rose higher and higher on the mountain-side, tinting it violet blue, and above it the Gungi Shankom stood resplendent in all its glory like a tower of fire—till night descended covering the mountain first, and little by little the Gungi Shankom itself. I shall not easily forget this sight.

I slept under my little tente d'abri and found it delightfully cosy and warm.

At 10 A.M. the next day I raised camp. The elevation here was 10,940 feet. Interesting was the Chiram, a collection of tombs, five in number, made of slabs of white stone with poles placed vertically upon them, and from the summit of which hung flying prayers. The Kuti River to my left was wide and rapid. On the opposite bank the village of Ronkan (11,100 feet) made a pretty vis-a-vis to the Nabi village on our side of the stream, at the same elevation, and directly under the lee of the Nabi Shankom.

As I rose gradually along the river course the vegetation grew sparse, and in front of me there remained nothing but barren rocks and high snowy peaks. The spot where, from opposite sides, the Gunkan River and the Nail River throw themselves into the Kuti River is most picturesque. There are on the water's edge a few pine-trees, but above there is nothing but wilderness—rock and ice and snow.

I soon came upon much snow, and places where the track along the mountain-side was undiscoverable. Walking was tiresome enough on the loose shingle and shale, but it became worse when I actually had to cut each step into the frozen snow. The work was tedious to a degree, and the progress slow. After a while I noticed a series of lofty snow tunnels over the raging stream, which is earlier in the season covered entirely by a vault of ice and snow. The higher I got the harder and more slippery grew the snow. The soles of my shoes having become soaked and frozen made walking very difficult. At 12,000 feet, being about three hundred feet above the stream, I had to cross a particularly extensive snow-field, hard frozen and rising at a very steep angle. Some of my coolies had gone ahead, the others were behind. Notwithstanding the track cut by those ahead, it was necessary to re-cut each step with one's own feet, so as to prevent slipping. This was best done by hammering several times into the white sheet with the point of one's shoe until a cavity was made deep enough to contain the foot and to support one upright. It ought to be done carefully each time, but I fear I had not the patience for that. I thought I had found a quicker method, and by raising my knee high, I struck the snow with my heel, leaving my foot planted until the other one had by the same process cut the next step.

It was in giving one of these vigorous thumps that I hit a spot where, under a thin coating of snow, was hard ice. My foot, failing in its grip, slipped, and the impulse caused me to lose my balance. I slid down the steep incline at a terrific pace, accompanied in my involuntary tobogganing over ice and snow by the screams of my horror-stricken coolies. I realised that in another moment I should be pitched into the stream, which would have meant being carried under the long tunnel of ice to meet certain death beneath it. In those few seconds I found time to speculate even as to whether those stones by the water's edge would stop me, or whether the impetus must fling me past them into the river. I attempted to get a grip in the snow with my frozen fingers, to stem myself with my heels, but with no success, when I saw ahead of me a large stone rising above the snow. With desperate tension of every nerve and muscle, I knew as I approached it, with the foaming water yonder, that it was my only hope. I consciously straightened my legs for the contact. The bump was tremendous, and seemed to shatter every bone in my body. But it stopped me, and I was saved only a few feet from the water's edge—miraculously, although fearfully bruised, with no bones broken.

My fingers were cut by the ice and bleeding. When I was able to stand, I signalled to the frightened and wailing coolies above to go on, and I myself proceeded along the watercourse until I found a spot from which I could regain the upper track.


A palaver—To see is to believe—Dangers and perils on the snow and ice—Thar and Ghural—Stalking—A tiring climb to 16,000 feet—The collapse of a snow bridge.

AT Kuti I halted and summoned the leading natives to my tent.

Would it be possible, I asked them, to get over the Lumpiya Pass or the still higher Mangshan? The first is a rarely frequented pass on the way to Gyanema, the other a high and most difficult pass by which it is possible, though not easy, to reach the Rakstal Lake by the jungle without going near a Tibetan settlement or encampment.

"No," was the decided answer from all the Shokas. "The snow is now too deep. Fresh snow falls daily. For another fortnight at least no human being can get across. To attempt it will mean losing one's life. At their best during one month in summer, those two passes are arduous and dangerous. Now it would be mere folly to attempt their ascent."

With my distressingly sceptical nature I believe little that I do not see. I started next morning to observe for myself. My bearings were roughly North-West. Seeing me determined, several of the Kutial Shokas changed their mind and volunteered to follow me. They were of considerable help in many dangerous places. Here and there a few paces of narrow track were uncovered, otherwise we went long distances on frozen snow, over precipices down which it was almost fatal to look.

The lucky hairbreadth escape of the previous day contributed to make me lose confidence, not in myself, but in that white emblem of purity and innocence, in reality the most treacherous substance in creation. I soon found that wherever there was snow there was trouble. In spots where the snow was particularly hard frozen we dared not attempt to walk on the steep slippery surface, and we had to descend to the river, which was here bridged over completely with ice and snow. Crossing, we would attempt progress on the other side, and having proceeded with difficulty for a few hundred yards, had to retrace our steps and try the first bank again. We thus crossed and recrossed the Kuti River more than half-a-dozen times, each crossing being preceded by a precipitous descent and immediately followed by a steep ascent. The cracks in the ice by the water-side were constant and perilous, and we did not risk remaining near them longer than was necessary. In six or seven hours we had walked a distance of less than four miles. Leaving the Kuti River and following due North the course of a tributary, the Kambelshio, we crossed over to its farther bank and pitched our tents at an altitude of 13,420 feet.

There remained a few hours of daylight when we arrived, and I employed them by going after Thar or Tehr and Ghural (Himahlyan chamois) a couple of miles farther. I rose to 15,000 feet on a needle-like peak towering over the spot where, in a narrow picturesque gorge, the Tongzu pangti enters the Kuti River. The sources of the Tongzu pangti are about a thousand feet higher than the spot where it meets the Kuti River, and the stream has its birth from the melting snows, descending precipitously and in a very short distance into the larger river.

The rocks are here furred with saltpetre, and it is said to be a favourite spot for Thar.[9]

I enjoyed my trip so much that, rising with the sun, I started on the following morning to repeat my experience. Moreover, I wanted to climb to some high point wherefrom I could make certain whether it was possible to proceed immediately across the Himahlyan range, or whether it was advisable to wait patiently until the snow had to some extent disappeared. I walked four miles from camp, reaching an altitude of 16,000 feet. The ascent was rather tiring. Having wounded a Thar, I went after it up a fatiguing snow-field at a speed too great to be comfortable at such a very high elevation. When I reached the top, I was out of breath and the Thar too far off for a second shot.

The view this high point commanded was stupendous. For miles and miles—and it seemed hundreds of miles—snow, snow, nothing but snow! There stood Jolinkan Mount rising above 19,000 feet. On either side of the Kuti River were peaks as high as 20,000 feet and more. Here and there the white sheet that covered the surrounding country seemed almost greenish. Those spots were glaciers, and I saw many of them, feeding as they do the numerous streams flowing into the Kuti River. I returned to camp for lunch. It was useless to proceed and even more useless remaining still. I gave orders to raise the camp, and at 2 P.M. we were under way back to Kuti.

The day had been an unusually warm one, and the surface of the snow, so hard the previous day, was now soft and watery. Several of the snow bridges had already disappeared.

I had descended to the river preceded by some of my coolies. Two of them just in front of me were crossing over the stream on a thick and broad archway of ice. I was waiting for them to be safely across. When the men had nearly reached the other side they noticed a peculiar vibration underfoot. Scrambling away as best they could, they gave the alarm.

I drew back hastily. In the nick of time! for with a deafening roar like magnified thunder echoed from cliff to cliff, down went the bridge. The huge pieces of ice, only a moment before forming part of the vault, were now swept away by the furious stream and thrown with tremendous force against the next bridge, which quivered under the terrible clash.

Three days' marching over the same route brought me back to Garbyang.

[9] The Gural is the Himahlyan chamois found at even comparatively low elevations. They are generally seen in herds, with the exception of the oldest males, which are usually met with alone. It is not uncommon to see as many as eight or ten together, especially during their feeding time, shortly after sunrise and an hour or two before sunset.

Tehr or Thar (male) and Jahral (female) is the true and proper wild goat of the higher Himahlyan range. It is rarely found lower than 7000 feet and often as high as 15,000 feet above sea level. Those found at lower elevations do not possess quite such a luxuriant growth of hair, nor, I am told, are their curved horns quite so long. They climb about precipices and dangerous spots with the greatest ease.


An earthquake—Curious notions of the natives—A Shoka tailor and his ways—The arrival of silver cash—Two rocks in the Kali—Arrogance of a Tibetan spy.

ON hearing that Dr. Wilson was now in Garbyang I went to call upon him. Squatted on soft Chinese and Tibetan mats and rugs, we were enjoying cup after cup of tea and devouring chapatis, when suddenly the whole building began to shake and rumble in the queerest manner, upsetting teapot and milk and sending the chapatis roaming to and fro all over the room.

Leaving Dr. Wilson to save our precious beverage, I pulled out watch and compass to notice duration and direction of the shock. It was undulatory, very violent, and oscillating from S.S.W. to N.N.E. The duration was exactly four minutes two seconds. The earthquake began at 5.20 P.M. and ended at 5h. 24m. 2s.

"It strikes me that it would have been wise to have gone out of the house," said I. "It is a wonder the building did not collapse. My cup is full of mud and debris from the ceiling."[10]

"I have saved the tea for you!" said the Doctor, triumphantly lifting in his muscular hands the teapot, which he had carefully nursed. He had soon discovered my devotion to the yellow liquid.

We were quietly going on with our refreshment when a band of excited Shokas broke into the room.

"Sahib! Sahib! where has it gone?" cried they in a chorus, stretching their hands towards me and then folding them in sign of prayer. "Sahib! tell us where it has gone!"

"What?" rejoined I, amused at their suspense.

"Did you not feel the earth shake and quiver?" exclaimed the astounded visitors.

"Oh yes, but that is nothing."

"Oh no, Sahib! That is the precursory notice of some great calamity. The 'spirit' under the earth is waking up and is shaking its back."

"I would rather it shook its back than mine," said I jokingly.

"Or mine," added the Doctor lightly, much to the astonishment of our awestricken callers.

"Which way did it go?" repeated the impatient Shokas.

I pointed towards the N.N.E. and they gave a sigh of satisfaction. It must have proceeded to the other side of the Himahlyas.

It appears, according to the primitive notions of the Shokas, that inside the earth lives in a torpid condition an evil spirit in the shape of a gigantic reptile. The rumbling preceding an earthquake is, to the Shoka mind, nothing else than the heavy breathing of the monster previous to waking, whereas the actual shock is caused by the brute stretching its limbs. When fully awake the serpent-like demon darts and forces its way in one direction, compelling the earth to quake all along its subterranean passage, often causing by so violent a procedure great damage to property and loss of life, not to speak of the fear and terror which it strikes in man and beast, should the capricious spirit by chance make a return journey to the spot below the earth's crust directly underfoot. It is curious and interesting, in analysing these crude notions, to find that, independently of the cause attributed to its origin, the Shokas are aware of the fact that an earthquake "travels" in a certain direction. Moreover, common symptoms of the approach of a violent earthquake, such as depression and heaviness in the atmosphere, which they attribute to a feverish state of the giant reptile, are readily recognised by them.

On my return to civilisation some months later I discovered that on the same day a violent shock was felt all over India, causing considerable damage, especially in Calcutta.

I had on first arriving in Garbyang ordered a tent, and the tailor who was entrusted with its manufacture had, after several days' intoxication, completed it. It was on the Tibetan pattern, with picturesque ornaments in blue. He had also been making me some Nepalese clothes, and these really turned out quite a success, no small wonder considering the way he went to work. I had given him cloth and lining, which he took away with him, but he never troubled to take my measure! He simply assured me that the suit would be ready on the following day. This was of course not the case, and on the next afternoon and for six consecutive days he placed himself in a state of hopeless intoxication under my window, singing, and making comical salaams each time I, after the custom of the country, threw something at him to induce him to go away. On the seventh day I caught him and shook him by the ears, explaining that if the clothes were not ready before nightfall, I would, in default of other tailors, sew them myself.

"I have a drop too much in me," confessed the amusing rascal. "I will go to sleep now. When I wake in the afternoon I shall be sober and will finish my work. Do not be angry, Sahib. If only you drank yourself, Sahib, you would know how lovely it is to be drunk." His philosophy did not agree with mine. But I felt sure that I had so far impressed him, that he knew he must risk some personal violence if he delayed much longer. Sure enough, late in the evening he came with his work.

"How they will fit I do not dare to guess," I remarked to Dr. Wilson, "considering the condition the man has been in while making them, and taking into account that he never measured me nor tried them on. After all, Nepalese clothes should be tight-fitting all over."

Wonderful as it may seem, the clothes fitted like a glove. Clearly, that man was a genius. Anyhow he was intemperate enough to have been one.

* * * * *

One day I had gone for a walk along the deserted road from the village. I was about a mile and a half from the inhabited part, when three men, who had been fast approaching, stood with blunt swords in front of me. They waved their blades clumsily and shouted at the top of their voices in an excited manner: "Rupiya! Rupiya!" ("Rupees! Rupees!") Without thinking of the money that I had sent for and expected to receive, I took their attitude as a threatening demand for the cash I might have on me. They were really grotesque in their gesticulations, and I brusquely pushed by them and continued my constitutional. When they saw me depart, they scurried away hastily towards Garbyang, and I gave the occurrence no further thought. On my return to the village, however, some hours later, a crowd of Shokas came up to me announcing that my money had arrived, and that the scared messengers, not daring to come near me a second time, had gone to Dr. Wilson's house. There I found a peon and two chaprassis, the three men I had met on the road. They had brought a sum of eighteen hundred rupees in silver, nearly all in two-anna and four-anna pieces (sixteen annas to a rupee), which I had sent for from my banker, Anti Ram Sah, at Almora, and which it had taken three men to carry, owing to its weight.

After an easy explanation with these three very peaceful highwaymen, the silver was conveyed to my room, and the greater part of the night had to be spent in counting the diminutive coins and packing them up in rolls of ten rupees each.

* * * * *

Just below Garbyang in the Kali River were, among a mass of others, two large rocks in the centre of the stream. These two rocks were constantly watched by the Shokas. The Kali, though named after a small spring below its real source, is, like most of its tributaries, mainly fed by melting snows. The greater quantity of water descends from the Jolinkan, the Lumpiya, the Mangshan, the Lippu, and the Tinker passes. The first four are in Kumaon, the last in Nepal. It stands to reason that the warmer the weather the greater is the quantity of snow melting on the passes, and therefore the higher the level of the river. When the two rocks are altogether under water all the passes are known to be open.[11]

During the time I was in Garbyang I never had the luck to see this, but the level of the river was daily rising, and the time of tiresome expectation was certainly relieved by many amusing, and a few awkward incidents.

Having once been informed of my plans, the Jong Pen of Taklakot in Tibet was kept fully acquainted with my movements. His spies went daily backwards and forwards with details about me. This my friends confided to me regularly. One of these emissaries, a stalwart Tibetan, more daring than the rest, actually had the impudence to enter my room, and to address me in a boisterous tone of voice. At first I treated him kindly, but he became more and more arrogant, and informed me, before several frightened Shokas to whom he was showing off, that the British soil I was standing on was Tibetan property. The British, he said, were usurpers and only there on sufferance. He declared that the English were cowards and afraid of the Tibetans, even if they oppressed the Shokas.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse