In the Forbidden Land
by Arnold Henry Savage Landor
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This remark was too much for me, and it might anyhow have been unwise to allow it to pass unchallenged. Throwing myself on him, I grabbed him by his pigtail and landed in his face a number of blows straight from the shoulder. When I let him go, he threw himself down crying, and implored my pardon. Once and for all to disillusion the Tibetan on one or two points, I made him lick my shoes clean with his tongue, in the presence of the assembled Shokas. This done, he tried to scamper away, but I caught him once more by his pigtail, and kicked him down the front steps which he had dared to come up unasked.

Chanden Sing happened to be basking in the sun at the foot, and seeing the hated foreigner make so contemptible an exit, leapt on him like a cat. He had heard me say, "Ye admi bura crab!" ("That man is very bad.") That was enough for him, and before the Tibetan had regained his feet, my bearer covered his angular features with a perfect shower of blows. In the excitement of the moment, Chanden Sing, thinking himself quite the hero, began even to shy huge stones at his terror-stricken victim, and at last, getting hold of his pigtail, to drag him round the yard—until I interfered and stopped the sport.

[10] The ceilings of Shoka houses are plastered with mud.

[11] N.B. The Lippu Pass, the lowest of all, may be crossed, with difficulty, nearly all the year round.


The Rambang—Shoka music—Love-songs—Doleful singing—Abrupt ending—Solos—Smoking—When marriage is contemplated—The Delang—Adultery—Punishment.

ONE Shoka institution, surprising in a primitive people, but nevertheless, to my way of thinking, eminently sensible and advantageous, is the Rambang, a meeting-place or club where girls and young men come together at night, for the sake of better acquaintance, prior to entering into matrimony. Each village possesses one or more institutions of this kind, and they are indiscriminately patronised by all well-to-do people, who recognise the institution as a sound basis on which marriage can be arranged. The Rambang houses are either in the village itself, or half way between one village and the next, the young women of one village thus entering into amicable relations with the young men of the other and vice versa. I visited many of these in company with Shokas, and found them very interesting. Round a big fire in the centre of the room men and women sat in couples, spinning wool and chatting merrily, for everything appeared decorous and cheerful. With the small hours of the morning, they seemed to become more sentimental, and began singing songs without instrumental accompaniment, the rise and fall of the voices sounding weird and haunting to a degree. The Shoka men and women possess soft, musical voices, and the sounds which they utter are not simply a series of notes emitted through the throat, but, as it were, the vibration of impressions coming from the heart, and transmitted by means of their voices to others. Eastern in its character, the Shoka music is pleasing to the Western ear, not because it possesses quick progressions, flourishes, or any elaborate technicalities, but because it conveys the impression of reality and feeling. The responsive duets, sung by a young man and answered by a girl, pleased me most. All their songs are plaintive, and contain modulations of the voice so mysteriously charming in effect, and so good in tone, that they really affect one profoundly. They only sing when the mood takes them; never with a view to please others, but always simply to give vent to their emotions. Their love-songs generally open with a sentimental recitative, and then change into actual singing, with frequent modulations from one key into another. The time is irregular, and though certain rhythmical peculiarities recur constantly, yet each performer gives to what he sings so strong a personality of execution as to make it almost an individual composition. Any one hearing Shokas sing for the first time would imagine that each singer was improvising as he went along, but on closer comparison it will be found that musical phrases, certain favourite passages and modulations in the voice, constantly recur not only in each song, but in all songs. They seem all of them based on the same doleful tune, probably a very ancient one, and only the different time in which it is given, and the eccentricities of the singer, give it a separate and special character. One characteristic of Shoka songs—as of so many other Oriental tunes—is that they have no rounded ending, and this, to my ears, rather spoiled them. A similar abrupt break is a feature of their dances and their drum-beating. The song suddenly stops in the middle of the air with a curious grating sound of the voice, and I could not obtain any entirely satisfactory explanation of this: the only answer given me was that the singer could not go on for ever, and that as long as he stopped it did not matter how he did it. Further, they considered an abrupt ending most suitable to music (or dancing), as it immediately brought you back to your normal state, should your mind have been carried away. One pleasant feature was that their songs were never sung in a loud tone of voice, nor did they aim at notes too high or too low for their voices, but kept themselves well within their compass.

The only difference between solos given by men, and those sung by women, was that the former showed more plaintiveness and sentimentality, and greater mutability of thought, whereas the latter were more uniform, more lively, and less imaginative in their representation of feelings. The words of the love-songs, nearly always impromptu, can hardly be set down in these pages. From our standard of morality, and away from their own special surroundings, they might seem almost lewd, while in their place they certainly did not impress me as offensive. When singing, the Shokas usually raise the end of their white shawl or dress, and hold it by the side of the head.

Smoking was general, each couple sharing the same pipe. A few burning sticks of pine stuck in the rough wall formed the only illumination, save the fire in the centre of the room slowly burning out. Signs of sleepiness became evident as morning came, and soon they all retired in couples, and went to sleep in their clothes on a soft layer of straw and grass. There they slept peacefully in a row, and I retraced my steps to my diggings amidst a deafening barking of pariah dogs. At these gatherings every Shoka girl regularly meets with young men, and while she entertains the idea of selecting among them a suitable partner for life, she also does a considerable quantity of work with her spinning-wheel. Eventually, when a couple consider marriage advisable, the young man, dressed in his best clothes, proceeds to the house of his intended father-in-law, carrying with him a pot of choekti (wine), dried fruit, ghur (sweet paste), miseri (sugar-candy), and grilled grain. If the bridegroom is considered a suitable match, the parents of the girl receive the young man with due consideration, and partake heartily of the food and drink proffered by him. The marriage is there and then arranged, the bridegroom further disbursing to the father a sum of not less than five rupees and not more than one hundred. This is the etiquette of good Shoka society, and of all people who can afford it, the payment being called "milk-money," or money equivalent to the sum spent by the girl's relations in bringing her up. The marriage ceremony is simple enough. A cake called Delang is baked, of which the friends of the two families partake. If either the bridegroom or bride refuses to eat a share of the cake, the marriage is broken off; if they both eat some of the cake, and later any dissension arises between them, all those who assisted at the function are called as witnesses that the marriage took place. Often even this primitive ceremony of eating cake is dispensed with, and Shoka marriages begin and continue as happy and faithful unions, without any special form of service or rite to solemnise the tie.

They not only visit adultery on the guilty man himself by beating him, but the men proceed en masse to the house of his parents and denude it of all furniture, stores of grain, and merchandise. They confiscate the sheep, goats, yaks, and all their valuable saddles and loads, and present the whole proceeds to the man whose wife has been seduced—a recompense for the shame suffered. Frequently the unfortunate and innocent relations of the evil-doer are bound and even beaten to death by the villagers. These severe measures are resorted to in order to maintain a high standard of morality and honour, and there is little doubt that, primitive as these methods may seem, the good results obtained more than justify them. There are very few illegitimate births, with the exception of occasional Rambang children, and their arrival is a matter of such disgrace that they cannot be looked upon as seriously discrediting the social value of the Rambang.



Departure of the Soul—Cremation—Amusement of the dead man's soul—The lay figure—Feasting—Doleful dance—Transmigration of the soul—Expensive ceremonies—Offerings before the lay figure—Dancing and contortions—Martial dances—Solo dances—The animal to be sacrificed and the lay figure—Chasing the animal from the village—Tearing out its heart—The yak driven over a precipice—Head shaving—A sacred cave.

THE Shokas ascribe death to the departure of the soul from the body, and to this notion is due the curious reverence they show for the spirit or memory of their dead. I witnessed a funeral ceremony quaint enough to deserve record.

A man had died a painful death, the result of an accident. His friends were immediately sent for, and the corpse, having been smeared with butter (ghi), was dressed in his best clothes. They bent his body double before the rigor set in, and placed him on a hurriedly constructed wooden hearse. He was covered with a blue-and-gold embroidered cloth, and a white one over it. At sunrise, the funeral procession left the house for the place of cremation. First came a row of ten women, their heads covered with a long strip of white cotton cloth, one end of which was tied to the hearse. Among these were the near relations of the deceased, including his wife and daughters, crying and wailing the words, "Oh bajo! Oh bajo!" (Oh father! oh father!), the rest of them sobbing and making great show of grief. The deceased having been somewhat of a favourite in Garbyang, the villagers turned out in force to render him this last tribute, and they took their place in the procession as it slowly wound down the cliff towards the river. The hearse was carried by two men, and each male Shoka following bore a log or bundle of firewood. We reached the Kali. The body was temporarily laid on the bank of the stream, while all the men, with heads uncovered, collected large stones and pieces of wood. With the stones a circular crematory oven, five feet high, six feet in diameter, with an opening on the side facing the wind, was erected by the water-side. The wife and daughters of the departed, with their hoods turned inside out and with covered faces, squatted down meanwhile by the hearse, moaning and keeping a small fire alight. When all preparations were made, the oven being heaped up with logs of wood, the body was untied from the stretcher and lifted by two intimates of the departed on to the funeral pile.

All valuables were removed, his gold earrings, his silver locket and bracelets; and a large knife was used for some purpose or other which I could not quite see, except in slitting the lobes of the corpse's ears to remove his earrings more quickly. Branches of pine-tree were deposited on the body, and a large pot of butter was set by its side. A brass bowl of choekti (wine) was poured on the head, and then, in profound silence, fire was set to the pile.

A few white puffs showed that it had caught fire, and then a dense column of black smoke rose from it, filling the atmosphere with a sickening smell of singed hair and burning flesh. The wind blew the smoke towards me, and I was enveloped in it for some moments, during which I could see nothing of what was going on, and I felt my eyes smart and my nostrils fill with the smoke and the stench. Gradually a tall flame, over twenty feet high, leaked out, consuming the body and showing me, as the atmosphere cleared, the Shokas down by the river washing their hands and faces to cleanse themselves of what they look upon as unclean, the contact with a corpse. Retracing their steps to the village, the women cried and moaned, carrying back to the house the clothes of the deceased and his brass bowls.

Reaching home, it was incumbent on them to provide lavishly for the amusement of the dead man's soul. A lay figure crudely constructed of straw and sticks was attired by them in the clothes of the departed, and covered over with Indian fabrics embroidered in gold and red and blue, and a turban was stuck on the head, with a panache made of a branch of fir-tree. The Kalihe was at the side of the image. When the fire was extinguished, a visit was paid to the cremation spot by the relatives of the deceased, and such pieces of bone as the knee-joints, elbows, and the larger vertebrae of the spine, usually left undestroyed by the flames, were collected and deposited inside the clothes of the image. Wheat, rice, and flour were purchased in large quantities and cooked to provide food for the multitude of friends who remained the guests of the family during the whole time of the funeral. A sheep a day is usually killed and eaten on such occasions, and cask after cask of choekti (wine), zahn (a liquor distilled from barley, rice and wheat), and anag (from fermented grain of various kinds) are emptied by the mourning crowd. The women folk of the dead man mourned round the effigy, resting their heads on it, crying and imploring the beloved one to return to life. Other rows of women, with their hoods turned inside out in sign of mourning, danced gracefully in circles round the dressed-up figure, left the house by one door in the basement, described an arc in the open, and returned by another door, while men were dancing a doleful dance outside the house. Beating of drums went on the whole day—languid and sad at moments; excited, violent and rowdy at others, according to the mood of the musicians and the quantity of liquor consumed by them. On each day of these proceedings, which lasted for three or four days, rice, baked wheat, and wine were placed before the effigy, until, when it was assumed that the soul of the dead had had a sufficiently amusing time, arrangements were made for its transmigration from the lay figure into a live sheep or yak. If the deceased is a man, the animal chosen to represent him is a male; if a woman, a female; but no ceremony of this sort follows the cremation of children under ten or twelve. In the case of the old man whose funeral I witnessed, a sheep was chosen, instead of the time-hallowed yak, the procuring of which from Tibet used to be a very costly business. The use of a sheep for these sacrifices is quite a recent innovation, brought into fashion by the greatest Shoka trader in Garbyang, called Gobaria, whose intention it was to put down the unnecessary waste of these ceremonies; but many pious Shokas, I was assured, are not satisfied with so small an offering as a single sheep, and slaughter two or even more on these occasions.

After several days' dancing and gorging indoors, a crowd collects, to the sound of the drums, outside the habitation. The lay figure is from the room transported either directly outside the dwelling or to some picturesque spot in the woods. This is generally on the fourth day. Bowls with food are placed in front of it, and the dancing is begun, to a curious sentimental strain, with a graceful series of contortions, by girls and women waving large pieces of white material. The legs keep time with the arms, and each leg is alternately bent at the knee until it nearly touches the ground. The head is inclined to the right or left, and thrown backwards or forwards according to the beating of the drum. The circular motion in the dancing begins first very slowly, and the speed then increases by degrees, abruptly ending in odd and suggestive postures. During the intervals of dancing the relatives go round and round the lay figure, dusting and fanning it with their white cloths.

In the afternoon the men join the performance, and though their dancing has practically the same characteristics and motions as the women's dance, it is usually so much more violent that it almost partakes of the character of a war-dance. They hold in their right hands a sword, in the left a circular shield, and some of the younger men show great skill in the rapid manipulation of their blades, twirling them round their heads and behind their backs. There are solos, duets and trios, in which the drummer or drummers take part, and when the dancing is collective, they head the procession, contorting their bodies and beating their drums with a stick on one side and the palm of the hand on the other.

The whole crowd is constantly regaled by the family with corn baked with sugar, roasted Indian corn, rice, sweets, ghur and miseri, when the lay figure is supposed to have had its fill. While the mob eat, the ladies of the house return to the effigy with quick beating of the drums, and again double themselves up in solemn lengthy curtsies. Perhaps the most interesting, because the most accomplished, were the solo male dancers, each performer displaying his own particular genius. The drummer beats his drum whimsically—fast and slow alternately, with no rule—just as it pleases his fancy, and the dancer always keeps time with him in all his frenzies and eccentricities, so that his movements are sometimes so slow as to be barely noticeable, and at others so rapid that his arms and legs can no longer be distinguished. I happened to witness no less than six funerals simultaneously in Garbyang, and a collective war-dance of as many as three hundred men. It went on during a whole day and the greater part of the following night, torches and a big bonfire burning.

Eventually, amidst firing of guns, howls, yells and deafening hissing of the assembled crowd, the animal to be sacrificed is dragged before the lay figure. Long coloured ribbons are tied round its horns, and the ends left hanging by the side of its head. Sandal-wood is burnt under the beast's nostrils, which is supposed to induce the soul of the departed to enter and establish itself in the animal. The clothes, the turban, the shield, the jewellery, are torn from the figure's back and piled on to the goat, which is now the impersonation of the deceased. It is fed until it can hold no more, wine and liquor being poured down its throat, and large dishes of all possible delicacies being placed before it. The women relatives devote to it their tenderest affection, and shed tears over it in the conviction that it holds the spirit of their lost protector. Stuffed with food, and stupefied by the alcohol, the beast submits, emotionless and immovable, to the wild caresses, prayers, and salaams showered on it. Again the hissing, whistling and yelling begin, and a rush is made for the animal, which is seized by the horns, the neck, the tail, wherever it can be caught hold of, and dragged, pushed, beaten, and at last chased out of the village, but not until after the clothes, shield, sword, turban, and ornaments have been torn from its back. It is eventually handed over to the Hunyas or Jumlis or Humlis, who on these occasions benefit by the simplicity and superstition of the Shokas, and who throw it down, rip the body open, and pull out the heart, or twist it in the inside with a jerk that kills instantly. This method applies to sheep or goat.

When a yak is sacrificed, very much the same rites take place up to the moment when the lay figure is deprived of its clothing and the yak invested with it. It is similarly beaten and dragged about, and left on the top of some mountain, the crowd calling after it, "Go! go! We have feasted, feted and fed you. We have done all in our power for your welfare. We cannot do more! Go now!" With this the yak, with the soul that has been driven into it, is left to its own devices, and as soon as the Shokas have departed, is driven by the Tibetans over a precipice, it being against their faith to draw blood from a yak. In the fatal leap the animal is smashed to pieces, and the Tibetans, collecting the remains, gorge themselves with the prized meat of their cherished yak.

As a mark of reverence the Shoka men remove their caps not only while following the corpse to cremation, but also during the feasting, the male relatives themselves even shaving their heads; and this practice is occasionally extended to the whole male community in the case of a particularly respected villager dying. The women remove their jewellery, and, as already noted, turn their hoods inside out.

When all is over, some restitution of his property is made to the dead, and odd articles, such as brass bowls or a gun or a shield or sword, are placed in a sacred cave, which none dare desecrate by entering to remove anything. These caves are high up on the mountain-sides, and are said to be full of sacred offerings, which have accumulated there in the centuries.

I expressed the wish to see the cave on the mountain side above Garbyang, but the natives politely asked me not to do so, as the visit of a stranger to this sacred spot might bring misfortune on the Shoka living community. Therefore I abstained from going rather than cause unpleasantness.


Touching Shoka farewell—Feelings curiously expressed—Sobs and tears—The start—A funereal procession—Distressed father and mother—Kachi and Dola the worse for drink—Anxious moments—The bridge destroyed.

THE day of my departure came. It was after dark. Outside my dwelling a crowd of Shokas had assembled. I bade farewell to my host Zeheram and to his wife and children, who with tears in their eyes wished me God-speed.

"Salaam, sahib, salaam!" repeated Zeheram, sobbing and bringing his hand respectfully to his forehead. "You know, sahib, that a horse goes to a horse, a tiger to a tiger, a yak to a yak, and a man to a man. A man's house is another man's house, no matter whether the colour of our skin differs or not. Therefore I thank Heaven that you have accepted shelter under my humble roof. You must have been uncomfortable, for all you sahibs are rich and accustomed to luxury. I am only a trader and a cultivator. I am poor, but I possess a heart. You, unlike other sahibs, have always spoken kindly to me and to all of us Shokas. We feel that you are our brother. You have given us presents, but we needed them not. The only present we wish for is that, when you reach the end of your perilous journey, you will send us a message that you are well. We will all pray day and night for you. Our hearts are sore at your leaving us."

This from the rough old boy, whom I had got really to like, was touching, and I told him I hoped I might some day be able to repay him for his kindness. When I descended the steps there was quite a crowd in the yard. Every one wished to bid me farewell. The men took my right hand in both theirs and brought it up to their foreheads, muttering words of grief at my leaving. The women gently caressed my face and bade me "Niku tza" ("Go well," "Farewell"). These are the Shoka fashions of taking leave of friends who are departing for distant lands.

Led by the hand by a really grieving company, I moved towards the narrow, steep descent to the Chongur bridge, cut into the slope of the high cliffs of clay. On the way I called at Kachi's house, but he had gone ahead. A more mournful procession could not be imagined. The faint rays of a new moon gave an added melancholy to the scene, and that peculiarly impressive sound of sad steps, if I may thus express the pathetic cadence of people's gait when afflicted, made me feel as if I were attending my own funeral. I begged them to return to their homes, and one after the other they came to embrace my feet and to hold my fingers. Then, hiding their faces in the palms of their hands, they one by one made their way up the grey track cut into the lofty cliff, and like phantoms, gradually becoming smaller and smaller, vanished in the distance. Still some twenty or thirty insisted on escorting me down to the stream. Farther on I came upon the excited figure of an old woman tearing her hair and crying pitifully. She threw herself at my feet, imploring me to take care of her son. It was Kachi's distressed mother. I comforted her as best I could, and also the desolate father (good old Junia), who was there with tears streaming down his cheeks, to bid me an affectionate farewell.

"Where is your son?"

"You will find him a little farther down, sahib."

I did—together with four other people lying on the ground all in a heap. One of them who tried to stand up, called out: "Kachi, get up, here is the sahib," and then collapsed again on the top of the others. Neither Kachi nor the others gave any sign of life, and when I spoke to them I discovered that they were in a state of hopeless intoxication, arm-in-arm as they had fallen and slept.

By the side of Kachi was Dola, his uncle, supposed to be employed by me in the quadruple capacity of interpreter, carrier, Kachi's valet, and cook, in which latter art, after Shoka fashion, he was quite an adept, his fame having spread all over Bias. He was, therefore, a treasure not lightly to be abandoned, and yet, now that I wanted to act quickly and decisively, I had to weigh whether I should proceed with two of the most important characters in my play disabled. Should I, hampered by these semi-corpses, be able to pass unseen the watchful Tibetan guard at the Chongur bridge, only a few hundred yards farther on? I decided to try. Seizing one on each side under their arm-pits, I supported them and kept them erect. It was no easy job, and I felt our speed increase at every step as I moved with my staggering mates down the steep and slippery track. We reached the bottom of the hill at a breakneck rate, and as the track was narrow along the water's edge, it was a wonder that we did not all three of us land in the river. As it was, in coming suddenly to a stop, my two men utterly collapsed again, and I was so exhausted that I had to sit down and rest.

Kachi Ram had a lucid interval. He gazed round and saw me for the first time that night.

"Sahib!" he exclaimed, with long pauses between each word, "I am drunk!"

"That is quite true," said I.

"We Shokas have this bad habit," he continued. "I had to drink choekti with all my relations and friends prior to leaving for this long journey. They would have been offended if I had not divided with each a cup of wine. I now see everything go round. Please put my head into cold water. Oh! the moon is jumping about, and is now under my feet!"

I complied with his request, and gave both his head and Dola's a good ducking in the freezing Kali River.

This had the unfortunate effect of sending them to sleep so soundly that I thought they would never wake again. Some of the sober Shokas offered to carry the two helpless men on their backs. We were wasting valuable time and the sky was getting clouded. When the moon had disappeared behind the high mountain, I went ahead to reconnoitre. All was darkness but for the glimmer of a brilliant star here and there in the sky. I crawled to the bridge and listened. Not a sound, not a light on the opposite bank. All was silence, that dead silence of nature and human life asleep. I stopped on the bridge. This structure spans the river, a huge boulder in the centre of the stream serving as a pillar, and forms, in fact, two separate bridges joined on the opposite sides of this central boulder. I walked cautiously across the first portion, stood to listen again on the rock dividing the foaming waters, and tried to penetrate the obscurity. There was not a soul to be seen, nor a sound to be heard. I went over the rock and proceeded towards the second half of the bridge, when I found to my horror that this second half of the bridge had been cut down. The entire section had collapsed, and with the exception of a long beam still swinging to and fro with one end in the turbid stream, and a plank or two, the whole material had been washed away.

I returned to my men.

"We must continue our way on this side of the river," I whispered to them. "The Tibetans have destroyed the bridge."

"The track is traced," they replied, "but it is impassable at night."

"Never mind; we must go. Come." And I headed the silent procession.

We went about a mile. Yet another dilemma. Kachi and Dola were still fast asleep. The others, tired and worn out with the fatigue of carrying them, wished to turn back. The sky was now clouded all over and rain was coming on.

I felt that it was useless to persist. Having seen the two drunken creatures laid flat under a shed, and well covered with blankets, I therefore returned to Garbyang, with the intention of making a fresh start shortly before sunrise, when the drunkards would probably be fit to walk by themselves, and found shelter under the ever hospitable roof of Dr. Wilson.


A dangerous track—Perilous passage—A curious bridge over a precipice—Pathetic Shoka custom—Small misadventures—A grand reception—Tea for all tastes.

AT 4 A.M., before the sun rose, I made a fresh and hurried start. I proceeded quickly to the spot where I had left the two drunken men. They had gone ahead.

Indeed the track was a bad and dangerous one, overhanging precipices, and hardly wide enough to give standing room upon it. We came to a spot where the narrow path stopped. There was before us a perpendicular rock descending straight as a wall to the Kali River. The corrosive action of dripping water and melting snow, of which last there seemed to be a thick layer higher above on the summit of the cliff, had worn the face of the rock quite smooth. The distance across this vertical wall-like ravine was not more than forty or fifty feet. On the other side of it the narrow track began again.

Owing to this and other dangerous places, this route is but very seldom used by the natives or by any one else. The road generally taken is on the opposite side of the Kali River, in Nepal territory. Nevertheless, a few Shokas possess bits of land on this bank of the stream, and it was by them that, in order to surmount the obstacle before which I now stood, the following expedient was devised in former years.

By letting down a man from above with ropes they succeeded in making two rows of small hollows in the rock, along two parallel horizontal lines, the higher of which was about six feet or so above the lower. The holes were dug at intervals of three or four feet along each line, the upper ones to be caught on by one's hands, the lower ones to support one's feet, and none of the cavities are deeper than a few inches.

The transit seemed dangerous at any time, and impossible just then, because the drizzling rain which had set in had wetted the rock and made it as slippery as glass, but I realised that the thing had to be risked, and at any cost. With an affected air of assurance, I therefore took off my shoes and went ahead.

I could not look about me, for I clung with my body to the wall, feeling my way with my toes and fingers. The cavities were, as a matter of fact, so shallow that progress was slow and troublesome. When the toes of the right limb seemed firmly planted in a receptacle, the right arm was made to slide along the rock until the fingers had obtained a firm grip in the cavity directly above the one in which the toes were. Then the entire body had to be shifted from left to right, bringing the left foot and hand close to the right extremities and suspending one's weight on the former, so as to render the right foot and arm ready to make the next move forward, and so on, till I reached the other side and alighted upon the narrow track, which was itself only five or six inches wide. Chanden Sing having tied his shoes and mine over his shoulders, proceeded bare-footed on the same hazardous enterprise. With none of the excitement of personal danger, the moments of apprehension while he groped his way with toes and fingers, half paralysed with cold and fear, were to me worse even than those of my own passage. But he too got across safe and sound, and after that the rest was comparatively easy.

It was necessary now to look out for signs of the two men, Kachi and Dola, who had preceded us. I was glad to find a little farther on fresh footmarks, undoubtedly those of the two Shokas. The track still ascended and descended nearly all along precipitous cliffs, and was everywhere dangerously narrow, with here and there bits on shaky crowbars. At one spot the rugged formation of the cliff forced one suddenly to ascend to its very top and cross (on all-fours) a rude kind of bridge made of branches of trees spanned not horizontally, but at an angle of sixty degrees over a precipice of several hundred feet. I found a white thread of wool laid over this primitive structure, in accordance with the custom of the Shokas at the death of relatives or friends away from their native village. The soul is supposed to migrate during the dark hours of the night and to return to the birthplace of the deceased, these white threads showing the way at dangerous places on the road.

Having lost the track more than once, we found ourselves down at the edge of the Kali and compelled to climb up some three hundred feet over sand and rolling stones to regain the path.

We arrived at last at Nabi. There I found my loads safe and sound, having got here by the better track on the Nepalese side previously to the Chongur bridge being destroyed by the Tibetans, also Kachi and Dola, who had got over and recovered from their drink. To make up, perhaps, for their past misbehaviour, and probably to make me overlook or forget it, they seemed to have induced the natives to welcome me with particular cordiality. I was invited by them, with much show of hospitality, to spend the night in the village.

I was led with some ceremony to a primitive sort of ladder with very roughly carved steps, and shoved, with help from above and below, on to a flat mud roof. Here a tent had been pitched, the floor of which was covered with mats and rugs for me to rest on. I no sooner laid myself down than a string of men, women and children arrived, carrying bowls with a particularly sumptuous meal of rice, dhal, meat, balab (or boiled buckwheat leaves), curd, milk, broiled corn with sugar, chapatis, shale, sweets, native wine and liquor.

During the meal, tea was served in all sorts of fashions. There was Chinese tea and Indian tea, tea boiled with sugar and tea without it, tea with milk, and tea with butter and salt in it, pale tea and dark tea, sweet tea and bitter tea—in fact, tea until I—devoted as I am to it—wished that no tea-leaf had ever been picked and stewed in boiling water.


Dr. Wilson joins my expedition for a few marches—What misdeeds a photographic camera can do—Weighing, dividing, and packing provisions—Two extra men wanted—The last friendly faces.

I WAS examining a young woman who had badly injured and partly fractured a central vertebra of the spine, when Dr. Wilson turned up and gave the poor wretch the little relief possible in her condition, for which she had hoped in vain from me. He was welcome to me for many reasons besides the pleasure of being in his company. He had offered to join my expedition for a few marches into Tibet, and I was glad indeed to have him with me. We pushed on as soon as possible over the road between Nabi and Kuti, which I have already described. Our journey was quite uneventful, and the snow-bridges and snow-fields, so troublesome when I had first taken this road, had melted and altogether disappeared. Even at Nabi little happened. But I must just mention the following incident as illustrative of the curious suspicion and dislike I found everywhere of the photographic apparatus I carried with me.

I was on the point of leaving the place when a handsome Tibetan woman, whom I had not previously noticed, accosted me with hysterical sobs—inarticulate, but conveying a very clear impression of suffering.

"You have killed my child, and now you will kill my husband," she complained, when she was able to talk; and I then discovered that I had on my previous visit to Nabi taken a snap-shot at a child perched on the top of a very heavy load that happened to be carried on the woman's back through my camp, and that when she complained I had appeased her, in the usual way, with a coin. She had conveyed her load to Kuti, and had slipped, on her way back, with her child—at a spot not far from where I had had my slide—but, less fortunate than myself, had rolled right into the foaming stream. She managed to cling to the rock and was eventually saved, but the infant was washed from rock to rock by the current, and disappeared under a snow tunnel.

"Oh, sahib!" cried the woman, "if you had not before we started looked at us through the eyes (the twin lenses) of your black box (the photographic camera), I should not have lost my baby."

"And how about your husband?"

"Oh, you will kill him too."

"But I don't know your husband. Anyhow, I promise not to look at him with these eyes."

"It is not that, sahib, but he is coming with you to Tibet. He is carrying one of your loads. You will all be killed."

She pointed him out to me—one of the strongest among the men I had, and the most anxious to accompany me. He was too good to lose, and I was certainly unwilling to renounce my claim to him on account of his good woman's tears. So I consoled her as best I could; promised to take good care of him, and under no circumstances to photograph him.

At Kuti, Dr. Wilson and I were busy for several hours weighing, dividing and packing in equal loads the provisions I had purchased: fourteen munds in all (1120 lbs.) of flour, rice, red sugar (ghur), salt, red pepper (32 lbs.), dhal, miseri (lump sugar), ghi (butter), and a large quantity of satoo (oatmeal), and broiled corn. There were, in addition, the preserved and tinned provisions which I had brought with me from London.

To give my carriers no cause for complaint, I allowed them to choose their own shoes, blankets, &c., and I did all in my power to humour them, because the loads threatened to be excessively heavy. In fact, I found that, even after dispensing with everything but what was absolutely essential, there was still ample to carry for at least two strong men. Every available Shoka had joined the party, and no inducement that I could offer brought me more volunteers. I was very unwilling to delay, and I was on the point of subdividing among the men I already had the two extra loads, when two stray shepherds turned up, half famished and naked, with long unkempt heads of hair, and only a coral necklace and a silver bangle by way of clothing. I quickly secured them, and although one was really only a boy, I decided to trust to luck and take Dr. Wilson's assurance that he looked tough enough and would be useful.

This brought my little force up to thirty strong, and now I was ready to start.


The Kuti Castle—Under way—Our first disaster—A cheerful and a sulky coolie—Mansing—A brigand—A strange medley of followers—A character—Tailoring—Fields of stones—Troublesome rivers—The Jolinkan or Lebung Pass—Sense of humour—Pleased with small comforts.

BEFORE leaving Kuti, I went to see the curious and ancient castle perched on a small hill about three hundred yards south of the village. It is now in ruins, with the exception of a quadrangular tower called by the natives the Kuti Ker, but the foundations of the whole structure can still be plainly seen. I made a plan, which is here reproduced, as it may be of archaeological interest. The natives could give me no information regarding it, except that it was once a king's palace strongly fortified. A small house of several rooms by the side of the tower is said to have been the blacksmith's shop in which the arrowheads and swords for the king's soldiers were made. The tower is four yards square at its base, and built of stone. Judging by its shape and construction, and the curious windows, I am inclined to attribute this castle to Tibetan workmanship, for identical towers are seen in Tibet, even at Taklakot. The windows, or rather slits, on each floor of the tower were six inches square; those in the blacksmith's house were considerably larger. There were outer walls for the defence of the fort at places where the castle would have been most accessible. Quantities of stones piled up in heaps probably served as ammunition for the defenders of the fortress in centuries gone by.

When I returned to camp all was ready, and after endless trouble with some of my men, who were already uncertain as to whether they would accompany me on my journey or not, I eventually got under way in the afternoon. The Kuti village is the highest in Bias, being situated at an elevation of 12,920 feet.

The track was now comparatively free from snow and ice except here and there, where we had to cross extensive slopes covered with snow. On one of these we had our first disaster. A coolie fell who carried in his hand a large pot containing butter. He fortunately did not slide far down, but we had the bitter disappointment of seeing our precious pot roll into the water and disappear for ever. We camped at an elevation of 13,050 feet. Late in the evening, as my men were collecting wood to keep up a huge fire round which we sat, my two coolies, who had remained at Kuti with instructions to follow, arrived with their respective loads. They were two strange characters. The one with a coral necklace was mournful and sulky, the other lively and talkative. They professed to be by caste Rajiputs.

"You see," exclaimed the cheerful coolie, "I am small, but I fear nothing. When we cross into Tibet I shall go ahead with a pointed stick and clear all the Tibetans away. I am not afraid of them. I am ready to fight the whole world."

Knowing the value of this sort of talk on the part of natives, I shut him up and sent him away to fetch wood. The sulky fellow interested me more. He seldom uttered a word, and when he did he never spoke pleasantly; he was apparently immersed in deep thought, from which it seemed a great effort to draw his mind away. He looked painfully ill. Motionless and speechless, he would stare at a fixed point as if in a trance. His features were peculiarly refined and regular, but his skin had that ghastly shiny whitish tinge so peculiar to lepers. I waited for an opportunity to examine his hands, on which he sat to keep them warm. It is there, in the contracted or dropping off fingers, that one finds the first certain symptoms of that most terrible of all diseases, leprosy. I asked the man to come and sit nearer the blazing fire. He came and stretched out his open palms towards the flickering flame. Alas! my suspicions were but too correct. His fingers, distorted and contracted, with the skin sore at the joints, were sad and certain proof. I examined his feet and found the same symptoms there also.

"What is your name?" I inquired of him.

"Mansing," he said drily, becoming immediately again absorbed in one of his reveries.

The crackling fire was dying down, when a stalwart Tibetan suddenly appeared bent low under the heavy weight of a huge tree-trunk which he was carrying on his back. He approached and threw the wood on the fire.

Here was another character! As strong as an ox, this servant of mine had queer antecedents. He was at one time a well-known bandit in the neighbourhood of Lhassa. He was said to have taken many lives, and, finding his own in danger in his country, had come to settle on our side of the border, marrying different wives, whom he constantly beat and in turn banished from under his roof. It was owing to his latest family squabble that he came into my employ; his abnormal strength, valuable for carrying loads, was to me his only recommendation. In camp he went by the name of Daku, "the brigand."

In looking round to inspect my other followers, with whom I had hardly yet got acquainted, I was amused and interested at the strange medley of creatures forming my band. There were Humlis and Jumlis with their luxuriant black hair tied into small tresses and a top-knot over the head, like the Coreans. There were Tibetans, Shokas of Bias, Rongbas, Nepalese, Rajiputs and Totolas, also a Brahmin, two native Christians and a Johari. Then Dr. Wilson. What a collection! What a chaos of languages and dialects!

An amusing feature of this odd crowd was that each particular caste looked down upon all the others. This from the very beginning occasioned separation during mealtime, and the camp was lively with as many burning fires in as many sheltered spots as there were castes of men following me. I was glad of this, as it seemed a sort of guarantee that they would never all join together to conspire against me.

Poor Mansing, the leper, was shivering with cold. He had been unable to purchase himself a blanket and shoes at Kuti. He had spent the money in tobacco instead. Dr. Wilson and I took pity upon him. The long evening was still before us, so I got out the cloth I had purchased at Kuti, and with scissors and needle we began to cut and sew a new set of garments for the poor wretch. The Doctor did the cutting and I the sewing. I cannot boast that a professional tailor would not have turned out a better fit, but for all general purposes the newly-made clothes answered well enough. There was only one inconvenience in the single-breasted jacket. I had no buttons, and was therefore compelled to sew the coat on the man himself. It thus remained a fixture, and not only looked all right, but—which was our chief object—kept him warm.

We left camp at 5.30 the following morning. High mountains rose on either side of us, and we followed the Kuti River flowing here from West to East. At an elevation of 13,980 feet we crossed the Bitroguare River. On the other side of the Kuti River were high perpendicular cliffs of a vividly red-coloured rock with blue horizontal stratifications, and towering over them a succession of very pointed peaks.

The action of ice on the rock was noticeable everywhere. As we went farther we came upon extensive fields of stones and boulders brought down from the higher peaks by the ice, and in some places we found actual moraines. To our left stood a gigantic wall of stone like a natural impregnable fortress. Travelling in a direction of 320 deg. (b.m.), and at elevations of 13,900 feet, 14,200 feet, 14,300 feet, we waded through three tributaries of the Kuti; then we came to a foaming, rapid and deep river which we had great difficulty in crossing. It was getting towards the middle of the day, and the stream, fed by the snows melting under the hot sun, was rising from moment to moment. Two of my coolies whom I first sent in reached the middle, where the water came up to their chins. They lost their footing and were temporarily helpless, and in some danger of being swamped, the loads which they carried on their heads being partly spoiled when we succeeded in recovering them. The other men got frightened by the time they were ready to cross. The river had risen so high that it was impossible to get to the other side except by swimming, and this was out of the question, on account of the loads. We therefore had to follow the stream upwards for about a mile, when fortunately we found a somewhat dangerous, yet passable, snow bridge, over which the remainder of my men and goods effected a crossing in safety. We returned to our course on the Kuti, still passing between high, rugged mountains along an undulating plain averaging about 400 yards wide. Though at comparatively high elevations, there were large patches of brightly coloured flowers—red, violet, white and vivid yellow—which gave to the landscape a picturesque and constantly changing effect.

On reaching a small pass, 14,750 feet, the path branched to Darma by the Jolinkan towards bearings 260 deg., and over the Lebung Pass. It is really only a goat track, exceedingly difficult and fatiguing, except in the month of August, when there is only a small quantity of snow, and it leads to the Dholi River about half a mile south of Khumling.

The Jolinkan River, rising from the snow field to the East of the Lebung or Jolinkan Pass, had now to be crossed. The stalwart dacoit, ever ready to make himself useful, conveyed his load across, and lifting me like a feather on to his back, saved me from plunging higher than my waist into the bitterly cold water, whereas he was covered up to his neck. The course of the Kuti turns now to 330 deg. (b.m.). Going up and down small barren hills, round the foot of high mountains, we attained an altitude of 15,000 feet. Here, to the left of the track, and eighty feet above it, is a small and beautiful lake 500 yards long and 400 wide. Its waters, in which the high snowy peaks round it are reflected as in a silver mirror, find an outlet in a short but most precipitous river flowing with tremendous force into the Kuti. Soon after leaving this lake we came upon another small sheet of water, near which were thirteen peculiar piles or columns of stones, each one having been erected by the first Tibetan or Shoka who crossed the pass during the summer. A similar erection could also be seen perched on a large rock jutting out from the water of the larger lake. Though the sun was fast going down behind the mountains to the west, we pressed on, trying to make as much headway as we could towards the perpetual snows. We still travelled over undulating ground, and the marching was not heavy or difficult, save for the freezingly cold and very rapid streams we had to wade through. It was all we could do to get warm again after having been immersed in one, and before we had ceased shivering we had to wade through the next, and yet the next, so that one's chilliness increased, and the constant discomfort of cold became very trying. Much discontent prevailed among my carriers over the very long march, as their feet were numbed with cold. They nearly mutinied when I would not let them stop at a camp they had selected, but ordered them to proceed farther. A mile and a half from the point they had favoured, we overlooked a large, flat basin of stones and gravel, about half a mile wide and three-quarters of a mile long, which had the appearance of having formerly been a lake. It was surrounded by high snowy peaks, and its bed lay at an altitude of 15,400 feet. It seemed as if the immense quantity of stones and pebbles carried by the river feeding it had raised its bed until it had caused the water to flow into the Kuti. When I saw it, the river formed an extensive delta with as many as twelve arms, joining again within the basin into one single stream before throwing itself into the Kuti. Naturally we selected the wider expanse of water to ford, assuming that it would be shallower than the narrow ones. Once more that day I took off my lower garments and entered the cold water. It came direct from the snows, and its temperature was slightly above freezing-point. The sun had gone down, and there was a piercing wind. My feet, as I went in and out of the numerous branches of the stream, became so cold that I could hardly stand for the stinging pain; moreover, treading on sharp-edged stones under the water and knocking my frozen toes against them was at first very painful, but after a time they got so frozen that, though at each step the soles of my feet and toes were cut and bruised, I suffered no actual pain until after crossing five or six arms of the delta. Unable to balance myself any longer, I struggled as best I could out of the water and rubbed my feet violently, until slowly, and with intense pain, they came back to life.

It is curious how a little sense of humour helps on such occasions. To an onlooker not suffering as we were, the sight of our party crossing that dreadful delta would have been curious. The expression of disgust on all my men's faces, not to speak of my own, could not but have caused merriment. We carried our footgear on our shoulders; we struggled, stumbled, and splashed in the greenish water, and now one, then another, fell helpless through frostbite on some island or other, until we were all disabled, and still only half-way through. In spite of our condition, worn out as we were, the soles and sides of our feet badly cut and bleeding, my men, so sulky at having been firmly baulked in their wishes, became quite good-natured and amusing when I chaffed them over their present troubles, and they saw that I was in the same plight. After endless rubbing, we restored a certain amount of circulation to our lower limbs, and proceeded to cross the next six arms of the delta. When, after an hour or longer of suffering, we were at last able to put on our footgear, we felt the happiness which comes from the knowledge of difficulties overcome. Never can I forget the great joy arising from what may seem a small comfort—a warm pair of socks! As I write these lines I live over again the particular pleasure of gently drawing them on, and it is impressed for ever on my mind as a fitting reward for the hardships I had put up with.

We pitched our tents in a sheltered narrow valley to the North-West of the large basin. Altitude, 15,400 feet. Thermometer: Minimum, 24 deg., Maximum, 51 deg..


Want of fuel—Cooking under difficulty—Mansing lost and found—Saved from summary justice—Tibetan visitors—We purchase sheep—The snow-line—Cold streams—The petrified chapati and human hand.

ONE of the main drawbacks of travelling at these great altitudes was the want of vegetable fuel. There was not a tree, not a shrub to be seen near our camp. Nature wore her most desolate and barren look. Failing wood, my men dispersed to collect and bring in the dry dung of yak, pony and sheep to serve as fuel. Kindling this was no easy matter, box after box of matches was quickly used, and our collective lung power severely drawn upon in fanning the unwilling sparks into a flame only a few inches high. Upon this meagre fire we attempted to cook our food and boil our water (a trying process at such an altitude), keeping our own circulation fairly normal by constantly required efforts. The cuisine that night was not of the usual excellence, and did but little credit to the cook. We had to eat everything half-cooked, or, to be accurate, almost altogether uncooked. The night was a bitterly cold one, with a heavy fall of snow. When we rose in the morning it lay quite two feet deep around us, and the glare was painful to the eyes. I mustered my men. Mansing was missing. He had not arrived the previous night, and there was no sign of the man I had sent in search of him. I was anxious not only from my personal interest in his load (the fellow carried a load of flour, salt, pepper, and five pounds of butter), but I was afraid that the poor leper might himself have been washed away in one of the dangerous streams. Even if this fear were groundless, he must, I felt, have suffered terribly from the cold with no shelter and no fire. Bijesing, who had gone in search of him, had eaten some food before starting, and had taken blankets with him in case he could not return to camp during the night.

It was long after sunrise when, with the aid of my telescope, I discovered the two men coming towards us. They arrived an hour or so later. Mansing had been found sound asleep, several miles back, lying by the side of the empty butter-pot, the contents of which he had devoured. The discovery of this misdeed caused the greatest indignation in camp, for fatty matter and butter were much cherished by the natives, as being warmth-producing, when going over these cold passes. He was nearly the victim of summary justice at the hands of my angry men, and it was only with trouble that I rescued him from their clutches. To prevent a recurrence of the offence, I ordered the culprit to carry in future a heavy load of photographic plates and instruments, which I thought would not prove quite so appetising.

Before starting I took my usual bath in the cold stream and rubbed myself all over with snow. I found this very invigorating, and when the reaction came I experienced a delightful glow of warmth, notwithstanding the thin clothes I was wearing.

While we were camping, a flock of some six hundred sheep appeared, and with them some Tibetans. As I had put up my Tibetan tent, they had made for it, expecting to find some of their own countrymen, and their embarrassment was amusing when they found themselves face to face with Dr. Wilson and myself. Hurriedly removing their fur caps, they laid them upon the ground and made a comical jerky curtsey, as if their heads and knees moved by means of a spring. They put out their tongues full length and kept them so until I made signs that they could draw them back, as I wanted them to answer some questions. This unexpected meeting with us frightened them greatly; they were trembling all over with fear, and after getting as much information out of them as they seemed to possess, I took advantage of the opportunity to buy some of their fattest sheep. When the money was paid there was a further display of furred tongues, and more grand salaams ere they departed, while all hands on our side were busy trying to prevent our newly purchased animals from rejoining the flock moving away from us. On our next march these animals proved a great trouble, and we had to drag them the greater part of the way. Kachi, who had been entrusted with a very recalcitrant and strong beast, which I had specially promised my men for their dinner if they made a long march that day, found himself discomfited when he saw that the sheep had freed its head from the cord with which he was dragging it, and was cantering away full speed in the opposite direction. Now, it is well known that at considerable altitudes running is a very painful operation for human beings, the rarified air making the effect of such exertion almost suffocating. Yet Kachi, having overcome his first surprise, was soon chasing the escaped beast, and, urged by the cheers and shouts of my other men, who seemed much concerned over this new calamity, he succeeded, after an exciting chase, in capturing it by its tail, a feat easier to describe than to accomplish, for Tibetan sheep have very short stumpy tails. Kachi fell to the ground exhausted, but he held fast with both hands to his capture, and eventually the animal was secured with ropes. This was the sort of minor trouble with which we had to contend at almost every turn during our journey, and although it may appear trivial, it was exasperating enough at the time.

On fairly undulating ground we gradually rose to a pass 15,580 feet high; then traversing a wide flat land, we followed the Kuti River with its high snowy mountains to the West and East. The snow-line was at 16,000 feet; the snow below this level melts daily, except in a few shaded places. Red and white flowers were still to be seen, though not in such quantities as lower down, and I saw enamoured couples of small black and white butterflies.[12]

After a while there was yet another bitterly cold stream to ford; two small lakes to skirt; three more deep rivers to wade, with cold water from the snows up to our chests, and then we had to make the best way we could through a large field of rocks and stones showing strong indications of iron, my compasses being at once affected, and becoming for a time quite unreliable owing to the deviation. A curious flat circular stone, resting on the top of others, was pointed out to me as a wonder; the accepted legend of the Shokas being that, centuries ago, one of their countrymen halted by the side of this rock, and having baked a chapati, laid it upon the rock, proceeding to make others, when to his great astonishment, on raising his hand to take his first chapati, he found it had turned into solid stone, and had furthermore assumed gigantic proportions. A few feet farther on I was pointed out another wonder, a great human hand (as the Tibetans and Shokas call it), which is supposed to have belonged to the maker of the chapati. Not being satisfied with his first experience, he laid his hand on the rock, and there it remained, petrified, and in this case also, increasing tenfold in size. I could see, with some stretch of the imagination, a certain resemblance to an enormous human hand, but the thing required more faith than observation.

Mile after mile we marched over sharp stones, wading through a second troublesome delta of eight arms fully a mile in width, across a flat basin of pointed pebbles and stones, until at last, to our great delight, we came to smooth grass land, a soothing comfort to one's torn feet.

Here the Kuti River ran through a large basin, not dissimilar to the one near which we had camped the night before, having also the appearance of lake formation with high perpendicular rocks on the left, which gave one the impression of a vast wall—a rugged and forbidding barrier. Proceeding N.W. the basin became wider and the Kuti River turned to the N.W., while the Mangshan River, descending from the East, joined the first stream in the centre of the basin. In crossing the numerous branches of the two rivers we again experienced, with almost accentuated discomfort, the trials and weariness of the preceding day. The water was colder than ever, our feet were by this time in a dreadful condition, cut and bleeding, because it was constantly necessary to walk bare-footed. Aching and benumbed we stumbled on, in and out of water, always, it seemed, encountering sharp small stones. For us there could be no turning back however; the pain had to be borne before the march was finished, and we won our camping-ground at last under the lee of the high chain of mountains to the North of us, and on the northern bank of the Mangshan River. Directly in front stood the final obstacle, the stupendous backbone of the Himahlyas; once past this I should be on that high Tibetan plateau so accurately and picturesquely called "the roof of the world."

[12] N.B.—This same kind of butterfly I found at even greater elevations in Tibet.


The scouts return—A small exploring party—The Mangshan glacier.

FROM Kuti I had despatched a sturdy Shoka, named Nattoo, to ascertain whether it was possible to cross the chain over the high Mangshan Pass, as in this case I should be enabled to get many marches into Tibet by the jungle without fear of being detected. I should thus get behind the force of soldiers which I was informed the Jong Pen of Taklakot had concentrated at the Lippu Pass to prevent my entering the country, and before they could have time to discover my whereabouts I should be too far ahead for them to find me. Nattoo arrived in camp almost simultaneously with ourselves and had a long tale of woe to relate. He had been half way up the mountain. The snow was deep and there were huge and treacherous cracks in the ice. As he was on his way up, an avalanche had fallen, and it was merely by the skin of his teeth that he had escaped with his life. This was to him an evil omen, and he had turned back without reaching the summit of the pass. He seemed scared and worn out, and declared that it was impossible for us to proceed that way. Unfortunately the thrilling account of the Kutial's misfortunes had a depressing effect on my men. What with the intense cold, the fatigue of carrying heavy loads at high elevations over such rough country, and the fearful rivers which they dreaded, and so many of which we had crossed, my carriers became absolutely demoralised at the thought of new hardships ahead, all the more when I assured them that I did not believe Nattoo, and that I should go and see for myself.

It was 4.30 in the afternoon, and therefore some time before sunset. There would be moonlight. I had on that day marched eight miles,[13] and though the soles of my feet were cut and sore I was not really tired. Our camp was at an elevation of 16,150 feet, a pretty respectable altitude considering that the highest mountain in Europe is only 15,781 feet. Dr. Wilson insisted on accompanying me to the top, and Kachi Ram and a Rongba coolie volunteered to come as well. Bijesing, the Johari, got on his feet after some persuasion, and that completed our little exploration party. Chanden Sing, who was really the only man I could trust, was left in charge of the camp, with strict orders to punish severely any one who might attempt to turn back during my absence.

We set out almost immediately after reaching camp, following up stream the course of the Mangshan River, which is boxed in between high cliffs, those south of it running in a direction of 100 deg. (b.m.), those to the north converging to 130 deg.; the two ranges eventually meeting in the glacier at the foot of Mangshan, about three miles E.-E.S.E. of our camp. There was no track, and the walking was extremely difficult and troublesome, over large slippery stones, between which one's feet constantly slipped and got jammed, straining and injuring one's ankles. Little trusting my followers, who seemed on the verge of mutiny, I did not care to leave behind in camp the heavy load of silver rupees (R. 800) sewn in my coat, which, by the way, I always carried on my person, as well as my rifle, two compasses (prismatic and luminous), two aneroids, one half-chronometer, and another watch and some thirty cartridges. The combined weight of these articles was considerable,[14] and I felt it especially during the first days of my march. On this particular afternoon it was almost too much for my strength. However, one gets accustomed to most things, and after a while I felt comparatively little discomfort in marching under it. I persisted in thus weighting myself simply to be on the safe side, so as to be always prepared in case my men revolted or abandoned me.

We proceeded up and down the series of hillocks and in and out of the innumerable channels that the melting snow and ice had, with the aid of centuries, cut deep into the mass of rolling stones. At the point where the two ranges met there stood before us the magnificent pale green ice-terraces of the Mangshan glacier, surmounted by extensive snow-fields winding their way to the summit of the mountain range. Clouds enveloped the higher peaks. The clear Alpine ice showed vertical streaks, especially in the lower part of the glacier, where it was granulated to a certain extent. The base, the sides and top being covered with a thick coat of fresh snow, and my time being very limited, I was unable to make careful investigations to ascertain the recent movement and oscillations of this glacier. Judging by the nature of the stony tracts we had passed over, and also by the mounds, similar to those of a terminal moraine, which increased as we approached the glacier and its snow-covered fringe, I concluded that the glacier must have retreated considerably. The rocks and stones, as I have already mentioned, were shiny and slippery, which I attributed to the friction of the ice, and where the ice had extended over gravel, this was greatly disturbed, and scarred by innumerable channels, due, no doubt, to the mighty force of the moving ice besides the constant action of melting snows during the summer. The slopes of the mountains on the north showed no indication of having been disturbed, but the range on the southern side had all the appearance of having been cut and excavated by the ice. Probably the large basins which I had crossed on my way from Kuti, and even the last one, facing our camp, were after all reservoirs formed by ancient moraines with alluvial deposits.

[13] It must be remembered that at high elevations the exertion of walking eight miles would be equivalent to that of marching about twice the distance at much lower altitudes.

[14] See Appendix. Letter by Dr. H. Wilson.


Snow and troublesome debris—The doctor's sufferings—Kachi disabled—Further trials—A weird apparition—Delirium—All safe—The descent.

THE Mangshan River rises from this glacier, but we left the glacier (17,800 feet) to the right, and, turning sharply northwards, began our ascent towards the pass. To gaze upon the incline before us was alone sufficient to deter one from attempting to climb it, had one a choice; in addition to this, the snow we struggled over was so soft and deep that we sank into it up to our waists. Occasionally the snow alternated with patches of loose debris and rotten rock, on which we were no better off; in fact, the fatigue of progressing over them was simply overpowering. Having climbed up half-a-dozen steps among the loose cutting stones, we felt ourselves sliding back to almost our original point of departure, followed by a small avalanche of shifting material that only stopped when it got to the foot of the mountain.

At 19,000 feet we were for a considerable distance on soft snow, covering an ice-field with deep crevasses and cracks in it. We had to feel our way with great caution, particularly as there was only the light of the moon to depend upon.

Fortunately, as we rose higher, there were no more crevasses, but I began to feel a curious exhaustion that I had never experienced before. At sunset the thermometer which Kachi carried for me had descended forty degrees within a few minutes, and the sudden change in the temperature seemed to affect us all more or less; but we went on, with the exception of Bijesing, who was seized with mountain sickness so violently that he was unable to proceed. The doctor, too, a man of powerful build, was suffering considerably. His legs, he said, had become like lead, and each seemed to weigh a ton. The effort of lifting, or even moving, them required all his energy. Although he was terribly blown and gasping for breath, yet he would not give in, and he struggled on bravely until we reached an altitude of 20,500 feet. Here he was seized with such exhaustion and pain that he was unable to proceed. Kachi Ram, the Rongba and I went ahead, but we also were suffering, Kachi complaining of violent beating in his temples and loud buzzing in his ears. He also gasped and staggered dangerously, threatening to collapse at any moment. At 21,000 feet he fell flat on the snow. He was instantly asleep, breathing heavily and snoring raspingly. His hands and feet were icy cold, and I rubbed them. But what caused me more anxiety than anything was the irregular beating and throbbing of his heart. I wrapped him up in his blanket and my waterproof, and, having seen to his general comfort, I shouted to the doctor, telling him what had happened, and that I was going to push on as much higher as I could stand, the Rongba being now the only one of the party who was able to keep up.

A thick mist came on and enveloped us, which considerably added to our trials. Our efforts to get on after we left Kachi at 21,000 feet were desperate, our lungs in convulsion as if about to burst, our pulses hastened, our hearts throbbing (mine being ordinarily very regular) as if they would beat themselves out of our bodies. Exhausted and seized by irresistible drowsiness, the Rongba and I nevertheless at last reached the top. It was a satisfaction to have got there, to have reached such an altitude, although I had long realised the impossibility of getting my men over by this way. It served me also to ascertain the amount of snow on the other side of the range, which, when the fog lifted somewhat, I found to be greater on the northern slope than on the southern. Although almost fainting with fatigue, I registered my observations. The altitude was 22,000 feet, the hour 11 P.M., and there was a strong, cutting North-East wind. I had stupidly forgotten to take my thermometer out of Kachi's pocket when I left him, and was unable to register the temperature, although I had done so only a few minutes before I left Kachi at 21,000 feet. The cold was intense. The stars were extraordinarily brilliant and the moon shone bright for a while over the panorama around me, and though it was a view of utter desolation, it had nevertheless a curious indescribable fascination. Below me, to the south, were mountainous masses buried in snow, and to the South-West and North-East were peaks even higher than the one on which I stood. To the north stretched the immense, dreary Tibetan plateau with undulations and intricate hill ranges, beyond which a high mountain range with snow peaks could just be perceived in the distance. I could see very little snow near by, except on the northern slope of the range I was standing on, and on the hill-tops which dotted the plateau.

I had barely taken it in, barely realised the wonder of nature asleep when the mist again rose before me and I saw a gigantic phantom rising out of it. It stood in the centre of a luminous circle, a tall, dark figure in the folds of an enormous veil of mist. The effect was overwhelming, and it was only after some moments that I realised that the spectre wore my features, was a liquid presentation of my own proportions colossally enlarged; that I stood in the centre of a lunar rainbow, and that I was gazing on the reflection of myself in the mist. As I moved my arms, my body, or my head, the ghostlike figure moved, and I felt myself irresistibly changing my postures—oddly and nervously at first—then, with an awakening sense of the ridiculous in my actions—so as to make my image change and do as I did. I felt like a child placed for the first time in front of a mirror.

The illustration on page 145 represents a solar spectre with circular rainbow which I saw later on at a comparatively low altitude; the lunar effect differed from this in that the colours of the rainbow were but faintly distinguishable.

The Rongba had fallen exhausted, and I felt so faint with the awful pressure on my lungs, that, despite all my efforts to resist it, I collapsed on the snow. The coolie and I, shivering pitifully, shared the same blanket for additional warmth. Both of us were seized with irresistible drowsiness, as if we had taken a strong narcotic. I fought hard against it, for I well knew that if my eyelids once closed they would almost certainly remain so for ever. I called to the Rongba. He was fast asleep. I summoned up my last atom of vitality to keep my eyes open. The wind blew hard and biting, with a hissing noise. How that hiss still sounds in my ears! It seemed like the whisper of death. The Rongba, crouched with teeth chattering, was moaning, and his sudden shudders bespoke great pain. It seemed only common charity to let him have the blanket, which was in any case too small for both, so I wrapped it tightly round his head and body. He was doubled up with his chin on his knees. This small exertion was quite sufficient to make me lose the tug-of-war in which I was pulling against nature. Just like the subject who, under hypnotic influence, feels his own will and power suddenly going from him, so I felt the entire hopelessness of further struggle against the supernatural forces I was contending with. Falling backwards on the snow, I made a last desperate effort to gaze at the glittering stars ... my sight became dim and obscured....

For how long this semi-consciousness lasted, I do not know. "God! how ghastly! Doctor! Kachi!" I tried to articulate. My voice seemed choked in my throat. Was what I saw before me real? The two men, as if frozen to death by the side of each other, seemed lying on that vast white sheet of snow, motionless as statues of ice. In my dream I attempted to raise them. They were quite rigid. I knelt beside them, calling them and frantically striving to bring them back to consciousness and life. Bewildered, I turned round to look for Bijesing, and, as I did so, all sense of vitality seemed to freeze within me. I saw myself enclosed in a quickly contracting tomb of transparent ice. It was easy to realise that I too would shortly be nothing but a solid block of ice, like my companions. My legs, my arms were already congealed. Horror-stricken as I was at the approach of such a hopeless, ghastly death, my sensations were accompanied by a languor and lassitude indescribable but far from unpleasant. To some extent thought or wonderment was still alive. Should I dwindle painlessly away, preferring rest and peace to effort, or should I make a last struggle to save myself? The ice seemed to close in more and more every moment. I was choking.

I tried to scream! to force myself through the suffocating weight on me! I gave a violent plunge, and then everything had vanished. The frozen Kachi, the doctor, the transparent tomb! Nothingness!

At last I was able to open my eyes, which ached as if needles had been stuck into them. It was snowing hard. I had temporarily lost the use of my legs and fingers. They were frozen. So violent was the shock of realising how very near death I had really been, that in waking up from the ghastly nightmare I became acutely alive to the full importance of instantly making my way down to a lower level. I was already covered with a layer of snow, and I suppose it was the frigid pressure on my forehead that caused the dream. It is, however, probable that, had it not been for the hideous vision that shook my nerves free of paralysing torpor, I should never have awakened from that spell-bound silence.

I sat up with difficulty, and by beating and rubbing them, slowly regained the use of my lower limbs. I roused the Rongba, rubbed him, and shook him till he was able to move. We began our descent.

No doubt the satisfaction of going up high mountains is very great; but can it be compared to that of coming down?

Descending was dangerous but not wearisome. The incline being extremely steep, we took gigantic strides on the snow, and when we came to patches of debris, we slid ten or fifteen feet each step amidst a deafening roar from the huge mass of loose stones set in motion by our descent.

"Hark!" I said to the Rongba, "what is that?"

We waited till all was silence, and with hands up to our ears listened attentively. It was still snowing.

"Ao, ao, ao! Jaldi ao! Tumka hatte? Come, come, come quickly! Where are you?" cried a faint distressed voice from far down below.

We quickened our pace; having hardly any control over our legs, our descent was precipitous. The snow-fall ceased and we became enveloped in a thick mist which pierced into our very bones.

Guided by the anxious cries of the doctor, whose voice we recognised, we continued our breakneck journey downward. The cries got more and more distinct, and at last, to my great joy, we came face to face with Wilson, who, thank Heaven, was alive but almost helpless, as he said his legs were still like lead, and it was all he could do to move them.

Owing to his anxiety about us, he had been shouting for a long time, and getting no answer, he became very uneasy, all the more so as he found he could in no way come to our help. He had quite given us up for lost.

We looked for and found Kachi. He had slept like a top, curled up in his warm blanket and my overcoat, and was now quite refreshed, so all united again, we continued our race downwards, exchanging our experiences and sensations. We had no very serious mishaps, and life and strength gradually came back to us again when we descended to lower elevations. The ascent from the glacier at the bottom of the mountain to the summit occupied four and a half hours; the precipitous descent, without counting stoppages, only the ninth part of that time, the distance covered being about one mile and three quarters.

Over the same trying stony valley we reached camp during the early hours of the morning. The distance from camp to the altitude reached and back was over ten miles; therefore, during the twenty-four hours I had altogether gone eighteen miles (quite a record at such great altitudes). I may here also remark that, since breakfast at six o'clock the previous morning, I had taken no food of any kind, thus making an interval of twenty-three hours between one meal and the next. The anxiety of my men in camp was intense. They had lost all hope of seeing us again, and they were quite reassured when I told them that we would proceed later in the morning by the Lumpiya Pass, which was believed to be far easier.

In no time they had lighted a fire of dung, and after having had (at five o'clock in the morning) a handsome feed of rice, chapatis, extract of meat, and strengthening emergency food, we felt we were entitled to a well-deserved rest.


The sources of the Kuti River—The Lumpiya glacier—The summit of the range—Bird's-eye view of Tibet—Rubso frozen almost to death—The Lumpiya Pass—Two coolies in distress.

AT 9 A.M. we were ready again to start. The thermometer registered 40 deg. inside the tent, and the minimum temperature outside during the night had been 14 deg.. We followed the Kuti River at the foot of the mountain range, travelling in a direction of 298 deg. (b.m). On rounding a prominent headland, where the Kuti River flows through a narrow passage, we saw facing us on a mound, fourteen stone pillars and pyramids with white stones on them and the customary flying prayers of cloth. It is from this point that the ascent to the Lumpiya Pass begins.

There are two sources of the Kuti Yangti, joining in a large basin; one comes from two extensive glaciers to the S.W., the other from a glacier directly under the Lumpiya Pass. The river at the junction of the two sources is not more than six yards across. Our route gradually ascended, going N.W. first, then swinging away to N.E. until we attained an elevation of 17,350 feet on a flat basin covered with deep snow. So far we had proceeded with no very great trouble or fatigue, but matters suddenly altered for the worse. Each coolie in the long silent row at the head of which I marched, sank in the snow up to his knees, often up to his waist. They formed, undoubtedly, a picturesque sight in this lonely region, the only bit of life in the picture, the white frozen sheet of snow throwing into strong contrast their faces wrapped tightly round with white turbans. Some wore fur caps with ear flaps; all had long sheepskin coats and high boots of skins; many used snow spectacles; and as this procession, silent and grave, with loads on their backs, struggled higher and higher with piteous panting, you speculated apprehensively as to how many of them would ever return. Moving cautiously to avoid the many treacherous cracks, I made my way ahead with considerable trouble to a spot six hundred feet higher, where I halted for a while on a rocky island fairly clear of snow. As coolie after coolie arrived, breathing convulsively, he dropped his load and sat quietly by the side of it. There was not a grumble, not a word of reproach for the hard work they were made to endure. Sleet was falling, and the wet and cold increased the discomfort. There was now a very steep pull before us. To the left, we had a glacier beginning in a precipitous fall of ice, about one hundred feet in height. Like the Mangshan glacier, it was in horizontal ribbon-like strata of beautifully clear ice, showing no dirt bands. Perpendicular stripes of a darker greenish colour could be observed arising from the unequal degrees of compactness of the ice; the strata showed almost horizontal, with no curvatures nor depressions in any part of them. The top, the base and the sides of the glacier were in this case also buried in deep snow.

The doctor and I went ahead. In our anxiety to reach the summit, unable to discern the track, now covered by several feet of snow, we mistook our bearings, and with great fatigue climbed up an extremely steep incline. Here we were on a patch of the troublesome loose debris, on which we struggled for over half an hour until we reached the top of the range, 18,750 feet, considerably higher than the pass itself. Four men had come with us, the others, to whom we signalled, bearing more to the west by another dangerous track skirting the glacier.

The wind from the N.E. was piercing and the cold terrible. Under the lee of a large rock we found temporary shelter, and through my telescope scanned the Tibetan plateau spread out before us. From this high eyrie we obtained a superb bird's-eye view. Huge masses of snow covered the Tibetan side of the Himahlyas, as well as the lower range of mountains immediately in front of us, running almost parallel to our range. Two thousand feet below, between these two ranges, flowed, in a wide barren valley, a river which is afterwards called the Darma Yankti or Lumpiya Yankti. In the distance, a flat plateau, rising some eight hundred feet above the river, and resembling a gigantic embankment of a railway line, could be seen extending for many miles; and far away to the north, a chain of high blue mountains capped with snow, undoubtedly the Kangri chain with the Kelas peaks.

A painful incident had unfortunately happened to one of my followers: poor Rubso, a Christian convert, had fallen exhausted from cold and fatigue. He had been seized with cramp, and was lying in a semi-conscious state, his teeth chattering and his features distorted and livid; his eyes were sunken and lifeless, and he showed signs of complete collapse. We hastily carried him under the shelter of a rock and rubbed him vigorously, in the hope of restoring his circulation. After more than half an hour of the greatest anxiety and exertion, to our intense relief he partially recovered, and was able to proceed slowly with our help.

Having climbed the wrong path, we now had to descend to the pass, six hundred feet lower. We made our way along dangerous rocks and debris. I was just clinging with my half-frozen fingers to a prominent rock, striving to get on the other side, when screams of distress from below struck my ears. Notwithstanding the unsafe position I was in, I could not help turning my head to see what had happened. On the steep incline of snow two coolies with their respective loads were sliding, at incredible speed. They eventually reached the basin, where the angle of the descent being suddenly altered, it caused them to revolve several times on their own axes, the different bags, &c., forming their loads, flying about and being scattered in every direction. I gave a sigh of relief when I saw the men getting up. One coolie picked up one after the other the goods that had been entrusted to him, tied them together, got them on his back, and began the difficult ascent a second time. The other was crying and moaning, so that we could plainly hear him from our elevation. He seemed giddy. After a moment or two he staggered, fell back and lay as if dead. Hastening over the slippery rocks, and then down precipitously on the loose debris, I gained the pass, 18,150 feet. Two reluctant men were immediately despatched to the relief of the coolie in distress. They first carried his load up, then him. After some time he, too, got over the severe shock and fright, and though he was rather shattered and aching all over, I succeeded in persuading the man that nothing was the matter with him.

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