Sikhim and Bhutan/Chapter 09
EXPEDITIONS AND EXPLORATIONS IN SIKHIM—continued
From Gangtak to the Zemu glacier, Lonak Valley, Lachen and Lachung. Mr. Hoffmann. Cloud effects. Cane bridges. Hot springs. Talung Monastery and its treasures. Grazing land and Tibetan herdsmen. Yak transport. Locusts. The Sebu Pass. Snow-blindness. Lachung. Goral-shooting.
My second expedition to the snows was made in June and July 1891, when, accompanied by Mr. Hoffmann, the well-known photographer, my object was to explore the Lonak Valley and to visit Lachen and Lachung on my way back.
It was, however, we found, a little early in the season, as the winter snow had not yet melted on any of the higher passes, and this made travelling difficult as well as uncomfortable. We left Ringen, our starting point, in pouring rain, and the first few marches were very trying. They were through deep gorges all under 5000 feet, which have at this time of year an atmosphere almost supersaturated with moisture, leeches abounded, and fleas were numerous. They swarmed in the houses and monasteries in which we slept, in order to avoid using the tents in the rain, and made it a somewhat doubtful advantage.
Travelling at this time of the year, however, has certain points to recommend it.
The foliage of the trees and the undergrowth is magnificent, most of the flowering shrubs and creepers are at their best, everything looks fresh, and the colouring, when the sun breaks through the clouds, is wonderful. Each leaf and bit of moss sparkles as though set in diamonds, the air is filled with clouds of butterflies of every imaginable colour, the near distance is brilliant, while the middle and far distances shade in blues and purples to deep indigo, and when a glimpse of the snows is obtained at the head of some valley, they stand out, an almost supernatural vision of ethereal beauty, the whole picture made up of the softest of tints not to be equalled, in my opinion, in any other part of the world. The cloud effects are marvellous, the vapour seems to boil up out of the deep valleys as out of some huge caldron, taking the most fantastic shapes and an endless variety of colours as it catches the sun’s rays; then suddenly everything is blotted out into monotonous grey, as though such wonderful sights were too grand for human eyes, until a sudden puff of wind blows aside the veil of mist and discloses again the lovely panorama.
But to return to the journey. We crossed the Teesta, a grand sight in heavy flood, by the cane bridge at Sanklan Sampo. These cane bridges are a feature of Sikhim, and very rarely met with elsewhere. The method of construction is to throw across the stream which is to be bridged sufficient canes to form two side supports. The canes are passed over wooden tressels on each bank of the river, and after stretching, to get them as nearly as possible into the same curve, the ends are fastened to trees, roots or rocks, anything to which they can be made fast. Lengths of split cane or bamboo are then fastened to the cane ropes, thus forming loops, and on these loops two bamboos are placed side by side, making a narrow platform on which an insecure foothold is obtained. This bridge was 220 feet long, but they are often 350 feet. A cane bridge is never easy to cross, and is worse towards the end of the rains, as the cane and bamboo with which it is constructed quickly decay, but my Lepcha coolies thought nothing of it and soon had all the loads across.
From Sanklan Sampo to Be, the road, or rather track, is one of the worst in Sikhim. It consists principally of a series of ladders up and down precipices or of galleries clinging to the face of cliffs. These ladders are made of bamboo with cross pieces tied to them for steps, generally at an angle, never horizontal, and in wet weather they are abominably slippery. The galleries are also made of bamboos fastened to any projecting root or tree, and often hung by canes from hundreds of feet above; they are never more than two bamboos in width, and only in the very worst places do they ever take the trouble to put up any kind of railing. Progress along such a road was necessarily slow, and our marches were consequently very short, but we eventually reached Be, the last collection of houses of any size, for it cannot be called a village, where a halt was made for a day to make arrangements for the coolies’ food before going into the uninhabited regions higher up. As Be was hot and the camping ground cramped, I decided to move on to the Talung Monastery and wait there till the preparations were completed. This turned out to be a wise move, as there was good camping ground and a great deal to be seen both in the monastery and in the surrounding country.
We followed the course of the Rimpi-chhu, a magnificent torrent one mass of foam as it dashed down over the boulders and between precipices without a single quiet pool, in fact it was an uninterrupted cascade which, on nearing Talung, has cut its way into the rocks, forming one of the magnificent gorges, 300 feet or 400 feet deep and some miles in length, which occur on some of these rivers. This gorge is exceedingly narrow, and the branches of the trees at the top meet each other across the chasm, keeping out the light, and only the roar of the river can be heard as the darkness makes it almost impossible to see the bottom.
At one point the trees are bent over from either side and tied together, and so form a good though somewhat precarious bridge. This I crossed, as I wanted to visit some sulphur springs on the other side, and after walking some way through a dense forest, where every branch was hung with moss and long grey lichen, and with a thick carpet of moss under my feet, I found the springs. The water is moderately hot and is used by the Lepchas in cases of rheumatism and skin disease. The bathing arrangements are delightfully primitive; a hole is dug in the ground or a wall built of stones, the crevices are filled with moss and into this the water is run and the bathers sit, men and women indiscriminately, with no shelter except sometimes a shawl thrown over a bamboo support. The patients sit in these baths for from four to eight hours a day for a period of ten to fourteen days. The Lepchas have the most profound belief in the efficacy of the water and declare the cures are marvellous. I have visited many of these hot springs, which constantly occur in the valleys throughout, the Himalayas at a certain elevation, and in some of them the temperature reaches 160°, and one where I stayed for a short time was 120°. I need hardly say that I had my own bath tub in my tent and ran the water into it from the spring by means of a long india-rubber hose. I have no doubt, were better arrangements made, the beneficial qualities of the waters might be made much more useful than at present; now they are used only by occasional visitors who, to reach them, have to undertake difficult and hazardous journeys, for nearly all the springs are found in more or less inaccessible spots lying far off the ordinary roads.
Talung Monastery is one of the most sacred monasteries in Sikhim, and is full of very beautiful and interesting objects of veneration, nearly all real works of art. During the Nepalese invasion of 1816, many of these objects were removed from other monasteries and brought here for safety, and have remained here ever since. Unlike most monasteries, an inventory is kept and most carefully scrutinised from time to time by the Maharaja, and owing to these precautions, the collection has remained intact.
Here is preserved the saddle and saddle-cloth of the Jock-chen Lama, the first lama to enter Sikhim from Tibet, several fine thigh-bone trumpets and some splendid specimens of “Rugen” (apron, breastplate, circlet and armlets), exquisitely carved from human bones, a beautiful set in silver gilt of marvellously fine workmanship of the Tashi Tagye, or eight lucky signs, as well as many other altar vessels and vestments. Here also are all the old dancing dresses and ornaments, beyond comparison finer than any I have ever seen in other monasteries in Sikhim.
All these treasures were produced for my inspection, and examination to see that they duly corresponded with the list, and were then most carefully put away and resealed, but before this was done some of the lamas put on the old dresses, to enable me to see them to greater advantage.
OLD VESTMENTS, TALUNG MONASTERY
This monastery had never before been visited by Europeans, and it was Mr. Hoffmann’s and my privilege to be the first to see this unique collection of Buddhist ritualistic paraphernalia, which up to the present time still remains intact.
Our preparations finally completed, we made for uninhabited country. The road for some distance was comparatively easy and ran up the valley of the Rimpi, which we twice crossed, through splendid forests of pine, the Abies Dumosa being particularly fine. The rhododendrons were in flower, and together with the new foliage of the birch trees, made bright splashes of colour. Whilst on the first day’s march I discovered that a large stream, the Zamtu-chhu, takes its rise on the eastern slopes of Siniolchu and joins the Rimpi on its right bank, thus proving the survey maps to be wrong in showing it, as they have hitherto done, running to the south.
I was much tempted to follow up this stream, as Siniolchu is the most lovely snow peak in Sikhim, and the views at the head of the valley must be magnificent, but it would probably have taken me over a week and I could not spare the time, as I wanted to go north across several snow ranges and so reach a drier climate. These high snow ranges act as a barrier to the south-west monsoon, very little of which penetrates into the higher valleys or into Tibet. We therefore went straight on, and after passing some very fine waterfalls, camped on the edge of the snow, but by afternoon the weather became very misty and wet and we passed an uncomfortable night. From this camp onwards, till we had crossed the Yeumtsho-la (15,800 feet), marching was tedious and difficult through soft melting snow, and we even had to pitch our tents in snow. The Yeumtsho and other lakes were thawing, with water lying on the ice, and with everything in a state of slush it was most disagreeable both for ourselves and our men. The mornings, however, were clear, and we had some fine views of Lama Anden, or Lating as the Lepchas call it, a twin peak which is visible from Darjeeling.
Crossing the pass we found very difficult as the snow was deep on both sides and very soft, but once over we soon left it behind on our way down to the Zemu Valley, where we camped again amidst rhododendrons at 12,800 feet.
Looking down the valley the view was particularly fine, the precipices and rocks on the summit of the hills ending in some very fine screes, while the foot of the valley appeared to be blocked by the snow mass of Tsengui Kang in the range running between Lachen and Lachung.
The Zemu glacier ends, about one-third of a mile up the valley from where our camp was pitched at an elevation of 13,830 feet, in an ice cliff in which are three ice caverns out of which the Zemu river rushes in turbulent, muddy torrents. This glacier is the largest in Sikhim and is fed from the northern slopes of Siniolchu and Simvoo and the eastern slopes of Kangchenjunga, and with it are incorporated some large glaciers from the ridge running to the north of Kangchen. With the exception of the upper part the glacier is very rough, with enormous holes and covered with huge masses of débris, and in this resembles that to the south of the Giucha-la. By climbing one of the hills to the north I had a very good view and could follow distinctly the moraines brought down by the different side glaciers, which are wonderfully well defined, chiefly by the different colour of the rocks in each, and these lines are continued for miles down the glacier with a very pretty colour effect.
From one of these side hills I had, early one morning, a magnificent view of Siniolchu, the finest snow peak in Sikhim. It was very early, and as the sun rose the clouds lifted for a few minutes, disclosing a lovely picture. The glacier and the hills immediately behind were in deep shadow, but Siniolchu was flooded with rosy light from the rising sun, and no mere photograph can give any idea of the beauty of the scene. It only lasted a few minutes, and then was blotted out by mist, and I never saw it again all the days I remained in the valley.
We marched up the side of the glacier to a height of 17,500 feet, finding excellent camping grounds all the way between the lateral moraines and the hills on the north, and as far as I could judge, being no expert in ice craft, there would have been absolutely no difficulty in walking up to the top of either the 19,000 feet or the 17,500 feet gaps, as the upper ends of these glaciers appear perfectly smooth with apparently no big fissures and very little soft snow. Close to our camp on the north a magnificent glacier ran into the valley. In this the ice falls were magnificent and by far the finest I have seen.
Camping at such elevations in the midst of ice and surrounded by these grand snow peaks, the silence at times is almost oppressive. There is not a sound except an occasional weird noise caused by the fall of stones either on the ice of the glacier or into the water at the bottom of some vast ice pit. But yet there was life in these solitudes, as I saw several herds of burhel in the hills above the camp.
The strata to the north of the glacier are very noticeable and run in thick bands of red and grey, which give the hills a very different appearance to those on the south, while disintegration is going on very rapidly owing to the horizontal strata decaying at different rates.
All this was new country hitherto unvisited, though some of it was traversed later by Mr. Douglas Freshfield and his party in 1899.
The weather continued so bad, I decided to return to the lower end of the glacier, and here I am sorry to say Mr. Hoffmann left me, having no more time at his disposal. My way led me into the mountains to the north, and I made for the Tang-chung-la, 17,100 feet, passing a small lake to the north at 15,200 feet.
The grazing on this and the adjoining hills is very good, the grass from 8 inches to 12 inches deep, but no flocks of sheep or herds of yaks were to be seen. The reason given for not making use of this excellent pasture was its inaccessibility from the south and the unsuitability of its wet climate to animals accustomed to the dryness of Tibet, but it seemed a pity it should be so wasted. Next day I crossed the Thi-la, 17,430 feet, and after a tiring march, camped in the Lonak Valley at an elevation of 15,300 feet. The change in climate after crossing the Thi-la was wonderful. Up the southern slopes it had rained continuously, but I had not gone more than a few hundred feet down the northern side when the rain ceased, the sun came out, and a little further down the ground was dusty, and I camped at the bottom in a perfectly dry climate, the climate of Tibet.
The face of the country too had changed, there were no longer rugged rocks and precipices, the hills were rounded, the result of the disintegration which in this dry climate does not wash away; the bottoms of the valleys were broad and flat, and there were numerous flocks of sheep and herds of yaks grazing in every direction, while everywhere were scattered the black yaks' hair tents of the Tibetan herdsmen who bring their herds and flocks to graze in these Sikhim highlands during three or four months in the year.
The change from Sikhim was in every way complete, there was no longer damp hot atmosphere and deep-cut valleys, the climate was dry and bracing, the hills gently undulating and the sky blue with perpetual sunshine, truly a marvellous change to find oneself at the end of a few miles’ march in a country so closely resembling Tibet both in climate and appearance.
Just before crossing the Thi-la I was met by some yaks sent by the Maharaja’s orders from his herds in the Lonak Valley, and on to these patient and sure-footed animals I transferred my baggage. This was my first experience of yak transport, and for these altitudes nothing can be better. Provided they are worked in moderation and given not too heavy a load, they will go on for months travelling at an even pace, and will cover from twenty to twenty-four miles a day, which is generally as far as one wishes to go. They are wonderfully sure-footed, will carry their rider up and down and over anything, and only on one occasion have I seen one lose its footing and that was on a comparatively good road. They are not uncomfortable mounts once you become accustomed to the grunting noise they make, which sends a curious vibration through you, and to the alarming appearance of the horns, which look as though, if they put their heads slightly back, it would be the easiest thing in the world to unseat you by putting one on either side below your knees. In appearance yaks are curious animals to look at, with a thick fringe of long hair hanging down under their bellies, huge bushy tails and a thick coat of hair, generally black and white, and holding their heads very low, so low that in riding them there is nothing in front of you. This unusual poise of the head has given rise to a pretty little fable which I think is worth repeating.
Long years ago the yak and the buffalo were on very good terms and loved each other like brothers, but owing to the malevolence of some evil spirit, they fell out and parted company and the buffalo was banished to the plains. Now they long to meet again—the yak is always looking down to try and see his lost brother, while the buffalo is always casting his eyes upwards to the hills in the hope that he may see his old friend again. Any one who is familiar with the yak and the buffalo will appreciate this little tale.
Before I reached my camping ground I was met by a Tibetan official, the Jongpen from Khamba-jong, who told me very politely that I was in Tibet and must return by the way I had come. It was useless to point out to him that I was some miles within the Sikhim frontier, or even to read him that portion of the Treaty between our Government and the Tibetans which had recently been signed. He declared he knew nothing about that, and that the Thi-la was the proper boundary whatever the Treaty might say. Of course, I refused to return, but finally we came to a compromise, and I consented to turn to the east and to return over the Lungna-la into the Lachen Valley instead of exploring the Lonak Valley. I was obliged to give way to some extent, as my instructions from Government were particularly to avoid any open disagreement with the Tibetans. As soon as I had consented to do this, the Jongpen was much relieved, became most friendly and was always about my tents.
I stayed in the camp some days enjoying the rest, after my recent exertions, and the climate, which was perfect. There was a little shooting to be had and I wandered about with my gun very happily. Amongst other things, I came across a large warren of marmots, Arctomys himalayanus, the large Tibetan variety. These little animals are interesting to watch, and for such clumsy-looking brutes marvellously quick in their movements, disappearing into their holes like a flash when alarmed.
The only inhabitants of the valley are Tibetan herdsmen who come during the summer months to graze their yaks and sheep. They were all very friendly and glad to give me shelter from the cold wind in their black yaks’ hair tents, but it was a doubtful pleasure entering them, as these people are indescribably filthy. Some of the women were so thickly covered with dirt it was impossible to distinguish their hair under a plaster of grease and dirt, and the only thing apparently ever washed was the mouth, and that only when they drank their buttered tea.
A curious natural phenomenon was the increase in volume of the river soon after the sun rose, caused by the ice melting on the enormous glaciers in which it took its rise, which took place regularly at about the same time every day. The day I moved camp I was late in starting, and found the stream already in flood and consequently had some difficulty in crossing, and lost three of my sheep, which were washed down before aid could reach them.
UPPER LONAK VALLEY.
I was sorry to leave Lonak, partly because I wanted to explore the valley thoroughly, and partly on account of the climate, as I knew that as soon as I crossed the pass I would again find myself in the damp regions of Sikhim, and my anticipations proved correct, as it rained before I reached my camping ground. From the top of the Lungna-la 17,400 feet, I had a fine view of Kangchenjunga and the snow peaks running to the north. To my astonishment, when I reached the top of the pass, the snow was covered with dead locusts strewn everywhere. I later found that India had been infested with flights of these insects and they had been blown up to the heights and perished in the cold. When in my descent I reached the line of vegetation, I found they had stripped the birches, the only leaves they seemed to care to eat, and there also they were in thousands, but dying fast.
From the Lungna-la to Thangu was an easy march, and on reaching Thangu I left all my heavy camp equipage and went down light to the village of Lamteng, the headquarters of the migratory inhabitants of the Lachen Valley, comprising about seventy-five houses. The people are herdsmen as well as traders, and move with their cattle up or down the valley according to the season, and as the summer months are the only ones during which the passes to Tibet are open for their merchandise, they are only to be found in Lamteng during the winter. One of the annual migrations down the valley is a curious sight to witness. In order to insure that no individual shall have the advantage of his neighbour in the matter of grazing, the whole population moves into Lamteng on the same day, bringing with them their entire families, all their yaks, ponies, cattle, goats, fowls, dogs and household goods, and on such a day it is safer to camp some little way off the road, as yaks are no respectors of persons and would soon have all the tents trampled on the ground.
On my way down the valley I had the luck to witness an enormous rock avalanche, the only one of any magnitude I have seen in Sikhim. It was a grand sight; the rocks came thundering down the hillside with tremendous velocity, many of them as large as a house, and dashed into the river at the bottom. I was exactly opposite the slip on the farther side of the valley in an absolutely safe position and could watch this very unusual phenomenon at my ease. My coolies were much alarmed, and I was not surprised, as it was in many ways a most awe-inspiring sight.
From Lamteng I returned to Thangu and went up to Giaogong where I was again met by Tibetan officials with the same story, that I could not be allowed to cross the boundary into Tibet, and that they knew nothing of the late Treaty. Much my easiest way would have been to follow the Lachen river to the Cholamo lakes, and then cross the Donlda-la into the Lachung Valley, but as this necessitated going through the disputed ground, I was obliged to take a more difficult route to the south of Kangchenjhau and then over the Sibu-la between Lachen and Lachung.
Giaogong was visited by Hooker in 1848 and again by Macaulay in 1886. It is a desolate, wind-swept spot lying in the centre of a gorge between Chomiomo, 23,000 feet, on the west and Kangchenjhau, 24,000 feet, on the east, and is a veritable funnel up which the wind is always howling. I managed, however, to find a fairly sheltered spot for my camp and stayed for a few days. On one I climbed the 18,221-feet hill to the west called Tunlo, and from the top I had a magnificent view over the north of Sikhim up to the rounded hills forming the watershed and the true boundary. Looked at from this elevation the scene is a most desolate one, truly typical of, and only to be found in, Tibet; with the exception of the valley immediately below me, nothing was under 18,000 feet, without a shrub, much less a tree, to be seen, and the wonder was how the large flocks of sheep scattered about, numbering perhaps 10,000 or 12,000, found enough grazing to keep them alive.
On leaving Giaogong, some distance to the south-east, where the rainfall is comparatively heavy, my route took me over some ancient moraines, now, after centuries of disintegration, a series of undulating downs called Phalung, covered with thick soft turf and dotted with the yaks and tents of the Lachen herdsmen. I also passed some good flocks of burhel on these moraines, one numbering about eighty. The glaciers running down from this range are comparatively small, although with the splendid backing of the perpendicular cliffs of Kangchenjhau they look imposing.
After crossing these downs, I camped at Sechuglaka and was detained there by bad weather, my coolies declaring the Sebu-la was impassable in soft snow. The pass is 17,600 feet and there is a small glacier which has to be crossed before reaching the summit, but this was negotiated with little difficulty; there were one or two small crevasses, but my men knew where they were and how to avoid them.
The summit of this pass is a knife-edge of rock so narrow that in places 20 feet to 30 feet below the top light can be seen through cracks in the rock, and along this narrow edge the track led for a short distance. The east side was nothing but a mass of rocks everywhere, which made travelling most difficult, and had these been covered with new snow I can quite imagine it being impassable, and I should never have got down without some broken limbs amongst my coolies, while as it was, even without the snow, it was anything but pleasant going.
Some years later, coming from Lachung, I crossed the pass with my wife and daughter. It was quite impossible either to ride up or to be carried in a dandy over such boulders, so they were carried on the backs of two of the strongest Lachung men, splendid specimens, with a chudder (native shawl) tied round them and over the men’s shoulders, two other men helping, one on either side. How they managed to get over the rocks was a marvel, but they did it, and very quickly too, and were soon at the top.
After the first descent of half a mile or so the road was an easy one over and between old moraines, while to the left some firie glaciers came down from Kangchenjhau and Tsen-gui-kang.
My camp that night was close to the hot springs at Momay Samdong, mentioned by Hooker in his Himalayan Journals, with the water at a temperature of 160°. They are very unimportant, the flow of water is small, and they are seldom used now for bathing purposes.
From Momay Samdong I ascended the Donkia-la, 18,100 feet, and had a slendid view over the country to the north; first the Cholamo lakes lying at the foot of the pass, then the rounded hills of the watershed and boundary, and further still the limestone ranges of Tibet. The view though desolate, was very fine, and I naturally longed to explore the unknown country beyond, but this was not to be till many years had passed, so I had reluctantly to turn my back and descend again into the valleys of Sikhim, but before reaching Momay, I explored to the east and discovered an easy pass leading into Tibet which is occasionally used by graziers.
There is some very fine burhel ground on the hills on each side of the valley running from the Donkia to Momay, especially to the east, where I saw some of the biggest herds I have come across, and I think any one really going in for shooting might secure a record head here. It was near this that Dr. Pearse shot one measuring 29¾ inches and I believe the record is 30¼ inches. The shooting, however, along all the Sikhim hills, is very disappointing and most difficult, owing principally to climatic conditions, for in the rains, just as the sportsman is stalking the game, a cloud may and often does, suddenly come along and blot out everything, which, to say the least of it, is most annoying, while in the fine weather at the end of October and November the cold is intense and there is always the danger of being caught by the snow.
On leaving Momay Samdong I did not go straight down the valley, but turned to the east up Temba-chhu and explored up to the glacier, but the weather was bad and I saw very little. I then turned to the south and crossed an unknown pass, 17,700 feet, which led over the range dividing the Lachung and Sebu valleys. It was a grey day when we started and soon commenced to snow and continued to snow the whole day. The snow was very deep and very soft, often up to my armpits, and the going was very difficult, especially for the laden coolies, for although I had sent the greater part of my heavy baggage straight to the Lachung village, I still had a good deal with me. We toiled on for hours and at last reached the summit. The snow was still falling and we fioundered down till we came to a flat bit of ground, evidently the bed of an old lake, and here I decided to halt for the night.
Experience teaches, and I certainly had a lesson that day I could well have done without, and which I am not likely to forget. The day was so dull and grey it never struck me there could be any ill effects from the light on the snow, and though I had my snow spectacles in my pocket I did not put them on and felt no ill effects until after my arrival in camp, when my eyes began to smart and I soon could see nothing, and realised that I was in for a bad attack of snow blindness. I passed a wretched night, and when morning came I could not open my eyes and was obliged to lie where I was in bed. I had only a small single fly tent, it was raining hard, very cold, and everything was most uncomfortable. My bearer Diboo brought me my food and practically had to feed me, for I could see nothing. This total blindness lasted for two days, but by the third morning I could see a little, and by carefully shading my eyes, I was able to get down to the forest limit and out of the intense glare. I found that at least one-third of my coolies were in a similar condition, so I was not the only sufferer. The pain in the eyes in snow blindness is very acute indeed, and it was a sharp lesson which I have never forgotten. My men suggested several remedies, none of which were very pleasant, so I contented myself with placing cold wet handkerchiefs on my eyes, which I constantly changed. There was little trouble in doing this, as I had only to hold my handkerchief against the fly of the tent to wet it, and I dare say it was the best thing I could have done. Years later, I learnt a very simple and certain remedy for snow blindness which I have since used on several occasions with excellent effect for coolies who had neglected to cover their eyes when crossing snow. It is to drop a few drops of castor oil into the eyes and the relief is almost instantaneous.
Lepcha and Tibetan coolies when crossing the passes use spectacles made of very finely woven hair, and if by chance they do not have them, they bring their own hair, which is always rather long, over their faces, and this makes a very good veil. I have often seen them do it when suddenly caught in a snowstorm amongst the mountains. It is only quite newly fallen snow that has such a speedy effect on the eyes, and I believe it must be the actinic rays from the extremely white snow that causes it. Old snow will also cause blindness when it has the full force of a tropical sun shining on it, but is not nearly so quick in its action.
From this somewhat dreary camp it did not take us long to descend into the pine forests, and we camped at a place called Sebu in the midst of silver firs. I had been for six or seven weeks high up above all vegetation except grass, and the change to the forest was welcome, especially as the weather was again fine. This continued as I marched down the valley, a lovely one with some of the finest trees there are in Sikhim growing in it. One fallen giant, a spruce, that I measured, was 220 feet from the roots to where it was broken off short, and there it measured 6 feet in girth. What had become of the top I do not know, but it was a magnificent specimen. The road was easy the whole way and delightfully soft to walk on, as it was carpeted with moss and pine needles. This valley, the Sebu, would delight the heart of an artist; there are soft glades with streams wandering quietly through them, splendid forests of pine with beetling crags in every direction and glimpses of snow up every side valley. I often wish I could have painted some of these scenes, for my photographs do not do them justice, as they give no idea of the varied and exquisite colouring.
I joined the main Lachung Valley at Yac-cha, some four miles above the village of Lachung, where I was met by the Phodong Lama, and where we remained some time transacting business with the headmen of the valley.
The two villages of Lamteng in the Lachen and Lachung in the Lachung Valley have an unusual and almost communistic government of their own. On every occasion the whole population meet at a “panchayat,” or council, where they sit in a ring in consultation. Nothing, however small, is done without such a meeting, even if it was only to supply me with firewood or to tell off a man to carry water. Everything is settled at these meetings, any business there may be is transacted, and everything from the choosing of their own headman to the smallest detail is arranged in consultation. The consequence is, everything is done very deliberately and much time is wasted in useless discussion, but the system seems to suit the people and I allowed it to be continued with some small modifications. When transport is required, the panchayat sits to select the coolies, and after that is done there is a curious custom of drawing lots for each man’s load gone through. Each one gives a garter to the headman, who puts them all together in the inside of his boku or outer garment. He then goes round to the loads, drawing out a garter and placing one on each load, and the owner of the garter has to carry that load. This is all a little tiresome when one is anxious to be off, but once the formalities have been gone through, the loads are picked up and quickly carried away without another word. The people of these valleys are a particularly nice lot, jolly and bright and of splendid physique. I have travelled with them often and never had the least trouble. They are of Tibetan origin, but came into Sikhim from Hah in Bhutan. Lachung itself is a beautifully situated village of about eighty houses, with enormous cliffs overhanging it on the opposite side of the valley, and it is not very wet—probably about fifty inches of rain in the year—and with an elevation of nearly 9,000 feet, it has a delightful summer climate.
Between Chungtang and Lachung there is probably as good gural (Himalayan chamois) shooting as anywhere, and I managed to get some excellent sport on the cliffs immediately above Lachung, though it was very difficult climbing, but with the help of one of the villagers I succeeded in getting up and bagged three or four. I saw many more, but it was not possible to get within shot.
At Lachung a valley comes down from the Tanka-la, and up this, very good burhel shooting is to be had, especially in the winter months, when the animals come down to graze.
I marched slowly back to Gangtak accompanied by the Phodong Lama, and was not sorry to arrive there after an absence of eleven weeks. We had work to do in every camp, and that and the state of the track necessitated short marches; the paths were so bad it was only with the greatest difficulty any four-footed animal could be taken over them. Now there is a good road the whole way from Gangtak to Lachung, and the distances can easily be covered in two days, while at that time a week was the quickest it could be done in.
TYPICAL SIKHIM SCENERY