Sikhim and Bhutan/Chapter 13
MY FIRST MISSION TO BHUTAN
From Gangtak to Tashi-cho-jong, Choice of routes. The Natu-la in bad weather. Deputation in the Chumbi Valley. Entering Bhutan. The Hah-la and Meru-la. Punishment for murder. Leather cannon. Paro. The Penlop’s wives. Paro-jong. Turner’s description. Eden’s description. Dug-gye. Weeping cypress at Chalimaphe. The quarrel between Ugyen Wang-chuk and Aloo Dorji. Murder of Poonakha Jongpen. Tashi-cho-jong.
One of the most pleasant duties I had to perform while holding my appointment was when the Government of India deputed me to proceed to Bhutan in 1905 to present the insignia of a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire to my friend Ugyen Wang-chuk, the Tongsa Penlop, as a recognition of the services he had rendered to the British Government at the time of our mission to Lhasa. Major F. W. Rennick accompanied me to represent the Intelligence Department, and Mr. A. W. Paul, C.I.E., late of the I.C.S., came out from England in response to the Tongsa’s invitation. I also took, as my confidential clerk, Rai Lobzang Chöden Sahib and an escort of twenty-four sepoys, with some pipes and drums of the 40th Pathans under Subadar Jehandad Khan, two Sikhim Pioneers and two Sikhim police, in addition to the usual following of chupprassies and servants.
This was the first occasion for forty years that an Englishman had visited Bhutan, and was a sharp contrast to the visit paid by Eden in 1864, when every obstacle was placed in his way and every discourtesy shown him. I had more than once received the most hospitable and pressing invitations from the Tongsa to visit him on the first possible opportunity, and was only too glad now to be able to accept his hospitality.
I had in the first instance to make a selection of the route by which it would be best to travel, making due allowance for the season and state of the roads. There were at least four known routes:
1. The Buxa-Poonakha route, used by Bogle in 1774 and Turner in 1783, when they entered Bhutan, and by the Bhutanese officials when they came for the annual subsidy paid to Bhutan by the Indian Government; but on a previous visit to Buxa I had ascertained that the first few marches were extremely bad, and also that the Bhutanese themselves did not recommend it.
2. That via Dewangiri, which leads directly to Tongsa, and was traversed by Pemberton in 1837-38; but this I found would be hot and difficult, and, as the most easterly one, too far removed from headquarters.
3. The road via Sipchu to Hah and Paro, along which Eden travelled in 1864. The first portion of this was reported to be in very bad order and impracticable for laden animals, added to which the crossing of the Tegon-la would probably be more difficult than crossing the higher pass, the Natu-la.
4. I therefore decided on the route which, on leaving Gangtak, crosses the Natu-la into the Am-mo-chhu Valley, thence over the Massong-chung-dong range into the Hah Valley, and thence to follow Eden’s route.
I originally proposed starting in February, to avoid the heavy storms usual in March, and to arrive at Poonakha before the summer heat and consequent migration of the Court to Tashi-cho-jong. But unforeseen circumstances delayed me till the very end of March. All the previous week there had been heavy storms, and the snow and wind were so bad that Colonel Burn, of the 40th Pathans, commanding at Chumbi, took thirteen hours between Champitang and Chongu, a distance of ten miles, and had to abandon his transport; and two days later my party found the bodies of two coolies out of a batch going to work on the Am-mo-chhu Survey, who had perished from exposure to the cold on the top of the Natu-la.
We finally left Gangtak on March 29, travelling for the first six miles over an excellent road, which during the late expedition to Lhasa was widened sufficiently for wheeled traffic, and for the remaining distance to Karponang, our first halting-place, over a good mule road. Karponang was the first stage for the coolies carrying supplies over the Natu-la during the Lhasa Expedition, and we put up for the night in the small, inconvenient huts still standing, glad to get out of the wet and gloom which had come down as the day waned. This part of the road is particularly beautiful in fine weather, which we fortunately had the next morning, for the road winds gradually up through forest-clad hills, with white magnolia and scarlet rhododendron in full bloom, and the sides of the road were carpeted with primulas in every shade of mauve and purple; but this year the feathery foliage of the blue bamboo was missing, and replaced by melancholy, dried-up sticks, for the bamboos had flowered and seeded the year before and then died. We crossed some fine precipices on the older and more difficult track, from which we had a magnificent view over a sea of hills stretching in one uninterrupted panorama to the plains of India, perfectly distinct in the clear atmosphere only to be met with at this time of the year after rain. As we mounted higher we came to snow, at first not very deep, and the mules had no difficulty in getting through it, but from Lagyap onwards the whole country was a smooth white sheet, and it was impossible to realise that Tani-tso was a lake. By the afternoon the usual blizzard commenced, and drove the drifting snow through the chinks in the plank walls of our miserable huts, the smoke down the chimneys, and reduced us all to a state of discomfort, as our only shelter was another abandoned transport station. The road on which we were travelling was that commenced by the Indian Government during the Tibet Mission, leading from Gangtak to Chumbi via the Natu-la, and is without doubt the best and easiest route between Sikhim and Chumbi, a fact recognised by the military authorities. The greater portion of this excellent road had been finished at an expense of several lacs of rupees, when, on the signing of the Lhasa Treaty, Government, in spite of my repeated remonstrances, decided to abandon the undertaking, ordered work to be immediately stopped, and rather than incur the small extra expenditure threw away the large amount already expended, by leaving uncompleted a few miles in the middle of a road, the greater part of which had already been finished and was well aligned the whole way to Chumbi.
We had great difficulty in crossing the Natu-la, 14,780 feet, next day, owing to the deep, soft snow, and although I had every one on the road before six in the morning it was 12.30 before I reached the top of the pass with the first few coolies, it having taken us three hours to do the last 1½ miles; but that year was an exceptionally severe and late one, with 65 inches of snow registered at Chumbi, against 20 the year before. During the year of the Mission I used to cross 450 maunds of stores daily with my Sikhim Coolie Corps, which, at the special request of General Macdonald, I had organised under Captains Souter and Muscroft, who, one or other, almost daily crossed with their men. On many other occasions I have always ridden across the pass, but this time I had to walk the whole distance, and had such weather occurred in 1904 the consequences might have been disastrous. From the pass we reached Pema, 9600 feet, in the Chumbi Valley, halting for a night at Champitang, without further misadventure than that nearly one-third of my coolies were suffering from snow-blindness, and Major Rennick also, as he had incautiously taken off his smoked glasses. The day was fine, and Yatung, where the treaty mart had been established for over ten years, was well in sight for some time. Viewing it from the Kagui Monastery, Mr. Paul thought the real site for the Yatung Trade Mart, to which he had agreed when the subject was discussed after the Sikhim Treaty in 1890, was where the Chinese village is; but the time is long past for this to be of anything but academic interest. I visited the Kagui Monastery, and found that the Incarnate Lama who supplied our officers with information as to the Tibetan forces and numbers in 1881 had died some two years later, and had been succeeded by an Incarnation found at Hah, and the rumour that he had been murdered by the notorious Durkey Sirdar was based on the fact that Durkey Sirdar murdered another monk belonging to the monastery. I found the monastery in excellent condition; it had not been looted by either side in either expedition, and there were about it a number of merry acolytes, who, however, were so ignorant that they did not know to which of the two sects, Dupka or Gelukha, they belonged.
In the valley I was met by Ugyen, who had come by the Jeylap route, and complained of a very difficult crossing. Mr. Henderson, of the Chinese Customs Service, kindly placed his house, which boasted of one large chimney and several panes of glass, and had formerly been rented for the use of the Sikhim Coolie Corps during the expedition, at my disposal, and we halted here for a couple of days, while I made final arrangements in connection with my escort and baggage, instructed Mr. Bell with regard to carrying on the administration during my absence, and the Superintendent of Field Post Offices to send a weekly post after me. While I was there a deputation of headmen from Galingka and the other villages situated in the Ammo-chhu Valley waited on me to complain of the serious dilemma they were in. Under recent orders from the Government of India, they were forbidden to take orders from the Chinese and Tibetan authorities or to supply them as formerly with free carriage, &c. If it was the intention of Government to eventually restore the Chumbi Valley to the Tibetans (in reality to the Chinese) and to abandon them, the villagers, what would their ultimate fate be? Could I give them any guarantee that the Government of India would protect them and ensure their safety? With the fate of the late Sinchen Rimpochi, forced to throw himself from a cliff into the river, the Pala family disgraced, in consequence of assistance rendered to Surat Chundra Das, the Shape Lhalu banished, the threatened punishment of the Phodong Lama and Kangsa Dewan because they expressed friendly feelings towards the British, to say nothing of the more recent catastrophes which befell the late Shapes, banished on account of supposed friendliness to the Mission at Lhasa, and my two Lachung villagers carried off and imprisoned in Lhasa as spies and only released on the Mission’s arrival, before their eyes, it was only natural that the people should be inspired with a dread of severe retribution should they again find themselves in the power of the Tibetans. I did my best to reassure them and to point out that matters would be satisfactorily arranged, but it was neither a pleasant nor an easy task to have to deliberately deceive people who trusted you, as I had to do, for I was only too well aware that at the first opportunity Government would throw them over and leave them in the hands of the Chinese (nominally the Tibetans), than whom there are no more cruel or revengeful people. And subsequent events prove my forecast to have been only too true, for two years later, on January 1, 1908, under the orders of a Liberal Government, the Chumbi Valley was handed back to the Tibetans, our troops and civil officer withdrawn, and the people left to the mercy of the Chinese, who are now the actual rulers in Tibet, since by our recognition of China as the paramount Power we have placed Tibet completely under her sway. With the evacuation of the Chumbi the curtain was finally rung down on the Mission to Lhasa in 1904, and our Government voluntarily resigned all that had been gained by those long months of hardship and stress, by vast expenditure of money and the loss of valuable lives.
It was instructive, in view of the then disputed question as to whether Chumbi, as the people themselves maintained it ought to be, should be restored to Sikhim, to note the close intimacy that exists between Chumbi and Sikhim. The wealthiest man in the valley was the headman of Pema, whose grandfather and great-grandfather had lived in Gangtak, whither their forefathers had migrated from Chumbi. According to local tradition, Chumbi itself came into the possession of the Sikhim Raja a little more than a hundred years ago as the dower of a Tibetan wife, the people of the valley below Galing paying him no rent, but carrying for him and his amla free. I tried to trace the previous history of the valley, but I could find no one with any knowledge of or interest in the subject.
BRIDGE OVER THE AM-MO-CHU AT PEMA IN THE CHAMBI VALLEY.
London: Edward Arnold.
Next day, after concluding my arrangements, we commenced our journey on the right bank of the Am-mo-chhu as far as Rinchengong. Ugyen Kazi, the Bhutanese agents who was the bearer of the Viceroy’s letter to the Delai Lama in 1903, pointed out the house in which the late Durkey Sirdar used to live, and poured out a repetition of his wrongs; that doubt should have been thrown on the fact that he had delivered his Excellency’s letter to the Delai Lama himself had sunk deep into his heart, and still rankled sorely. “There,” he said, with dramatic action, “lived and flourished my enemy; he maligned me to the Tibetan Government, who denied me access to Lhasa, and, through his Kalimpong friends, to the Indian Government, who doubted my honesty. I was alone with but few friends, and what was I to do? I sent money and presents to the great oracle at Nachung, and told the Shapes [Tibetan Council] at Lhasa that I was an honest man and placed my case and my trust in the gods of my fathers. If I had been dishonest and disloyal to either Government, if I had not to the best of my abilities striven to do my duty to both Governments and consulted their interests alone, let the divine vengeance fall on me. But if I were honest and true, let it be meted out to my traducers. Sir, Durkey Sirdar and his two wives died within a short time of each other, and their house knows them no more. That has been my answer to the Council at Lhasa; they have accepted it, and I am free to go to the Holy City. What my Indian masters will do is their own good pleasure.”
At Rinchengong the road crosses the Am-mo-chhu by a substantial bridge, and our path opened out most lovely views, with splendid timber. But unfortunately the track, which is capable of great improvement at little cost, had been much neglected of late, and opposite Assam-Ro-tsa a rock nearly stopped us altogether, though after the expenditure of much time and labour we got all our transport safely across, with the exception of one pony, whose leg was broken and who had to be shot. That, with the loss of two of the mules, who died on the way from eating the poisonous leaves of a small rhododendron fatal to animals, was a heavy toll for the first day’s march. After passing Assam-Ro-tsa we got on fairly well, but I found the map was wrong, and that the stream marked Langmarpu-chhu is really the Kyanka, a second stream which we had already crossed higher up being the Langmarpu-chhu. Over the Kyanka there was a good new bridge, which we crossed, and passed under a cave, or rather two overhanging rocks, named Tak-phu, which were pointed out as being in Bhutanese territory. At the head of the Langmarpu-chhu there is said to be a large lake and good shau (Cervus sinencis) shooting. Turning up the Kyanka, the narrow track ran some way above the stream, and, gradually ascending, brought us to our camp, which was pitched in a somewhat confined glade close to the stream at a place called Lha-re (height 9900 feet), in Bhutan. After a fine night, with the thermometer registering only 30°, we started early, and found the path improved as we ascended the Kyanka, which we twice crossed within two miles on bridges of the cantilever order in good repair. After passing the second bridge we came to two caves, Pyak-che and Au-pyak, formed by overhanging rocks, but of no great depth. These “robber caves,” as their name implies, were formerly used by the Hah-pa folk as a base from which to issue to rob and terrorise peaceful merchants. At one time the Hah-pa were amongst the richest people in Bhutan, but, as Eden relates, they took to evil ways and fell on evil times. But in justice to the Hah-pa it must be acknowledged that for the last fifteen years their winter grazing-grounds near Sipchu and the lower hills have been seriously curtailed by the increasing irruption of Nepalese settlers, and thus the chief source of their wealth—cattle-rearing and dairy produce—has begun to fail, while the constant quarrels arising between them and the Paharias entail much worry and expense.
A little further on we crossed the Chalu-chhu, and the valley widened out into the most delightful glades and upland swards, forming rich grazing-grounds; in fact, Chalu-thang would form a perfect site for a summer sanatorium, for it is a well-wooded, gently sloping park, spreading for several miles up the vales of the Chalu-chhu and Tak-phu-chu. Growing in abundance were spruce, larch, silver fir, holly-oak, various pines and rhododendrons, interspersed with grassy slopes, while the main valley had the appearance of a gigantic avenue leading up to the snowy pyramid of Senchu-la. Out of the valley a somewhat steep ascent round a grassy knoll brought us to the Dong-ma-chhu, up which runs another track, meeting the head of the Langmarpu-chhu, and thus by a more northerly but difficult path gaining the Hah road. Our route, however, took us over the Lungri Sampa, up a steep and stony path, to our camp at Tak-phu, a somewhat bare and extensive flat, an old moraine well within sight of the Kyu-la (Chula). There was plenty of timber, but we found our chief protection from the wind in the walls of the lateral moraines, of which the valley presented some excellent examples. Directly opposite I counted four distinct moraine terraces, one above the other, forming gigantic spur works which keep the present river within bounds. At the same time, so far from the moraines being barren, stony walls, they were luxuriantly covered by virgin forest right up to the parent ridge. Our night was not a very comfortable one, as it snowed all afternoon and most of the evening. The road from Rinchengong was capable of being made into a good one without any great difficulty, and Ugyen Kazi has since greatly improved it. There were no insuperable obstacles, and the streams were already well bridged, but we experienced considerable difficulty, owing to the surface having been injured by recent frosts and snows. The surrounding country is beautiful and well worth visiting; game is plentiful, as a bag of four Blood pheasant, two Monal pheasant, and one burhel, without really leaving the road, clearly evidenced; and it would make an ideal place to spend a holiday in.
The night before crossing the pass was the coldest we had experienced, the thermometer registering 18° of frost, and my breath actually congealed and formed a coating of ice on my blanket. With no knowledge of what might be before us, as no European or even properly qualified native explorer had crossed the passes of the Massong-chung-dong range, I had the camp roused at 4 A.M., and the main body well on the way by 5.45 in fine bright weather. We soon entered a fairly level amphitheatre, which, however, contained no lake, and where high up on the northern slopes we saw a large flock of burhel, and Rennick bagged a fine female. It was quite possible to ride to the foot of the last ascent to what we thought was the pass, an ascent very deep in snow, which luckily was hard frozen; and as a matter of fact my cook, a Mugh from Chittagong, and a great character, rode the whole way from camp to camp without dismounting, a feat that even the hardy Bhutanese looked upon as marvellous. The real pass, Kyu-la, 13,900 feet, lay a little way off with a small lake to the east, and we reached it about 7.15 A.M. Looking hack over the valley we had ascended, we had a grand view of the Jeylap range behind a finely wooded foreground. Turning round, the aspect entirely changed; about a mile and a half away was the Hah-la, which was wrongly marked on our maps as the Meru-la; between the two passes was a hollow dip, flanked on the north by precipitous cliffs and on the south by a deep snowdrift ending in space, and somewhere between the two our track lay—verily, as our guide called it, “a Bridge of Death.” Woe to the poor traveller caught between these two horns, should the wind rise and the snow fall; for him there was no shelter from the storm, no means by which to light a fire to warm him, not a tree or a shrub to be seen over the wind-swept fields of snow, only bleak and bare outcrops of rock. But in our case the little wind there was soon died down, and in perfect weather we climbed down the snow-slope to the bottom of the hollow, where we found we could ride for some distance, and finally reached the Hah-la about an hour later. On the top were many “obos,” offerings to the spirits of the pass, a fact that bore significant testimony to the story of our guide, and looking back, as I cast my contribution on the nearest cairn and threw my “airy horse” (Lung-ta) aloft, I breathed a silent but fervent prayer that though my horse could not materialise, the spirits of the air might remain still and grant a safe and sure passage to the next wayfarer. Climbing a knoll to the south, I had a fine view of an unknown snowy ridge, which ended suddenly on the north-west in an enormous precipice, apparently giving outlet to the Am-mo-chhu, and, as far as I could gather, called Tso-na. To the north the fine mass of Chumolhari was seen in the distance, and nearer the snow-peaks of Massong-chung-dong, which dominate the head of the Hah valley, and about which there runs a legend that there once lived in Hah two men so powerful that they were able to uphold the mountain, and that their spirits still have their dwelling-place somewhere in its icy fastnesses. On the east was a well-wooded but rather steep valley, down which we had to descend by a very rough precipitous track, which at first, owing to the snow, could hardly be called a road; it, however, improved by the time we reached a small open glade called Damtheng, though the frozen snow still made our footing insecure. Soon after we were met by the Tongsa Donyer, who accompanied the Tongsa Penlop to Lhasa in 1904 and was formerly the Donyer of Angdu-phodang; he brought the usual scarf and murwa in the name of the Tongsa, and informed me he had been detailed to accompany me during my stay in Bhutan and to arrange for the comfort of my party, and these duties he carried out most satisfactorily. From Damtheng, after crossing a good bridge, we slightly ascended before reaching Tsangpa-pilam where the traders’ branch road to Phari joins that from Hah-la, and where we found three small but excellent riding-mules, which proved most useful and satisfactory animals, sent by the Paro Penlop, in charge of the Paro Gorap (gatekeeper).
The road now became quite good, and about midday we rode into Damthong (10,400 feet), where we found a zareba of fresh pine boughs encircling a well laid-out camp. Words fail me to describe the beauty of the scene. Grassy glades, gently sloping, opened on a series of wide valleys in the far distance, while on either side and at our back was a deep fringe of fine trees of every age, from the patriarch of the forest down to young seedlings. The Bhutanese seem to have acquired the secret of combining in forests self-reproduction with unlimited grazing, for from the time we left Rinchengong we passed through forests which, without exception, were self-reproducing. When we were comfortably settled in our tents the Tongsa and Paro officials, accompanied by the Hah Zimpon and Nerpa, brought us a further salutation from the Penlops, in the shape of a piece of silk for myself and rations for the whole party. The arrangements were so good they augured well for the future welfare of our Mission.
After a comfortable night we started in the morning along a very good road, which soon brought us into an open valley, leading through most magnificent scenery, with often a small gompa, or chapel, perched high above us, in accordance with the practice, more or less universal here, of planting one on every commanding promontory. The first village of note was Ke-chuka, which possessed a good chuten, built by a former Hah Jongpen, and fine water-mills. We went into the village gompa, and found a curious custom prevailed, which I have not come across elsewhere, namely, that most travellers offered a small copper coin, and then tried their luck with three dice kept in the alms-bowl.
At Kyengsa a road leads up through a thickly wooded side valley, through Talong and over the Saga-la, and so down to Dug-gye-jong, on the main road between Paro and Phari. It was here the horse-dealer Aphe formerly lived, who supplied some years ago a batch of ponies to the Assam Government, which was then commencing a tonga service between Gowhati and Shillong. He later died in Lhasa, and this shows how widely ramified is the trade between India and Lhasa.
On a beautiful flat, called Gyang Karthang, an annual dance and fair is held in December and January, and a more suitable site could hardly be imagined. Yangthang, a large village, is situated on the left bank of the stream at the broadest part of the valley, and as the Hah-chhu runs where the irrigation channels lead, a great deal of stony, barren land which would otherwise be the bed of the river is exposed. The road ran across a bridge through the village, and out again over another bridge, but as these bridges were said to be dangerous we continued our journey along a temporary path on the right bank, and at every village we passed the inhabitants turned out to receive us and had hot tea always ready on the roadside. Many of the Darjeeling gwallas, or cattle-owners, come from Yangthang, and the village seems to be a dividing line, as the people living above it are known as notorious robbers and thieves, while below they are supposed to be more reputable.
Holly-oak (Pi-shingh, locally) was now conspicuous by its presence, and the formation of the hills was markedly of crystalline limestone. After passing some mineral springs we came to the twin forts and village of Tom-phiong (8370 feet), and, crossing a strong bridge, reached our camp, pitched on a large level maidan, flanked with willow-trees, and ornamented by a long mendong, or wall of prayer. The Hah Tungba, a brother of the late Aloo Dorgi, paid his respects, accompanied by one of his younger sons, and brought rations for the party. After lunch I visited the main fort, which was dirty and dilapidated, and where perhaps the most notable article was a Westly Richards rifle, with a Whitworth barrel, dated 1864, which the local blacksmith had converted into a muzzle-loader; while the Tungba showed me some excellent sword-blades manufactured in the village by the same man. I was also shown two curious hollows in the limestone formation which connect some subterranean lake with the river; the villagers place baskets at the outlets, and the rush of water at times brings out a number of fair-sized fish, though I saw no fish in the Hah stream itself.
My party were now the guests of Bhutan, and we were relieved of all trouble with regard to transport and camping-grounds, as this was in the hands of the Tongsa Donyer, whom I have already mentioned as having been sent to meet us by the Tongsa, and who was unfailing in his efforts to secure our comfort. Next day we rode up to the chief monastery, Tak-kyun Gompa; at least, we rode as far as we could, as the monastery is situated on a flat with almost precipitous sides, and we had to struggle up the last ascent on foot. The buildings were in good order, but of no great interest, although the view both up and down the Hah-chhu is magnificent. Near this is the Poisoners’ Gompa mentioned by Eden, but it was closed, and I did not think it worth while to send for the key.
In the afternoon a severe thunderstorm sprang up, and it snowed heavily nearly all night; so much so that in the morning I was doubtful about starting; but, learning that the road was easy and in good order and that the coolies were already assembled, I decided to go on. While the loads were being portioned out amongst the coolies I saw a man being led off between three others, and thinking that he might have lost or spoilt something, and anxious that he should not be unnecessarily punished, I inquired what was the matter, and learned, to my astonishment, that he had a year ago killed one of the Tongsa’s servants, and, escaping, had been wanted ever since. According to the custom of the country, the punishment for the offence was that his right hand should be cut off and the tendons of his legs severed; and what could have induced the man to run the risk of such a punishment I cannot imagine, for he probably got nothing in payment for his three days’ labour in carrying my things. It sounds very barbarous, but when the state of the country and its condition is taken into account it somewhat alters the appearance of things. There are no jails, and this is a severe method of deterring hardened criminals from committing such offences and then absconding.
Our route took us over a very good bridle-path, and we rode nearly the whole way to the top of the Chiu-li-la, which we reached about an hour after leaving our former camp. As we rode we had occasional glimpses of the Hah valley as far as the Dorikha, where Eden camped, but the weather was unfortunately very damp, windy, and chilly. On the pass I was met by an orderly from Paro with murwa, which in the cold was most acceptable and refreshing. On the way up I noticed that a small patch of forest had been burnt, the first trace of a jungle fire I had seen. On several occasions I had noticed men carefully extinguishing the remains of their night’s fire, and now learnt that any carelessness in the matter of fire in the forests was most severely punished by the Bhutanese authorities.
Descending the other side, our path, owing to the frozen snow in the shade and to melting slush in the sun, would have been very difficult had not the villagers thickly strewn it with thick soft moss, which made walking quite pleasant. High above on our right was the nunnery of Kyila, built on the face of a very steep precipice, and said to contain sixty nuns; but as I counted twenty-five houses, the majority quite large, I fancy the number of inhabitants must be considerably greater. The road leading to it must be very difficult, and as it lay some distance off, across a small valley, I did not attempt to visit it. The rule forbids any male creature to remain in the precincts of the establishment.
We arrived at Cha-na-na, a small hamlet of half a dozen houses, mostly in ruins, about midday, and camped there for the night. Our experience in crossing the Chiu-li-la was so different in every respect from that of Eden that I cannot but suspect that he was deliberately guided away from the proper route to some mere cattle-track, and my boiling-point readings, which are about 600 feet lower than Eden’s, point conclusively to this theory. While here I nearly lost my best riding-mule from the effects of a poisonous herb which it had eaten; but after the native remedy, bleeding from the ear, had been resorted to it sufficiently recovered to leave camp with us. We soon emerged on a spur, whence we obtained a grand view of the valleys of the Pa-chhu and its tributaries. There we found a broad, well-cultivated, level country, which under good management ought to produce all temperate crops in abundance. On a distant mountain to the south-east was situated the monastery of Danka-la, visible, I believe, from Poonakha; on a hill a little to the north-east was Beila-jong, close to which our future road ran; while away up the Pa-chhu the fort of Dug-gye dominates the route to Phari, and takes its name from a notable defeat of Tibetan invaders. Soon we came upon the monastery of Gorina, which a former Shabdung Rimpochi used to make his summer retreat. The chapel was clean, and gaily decorated with fresco paintings in good taste, while the hangings round the altar were overlaid with wrought brass open-work superior to anything that I had seen in Lhasa, but in sharp contrast the side altars were adorned with four gaudy green porcelain parrots. The chuten was a very fine one, and on the face was a figure of Buddha embossed on a large brass plate. There was also a subsidiary gompa, but we did not go inside. On the ridge below we were greeted with salvos of artillery, fired from iron tubes bound with leather; and I wondered whether these could be the leather cannon of which we heard so much in the Chinese-Gurkha war. The Paro Penlop’s band was also waiting, with three richly caparisoned mules in attendance, and we slowly descended a clayey slope which must be absolutely impassable in wet weather, and thence rode along the plain, past the fort and its bridge, through a quadruple avenue of willows, to our destination that day, Paro, where our camp was pitched on a large level maidan. A large square had been marked off by a strong lattice fence of split bamboo, and at the entrance a new Swiss cottage tent was pitched, and in it I found waiting to receive me the Penlop’s small son and the Paro Donyer, who offered us tea, oranges, and fruit for our refreshment. The Donyer was particular in reminding Paul that he had formed one of the Penlop's party some sixteen years before, and had then been photographed, and was very pleased when I promised to take him again that afternoon. I was particularly struck on the day’s march by the total absence of rhododendrons, which always love a peaty soil, and the change from gneiss to crystalline limestone, sandstone, and dark shales, then to heavy red clay deeply impregnated with iron, and again to bluish-grey limestone.
CHORTEN AT GORINA MONASTERY
In the afternoon, while wandering round the camp, which was very well laid out, I watched the curious Bhutanese custom of feeding mules with eggs, which I had never come across elsewhere. All our mules, as well as those belonging to Ugyen Kazi and to the Penlops, each had a ration of two or three raw eggs. The eggs were broken into a horn, the mule’s head held up, and the contents of the horn poured down the animal’s throat, and, strange to say, they seemed to like the unnatural food. The Bhutanese always give this to their animals when they have any extra hard work to do, and say it keeps them in excellent condition; and certainly all their mules were in first-rate condition.
The next morning the Paro Penlop, accompanied by his young son, paid me a formal visit, at which we exchanged ordinary compliments. The Penlop was then about fifty-six years of age, a fair man, with a weak, discontented, though not unhandsome face. His first and lawful wife, Ugyen Zangmo, was a relative of the Tongsa Penlop, but as she was childless he married his present consort, a woman called Rinchen Dolma, from a village near Paro, who bore him a son, at the time of our visit about twelve years of age, and a most ill-mannered young cub, who would have been all the better for a good thrashing. His mother, Rinchen Dolma, though elderly and crippled with chronic rheumatism, is a pleasant, clever woman, who completely rules the Penlop. In order to preserve her influence as she grew older, and to prevent him bringing a stranger into the house, she gave him her own daughter, Tayi (by her first husband), as his junior wife, and they both lived amicably in a pretty house across the valley. The wives have a dwelling outside the Jong, on account of the strict regulation that no female is allowed to remain in the fort after dark. The gates of the fort, as well as those of the bridge across the Pa-chhu, are regularly closed at sunset, and, as in China, are not opened until morning on any pretext whatever; even the Penlop himself is not admitted, and consequently, if he wishes to remain with his wives, must stay for the whole night in their house, where his apartments command lovely views both up and down the valley.
When Dow Penjo, the Paro Penlop, came to Kalimpong some years ago he was accompanied by his sister’s son, then scarcely out of his teens. This person had now become the Paro Donyer, in name the chief official after the Penlop, but in reality a low, drunken, ignorant fellow, and the only person with whom I had any trouble. Going about in a state of maudlin intoxication from early morning, it was difficult to keep him in his place, for under the pretext of friendliness and relationship to the Penlop he used to walk into one’s tent at most inconvenient times, asking for anything from an old solah topee to our mess kit. Finally I had to purchase a temporary respite with the present of a pair of binoculars that he badgered every one for, and at last we parted from him almost sober; but he was the one exception, as the other officials and the people throughout the journey were extremely well behaved and very friendly.
Next morning I rode to the fort, which is situated on a limestone bluff overhanging the river, to return the Penlop’s visit. There is only one entrance from the hillside, and that above the third story, the lower stories being used entirely as storehouses for grain, &c. Crossing a foss, which separates the outer courts from the fort, by a heavy drawbridge, we entered a huge gateway, and, turning to the left, found ourselves in the eastern courtyard, in the centre of which is the smaller of two citadels, equal in height, and occupied by petty officials. A series of rooms and verandahs overlooking the river are built against the inside of the east and north outer walls, with a covered verandah, one story in height, occupying nearly the whole west front. The Penlop’s rooms are situated in the south-east corner on the floor above, and we entered through a long, low room filled with retainers seated in four rows, two on either side, facing each other, a scene which made one think of an old baronial hall in bygone English days. To add to this impression, the reception room was large and handsomely decorated, and the walls hung with arms of all descriptions, shields, spears, matchlocks, guns, bows and arrows of every imaginable kind, all well kept and ready for use.
The Penlop received us in a large bay window looking down the valley, but the visit was dull and uninteresting, as he seemed to know little of the history of his country, and what information we did extract was vague and inaccurate. I made him some presents, including a rifle and ammunition, and gave his son a knife, binoculars, and a magnifying glass, with which the lad was immensely pleased, and shortly after took my leave, receiving permission to inspect the fort, and to pay a visit to his wives in the house across the valley.
The fort is said to have been built in the time of the first Shabdung Rimpochi, and does not seem to have suffered from the earthquakes that shattered part of Tashi-cho-jong and Poonakha. On the first floor is the temple, the gompa, or public chapel, a very finely proportioned hall, well lighted, and with two galleries running round the main building. It is a much larger room than the one in the Potala at Lhasa where the Tibetan Treaty was signed, and all its decorations are good, a hanging latticework of pierced brass in front of the altar especially being very effective and unusual. At the other end of the west verandah is the private chapel of the Ta-tshangs, the State monks, where we were received by their head, Lama Kun-yang Namgyal, who went to Lhasa with the Tibet Mission and exercised a good influence amongst the monks there. We were pleased to meet again, and he gladly showed us all there was to be seen. The larger of the two citadels is in the centre of the western courtyard, at the north-west angle of the building, and while I was going round I noticed old catapults for throwing large stones carefully stored in the rafters of the verandah. In the north-east corner are rooms for distinguished guests, and there is also a guardhouse in the parade-ground beyond the drawbridge. The fort and its surroundings have been described by both Turner and Eden, from whom I give the following extracts.
“The castle, or palace of Paro, known also by the appellation of Paro Jong, and Rinjipo, is constructed, and the surrounding ground laid out, more with a view to strength and defence than any place I have seen in Bootan. It stands near the base of a very high mountain; its foundation does not decline with the slope of the rock, but the space it occupies is fashioned to receive it horizontally. Its form is an oblong square; the outer walls of the four angles, near the top of them, sustain a range of projecting balconies, at nearly equal intermediate distances, which are covered by the fir eaves that project, as usual, high above and beyond the walls, and are fenced with parapets of mud. There is but one entrance into the castle, which is in the eastern front, over a wooden bridge, so constructed as to be with great facility removed, leaving a deep and wide space between the gateway and the rock.
“Opposed to the front are seen, upon the side of the mountains, three other buildings, designed as outposts, placed in a triangular position. The outer one is most distant from the palace, and about a double bowshot from those on either side, as you look up at them. The outer building and that on the left defend the road to Tassisudon, which runs between them; that on the right the road from Buxadewar and passage across the bridge. On the side next the river, from the foundation of the castle, the rock is perpendicular, and the river running at its base renders it inaccessible. The bridge over the Patchieu, which is at no great distance, is covered in the same manner as those at Tassisudon and Punakha, and has two spacious gateways.”
“The fort of Paro is a very striking building, and far surpassed the expectations we had formed from anything we had heard of Bootian architecture. It is a large, rectangular building, surrounding a hollow square, in the centre of which is a large tower of some seven stories, surmounted by a large copper cupola. The outer building has five stories, three of which are habitable, the two lower stories being used as granaries and stores and are lighted with small loopholes, while the upper stories are lighted with large windows opening in most cases on to comfortable verandahs. The entrance to the fort is on the left side, by a little bridge over a narrow ditch; the gateway is handsome, and the building above is much higher than the rest of the outer square; it is ornamented and painted, and has a number of well-executed inscriptions engraved in stone and iron, some of them gilt. At the gateway are a row of cages in which are kept four enormous Thibetan mastives. These beautiful animals are very ferocious; they are never taken out of their cages; they are said, however, to be less dangerous than they otherwise would be from their overlapping jowls, which prevent their using their teeth as freely as ordinary dogs. The first thing which catches the eye on entering the fort is a huge praying cylinder, some ten feet high, turned by a crank; a catch is so arranged that at each turn a bell is rung. The gate of the fort is lined with light iron plates. On entering the fort you are surprised to find yourself at once in the third story, for the fort is built on a rock which is overlapped by the lower stories and forms the ground base of the courtyard and centre towers. . . . After passing through a dark passage which turns first to the left and then to the right, a large well-paved and scrupulously clean courtyard is reached; the fine set of rooms on the left is devoted nominally to the relations of the ladies of the palace, in reality, I believe, to the ladies themselves, who, however, are supposed to live outside the fort, in accordance with the theory that all in authority are under obligation of perpetual celibacy. Beyond these rooms is a second small gateway, and the first set of rooms on the left hand belong to the ex-Paro Penlop; they are reached by a very slippery and steep staircase, opening into a long vestibule, in which the followers lounge; this leads into a large hall in which his sepoys mess, and in which one of his amla is always in waiting. Beyond the hall is the Penlop’s state room; it is somewhat low, but of great size and really very striking, for the Bootanese have derived from their intercourse with Tibet and China in old days very considerable taste in decoration. The beams are rudely painted in blue, orange, and gold, the Chinese dragon being the most favourite device, the roof is supported by a series of carved arches, and all round the room and in the arches are suspended bows, quivers, polished iron helmets, swords, matchlocks, coats of mail, Chinese lanthorns, flags, silk scarves consecrated by the Grand Lama of Tibet, arranged with the most perfect taste.”
Eden also mentions other forts, of which only three now exist, viz., Tayo-jong, Doman-jong, and Suri-jong, as the very large one, Chubyakha-jong, is entirely in ruins. The large wooden bridge across the Par-chhu is kept in good order, and on the river-bank below the fort, close to where a covered way from the castle meets the water, is a very picturesque chapel, built into a recess of the rock, and dedicated to the tutelary deity of the place.
The Penlop, his senior wife and son, came to lunch with me the following day; but it was a dull proceeding, for my guests would eat and drink nothing, their excuse being that it was the 8th of the Tibetan month, and therefore a fast day, an excuse I had to accept, although it happened to be the 9th, and not the 8th. The lady tried to make conversation, and showed great interest in a stereoscope, but also said it gave her a headache. My clerk’s attempt to entertain the smaller officials at the same time was not much more successful, as although religious scruples did not prevent them making a hearty meal and taking away with them the wine they were unable to drink, after their departure the air thermometer of my boiling-point apparatus could not be found, which was annoying, as it left me without a second instrument to verify my readings. During lunch the band of the escort and the gramophone provided music for our guests’ entertainment.
The next day we determined to visit Dug-gye-jong, and although it was cloudy we had a very pleasant ride up the valley over a road ascending very gradually, though in many places we found the soling of large stones very troublesome both for riding and walking. At Long-gong, about five miles from Paro, there is a pretty village and orchard of walnut-trees, where the Thumba or headman of that part of the valley lives, and on the cliffs opposite, to the east, is the more than usually inaccessible monastery of Paro-ta-tshang. We also saw in the distance the monastery of Sang-chen-cho-khor, from which the present Deb Raja came. At the end of nine miles we rode up to the fort of Dug-gye, also built in the days of the first Shabdung in commemoration of a victory over the Tibetans.
PARO TA-TSHANG MONASTERY
I cannot describe it better than Captain Turner does; the scene does not seem to have altered in the least. “We entered Dug-gye-jong, a fortress built upon the crown of a low, rocky hill, which it entirely occupies, conforming itself to the shape of the summit, the slope all round beginning from the foundation of its walls.
“The approach to the only entrance is defended by three round towers, placed between the castle and the foot of the hill, and connected together by a double wall, so that a safe communication between them is preserved even in times of the greatest peril. Around each of these towers, near the top, a broad ledge projects, the edges of which are fortified by a mud wall, with loopholes adapted to the use of the bow and arrow or of muskets. On the north of the castle are two round towers that command the road from Tibet. On the east side the rock is rough and steep; and close under the walls on the west is a large basin of water, the only reservoir I had seen in Bhutan.
“The castle of Dug-gye-jong is a very substantial stone building, with high walls, but so irregular is its figure that it is evident no other design was followed in its construction than to cover all the level space on the top of the hill on which it stands. Having ascended to the gateway at the foot of the walls, we had still to mount about a dozen steps through a narrow passage, after which we landed upon a semicircular platform edged with a strong wall pierced with loopholes. Turning to the right, we passed through a second gateway, and went along a wide lane with stables for horses on each side. The third gateway conducted us to the interior of the fortress, being a large square, the angles of which had three suites of rooms. In the centre of the square was a temple dedicated to Mahamoonie and his concomitant idols.”
I found the whole of the premises very clean; the Jongpen, who was appointed by, and is a staunch adherent of, the Tongsa Penlop, and who had been to Lhasa in his suite, received us most cordially, and entertained us with a Bhutanese lunch of scrambled eggs and sweet rice coloured with saffron, accompanied by murwah (beer) and chang (spirit), also coloured with saffron, fresh milk, and a dessert of walnuts and dried fruits. His wife, who prepared the meal, was one of the cleanest and best-looking women I have seen in Bhutan, and her little boy, wearing an exact copy, in miniature, of his father’s dress, was a nice little chap.
The Dug-gye armoury is said to be the best in the country, and is contained in a fine room with a large bow window facing south and looking down the valley—in the Tongsa Penlop’s opinion, the best balcony in Bhutan. In the outer courtyard men were making gunpowder. A silversmith and a wood-turner were also at work, and in the inner courtyard were piles of shingles (pieces of flat wood) ready for re-roofing the castle, which has to be entirely re-done every five years. Altogether there was an air of bustling activity which was pleasant to meet with. Up the valley lies the nearest road to Phari, a short three days' march for a laden coolie, and it was along this route the Chinese Mission passed when bringing a decoration for the Tongsa Penlop in 1886.
We struck camp early the next morning, and on our way bade the Paro Penlop farewell at the entrance to the castle. The ascent, which I think must have been a short cut, and not the regular road, was very rough and steep up to the Tayo-jong, the curious rounded fort described by Eden.
“One of them is a curious building formed of two semicircles, one large and the other small, built up one against the other for about five stories high.”
The road beyond was very good, and ascended gradually to the pass, 8900 feet, near the Beila-jong. A steeper road on the other side led us down to Pemithang, the seat of an inferior official who calls himself a Penlop, where we camped under walnut-trees. The so-called Penlop was a pleasant, stout man, who did his best to make us comfortable. We found some of his boys playing quoits, a very favourite game amongst the Bhutanese, and close by a curious succession of mendongs, or prayer-walls, which was most unusual, as the mendong ordinarily consists of one long wall, but here there was a succession of three.
We left Pemithang early, and instead of going to Tashi-cho-jong via the Pami-la, we followed the Pemi-chhu to its junction with the Tchin-chhu, the road, a very good one, never being far above the water. The hills on either side were thickly wooded, with beautiful masses of flowering pear and peach, but at the junction with the Tchin-chhu, where we turned east up the stream, the whole aspect of the country suddenly changed to barren hills, with sparse and stunted trees, chiefly Pinus longifolium.
On the left bank, about two miles up, we saw a house conspicuous for its cared-for appearance, and found that it belonged to the ex-Paro Penlop, who was for years one of our pensioners at Kalimpong. It says a great deal for Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk that he allowed this man, one of his most powerful enemies, to return to his old home and die there in peace, and then allowed the widow and daughters to remain on unmolested in the pretty place.
We reached our camping-ground at Chalimaphe after rather an uninteresting march, and pitched our tents round one of the largest weeping cypresses I have ever seen. It measured fifty feet round the trunk five feet above the ground. This would have been a pleasant halting-place but for the howling wind that roared up the valley and nearly blew our tents down, so we were not sorry to be off the next day, more especially as this proved to be quite the most interesting day I had yet spent in Bhutan.
Mounting our mules, we started early, and almost at once came in sight of Simtoka, the oldest fort in the country. Turning to the left, we rode along the left bank of the Tchin-chhu, where, about half a mile further on, I saw a fine cantilever bridge carrying a large wooden channel with a stream of water across the Tchin-chhu to irrigate a succession of rice-fields on the opposite side. I have particularly noticed during my travels in the country how remarkably skilful the Bhutanese are in laying out canals and irrigation channels, and the clever way in which they overcome what to ordinary people would be insurmountable difficulties in leading the water over steep, difficult places on bridges or masonry aqueducts, often built up to a great height. Riding on, the plain opened up into cultivation, extending its entire width and far up the mountain slopes, which were only sparsely clothed with forest. We crossed the Tchin-chhu, and shortly passed on our right a conspicuous knoll in the very centre of the plain. This marks the scene of an act of treachery on the part of the present Paro Penlop that materially changed the course of events in Bhutan, and was the beginning of the Tongsa Penlop's power.
In 1885 Gau-Zangpo was Deb Raja, and Aloo Dorji the Thimbu or Tashi-cho-jong Jongpen, while Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk, then about twenty-four years of age, had succeeded his father, Jigme Namgyal, better known as Deb Nagpo, or the Black Deb, as Tongsa Penlop, and Dow Penjo, first cousin to Deb Nagpo, was and still is Penlop of Paro. Two factions formed. On the one side were Deb Gau-Zangpo, Aloo Dorji, the Thimbu Jongpen, and the Poonakha Jongpen, brother-in-law to Aloo Dorji, and who naturally supported him. On the other side were ranged the Tongsa and the Paro Penlops, assisted by some of the smaller Jongpens. The cause of the final rupture was the action of Aloo’s party, who, taking advantage of Ugyen Wang-chuk’s youth and supposed weakness, withheld from him for three years his rightful share of the British subsidy; in return Ugyen refused to pay his quota towards the maintenance of the Ta-tshang, or Government monks, who belong to the five monasteries of Poonakha, Tashi-cho-jong, Paro, Angdu-phodang, and Tongsa, in number about 3000 souls. This, however, was a losing transaction, as the Tongsa's share of the subsidy was a much larger sum; so, failing to receive an account or satisfaction of any kind, Ugyen collected his followers, to the number of about 4000, and, crossing the hills, came down near Chalimaphe. He himself went boldly to Tashi-cho-jong, where the Deb and the Thimbu were residing, and bearded them in their den, demanding satisfaction and accusing them of base ingratitude to their benefactor Deb Nagpo; and, when his demands were laughed at, retorted that if they wished to fight he was quite ready. Returning to his men, he attempted to surprise Tashi-cho-jong by crossing the mountains to the south-east; but his enemies discovered his move, set the grass on the lower slopes of the hills on fire, and the Tongsa had the greatest difficulty in saving his men from being suffocated by the smoke; and how choking and pungent the fumes from such fires can be I have had painful experience myself. He next attempted to storm the fort at Simtoka, which was strongly held by the Thimbu’s men, the Jongpen himself keeping well out of the way at Tashi-cho-jong; but the day went against the eastern party, and they were beginning to waver and fall back, whereupon Ugyen Wang-chuk himself rushed into the van, upbraiding and even striking his men, and made such an impression on his leaderless foes that they fled panic-stricken, and left the fort of Simtoka with its granaries an easy prize in his hands. After waiting a day or two to recruit, the Tongsa’s troops moved up the right bank of the Tchin-chhu, and there were more skirmishes, indecisive, but attended by much loss, principally the burning of houses, destruction of crops, &c. At this juncture the Paro Penlop appeared on the scene, and suggested to the Poonakha Jongpen, Aloo's chief supporter, that if they held a conference they might be able to settle the dispute and prevent further bloodshed; and Poonakha, suspecting nothing, came to the knoll we were looking at. The conference lasted some time without much result, when an adjournment was made for lunch; and while the soldiers belonging to the Jongpen were busy preparing their food on some level ground near the river to which they had been inveigled, the Paro's followers, taking advantage of their opponents being off their guard, rushed on the defenceless men. The Poonakha Jongpen was stabbed to death as he sat on the ground, and many of his men were massacred. The Tongsa’s army then marched unopposed to some villages on the west of the castle, and during the night Aloo Dorji, who seems to have been a cowardly braggart, in alarm for his own safety, abandoned Tashi-cho-jong and fled over the hills to Poonakha, and from thence, after gathering up such of his property as he could lay hands on, continued his flight via Ghassa-la into Tibet, when he appealed to China and Tibet for help. The Chinese and Tibetans despatched envoys with the object of mediation, but their overtures were rejected by the Bhutanese, and soon after the Sikhim Expedition of 1888-9 broke the power and influence of the Tibetans, and the cause of Aloo Dorji, who fought on their side in the attack on Gnatong in May 1888 was lost. All subsequent attempts at interference by the Chinese and Tibetans were frustrated by the closer relationships with the Penlops which we maintained henceforth, and thus Ugyen Wang-chuk’s influence in Bhutan was firmly established.
Paul has, however, told me that, when he was informed of the occurrence at the time, the death of the Poonakha Jongpen was not ascribed to the result of a deliberately planned scheme of treachery; that the meeting was honestly held for the purpose of arranging a compromise, but a quarrel arose between the followers of the rival factions, in which one of the Paro men had his arm sliced off, and on his rushing into the presence of the leaders his comrades avenged him by stabbing the Jongpen with their daggers. But whatever may have happened, there is nothing to show that the young Tongsa was cognisant of the plot, and when the castle of Tashi-cho-jong was abandoned the Tongsa himself had the gates firmly secured, and, standing before the main entrance, prevented his soldiers from breaking in and looting the palace. He had even to shoot one of his own men before order could be restored, and that was hardly the action of a man who would lend his countenance to so mean an act of treachery.
After leaving this knoll, called Changlingane-thang, with these interesting historical associations, we soon arrived at the castle of Tashi-cho-jong, an imposing edifice in the form of a parallelogram, the sides parallel to the river being twice the length of the other two. It differs from other forts in one particular; it possesses two large gateways, one on the south; the other, on the river-face, and protected on the west and north by a wide fosse filled with water, is only opened for the Deb and Dharma Rajas, and was closed at the time of my visit. Unlike Paro and Poonakha, the bridge across the Tchin-chhu was not connected with the castle, and just below it was a wooden structure, cleverly designed to catch the timber floated down the river from the distant hills for use in the castle. The interior of the castle is divided into two unequal portions by a high, strong wall, the larger section, to the south, containing the usual square tower, measuring about 85 feet each way, and in it are situated the chapel and private apartments of the Dharma Raja. The original tower was destroyed by the earthquake in 1897, and the present structure was finished about 1902; but it has been badly built, as the main walls were cracking already and the interior showed signs of unequal subsidence. The decorations, of course, are quite modern.
In the south-east angle of the courtyard beyond are the public or living quarters of the Dharma Raja, and on the west front those of the Thimbu Jongpen, where we were hospitably entertained. The northern and smaller section of the castle is occupied entirely by the Ta-tshang, or State lamas, and is not usually open to laymen. The dividing wall is surmounted by a row of white chotens, protected from the weather by a double roof, and in the centre of the inner courtyard is an extremely fine hall of audience or worship, 120 feet square and at least 50 feet high. It is well lighted, and decorated with fresco paintings, and when the silken ceiling-cloths and embroidered curtains and banners are hung it must look extremely well, but the lamas were absent at Poonakha, and all the decorations were either carefully put away or taken with them. A succession of chapels was built on the west side, one of which, a splendid example of good Bhutanese art, the door-handles of which, of pierced ironwork inlaid with gold, were exceptionally beautiful, had been presented by the Deb Nagpo. It was said to contain 1000 images of Buddha, and the number is very likely correct, as I counted more than 600, while the pair of elephant’s tusks supporting the altar, which I have remarked as an essential ornament to the chief altar in every Bhutanese chapel I have visited, were larger than usual.
A short distance further up the valley we passed Dichen-phodang, the private residence of the Thimbu Jongpen, which appeared to be a fine building, but I did not visit it. Above, on a commanding height, is the very large monastery of Pha-ju-ding, formerly one of the richest houses in Bhutan, but which has now fallen on evil days, and is out of repair, while most of its ornaments have either been stolen or have disappeared, and I could not find time to visit it. We had a pleasant ride back to camp, but in the evening a more than usually strong gale of wind blew, with some rain, and two or three miles down the valley it seemed to fall in torrents.