Sikhim and Bhutan/Chapter 14
MY FIRST MISSION TO BHUTAN—continued
From Tashi-cho-jong to Tongsa-jong. Simtoka-jong. Entry into Poonakha. The Deb Raja. Presentation of K.C.I.E. Description of Poonakha Fort. Expedition to Norbugang and Talo Monasteries. Visit of the Tango Lama. So-na-ga-sa the Zemri-gatchie of Turner. Farewell visit to the Deb. Angdu-phodang. Death of my dog Nari. The Pele-la. Tongsa-jong. Bad roads. Water-power prayer-wheels. The ceremony of blessing the rice-fields.
We left Tashi-cho-jong early next morning in lovely weather, with the thunder of a salute of thirty guns reverberating through the air, and soon arrived at Simtoka-jong, which is situated on a projecting ridge, with deep gullies separating it from the main hill. It looks old, and is not in very good repair. On the four sides of the central square tower, instead of the usual row of prayer-wheels, we found a row of square slabs of dark slate, carved in low relief with pictures of saints and holy men. It was a wonderful collection of different types, with no monotonous repetition of the same figure, whence derived I cannot imagine, unless, indeed, of Chinese origin, as the variety reminded me of the 1000 statues in the temple in Canton, where one figure is pointed out as Marco Polo. In Simtoka one face is a very unflattering likeness of the German Emperor. In the chapel itself, beneath a magnificent carved canopy, was one of the finest bronze images of Buddha that I have seen; it was supported on either side by a number of standing figures of more than life size.
From Simtoka a good road led us up the Lhung-tso Valley to the Dokyong-la (9570 feet), through beautiful glades of oak, chestnut, and rhododendron, while on the higher slopes forests of Pinus excelsa reappeared, in pleasant contrast to the barren slopes of the past two days. But on reaching the east side of the pass we seemed suddenly to come into a completely changed climate, and the valley we were entering might have been in Sikhim, not Bhutan. It was evidently a wet zone, and with a very bad path leading to our camp at Lungme-tsa-wa, we were glad when our march was over.
Next day we continued our descent down a steepish lane overhung by rhododendrons in full bloom, until we reached a bridge across the Teo-pe-rong-chhu. After crossing we gradually ascended a fair road on the side of hills quite different from those on the opposite side, sparsely clothed with Pinus longifolia, and a remarkable contrast to the flowering thickets on the way down. High above us were the monasteries of Norbugang and Ta-lo, and after rounding a ridge which parts the Mochu-Pochu from the Teo-pe-rong-chhu we again began to descend to our camp at Gang-chung-Dorona (5800 feet), the last before reaching Poonakha. Neither Poonakha nor Angdu-phodang were at any point visible.
It was in heavy rain next morning that we had to make our entry into the capital of Bhutan, along a road of heavy clay, on which it was almost impossible to keep one’s footing. Close by a choten built at the junction of two valleys, and commanding a most picturesque view of the castle, I was met by a curious collection of musicians, dancers, &c., in gay clothing, sadly out of keeping with the constant rain and mud. Preceded by them, we managed in time to reach the bridge across the Mo-chhu, and after a little pause to cross, under a salute of guns—fifty now instead of thirty—heartily glad to reach the shelter of our camp, where a wooden house of two rooms was prepared for us.
In the camp waiting to receive me were the Tongsa Penlop, the Thimbu and Poonakha Jongpens, Zung Donyer, and Deb Zimpon. The first three I had met in Tibet, and the last two at Buxa, They greeted me most cordially and condoled with me on the weather, making many inquiries about our journey and whether we had encountered much difficulty; then, in a short time, the rain having ceased, they took their departure and left us to settle down in our quarters. For myself a large, comfortable Swiss cottage tent had been pitched, and a smaller one, dyed blue, with an embroidered top, for Major Rennick, in addition to a very good cook-house and some ranges of fine mat-sheds, and these, with my own tents and camp equipage, provided us with a luxurious encampment. I also had a great compliment paid me, as the Deb Raja's band played in front of us all through the outer courtyard right into the camp, an honour not paid even to the Tongsa Penlop himself beyond the entrance to the bridge.
The next day I spent receiving visits of ceremony from the Tongsa, the head Ta-tshang lamas, and other officials, and in disposing of an accumulation of official work. Whilst paying my return visits to the Tongsa Penlop and the officers in the fort I also paid my respects to the Deb Raja, who received me in his private apartments with great cordiality, and thanked the Indian Government for having sent me on such a friendly visit to his little country, while hoping his people had obeyed his instructions to look after my comfort in every way.
The Deb Raja is a great recluse, and occupies himself entirely with the spiritual affairs of the country, although, owing to the failure to discover a reincarnation after the death of the late Dharma Raja, he holds both offices; but meanwhile all temporal affairs are managed entirely by the Tongsa Penlop and his council, while in the Deb Raja all spiritual power is vested.
In the afternoon I had a long interview with the Tongsa Penlop, who came to see me unofficially, and we discussed many matters, and amongst others the question of extradition. He informed me that Bhutan had lately made an arrangement with Tibet regarding refugees, who were not to be returned unless some crime was proved against them, although formerly either State was obliged to send back all refugees. The Penlop dined with us, and we arranged that the presentation of the insignia of his Knight Commandership should be made on the following morning in open Durbar, presided over by the Deb Raja himself.
Unfortunately, on the morning of the Durbar it rained heavily, but cleared up before the ceremony, which was held in the Palace of Poonakha in a large hall. As soon as we learnt that everything was in readiness we formed a small procession from the camp. Major Rennick and myself in full dress uniform, preceded by our escort under Subadar Jehandad Khan, 40th Pathans, and proceeded to the fort, where we were ushered with great ceremony into the Durbar Hall.
This is a fine, handsome room, with a wide balcony overlooking the river Po-chhu, and with a double row of pillars forming two aisles. The centre or nave, a wide space open to the lofty roof, was hung with a canopy of beautifully embroidered Chinese silk. Between the pillars were suspended chenzi and gyentsen hangings of brilliantly coloured silks, and behind the Tongsa Penlop’s seat a fine specimen of kuthang, or needlework picture, a form of embroidery in which the Bhutanese excel, and which compares favourably with anything I have seen in other parts of the world.
At the upper or north end of the room was the high altar and images always to be met with in Bhutanese chapels, and in front of this was a raised dais, piled with cushions, on which sat the Deb Raja, in a rich yellow silk stole over his red monastic dress, with the abbot of the Poonakha Ta-tshang lamas in ordinary canonicals on his left. To the right of the daïs was a line of four scarlet-covered chairs for myself, Major Rennick, Mr. Paul, and the Subadar, and in front of each chair was a small table with fruit and refreshments. Close behind us stood my orderlies with presents. On the opposite side of the nave, facing me, was a low daïs with a magnificent cushion of the richest salmon-coloured brocade, on which Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk sat, dressed in a handsome robe of dark blue Chinese silk, embroidered in gold with the Chinese character “Fu,” the sign emblematical of good luck. Below him were ranged the chairs of all the officials present, the Thimbu Jongpen, the Poonakha Jongpen, the Zung Donyer, and the Deb Zimpon. The Taka Penlop had come to Poonakha, but was too ill to leave his bed; the Paro Penlop was unable to travel owing to the state of his leg, and had made his excuses personally on my way through Paro and had sent a representative; and the office of the Angdu-phodang Jongpen had not been filled. In the aisles were double and treble rows of the chief Ta-tshang lamas, seated on white carpets, while four flagellants, carrying brass-bound batons of office and formidable double-thonged whips of rhinoceros-hide, walked up and down between the rows to maintain order. At the lower end, by which we had entered, were collected the subordinate officials of the court, standing, with my own escort formed up in front of them, facing the Deb at the lower end of the nave. It was altogether a brilliant and imposing scene.
After my party and the high officers of state, who had risen on my approach, had taken their seats there was a short pause for order and silence to be restored. I then rose and directed Rai Lobzang Chöden Sahib to read my short address in Tibetan, which I had purposely curtailed, as I foresaw that the Bhutanese portion of the ceremony would be a lengthy one. My remarks seemed to give general satisfaction, and at their conclusion I stepped forward, with Major Rennick carrying the Insignia and Warrant on a dark blue cushion fringed with silver, in front of the Deb Raja as the Tongsa Penlop advanced from his side to meet me. With a few words appropriate to the occasion, I placed the ribbon of the order round his neck, pinned on the star, and handed the warrant to Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk. Major Rennick and myself then returned to our seats, while the Penlop, still standing before the daïs, expressed his thanks for the honour the King-Emperor had conferred on him. I again advanced, and presented Sir Ugyen with a rifle, my photographs of Lhasa and Tibet, and among other things a silver bowl filled with rice, the emblem of material prosperity, in commemoration of the day’s ceremony, and, finally, placing a white silk scarf on his hands, offered him my hearty congratulations and good wishes. Major Rennick and the Subadar also offered scarves, with their congratulations; and finally Mr. Paul, as an old friend of more than thirty years’ standing, in a few words wished the Deb, Bhutan, and the new Knight all prosperity and heartily congratulated them on the new era opening before them. This brought our part of the ceremony to a conclusion, and we remained interested spectators of what followed.
First Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk turned to the Deb Raja and made his obeisance. The Deb, who, as the Cholay Tulku, is also the spiritual head of the Bhutanese Church during the interval awaiting the reincarnation of the Dharma Raja, gave Sir Ugyen his pontifical blessing and placed three scarves round his neck. In like manner Sir Ugyen then received the blessing of the abbot, and afterwards reseated himself.
Now began an almost interminable procession of lamas, officials, and retainers, each bringing a scarf and presents, till the Penlop was almost smothered in scarves, while the whole nave from end to end gradually became filled up with heaps of tea, bags of rice and Indian corn, fabrics—silk, woollen and cotton—of all colours and values, with little bags of gold dust and rupees appearing on the top. As each present was placed on the floor the name of the donor was announced by the Zung Donyer. I had no means of judging, but I should think there were at least two hundred donors. It was amusing to watch the emulation amongst them and the flourishes some of them gave as they dumped their presents with a bang on the floor and whipped out their scarves to their full length.
When these congratulations came to an end tea and refreshments were offered to all the company of guests, including the lamas in the aisles, who at each course intoned a sort of grace. Finally betel and pan were distributed.
At the commencement of the feast a large cauldron of murwah, or native beer, was placed at the lower end of the nave, and an unusual ceremony—at least, it was unusual to me—was gone through. The Zung Donyer, with a long, bowl-shaped ladle, mixed the liquid three times, and, holding up the bowl full of beer in one hand, raised the other in prayer. This ceremony he repeated three times, and then advanced with his ladle full to the Deb Raja, who blessed it; he then turned to the Tongsa, upon whose hands a small portion was poured; and finally the Donyer returned and poured the remainder into the cauldron, which was then removed, doubtless for the refreshment of the crowd of onlookers who were not of sufficient importance to share the tea and refreshments dispensed in the Durbar Hall. Next, with great ceremony, a wooden spear, with a piece of red cloth and a white silk scarf fastened to the base of the head, was carried to the Deb and blessed; it was then waved over the Tongsa, who reverently touched the end of the shaft. The spear was then sent to the Tongsa’s apartment. The final act in the ceremonial was a short prayer, led by the Deb and intoned by the lamas, and with this the proceedings ended and we returned to our camp.
It was a most interesting ceremony, and was conducted throughout with the greatest order and reverence, and passed off without a hitch of any kind. It says a great deal for the change in the conduct of affairs in Bhutan and the anxiety to show respect to the British Government that they should have made the presentation of the decoration to the Penlop the first occasion of so public and elaborate a ceremony, as I understand that hitherto it has been the custom of the recipient of an honour to go to the Deb and head lamas to receive their blessings, while congratulations and presents are received at his private dwelling.
One of the pleasantest incidents during my stay in Poonakha was an expedition to the Norbugang and Ta-lo monasteries; but equally full of interest was the inspection I made of the fort and palace of Poonakha, which I will try to describe. Poonakha is a typical example of the Bhutanese forts, which throughout the country are built after one common plan. The site selected is always a commanding one, generally on a ridge, with the primary object of defence. In the case of Poonakha, however, the building is situated on a tongue of land running down between the rivers Mo-chhu and Po-chhu just above the junction, and as both rivers are unfordable three sides of the parallelogram are most efficiently protected from attack. Access to the Jong on the river side is by means of two substantial cantilever bridges, strengthened by strong gateways of heavy timber studded with iron, with strong defensive towers at each end, through which the roadway runs. On the only land side the fort is protected by a massive masonry wall, built from river to river, commanding the open plain, which the enemy would have to cross to approach the Jong. There are two strongly defended gateways in the wall.
Poonakha, lying between the rivers, is easily supplied with water, but other forts built on a ridge have some difficulty, and are in many cases, as at Dug-gye, obliged to build sunk passages zigzagging down to the valley, and protected by towers at each turning, to ensure a supply of water in the event of a siege. Where a fort is built on the side of a hill, as at Paro and at Tongsa, protecting towers are always built above it.
The plan nearly always followed in the forts is that of a rough parallelogram divided into courts. The main entrance in Poonakha is approached by a steep flight of wooden steps about 20 feet in height, which in time of emergency can be easily removed, leading to the gateway, a massive wooden structure, easily closed, and invariably shut at night.
Through the gateway the first court is reached. The main citadel is situated in this at the south end, a square building, about 40 feet at the base and 80 feet high, and flanking the court on all sides are the two-storied buildings used as residences by the lay officials. Beyond the citadel there is another court, also surrounded by double-storied dwellings, and in the building dividing this court from the next is the larger Durbar Hall, which stretches across the whole width, the smaller Durbar Hall, where the presentation was held, lying to the east. Next comes another and smaller court, within which, to the south, stands the second and smaller citadel, enclosed by more buildings. Beyond comes another court, given up entirely to the Ta-tshang lamas, numbering about 3000, the large temple standing in the centre. The lamas’ cells occupy two sides of the court, the third side overlooking the junction of the rivers. Underneath these courts are a few store-rooms for the housing of grain, but the greater part is filled in with earth and rock. All the buildings are roofed with shingles made of split wood, and in this the great danger, that of fire, lies, as the shingles are easily set alight, but otherwise, in the days of bows and arrows, such forts were practically impregnable, and this one could, if necessary, house 6000 souls, or even more. I did not find it as clean as some of the other forts I visited, but that was probably owing to the large numbers who had been in it for the past six months; and it must not be imagined that it was anything like as dirty as the accounts of previous travellers would lead one to anticipate. A great deal of damage was done by the earthquake of 1897, and many of the frescoes were seriously injured by having large strips of plaster shaken off, but the embroidered banners and brocade hangings were magnificent, and a feature of the palace; but Poonakha looks its best and is most picturesque from a distance.
I gave a dinner party in the evening, at which the Tongsa and Jongpens and other officials were present, and seemed to enjoy themselves. They were particularly pleased with the magic lantern, and asked Major Rennick to give a second display in the fort. We did so a few evenings later to a vast crowd, I should think of at least a thousand people, who, from the remarks I at times overheard, took a keen and intelligent interest in the performance. In addition to slides made from my Tibetan pictures, I had several of India and Europe, and we wetted the screen thoroughly to enable the audience on both sides to see.
My hospital assistant was in much request, and amongst other cases was called to attend the murderer captured at Hah about ten days before, who had suffered the usual punishment; his right hand had been cut off and the tendons of his right leg severed. The process by which it is done is slow, and intended to be merciful, as the skin of the hand is turned back, and the wrist then separated at the joint by a small knife, not injuring the bones of the fore- arm, and also allowing some flesh to form a flap. Medical aid was not called in early enough, but the doctor was able by repeated dressings and applications to give the patient some relief, though he did not remain long enough to ensure a complete cure.
On a lovely day I started with Paul to visit the Ta-lo and Norbugang Monasteries, situated high up a mountain to the west. The track, if it deserves even that name, must be absolutely impassable in wet weather, as it runs entirely over red clay. As it was we had to walk a great portion of the way going there and the whole distance returning. As far as Norbugang, about two hours’ march, the hillside was bare and uninteresting, but afterwards we passed through one or two pretty glades, and the pear and clematis blossom were beautiful. After three hours of hard climbing we reached the colony of Ta-lo. The situation was charming. Small, well-built two-storied houses, with carved verandahs and painted fronts, were scattered, each in its little garden of flowers and trees, all over the hillside, with here and there a decorated choten to break anything like a monotony of houses. The large temple seemed to crown all by its size, with its background of cypress and Pinus excelsa. But we afterwards found, 200 feet higher, the small, but beautifully decorated, private residence of the late Dharma Raja, which was an even more fitting crown. The head lama had sent his band, with oranges and other refreshments, for us some way down the hill, and when we emerged on the large platform on which the great temple is built he, with his chief monks, met us and conducted us to a Bhutanese embroidered tent, where he regaled us with several kinds of tea and liquor, none, I fear, very palatable to our European taste. Out of compliment to us, I suppose, the most potent spirit was served in a very curious, old-fashioned cut-glass decanter, with a flat octagonal stopper. After partaking of this kindly hospitality, the head lamas, one of whom was eighty-one years of age, insisted on showing us round themselves. The chapels were scrupulously clean, and possessed some glass window-panes, of which they were evidently very proud. Nothing could exceed their civility; they never hesitated to break seals or open cupboards if we manifested the least curiosity.
The principal objects of interest were the miniature chotens or caskets in which rest the ashes of the first and the late Shabdung Rimpochi; these are made of silver, highly chased and jewelled, but the jewels not of any great value from our point of view—mostly turquoises and other semi-precious stones. The sacred implements of the late Dharma Raja were also on view, and were fine examples of the best metal-work. The pillars and canopies were beautifully carved, and then in turn overlaid with open hammered metal scrolls. The whole impressed me with a very high opinion of Bhutanese art and workmanship, which is both bold and intricate. It is a thousand pities that the present impoverishment of the country should give so little encouragement to the continuance of the old race of artificers. The head lama himself complained of the difficulty he was labouring under in completing the memorial to the late Rimpochi.
He then conducted us through the pine forest to the private residence of the late Dharma Raja, where from the top of the hill above there is a beautiful view. It is a perfect little dwelling, charmingly arranged, and full of fine painted frescoes and carved wooden pillars and canopies. We were shown into the room or chapel where the late Lama died and lay in state for some days. I noticed that my attendants and others who were allowed to enter kowtowed to the ground three times and to the altar, and three times to the daïs on which the Lama had lain, and from this I gathered that a high compliment must have been paid me by being taken into the room. We went back to the tent, where we found a lunch provided by the ladies of the Ta-ka Penlop and Thimbu Jongpen, who were related to the late Delai Lama. They pressed us warmly to stay the night, and though I should have liked to do so I did not find it possible to accept the invitation.
On my way back I visited the temples at Norbugang, and was very glad I did so, though the lower one looked so dilapidated and neglected from the outside that I almost resolved not to risk the steep and rickety ladders that do duty for staircases. Luckily I went in, and found the chapel was full of excellent specimens of both metal and embroidered appliqué work. I also found three kinds of incense in process of manufacture. It is a very simple process—merely a mixture of finely powdered charcoal, aromatic herbs, and rice-water made into a paste, then spread on the floor and cut into strips, rolled between the hands and formed into the sticks seen burning in the temples. The different qualities depend on the ingredients, the more expensive having musk added as well as herbs.
After a day of pouring rain the morning opened brilliantly, and for the first time I saw the snows at the head of the Mo-chhu Valley, but it soon clouded over. The ladies who had entertained me at Ta-lo came to Poonakha and paid me a visit. After listening to the gramophone, with which they were much pleased, they went away, taking with them some silks for themselves and toys for their children. With them came the head of Ta-lo, the Tango Lama, a man about forty, and his younger brother, Nin-ser Talku, about eleven years old. In the evening the lama came back to dine with us, accompanied by the Thimbu Jongpen, but I do not know that on this occasion the dinner itself was an actual success, as the lama was not allowed to eat fowl or mutton, our principal stand-bys, and the Thimbu excused his want of appetite by saying he had already dined.
I have always found the Bhutanese, as well as the Sikhim people, very appreciative of English food, and as they are Buddhists, with no question of caste, they consider it an honour to be asked to meals, and are most anxious to return any hospitality they receive, in marked contrast to the natives of India, who are defiled and outcasted by such intercourse with strangers. It is a great factor in helping forward friendly relations, and although, out of politeness, they never refuse to taste wine, nearly all the officials are extremely abstemious. At Poonakha the others jocularly remarked that the Zung Donyer, being so much older, was a seasoned vessel, and must drink for the rest of them, and often passed the half-emptied glasses on to him to finish, but at the same time they kept a strict watch to see that the strange spirits whose strength they were unaware of should not overcome him.
After dinner I showed the Tango Lama a stereoscope, with views of Europe, and he so enjoyed it that I gave it to him when he called to take leave. He asked me if I had not brought with me any toy animals, mentioning in particular an elephant, as he wanted them to place before a new shrine they were making at Tango. By a great piece of luck I had a toy elephant that waved its trunk and grunted, also a donkey that gravely wagged its head, and a goat that on pressure emitted some weird sounds. He was greatly delighted with them, and bore them off in triumph, but whether to assist his worship or amuse his children I do not know. Next day, on leaving, he asked if I had not a model of a cow, but that, unfortunately, was not forthcoming. It was an excellent idea, bringing models of animals and simple mechanical toys amongst the presents, and they are most popular as gifts, a jumping rabbit being in great demand. It shows the simple nature of the people that they should be interested so easily.
The Tango Lama, in wishing me good-bye, made himself exceedingly pleasant, and expressed great regret that he could not persuade me to pay him a second visit and remain for the night.
One lovely morning when the snows were quite clear, I rode up the hill to the north-east, and had a fine view up both valleys. About two and a half miles up the Mo-chhu are the ruins of a small fort. It is called So-na-ga-sa, which I think must be the Zemri-gatchie of Turner, and contained formerly the great printing establishment of Bhutan and a fine garden-house belonging to the Deb. About eighty years ago it was totally destroyed by fire in one of the internecine wars, and has never been rebuilt, while the greater part of their printing is now carried on at Poonakha.
Not very far off is a sort of cave or arched recess in the bank formed by percolations of lime binding the pebbles, and nearly three hundred years ago it was occupied by a hermit from India known as Nagri-rinchen, whose principal claim to saintship seems to have been his power of sailing on the Mo-chhu on a skin. He probably made a coracle to cross the river in, and hence the legend arose.
The time was now drawing near for us to move camp, but before we left my escort performed a Khattak dance before the Bhutanese officials and a large crowd of onlookers, who again were absolutely well behaved. We also held an archery meeting for the soldiers in the fort. Their bows are made of bamboo of great strength, and the arrows of reed or bamboo with iron tips have four feathers, while those for game-shooting at close quarters have only two. I believe there are some extremely good marksmen in Bhutan, but the shooting on this occasion was distinctly poor.
The day before our departure I went, accompanied by Mr. Paul, to take formal leave of the Deb Raja. We were ushered into his private audience-hall, where we found him seated on piles of cushions. He showed us special honour by rising to receive us and offering us wine. Our interview was not a prolonged one, but the Deb desired me to convey his thanks to His Excellency the Viceroy for having sent me on this occasion, and to express the hope that he would continue to favour his little State, whose sincere endeavour was to carry out the wishes of the British Government. He also hoped I would visit him at Tashi-cho-jong on my return from Tongsa.
All the high officials and leading lamas came to my tent, bringing letters for the Viceroy and other high officials. The Thimbu Jongpen, acting as spokesman, made a pretty little speech, saying that as according to the Bhutanese custom a letter was always wrapped in a scarf, so they had selected the whitest of scarves, without a spot, to envelop their letter to his Excellency, and hoped that its purity would be considered an emblem of their own perfect purity of mind and intention.
Next morning we started for Angdu-phodang, the Wandipore of Turner, our first stage on the way to Tongsa. We had a charming ride along a road running on the left bank and close to the river, with a descent so gradual it was hardly felt. I found our camp laid out on a large flat to the north-east of the Jong, but as the sun was very powerful I decided to have our own tents pitched on the fir-tree-covered flat near an outer round fort. There is a curious point about this fortress; it is built in two distinct parts, connected by an enclosed and loopholed bridge many feet above the level of the hill. There are two local legends to account for this, one that the forts were built at different times, and the other that the villagers of old were so powerful that they refused to be prevented crossing from one river to the other by the closing of the gates, so the designers of the fort were obliged to leave a passage. The most probable story, however, is that the southern and older portion was built some 320 years ago by the second Shabdung Rimpochi, and that subsequently, when one Ache-pipa, a Jongpen, wished to enlarge the building, the villagers insisted that he should leave a passage, so his addition is an entirely separate fort. It is strange that Turner has not noticed the curious way in which “Wandipore” is built.
The interior of the fort was much more picturesque than any we had hitherto seen, except, perhaps, Dug-gye-jong. My photographs illustrate the appearance of the Jong, with its picturesque corners, massive gateways, and the charming effect of its passage-way, far better than any verbal description I might attempt. Including the northern building, there are, as usual, three courts, but only one main entrance, and the damage caused by the great earthquake was still visible, though repairs were slowly progressing. The office of Jongpen was vacant at the time of our visit, for of late years there had been a heavy mortality amongst the holders of the office, and no one was anxious to be appointed, so we were conducted round by the Tongsa Donyer, formerly Donyer of Angdu-phodang, who had restored one of the chapels very well.
About forty-five years ago one of the former Jongpens, who afterwards became Deb Sangye, began cutting down the hill above the round fort, evidently with the intention of imitating the excellent flat in front of the main entrance which is well paved and contains a large choten, a masonry tank, and seats, but as his ryots objected to the expense he contented himself with levelling a large space and planting the rows of fir-trees where our tents were pitched, and it certainly was a most charming spot. I went down to the bridge so well described and illustrated in Turner’s narrative. It is wonderful how the mountain rivers of Bhutan, in direct contrast to those of neighbouring Sikhim, seem to keep in one channel. No alteration of the streams seems to have taken place since Turner’s visit a hundred and twenty years ago, yet there are no sufficiently solid rocks nor guiding works to retain it. In Sikhim I could never foresee the vagaries of the different rivers, which would often suddenly leave the main channel in times of flood, and later, on subsidence, take an entirely new course. I tried to get a little historical information from the lamas who came to see me here, and who appeared to be a little more intelligent than those I had hitherto met, but it was no use. I could not even get a list of the Shabdung Rimpochis or Deb Rajas for the last forty years.
On leaving Angdu-phodang on a lovely morning we followed a bridle-path very slightly ascending up the right bank of the Tang-chhu for about six miles. On the opposite bank of the river the house belonging to the ex-Poonakha Jongpen was pointed out to me. He fled to Kalimpong, and afterwards died at Buxa. High up above the road was Chongdu Gompa, the summer residence of the Poonakha Jongpen, on a beautiful cultivated site. At Chapakha we crossed the Ba-chhu (5000 feet) by a good bridge, and a stiff climb of three miles brought us to Samtengang, where our camp was pitched in the midst of pines, just above a wide grassy maidan, with a small lake to add to its picturesqueness. The early part of the day had been hot and not very pretty, but after passing Chapakha the new ridge gave us a succession of level grassy plains.
It was while on the next day’s march that I had the misfortune to lose my little Tibetan spaniel Nari, who had been my companion on many wanderings in Sikhim, in Khambajong, and in Lhasa. Just as we were commencing lunch by the Tang-chhu, which we had crossed by the Ratsowok bridge, the little chap gave a sigh, fell on his side, and expired, I suppose from heart disease, as not five minutes before he had been chasing a pariah dog. These Tibetan spaniels are dehghtful little dogs, and great pets of my wife’s. The first one, Thibet, came into her possession at the end of the Sikhim Expedition, a puppy, which one of the telegraph signallers had bought from a Tibetan mule-driver, and ever since we have never been without some of them, though Tibbie, alas! died many years ago; but his descendants have come to England, and I hope may have many years before them. They are dainty little creatures, with beautiful silky coats of black fluffy hair, and feathery tails curled on their backs, yet full of pluck, game enough to kill rats, and the three who accompanied me to Lhasa, little Nari among the number, used to run daily for miles over the great Tibetan plain, hunting for marmots, hares, anything that came in their way.
It was a long day’s march that day—quite fourteen miles—though the road was excellent and very interesting, as the scenery was constantly changing. Between Ba-chhu and Tang-chhu we seemed to be on an island hill standing alone, quite apart from the others. For some miles we gradually ascended to Tsha-za-la (9300 feet), and then equally gradually descended to a curious ravine, where, although invisible from higher up, our ridge was really joined on to the main ridge separating the two rivers. Our descent took us down to the Tang-chhu (6700 feet), and, crossing the Ratsowok bridge, a very pretty and good path took us up to Ridha, a fine open space with plenty of flat ground, the village situated on a knoll above us. There were fine views of a snowy range, whence the Tang-chhu took its rise many miles up a rich valley. It was one of our most beautiful marches, the rhododendrons in full bloom, and the oak, chestnuts, and walnuts in their new foliage giving the most vivid and delicate colouring to the scene. In every direction we could see evidences of better cultivation and more prosperity than in any valley we had hitherto traversed. Unfortunately the inhabitants are reputed to be very quarrelsome, and constant litigation, which means heavy bribes to the officials called in to decide their cases, has tended to keep the villagers more impoverished than they ought to be.
All night there was a continuous thunderstorm to the west, and we suffered from a heavy rainfall, but apart from this our camp was very comfortable, as sites had been levelled for our tents and fine mats put down, sheds erected for our followers, and—the greatest comfort of all—cows had been brought to camp, so we had fresh and clean milk.
The rain in the night had quite spoilt the surface of the road for the next day’s march, and what would otherwise have been a pleasant, easy, and pretty ride through fine forests became a hard struggle for man and beast to keep their footing on the clayey soil. It took me one hour, and forty minutes to get to the top of the Pele-la (11,100 feet). Then it began to rain, and a heavy fog coming on as well, we saw little and fared badly. It was very unlucky, as the country was a succession of wide, open glades, affording most excellent grazing stations. The road, too, under ordinary circumstances would have been good, and as it was showed signs of having been well aligned; portions had been paved, and other soft places corduroyed with flat timber. Another hour and a half saw us at our camp on a flat just below the village of Rokubi (9400 feet), about forty feet above the Siche-chhu, where again excellent huts had been built, a great comfort in the rain and raw cold.
Next day’s march lay through beautiful country, but was marred by rain and mist, and we reached camp wearied out by an eighteen miles’ march under such disagreeable conditions. A very good road led us gradually down from Rokubi through very pretty scenery to Chandenbi, passing on the way a side valley through which was a direct but bad path to Tongsa. At Chandenbi we had to halt to witness a dance on which the villagers pride themselves. In step it was very similar to the lama dances, though the dresses were not quite so gorgeous, but it was not very interesting.
Some distance further on we came to a romantic patch of sward in a gorge of the ravine where the stream was joined by another mountain torrent, and on the tongue of land thus formed, covered with beautiful cedar pines, was a fine choten, built in imitation of the Swayambunath in Nepal. For miles we continued to traverse undulating ground about the same altitude, through oak, magnolia, and rhododendrons, until we emerged on more open country. Passing Tashiling, where there is a large rest-house, we continued for three more weary miles to Tshang-kha (7500 feet), where we found our camp pitched on a fine open grassy spot, with several hundreds of fine cattle grazing close by. The village was a long way above us, and out of sight.
This was our last halting-place before arriving at Tongsa, and unluckily it rained all night, but by morning it was only misty. Our road took us up the left bank of the Madu-chhu, at a considerable height above its raging torrent, and shortly we found ourselves in very rocky country, as the gorge through which the stream flows narrows considerably, with tremendous precipices overhanging each side. We made slow progress down a road, or rather a series of steep zigzags mostly composed of stone steps, and this path continued to within a short distance of the bridge across the Madu-chhu, some 900 feet below the castle and fortress of Tongsa. The bridge was of the usual cantilever kind, flanked by defensive towers, the whole having been rebuilt within the last few years.
A second steep zigzag, with many flights of stone steps, led us under the walls of the castle, and we entered through a door in an outlying bastion overhanging the cliff up which we had been toiling, and which effectually barred further progress. Passing through the outer gateway of the castle, we emerged on a large stone-flagged courtyard, across which I rode to a gateway on the east side, and, going through this, found myself outside again on a narrow path which ran under the walls of the castle and brought us to the back of the ridge, on which was built a fine square choten. From thence a new road about one-third of a mile in length had been made along the hillside to our camp, which was pitched on an exceedingly pretty knoll, with fine trees, an excellent water supply, and a pretty round tank. This, we learnt, was the pleasaunce of the castle monks.
On our arrival at the ridge immediately below the castle we were met by a large party of retainers, leading gaily caparisoned ponies and mules for us. They were hardly necessary as we were already so well provided for, the Tongsa having placed most excellent mules at our service since leaving Poonakha, carefully selecting those we had tried and liked best; but to send additional mounts was another proof of his hospitality. Amid a salute of guns, which reverberated grandly through the rocky gorge, we emerged from the bridge, where a procession of gaily dressed minstrel singers and dancers met us, and conducted us up the hilly zigzag singing verses of praise and welcome in a curious but not unpleasant monotone. There were seven women singers, peculiar to Bhutan, four clarion players, two drummers, and two gong-strikers in addition to the dancers. We were thus ceremoniously ushered into our camp, where Sir Ugyen met us with a very hearty welcome, and gave us tea and milk, carefully seeing himself that we had all we required. He had with kind forethought sent four picked men to carry Paul, who suffered from an injured back, over the steepest parts of the journey. All Bhutanese officials are carried when the road is too steep and bad to ride a mule, but that is not often, as the mules will go almost anywhere. The orderly who carries the officer, seated pickaback in a strong cloth firmly knotted on the man’s forehead, is always a specially picked and wonderfully strong man. I tried this mode of progression once, but it failed to commend itself to me, and I think Paul was wise in refusing it on this occasion. The men were, however, most useful in lending a helping hand over the worst places. I felt obliged, much against my inclination, to ride up the ladder-like steps on our way to the castle, and they held me on, one on either side, so that I could not possibly fall off. I found Captain Pemberton’s description, written so many years before, exactly described the situation. “The rider, if a man of any rank, is supported by two runners, one on each side, who press firmly against his back while the pony is struggling against the difficulties of the ascent, and give thus such efficient support that no muscular exertion is necessary to retain his seat in the most trying ascents.”
The castle is so irregularly built that it is somewhat difficult to describe. The building on the extreme south was erected in great haste by the first Shabdung Rimpochi to check an inroad from the east of Bhutan, and is a small, low range forming the sides of the present courtyard, and commanding beautiful views. On the north side of the court is a fine five-storied building, in which the Penlop resides when here. It was originally erected by Mi-gyur Namgyal, the first Deb, but it suffered badly in the earthquake of 1897, and the two upper stories have been rebuilt and decorated by the present Penlop. Immediately behind this building is the main tower, surmounted by a gilded canopy, while attached to the west wall is a covered way leading to a second courtyard. A flight of steps leading out of the first court to the north brought me to a large rectangular yard, at the south end of which was a very pretty, though rather small, office for the Donyer, or steward, on the east another building of five stories, each with a fine verandah, while on the first story were the very fine temples, lately repainted at Sir Ugyen’s expense. There is a similar building on the west. On the north is the wall supporting the last courtyard, where there is a lofty chapel, in which Sir Ugyen was erecting a gigantic sitting image of the Coming Buddha, made of stucco, and at least twenty feet high, but not then painted. A passage to the east from the third courtyard led to the north of a battlemented terrace built up from the ravine below, and a gateway on the north-west opened out on the ridge and the choten that we had reached by the lower road on the day of our arrival.
Below the eastern wall in the ravine is the building containing the prayer-wheels worked by water from which the palace took its original name of Chu-knor-rab-tsi. In it are two sets of wheels, each axle containing three manis, or cylinders, containing prayers, one above the other, the smallest at the top. They had evidently not been used for some time, so the next day, having nothing better to do, we assisted in putting them in order, by clearing out the waterways, which had been blocked with stones and rubbish, and hope it may be placed to our credit as a work of merit.
Later I received visits from the Tongsa Zimpon, who is a son of Sir Ugyen’s sister and the Bya-gha Jongpen, and is married to Sir Ugyen’s daughter, and also from the castle monks, who struck me as a much better class of men than usual, pleasant in their manners, clean, and educated.
Early one morning the sound of a very sweet-toned gong warned us that the spring ceremony of blessing the rice-fields was about to begin. A long, picturesque procession of men and women, led by the Donyer, came winding down the hillside until the first rice-field, into which water had been running all the day before, was reached. The field below was still dry, and, turning in there, they all sat down and had some light refreshment. Suddenly the men sprang up, throwing off their outer garments; this was the signal for the women to rush to the inundated field and to commence throwing clods of earth and splashes of muddy water on the men below as they tried to climb up. Then followed a wild and mad, though always good-humoured, struggle between the men and women in the water, the men doing their utmost to take possession of the watery field, the women equally determined to keep them out. The Donyer, the leader of the men, suffered severely, though the courtesies of war were strictly observed, and if one of the assailants fell his opponents helped him up and gave him a breathing-space to recover before a fresh onset was made. But gradually the women drove the men slowly down the whole length of the field, the last stand being made by a very stout and powerful official, who, clinging to an overhanging rock, with his back to his foes, used his feet to scoop up such quantities of water and mud that no one was able to come near him. However, all the other men having been driven off, he and the Donyer were allowed at last to crawl up on the path, and the combat for that year was over. This was looked on as a very propitious ending, as the women’s victory portends during the coming season fertility of the soil and increase amongst the flocks, so they dispersed to their various homes rejoicing. After witnessing the curious ceremony we went to the castle, and were received by Sir Ugyen, who took us into the courtyard and showed us over the chapels, which he has lately renovated lavishly, but at the same time in very good taste.
From the verandah we witnessed two lama dances, the Chogyal-Yab-Yum and the Shanak, but these have been so often described by travellers who have penetrated to Leh or have seen them elsewhere that I need only say that the dresses worn were a gift lately presented by Sir Ugyen to the lamas and were most gorgeous, and the dance was excellently performed. Unfortunately, before the second dance was over the rain came down in torrents, and I had the performance stopped to save the dresses from being ruined.