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- Among the Tibetans - 10/13 -


colossal chod-ten, lead to the castle. The village of Stok, the prettiest and most prosperous in Ladak, fills up the mouth of a gorge with its large farm-houses among poplar, apricot, and willow plantations, and irrigated terraces of barley; and is imposing as well as pretty, for the two roads by which it is approached are avenues of lofty chod-tens and broad manis, all in excellent repair. Knolls, and deeply coloured spurs of naked rock, most picturesquely crowded with chod-tens, rise above the greenery, breaking the purple gloom of the gorge which cuts deeply into the mountains, and supplies from its rushing glacier torrent the living waters which create this delightful oasis.

The gopa came forth to meet us, bearing apricots and cheeses as the Gyalpo's greeting, and conducted us to the camping-ground, a sloping lawn in a willow-wood, with many a natural bower of the graceful Clematis orientalis. The tents were pitched, afternoon tea was on a table outside, a clear, swift stream made fitting music, the dissonance of the ceaseless beating of gongs and drums in the castle temple was softened by distance, the air was cool, a lemon light bathed the foreground, and to the north, across the Indus, the great mountains of the Leh range, with every cleft defined in purple or blue, lifted their vermilion peaks into a rosy sky. It was the poetry and luxury of travel.

At Leh I was obliged to dismiss the seis for prolonged misconduct and cruelty to Gyalpo, and Mando undertook to take care of him. The animal had always been held by two men while the seis groomed him with difficulty, but at Stok, when Mando rubbed him down, he quietly went on feeding and laid his lovely head on the lad's shoulder with a soft cooing sound. From that moment Mando could do anything with him, and a singular attachment grew up between man and horse.

Towards sunset we were received by the Gyalpo. The castle loses nothing of its picturesqueness on a nearer view, and everything about it is trim and in good order, it is a substantial mass of stone building on a lofty rock, the irregularities of which have been taken most artistic advantage of in order to give picturesque irregularity to the edifice, which, while six storeys high in some places, is only three in others. As in the palace of Leh, the walls slope inwards from the base, where they are ten feet thick, and projecting balconies of brown wood and grey stone relieve their monotony. We were received at the entrance by a number of red lamas, who took us up five flights of rude stairs to the reception room, where we were introduced to the Gyalpo, who was in the midst of a crowd of monks, and, except that his hair was not shorn, and that he wore a silver brocade cap and large gold earrings and bracelets, was dressed in red like them. Throneless and childless, the Gyalpo has given himself up to religion. He has covered the castle roof with Buddhist emblems (not represented in the sketch). From a pole, forty feet long, on the terrace floats a broad streamer of equal length, completely covered with Aum mani padne hun, and he has surrounded himself with lamas, who conduct nearly ceaseless services in the sanctuary. The attainment of merit, as his creed leads him to understand it, is his one aim in life. He loves the seclusion of Stok, and rarely visits the palace in Leh, except at the time of the winter games, when the whole population assembles in cheery, orderly crowds, to witness races, polo and archery matches, and a species of hockey. He interests himself in the prosperity of Stok, plants poplars, willows, and fruit trees, and keeps the castle maims and chod-tens in admirable repair.

Stok Castle is as massive as any of our mediaeval buildings, but is far lighter and roomier. It is most interesting to see a style of architecture and civilisation which bears not a solitary trace of European influence, not even in Manchester cottons or Russian gimcracks. The Gyalpo's room was only roofed for six feet within the walls, where it was supported by red pillars. Above, the deep blue Tibetan sky was flushing with the red of sunset, and from a noble window with a covered stone balcony there was an enchanting prospect of red ranges passing into translucent amethyst. The partial ceiling is painted in arabesques, and at one end of the room is an alcove, much enriched with bold wood carving.

The Gyalpo was seated on a carpet on the floor, a smooth-faced, rather stupid-looking man of twenty-eight. He placed us on a carpet beside him, and coffee, honey, and apricots were brought in, but the conversation flagged. He neither suggested anything nor took up Dr. Marx's suggestions. Fortunately, we had brought our sketch-books, and the views of several places were recognised, and were found interesting. The lamas and servants, who had remained respectfully standing, sat down on the floor, and even the Gyalpo became animated. So our visit ended successfully.

There is a doorway from the reception room into the sanctuary, and after a time fully thirty lamas passed in and began service, but the Gyalpo only stood on his carpet. There is only a half light in this temple, which is further obscured by scores of smoked and dusty bannerets of gold and silver brocade hanging from the roof. In addition to the usual Buddhist emblems there are musical instruments, exquisitely inlaid, or enriched with niello work of gold and silver of great antiquity, and bows of singular strength, requiring two men to bend them, which are made of small pieces of horn cleverly joined. Lamas gabbled liturgies at railroad speed, beating drums and clashing cymbals as an accompaniment, while others blew occasional blasts on the colossal silver horns or trumpets, which probably resemble those with which Jericho was encompassed. The music, the discordant and high-pitched monotones, and the revolting odours of stale smoke of juniper chips, of rancid butter, and of unwashed woollen clothes which drifted through the doorway, were over-powering. Attempted fights among the horses woke me often during the night, and the sound of worship was always borne over the still air.

Dr. Marx left on the third day, after we had visited the monastery of Hemis, the richest in Ladak, holding large landed property and possessing much metallic wealth, including a chod-ten of silver and gold, thirty feet high, in one of its many halls, approached by gold- plated silver steps and incrusted with precious stones; there is also much fine work in brass and bronze. Hemis abounds in decorated buildings most picturesquely placed, it has three hundred lamas, and is regarded as 'the sight' of Ladak.

At Upschi, after a day's march over blazing gravel, I left the rushing olive-green Indus, which I had followed from the bridge of Khalsi, where a turbulent torrent, the Upshi water, joins it, descending through a gorge so narrow that the track, which at all times is blasted on the face of the precipice, is occasionally scaffolded. A very extensive rock-slip had carried away the path and rendered several fords necessary, and before I reached it rumour was busy with the peril. It was true that the day before several mules had been carried away and drowned, that many loads had been sacrificed, and that one native traveller had lost his life. So I started my caravan at daybreak, to get the water at its lowest, and ascended the gorge, which is an absolutely verdureless rift in mountains of most brilliant and fantastic stratification. At the first ford Mando was carried down the river for a short distance. The second was deep and strong, and a caravan of valuable goods had been there for two days, afraid to risk the crossing. My Lahulis, who always showed a great lack of stamina, sat down, sobbing and beating their breasts. Their sole wealth, they said, was in their baggage animals, and the river was 'wicked,' and 'a demon' lived in it who paralysed the horses' legs. Much experience of Orientals and of travel has taught me to surmount difficulties in my own way, so, beckoning to two men from the opposite side, who came over shakily with linked arms, I took the two strong ropes which I always carry on my saddle, and roped these men together and to Gyalpo's halter with one, and lashed Mando and the guide together with the other, giving them the stout thongs behind the saddle to hold on to, and in this compact mass we stood the strong rush of the river safely, the paralysing chill of its icy waters being a far more obvious peril. All the baggage animals were brought over in the same way, and the Lahulis praised their gods.

At Gya, a wild hamlet, the last in Ladak proper, I met a working naturalist whom I had seen twice before, and 'forgathered' with him much of the way. Eleven days of solitary desert succeeded. The reader has probably understood that no part of the Indus, Shayok, and Nubra valleys, which make up most of the province of Ladak, is less than 9,500 feet in altitude, and that the remainder is composed of precipitous mountains with glaciers and snowfields, ranging from 18,000 to 25,000 feet, and that the villages are built mainly on alluvial soil where possibilities of irrigation exist. But Rupchu has peculiarities of its own.

Between Gya and Darcha, the first hamlet in Lahul, are three huge passes, the Toglang, 18,150 feet in altitude, the Lachalang, 17,500, and the Baralacha, 16,000,--all easy, except for the difficulties arising from the highly rarefied air. The mountains of the region, which are from 20,000 to 23,000 feet in altitude, are seldom precipitous or picturesque, except the huge red needles which guard the Lachalang Pass, but are rather 'monstrous protuberances,' with arid surfaces of disintegrated rock. Among these are remarkable plateaux, which are taken advantage of by caravans, and which have elevations of from 14,000 to 15,000 feet. There are few permanent rivers or streams, the lakes are salt, beside the springs, and on the plateaux there is scanty vegetation, chiefly aromatic herbs; but on the whole Rupchu is a desert of arid gravel. Its only inhabitants are 500 nomads, and on the ten marches of the trade route, the bridle paths, on which in some places labour has been spent, the tracks, not always very legible, made by the passage of caravans, and rude dykes, behind which travellers may shelter themselves from the wind, are the only traces of man. Herds of the kyang, the wild horse of some naturalists, and the wild ass of others, graceful and beautiful creatures, graze within gunshot of the track without alarm, I had thought Ladak windy, but Rupchu is the home of the winds, and the marches must be arranged for the quietest time of the day. Happily the gales blow with clockwork regularity, the day wind from the south and south-west rising punctually at 9 a.m. and attaining its maximum at 2.30, while the night wind from the north and north-east rises about 9 p.m. and ceases about 5 a.m. Perfect silence is rare. The highly rarefied air, rushing at great speed, when at its worst deprives the traveller of breath, skins his face and hands, and paralyses the baggage animals. In fact, neither man nor beast can face it. The horses 'turn tail' and crowd together, and the men build up the baggage into a wall and crouch in the lee of it. The heat of the solar rays is at the same time fearful. At Lachalang, at a height of over 15,000 feet, I noted a solar temperature of 152 degrees, only 35 degrees below the boiling point of water in the same region, which is about 187 degrees. To make up for this, the mercury falls below the freezing point every night of the year, even in August the difference of temperature in twelve hours often exceeding 120 degrees! The Rupchu nomads, however, delight in this climate of extremes, and regard Leh as a place only to be visited in winter, and Kulu and Kashmir as if they were the malarial swamps of the Congo!

We crossed the Toglang Pass, at a height of 18,150 feet, with less suffering from ladug than on either the Digar or Kharzong Passes. Indeed Gyalpo carried me over it stopping to take breath every few yards. It was then a long dreary march to the camping-ground of Tsala, where the Chang-pas spend the four summer months; the guides and baggage animals lost the way and did not appear until the next


Among the Tibetans - 10/13

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