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- Among the Tibetans - 4/13 -


and taken by him to visit the chief inhabitants; every traveller, lay and clerical, passed by with the cheerful salutation Tzu, asked me where I came from and whither I was going, wished me a good journey, admired Gyalpo, and when he scaled rock ladders and scrambled gamely through difficult torrents, cheered him like Englishmen, the general jollity and cordiality of manners contrasting cheerily with the chilling aloofness of Moslems.

The irredeemable ugliness of the Tibetans produced a deeper impression daily. It is grotesque, and is heightened, not modified, by their costume and ornament. They have high cheekbones, broad flat noses without visible bridges, small, dark, oblique eyes, with heavy lids and imperceptible eyebrows, wide mouths, full lips, thick, big, projecting ears, deformed by great hoops, straight black hair nearly as coarse as horsehair, and short, square, ungainly figures. The faces of the men are smooth. The women seldom exceed five feet in height, and a man is tall at five feet four.

The male costume is a long, loose, woollen coat with a girdle, trousers, under-garments, woollen leggings, and a cap with a turned- up point over each ear. The girdle is the depository of many things dear to a Tibetan--his purse, rude knife, heavy tinder-box, tobacco pouch, pipe, distaff, and sundry charms and amulets. In the capacious breast of his coat he carries wool for spinning--for he spins as he walks--balls of cold barley dough, and much besides. He wears his hair in a pigtail. The women wear short, big-sleeved jackets, shortish, full-plaited skirts, tight trousers a yard too long, the superfluous length forming folds above the ankle, a sheepskin with the fur outside hangs over the back, and on gala occasions a sort of drapery is worn over the usual dress. Felt or straw shoes and many heavy ornaments are worn by both sexes. Great ears of brocade, lined and edged with fur and attached to the hair, are worn by the women. Their hair is dressed once a month in many much-greased plaits, fastened together at the back by a long tassel. The head-dress is a strip of cloth or leather, sewn over with large turquoises, carbuncles, and silver ornaments. This hangs in a point over the brow, broadens over the top of the head, and tapers as it reaches the waist behind. The ambition of every Tibetan girl is centred in this singular headgear. Hoops in the ears, necklaces, amulets, clasps, bangles of brass or silver, and various implements stuck in the girdle and depending from it, complete a costume pre- eminent in ugliness. The Tibetans are dirty. They wash once a year, and, except for festivals, seldom change their clothes till they begin to drop off. They are healthy and hardy, even the women can carry weights of sixty pounds over the passes; they attain extreme old age; their voices are harsh and loud, and their laughter is noisy and hearty.

After leaving Shergol the signs of Buddhism were universal and imposing, and the same may be said of the whole of the inhabited part of Lesser Tibet. Colossal figures of Shakya Thubba (Buddha) are carved on faces of rock, or in wood, stone, or gilded copper sit on lotus thrones in endless calm near villages of votaries. Chod-tens from twenty to a hundred feet in height, dedicated to 'holy' men, are scattered over elevated ground, or in imposing avenues line the approaches to hamlets and gonpos. There are also countless manis, dykes of stone from six to sixteen feet in width and from twenty feet to a fourth of a mile in length, roofed with flattish stones, inscribed by the lamas (monks) with the phrase Aum, &c., and purchased and deposited by those who wish to obtain any special benefit from the gods, such as a safe journey. Then there are prayer-mills, sometimes 150 in a row, which revolve easily by being brushed by the hand of the passer-by, larger prayer-cylinders which are turned by pulling ropes, and others larger still by water-power. The finest of the latter was in a temple overarching a perennial torrent, and was said to contain 20,000 repetitions of the mystic phrase, the fee to the worshipper for each revolution of the cylinder being from 1d. to 1s. 4d., according to his means or urgency.

The glory and pride of Ladak and Nubra are the gonpos, of which the illustrations give a slight idea. Their picturesqueness is absolutely enchanting. They are vast irregular piles of fantastic buildings, almost invariably crowning lofty isolated rocks or mountain spurs, reached by steep, rude rock staircases, chod-tens below and battlemented towers above, with temples, domes, bridges over chasms, spires, and scaffolded projections gleaming with gold, looking, as at Lamayuru, the outgrowth of the rock itself. The outer walls are usually whitewashed, and red, yellow, and brown wooden buildings, broad bands of red and blue on the whitewash, tridents, prayer-mills, yaks' tails, and flags on poles give colour and movement, while the jangle of cymbals, the ringing of bells, the incessant beating of big drums and gongs, and the braying at intervals of six-foot silver horns, attest the ritualistic activities of the communities within. The gonpos contain from two up to three hundred lamas. These are not cloistered, and their duties take them freely among the people, with whom they are closely linked, a younger son in every family being a monk. Every act in trade, agriculture, and social life needs the sanction of sacerdotalism, whatever exists of wealth is in the gonpos, which also have a monopoly of learning, and 11,000 monks, linked with the people, yet ruling all affairs of life and death and beyond death, are connected closely by education, tradition, and authority with Lhassa.

Passing along faces of precipices and over waterless plateaux of blazing red gravel--'waste places,' truly--the journey was cheered by the meeting of red and yellow lamas in companies, each lama twirling his prayer-cylinder, abbots, and skushoks (the latter believed to be incarnations of Buddha) with many retainers, or gay groups of priestly students, intoning in harsh and high-pitched monotones, Aum mani padne hun. And so past fascinating monastic buildings, through crystal torrents rushing over red rock, through flaming ravines, on rock ledges by scaffolded paths, camping in the afternoons near friendly villages on oases of irrigated alluvium, and down the Wanla water by the steepest and narrowest cleft ever used for traffic, I reached the Indus, crossed it by a wooden bridge where its broad, fierce current is narrowed by rocks to a width of sixty-five feet, and entered Ladak proper. A picturesque fort guards the bridge, and there travellers inscribe their names and are reported to Leh. I camped at Khalsi, a mile higher, but returned to the bridge in the evening to sketch, if I could, the grim nudity and repulsive horror of the surrounding mountains, attended only by Usman Shah. A few months earlier, this ruffian was sent down from Leh with six other soldiers and an officer to guard the fort, where they became the terror of all who crossed the bridge by their outrageous levies of blackmail. My swashbuckler quarrelled with the officer over a disreputable affair, and one night stabbed him mortally, induced his six comrades to plunge their knives into the body, sewed it up in a blanket, and threw it into the Indus, which disgorged it a little lower down. The men were all arrested and marched to Srinagar, where Usman turned 'king's evidence.'

The remaining marches were alongside of the tremendous granite ranges which divide the Indus from its great tributary, the Shayok. Colossal scenery, desperate aridity, tremendous solar heat, and an atmosphere highly rarefied and of nearly intolerable dryness, were the chief characteristics. At these Tibetan altitudes, where the valleys exceed 11,000 feet, the sun's rays are even more powerful than on the 'burning plains of India.' The day wind, rising at 9 a.m., and only falling near sunset, blows with great heat and force. The solar heat at noon was from 120 degrees to 130 degrees, and at night the mercury frequently fell below the freezing point. I did not suffer from the climate, but in the case of most Europeans the air passages become irritated, the skin cracks, and after a time the action of the heart is affected. The hair when released stands out from the head, leather shrivels and splits, horn combs break to pieces, food dries up, rapid evaporation renders water-colour sketching nearly impossible, and tea made with water from fifteen to twenty below the boiling-point of 212 degrees, is flavourless and flat.

After a delightful journey of twenty-five days I camped at Spitak, among the chod-tens and manis which cluster round the base of a lofty and isolated rock, crowned with one of the most striking monasteries in Ladak, and very early the next morning, under a sun of terrific fierceness, rode up a five-mile slope of blazing gravel to the goal of my long march. Even at a short distance off, the Tibetan capital can scarcely be distinguished from the bare, ribbed, scored, jagged, vermilion and rose-red mountains which nearly surround it, were it not for the palace of the former kings or Gyalpos of Ladak, a huge building attaining ten storeys in height, with massive walls sloping inwards, while long balconies and galleries, carved projections of brown wood, and prominent windows, give it a singular picturesqueness. It can be seen for many miles, and dwarfs the little Central Asian town which clusters round its base.

Long lines of chod-tens and manis mark the approach to Leh. Then come barley fields and poplar and willow plantations, bright streams are crossed, and a small gateway, within which is a colony of very poor Baltis, gives access to the city. In consequence of 'the vigilance of the guard at the bridge of Khalsi,' I was expected, and was met at the gate by the wazir's jemadar, or head of police, in artistic attire, with spahis in apricot turbans, violet chogas, and green leggings, who cleared the way with spears, Gyalpo frolicking as merrily and as ready to bite, and the Afghan striding in front as firmly, as though they had not marched for twenty-five days through the rugged passes of the Himalayas. In such wise I was escorted to a shady bungalow of three rooms, in the grounds of H. B. M.'s Joint Commissioner, who lives at Leh during the four months of the 'caravan season,' to assist in regulating the traffic and to guard the interests of the numerous British subjects who pass through Leh with merchandise. For their benefit also, the Indian Government aids in the support of a small hospital, open, however, to all, which, with a largely attended dispensary, is under the charge of a Moravian medical missionary.

Just outside the Commissioner's grounds are two very humble whitewashed dwellings, with small gardens brilliant with European flowers; and in these the two Moravian missionaries, the only permanent European residents in Leh, were living, Mr. Redslob and Dr. Karl Marx, with their wives. Dr. Marx was at his gate to welcome me.

To these two men, especially the former, I owe a debt of gratitude which in no shape, not even by the hearty acknowledgment of it, can ever be repaid, for they died within a few days of each other, of an epidemic, last year, Dr. Marx and a new-born son being buried in one grave. For twenty-five years Mr. Redslob, a man of noble physique and intellect, a scholar and linguist, an expert botanist and an admirable artist, devoted himself to the welfare of the Tibetans, and though his great aim was to Christianize them, he gained their confidence so thoroughly by his virtues, kindness, profound Tibetan scholarship, and manliness, that he was loved and welcomed everywhere, and is now mourned for as the best and truest friend the people ever had.

I had scarcely finished breakfast when he called; a man of great height and strong voice, with a cheery manner, a face beaming with kindness, and speaking excellent English. Leh was the goal of my journey, but Mr. Redslob came with a proposal to escort me over the great passes to the northward for a three weeks' journey to Nubra, a district formed of the combined valleys of the Shayok and Nubra


Among the Tibetans - 4/13

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