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- Among the Tibetans - 6/13 -

Ladak, but it is hotter and more fertile, the mountains are loftier, the gonpos are more numerous, and the people are simpler, more religious, and more purely Tibetan. Mr. Redslob loved Nubra, and as love begets love he received a hearty welcome at Digar and everywhere else.

The descent to the Shayok River gave us a most severe day of twelve hours. The river had covered the usual track, and we had to take to torrent beds and precipice ledges, I on one yak, and my tent on another. In years of travel I have never seen such difficulties. Eventually at dusk Mr. Redslob, Gergan, the servants, and I descended on a broad shingle bed by the rushing Shayok; but it was not till dawn on the following day that, by means of our two yaks and the muleteers, our baggage and food arrived, the baggage horses being brought down unloaded, with men holding the head and tail of each. Our saddle horses, which we led with us, were much cut by falls. Gyalpo fell fully twenty feet, and got his side laid open. The baggage horses, according to their owners, had all gone over one precipice, which delayed them five hours.

Below us lay two leaky scows, and eight men from Sati, on the other side of the Shayok, are pledged to the Government to ferry travellers; but no amount of shouting and yelling, or burning of brushwood, or even firing, brought them to the rescue, though their pleasant lights were only a mile off. Snow fell, the wind was strong and keen, and our tent-pegs were only kept down by heavy stones. Blankets in abundance were laid down, yet failed to soften the 'paving stones' on which I slept that night! We had tea and rice, but our men, whose baggage was astray on the mountains, were without food for twenty-two hours, positively refusing to eat our food or cook fresh rice in our cooking pots! To such an extent has Hindu caste-feeling infected Moslems!

The disasters of that day's march, besides various breakages, were, two servants helpless from 'pass-poison' and bruises; a Ladaki, who had rolled over a precipice, with a broken arm, and Gergan bleeding from an ugly scalp wound, also from a fall.

By eight o'clock the next morning the sun was high and brilliant, the snows of the ravines under its fierce heat were melting fast, and the river, roaring hoarsely, was a mad rush of grey rapids and grey foam; but three weeks later in the season, lower down, its many branches are only two feet deep. This Shayok, which cannot in any way be circumvented, is the great obstacle on this Yarkand trade route. Travellers and their goods make the perilous passage in the scow, but their animals swim, and are often paralysed by the ice-cold water and drowned. My Moslem servants, white-lipped and trembling, committed themselves to Allah on the river bank, and the Buddhists worshipped their sleeve idols. The gopa, or headman of Sati, a splendid fellow, who accompanied us through Nubra, and eight wild-looking, half-naked satellites, were the Charons of that Styx. They poled and paddled with yells of excitement; the rapids seized the scow, and carried her broadside down into hissing and raging surges; then there was a plash, a leap of maddened water half filling the boat, a struggle, a whirl, violent efforts, and a united yell, and far down the torrent we were in smooth water on the opposite shore. The ferrymen recrossed, pulled our saddle horses by ropes into the river, the gopa held them; again the scow and her frantic crew, poling, paddling, and yelling, were hurried broadside down, and as they swept past there were glimpses above and among the foam-crested surges of the wild- looking heads and drifting forelocks of two grey horses swimming desperately for their lives,--a splendid sight. They landed safely, but of the baggage animals one was sucked under the boat and drowned, and as the others refused to face the rapids, we had to obtain other transport. A few days later the scow, which was brought up in pieces from Kashmir on coolies' backs at a cost of four hundred rupees, was dashed to pieces!

A halt for Sunday in an apricot grove in the pleasant village of Sati refreshed us all for the long marches which followed, by which we crossed the Sasir Pass, full of difficulties from snow and glaciers, which extend for many miles, to the Dipsang Plain, the bleakest and dreariest of Central Asian wastes, from which the gentle ascent of the Karakorum Pass rises, and returned, varying our route slightly, to the pleasant villages of the Nubra valley. Everywhere Mr. Redslob's Tibetan scholarship, his old-world courtesy, his kindness and adaptability, and his medical skill, ensured us a welcome the heartiness of which I cannot describe. The headmen and elders of the villages came to meet us when we arrived, and escorted us when we left; the monasteries and houses with the best they contained were thrown open to us; the men sat round our camp-fires at night, telling stories and local gossip, and asking questions, everything being translated to me by my kind guide, and so we actually lived 'among the Tibetans.'


In order to visit Lower Nubra and return to Leh we were obliged to cross the great fords of the Shayok at the most dangerous season of the year. This transit had been the bugbear of the journey ever since news reached us of the destruction of the Sati scow. Mr. Redslob questioned every man we met on the subject, solemn and noisy conclaves were held upon it round the camp-fires, it was said that the 'European woman' and her 'spider-legged horse' could never get across, and for days before we reached the stream, the chupas, or government water-guides, made nightly reports to the village headmen of the state of the waters, which were steadily rising, the final verdict being that they were only just practicable for strong horses. To delay till the waters fell was impossible. Mr. Redslob had engagements in Leh, and I was already somewhat late for the passage of the lofty passes between Tibet and British India before the winter, so we decided on crossing with every precaution which experience could suggest.

At Lagshung, the evening before, the Tibetans made prayers and offerings for a day cloudy enough to keep the water down, but in the morning from a cloudless sky a scintillating sun blazed down like a magnesium light, and every glacier and snowfield sent its tribute torrent to the Shayok. In crossing a stretch of white sand the solar heat was so fierce that our European skins were blistered through our clothing. We halted at Lagshung, at the house of a friendly zemindar, who pressed upon me the loan of a big Yarkand horse for the ford, a kindness which nearly proved fatal; and then by shingle paths through lacerating thickets of the horrid Hippophae rhamnoides, we reached a chod-ten on the shingly bank of the river, where the Tibetans renewed their prayers and offerings, and the final orders for the crossing were issued. We had twelve horses, carrying only quarter loads each, all led; the servants were mounted, 'water- guides' with ten-foot poles sounded the river ahead, one led Mr. Redslob's horse (the rider being bare-legged) in front of mine with a long rope, and two more led mine, while the gopas of three villages and the zemindar steadied my horse against the stream. The water- guides only wore girdles, and with elf-locks and pig-tails streaming from their heads, and their uncouth yells and wild gesticulations, they looked true river-demons.

The Shayok presented an expanse of eight branches and a main stream, divided by shallows and shingle banks, the whole a mile and a half in width. On the brink the chupas made us all drink good draughts of the turbid river water, 'to prevent giddiness,' they said, and they added that I must not think them rude if they dashed water at my face frequently with the same object. Hassan Khan, and Mando, who was livid with fright, wore dark-green goggles, that they might not see the rapids. In the second branch the water reached the horses' bodies, and my animal tottered and swerved. There were bursts of wild laughter, not merriment but excitement, accompanied by yells as the streams grew fiercer, a loud chorus of Kabadar! Sharbaz! ('Caution!' 'Well done!') was yelled to encourage the horses, and the boom and hiss of the Shayok made a wild accompaniment. Gyalpo, for whose legs of steel I longed, frolicked as usual, making mirthful lunges at his leader when the pair halted. Hassan Khan, in the deepest branch, shakily said to me, 'I not afraid, Mem Sahib.' During the hour spent in crossing the eight branches, I thought that the risk had been exaggerated, and that giddiness was the chief peril.

But when we halted, cold and dripping, on the shingle bank of the main stream I changed my mind. A deep, fierce, swirling rapid, with a calmer depth below its farther bank, and fully a quarter of a mile wide, was yet to be crossed. The business was serious. All the chupas went up and down, sounding, long before they found a possible passage. All loads were raised higher, the men roped their soaked clothing on their shoulders, water was dashed repeatedly at our faces, girths were tightened, and then, with shouts and yells, the whole caravan plunged into deep water, strong, and almost ice-cold. Half an hour was spent in that devious ford, without any apparent progress, for in the dizzy swirl the horses simply seemed treading the water backwards. Louder grew the yells as the torrent raged more hoarsely, the chorus of kabadar grew frantic, the water was up to the men's armpits and the seat of my saddle, my horse tottered and swerved several times, the nearing shore presented an abrupt bank underscooped by the stream. There was a deeper plunge, an encouraging shout, and Mr. Redslob's strong horse leapt the bank. The gopas encouraged mine; he made a desperate effort, but fell short and rolled over backwards into the Shayok with his rider under him. A struggle, a moment of suffocation, and I was extricated by strong arms, to be knocked down again by the rush of the water, to be again dragged up and hauled and hoisted up the crumbling bank. I escaped with a broken rib and some severe bruises, but the horse was drowned. Mr. Redslob, who had thought that my life could not be saved, and the Tibetans were so distressed by the accident that I made very light of it, and only took one day of rest. The following morning some men and animals were carried away, and afterwards the ford was impassable for a fortnight. Such risks are among the amenities of the great trade route from India into Central Asia!

The Lower Nubra valley is wilder and narrower than the Upper, its apricot orchards more luxuriant, its wolf-haunted hippophae and tamarisk thickets more dense. Its villages are always close to ravines, the mouths of which are filled with chod-tens, manis, prayer-wheels, and religious buildings. Access to them is usually up the stony beds of streams over-arched by apricots. The camping- grounds are apricot orchards. The apricot foliage is rich, and the fruit small but delicious. The largest fruit tree I saw measured nine feet six inches in girth six feet from the ground. Strangers are welcome to eat as much of the fruit as they please, provided that they return the stones to the proprietor. It is true that Nubra exports dried apricots, and the women were splitting and drying the fruit on every house roof, but the special raison d'etre of the tree is the clear, white, fragrant, and highly illuminating oil made from the kernels by the simple process of crushing them between two stones. In every gonpo temple a silver bowl holding from four to six gallons is replenished annually with this almond-scented oil for the ever-burning light before the shrine of Buddha. It is used for lamps, and very largely in cookery. Children, instead of being washed, are rubbed daily with it, and on being weaned at the age of

Among the Tibetans - 6/13

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