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- Himalayan Journals V2. - 10/94 -


black rocks and small glaciers, over which avalanches were constantly falling with a sullen roar, forbade all attempts to proceed. My object in ascending was chiefly to obtain views and compass- bearings, in which I was generally disappointed: once only I had a magnificent prospect of Kinchinjunga, sweeping down in one unbroken mass of glacier and ice, fully 14,000 feet high, to the head of the Thlonok river, whose upper valley appeared a broad bay of ice; doubtless forming one of the largest glaciers in the Himalaya, and increased by lateral feeders that flow into it from either flank of the valley. The south side of this (the Thlonok) valley is formed by a range from Kinchinjunga, running east to Tukcham, where it terminates: from it rises the beautiful mountain Liklo,* [D2 of the peaks laid down in Colonel Waugh's "Trigonometrical Survey from Dorjiling," I believe to be the "Liklo" of Dr. Campbell's itineraries from Dorjiling to Lhassa, compiled from the information of the traders (See "Bengal Asiatic Society's Journal" for 1848); the routes in which proved of the utmost value to me.] 22,582 feet high, which, from Dorjiling, appears as a sharp peak, but is here seen to be a jagged crest running north and south. On the north flank of the valley the mountains are more sloping and black, with patches of snow above 15,000 feet, but little anywhere else, except on another beautiful peak (alt. 19,240 feet) marked D3 on the map. This flank is also continuous from Kinchin; it divides Sikkim from Tibet, and runs north-east to the great mountain Chomiomo (which was not visible), the streams from its north flank flowing into the Arun river (in Tibet). A beautiful blue arch of sky spanned all this range, indicating the dry Tibetan climate beyond.

I made two futile attempts to ascend the Thlonok river to the great glaciers at the foot of Kinchinjunga, following the south bank, and hoping to find a crossing-place, and so to proceed north to Tibet. The fall of the river is not great at this part of its course, nor up to 12,000 feet, which was the greatest height I could attain, and about eight miles beyond my tents; above that point, at the base of Liklo, the bed of the valley widens, and the rhododendron shrubbery was quite impervious, while the sides of the mountain were inaccessible. We crossed extensive snow-beds, by cutting holes in their steep faces, and rounded rocks in the bed of the torrent, dragging one another through the violent current, whose temperature was below 40 degrees.

On these occasions, the energy of Meepo, Nimbo (the chief of the coolies) and the Lepcha boys, was quite remarkable, and they were as keenly anxious to reach the holy country of Tibet as I could possibly be. It was sometimes dark before we got back to our tents, tired, with torn clothes and cut feet and hands, returning to a miserable dinner of boiled herbs; but never did any of them complain, or express a wish to leave me. In the evenings and mornings they were always busy, changing my plants, and drying the papers over a sulky fire at my tent-door; and at night they slept, each wrapt in his own blanket, huddled together under a rock, with another blanket thrown over them all. Provisions reached us so seldom, and so reduced in quantity, that I could never allow more than one pound of rice to each man in a day, and frequently during this trying month they had not even that; and I eked out our meagre supply with a few ounces of preserved meats, occasionally "splicing the main brace" with weak rum and water.

At the highest point of the valley which I reached, water boiled at 191.3, indicating an elevation of 11,903 feet. The temperature at 1 p.m. was nearly 70 degrees, and of the wet bulb 55 degrees, indicating a dryness of 0.462, and dew point 47.0. Such phenomena of heat and dryness are rare and transient in the wet valleys of Sikkim, and show the influence here of the Tibetan climate.* [I gathered here, amongst an abundance of alpine species, all of European and arctic type, a curious trefoil, the _Parochetus communis,_ which ranges through 9000 feet of elevation on the Himalaya, and is also found in Java and Ceylon.]

After boiling my thermometer on these occasions, I generally made a little tea for the party; a refreshment to which they looked forward with child-like eagerness. The fairness with which these good-hearted people used to divide the scanty allowance, and afterwards the leaves, which are greatly relished, was an engaging trait in their simple character: I have still vividly before me their sleek swarthy faces and twinkling Tartar eyes, as they lay stretched on the ground in the sun, or crouched in the sleet and snow beneath some sheltering rock; each with his little polished wooden cup of tea, watching my notes and instruments with curious wonder, asking, "How high are we?" "How cold is it?" and comparing the results with those of other stations, with much interest and intelligence.

On the 11th June, my active people completed a most ingenious bridge of branches of trees, bound by withes of willow; by which I crossed to the north bank, where I camped on an immense flat terrace at the junction of the rivers, and about fifty feet above their bed. The first step or ascent from the river is about five feet high, and formed of water-worn boulders, pebbles, and sand, scarcely stratified: the second, fully 1000 yards broad, is ten feet high, and swampy. The uppermost is fifteen feet above the second, and is covered with gigantic boulders, and vast rotting trunks of fallen pines, buried in an impenetrable jungle of dwarf small-leaved holly and rhododendrons. The surface was composed of a rich vegetable mould, which, where clear of forest, supported a rank herbage, six to eight feet high.* [This consisted of grasses, sedges, _Bupleurum,_ rhubarb, _Ranunculus, Convallaria, Smilacina,_ nettles, thistles, _Arum,_ balsams, and the superb yellow _Meconopsis Nepalensis,_ whose racemes of golden poppy-like flowers were as broad as the palm of the hand; it grows three and even six feet high, and resembles a small hollyhock; whilst a stately _Heracleum,_ ten feet high, towered over all. Forests of silver fir, with junipers and larch, girdled these flats and on their edges grew rhododendrons, scarlet _Spiraea,_ several honeysuckles, white _Clematis,_ and _Viburnum._ Ferns are much scarcer in the pine-woods than elsewhere in the forest regions of the Himalaya. In this valley (alt. 10,850 feet), I found only two kinds; _Hymenophyllum, Lomaria, Cystopteris, Davallia,_ two _Polypodia,_ and several _Aspidia_ and _Asplenia. Selaginella_ ascends to Zemu Samdong (9000 feet). The _Pteris aquilina_ (brake) does not ascend above 10,000 feet.]

Our first discovery, after crossing, was of a good bridge across the Zemu, above its junction, and of a path leading down to Zemu Samdong; this was, however, scarcely traceable up either stream. My men were better housed here in sheds: and I made several more ineffectual attempts to ascend the valley to the glaciers. The path, gradually vanishing, ran alternately through fir-woods, and over open grassy spots, covered with vegetation, amongst which the gigantic arum was plentiful, whose roots seemed to be the only attraction in this wet and miserable valley.

On my return one day, I found my people in great alarm, the Phipun having sent word that we were on the Tibet side of the rivers, and that Tibetan troops were coming to plunder my goods, and carry my men into slavery. I assured them he only wanted to frighten them; that the Cheen soldiers were civil orderly people; and that as long as Meepo was with us, there was no cause for fear. Fortunately a young musk-deer soon afterwards broke cover close to the tent, and its flesh wonderfully restored their courage: still I was constantly harassed by threats; some of my people were suffering from cold and bowel complaints, and I from rheumatism; while one fine lad, who came from Dorjiling, was delirious with a violent fever, contracted in the lower valleys, which sadly dispirited my party.

Having been successful in finding a path, I took my tent and a few active lads 1000 feet up the Zemu, camping on a high rock above the forest region, at 12,070 feet; hoping thence to penetrate northwards. I left my collections in the interim at the junction of the rivers, where the sheds and an abundance of firewood were great advantages for preserving the specimens. At this elevation we were quite free from midges and leeches (the latter had not appeared above 11,500 feet), but the weather continued so uniformly rainy and bad, that we could make no progress. I repeatedly followed the river for several miles, ascending to 13,300 feet; but though its valley widened, and its current was less rapid, the rhododendron thickets below, and the cliffs above, defeated all endeavours to reach the drier climate beyond, of which I had abundant evidence in the arch of brilliant blue that spanned the heavens to the north, beyond a black canopy of clouds that hid everything around, and poured down rain without one day's intermission, during the eight which I spent here.

Illustration--BLACH JUNIPER (height silty feet) AND YOUNG LARCH.

CHAPTER XX.

Camp on Zemu river -- Scenery -- Falling rocks -- Tukcham mountain -- Height of glaciers -- Botany -- Gigantic rhubarb -- Insects -- Storm -- Temperature of rivers -- Behaviour of Lachen Phipun -- Hostile conduct of Bhoteeas -- View from mountains above camp -- Descend to Zemu Samdong -- Vegetation -- Letters from Dorjiling -- Arrival of Singtam Soubah -- Presents from Rajah -- Parties collecting Arum-roots -- Insects -- Ascend Lachen river -- Thakya-zong -- Tallum Samdong village -- Cottages -- Mountains -- Plants -- Entomology -- Weather -- Halo -- Diseases -- Conduct of Singtam Soubah -- His character and illness -- Agrees to take me to Kongra Lama -- Tungu -- Appearance of country -- Houses -- Poisoning by arum-roots -- Yaks and calves -- Tibet ponies -- Journey to Kongra Lama -- Tibetan tents -- Butter, curds, and churns -- Hospitality -- Kinchinjhow and Chomiomo -- Magnificent Scenery -- Reach Kongra Lama Pass.

My little tent was pitched in a commanding situation, on a rock fifty feet above the Zemu, overlooking the course of that river to its junction with the Thlonok. The descent of the Zenlu in one thousand feet is more precipitous than that of any other river of its size with which I am acquainted in Sikkim, yet immediately above my camp it was more tranquil than at any part of its course onwards to the plains of India, whether as the Zemu, Lachen or Teesta. On the west bank a fine mountain rose in steep ridges and shrubby banks to 15,000 feet; on the east a rugged cliff towered above the stream, and from this, huge masses of rock were ever and anon precipitated into the torrent, with a roar that repeatedly spread consternation amongst us. During rains especially, and at night, when the chilled atmospheric currents of air descend, and the sound is not dissipated as in the day-time, the noise of these falls is sufficiently alarming. My tent was pitched near the base of the cliff, and so high above the river, that I had thought it beyond the reach of danger; but one morning I found that a large fragment of granite had been hurled during the night to my very door, my dog having had a very narrow escape. To what depth the accumulation at the base of this cliff may reach, I had no means of judging, but the rapid slope of the river-bed is mainly due to this, and to old moraines at the mouth of the valley below. I have seen few finer sights than the fall of these stupendous blocks into the furious torrent, along which they are carried amid feathery foam for many yards before settling to rest.

Across the Thlonok to the southwards, rose the magnificent mountain of Tukcham, but I only once caught a glimpse of its summit, which even then clouded over before I could get my instruments adjusted for ascertaining its height. Its top is a sharp cone, surrounded by rocky shoulders, that rise from a mass of snow. Its eastern slope of 8000


Himalayan Journals V2. - 10/94

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