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- Himalayan Journals V2. - 4/94 -


the valleys I was traversing, and the many difficulties that beset my path, all crowded on the imagination when fevered by exertion and depressed by gloomy weather, and my spirits involuntarily sank as I counted the many miles and months intervening between me and my home.

The little flat on which I had formerly encamped was now covered with a bright green crop of young rice. The house then occupied by the Dewan was now empty and unroofed; but the suspension bridge had been repaired, and its light framework of canes, spanning the boiling flood of the Teesta, formed a graceful object in this most beautiful landscape. The temperature of the river was 58 degrees, only 7 degrees above that of mid-winter, owing to the now melting snows. I had rather expected to meet either with a guide, or with some further obstruction here, but as none appeared, I proceeded onwards as soon as the weather moderated.

Illustration--PANDANUS. SIKKIM SCREW-PINE.

Higher up, the scenery resembles that of Tchintam on the Tambur: the banks are so steep as to allow of no road, and the path ascends from the river, at 1000 feet, to Lathiang village, at 4,800 feet, up a wild, rocky torrent that descends from Mainom to the Teesta. The cliffs here are covered with wild plantains and screw-pines (_Pandanus_), 50 feet high, that clasp the rocks with cable-like roots, and bear one or two crowns of drooping leaves, 5 feet long: two palms, Rattan (_Calamus_) and _Areca gracilis,_ penetrate thus far up the Teesta valley, but are scarcely found further.

From the village the view was superb, embracing the tropical gulley below, with the flat of Bhomsong deep down in the gorge, its bright rice-fields gleaming like emeralds amid the dark vegetation that surrounded it; the Teesta winding to the southward, the pine-clad rocky top of Mainom, 10,613 feet high, to the south-west, the cone of Mount Ararat far to the south, to the north black mountains tipped with snow, and to the east the magnificent snowy range of Chola, girdling the valley of the Ryott with a diadem of frosted silver. The coolies, each carrying upwards of 80 lb. load, had walked twelve hours that day, and besides descending 2000 feet, they had ascended nearly 4000 feet, and gone over innumerable ups and downs besides.

Beyond Lathiang, a steep and dangerous path runs along the east flank of Mainom, sometimes on narrow ledges of dry rock, covered with long grass, sometimes dipping into wooded gullies, full of _Edgeworthia Gardneri_ and small trees of Andromeda and rhododendron, covered with orchids* [Especially some species of _Sunipia_ and _Cirrhopetalum,_ whicb have not yet been introduced into England.] of great beauty.

Descending to Gorh (4,100 feet), I was met by the Lama of that district, a tall, disagreeable-looking fellow, who informed me that the road ahead was impassable. The day being spent, I was obliged to camp at any rate; after which he visited me in full canonicals, bringing me a handsome present, but assuring me that he had no authority to let me advance. I treated him with civility, and regretted my objects being so imperative, and my orders so clear, that I was obliged to proceed on the following morning: on which he abruptly decamped, as I suspected, in order to damage the paths and bridges. He came again at daylight, and expostulated further; but finding it of no use, he volunteered to accompany me, officiously offering me the choice of two roads. I asked for the coolest, knowing full well that it was useless to try and out-wit him in such matters. At the first stream the bridge was destroyed, but seeing the planks peeping through the bushes in which they had been concealed, I desired the Lama to repair it, which he did without hesitation. So it was at every point: the path was cumbered with limbs of trees, crossing-stones were removed from the streams, and all natural difficulties were increased. I kept constantly telling the Lama that as he had volunteered to show me the road, I felt sure he intended to remove all obstacles, and accordingly I put him to all the trouble I possibly could, which he took with a very indifferent grace. When I arrived at the swinging bridge across the Teesta, I found that the canes were loosened, and that slips of bamboo, so small as nearly to escape observation, were ingeniously placed low down over the single bamboo that formed the footing, intended to trip up the unwary passenger, and overturn him into the river, which was deep, and with a violent current. Whilst the Lama was cutting these, one of my party found a charcoal writing on a tree, announcing the speedy arrival from the Rajah of my old guide, Meepo; and he shortly afterwards appeared, with instructions to proceed with me, though not to the Tibetan frontier. The lateness of the season, the violence of the rains, and the fears, on the Rajah's part, that I might suffer from fever or accident, were all urged to induce me to return, or at least only to follow the west branch of the Teesta to Kinchinjunga. These reasons failing, I was threatened with Chinese interference on the frontier. All these objections I overruled, by refusing to recognise any instructions that were not officially communicated to the Superintendent of Dorjiling.

The Gorh Lama here took leave of me: he was a friend of the Dewan, and was rather surprised to find that the Rajah had sent me a guide, and now attempted to pass himself off as my friend, pompously charging Meepo with the care of me, and bidding me a very polite farewell. I could not help telling him civilly, but plainly, what I thought of him; and so we parted.

Meepo was very glad to join my party again: he is a thorough Lepcha in heart, a great friend of his Rajah and of Tchebu Lama, and one who both fears and hates the Dewan. He assured me of the Rajah's good wishes and intentions, but spoke with great doubt as to the probability of a successful issue to my journey: he was himself ignorant of the road, but had brought a guide, whose appearance, however, was against him, and who turned out to be sent as a spy on us both.

Instead of crossing the Teesta here, we kept on for two days up its west bank, to a cane bridge at Lingo, where the bed of the river is still only 2000 feet above the sea, though 45 miles distant from the plains, and flowing in a valley bounded by mountains 12,000 to 16,000 feet high. The heat was oppressive, from the closeness of the atmosphere, the great power of the sun, now high at noon-day, and the reflection from the rocks. Leeches began to swarm as the damp increased, and stinging flies of various kinds. My clothes were drenched with perspiration during five hours of every day, and the crystallising salt irritated the skin. On sitting down to rest, I was overcome with languor and sleep, and, but for the copious supply of fresh water everywhere, travelling would have been intolerable. The Coolies were all but naked, and were constantly plunging into the pools of the rivers; for, though filthy in their persons, they revel in cold water in summer. They are powerful swimmers, and will stem a very strong current, striking out with each arm alternately. It is an animated sight when twenty or thirty of these swarthy children of nature are disporting their muscular figures in the water, diving after large fish, and sometimes catching them by tickling them under the stones.

Of plants I found few not common at similar elevations below Dorjiling, except another kind of Tree-fern,* [_Alsophila spinulosa,_ the "Pugjik" of the Lepchas, who eat the soft watery pith: it is abundant in East Bengal and the Peninsula of India. The other Sikkim Tree-fern, _A. gigantea,_ is far more common from the level of the plains to 6,500 elevation, and is found as far south as Java.] whose pith is eaten in times of scarcity. The India-rubber fig penetrates thus far amongst the mountains, but is of small size. A Gentian, _Arenaria,_ and some sub-alpine plants are met with, though the elevation is only 2000 feet, and the whole climate thoroughly tropical: they were annuals usually found at 7000 to 10,000 feet elevation, and were growing here on mossy rocks, cooled by the spray of the river, whose temperature was only 56.3 degrees. My servant having severely sprained his wrist by a fall, the Lepchas wanted to apply a moxa, which they do by lighting a piece of puff-ball, or Nepal paper that burns like tinder, laying it on the skin, and blowing it till a large open sore is produced: they shook their heads at my treatment, which consisted in transferring some of the leeches from our persons to the inflamed part.

After crossing the Teesta by the cane bridge of Lingo, our route lay over a steep and lofty spur, round which the river makes a great sweep. On the ascent of this ridge we passed large villages on flats cultivated with buckwheat. The saddle is 5,500 feet high, and thence a rapid descent leads to the village of Singtam, which faces the north, and is 300 feet lower, and 3000 feet above the river, which is here no longer called the Teesta, but is known as the Lachen-Lachoong, from its double origin in the rivers of these names, which unite at Choongtam, twenty miles higher up. Of these, the source of the Lachen is in the Cholamoo lakes in Tibet; while the Lachoong rises on the south flank of Donkia mountain, both many marches north of my present position. At Singtam the Lacben-Lachoong runs westward, till joined by the Rihi from the north, and the Rinoong from the west, after receiving which it assumes the name of Teesta: of these affluents, the Rinoong is the largest, and drains the south-east face of Kinchinjunga and Pundim, and the north of Nursing: all which mountains are seen to the north-north-west of Singtam. The Rinoong valley is cultivated for several miles up, and has amongst others the village and Lamasery of Bah. Beyond this the view of black, rugged precipices with snowy mountains towering above them, is one of the finest in Sikkim. There is a pass in that direction, from Bah over the Tckonglah to the Thlonok valley, and thence to the province of Jigatzi in Tibet, but it is almost impracticable.

Illustration--VIEW OF KINCHINJUNGA FROM SINGTAM, LOOKING NORTH-WESTWARD.

A race of wild men, called "Harrum-mo," are said to inhabit the head of the valley, living in the woods of a district called Mund-po, beyond Bah; tbey shun habitations, speak an unintelligible tongue, have more hair on the face than Lepchas, and do not plait that of their heads, but wear it in a knot; they use the bow and arrow, and eat snakes and vermin, which the Lepchas will not touch. Such is the account I have heard, and which is certainly believed in Sikkim: similar stories are very current in half civilized countries; and if this has any truth, it possibly refers to the Chepangs,* [Hodgson, in "Bengal Asiatic Society's Journal" for 1848.] a very remarkable race, of doubtful affinity and origin, inhabiting the Nepal forests.

At Singtam I was waited on by the Soubah of the district, a tall portly Bhoteea, who was destined to prove a most active enemy to my pursuits. He governs the country between Gorh and the Tibet frontier, for the Maha-Raanee (wife of the Rajah), whose dowry it is; and she being the Dewan's relative, I had little assistance to expect from her agent. His conduct was very polite, and he brought me a handsome offering for myself; but after delaying me a day on the pretext of collecting food for my people, of which I was in want, I was obliged to move on with no addition to my store, and trust to obtaining some at the next village, or from Dorjiling. Owing, however, to the increasing distance, and the destruction of the roads by the rains, my supplies from that place were becoming irregular: I therefore thought it prudent to reduce my party, by sending back my guard of Sepoys, who could be of no further use.

From this point the upper portion of the course of the Teesta


Himalayan Journals V2. - 4/94

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