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- Himalayan Journals V2. - 5/94 -

(Lachen-Lachoong) is materially different from what it is lower down; becoming a boisterous torrent, as suddenly as the Tambur does above Mywa Guola. Its bed is narrower, large masses of rock impede its course, nor is there any place where it is practicable for rafts at any season; the only means of passing it being by cane bridges that are thrown across, high above the stream.

The slope on either side of the valley is very steep; that on the north, in particular, appearing too precipitous for any road, and being only frequented by honey seekers, who scale the rocks by cane ladders, and thus reach the pendulous bees'-nests, which are so large as in some instances to be conspicuous features at the distance of a mile. This pursuit appeared extremely perilous, the long thread-like canes in many places affording the only footing, over many yards of cliff: the procuring of this honey, however, is the only means by which many of the idle poor raise the rent which they must pay to the Rajah.

The most prominent effect of the steepness of the valleys is the prevalence of land-slips, which sometimes descend for 3000 feet, carrying devastation along their course: they are caused either by the melting of the snow-beds on the mountains, or by the action of the rains on the stratified rocks, and are much increased in effect and violence by the heavy timber-trees which, swaying forwards, loosen the earth at their roots, and give impetus to the mass. This phenomenon is as frequent and destructive as in Switzerland, where, however, more lives are lost; from the country being more populous, and from the people recklessly building in places particularly exposed to such accidents. A most destructive one had, however, occurred here the previous year, by which a village was destroyed, together with twelve of its inhabitants, and all the cattle. The fragments of rock precipitated are sometimes of enormous size, but being a soft mica-schist, are soon removed by weathering. It is in the rainy season that landslips are most frequent, and shortly after rain they are pretty sure to be heard far or near. I crossed the debris of the great one alluded to, on the first march beyond Singtam: the whole face of the mountain appeared more or less torn up for fully a mile, presenting a confused mass of white micaceous clay, full of angular masses of rock. The path was very difficult and dangerous, being carried along the steep slope, at an angle, in some places, of 35 degrees; and it was constantly shifting, from the continued downward sliding, and from the action of streams, some of which are large, and cut deep channels. In one I had the misfortune to lose my only sheep, which was carried away by the torrent. These streams were crossed by means of sticks and ricketty bamboos, and the steep sides (sometimes twenty or thirty feet high), were ascended by notched poles.

The weather continued very hot for the elevation (4000 to 5000 feet), the rain brought no coolness, and for the greater part of the three marches between Singtam and Chakoong, we were either wading through deep mud, or climbing over rocks. Leeches swarmed in incredible profusion in the streams and damp grass, and among the bushes: they got into my hair, hung on my eyelids, and crawled up my legs and down my back. I repeatedly took upwards of a hundred from my legs, where the small ones used to collect in clusters on the instep: the sores which they produced were not healed for five months afterwards, and I retain the scars to the present day. Snuff and tobacco leaves are the best antidote, but when marching in the rain, it is impossible to apply this simple remedy to any advantage. The best plan I found to be rolling the leaves over the feet, inside the stockings, and powdering the legs with snuf.

Another pest is a small midge, or sand-fly, which causes intolerable itching, and subsequent irritation, and is in this respect the most insufferable torment in Sikkim; the minutest rent in one's clothes is detected by the acute senses of this insatiable bloodsucker, which is itself so small as to be barely visible without a microscope. We daily arrived at our camping-ground, streaming with blood, and mottled with the bites of peepsas, gnats, midges, and mosquitos, besides being infested with ticks.

As the rains advanced, insects seemed to be called into existence in countless swarms; large and small moths, cockchafers, glow-worms, and cockroaches, made my tent a Noah's ark by night, when the candle was burning; together with winged ants, May-flies, flying earwigs, and many beetles, while a very large species of _Tipula_ (daddy-long-legs) swept its long legs across my face as I wrote my journal, or plotted off my map. After retiring to rest and putting out the light, they gradually departed, except a few which could not find the way out, and remained to disturb my slumbers.

Chakoong is a remarkable spot in the bottom of the valley, at an angle of the Lachen-Lachoong, which here receives an affluent from Gnarem, a mountain 17,557 feet high, on the Chola range to the east.* [This is called Black Rock in Col. Waugh's map. I doubt Gnarem being a generally known name: the people hardly recognise the mountain as sufficiently conspicuous to bear a name.] There is no village, but some grass huts used by travellers, which are built close to the river on a very broad flat, fringed with alder, hornbeam, and birch: the elevation is 4,400 feet, and many European genera not found about Dorjiling, and belonging to the temperate Himalaya, grow intermixed with tropical plants that are found no further north. The birch, willow, alder, and walnut grow side by side with wild plantain, _Erythrina, Wallichia_ palm, and gigantic bamboos: the _Cedrela Toona,_ figs, _Melastoma, Scitamineae,_ balsams, _Pothos,_ peppers, and gigantic climbing vines, grow mixed with brambles, speedwell, _Paris,_ forget-me-not, and nettles that sting like poisoned arrows. The wild English strawberry is common, but bears a tasteless fruit: its inferiority is however counterbalanced by the abundance of a grateful yellow raspberry. Parasitical Orchids (_Dendrobium nobile,_ and _densiflorum,_ etc.), cover the trunks of oaks, while _Thalictrum_ and _Geranium_ grow under their shade. _Monotropa_ and _Balanophora,_ both parasites on the roots of trees (the one a native of north Europe and the other of a tropical climate), push their leafless stems and heads of flowers through the soil together: and lastly, tree-ferns grow associated with the _Pteris aquilina_ (brake) and _Lycopodium clavatum_ of our British moors; and amongst mosses, the superb Himalayan _Lyellia crispa,_* [This is one of the most remarkable mosses in the Himalaya mountains, and derives additional interest from having been named after the late Charles Lyell, Esq., of Kinnordy, the father of the most eminent geologist of the present day.] with the English _Funaria hygrometrica._

The dense jungles of Chakoong completely cover the beautiful flat terraces of stratified sand and gravel, which rise in three shelves to 150 feet above the river, and whose edges appear as sharply cut as if the latter had but lately retired from them. They are continuous with a line of quartzy cliffs, covered with scarlet rhododendrons, and in the holes of which a conglomerate of pebbles is found, 150 feet above the river. Everywhere immense boulders are scattered about, some of which are sixty yards long: their surfaces are water-worn into hollows, proving the river to have cut through nearly 300 feet of deposit, which once floored its valley. Lower down the valley, and fully 2000 feet above the river, I had passed numerous angular blocks resting on gentle slopes where no landslips could possibly have deposited them; and which I therefore refer to ancient glacial action: one of these, near the village of Niong, was nearly square, eighty feet long, and ten high.

It is a remarkable fact, that this hot, damp gorge is never malarious; this is attributable to the coolness of the river, and to the water on the flats not stagnating; for at Choongtam, a march further north, and 1500 feet higher, fevers and ague prevail in summer on similar flats, but which have been cleared of jungle, and are therefore exposed to the sun.

I had had constant headache for several mornings on waking, which I did not fail to attribute to coming fever, or to the unhealthiness of the climate; till I accidentally found it to arise from the wormwood, upon a thick couch of the cut branches of which I was accustomed to sleep, and which in dry weather produced no such effects.* [This wormwood (_Artemisia Indaca_) is one of the most common Sikkim plants at 2000 to 6000 feet elevation, and grows twelve feet high: it is a favourite food of goats.]

From Chakoong to Choongtam the route lay northwards, following the course of the river, or crossing steep spurs of vertical strata of mica-schist, that dip into the valley, and leave no space between their perpendicular sides and the furious torrent. Immense landslips seamed the steep mountain flanks; and we crossed with precipitation one that extended fully 4000 feet (and perhaps much more) up a mountain 12,000 feet high, on the east bank: it moves every year, and the mud and rocks shot down by it were strewn with the green leaves and twigs of shrubs, some of the flowers on which were yet fresh and bright, while others were crushed: these were mixed with gigantic trunks of pines, with ragged bark and scored timbers. The talus which had lately been poured into the valley formed a gently sloping bank, twenty feet high, over which the Lachen- Lachoong rolled, from a pool above, caused by the damming up of its waters. On either side of the pool were cultivated terraces of stratified sand and pebbles, fifty feet high, whose alder-fringed banks, joined by an elegant cane bridge, were reflected in the placid water; forming a little spot of singular quiet and beauty, that contrasted with the savage grandeur of the surrounding mountains, and the headstrong course of the foaming torrent below, amid whose deafening roar it was impossible to speak and be heard.


The mountain of Choongtam is about 10,000 feet high; it divides the Lachen from the Lachoong river, and terminates a lofty range that runs for twenty-two miles south from the lofty mountain of Kinchinjhow. Its south exposed face is bare of trees, except clumps of pines towards the top, and is very steep, grassy, and rocky, without water. It is hence quite unlike the forest-clad mountains further south, and indicates a drier and more sunny climate. The scenery much resembles that of Switzerland, and of the north-west Himalaya, especially in the great contrast between the southern and northern exposures, the latter being always clothed with a dense vegetation. At the foot of this very steep mountain is a broad triangular flat, 5,270 feet above the sea, and 300 feet above the river, to which it descends by three level cultivated shelves. The village, consisting of a temple and twenty houses, is placed on the slope of the hill. I camped on the flat in May, before it became very swampy, close to some great blocks of gneiss, of which many lie on its surface: it was covered with tufts of sedge (like _Carex stellulata_), and fringed with scarlet rhododendron, walnut, _Andromeda, E1aeagnus_ (now bearing pleasant acid fruit), and small trees of a _Photinia,_ a plant allied to hawthorn, of the leaves of which the natives make tea (as they do of _Gualtheria, Andromeda, Vaccinium,_ and other allied plants). Rice, cultivated* [Choongtam is in position and products analogous to Lelyp, on the Tambur (vol. i, Chapter IX). Rice cultivation advances thus high up each valley, and at either place Bhoteeas replace the natives of the lower valleys.] in pools surrounded by low banks, was just peeping above ground; and scanty crops of millet, maize, and buckwheat flourished on the slopes around.

The inhabitants of Choongtam are of Tibetan origin; few of them had

Himalayan Journals V2. - 5/94

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