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- Himalayan Journals V2. - 6/94 -


seen an Englishman before, and they flocked out, displaying the most eager curiosity: the Lama and Phipun (or superior officer) of the Lachoong valley came to pay their respects with a troop of followers, and there was lolling out of tongues, and scratching of ears, at every sentence spoken, and every object of admiration. This extraordinary Tibetan salute at first puzzled me excessively, nor was it until reading MM. Huc and Gabet's travels on my return to England, that I knew of its being the _ton_ at Lhassa, and in all civilised parts of Tibet.

As the valley was under the Singtam Soubah's authority, I experienced a good deal of opposition; and the Lama urged the wrath of the gods against my proceeding. This argument, I said, had been disposed of the previous year, and I was fortunate in recognising one of my Changachelling friends, who set forth my kindly offices to the Lamas of that convent, and the friendship borne me by its monks, and by those of Pemiongchi. Many other modes of dissuading me were attempted, but with Meepo's assistance I succeeded in gaining my point. The difficulty and delays in remittance of food, caused by the landslips having destroyed the road, had reduced our provisions to a very low ebb; and it became not only impossible to proceed, but necessary to replenish my stores on the spot. At first provisions enough were brought to myself, for the Rajah had issued orders for my being cared for, and having some practice among the villagers in treating rheumatism and goitres, I had the power of supplying my own larder; but I found it impossible to buy food for my people. At last, the real state of the case came out; that the Rajah having gone to Choombi, his usual summer-quarters in Tibet, the Dewan had issued orders that no food should be sold or given to my people, and that no roads were to be repaired during my stay in the country; thus cutting off my supplies from Dorjiling, and, in short, attempting to starve me out. At this juncture, Meepo received a letter from the Durbar purporting to be from the Rajah, commanding my immediate return, on the grounds that I had been long enough in the country for my objects: it was not addressed to me, and I refused to receive it as an official communication; following up my refusal by telling Meepo that if he thought his orders required it, he had better leave me and return to the Rajah, as I should not stir without directions from Dr. Campbell, except forwards. He remained, however, and said he had written to the Rajah, urging him to issue stringent orders for my party being provisioned.

We were reduced to a very short allowance before the long-expected supplies came, by which time our necessities had almost conquered my resolution not to take by force of the abundance I might see around, however well I might afterwards pay. It is but fair to state that the improvident villagers throughout Sikkim are extremely poor in vegetable food at this season, when the winter store is consumed, and the crops are still green. They are consequently obliged to purchase rice from the lower valleys, which, owing to the difficulties of transport, is very dear; and to obtain it they barter wool, blankets, musk, and Tibetan produce of all kinds. Still they had cattle, which they would willingly have sold to me, but for the Dewan's orders.

There is a great difference between the vegetation of Dorjiling and that of similar elevations near Choongtam situated far within the Himalaya: this is owing to the steepness and dryness of the latter locality, where there is an absence of dense forest, which is replaced by a number of social grasses clothing the mountain sides, many new and beautiful kinds of rhododendrons, and a variety of European genera,* [_Deutzia, Saxifraga caliata, Thalictrum, Euphorbia,_ yellow violet, _Labiatae, Androsace, Leguminosae, Coriaria, Delphinium,_ currant, _Umbelliferae,_ primrose, _Anemone, Convallaria, Roscoea, Mitella, Herminium, Drosera.] which (as I have elsewhere noticed) are either wholly absent from the damper ranges of Dorjiling, or found there several thousand feet higher up. On the hill above Choongtam village, I gathered, at 5000 to 6000 feet, _Rhododendron arboreum_ and _Dalhousiae,_ which do not generally grow at Dorjiling below 7,500 feet.* [I collected here ten kinds of rhododendron, which, however, are not the social plants that they become at greater elevations. Still, in the delicacy and beauty of their flowers, four of them, perhaps, excel any others; they are, _R. Aucklandii,_ whose flowers are five inches and a half in diameter; _R. Maddeni, R. Dalhousiae,_ and _R. Edgeworthii,_ all white-flowered bushes, of which the two first rise to the height of small trees.] The yew appears at 7000 feet, whilst, on the outer ranges (as on Tonglo), it is only found at 9,500 to 10,000 feet; and whereas on Tonglo it forms an immense tall tree, with long sparse branches and slender drooping twigs, growing amongst gigantic magnolias and oaks, at Choongtam it is small and rigid, and much resembling in appearance our churchyard yew.* [The yew spreads east from Kashmir to the Assam Himalaya and the Khasia mountains; and the Japan, Philippine Island, Mexican, and other North American yews, belong to the same widely-diffused species. In the Khasia (its most southern limit) it is found as low as 5000 feet above the sea-level.] At 8000 feet the _Abies Brunoniana_ is found; a tree quite unknown further south; but neither the larch nor the _Albies Smithiana_ (Khutrow) accompanied it, they being confined to still more northern regions.

I have seldom had occasion to allude to snakes, which are rare and shy in most parts of the Himalaya; I, however, found an extremely venomous one at Choongtam; a small black viper, a variety of the cobra di capello,* [Dr. Gray, to whom I am indebted for the following information, assures me that this reptile is not specifically distinct from the common Cobra of India; though all the mountain specimens of it which he has examined retain the same small size and dark colour. Of the other Sikkim reptiles which I procured seven are _Colubridae_ and innocuous; five _Crotalidae_ are venomous, three of which are new species belonging to the genera _Parias_ and _Trimesurus._ Lizards are not abundant, but I found at Choongtam a highly curious one, _Plestiodon Sikkimensis,_ Gray; a kind of Skink, whose only allies are two North American congeners; and a species of _Agama_ (a chameleon-like lizard) which in many important points more resembled an allied American genus than an Asiatic one. The common immense earth-worm of Sikkim, _Ichthyophis glutinosus,_ is a native of the Khasia mountains, Singapore, Ceylon and Java. It is a most remarkable fact, that whereas seven out of the twelve Sikkim snakes are poisonous, the sixteen species I procured in the Khasia mountains are innocuous.] which it replaces in the drier grassy parts of the interior of Sikkim, the large cobra not inhabiting in the mountain regions. Altogether I only collected about twelve species in Sikkim, seven of which are venomous, and all are dreaded by the Lepchas. An enormous hornet (_Vespa magnifica,_ Sm.), nearly two inches long, was here brought to me alive in a cleft-stick, lolling out its great thorn-like sting, from which drops of a milky poison distilled: its sting is said to produce fatal fevers in men and cattle, which may very well be the case, judging from that of a smaller kind, which left great pain in my hand for two days, while a feeling of numbness remained in the arm for several weeks. It is called Vok by the Lepchas, a common name for any bee: its larvae are said to be greedily eaten, as are those of various allied insects.

Choongtam boasts a profusion of beautiful insects, amongst which the British swallow-tail butterfly (_Papilio Machaon_) disports itself in company with magnificent black, gold, and scarlet-winged butterflies, of the Trojan group, so typical of the Indian tropics. At night my tent was filled with small water-beetles (_Berosi_) that quickly put out the candle; and with lovely moths came huge cockchafers (_Encerris Griffithii_), and enormous and foetid flying-bugs (of the genus _Derecterix_), which bear great horns on the thorax. The irritation of mosquito and midge bites, and the disgusting insects that clung with spiny legs to the blankets of my tent and bed, were often as effectual in banishing sleep, as were my anxious thoughts regarding the future.

The temple at Choongtam is a poor wooden building, but contains some interesting drawings of Lhassa, with its extensive Lamaseries and temples; they convey the idea of a town, gleaming, like Moscow, with gilded and copper roofs; but on a nearer aspect it is found to consist of a mass of stone houses, and large religious edifices many stories high, the walls of which are regularly pierced with small square ornamented windows.* [MM. Huc and Gabet's account of Lhassa is, I do not doubt, excellent as to particulars; but the trees which they describe as magnificent, and girdling the city, have uniformly been represented to me as poor stunted willows, apricots, poplars, and walnuts, confined to the gardens of the rich. No doubt the impression left by these objects on the minds of travellers from tree-less Tartary, and of Sikkimites reared amidst stupendous forests, must be widely different. The information concerning Lhassa collected by Timkowski, "Travels of the Russian Mission to China" (in 1821) is greatly exaggerated, though containing much that is true and curious. The dyke to protect the city from inundations I never heard of; but there is a current story in Sikkim that Lhassa is built in a lake-bed, which was dried up by a miracle of the Lamas, and that in heavy rain the earth trembles, and the waters bubble through the soil: a Dorjiling rain-fall, I have been assured, would wash away the whole city. Ermann (Travels in Siberia, i., p. 186), mentions a town (Klinchi, near Perm), thus built over subterraneous springs, and in constant danger of being washed away. MM. Huc and Gabet allude to the same tradition under another form. They say that the natives of the banks of the Koko-nor affirm that the waters of that lake once occupied a subterranean position beneath Lhassa, and that the waters sapped the foundations of the temples as soon as they were built, till withdrawn by supernatural agency.]

There is nothing remarkable in the geology of Choongtam: the base of the hill consists of the clay and mica slates overlain by gneiss, generally dipping to the eastward; in the latter are granite veins, containing fine tourmalines. Actinolites are found in some highly metamorphic gneisses, brought by landslips from the neighbouring heights. The weather in May was cloudy and showery, but the rain which fell was far less in amount than that at Dorjiling: during the day the sun's power was great; but though it rose between five and six a.m., it never appeared above the lofty peaked mountains that girdle the valley till eight a.m. Dark pines crest the heights around, and landslips score their flanks with white seams below; while streaks of snow remain throughout the month at 9000 feet above; and everywhere silvery torrents leap down to the Lachen and Lachoong.

Illustration--JUNIPERUS RECURVA (height 30 feet).

CHAPTER XIX.

Routes from Choongtam to Tibet frontier -- Choice of that by the Lachen river -- Arrival of Supplies -- Departure -- Features of the valley -- Eatable _Polygonum_ -- Tumlong -- Cross Taktoong river -- Pines, larches, and other trees -- Chateng pool -- Water-plants and insects -- Tukcham mountain -- Lamteng village -- Inhabitants -- Alpine monkey -- Botany of temperate Himalaya -- European and American fauna -- Japanese and Malayan genera -- Superstitious objections to shooting -- Customs of people -- Rain -- Run short of provisions -- Altered position of Tibet frontier -- Zemu Samdong -- Imposition -- Vegetation -- Uses of pines -- Ascent to Thlonok river -- Balanophora wood for making cups -- Snow-beds -- Eatable mushrooms and _Smilacina_ -- Asarabacca -- View of Kinchinjunga -- Arum-roots, preparation of for food -- Liklo mountain -- Bebaviour of my party -- Bridge constructed over Zemu -- Cross river -- Alarm of my party -- Camp on Zemu river.


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