CLIMATE AND NATURAL FEATURES
The last chapter left me with the chief and elders of the Chang-pas starting on 'a round of visits,' and it was not till nightfall that the solemn ceremony was concluded. Each of the fifty tents was visited: at every one a huge, savage Tibetan mastiff made an attempt to fly at me, and was pounced upon and held down by a woman little bigger than himself, and in each cheese and milk were offered and refused. In all I received a hearty welcome for the sake of the 'great father,' Mr. Redslob, who designated these people as 'the simplest and kindliest people on earth.'
This Chang-pa tribe, numbering five hundred souls, makes four moves in the year, dividing in summer, and uniting in a valley very free from snow in the winter. They are an exclusively pastoral people, and possess large herds of yaks and ponies and immense flocks of sheep and goats, the latter almost entirely the beautiful 'shawl goat,' from the undergrowth at the base of the long hair of which the fine Kashmir shawls are made. This pashm is a provision which Nature makes against the intense cold of these altitudes, and grows on yaks, sheep, and dogs, as well as on most of the wild animals. The sheep is the big, hornless, flop-eared huniya. The yaks and sheep are the load carriers of Rupchu. Small or easily divided merchandise is carried by sheep, and bulkier goods by yaks, and the Chang-pas make a great deal of money by carrying for the Lahul, Central Ladak, and Rudok merchants, their sheep travelling as far as Gar in Chinese Tibet. They are paid in grain as well as coin, their own country producing no farinaceous food. They have only two uses for silver money. With part of their gains they pay the tribute to Kashmir, and they melt the rest, and work it into rude personal ornaments. According to an old arrangement between Lhassa and Leh, they carry brick tea free for the Lhassa merchants. They are Buddhists, and practise polyandry, but their young men do not become lamas, and owing to the scarcity of fuel, instead of burning their dead, they expose them with religious rites face upwards in desolate places, to be made away with by the birds of the air. All their tents have a god-shelf, on which are placed small images and sacred emblems. They dress as the Ladakis, except that the men wear shoes with very high turned-up points, and that the women, in addition to the perak, the usual ornament, place on the top of the head a large silver coronet with three tassels. In physiognomy they resemble the Ladakis, but the Mongolian type is purer, the eyes are more oblique, and the eyelids have a greater droop, the chins project more, and the mouths are handsomer. Many of the men, including the headman, were quite good-looking, but the upper lips of the women were apt to be 'tucked up,' displaying very square teeth, as we have shown in the preceding chapter.
The roofs of the Tsala tents are nearly flat, and the middle has an opening six inches wide along its whole length. An excavation from twelve to twenty-four inches deep is made in the soil, and a rude wall of stones, about one foot high, is built round it, over which the tent cloth, made in narrow widths of yak's or goat's hair, is extended by ropes led over forked sticks. There is no ridge pole, and the centre is supported on short poles, to the projecting tops of which prayer flags and yaks' tails are attached. The interior, though dark, is not too dark for weaving, and each tent has its loom, for the Chang-pas not only weave their coarse woollen clothing and hair cloth for saddlebags and tents, but rugs of wool dyed in rich colours made from native roots. The largest tent was twenty feet by fifteen, but the majority measured only fourteen feet by eight and ten feet. The height in no case exceeded six feet. In these much ventilated and scarcely warmed shelters these hardy nomads brave the tremendous winds and winter rigours of their climate at altitudes varying from 13,000 to 14,500 feet. Water freezes every night of the year, and continually there are differences in temperature of 100° between noon and midnight. In addition to the fifty dwelling tents there was one considerably larger, in which the people store their wool and goat's hair till the time arrives for taking them to market. The floor of several of the tents was covered with rugs, and besides looms and confused heaps of what looked like rubbish, there were tea-churns, goatskin churns, sheep and goat skins, children's bows and arrows, cooking pots, and heaps of the furze root, which is used as fuel.
They expended much of this scarce commodity upon me in their hospitality, and kept up a bonfire all night. They mounted their wiry ponies and performed feats of horsemanship, in one of which all the animals threw themselves on their hind legs in a circle when a man in the centre clapped his hands; and they crowded my tent to see my sketches, and were not satisfied till I executed some daubs professing to represent some of the elders. The excitement of their first visit from a European woman lasted late into the night, and when they at last retired they persisted in placing a guard of honour round my tent.
In the morning there was ice on the pools, and the snow lay three inches deep. Savage life had returned to its usual monotony, and the care of flocks and herds. In the early afternoon the chief and many of the men accompanied us across the ford, and we parted with mutual expressions of good will. The march was through broad gravelly valleys, among 'monstrous protuberances' of red and yellow gravel, elevated by their height alone to the dignity of mountains. Hail came on, and Gyalpo showed his high breeding by facing it when the other animals 'turned tail' and huddled together, and a storm of heavy sleet of some hours' duration burst upon us just as we reached the dismal camping-ground of Rukchen, guarded by mountain giants which now and then showed glimpses of their white skirts through the dark driving mists. That was the only 'weather' in four months.
A large caravan from the heat and sunshine of Amritsar was there. The goods were stacked under goat's hair shelters, the mules were huddled together without food, and their shivering Panjābi drivers, muffled in blankets which only left one eye exposed, were grubbing up furze roots wherewith to make smoky fires. My baggage, which had arrived previously, was lying soaking in the sleet, while the wretched servants were trying to pitch the tent in the high wind. They had slept out in the snow the night before, and were mentally as well as physically benumbed. Their misery had a comic side to it, and as the temperature made me feel specially well, I enjoyed bestirring myself and terrified Mando, who was feebly 'fadding' with a rag, by giving Gyalpo a vigorous rub-down with a bath-towel. Hassan Khan, with chattering teeth and severe neuralgia, muffled in my 'fisherman's hood' under his turban, was trying to do his work with his unfailing pluck. Mando was shedding futile tears over wet furze which would not light, the small wet corrie was dotted over with the Amritsar men sheltering under rocks and nursing hopeless fires, and fifty mules and horses, with dejected heads and dripping tails, and their backs to the merciless wind, were attempting to pick some food from scanty herbage already nibbled to the root. My tent was a picture of grotesque discomfort. The big stones had not been picked out from the gravel, the bed stood in puddles, the thick horse blanket was draining over the one chair, the servant's spare clothing and stores were on the table, the yaks' loads of wet hay and the soaked grain sack filled up most of the space; a wet candle sputtered and went out, wet clothes dripped from the tent hook, and every now and then Hassan Khan looked in with one eye, gasping out, 'Mem Sahib, I can no light the fire!' Perseverance succeeds eventually, and cups of a strong stimulant made of Burroughes and Wellcome's vigorous 'valoid' tincture of ginger and hot water, revived the men all round. Such was its good but innocent effect, that early the next morning Hassan came into my tent with two eyes, and convulsed with laughter. 'The pony men' and Mando, he said, were crying, and the coolie from Leh, who before the storm had wanted to go the whole way to Simla, after refusing his supper had sobbed all night under the 'flys' of my tent, while I was sleeping soundly. Afterwards I harangued them, and told them I would let them go, and help them back; I could not take such poor-spirited miserable creatures with me, and I would keep the Tartars who had accompanied me from Tsala. On this they protested, and said, with a significant gesture, I might cut their throats if they cried any more, and begged me to try them again; and as we had no more bad weather, there was no more trouble.
The marches which followed were along valleys, plains, and mountain-sides of gravel, destitute of herbage, except a shrivelled artemisia, and on one occasion the baggage animals were forty hours without food. Fresh water was usually very scarce, and on the Lingti plains was only obtainable by scooping it up from the holes left by the feet of animals. Insect life was rare, and except grey doves, the 'dove of the valleys,' which often flew before us for miles down the ravines, no birds were to be seen. On the other hand, there were numerous herds of kyang, which in the early mornings came to drink of the water by which the camps were pitched. By looking through a crevice of my tent I saw them distinctly, without alarming them. In one herd I counted forty. They kept together in families, sire, dam, and foal. The animal certainly is under fourteen hands, and resembles a mule rather than a horse or ass. The noise, which I had several opportunities of hearing, is more like a neigh than a bray, but lacks completeness. The creature is light brown, almost fawn colour, fading into white under his body, and he has a dark stripe on his back, but not a cross. His ears are long, and his tail is like that of a mule. He trots and gallops, and when alarmed gallops fast, but as he is not worth hunting, he has not a great dread of humanity, and families of kyang frequently grazed within two hundred and fifty yards of us. He is about as untamable as the zebra, and with his family affectionateness leads apparently a very happy life.
On the Kwangchu plateau, at an elevation of 15,000 feet, I met with a form of life which has a great interest of its own, sheep caravans, numbering among them 7,000 sheep, each animal with its wool on, and equipped with a neat packsaddle and two leather or hair-cloth bags, and loaded with from twenty-five to thirty-two pounds of salt or borax. These, and many more which we passed, were carrying their loads to Patseo, a mountain valley in Lahul, where they are met by traders from Northern British India. The sheep are shorn, and the wool and loads are exchanged for wheat and a few other commodities, with which they return to Tibet, the whole journey taking from nine months to a year. As the sheep live by grazing the scanty herbage on the march, they never accomplish more than ten miles a day, and as they often become footsore, halts of several days are frequently required. Sheep, dead or dying, with the birds of prey picking out their eyes, were often met with. Ordinarily these caravans are led by a man, followed by a large goat much bedecked and wearing a large bell. Each driver has charge of one hundred sheep. These men, of small stature but very thickset, with their wide smooth faces, loose clothing of sheepskin with the wool outside, with their long coarse hair flying in the wind, and their uncouth shouts in a barbarous tongue, are much like savages. They sing wild chants as they picket their sheep in long double lines at night, and with their savage mastiffs sleep unsheltered under the frosty skies under the lee of their piled-up saddlebags. On three nights I camped beside their caravans, and walked round their orderly lines of sheep and their neat walls of saddlebags; and, far from showing any discourtesy or rude curiosity, they held down their fierce dogs and exhibited their ingenious mode of tethering their animals, and not one of the many articles which my servants were in the habit of leaving outside the tents was on any occasion abstracted. The dogs, however, were less honest than their masters, and on one night ran away with half a sheep, and I should have fared poorly had not Mr.— shot some grey doves.
Marches across sandy and gravelly valleys, and along arid mountain-sides spotted with a creeping furze and cushions of a yellow-green moss which seems able to exist without moisture, fords of the Sumgyal and Tserap rivers, and the crossing of the Lachalang Pass at an altitude of 17,500 feet in severe frost, occupied several uneventful days. Of the three lofty passes on this route, the Toglang, which is higher, and the Baralacha, which is lower, are featureless billows of gravel, over which a carriage might easily be driven. Not so is the Lachalang, though its well-made zigzags are easy for laden animals. The approach to it is fantastic, among precipitous mountains of red sandstone, and red rocks weathered into pillars, men's heads, and numerous groups of gossipy old women from thirty to fifty feet high, in flat hats and long circular cloaks! Entering by red gates of rock into a region of gigantic mountains, and following up a crystal torrent, the valley narrowing to a gorge, and the gorge to a chasm guarded by nearly perpendicular needles of rock flaming in the westering sun, we forded the river at the chasm's throat, and camped on a velvety green lawn just large enough for a few tents, absolutely walled in by abrupt mountains 18,000 and 19,000 feet in height. Long after the twilight settled down on us, the pinnacles above glowed in warm sunshine, and the following morning, when it was only dawn below, and the still river pools were frozen and the grass was white with hoar-frost, the morning sun reddened the snow-peaks and kindled into vermilion the red needles of Lachalang. That camping-ground under such conditions is the grandest and most romantic spot of the whole journey.
Verdureless and waterless stretches, in crossing which our poor animals were two nights without food, brought us to the glacier-blue waters of the Serchu, tumbling along in a deep broad gash, and farther on to a lateral torrent which is the boundary between Rupchu, tributary to Kashmir, and Lahul or British Tibet, under the rule of the Empress of India. The tents were ready pitched in a grassy hollow by the river; horses, cows, and goats were grazing near them, and a number of men were preparing food. A Tibetan approached me, accompanied by a creature in a nondescript dress speaking Hindustani volubly. On a band across his breast were the British crown, and a plate with the words 'Commissioner's chaprassie, Kulu district.' I never felt so extinguished. Liberty seemed lost, and the romance of the desert to have died out in one moment! At the camping-ground I found rows of salaaming Lahulis drawn up, and Hassan Khan in a state which was a compound of pomposity and jubilant excitement. The tahsildar (really the Tibetan honorary magistrate), he said, had received instructions from the Lieutenant-Governor of the Panjāb that I was on the way to Kylang, and was to 'want for nothing.' So twenty-four men, nine horses, a flock of goats, and two cows had been waiting for me for three days in the Serchu valley. I wrote a polite note to the magistrate, and sent all back except the chaprassie, the cows, and the cowherd, my servants looking much crestfallen.
We crossed the Baralacha Pass in wind and snow showers into a climate in which moisture began to be obvious. At short distances along the pass, which extends for many miles, there are rude semicircular walls, three feet high, all turned in one direction, in the shelter of which travellers crouch to escape from the strong cutting wind. My men suffered far more than on the two higher passes, and it was difficult to dislodge them from these shelters, where they lay groaning, gasping, and suffering from vertigo and nose-bleeding. The cold was so severe that I walked over the loftiest part of the pass, and for the first time felt slight effects of the ladug. At a height of 15,000 feet, in the midst of general desolation, grew, in the shelter of rocks, poppies (Mecanopsis aculeata), blue as the Tibetan skies, their centres filled with a cluster of golden-yellow stamens,—a most charming sight. Ten or twelve of these exquisite blossoms grow on one stalk, and stalk, leaf, and seed-vessels are guarded by very stiff thorns. Lower down flowers abounded, and at the camping-ground of Patseo (12,000 feet), where the Tibetan sheep caravans exchange their wool, salt, and borax for grain, the ground was covered with soft greensward, and real rain fell. Seen from the Baralacha Pass are vast snowfields, glaciers, and avalanche slopes. This barrier, and the Rotang, farther south, close this trade route practically for seven months of the year, for they catch the monsoon rains, which at that altitude are snows from fifteen to thirty feet deep; while on the other side of the Baralacha and throughout Rupchu and Ladak the snowfall is insignificant. So late as August, when I crossed, there were four perfect snow bridges over the Bhaga, and snowfields thirty-six feet deep along its margin. At Patseo the tahsildar, with a retinue and animals laden with fodder, came to pay his respects to me, and invited me to his house, three days' journey. These were the first human beings we had seen for three days.
A few miles south of the Baralacha Pass some birch trees appeared on a slope, the first natural growth of timber that I had seen since crossing the Zoji La. Lower down there were a few more, then stunted specimens of the pencil cedar, and the mountains began to show a shade of green on their lower slopes. Butterflies appeared also, and a vulture, a grand bird on the wing, hovered ominously over us for some miles, and was succeeded by an equally ominous raven. On the excellent bridle-track cut on the face of the precipices which overhang the Bhaga, there is in nine miles only one spot in which it is possible to pitch a five-foot tent, and at Darcha, the first hamlet in Lahul, the only camping-ground is on the house roofs. There the Chang-pas and their yaks and horses who had served me pleasantly and faithfully from Tsala left me, and returned to the freedom of their desert life. At Kolang, the next hamlet, where the thunder of the Bhaga was almost intolerable, Hara Chang, the magistrate, one of the thakurs or feudal proprietors of Lahul, with his son and nephew and a large retinue, called on me; and the next morning Mr. — and I went by invitation to visit him in his castle, a magnificently situated building on a rocky spur 1,000 feet above the camping-ground, attained by a difficult climb, and nearly on a level with the glittering glaciers and ice-falls on the other side of the Bhaga. It only differs from Leh and Stok castles in having blue glass in some of the smaller windows. In the family temple, in addition to the usual life-size images of Buddha and the Triad, there was a female divinity, carved at Jallandhur in India, copied from a statue representing Queen Victoria in her younger days—a very fitting possession for the highest government official in Lahul. The thakur, Hara Chang, is wealthy and a rigid Buddhist, and uses his very considerable influence against the work of the Moravian missionaries in the valley. The rude path down to the bridle-road, through fields of barley and buckwheat, is bordered by roses, gooseberries, and masses of wild flowers.
Gonpo at Kylang
The later marches after reaching Darcha are grand beyond all description. The track, scaffolded or blasted out of the rock at a height of from 1,000 to 3,000 feet above the thundering Bhaga, is scarcely a rifle-shot from the mountain mass dividing it from the Chandra, a mass covered with nearly unbroken ice and snowfields, out of which rise pinnacles of naked rock 21,000 and 22,000 feet in altitude. The region is the 'abode of snow,' and glaciers of great size fill up every depression. Humidity, vegetation, and beauty reappear together, wild flowers and ferns abound, and pencil cedars in clumps rise above the artificial plantations of the valley. Wheat ripens at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Picturesque villages, surrounded by orchards, adorn the mountain spurs; chod-tens and gonpos, with white walls and fluttering flags, brighten the scene; feudal castles crown the heights, and where the mountains are loftiest, the snowfields and glaciers most imposing, and the greenery densest, the village of Kylang, the most important in Lahul as the centre of trade, government, and Christian missions, hangs on ledges of the mountain-side 1,000 feet above Bhaga, whose furious course can be traced far down the valley by flashes of sunlit foam.
The Lahul valley, which is a part of British Tibet, has an altitude of 10,000 feet. It prospers under British rule, its population has increased, Hindu merchants have settled in Kylang, the route through Lahul to Central Asia is finding increasing favour with the Panjābi traders, and the Moravian missionaries, by a bolder system of irrigation and the provision of storage for water, have largely increased the quantity of arable land. The Lahulis are chiefly Tibetans, but Hinduism is largely mixed up with Buddhism in the lower villages. All the gonpos, however, have been restored and enlarged during the last twenty years. In winter the snow lies fifteen feet deep, and for four or five months, owing to the perils of the Rotang Pass, the valley rarely has any communication with the outer world.
At the foot of the village of Kylang, which is built in tier above tier of houses up the steep side of a mountain with a height of 21,000 feet, are the Moravian mission buildings, long, low, whitewashed erections, of the simplest possible construction, the design and much of the actual erection being the work of these capable Germans. The large building, which has a deep verandah, the only place in which exercise can be taken in the winter, contains the native church, three rooms for each missionary, and two guest-rooms. Round the garden are the printing rooms, the medicine and store room (stores arriving once in two years), and another guest-room. Round an adjacent enclosure are the houses occupied in winter by the Christians when they come down with their sheep and cattle from the hill farms. All is absolutely plain, and as absolutely clean and trim. The guest-rooms and one or two of the Tibetan rooms are papered with engravings from the Illustrated London News, but the rooms of the missionaries are only whitewashed, and by their extreme bareness reminded me of those of very poor pastors in the Fatherland. A garden, brilliant with zinnias, dianthus, and petunias, all of immense size, and planted with European trees, is an oasis, and in it I camped for some weeks under a willow tree, covered, as many are, with a sweet secretion so abundant as to drop on the roof of the tent, and which the people collect and use as honey.
The mission party consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Shreve, lately arrived, and now in a distant exile at Poo, and Mr. and Mrs. Heyde, who had been in Tibet for nearly forty years, chiefly spent at Kylang, without going home. 'Plain living and high thinking' were the rule. Books and periodicals were numerous, and were read and assimilated. The culture was simply wonderful, and the acquaintance with the latest ideas in theology and natural science, the latest political and social developments, and the latest conceptions in European art, would have led me to suppose that these admirable people had only just left Europe. Mrs. Heyde had no servant, and in the long winters, when household and mission work are over for the day, and there are no mails to write for, she pursues her tailoring and other needlework, while her husband reads aloud till midnight. At the time of my visit (September) busy preparations for the winter were being made. Every day the wood piles grew. Hay, cut with sickles on the steep hillsides, was carried on human backs into the farmyard, apples were cored and dried in the sun, cucumbers were pickled, vinegar was made, potatoes were stored, and meat was killed and salted.
It is in winter, when the Christians have come down from the mountain, that most of the mission work is done. Mrs. Heyde has a school of forty girls, mostly Buddhists. The teaching is simple and practical, and includes the knitting of socks, of which from four to five hundred pairs are turned out each winter, and find a ready sale. The converts meet for instruction and discussion twice daily, and there is daily worship. The mission press is kept actively employed in printing the parts of the Bible which have been translated during the summer, as well as simple tracts written or translated by Mr. Heyde. No converts are better instructed, and like those of Leh they seem of good quality, and are industrious and self-supporting. Winter work is severe, as ponies, cattle, and sheep must always be hand-fed, and often hand-watered. Mr. Heyde has great repute as a doctor, and in summer people travel long distances for his advice and medicine. He is universally respected, and his judgment in worldly affairs is highly thought of; but if one were to judge merely by apparent results, the devoted labour of nearly forty years and complete self-sacrifice for the good of Kylang must be pronounced unsuccessful. Christianity has been most strongly opposed by men of influence, and converts have been exposed to persecution and loss. The abbot of the Kylang monastery lately said to Mr. Heyde, 'Your Christian teaching has given Buddhism a resurrection.' The actual words used were, 'When you came here people were quite indifferent about their religion, but since it has been attacked they have become zealous, and now they know.' It is only by sharing their circumstances of isolation, and by getting glimpses of their everyday-life and work, that one can realise at all what the heroic perseverance and self-sacrificing toil of these forty years have been, and what is the weighty influence on the people and on the standard of morals, even though the number of converts is so small. All honour to these noble German missionaries, learned, genial, cultured, radiant, who, whether teaching, preaching, farming, gardening, printing, or doctoring, are always and everywhere 'living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men!' Close by the mission house, in a green spot under shady trees, is God's Acre, where many children of the mission families sleep, and a few adults.
As the winter is the busiest season in mission work, so it is the great time in which the lamas make house-to-house peregrinations and attend at festivals. Then also there is much spinning and weaving by both sexes, and tobogganing and other games, and much drinking of chang by priests and people. The cattle remain out till nearly Christmas, and are then taken into the houses. At the time of the variable new year, the lamas and nuns retire to the monasteries, and dulness reigns in the valleys. At the end of a month they emerge, life and noise begin, and all men to whom sons have been born during the previous year give chang freely. During the festival which follows, all these jubilant fathers go out of the village as a gaudily dressed procession, and form a circle round a picture of a yak, painted by the lamas, which is used as a target to be shot at with bows and arrows, and it is believed that the man who hits it in the centre will be blessed with a son in the coming year. After this, all the Kylang men and women collect in one house by annual rotation, and sing and drink immense quantities of chang till 10 p.m.
The religious festivals begin soon after. One, the worshipping of the lamas by the laity, occurs in every village, and lasts from two to three days. It consists chiefly of music and dancing, while the lamas sit in rows, swilling chang and arrack. At another, which is celebrated annually in every house, the lamas assemble, and in front of certain gods prepare a number of mystical figures made of dough, which are hung up and are worshipped by the family. Afterwards the lamas make little balls which are worshipped, and one of the family mounts the roof and invites the neighbours, who receive the balls from the lamas' hands and drink moderately of chang. Next, the figures are thrown to the demons as a propitiatory offering, amidst 'hellish whistlings' and the firing of guns. These ceremonies are called ise drup (a full life), and it is believed that if they were neglected life would be cut short.
One of the most important of the winter religious duties of the lamas is the reading of the sacred classics under the roof of each householder. By this means the family accumulate merit, and the longer the reading is protracted the greater is the accumulation. A twelve-volume book is taken in the houses of the richer householders, each one of the twelve or fifteen lamas taking a page, all reading at an immense pace in a loud chant at the same time. The reading of these volumes, which consist of Buddhist metaphysics and philosophy, takes five days, and while reading each lama has his chang cup constantly replenished. In the poorer households a classic of but one volume is taken, to lessen the expense of feeding the lamas. Festivals and ceremonies follow each other closely until March, when archery practice begins, and in April and May the people prepare for the operations of husbandry.
The weather in Kylang breaks in the middle of September, but so fascinating were the beauties and sublimity of Nature, and the virtues and culture of my Moravian friends, that, shutting my eyes to the possible perils of the Rotang, I remained until the harvest was brought home with joy and revelry, and the flush of autumn faded, and the first snows of winter gave an added majesty to the glorious valley. Then, reluctantly folding my tent, and taking the same faithful fellows who brought my baggage from Leh, I spent five weeks on the descent to the Panjāb, journeying through the paradise of Upper Kulu and the interesting native states of Mandi, Sukket, Bilaspur, and Bhaghat, and early in November reached the amenities and restraints of the civilisation of Simla.