In the Forbidden Land/Chapter LXVIII
- Washing-day—A long march—Kiang and antelope—Benighted—The purchase of a goat—Ramifications of the Brahmaputra—A détour—Through a swamp—Mansing again lost and found.
THE next was for us a great washing-day. The water of the stream was so pleasant and clear that we could not resist the temptation of having a regular cleaning up, washing first our clothing and spreading it to dry in the sun, and then cleansing our faces and bodies thoroughly with soap, a luxury unknown to us for ever so long.
While I was drying myself in the sun—owing to the want of towels—I registered at 211° (b.m.) a very high snowy peak, and a lower one at 213° 30' forming part of the chain before us. There were mountains on every side of the plain we were traversing; and another very elevated peak, of which I had taken bearings on a previous occasion, was at 20° (b.m.). A break occurred in the hill range to our North-east, showing a narrow valley, beyond which were high snowy mountains. We made a very long march along the grassy plain, going to 147° (b.m.), and encamped on the bank of the Brahmaputra, here already a wide, deep and very rapid stream. We had passed hundreds of kiang and antelopes, and shortly before sunset I took a walk to the hills to try and bring some fresh meat to camp. I stalked a herd of antelopes, and having gone some five miles from camp, I was benighted, and on my return had the greatest difficulty in finding my men in the darkness. They had been unable to light a fire, and as they had both gone fast asleep, I received no answer to my calls. We had selected a sheltered depression in the ground for our camp, and there being hundreds of similar spots everywhere round it, and no landmarks to go by, it was by no means easy to identify the exact place.
Fortunately, at last, after I had shouted for some considerable time, Chanden Sing heard me, and, by the sound of his voice, I found my way back. In the morning we noticed a large encampment about a mile off on the opposite bank of the Brahmaputra, where we might have obtained provisions, but the stream was too rapid for us to cross; moreover, we saw black tents in every direction on our side of the water, and therefore there was no reason to go to the extra trouble and danger of crossing the stream.
Much to our delight, we succeeded in purchasing a goat from some passing Tibetans, who drove before them a flock of several thousand heads, and, as we could not find sufficient dry fuel to make a fire, we entrusted Mansing with the safe-conduct of the animal to our next camp, where we proposed to feast on it.
The Brahmaputra had here several ramifications mostly ending in lakelets, and rendering the plain a regular swamp. The larger branch was very wide and deep, and we preferred following it to crossing it, notwithstanding that we had to deviate somewhat from the course which I would have otherwise followed. We thus made a considerable détour, but even as it was, for several miles we sank in mud up to our knees, or waded through water, for although there were small patches of earth with tufts of grass which rose above the water, they collapsed on our attempting to stand upon them.
The whole of the Northern part of the plain was extremely marshy. Our yaks gave us no end of trouble, for when they sank unexpectedly in soft mud-holes, they became restless and alarmed, and in their struggles to save themselves, once or twice shook off their pack-saddles and loads, which we had not been able to fasten properly for want of ropes. Chanden Sing and I, however, managed to keep up with them, and at last, on nearing the hills, the ground showed greater undulations and was rather drier. We saw columns of smoke rising from near the foot of the range to the North of us. We went on another couple of miles, exhausted and dirty, our clothes, which we had spent so much soap and time in washing, filthy with splashes of mud.
"Where are Mansing and the rabbu?" I asked of my bearer.
"He remained behind at the beginning of the swamp. He was too exhausted to drag along the goat you purchased."
I was much concerned, on scouting the country all round from a hillock with my telescope, to see no signs of the poor fellow, and I was angry with myself for not noticing his disappearance before. As there were many Tibetans about the spot where he had remained, I feared foul play on their part, and that he might have been overpowered. Again I imagined that, weak as he was, he might have been sucked down in one of the deeper mud-holes, without a chance of saving himself. I left Chanden Sing to look after the yaks and turned back in search of him. As I hurried back mile after mile, struggling again half across the mud swamp, and yet saw no signs of the poor coolie, I was almost giving up my quest in despair, when my eye caught something moving about half a mile farther on. It was the goat all by itself. I made for it with a sinking heart.
It was only on getting quite close to it that I perceived the poor coolie, lying flat and half sunk in the mud. He had fallen in a faint, and though he was still breathing, he was quite insensible. Fortunately he had taken the precaution of tying the rope of the rabbu tight round his arm, and thus not only was it owing to the animal that I had found his whereabouts, but I had also saved our precious acquisition. With some rubbing and shaking I brought the poor fellow back to life, and supported him by the arm until we rejoined Chanden Sing. Not till the middle of the night did we reach Tarbar, a large Tibetan encampment at the foot of the hill range.
- The Tibetans have three distinct kinds of goats: the rabbu, or large woolly animal, such as the one I had purchased; the ratton, or small goat; and the chitbu, a dwarf goat whose flesh is delicious eating. The rabbu and ratton are the two kinds generally used for carrying loads, and they have sufficient strength to bear a weight not exceeding 40 lbs. for a distance of from five to eight miles daily over fairly good ground.