Sikhim and Bhutan/Chapter 15
MY FIRST MISSION TO BHUTAN—continued
From Tongsa-jong to Bya-gha, Lingzi, and Phari, Hospitality of the Tongsa and Tongsa’s sister at Bya-gha. Old monasteries near Bya-gha. Ancient traditions. Carvers and carpenters at the Champa Lhakhang Monastery. Regret at leaving Bya-gha. Lama dances. Farewell to Sir Ugyen. Reception at Tashi-cho-jong. Last interview with the Deb Raja. Ta-tshang lamas. Cheri Monastery. Magnificent scenery. Incorrect maps. Exposure of the dead to lammergeiers. View of Tibet from the Ling-shi Pass. Break-up of the Mission.
It was now time to move on again, and, accompanied by the Tongsa, we left next morning, ascending by a very steep path to the main road running above the upper fort. Thence our progress was comparatively easy to the top of the Yo-to-la (11,500 feet), and an equally easy road brought us to our camp at Gya-tsa (8740 feet), a distance of twelve miles. It was a very pretty march. The country had again changed, and we emerged from the confinement of narrow gorges into a series of broad valleys, the upper ones providing grazing for hundreds of yaks, the lower ones rich with barley, buckwheat, and mustard fields. Dotted about we noticed for the first time the temporary huts erected to shelter the cultivators during their stay in high elevations at the times of ploughing, sowing, and reaping; while lower down their substantial dwellings showed we were entering a better governed and more prcsperous district than those we had left behind. In the village of Gya-tsa itself there was a fine substantial rest-house for travellers, but more especially for the Tongsa monks, who journey to Bya-gha for two months every year. On a low spur, to the north-west, a prettily built house surrounded by trees was pointed out to me as the home of a powerful family who had plotted to murder the Tongsa. The plot was discovered in time, but Sir Ugyen, although he had narrowly escaped the fate of his uncle, was merciful, and merely banished the ringleaders to a more distant valley. Nemesis overtook them, however, as their leaders commenced a drunken quarrel with their neighbours and were killed, and their adherents dispersed. Dr. Griffiths says: “Fasia [as he calls Gya-tsa] is a good-sized village, comparatively clean, and the houses better than most I have seen.” He adds: “We were lodged in a sort of castle, consisting of a large building with a spacious flagged courtyard surrounded by rows of offices; the part we occupied fronted the entrance, and its superior pretensions were attested by its having an upper story.”
My camp was prettily arranged on a maidan half a mile beyond the village of Fasia, or Gya-tsa, and there I was met by the Bya-gha Jongpen, who was married to the Penlop’s sister.
It was difficult to select a mount next morning, owing to the large number of waiting mules, as not only were the Tongsa's animals there, but his sister and her son the Zimpon, whom I had seen at Tongsa, had also sent mules. Having made our selection, an easy and good road took us over a saddle on the Ki-ki-la (11,700 feet), and an equally easy descent brought us to an opening in the pine-forest, from whence we looked down on the broad vale of Bya-gha, through which the river Chamka-chhu flowed tranquilly. On the right bank was a large house and chapel, surrounded by trees just bursting into leaf, the home of Sir Ugyen’s sister, and close by the site of the old house in which he was born. On a bluff on the central ridge, some 500 feet up, was the castle, entirely rebuilt, though on a smaller scale, after the total destruction of the old one in 1897; while, to crown all, where the ridge widened out into broad glades edged with pine-forest, was the equally new summer house of our host. He had terraced and turfed the slope above the castle, and nothing could have been more picturesque than our camping-ground. The view everywhere, both up and down the valley, was lovely. Dr. Griffiths writes: “The country was very beautiful, particularly in the higher elevations”; and at this season, to add to the beauty, primulas, in flower in myriads, clothed whole glades in delicate violet, while above rhododendrons flamed in gorgeous scarlet. He adds: “We saw scarcely any villages, and but very little cultivation.” In direct contradiction to this, I noticed that whole hillsides were being cultivated up to at least 11,000 feet, and I was so struck by the difference that I made inquiries, and found that as recently as thirty years ago, when Sir Ugyen left the valley, a boy of twelve, there was nothing but jungle either here or on the slopes opposite. The land had only been brought into cultivation since the internecine quarrels had ceased some eighteen years ago. So much for stability of government; but even now poverty reigns, and the valley is only prosperous in comparison with more unlucky ones.
A short ride brought us into camp, where Sir Ugyen awaited us. As soon as we had settled down Sir Ugyen’s sister, his two daughters, and a daughter of the Thimbu Jongpen came to add their welcome. The younger ones were rather pretty, unaffected and merry girls, while the sister, although a grandmother, was full of good-nature and showed traces of good looks. They all wore the pretty and distinctive dress, which consists of a long piece of Bhutanese cloth, woven in coloured stripes, draped round the figure, and fastened on the shoulders and confined at the waist by a band of brighter Bhutanese cloth. They also wore many necklaces of large rough beads of coral, turquoise, and amber, and occasionally gold filigree beads and many bangles of gold and silver. Their hair was left unornamented, and either cut short or worn in two long plaits. The elder daughter brought her little son, to whom I gave a bottle of sweets, which pleased him just as much as it would a little Western boy, and his mother told me later that he ever after loved me for my gift.
This visit to Bya-gha, which lasted about ten or twelve days, was the most delightful part of our expedition, as we were received as honoured guests by Sir Ugyen in his private capacity; and, interesting and impressive as the ceremonial had been at Poonakha, these few days at Bya-gha gave us a much deeper insight into the life and customs of the Bhutanese, as our intercourse with our host was quite free and untrammelled. Very soon after our arrival Sir Ugyen took me all over his house. In the centre of an oblong courtyard rose a lofty square tower of many stories, the two highest, of ornamental timberwork, slightly projecting over the main walls, beautifully painted in different colours. On the south-east and north sides of the courtyard were two-storied buildings of the usual type. In the south-east corner were the Tongsa’s quarters, which did not differ in any material respect from the reception rooms we had seen elsewhere; on the north-east were his eldest daughter’s apartments; while between them, on the east front, occupying the whole width of the building, was a long, well-ventilated factory, where many girls were busy weaving silk and cotton fabrics, chiefly the former. The silk was in the main tussar, obtained from Assam and the northern hills. It was altogether a very charming and homelike dwelling, and evidently managed by an excellent and capable housewife in his eldest daughter, who lives with him and superintends his household.
On one occasion we breakfasted with him, and were offered several small dishes cooked in Chinese fashion in small cups, with the accompaniment of boiled rice, while in the centre of the table was a large dish of various kinds of meat. After breakfast I had to go and witness an archery contest. The distance between the butts was at least 150 yards, and the shooting was much better than what we saw at Poonakha and what Dr. Griffiths writes of. There were two teams, captained respectively by Ugyen Kazi and the Tongsa Donyer, and the former won.
Sir Ugyen took a good deal of trouble to find some books for me, from which I have gathered a fuller account of early Bhutanese history than we have had hitherto. His own story is a somewhat pathetic one. As a young man he married an exceedingly lovely girl, to whom he was devotedly attached, but after the birth of their second daughter she died very suddenly from some unknown cause. The shock was a terrible one to Sir Ugyen. He became seriously ill, and on his recovery withdrew from all gaiety, and found solace in reading and studying the history and legends of his country. As some of his followers described him, he was more than a lama. Sir Ugyen is the only Bhutanese I have come across who takes a real and intelligent interest in general subjects, both foreign and domestic, and he neither drinks nor indulges in other vices. He made a large collection of books, but unfortunately many of them were destroyed when the Dechen-phodang, near Tashi-cho-jong, was burnt down, while the earthquake of 1897, which destroyed all the principal buildings in Bhutan, ruined other archives. Paro alone escaped serious injury, but a few years later was burnt to the ground, and unfortunately the Penlop, who was a low-minded and ignorant man, could give no account of what it had contained that was of any value. I held many long private conversations with the Tongsa, and was deeply impressed by his sense of responsibility and genuine desire to improve the condition of his country and countrymen. I gave him what advice I could, and made an attempt to lay the foundation of a close friendship between him and the British Government, and only wish it had been possible to remain in my appointment long enough to see the results of my endeavours, but the time for my retirement came before any of the schemes we discussed had been even commenced.
It is much to be deplored that the proposals with respect to Bhutan made to the Government of India by Mr. Paul on the conclusion of the Sikhim Expedition in 1890 were not approved of. His suggestion that I should hold the appointment of Political Officer to Bhutan as well as Sikhim was a sound one, and had these schemes of improvement been discussed then, by this time they would have been in working order, to the great advantage of Bhutan. The loss during the last twenty years from the wholesale cutting of their forests along their boundary in the Duars alone amounts to many lacs.
The Tongsa’s sister was very anxious to entertain us in her own house, so we moved some of our camp near her dwelling on the banks of the river, where a pretty flat dotted with willows had been enclosed for us. To ornament our camping-ground, they had temporarily planted it with evergreen trees hung with various blossoms—one of the little things which showed how anxious they were to do all in their power to welcome us. Sir Ugyen, his sister, and two of her daughters—the third being away in a neighbouring monastery—welcomed us most cordially.
In the evening we inspected a new Jong in the process of being rebuilt to take the place of one which was entirely destroyed in the earthquake. The new one is of the usual type, but much smaller, and Sir Ugyen explained he had carefully rebuilt the foundations for the main tower, which consequently showed no cracks or signs of settlement, unlike that of Tashi-cho-jong, which had been carelessly rebuilt on the old foundations, with disastrous results. We also rode up the valley to inspect the very old Champa Lhakhang Monastery, which is being partly rebuilt by the Bya-gha Jongpen. It is a small monastery, and only interesting on account of its age.
Further up the valley, under a rocky bluff, we came to a double gompa. The larger one was built by Sir Ugyen some years ago, and contains a very large image of Guru Rimpochi, and is called Guru Lhakhang. Close alongside is the smaller one, called Kuje Lhakhang, built on the rock itself, which forms the back wall. On the rock inside the temple is the impression of Guru Rimpochi's back as he sat leaning against it, and also of his “bumpu,” or holy water bottle, which he happened to be holding up. Outside on the rock is a very fine Tsenden, or weeping cypress, which the legend relates was the Guru’s staff, which he had stuck in the earth, when it immediately took root and grows to this day.
On the way back we were shown the site of the Sindhu Raja’s house, now in ruins, situated on the edge of a high bluff overhanging the river. It appears to have been a square of sixty or seventy feet, and the wall apartments could not have been very wide, as there seems to have been an open space in the centre, unless this again was covered in by a floor above, in which case the building would have been an exact counterpart of the central towers we now find in every Jong. Surrounding the sides, on the level, was a well-defined ditch, with a continuation on the outer side leading to the river, and also a well-defined path. Tradition states there was also a gate at the opposite corner to the south. The Penlop has lent me a book of old stories in which there is a glowing description of the old house. On a low hill across the plain the spot was pointed out where the Raja’s son was killed fighting against the Naguchi Raja, who lived in the Duars, below Wandipore, and also seems to have reigned in or near the plains. The Guru Rimpochi had heard of the constant wars between the two chiefs, and had come expressly to bring about peace. On his arrival he found the Sindhu Raja prostrate with grief at the loss of his son, and comforting him, and nursing him back to health, he persuaded him to come to terms with his rival. Before his departure, however, he prophesied that in the near future his kingdom would vanish, and not a stone of his palace would remain standing, a prophecy which has been fulfilled. The Guru is said to have married, before his departure, a daughter of the Raja named Memo-Tashi Kyeden.
When we got back to the new house the Tongsa’s sister gave us an excellent lunch, but she would not sit down with us, contenting herself with a pretty speech, in which she said that, according to Bhutanese custom, some great personage would have been invited to the house-warming, but she was exceptionally fortunate and considered it a most auspicious omen that her brother’s two oldest friends, Mr. Paul and myself, should have accompanied him when he paid his first visit to her new house. Later on she, with her daughters and servants, dressed in old-fashioned Bhutanese dress, in order to let me take a few photographs, and in the evening, after dining with us, the Jongpen and the eldest daughter gave us some Bhutanese music, the former on the damnyan and the latter on the pyang. The younger son and the youngest daughter live at the new Chumik Gompa, where I rode to pay them a visit. The boy was the Avatar of the Thaling Monastery, and they were bright, pleasant young folk. The boy’s teacher and guardian, a Lopen of Mindoling, near Samye, was one of the most refined-looking lamas from Tibet that I have met. Next day I rode again to the Champa Lhakhang Monastery, to see the carpenters and carvers at work. The former use a square and a double-manned plane. Most of the carving tools are without handles. No iron is used, but all the pieces of timber are fitted together in the yard, and the necessary dowels made before they are carried away to the building.
Before leaving I gave a magic-lantern entertainment, which was highly appreciated, and later, at the sister’s special request, my escort came from Bya-gha and gave a military display, to their great enjoyment. We then wished our kind hosts good-bye with sincere regret, for we had thoroughly enjoyed the natural, open-hearted hospitality with which all at Wong-du-choling had entertained us, and in sultry weather we rode back to Bya-gha, where we again encamped preparatory to turning our faces homewards.
The Tongsa was to see me in the morning to arrange about sending off presents to His Excellency the Viceroy and other high officials, but sent word that he was not very well. He came later on in the day, looking a little out of sorts, and laughed the matter off by saying he had eaten too many green chillies, the first of the season.
With the approach of our departure Sir Ugyen, his sister, daughters, and two of his nieces, came to take a formal farewell, and brought with them many little parting gifts, and in the afternoon, at their special request, my escort gave another military display, ending with an attack and capture of an outlying village, which greatly amused the large crowd assembled to look on. After it was over the Tongsa’s sister and daughters insisted on my going to the fort to tea with them before they returned to Andu-choling that evening. As my stock of presents was running short, I asked them to accept some notes, which, being in halves, like so many Indian ones, I had neatly rolled up in a leather bag. These I heard later the ladies had distributed promiscuously among themselves, when luckily Ugyen Kazi came on the scene and tried to explain that half-notes were worthless. It was difficult to make them understand, and the knotty point was solved by the ladies saying to the Kazi, “Oh, brother! take them yourself and bring us silks from Calcutta.” I found Sir Ugyen’s sight was beginning to fail a little, and as my spectacles exactly suited him I was able to give him a spare pair.
With the morning the actual hour of our departure arrived, and we struck camp and commenced our real journey back. Sir Ugyen and his son-in-law left very early, intending to make one march to Tongsa, but we were accompanied by the other members of his family as far as the main ridge, where they all presented us with scarves and wished us good luck, saying how really sorry they were to bid us good-bye. I replied in similar terms, and could honestly say that all my party fully reciprocated their feelings of regret, for one and all had done their best, and had succeeded, in making our stay at Bya-gha and Andu-choling a very pleasant one.
We had a delightful ride and walk to our old camp at Gya-tsa, which is evidently a much colder place than Bya-gha; there the wheat was in full ear, here it was only a foot high. There was much more cultivation on the slopes with a north-eastern aspect than on those with a southern one. This is probably due to the former getting the morning sun, and also to being sheltered from the southerly winds that rage up the valleys. Quail abound in all the cornfields, and apparently breed in these valleys.
A fine morning turned into heavy mist as we reached the top of the Yo-to-la, and utterly spoilt our view of the Gya-tsa Valley and the hills opposite Tongsa. The yellow giant Sikhim primula was in magnificent bloom, some specimens having as many as six tiers of flowers.
On nearing the castle we were met by a bevy of songstresses, a custom peculiar to the place, as this is the only province of Bhutan in which women take part in ceremonial processions, though, according to Pemberton, the custom was much more widespread in his time. Sir Ugyen met us in camp with the information that the castle lamas were all ready and eager to finish the dances that on our previous visit had been stopped by rain, so after a hasty lunch I went on to the castle. The dance went off very well, with the dancers in gorgeous dresses of every imaginable colour, to the accompaniment of weird tomtoms and huge trumpets, flutes, and cymbals, which produce a strange and unusual but rather fascinating music of their own. But the most interesting objects to me were the masks, which, instead of being carved out of wood, as in Sikhim, were moulded from a papier-mâché of cloth and clay; and very well moulded they were, the heads of the various animals quite recognisable, and many with great character. The Tongsa was good enough, about this time, on learning I had become a grandfather, to make me a pretty speech, in which he hoped that as I had been a true and good friend to him and to Bhutan, my grandson would in his turn follow in my footsteps and be as good a friend to his grandson and to Bhutan, and thereupon the little chap was brought by his mother to offer his best wishes to his contemporary.
We now came in for a spell of terribly wet weather, which lasted for the next few days. I fancy Tongsa is a very wet place, and naturally Sir Ugyen’s family forsake it after the cold weather. In pouring rain we marched on to Tshang-kha, and a terrible march it was; the stone steps seemed interminable, and to lead in every direction but that which took us to our camp. Sir Ugyen had started before us, and was ready waiting when we eventually arrived with welcome refreshment. He had determined to see us as far as the boundary of his province at Pele-la, and agreed to be our guest on the way. He is always very keen to find outlets for his ryots’ superfluous food-stuffs, and on finding such things as Paysandu tongues and chutneys amongst our stores made many inquiries as to the best methods of preserving provisions. We had many long talks on Bhutanese affairs and new methods of government, about which he was always glad to converse and ready to ask for suggestions and improvements. After very heavy rain all night, it cleared about the time we started, so we had a very interesting, though rather slippery, ride to Chendenbi (7380 feet), about four miles nearer than Rokuhi, where we halted before, and a better distribution, as the former march from Tshang-kha to Rokuhi was too long. We rode through typical subtropical forests, until, suddenly rounding a spur, we emerged into open country and fir-trees. Opposite our camp at Chendenbi, on the other side of the river, there were cliffs of pure white crystalline limestone, which I should think was equal to the finest marble.
After dinner that evening Sir Ugyen made a speech, in which he expressed his deep regret that on the morrow we should have to part. He hoped sincerely he should meet Major Rennick and myself again, but feared that Mr. Paul would not be tempted out from England any more. In wishing him good-bye he trusted that in his far-distant home he would not forget him or Bhutan or the good seed he had planted and nourished for the last twenty years.
We reached the top of the Pele-la along a very pretty road, where a small yellow rose, clematis, wild pear, and rhododendrons of many colours were in wild profusion, while the meadows were clothed with blue and white anemones, yellow pansies, and countless primulas.
At the top of the pass we had lunch and were photographed, and then had reluctantly to part with our friend and kind host and his son-in-law. My escort, who had a genuine respect for Sir Ugyen, presented arms and gave him three cheers before turning down the hill. We exchanged scarves and good wishes, and then also followed the path down the hill. Sir Ugyen waved us a last salute as we turned the corner and went out of sight. I think he really felt our departure as much as I can honestly say I did, and I cannot help repeating myself and saying again that no host could have been more courteous, more hospitable, and more thoughtful of his guests than Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk, the Tongsa Penlop of Bhutan, was to us, the Mission sent by the Government of India to present him with the Insignia of a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire.
The rest of the march to our camping-place, Ridha, was very slippery, but the rain kept off till most of our tents were pitched, and next day we had a fair morning and lovely day, with only one heavy shower. It was a long march to Samtengang, but very beautiful, and each day brought its new flowers, a large white rose, a white and a mauve iris, both new to me; and the giant lily (Lilium gigantium) appeared for the first time. It was a tiresome march on to Angdu-phodang, over a road too narrow to ride, so walking was compulsory, and in the afternoon a hurricane arose and raged till nearly ten at night, when it began to drizzle.
I now determined to try a new route up the right bank of the Tsang-chhu or Mo-chhu-Pochu, and Teo-pa-raong-chhu. The river was in full flood, and, filling its bed from bank to bank, looked very fine. I did well in choosing this route, as the road was an excellent one, with a steady ascent from start to finish, and we rode the whole way to Lung-me-tsawe. There were lovely flowers in bloom everywhere, and on the way we passed the sites where formerly two iron suspension bridges had been; the remains of the chains were lying below the Jong. Two fords were also pointed out. I found the ascent of the Dokyong-la much less difficult than it appeared on our descent earlier in the journey, and I had some lovely views until we ran into mist on the top. Luckily I had one glimpse of Kulu-Kangri, a very fine peak of 24,740 feet. On the top of the pass I saw the first yew-trees I had come across in Bhutan. We found a deputation from the Thimbu Jongpen waiting for us, with mules to ride, and chang, tea, and murwa as refreshments, not only for ourselves, but for all our following. The descent to Simtoka was very easy, and the mist soon cleared off.
Just across the bridge below Simtoka the band and dancers belonging to the Thimbu received us, and played us into our camp, nearly three miles off, at Tashi-cho-jong, on the wide maidan about a mile from the palace. With our ridden mules and led mules in their gay trappings, monks on ponies, orderlies in bright uniforms, bands of musicians and dancers, and all the rest of our varied and motley following, we made a goodly procession. It was hot, and I wished I could have headed the procession after the regal manner of King David, with an umbrella to shelter me; and, to my great relief, when we reached the chorten above the aqueduct we found a large umbrella had been unfurled, and we rested awhile under it before making our final entry. The Thimbu offered us refreshments, and made the most polite inquiries after our healths, and hoped we had not had an excessively tiresome journey. I assured him that his arrangements had been so excellent we had not known what difficulties were, and to this he replied the Bhutanese did not easily make friends, but when they did no trouble was too great to make their guests feel comfortable and thoroughly at home.
We found our camp pitched on the left bank of the Thim-chhu, where a new wooden house had been erected, with a large room with windows away from the prevailing winds. Here the Thimbu was joined by the Zung Donyer and the Deb Zimpon. The table was decorated with fruit and some of the finest peonies I have ever seen, a cauldron of murwa was in the centre, and as soon as we were all seated the Thimbu’s chaplain intoned grace, in which the others joined; the murwa was then solemnly blessed, a little in a ladle was poured over my hands, and the sacred flag brought in for me to touch. Next a number of teapots were brought in, three at a time, each of the trio containing a different tea. These were sent by the various officials as their greeting, and when the donor’s name had been announced the tea was taken away to regale our followers. We spent some little time in conversation with our hosts before going to our tents at the conclusion of this quaint ceremony of welcome.
The following day we went early to the palace to bid the Deb Raja good-bye. His reception room was very large and airy, and the Deb himself was most cordial, and came forward to receive us, and stood talking till our own chairs were brought in. In the course of conversation the Deb again expressed his sincere gratitude to the Viceroy for having sent such friends to see him, and to us for coming, and trusted that relations between his little country and the Sirkar would always be intimate and friendly, as pure as a white scarf with no blot to mar its whiteness, as indissoluble as water and milk when intermixed, and that on his part no effort should be wanting to secure so happy a result, and should any one of us at any time return he could assure him of a hearty welcome. He asked me to send him a set of photographs of Lhasa and of Bhutan, and inquired if I had any of Buddh-Gaya, as he was anxious to possess some. He sat for his own photograph, and when refreshments had been served we were dismissed with the scarf of blessing, which he placed on our arms.
From there we adjourned to the Thimbu’s room, where he had a Bhutanese breakfast waiting for us, consisting principally of bowls of rice, omelettes, dishes of sausages, and pork in various forms. He too expressed his pleasure at our visit to his country, and wished our stay could be prolonged, and the least he could do was to accompany us as far as Hram, and in the meantime he asked us to gratify him by selecting anything in his hall that took our fancy.
At the conclusion of this civil speech we went to the separate court of the Ta-tshang lamas, where the Dorji-Lopon, or abbot, received us very cordially, and took us into the big hall I described on my journey up. Here we found a kind of pandemonium going on, but on closer examination discovered there were a number of dancing classes in progress, from the smallest acolytes shouting out the numbers of the little steps and arm-wavings they were being taught, to a grave collection of learned monks performing unmasked the gyrations that we had witnessed at Tongsa. When we came out we learnt that it was entirely against rules for any layman to intrude upon the monks when thus practising, and I apologised to the abbot for breaking rules through my ignorance, but he smilingly replied that “no rules applied to us, as he hoped we would consider ourselves as one with them.” When giving us scarves before leaving the gompa, the abbot, who was joined by the Lopens, trusted that now that we had found our way to their abode and become their friends we would make a point of some day returning, but that whatever fate might be in store for us and them, at least our present firm friendship might remain for ever unbroken and enduring. It was very pleasant to find the same cordial wishes and expressions of goodwill repeated by every one in turn, and to be made to feel so thoroughly that our visit was looked on in the light of a compliment to their country, and that everything was thrown open to us, instead of finding obstacles and difficulties in our way.
The history of the building of Poonakha I heard from the Thimbu Jongpen, who, when a boy, heard it from a very old woman. According to him, the old palace and fort stood on the ridge where the Dechen-phodang stands. The greater part of it having been burnt down, the Deb Zimpon, who had usurped all the power, determined to rebuild it on its present site, which was much more convenient for the supply of water. The valleys were thickly populated in those days, and the Deb collected so many people that the materials were passed from hand to hand the whole way from Dechen-phodang to Tashi-cho-jong, a distance of quite a mile. It is needless to say the labour was forced, and although the palace was said to have been completed in one year the Deb became very unpopular.
The Tibetans seem to have been very fond of raiding Bhutan, as the fort of Simtoka, close by, built by the first Shabdung, was soon after captured and burnt by them. In rebuilding it the architect utilised one of the original wood pillars which had only been singed as a memorial of the saint. It stands there to this day, its damaged surface covered with elaborate carving.
We broke up camp early in the morning, and for three or four miles our path lay through open ground similar in character to that below Tashi-cho-jong. We saw several monasteries, but only entered one, Pangri-sampi-gnatsa, which was beautifully situated in the midst of the valley, but contained nothing of much interest. Turning due north over a cliff, we came to an entirely different scene, the valley narrowing considerably, and being beautifully wooded and picturesque to a degree. Throughout the march ruined houses were in a majority, most evidently deserted years ago, as big trees had grown up in and around them, and this state of things was accounted for by the following story. The monastery of Dechenphuk, founded by one of the pioneers of Buddhism, lies in a beautiful side valley about three miles from Tashi-cho-jong. The monks belonging to the monastery refused to recognise the first Shabdung when he came to the valley, and consequently there was strife between them. The ryots naturally sided with their old masters, the monks of Dechenphuk, but in the end the Shabdung won the day, and by his magic art summoned a terrible demon to his aid, and the ryots died off, and no one dared to take their place. Such was the local legend, and whatever the truth of the story may be, disease or oppression or other calamity has played havoc with the valley. Just before arriving at our destination we saw the monastery of Tango perched up a side valley to our right, the home of the Tango Lama, who received us so hospitably on our journey in. The camp was on a small flat, close to the river and beneath a cliff, on which is perched the Cheri Monastery, dating back to the first Dharma Raja. After lunch, in time for which the Thimbu arrived, Paul and myself went up to the gompa; but it is terribly difficult of access. To get from the lower to the higher temple it is necessary to climb very narrow rough stone steps overhanging a sheer precipice, over a projecting crag, and down other steps to the platform of the temple, which is literally clinging to the cliff. It is in bad repair, and did not repay me for the trouble of getting there, as it contained nothing of interest.
It rained most of the afternoon, and to the damp and unhealthiness of this camping-ground and the very long and wet march through drizzling rain the following day I attributed the fever with which most of my followers went down. An hour and a half’s climbing up a steep and bad path brought us to a little glade called Aitok-keng, and we continued to climb till we came to an open side valley in which was situated the small fort of Barshong, close to which was our camping-ground. I had an attack of fever also by this time, and was glad to go dinnerless to bed as soon as the baggage came up. On the march that day both sides of the valley were thickly wooded, only the more precipitous rocks being bare. Geographically we had now left the middle third of Bhutan, and had entered the narrow gorge which leads upwards to the plains of Tibet. From the fort our path, which throughout proved to be quite good, led gently down to the bed of the stream, the Tchin-chhu, which, with a few occasional ups and downs, we hardly left. The thick vegetation of the previous day soon ceased, and we entered a gorge almost filled by the Tchin-chhu, and bordered by stupendous cliffs of most weird shapes, amongst which El Capitano of the Yosemite Valley would be dwarfed by the lowest of these monsters. These cliffs appeared to be formed by horizontal strata of sedimentary rocks, consisting of layers of limestone, sandstone, slate or shale of a dark blue colour, and quartzites. The towering rocks were cleft in numberless places from top to bottom, leaving narrow slits or fissures which I was told were often more than a mile long. One which I photographed extends for more than two miles before it opens out in a beautiful basin and forms one of the Thimbu’s best grazing-stations.
Through scenery like this we rode for ten miles, crossing the Tchin-chhu no less than six times. At length we left the main stream, turned to the right into an open valley devoid of trees but of great width, and, ascending gently for another two miles, reached our camp at Byaradingka, a wide maidan of the highland character so often met with. On the slopes to the west we saw several flocks of burhel, but failed to bag any. The hills here consist of dark shales, which run right up to the east foot of Chomolhari, and are very similar to those met with at Khamba-jong; while the same curious concretions are also to be found here. The only gneiss I saw was that brought down by the glaciers running from Chomolhari.
On a misty morning we rode quietly up the valley, and after an hour’s gradual ascent reached the Yakle-la (16,800 feet). The maps, I found, were completely wrong, as the pass is situated on the water-parting which separates the Thim-chhu from the Mo-chhu, the eastern slopes of Chomolhari thus draining into the Poonakha river. On the left of our path there lay a pretty dark green tarn, fed from a small snow-slope to the west of the pass, and from thence a somewhat steep descent brought us to the main stream of the Pim-nak-me-chhu, which joins the Mo-chhu near Ghassa. Following the valley for a few miles, we soon came in sight of Lingzi-jong on a hill apparently blocking the valley, but as we continued our march we discovered another ridge between us and Lingzi, round which we had to ride, ascending and descending for some way through lovely rhododendron scrub, of which at least eight different varieties were in flower. Crossing the stream, which, separates the two ridges, and which rises in some glaciers coming down from the east of Chomolhari, we again ascended the shoulder of the Lingzi spur, and, leaving the ruins of the fort on the top, found an excellent camping-ground close to a small stream. It was, on the whole, an easy march, as there was only a small quantity of snow on the north side of the pass. We saw several flocks of burhel, but could not get a shot, although my shikari was more successful and bagged two females, which were a useful addition to the supplies of my followers. We had some particularly fine views of the Chomolhari glaciers which feed the lower streams near Lingzi. We halted at Lingzi for a couple of days, and made an excursion down the valley to try and locate Ghassa, but did not succeed, as it was cloudy and drizzly weather and we could see no distance.
We also visited the ruins of Lingzi-jong, which must have once been an imposing and very strong citadel, much larger than I should have thought necessary, but the earthquake of 1897 has reduced it to a picturesque mass of ruined masonry. The Thimbu, becoming communicative, told me that the Tibetans were formerly inclined to be very aggressive, and as this was in reality a very vulnerable spot the Bhutanese had been obliged to maintain a large garrison both here and at Ghassa. When we reached Pheu-la he would, he said, prove his words by pointing out the ruins of a strong fort the Tibetans had built on the Bhutanese side of the pass during the former troubles with Tibet. “But now,” he added, “since we Bhutanese have openly thrown in our lot with the British, who have publicly recognised the services rendered against the Tibetans by the honour conferred on the Tongsa as representative of Bhutan, I shall rebuild the fort on a much smaller scale, just sufficiently strong to keep out cattle-lifters and suchlike. We now rely entirely on the good faith of the British Government to protect us against Tibet, should that nation try to revenge themselves on us.” This sentiment is very flattering to us, and I only hope it may never prove unfounded. He also made a very significant remark about the Tibetan indemnity. It was that the Tibetan officials had not the least objection to promising an indemnity, as if called upon to pay by our Government they would realise more than was necessary from the poor ryots, and so line their own pockets while quibbling with us about paying in full, and thus perhaps make a little over the transaction. In this camp we had some matches at stone quoit-pitching, and great sport over games with spear, or rather pointed stick quoits, at both of which the Bhutanese proved themselves adepts.
We made a leisurely start for our short march to Gangyul (13,600 feet), a little village in a narrow, flat valley close under the eastern glaciers of Chomolhari. While our camp was being got ready I rode two or three miles up the valley in the hope of seeing a remarkable cave which we were given to understand was in the locality. We found several indentations, before two of which were a gompa and a chorten, but nothing remarkable. We soon discovered, however, that our guide was much more anxious to show us a large flat rock of slate situated between two branches of the Tsango-chhu, at the head of which was a wooden axle, forming a rack. It was carefully explained to us that this was a holy spot on which human corpses, the head and shoulders tied to the axle to keep the body in place, were exposed, to be eaten by lammergeiers and other ravenous birds and beasts of prey. In perfectly solemn and earnest good faith we were told that the birds were fastidious and would not touch low-caste bodies, and that only three families in the valley were entitled to be thus disposed of. The Thimbu excused himself from accompanying me, as the memories connected with this spot were very painful to him, his daughter only a few years before having been laid on the slab. One of our guides lay down on the slab, while another lit a smoky fire, devices which, they said, would be sure to attract the lammergeiers from their eyries; but the deception failed, and no birds appeared. In another respect the little valley was very remarkable, as the glaciers seemed to completely close in the head, and I saw two avalanches and heard several more, caused by the increasing power of the sun’s rays on the snows.
The main glacier was most beautiful, looking like a curious broad staircase of snowy whiteness leading from where we stood heavenwards. There were several fine waterfalls gushing out from holes in the cliffs high above us, and disappearing before they reached the path, the rivulets of water oozing out again from the banks of the main stream showing that the water had resumed a subterranean course. A curious feature about the falls was that as the power of the sun increased, so did the waterfalls visibly increase in size. Our camp that night was a cheery one, and we relieved the time by learning, to the great amusement of the bystanders, to play Bhutanese backgammon, our implements being two wooden dice, a collection of little wooden sticks of varying length, and a handful of beans.
In anxious fear of the unknown pass, the Pheu or Lingshi-la, and its difficulties, we made a very early start along a fair bridle-path, which led us past the Tsango-chhu and then turned to the left above a small, flourishing valley, absolutely blocked at one end by a cliff extending from side to side in a perfect level, over which a very fine waterfall fell. This little valley was excellently cultivated, and had a great many large, fine fir-trees on its sides. Our path brought us at an easy gradient to the top of the cliff, which we discovered was the lower edge of another long level valley. In this way we progressed by a succession of steps, as it were, until we came to the last tread of the stairway, which was an almost precipitous slope of stone and rocks, up which our laden yaks and mules struggled slowly but surely, the zigzag, so far as alignment went, being so good that no one dismounted. Surmounting this, we came to a small roundish flat, in the centre of which were the walls, still good, of the fort built by the Tibetans and mentioned by the Thimbu. A short incline then brought us to the top of the Lingshi Pass (17,100 feet), where we had a magnificent view of the plains and hills of Southern Tibet. From this view I learnt more of the real geography of the great Kalo Hram-tsho plain than in my journey over it on the way to Lhasa the year before. The succession of lakes, amongst them the Rhum-tsho, was most clearly mapped out at my feet. To the north, in unclouded sunshine, lay a treeless, arid plain; to the south damp mists and clouds shut out all view of the verdant, wooded valleys of Bhutan.
After a short, somewhat abrupt descent, in places still covered with snow, we came on a rocky decline, which brought us, after a weary ride, to the sand-dunes of Hram, and finally to the hamlet of Hram-toi. In the evening we all dined together, with the Thimbu as our guest for the last time in the mess-tent, which I had promised to give him as a parting gift. We toasted the Thimbu and wished him the best of fortune, and had kindly answers from him in return, and on the morrow the Bhutan Mission would practically be a thing of the past. We breakfasted in the open, bid the Thimbu and his party a sorrowful good-bye and godspeed, and accepted from him scarves of blessing. The Tongsa Donyer, who had accompanied us everywhere throughout the whole journey, now took his leave. He was a most jovial officer, never under any circumstances put out, and ever obliging, an adept at archery and all manly games, fond of a glass but never the worse, a real Bhutanese Friar Tuck, and it was with real regret we bid him good-bye. I do not think we could possibly have had a more suitable man as our factotum, for in addition to physical qualifications he possessed a great fund of information.
A long, weary ride across sandy plains took us to the Tang-la, the monotony only broken when we missed the trail and got unexpectedly bogged. We saw several herds of gazelle and many kyang, but only succeeded in bagging a grey goose. At the top of the Tang-la my straggling caravan got divided, and the bulk proceeded to the village of Chukya, while I and the remainder kept to the main road and halted at the Chukya military encampment, so it was very late before we settled down, cold, damp, and cross. My next march brought me to Phari, ground I had already often been over, and which I have already described, so with our arrival there I will bring the account of my first mission to Bhutan to a close.