Among the Tibetans, by Isabella L. Bird

Chapter III

Nubra

In order to visit Lower Nubra and return to Leh we were obliged to cross the great fords of the Shayok at the most dangerous season of the year. This transit had been the bugbear of the journey ever since news reached us of the destruction of the Sati scow. Mr. Redslob questioned every man we met on the subject, solemn and noisy conclaves were held upon it round the camp-fires, it was said that the ‘European woman’ and her ‘spider-legged horse’ could never get across, and for days before we reached the stream, the chupas, or government water-guides, made nightly reports to the village headmen of the state of the waters, which were steadily rising, the final verdict being that they were only just practicable for strong horses. To delay till the waters fell was impossible. Mr. Redslob had engagements in Leh, and I was already somewhat late for the passage of the lofty passes between Tibet and British India before the winter, so we decided on crossing with every precaution which experience could suggest.

At Lagshung, the evening before, the Tibetans made prayers and offerings for a day cloudy enough to keep the water down, but in the morning from a cloudless sky a scintillating sun blazed down like a magnesium light, and every glacier and snowfield sent its tribute torrent to the Shayok. In crossing a stretch of white sand the solar heat was so fierce that our European skins were blistered through our clothing. We halted at Lagshung, at the house of a friendly zemindar, who pressed upon me the loan of a big Yarkand horse for the ford, a kindness which nearly proved fatal; and then by shingle paths through lacerating thickets of the horrid Hippophae rhamnoides, we reached a chod-ten on the shingly bank of the river, where the Tibetans renewed their prayers and offerings, and the final orders for the crossing were issued. We had twelve horses, carrying only quarter loads each, all led; the servants were mounted, ‘water-guides’ with ten-foot poles sounded the river ahead, one led Mr. Redslob’s horse (the rider being bare-legged) in front of mine with a long rope, and two more led mine, while the gopas of three villages and the zemindar steadied my horse against the stream. The water-guides only wore girdles, and with elf-locks and pig-tails streaming from their heads, and their uncouth yells and wild gesticulations, they looked true river-demons.

The Shayok presented an expanse of eight branches and a main stream, divided by shallows and shingle banks, the whole a mile and a half in width. On the brink the chupas made us all drink good draughts of the turbid river water, ‘to prevent giddiness,’ they said, and they added that I must not think them rude if they dashed water at my face frequently with the same object. Hassan Khan, and Mando, who was livid with fright, wore dark-green goggles, that they might not see the rapids. In the second branch the water reached the horses’ bodies, and my animal tottered and swerved. There were bursts of wild laughter, not merriment but excitement, accompanied by yells as the streams grew fiercer, a loud chorus of Kabadar! Sharbaz! (‘Caution!’ ‘Well done!’) was yelled to encourage the horses, and the boom and hiss of the Shayok made a wild accompaniment. Gyalpo, for whose legs of steel I longed, frolicked as usual, making mirthful lunges at his leader when the pair halted. Hassan Khan, in the deepest branch, shakily said to me, ‘I not afraid, Mem Sahib.’ During the hour spent in crossing the eight branches, I thought that the risk had been exaggerated, and that giddiness was the chief peril.

But when we halted, cold and dripping, on the shingle bank of the main stream I changed my mind. A deep, fierce, swirling rapid, with a calmer depth below its farther bank, and fully a quarter of a mile wide, was yet to be crossed. The business was serious. All the chupas went up and down, sounding, long before they found a possible passage. All loads were raised higher, the men roped their soaked clothing on their shoulders, water was dashed repeatedly at our faces, girths were tightened, and then, with shouts and yells, the whole caravan plunged into deep water, strong, and almost ice-cold. Half an hour was spent in that devious ford, without any apparent progress, for in the dizzy swirl the horses simply seemed treading the water backwards. Louder grew the yells as the torrent raged more hoarsely, the chorus of kabadar grew frantic, the water was up to the men’s armpits and the seat of my saddle, my horse tottered and swerved several times, the nearing shore presented an abrupt bank underscooped by the stream. There was a deeper plunge, an encouraging shout, and Mr. Redslob’s strong horse leapt the bank. The gopas encouraged mine; he made a desperate effort, but fell short and rolled over backwards into the Shayok with his rider under him. A struggle, a moment of suffocation, and I was extricated by strong arms, to be knocked down again by the rush of the water, to be again dragged up and hauled and hoisted up the crumbling bank. I escaped with a broken rib and some severe bruises, but the horse was drowned. Mr. Redslob, who had thought that my life could not be saved, and the Tibetans were so distressed by the accident that I made very light of it, and only took one day of rest. The following morning some men and animals were carried away, and afterwards the ford was impassable for a fortnight. Such risks are among the amenities of the great trade route from India into Central Asia!

The Lower Nubra valley is wilder and narrower than the Upper, its apricot orchards more luxuriant, its wolf-haunted hippophae and tamarisk thickets more dense. Its villages are always close to ravines, the mouths of which are filled with chod-tens, manis, prayer-wheels, and religious buildings. Access to them is usually up the stony beds of streams over-arched by apricots. The camping-grounds are apricot orchards. The apricot foliage is rich, and the fruit small but delicious. The largest fruit tree I saw measured nine feet six inches in girth six feet from the ground. Strangers are welcome to eat as much of the fruit as they please, provided that they return the stones to the proprietor. It is true that Nubra exports dried apricots, and the women were splitting and drying the fruit on every house roof, but the special raison d’etre of the tree is the clear, white, fragrant, and highly illuminating oil made from the kernels by the simple process of crushing them between two stones. In every gonpo temple a silver bowl holding from four to six gallons is replenished annually with this almond-scented oil for the ever-burning light before the shrine of Buddha. It is used for lamps, and very largely in cookery. Children, instead of being washed, are rubbed daily with it, and on being weaned at the age of four or five, are fed for some time, or rather crammed, with balls of barley-meal made into a paste with it.

At Hundar, a superbly situated village, which we visited twice, we were received at the house of Gergan the monk, who had accompanied us throughout. He is a zemindar, and the large house in which he made us welcome stands in his own patrimony. Everything was prepared for us. The mud floors were swept, cotton quilts were laid down on the balconies, blue cornflowers and marigolds, cultivated for religious ornament, were in all the rooms, and the women were in gala dress and loaded with coarse jewellery. Right hearty was the welcome. Mr. Redslob loved, and therefore was loved. The Tibetans to him were not ‘natives,’ but brothers. He drew the best out of them. Their superstitions and beliefs were not to him ‘rubbish,’ but subjects for minute investigation and study. His courtesy to all was frank and dignified. In his dealings he was scrupulously just. He was intensely interested in their interests. His Tibetan scholarship and knowledge of Tibetan sacred literature gave him almost the standing of an abbot among them, and his medical skill and knowledge, joyfully used for their benefit on former occasions, had won their regard. So at Hundar, as everywhere else, the elders came out to meet us and cut the apricot branches away on our road, and the silver horns of the gonpo above brayed a dissonant welcome. Along the Indus valley the servants of Englishmen beat the Tibetans, in the Shayok and Nubra valleys the Yarkand traders beat and cheat them, and the women are shy with strangers, but at Hundar they were frank and friendly with me, saying, as many others had said, ‘We will trust any one who comes with the missionary.’

Gergan’s home was typical of the dwellings of the richer cultivators and landholders. It was a large, rambling, three-storeyed house, the lower part of stone, the upper of huge sun-dried bricks. It was adorned with projecting windows and brown wooden balconies. Fuel — the dried exereta of animals — is too scarce to be used for any but cooking purposes, and on these balconies in the severe cold of winter the people sit to imbibe the warm sunshine. The rooms were large, ceiled with peeled poplar rods, and floored with split white pebbles set in clay. There was a temple on the roof, and in it, on a platform, were life-size images of Buddha, seated in eternal calm, with his downcast eyes and mild Hindu face, the thousand-armed Chan-ra-zigs (the great Mercy), Jam-pal-yangs (the Wisdom), and Chag-na — dorje (the Justice). In front on a table or altar were seven small lamps, burning apricot oil, and twenty small brass cups, containing minute offerings of rice and other things, changed daily. There were prayer-wheels, cymbals, horns and drums, and a prayer-cylinder six feet high, which it took the strength of two men to turn. On a shelf immediately below the idols were the brazen sceptre, bell, and thunderbolt, a brass lotus blossom, and the spouted brass flagon decorated with peacocks’ feathers, which is used at baptisms, and for pouring holy water upon the hands at festivals. In houses in which there is not a roof temple the best room is set apart for religious use and for these divinities, which are always surrounded with musical instruments and symbols of power, and receive worship and offerings daily, Tibetan Buddhism being a religion of the family and household. In his family temple Gergan offered gifts and thanks for the deliverances of the journey. He had been assisting Mr. Redslob for two years in the translation of the New Testament, and had wept over the love and sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had even desired that his son should receive baptism and be brought up as a Christian, but for himself he ‘could not break with custom and his ancestral creed.’

In the usual living-room of the family a platform, raised only a few inches, ran partly round the wall. In the middle of the floor there was a clay fireplace, with a prayer-wheel and some clay and brass cooking pots upon it. A few shelves, fire-bars for roasting barley, a wooden churn, and some spinning arrangements were the furniture. A number of small dark rooms used for sleeping and storage opened from this, and above were the balconies and reception rooms. Wooden posts supported the roofs, and these were wreathed with lucerne, the firstfruits of the field. Narrow, steep staircases in all Tibetan houses lead to the family rooms. In winter the people live below, alongside of the animals and fodder. In summer they sleep in loosely built booths of poplar branches on the roof. Gergan’s roof was covered, like others at the time, to the depth of two feet, with hay, i.e. grass and lucerne, which are wound into long ropes, experience having taught the Tibetans that their scarce fodder is best preserved thus from breakage and waste. I bought hay by the yard for Gyalpo.

Our food in this hospitable house was simple: apricots, fresh, or dried and stewed with honey; zho’s milk, curds and cheese, sour cream, peas, beans, balls of barley dough, barley porridge, and ‘broth of abominable things.’ Chang, a dirty-looking beer made from barley, was offered with each meal, and tea frequently, but I took my own ‘on the sly.’ I have mentioned a churn as part of the ‘plenishings’ of the living-room. In Tibet the churn is used for making tea! I give the recipe. ‘For six persons. Boil a teacupful of tea in three pints of water for ten minutes with a heaped dessert-spoonful of soda. Put the infusion into the churn with one pound of butter and a small tablespoonful of salt. Churn until as thick as cream.’ Tea made after this fashion holds the second place to chang in Tibetan affections. The butter according to our thinking is always rancid, the mode of making it is uncleanly, and it always has a rank flavour from the goatskin in which it was kept. Its value is enhanced by age. I saw skins of it forty, fifty, and even sixty years old, which were very highly prized, and would only be opened at some special family festival or funeral.

During the three days of our visits to Hundar both men and women wore their festival dresses, and apparently abandoned most of their ordinary occupations in our honour. The men were very anxious that I should be ‘amused,’ and made many grotesque suggestions on the subject. ‘Why is the European woman always writing or sewing?’ they asked. ‘Is she very poor, or has she made a vow?’ Visits to some of the neighbouring monasteries were eventually proposed, and turned out most interesting.

The monastery of Deskyid, to which we made a three days’ expedition, is from its size and picturesque situation the most imposing in Nubra. Built on a majestic spur of rock rising on one side 2,000 feet perpendicularly from a torrent, the spur itself having an altitude of 11,000 feet, with red peaks, snow-capped, rising to a height of over 20,000 feet behind the vast irregular pile of red, white, and yellow temples, towers, storehouses, cloisters, galleries, and balconies, rising for 300 feet one above another, hanging over chasms, built out on wooden buttresses, and surmounted with flags, tridents, and yaks’ tails, a central tower or keep dominating the whole, it is perhaps the most picturesque object I have ever seen, well worth the crossing of the Shayok fords, my painful accident, and much besides. It looks inaccessible, but in fact can be attained by rude zigzags of a thousand steps of rock, some natural, others roughly hewn, getting worse and worse as they rise higher, till the later zigzags suggest the difficulties of the ascent of the Great Pyramid. The day was fearfully hot, 99 degrees in the shade, and the naked, shining surfaces of purple rock with a metallic lustre radiated heat. My ‘gallant grey’ took me up half-way — a great feat — and the Tibetans cheered and shouted ‘Sharbaz!’ (‘Well done!’) as he pluckily leapt up the great slippery rock ledges. After I dismounted, any number of willing hands hauled and helped me up the remaining horrible ascent, the rugged rudeness of which is quite indescribable. The inner entrance is a gateway decorated with a yak’s head and many Buddhist emblems. High above, on a rude gallery, fifty monks were gathered with their musical instruments. As soon as the Kan-po or abbot, Punt-sog-sogman (the most perfect Merit), received us at the gate, the monkish orchestra broke forth in a tornado of sound of a most tremendous and thrilling quality, which was all but overwhelming, as the mountain echoes took up and prolonged the sound of fearful blasts on six-foot silver horns, the bellowing thunder of six-foot drums, the clash of cymbals, and the dissonance of a number of monster gongs. It was not music, but it was sublime. The blasts on the horns are to welcome a great personage, and such to the monks who despised his teaching was the devout and learned German missionary. Mr. Redslob explained that I had seen much of Buddhism in Ceylon and Japan, and wished to see their temples. So with our train of gopas, zemindar, peasants, and muleteers, we mounted to a corridor full of lamas in ragged red dresses, yellow girdles and yellow caps, where we were presented with plates of apricots, and the door of the lowest of the seven temples heavily grated backwards.

The first view, and indeed the whole view of this temple of Wrath or Justice, was suggestive of a frightful Inferno, with its rows of demon gods, hideous beyond Western conception, engaged in torturing writhing and bleeding specimens of humanity. Demon masks of ancient lacquer hung from the pillars, naked swords gleamed in motionless hands, and in a deep recess whose ‘darkness’ was rendered ‘visible’ by one lamp, was that indescribable horror the executioner of the Lord of Hell, his many brandished arms holding instruments of torture, and before him the bell, the thunderbolt and sceptre, the holy water, and the baptismal flagon. Our joss-sticks fumed on the still air, monks waved censers, and blasts of dissonant music woke the semi-subterranean echoes. In this temple of Justice the younger lamas spend some hours daily in the supposed contemplation of the torments reserved for the unholy. In the highest temple, that of Peace, the summer sunshine fell on Shakya Thubba and the Buddhist triad seated in endless serenity. The walls were covered with frescoes of great lamas, and a series of alcoves, each with an image representing an incarnation of Buddha, ran round the temple. In a chapel full of monstrous images and piles of medallions made of the ashes of ‘holy’ men, the sub-abbot was discoursing to the acolytes on the religious classics. In the chapel of meditations, among lighted incense sticks, monks seated before images were telling their beads with the object of working themselves into a state of ecstatic contemplation (somewhat resembling a certain hypnotic trance), for there are undoubtedly devout lamas, though the majority are idle and unholy. It must be understood that all Tibetan literature is ‘sacred,’ though some of the volumes of exquisite calligraphy on parchment, which for our benefit were divested of their silken and brocaded wrappings, contain nothing better than fairy tales and stories of doubtful morality, which are recited by the lamas to the accompaniment of incessant cups of chang, as a religious duty when they visit their ‘flocks’ in the winter.

The Deskyid gonpo contains 150 lamas, all of whom have been educated at Lhassa. A younger son in every household becomes a monk, and occasionally enters upon his vocation as an acolyte pupil as soon as weaned. At the age of thirteen these acolytes are sent to study at Lhassa for five or seven years, their departure being made the occasion of a great village feast, with several days of religious observances. The close connection with Lhassa, especially in the case of the yellow lamas, gives Nubra Buddhism a singular interest. All the larger gonpos have their prototype in Lhassa, all ceremonial has originated in Lhassa, every instrument of worship has been consecrated in Lhassa, and every lama is educated in the learning only to be obtained at Lhassa. Buddhism is indeed the most salient feature of Nubra. There are gonpos everywhere, the roads are lined by miles of chod-tens, manis, and prayer-mills, and flags inscribed with sacred words in Sanskrit flutter from every roof. There are processions of red and yellow lamas; every act in trade, agriculture, and social life needs the sanction of sacerdotalism; whatever exists of wealth is in the gonpos, which also have a monopoly of learning, and 11,000 monks closely linked with the laity, yet ruling all affairs of life and death and beyond death, are all connected by education, tradition, and authority with Lhassa.

We remained long on the blazing roof of the highest tower of the gonpo, while good Mr. Redslob disputed with the abbot ‘concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.’ The monks standing round laughed sneeringly. They had shown a little interest, Mr. R. said, on his earlier visits. The abbot accepted a copy of the Gospel of St. John. ‘St. Matthew,’ he observed, ‘is very laughable reading.’ Blasts of wild music and the braying of colossal horns honoured our departure, and our difficult descent to the apricot groves of Deskyid. On our return to Hundar the grain was ripe on Gergan’s fields. The first ripe ears were cut off, offered to the family divinity, and were then bound to the pillars of the house. In the comparatively fertile Nubra valley the wheat and barley are cut, not rooted up. While they cut the grain the men chant, ‘May it increase, We will give to the poor, we will give to the lamas,’ with every stroke. They believe that it can be made to multiply both under the sickle and in the threshing, and perform many religious rites for its increase while it is in sheaves. After eight days the corn is trodden out by oxen on a threshing-floor renewed every year. After winnowing with wooden forks, they make the grain into a pyramid, insert a sacred symbol, and pile upon it the threshing instruments and sacks, erecting an axe on the apex with its blade turned to the west, as that is the quarter from which demons are supposed to come. In the afternoon they feast round it, always giving a portion to the axe, saying, ‘It is yours, it belongs not to me.’ At dusk they pour it into the sacks again, chanting, ‘May it increase.’ But these are not removed to the granary until late at night, at an hour when the hands of the demons are too much benumbed by the nightly frost to diminish the store. At the beginning of every one of these operations the presence of lamas is essential, to announce the auspicious moment, and conduct religious ceremonies. They receive fees, and are regaled with abundant chang and the fat of the land.

In Hundar, as elsewhere, we were made very welcome in all the houses. I have described the dwelling of Gergan. The poorer peasants occupy similar houses, but roughly built, and only two-storeyed, and the floors are merely clay. In them also the very numerous lower rooms are used for cattle and fodder only, while the upper part consists of an inner or winter room, an outer or supper room, a verandah room, and a family temple. Among their rude plenishings are large stone corn chests like sarcophagi, stone bowls from Baltistan, cauldrons, cooking pots, a tripod, wooden bowls, spoons, and dishes, earthen pots, and yaks’ and sheep’s packsaddles. The garments of the household are kept in long wooden boxes.

Family life presents some curious features. In the disposal in marriage of a girl, her eldest brother has more ‘say’ than the parents. The eldest son brings home the bride to his father’s house, but at a given age the old people are ‘shelved,’ i.e. they retire to a small house, which may be termed a ‘jointure house,’ and the eldest son assumes the patrimony and the rule of affairs. I have not met with a similar custom anywhere in the East. It is difficult to speak of Tibetan life, with all its affection and jollity, as ‘family life,’ for Buddhism, which enjoins monastic life, and usually celibacy along with it, on eleven thousand out of a total population of a hundred and twenty thousand, farther restrains the increase of population within the limits of sustenance by inculcating and rigidly upholding the system of polyandry, permitting marriage only to the eldest son, the heir of the land, while the bride accepts all his brothers as inferior or subordinate husbands, thus attaching the whole family to the soil and family roof-tree, the children being regarded legally as the property of the eldest son, who is addressed by them as ‘Big Father,’ his brothers receiving the title of ‘Little Father.’ The resolute determination, on economic as well as religious grounds, not to abandon this ancient custom, is the most formidable obstacle in the way of the reception of Christianity by the Tibetans. The women cling to it. They say, ‘We have three or four men to help us instead of one,’ and sneer at the dulness and monotony of European monogamous life! A woman said to me, ‘If I had only one husband, and he died, I should be a widow; if I have two or three I am never a widow!’ The word ‘widow’ is with them a term of reproach, and is applied abusively to animals and men. Children are brought up to be very obedient to fathers and mother, and to take great care of little ones and cattle. Parental affection is strong. Husbands and wives beat each other, but separation usually follows a violent outbreak of this kind. It is the custom for the men and women of a village to assemble when a bride enters the house of her husbands, each of them presenting her with three rupees. The Tibetan wife, far from spending these gifts on personal adornment, looks ahead, contemplating possible contingencies, and immediately hires a field, the produce of which is her own, and which accumulates year after year in a separate granary, so that she may not be portionless in case she leaves her husband!

It was impossible not to become attached to the Nubra people, we lived so completely among them, and met with such unbounded goodwill. Feasts were given in our honour, every gonpo was open to us, monkish blasts on colossal horns brayed out welcomes, and while nothing could exceed the helpfulness and alacrity of kindness shown by all, there was not a thought or suggestion of backsheesh. The men of the villages always sat by our camp-fires at night, friendly and jolly, but never obtrusive, telling stories, discussing local news and the oppressions exercised by the Kashmiri officials, the designs of Russia, the advance of the Central Asian Railway, and what they consider as the weakness of the Indian Government in not annexing the provinces of the northern frontier. Many of their ideas and feelings are akin to ours, and a mutual understanding is not only possible, but inevitable. 1

1 Mr. Redslob said that when on different occasions he was smitten by heavy sorrows, he felt no difference between the Tibetan feeling and expression of sympathy and that of Europeans. A stronger testimony to the effect produced by his twenty-five years of loving service could scarcely be given than our welcome in Nubra. During the dangerous illness which followed, anxious faces thronged his humble doorway as early as break of day, and the stream of friendly inquiries never ceased till sunset, and when he died the people of Ladak and Nubra wept and ‘made a great mourning for him,’ as for their truest friend.

Industry in Nubra is the condition of existence, and both sexes work hard enough to give a great zest to the holidays on religious festival days. Whether in the house or journeying the men are never seen without the distaff. They weave also, and make the clothes of the women and children! The people are all cultivators, and make money also by undertaking the transit of the goods of the Yarkand traders over the lofty passes. The men plough with the zho, or hybrid yak, and the women break the clods and share in all other agricultural operations. The soil, destitute of manure, which is dried and hoarded for fuel, rarely produces more than tenfold. The ‘three acres and a cow’ is with them four acres of alluvial soil to a family on an average, with ‘runs’ for yaks and sheep on the mountains. The farms, planted with apricot and other fruit trees, a prolific loose-grained barley, wheat, peas, and lucerne, are oases in the surrounding deserts. The people export apricot oil, dried apricots, sheep’s wool, heavy undyed woollens, a coarse cloth made from yaks’ hair, and pashm, the under fleece of the shawl goat. They complained, and I think with good reason, of the merciless exactions of the Kashmiri officials, but there were no evidences of severe poverty, and not one beggar was seen.

It was not an easy matter to get back to Leh. The rise of the Shayok made it impossible to reach and return by the Digar Pass, and the alternative route over the Kharzong glacier continued for some time impracticable — that is, it was perfectly smooth ice. At length the news came that a fall of snow had roughened its surface. A number of men worked for two days at scaffolding a path, and with great difficulty, and the loss of one yak from a falling rock, a fruitful source of fatalities in Tibet, we reached Khalsar, where with great regret we parted with Tse-ring-don-drub (Life’s purpose fulfilled), the gopa of Sati, whose friendship had been a real pleasure, and to whose courage and promptitude, in Mr. Redslob’s opinion, I owed my rescue from drowning. Two days of very severe marching and long and steep ascents brought us to the wretched hamlet of Kharzong Lar-sa, in a snowstorm, at an altitude higher than the summit of Mont Blanc. The servants were all ill of ‘pass-poison,’ and crept into a cave along with a number of big Tibetan mastiffs, where they enjoyed the comfort of semi-suffocation till the next morning, Mr. R. and I, with some willing Tibetan helpers, pitching our own tents. The wind was strong and keen, and with the mercury down at 15 degrees Fahrenheit it was impossible to do anything but to go to bed in the early afternoon, and stay there till the next day. Mr. Redslob took a severe chill, which produced an alarming attack of pleurisy, from the effects of which he never fully recovered.

We started on a grim snowy morning, with six yaks carrying our baggage or ridden by ourselves, four led horses, and a number of Tibetans, several more having been sent on in advance to cut steps in the glacier and roughen them with gravel. Within certain limits the ground grows greener as one ascends, and we passed upwards among primulas, asters, a large blue myosotis, gentians, potentillas, and great sheets of edelweiss. At the glacier foot we skirted a deep green lake on snow with a glorious view of the Kharzong glacier and the pass, a nearly perpendicular wall of rock, bearing up a steep glacier and a snowfield of great width and depth, above which tower pinnacles of naked rock. It presented to all appearance an impassable barrier rising 2,500 feet above the lake, grand and awful in the dazzling whiteness of the new-fallen snow. Thanks to the ice steps our yaks took us over in four hours without a false step, and from the summit, a sharp ridge 17,500 feet in altitude, we looked our last on grimness, blackness, and snow, and southward for many a weary mile to the Indus valley lying in sunshine and summer. Fully two dozen caresses of horses newly dead lay in cavities of the glacier. Our animals were ill of ‘pass-poison,’ and nearly blind, and I was obliged to ride my yak into Leh, a severe march of thirteen hours, down miles of crumbling zigzags, and then among villages of irrigated terraces, till the grand view of the Gyalpo’s palace, with its air-hung gonpo and clustering chod-tens, and of the desert city itself, burst suddenly upon us, and our benumbed and stiffened limbs thawed in the hot sunshine. I pitched my tent in a poplar grove for a fortnight, near the Moravian compounds and close to the travellers’ bungalow, in which is a British Postal Agency, with a Tibetan postmaster who speaks English, a Christian, much trusted and respected, named Joldan, in whose intelligence, kindness, and friendship I found both interest and pleasure.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31