Himalayan Journal vol.02
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (PAUL BAUER.*)
    (DR. A. M. HERON.)
    (L. R. FAWCUS)
  5. THE SHYOK FLOOD, 1929
    (J. P. GUNN)
    (LIEUT. J. B. P. ANGWIN.)
    (DR. E. F. NEVE.)
    (LIEUT. D. M. BURN.)
    (W. E. BUCHANAN)
    (H. M. GLOVER.)
    (Captain J. BARRON.)
    (Captain A. A. RUSSELL.)
  16. NOTES



IN June 1928 my wife and I were on tour in Bashahr State, and had occasion to make a journey round the Kanawar Kailas. The route lay along the Tidong valley * and then southwards across the Charang pass at 17,600 feet to the beautiful Baspa valley.

The Kanawar Kailas mountain lies north-east of Simla where the Sutlej river cuts through the Great Himalaya.f From the forest bungalow at Chini, 9,400 feet above sea-level and 145 miles from Simla along the Hindustan-Tibet road, the Kailas massif is seen to advantage. The snow-fields are so close that in spring the reflected light from the snows is painful to the eyes, while during the monsoon the sound of falling avalanches can be heard all day long. The topmost peak, Raldang, 21,250 feet, shows only its head above the lesser peaks, which hide it from the bungalow ; to the right lies " Castle Rock," while the name " Kailas " is given to a pillar of rock which lies away to the left. Snow-fields, that can be seen from the hills near Simla, stretch away to the interior and end in hanging glaciers, being separated from the forests which clothe the lowest slopes by enormous precipices, unclimbed as yet and ever likely to remain unsoiled by the foot of man. At the base of all flows the turbulent Sutlej river, thundering through narrow precipitous gorges fifteen thousand feet below the topmost peaks.

From the alpine pastures behind Chini even finer views of the range are obtained, and from the Hindustan-Tibet road itself the view for several miles on either side of Chini is magnificent. For those who cannot afford the time to tour more extensively, Chini alone repays a visit, especially in spring or autumn when snows cover the higher slopes.

This Kailas is steeped in the tradition of Hindu mythology and legend, and is reputed to be the abode of the souls of the dead. Thedeath, of the Rajah is said to be heralded by a cascade of water bursting from the centre of a precipice high above Shongtong and visible from Chini. Kali, the terrible, inhabits the heights, and in the villages deotas are worshipped by the peasantry, which believes that through their agency calamities are averted and the evil machinations of demons are held in check. Where nature is uncontrolled and avalanches frequently carry away everything in their path, it is natural that the goddess of destruction should reign supreme

* Todoong Gar of the old atlas sheet. See footnote on p. 97, The Himalayan Journal, Vol. I.

The Kanawar (or Lesser) Kailas must not be confused with the more sacred Kailas 22,028 feet, which lies to the north of the Manasarowar lake, and gives its name to the Kailas range.-Ed*

During and shortly after the War a road was built by the Forest Department through the cliffs at the base of Kailas. Man after man was killed, generally by preventable accidents, and after each death goats had to be provided to appease the evil spirits. At last, however, an avalanche carried away the subordinate in charge of the work and two of his assistants ; the village of Mehbar was partially destroyed and again the labourers bolted. More goats had to be supplied before the men could be induced to return. At last the demon appears to have been sated with goats' flesh, and the work was finished in peace.

The tour of the Kanawar Kailas in a clockwise direction is undertaken by devout Hindus as an expiation for past sins, but few Indians from the plains make the journey owing to its length and difficulty. I had work both in the Kailas forests and in the Baspa valley and took the opportunity thereby afforded to travel by the pilgrimage route. The paths are rough and transport is by means of coolies, who cannot easily be obtained unless the traveller has local influence. It is not advisable for anyone to attempt the journey unless helped by the State.

From Chini a bridle-path descends to the Sutlej, which is crossed by a jhula, or steel hawser on which runs a pulley carrying a somewhat primitive seat. Here we were met by the Wazir of Poari dressed in full Bashahri costume and pancake hat, which reposed above his bobbed hair at a most rakish angle. The local Zaildar was with him and evidently feared that he was to be taken along with us, as he exaggerated the difficulties of the route. From Poari a good bridlepath goes to Purbani, where is the last forest rest-house, and two short marches lead to Eispa at the junction of .the Sutlej and the Tidong. From here on the path is only just fit for ponies and runs along precipices where one has to dismount and walk, a tiring journey until Tangi is reached. Tangi is a large village high above the Tidong stream on a shelf of cultivation ; the houses are of stone and wood several stories high and strongly built in order to withstand the deep winter snow. The hills are very precipitous ; deodar and edible pine cling to the steep ground and fields are very few. As this is the dry zone beyond the reach of the south-west monsoon, cultivation is impossible without the help of irrigation. In order to bring water to the fields opposite, a channel has been built through what appear to be quite inaccessible precipices ; but with the help of dynamite ledges have been blasted and hollowed tree-trunks have been placed in position at the risk of broken necks ; the people are most grateful to the Government for having given them explosives and lent them tools for this most hazardous work. But, as I have said, without irrigation the land is uncultivable, and, as there is always a great shortage of grain throughout the long winter months, a life or two lost in the work of construction is a cheap price to pay for a few additional acres brought under the plough.

At Tangi there is a fine Buddhist temple which has doubled in size since we were there a dozen years before. Buddhism is undoubtedly on the increase in Kanawar and a lama had been imported from Tibet to paint the interior of the temple with portraits of Buddha with his thousand eyes and thousand feet. We were given a great welcome, garlanded and taken over the temples to admire the paintings which, though hideous to western eyes, were remarkably well done .

The people are largely pastoral and own extensive flocks of sheep and goats, but they are also great traders, going far into Tibet, using these animals to carry grain ; this they obtain from the outer hills and barter in exchange for wool and borax in Tibet.

Throughout the border tract of Kanawar the inhabitants have long ago solved the problem of an insufficient food supply and an increasing population; several brothers marry one wife and the surplus girls are devoted to celibacy. The nuns sometimes live apart from the family in nunneries, but return to it for the harvesting ; their hair is cropped and they frequently wear men's clothing. All work in the fields, carry loads, have a great amount of freedom and are as cheerful a set of maidens as can be found anywhere in the world. Polyandry used to be encouraged by the State under the old system of begar or corvee, whereby one man of a household spent six months each year on State works, a burden reduced later to one month and nowadays still further curtailed, so that it now weighs very lightly on the people. Households are being split up, but polyandry has a distinct economic advantage in these inhospitable tracts where living is so very difficult : one brother trades between Tibet and the plains, one grazes the flocks, one earns money on forest or road works, and one remains behind with the wife.

An exceptionally rich man, however, possessing wealth by virtue of large flocks of sheep and goats, both in Bashahr and in Tibet, sometimes marries several wives, as we found on this trip. Janki Das, the Lambardar, was with us for several days ; when we came to some particularly fine pasturage and asked who owned it, he usually replied : "I do ; one of my wives stays here for the summer." But the ladies did not seem lonely, for Janki Das has brothers ! When making payments for petty works on daily labour, it is customary to record both the man's name and his parentage ; a roar of laughter will often greet the father's name and the man will rapidly change it at a suggestion from the onlookers.

From Tangi we followed for fifteen miles along the main Tidong valley the path which is very rough but much improved since I was there some years before. It leads to Tibet and is one of the trade- routes, though narrow and precipitous, and in places flooded by the river. We left this path on crossing the Tidong by a cantilever bridge and camped at Shutingi at the entrance to the Charang valley; and glad we were to get there, as the constant ascents and descents were most tiring. Before leaving the Tidong we went as far as Charang, the last village on the British side of the Tibetan border, and spent some -hours at the Buddhist temple about a mile and a half beyond the village. Here all forest has been left behind and the country is rugged in the extreme. The temple was a small square building full of images, banners and paintings, while little brass vessels were full of offerings. The head lama informed us with pride that the temple had not been erected by man, but had miraculously appeared in the course of a single night : a fact hardly borne out by the well-dressed stones and the carved wood-work.

A fair was in progress and for hours men, women and children, all of small stature, but of robust physique and with Mongolian features, " processed " round the temple, chanting and turning the prayer-wheels fixed in the walls. The children' ran races for four- anna bits, but when the men were offered a rupee prize they declined to race, urging that it was too late and that they were already drunk, a fact which we could easily believe when we saw the amount of liquor that had been consumed.

From Shutingi a steep ascent led to the Lalingti thach, an open grazing-ground where we camped below the snow-line. Although we were at 14,000 feet above sea-level it was hot in the middle of the day ; there was no shade whatever, and the thermometer showed a temperature of 96°F. Yet at night it was so cold that the water in the kettle froze solid. This valley ordinarily contains burrhel, but we only came across one female, and although I searched the neighbouring nullahs I saw only a few ewes. This dearth of game was explained when fresh snow-leopard tracks were met with, the rest evidently having retreated to inaccessible precipices. On one occasion, when I was traversing a ledge, a snow-cock fluttered in front of me, apparently with a broken wing and behaving just like a mother partridge with young near by. Sure enough a search revealed a nest with the prettiest little downy grey chicks.

We left before dawn the following morning and were able to ride diminutive hill-ponies for about three miles, when they had to be sent back before the real climb commenced. The snow was firm and the going good till near the top, where the snow was lying at a very steep angle. The last five hundred feet tested our powers of endurance. To the right lay the glaciers and the vast snow-fields and outlying peaks of Kailas, whilst close to our left were a succession of hanging glaciers. Looking back towards the north we saw numerous peaks between the Tidong and Tibet, distinguished solely by letters and numbers on the Survey of India maps, and lit up by the early morning sun, a sight never to be forgotten.

On the top of the Charang pass we rested and attempted to smoke, but at this elevation, 17,600 feet, tobacco had lost its flavour. From the pass we could see right into the snow-fields above the glaciers, and it would seem that this would offer a possible route of approach to the highest peaks of Kailas. To the south lay the Baspa river and beyond it numerous glaciers ; the views were magnificent.

Unfortunately the snow was softening rapidly, and with a long and tiresome descent before us we could not tarry long. At first the snow lay very steeply and every step had to be taken with great care, particularly where there was a thin crust over the ice. Below this were snow-fields ending in steep terminal moraines of former glaciers, jumbled masses of jagged rocks down which we scrambled laboriously, till at last we reached a rough path leading to the village of Chitkul far below.

The crossing had taken eleven hours and we had been lucky in the perfect weather, a marked contrast to that of ten years before, when I had crossed in mist and snow. Like most passes in the high hills there is little danger when an early start is made and when the weather is fine ; but shepherds avoid it except in favourable seasons, for bad weather renders the crossing not only difficult, but dangerous. Lives are frequently lost when attempting the pass late in the year.

We were now in the Baspa valley, so well described in the last volume of this Journal. The scenery had changed and although equally magnificent it was less barren. Two more marches took us to the comfortable forest rest-house at Sangla.

Geologically the trip was most interesting : Kailas itself consists of metamorphosed gneiss, with massive granite exposed at its base. Opposite Eispa the contact between the gneiss and the sedimentary rocks of the Haimanta series is well shown. The Tidong river follows roughly the great fault between the gneiss and the Haimantas, which has been traced as far as Nepal; and outliers of this series lie amongst the gneiss and granite to the east of the Charang pass. The geological formation is reflected in the conformation of the hills, the peaks beyond the Tidong river being much more jagged than those formed by the crystalline rocks, and clearly showing the lines of stratification.

The lower parts of the Tidong show the typical Y-shaped section of valleys formed by river action : glaciers and all signs of ancient glaciation being confined to high elevations. The Charang valley above Lalingti has been carved out by snow and ice, whilst signs of old glacial action are everywhere present in the Baspa.

The rocks of the U-shaped Baspa valley are smoothed by the movement of glaciers, which have retreated in comparatively recent times. At Eakcham and below Sangla are the remains of old terminal moraines, which formerly dammed the river and formed lakes until they were cut through by the never-ceasing persistence of the water.

The valley at Sangla is very fine indeed, but to be seen at its best it should be visited in the autumn, when the river has cleared to a turquoise blue ; the buckwheat has been cut leaving acres of blood- red stalks in the fields ; the deodar forests, as ever, are a dark green mass running up into the birches, the leaves of which are turned to a golden yellow ; and above all are thousands of feet of precipice and eternal snow.

We leave this valley with regret. Lucky is, he who can spend a few days of leisure or duty in this lovely part of the Himalaya.