A Journey in Upper Kumaun and Garhwal
Lieutenant HUGH ROSE
ON THE 1st September, 1931, I left Baijnath in Kumaun, accompanied by Captain Richardson, b.a.m.c., and Lieutenant G. Chaldecott, r.a., for a two months' visit to upper Kumaun and Garhwal. Our object was to examine the complicated watershed system lying between the Anta Dhura pass in the south and Bara Hoti in the north ; we also hoped to ascend some of the lesser-known passes situated along the British borderland of western Tibet; Photographing, shooting and climbing were secondary objects, dependent on the time factor.
Between Baijnath and Milam it rained continuously, and we consequently found the river between Shama and Tejam unfordable ; we lost three days by our detour through Berenag and Thall, where there is a good bridge. Ascending the Goriganga from Mansiari we reached Milam on the 12th September and exchanged our coolies for mules ; we were unable to procure jhobus, owing to an outbreak of rinderpest. The mule-drivers proved to be a continuous source of trouble throughout the journey ; indeed, all the inhabitants we met beyond “the outer line ", which we crossed at Shama, were inclined be a law unto themselves.
At Dung (13,720 feet), where we arrived on the 14th September, the Gori valley itself branches north-westwards to the Anta Dhura pass and eastwards to the upper Lessar Sira watershed. Leaving Dung two days later, Chaldecott and I ascended the latter branch, the with the twofold object of visiting the glaciers at its head, and, if possible, of ascending the watershed and photographing the upper Lessar Sira valley.
At the head of this nullah, about four miles above Dung, we found the junction of three well-defined glaciers, whose general directions were from the north-east, east and south. Ascending the southerly one, which seemed to afford most hope of a col overlooking the Lessar Sira, we found that it swung eastwards about two miles above its snout and ended a mile further on at an ice-cliff about eight hundred feet high. We circumvented the ice-clifi and climbing over soft snow reached an altitude of 18,000 feet; we were finally stopped by deep crevasses and dangerous snow for which we were not equipped. There seems, however, to be a practicable col over the ridge at about 20,000 feet.
Our observations of the topography differ from that shown on the existing map, both in the location and shape of the glacier. The snout is located on the map only two miles above Dung and the glacier itself is shown as a single one running north and south. The old road into Tibet by this nullah, shown on the map, does not correspond to any practicable route on the ground. We decided that it must have traversed a col at about 20,000 feet at the head of the north-eastern glacier, and joined the main Tibetan road, just to the north of the Kungri-hingri La. It probably crossed the glacier at the head of the Charchin nullah
; indeed, when crossing the Kungri-bingri La later, we noted an easy col at the head of this glacier just to the east of the pass. This old route was abandoned sixty years ago on account of deep crevasses ; it is now unknown to traders.
On the 17th September we crossed the Anta Dhura pass (17,590 feet), to Lauka ; there was a little snow on the summit and some fell on our way over, but we were struck by the lack of snow generally on the mountains north of this pass. The weather here, at this season, is often perfect and the passes usually remain open until the middle of October; sudden blizzards, however, occur frequently and the danger of being caught by one is very real. The country between Lauka and Bara Hoti consists of deep gorges and open moorland valleys with a backbone of snowy ranges. It is crossed by numerous routes to Tibet from Milam in upper Kumaun, and Bompa Gamsali in upper Garhwal; the scenery is often reminiscent of the west highlands of Scotland. The whole area actually consists of the basins of the Girthi river and its two main tributaries, the Eimkin or Yoong nullah and the Kiogad; it is shut in to the north-east, north-west, south-west and south-east by snowy ranges, pierced by numerous passes. The Girthi gorge cuts through the mountains on the northwest and provides an outlet from this area, passable for coolie transport only.
From Lauka we ascended a small peak of about 19,500 feet to the north-wont of the Anta Dhura. There was no real climbing to be done and we made an eventless ascent over firm, freshly fallen snow, which hero came down to about 17,500 feet.
On the 20th September we crossed the Jayanti La (18,500 feet) and the Kungri-bingri La (18,300 feet) in fine weather and descended to Charchin; both passes were practically clear of snow and visibility was perfect. From the summit of the Jayanti La we enjoyed a truly magnificent view of the mountains to the north -west of the Anta Dhura, and of the Girthi gorge; from the Kungri-bingri the Kailas mountains, in Tibet, backed by banks of cumulus, were plainly visible. There was no dust cloud north of this pass.
The peaks near these two passes are very rugged and are composed of a reddish rock ; the approaches to both are gradual, except southern ascent to the Kungri-bingri La, which is steep and difficult. The weather now was perfect and the few clouds that drifted over rapidly dissolved in the dry atmosphere of the Tibetan plateau.
On the 21st September we crossed the Charchin La (17,960 feet) which was also free of snow ; on our way down to Kio we noticed a nullah with outcrops of bright green rock. The lack of snow lying in the Kiogad valley was remarkable, the snow-line here being at least at 20,000 feet.
At Kio Richardson was lucky to shoot a wild yak, which we had difficulty in recovering owing to the religious prejudices of the shikari. Descending the Kiogad, we travelled via Sangcha on the Balcha Dhura route, to Lapthal; here we were fortunate enough to shoot a 27-inch bharal and to pick up three other good heads. The numerous camping- grounds along this route are decorated with bharal heads, and at Sangcha we found a single ovis ammon horn. These had probably been obtained from beasts caught in snow-drifts and killed for their meat.
At Lapthal, where we halted for five days, the sky was generally overcast and we had some snow which drove the game down. Here Richardson got a badly poisoned knee from a thorn of a small bush, common in these parts. For a time there was a serious danger of gangrene setting in, but it answered to treatment, and he was at last able to proceed, mounted on a spare mule. While halted here, we picked up numerous ammonite fossils, which we also found in smaller quantities later at Rimkin and at the approaches to the Bala Hoti pass
. Their presence would seem to indicate that we were near the junction of the sedimentary rocks and the gneissic mass of the northern Himalaya.
On the 29th September, from our camp at Shalshal (15,570 feet), I ascended the Shalshal pass (16,390 feet), accompanied by my Gurkha orderly. The pass is about two miles north of the camping-ground and the approaches are easy. The summit was snowless and the track well used. Between Choti Hoti, our next camp, and Rimkin, I again left the main party and ascended the Tun Jun La (16,700 feet), which lies at the head of the Rimkin nullah. The approaches to this pass are gradual and it is a much-used route to Dapa. On my way up I saw a Central Asian ass, grazing on the sunny moors to the south of the pass.
The presence of snow on this pass made me doubtful about the state of the Bala Hoti(1
), over which we must return, if we were to avoid Tibetan territory, for it is not only a higher pass than the Tun Jun La by some eight hundred feet, but it is nearer the monsoon belt.
Leaving Rimkin on the 1st October we attempted to cross the Bala Hoti pass. By 5 p.m. we were still five bundled feet from the summit, moving over deep snow, into which the mules sank up to their girths. In spite of off-loading them, we were unable to cross that night and camped on the glacier at 17,000 feet, with no fuel and with no food for the servants, as we had expected to reach a village. At five o'clock the following morning we again attempted the last five hundred feet which separated us from the summit, hoping that the frozen surface would support the mules. In spite of man-handling them they broke through the crust and floundered hopelessly. We therefore abandoned the attempt to get the animals over and I crossed the pass myself and descended to Bompa Gamsali, sixteen miles away, in order to procure coolies. I was only able to obtain two, Lewa Singh
and Kesar Singh, both of whom had worked for the Kamet expedition and who returned with me laden with atta and other stores. He-ascending the pass on the evening of the 3rd, I crossed the pass by bright moonlight and reached camp at dawn on the 4th ; camp was moved at once and we spent the night at Rankin.
From Bara Hoti, there are two alternative routes to the Dhauli valley, one via the Silikank pass (17,450 feet) to Gildungf, and the other by the Marchauk pass (17,600 feet) to Niti. These we also found blocked and the only alternative was to escape from the Hoti a area through Tibet.
The weather had now improved, and crossing the Tun Jun La, which we now found almost clear of snow, on the 5th October, we reached Sarkia in Tibet that night. Here our track joined the route from Garhwal into Tibet by the Niti pass. While ascending the Tun Jun La from the south we sighted a herd of ovis ammon on the summit, but were sorrowfully forced to leave them alone, owing to lack of time. These animals, for some unknown reason, are to be found in a small area in this neighbourhood, but nowhere else south of the Zaskar range.
From Sarkia we turned westwards up the Jindu nullah to Jindu, at the northern foot of the Niti or Kiunlung pass (16,600 feet), which we hoped to cross that day. The muleteers however refused to do this and ran away. It was only with the greatest difficulty that we persuaded them to return.
The Jindu nullah is about a quarter of a mile broad, with a sandstone escarpment rising about four hundred feet on its northern bank. Beyond its lip the rolling uplands of Tibet stretch to the snowy Kailas range. On the 7th October we crossed the Niti pass, which was nearly snowless, into upper Garhwal. From the flat summit we on joyed a wonderful view across the uplands to the north and could see the hill which hides Dapa from sight, about twelve miles away. On the northern horizon a continuous line of snowy peaks stretched from the neighbourhood of Kailas in the east far away to the west. In the clear, dry atmosphere the purple and green tints of the hills were particularly beautiful.
* There seems to be some error in the name of the first o£ these porters. Lewa was badly frostbitten on Kamet on the 21st June.-Ed.
On Survey of India Map 53 N, Gwelding -Ed.
The Tun Jun La is not shown on Survey of India Map 53 N. It is about 3 miles west of the Marhi La (Map 62 B), and is much used. The route north of the pass follows a large nullah to Sarkia.-Ed.
We learnt from a passing caravan that the Dzongpon of Dapa was a tyrant, who had reduced the population of that place to twenty inhabitants by cruelty and extortion. He was reputed to be an ex-muleteer from Lhasa. On our return through upper Garhwal we again experienced much rain, especially when we crossed the Kuari pass (12,400 feet) on the 12th October. The people of upper Garhwal we found altogether pleasanter than those of upper Kumaun.
It may interest members of the Club to know that on our journey between Milam and Bompa Gamsali, fuel, grazing and water are plentiful, except at Rimkin, Charchin, Lauka and Jindu, where fuel and grass are scarce. Our journey cost us Rs. 400 per head per month, including initial equipment, food and transport. We took no camp furniture, and our 60-lb. tent just accommodated our three sleeping- bags.
Sketch Map to illustrate A Journey in Upper Kumaun and Garhwal
Charchin is spelt Chitichun on Survey of India Map 62 B.-Ed.
Mr. Hugh Ruttledge, i.c.s., records that he found fossils, probably ammonites, at Charchin and on the summit of the Kungri-bingri La (Qeog. Journ., lxxi, p. 438). I am indebted to Mr. D. N. Wadia, the palaeontologist of the Geological Survey of India, for examining the fossils collected by Mr. Rose. He reports that the localities from which they come adjoin geologically surveyed ground near the Dhauli pass. Five pieces of black massive argillite or shale contained good impressions of Ammonites ; these probably belong to Macrocephalites or other Stephanoceratids of later Jurassic age. A coral embedded in black limestone is provisionally identified as Heliopora. If this is correct, it would denote a Cretaceous age.-Ed.
P) The Bala Hoti pass is known locally as the Chor Hoti.