Himalayan Journal vol.04
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.04

Publication year:
1932

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. ON ANCIENT TRACKS PAST THE PAMIRS
    (SIR AUREL STEIN)
  2. THE FIRST ASCENT OF KAMET
    (CAPTAIN E. ST. J. BIRNIE)
  3. AN EXPLORATION OF THE ARWA VALLEY, BRITISH
    (CAPTAIN E. ST. J. BIRNIE)
  4. MY EXPEDITION IN THE EASTERN KARAKORAM, 1930
    (Professor GIOTTO DAINELLI)
  5. SKI-ING IN THE HIGH EASTERN HIMALAYA
    (ULRICH WIELAND ?)
  6. BY SHONTHAR GALI TO RAMA, ASTOR
    (CAPTAIN J. BARRON)
  7. THE SHYOK ICE-BARRIER IN 1931
    (CAPTAIN C. E. C. GREGORY)
  8. A FRONTIER TOUR
    (LIEUT-COLONEL J. R. C. GANNON)
  9. HIGH ALTITUDE AND OXYGEN
    (N. E. ODELL)
  10. SUB-HIMALAYAN DIETETICS
    (Dr. C. STRICKLAND)
  11. THE TSARAP VALLEY, EASTERN LAHUL
    (LIBUT.-COLONISI, C. H. STOCKLEY)
  12. PEAKS AND PASSES OF THE T'lEN SHAN
    (Lieut-Colonel R. C. F. SCHOMBERG)
  13. THE FIGHT FOR KANGCHENJUNGA, 1931
    (PAUL BAUER)
  14. Lhonak, 1930
    (G. B. GOURLAY)
  15. A Journey in Upper Kumaun and Garhwal
    (Lieutenant HUGH ROSE)
  16. Expeditions
  17. In memorium
  18. Notes
  19. Reviews
  20. Correspondence
  21. Club Proceedings

BY SHONTHAR GALI TO RAMA, ASTOR

CAPTAIN J. BARRON

IT WAS on the 21st May 1931 that my wife and I left Srinagar by car for the Lolab valley. I had sent my servant and the bulk of my kit three days ahead, by lorry to Sopor and thence by ponies. There is a pukka road as far as Sopor (30 miles), whence a kachha forest-road, in wet weather passable only with considerable difficulty for motors with chains on the wheels, leads to Khurhom, a distance of 38 miles. This road passes Handawor and follows the beautiful Lolab to a forest bungalow at the foot of the hills in the north-east branch of the valley. We were lucky to have a few days' fine weather before starting, which restored the surface to a decent condition after recent heavy rain. Except at one or two places in the shade, the road was good, though at times somewhat narrow. We carried our luncheon with us and arrived at Khurhom in comfortable time for tea. The bungalow is delightfully situated at the foot of a spur dividing two re-entrants, which descends precipitously from the pine-clad hills. It stands at a height of about 6200 feet above sea-level and affords a splendid view down the Lolab of paddy fields and grassy walnut-groves against a sombre background of deodar-covered slopes.

Next morning I went on with my servant and seventeen coolies over the Nao Gali (10,867 feet) to Matsil. It is about six miles to the top of the pass, the last two being very steep, but not difficult, over a rough track. The local coolies are evidently not used to carrying loads, for they carry them on the backs of their heads, holding them with their hands raised above their shoulders in front. I was unable to persuade them to carry them on their backs. Though none of my loads exceeded sixty pounds, yet it was not till 5-45 p.m. that eleven coolies reached the pass : they had started at 9 a.m. The rest were not even in sight. I decided to go on with these eleven loads, which included my tent and bedding.

For two-and-a-half miles the snow was old and hard. We went straight down the middle of the steep valley, eventually reaching some grassy slopes and pine-forest four miles from the pass. Here I bivouacked and sent two men back to help the rest. They returned ; an hour later to say that the others could be neither heard nor found. So perforce I lay down to sleep dinnerless.

Next morning about six o'clock my servant and the rest of the ? coolies arrived, having passed the night about half a mile up the valley, and having failed to see our fire owing to a bend in the gorge; or to hear our shouting owing to the thunder of the torrent. We). proceeded down the pleasant valley to Matsil, two miles away. Here I had breakfast and changed coolies. I expected to reach the Banda- pur-Chilas road at Dudi, two miles further on, but found that this had fallen into disuse since the disaster to the Kashmir troops on the Hazdiangan ridge in September 1928[1]. There were portions of the old road here and there, but in many places it passes through precipitous gorges, and there was nothing left of it at all. That night I camped in delightful weather at the pretty scattered hamlet of King, ten miles from Matsil.

Next day I was away early, but it soon commenced to rain and continued solidly until evening. The gorge became narrower and the pine-clad hillsides steeper below Dhakki. In places it was necessary to hang on with fingers and toes. I had increased the number of coolies to nineteen for this march. In fine weather it would have been glorious but as it was we all arrived thoroughly wet and miserable at the confluence of this nullah with the swift snow-fed waters of the Kishanganga. Crossing just below the junction by a good cantilever-bridge, we reached the Chilas road, which now follows the Kishanganga by Folowai and Taobat.

Soon the lofty village of Kel was viewed, almost blocking the valley. There is a curious knoll here, rising straight up in the middle of the nullah, and on the top of it is a long straight tree-trunk, absolutely bare save for a tuft half-way up and another at the top. It gives the impression of a mast at some coastal signal-station. Here the Barai tributary flings its waters into the Kishanganga; and it was up its right bank that I now turned, encamping at a pleasant spot in the adjoining village of Kalalot, near the stream. Luckily by the time my kit arrived the rain had ceased.

The inhabitants of Kel are a hardy, cheerful, obliging lot of Gujars, talking Punjabi and originally coming from the Punjab. They had been warned of my coming and I was helped to pitch my camp by chaprassis, chowkidars and about a hundred coolies, who provided maunds of grass and scores of tent-pegs. I feel they must have been very disappointed to find that I was only travelling with one double-fly 40-pounder and two servants' pals.

I now had six more consecutive wet days, when it either rained, hailed or snowed for most of the day and night, yet each day I was luckily able to pitch my camp during a fine spell. For a few minutes that evening the sun came out and I thought what a very pleasant place Kel was. The Barai nullah is much more open than the Matsil, and next day the road was moderately easy to Lilam (13 miles). The Chilas road follows the Barai nullah to the Barai pass. We left it and turned up the Shonthar nullah to the right. I arrived at Lilam, which is about a thousand feet above the stream, after a steepish final ascent, some time before my coolies. Here I had to take shelter in a foul and filthy house, in which the family had spent a bitter winter with their dogs, cows, sheep and goats, and probably a pony or two as well. While I was here it hailed, snowed, thundered and lightened. Some of the flashes were quite close and caused the wooden beam I was sitting on to vibrate.

I had left Kel late owing to the rain, otherwise I should not have stopped here, but would have continued for the next six miles to Shontharmarg. The country was becoming considerably wilder Ľud all the surrounding hills were covered with snow. We were on the right bank. Opposite, an extremely precipitous and now unused track leads over the Chittakatha Sar round the Hari Parbat peak (17,699 feet)[2] into the head of the Chandbili nullah.

Next day continuing round the contour to the junction of two nullahs, we took the eastern one. Up the western leads a very difficult and little-used track over snow and glacier into the head of the Rupal nullah. Gently rising over snow-bridges I had a grand view of the Shonthar Gali (14,973 feet), which at the moment was dear of cloud and appeared very close: very different from what it turned out to be five days later, for I was destined to be held up here for four days by foul weather. I camped on the only patch of dry ground, just free of snow, below the last habitation, the bleak hamlet of Kotri, where the valley broadens and is fed by three or four small side-streams. In this forbidding spot snow fell heavily the first night, j after which I had snow all round my tent and had to keep the outer ; flies free by shovelling.

There were some very obliging snow pigeon which kept offering me rights and lefts as they flew around. During my stay here I also i explored the main Shonthar nullah for some distance. It apparently ,:i carries on for some ten miles, its upper end being blocked by a glacier i from which there is no exit. Each night before turning in, and each morning, I looked forth hopefully for signs of a clear day, yet it was;' not until the fifth evening that any hope could be entertained. One of my guides, with unnecessary pessimism I thought, informed me that he had once waited for his moqa for fifteen days, and had had to turn back in the end !

On the fifth evening the moon rose clear and I gave orders to be ' called at two in the morning. On rising I saw the moon about to set and a thick mist arose obscuring vision at about fifty yards. I waited till it began to grow light at five o'clock, when the mist cleared and we ; started. I was accompanied by two local Gujars who possessed a hamlet in the Mir Malik valley beyond the pass and who knew the route well. They cross even in winter when the weather is clear. The last sahib to cross took ponies over in July, and lost one, complete with brand-new Sowter saddle, in a crevasse. I had increased my coolies to twenty-five, to make my loads as light as possible ; it was : lucky I did so, for we had several feet of new soft snow the whole way. The climb of 4600 feet in about six miles would have been arduous without the soft snow, into which we sank knee-deep and sometimes hip-deep at almost every step. About half-way up the brilliant sun shone down on us from a perfectly clear sky, necessitating the use of snow-goggles, a pair of which luckily each coolie possessed. We lunched short of the pass, which we reached about one o'clock, closely followed by the coolies. Snow now fell and continued for about three and a half hours. The descent was incredibly steep straight down through avalanche snow for the first mile or so; the snow was too soft and sticky for a glissade, so this too became tiring after a time.

We joined the Chandbili nullah by the giant rock of that name : about two and a half miles from the summit, and continued down to its junction with the Dobin nullah (10,500 feet), about six miles from the pass. This was the first ground clear of snow that we reached, and very relieved we were to see it. Here the Kashmir Mountain Battery, stationed in the Gilgit Agency, spends a month or two in the summer, grazing its mules. The place is named Steanemarg after a certain Special Service Officer, who first introduced it to the Battery. Here also the Kel Gujars possess a hamlet which they call Sheondas. The coolies were all in- by seven o'clock, but my bearer did not arrive till ten; once again I went to bed dinnerless. The ponies from the village of Mir Malik were grazing all around and below my camp, so I paid off all the coolies, who started back for Kel bofore I awoke next morning.

My first day at Steanemarg was a glorious one. After killing two rock pigeons with one barrel, I was basking in the sun before my tent, when one of the Gujars rushed up and pointed out a red bear not half a mile away across the main nullah. I got out my rifle, put on my boots and followed him. He was making his way up the opposite hillside. Soon we reached his tracks, and eventually, after about an hour and a half, found him rooting under some rocks on a grassy maidan. Here I was able to get in a shot with my '470 at about 180 yards, which caused him to slither and slip down the snow slope and into the stream below. I hit him again as he was falling. We followed as quickly as possible and found that he had been washed over a waterfall and had fallen about fifty or sixty feet into a pool by a snow bridge. Luckily he was too far gone to get under the snow. Here with one more shot I finished him off. He was a grand male in full winter coat: a fitting reward for a tiring journey in foul weather.

I may mention that near the top of the Shonthar Gali, on the Kol side, is a very difficult path into the Chichi nullah, sometimes used by shikaris and kuth thieves. At Chandbili the alternative route from Lilam, mentioned above, joins. And from Steanemarg there is a rough track leading up the Dobin nullah, over the Sarewali Gali (14,000 feet odd), to Folowai on the Kishanganga.

Next day I spent looking after the bear's skin, and the following day pushed on to Rattu, where I slept in a bungalow once more. At Rattu I reached the main route from Gurais to Astor, via the Kamri pass. Two miles from Astor I was met by the Raja and his brother, who with characteristic politeness escorted me to the Rest house, conversing the while of polo and shikar.

This route is an unusual one for the journey to Astor, and could never be used throughout its length by pack ponies, without considerable work being done on it, yet in fine weather it affords a most beautiful and pleasant trek. The actual distance on foot from Khurhom to Astor is 101 miles, 14 miles shorter than that from Bandapur to Astor by the normal route. Nine days, excluding halts, were taken from Srinagar to Astor, but the Ring and Lilam stages could easily be omitted in fair weather, whereas eight are required for the journey from Srinagar by Bandapur and the Kamri. There is only one difficult pass, the Shonthar Gali, against two which can be most unpleasant on the normal route, the Tragbal and the Kamri. Ponies and cattle are regularly taken over the Shonthar Gali from the middle of June to the middle of October in fine weather by the local people.

* See map opposite page 77, Himalayan Journal, vol. iii, accompanying Professor Byhrenfurth's account of this expedition.

From Astor it usually takes about an hour and a half to reach Rama, the delightful summer residence of the Gilgit garrison. In the summer the valleys of the Indus and Gilgit rivers become extremely hot, sometimes registering a shade temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. It is then that the Political Agent and other officers of the Agency frequently take their wives and families to Rama, a miniature Gulmarg at over 10,300 feet above sea-level. It is about four miles from the old Astor fort and tahsil headquarters, which are situated on a conglomerate clifi above the Astor river at a height of about 7600 feet.

In order to reach Rama it is necessary to climb steeply up the fertile valley between two swiftly-flowing mountain torrents. The waters of one of these are beautifully clear, because they have their origin in the lake, sacred to the fairies of Nanga Parbat, which is contained at a height of about 12,000 feet between the large glacier descending from Nanga's third peak (over 22,000 feet) and the mountain-side. The other torrent, with waters of a muddy reddish colour, gushes forth from beneath the glacier itself, whose enormous dirty snout overlooks Rama.

The last mile rises steeply through a forest of spruce, deodar and pine, until, on surmounting the final crest, the picturesque wooden bungalow of the Political Agent and the marg of- Rama burst on one with comforting suddenness. A babbling brook is crossed on the marg, on which is the polo ground, about 160 yards long and 40 yards broad, bordered by felled tree-trunks. Rama also boasts a small golf-course and a badminton court. In July or August it is a mass of blue gentians and edelweiss, completely surrounded by pines and firs, above which, on one side, rises the glacier with its terminal moraine.

A roam through the pine-woods may produce anchusa, orchids, king-cups, blue and yellow violets, dwarf primula, the true edelweiss, four-leaved clover and other plants of interest to lovers of nature, as well as Alpine strawberries and currants. A pack of wolves lives on the mountain-side near the snout of the glacier. These prey on the local ponies and cattle which come up to graze on the luscious grass. Sometimes they take a pony or cow from the very precincts of the Political Agent's bungalow. Though they are most elusive by day I have several times seen them across the glacier, whose snout is about a mile and a half wide. Unfortunately the glacier here is covered with rocks and debris, and much intersected by crevasses, which render the crossing lengthy and arduous. Usually by the time one has crossed there is no sign of any wolves until a shikari spots them on the side from which one has just come.

There is a rough track up the mountain-side to the sacred lake. To reach this it is necessary to ford the torrent and cross various snow and mud avalanche slopes, which takes about' an hour and a quarter from Rama. The local people firmly believe that Nanga Parbat is inhabited by fairies and evil spirits, who vent their wrath on aify who attempt to invade their icy solitude. During the only attempt to scale the peak, Mummery and two Gurkhas lost their lives. That was in 1895. Not very long ago an officer of the Gilgit Agency brought out a light out-board motor boat for use on the Indus. This was a complete innovation, for the Indus is very swift, and its waters, as they swirl over hidden rocks and rapids, are bitterly cold. The boat arrived at Astor when this officer was at Rama, and he had it carried up to the sacred lake in order to try it. Unfortunately that particular summer was very wet and the local crops were largely spoilt by torrential rains. Whereupon the local people put their troubles down to the fact that the fairies had been provoked by the desecration of their lake, and petitioned the Raja, the Naib-Tahsildar and Wazir-i-Wazarat to restrain the officer from plying his boat on the lake. He propitiated them by giving them a goat for sacrifice and shortly afterwards left with his boat for Bunji, on the Indus.

Soon after the tragic sequel occurred. The officer was floating down the Indus in his boat, when it became jammed between two partly submerged rocks. There was no chance of getting it off undamaged, so eventually, removing his clothes, he swam for the shore, a distance of fifty or sixty yards. He was carried down the river by the icy current, and in spite of being a strong swimmer failed to reach the bank. His body was found a month later washed up on some rocks several miles lower down.

As with many other great mountains of the Himalaya, the neighbourhood of Nanga Parbat is the home of many myths and legends. The mountain is said to contain mysterious grazing-grounds, never yet found by mortal man, and the following fable explains the origin of the belief :

Once upon a time there was a village on the lower slopes of Diamir, on the higher margs of which ponies used to graze during the summer months. In a certain year the animals had suffered much from lack of grass, scanty grain and hard work. In very bad condition they were sent up higher under the charge of a lad, who spent his nights by the side of a scrub fire under a rock. One morning, when he awoke, to his horror he was unable to see a single pony. One and all they had disappeared into thin air. After searching everywhere he sadly returned to the village, where he was received with angry words and suffered much bodily punishment at the hands of the head-men ; but in spite of further search the animals could not be found.

Some months later, when the winter snow-storms were commencing, the same youth was up the mountain-side collecting wild onions. When he reached the rock where he had spent the fatal night, he suddenly saw all the ponies back there grazing, as though nothing had happened, but they were bursting with fat and leaping about with energy and good spirits. He rounded them up and drove them down to the village, where they were all received with great rejoicing.

Diamir-the local name for Nanga Parbat-in spite of its many folk-lore stories and superstitions, inspires ambitious dreams, yet her upper slopes are so precipitous that something more than mere mountain equipment will be required before man conquers her virgin snows!


[1] This road, known as the Tragbal-Chilas Convoy Road was only completed in 1922, and a scheme for rest-houses was sanctioned. The disaster mentioned above caused a change of policy, the route was abandoned, and convoys now descend the Tragbal pass by the GUgit road to Kanzalwan, whence a good road has been constructed down the Kishanganga. Route 39 of Routes in the Western Himalaya, 2nd Ed., 1929, is therefore already out of date.-Ed.

[2] Some of these peaks would afford very interesting climbs. As far as I hare bten able to ascertain, they have never been attempted.-Ed.