HAVING obtained two and a half months' leave from the end of May last year, my husband and I started from Roorkee on the 30th, bound for Kulu by way of Pathankot and the Kangra valley. We left the train at Pathankot and took a 30-cwt. lorry in which we could pack all our kit, and drove the first day as far as Palampur, a pleasant place full of tea-gardens and Scotch firs. The next day we covered the remaining thirty miles to Guma, where mules were waiting to carry our baggage over the Babbu pass into Kulu.
Our general plan from here was to cross the Hampta pass into Lahul, travel up the Chandar valley and take the Kunzam pass into Spiti. From Spiti we were to make our way into Rupshu, and, if luck went with us, wander south-eastwards to the borders of Chu- murti, near the source of the Hanle river.
On 3rd June we arrived at Jagatsukh in Kulu, which is the jumping-off ground for the Hampta pass (14,000 feet). We had written ahead to arrange for coolies, but owing to a cholera epidemic, the duplicity of the lumbardar, and the natural aversion of the Kulu people to any hard work, we were delayed there three days. Had it not been that our shikari from Spiti with two or three other Spiti men were waiting at Jagatsukh when we arrived, we might still have been there, for they helped us to put an end to the blackmailing policy of the lumbardar, although we finally had to pay three times as much as the nerrick rate quoted in the Punjab Route-Book.
We had twenty-four coolies ; sixteen loads being our own, the rest firewood and rations. When crossing the Hampta pass, no Kulu man will carry an ounce over 40 pounds, as we soon found to our cost when the village scales were produced and the loads cut down to the last quarter-pound tin of tobacco.
It is two marches from Jagatsukh over the pass into Lahul. We were the first to cross from Kulu this year, and our second march was entirely over snow. There was an unpleasant snow-slope to negotiate just after topping the pass, but our Spiti men, who were entirely without fear, cut steps and everyone got down safely. We were helped greatly by having iron crampons of a sort that could be put on and taken off quickly over any kind of footwear.
We turned eastwards up the Chandar valley in Lahul which is uninhabited, and had not yet received its summer visitation of nomad shepherds. The route taken in winter is along the right bank of the river, but by this time the snow-bridges had broken, and we had to keep to the left bank and make a route for ourselves. Later in the year there are well-marked goat-tracks and the going is comparatively simple. Except for a small clump of silver birches below the Hampta pass, there is no kind of firewood until Spiti is reached. The marching is almost entirely over large rocks and very tiring.
On the 10th June we crossed the two Shigris (glaciers), both of which are receding. The Chota Shigri ends in a sheer wall of ice, cut perfectly smooth and without a blemish. The Bara Shigri fills the whole valley with its piles of moraine. Both the streams issuing from them were unfordable and we had to make a detour across the ice, a particularly long way round over the Bara Shigri. Our Spiti shikari said that year by year this detour gets longer as the snout of the glacier retreats. This march, which we calculated to be about eighteen miles, took us eleven hours.
The following day we crossed the Kunzam pass (14,930 feet) into Spiti. There was hardly any snow on the pass and the climb was gradual and easy. We spent a day at Losar, the first village we struck, paying off the Kulu men—with thanksgiving—and arranging for transport in the Spiti valley.
Our plan was now to cross into Rupshu by the Takling La. We had sampled the Parang La two years before and were not keen to go over it again. The Takling La is off the direct route, and not much used ; but unfortunately for this reason we could find nobody willing to cross with us. No one had been over it as yet this spring, whereas the first traders from Rupshu had already begun to cross the Parang La into Spiti.
After a few days' waiting in the Takling Nala, where our water supply was a snowdrift and our tent was very nearly carried off by the wind, we marched for Toomleh in the Kibar Nala, where we had arranged for our transport to meet us We had now fifteen loads all indispensable, consisting of food, tents, clothes and rifles—no camp furniture except a canvas bath. We had two tents, a single-fly for the servants, and a double-fly light-weight green canvas one for ourselves, which weighed 28 lbs., and was about the size of an ordinary 80-lb. tent, though nothing like so warm. The food consisted of supplies for two months as nothing can be counted on either in Spiti or Rupshu. We finally started for the Parang La on the 17th June, the first to attack it from the Spiti side that year. Our transport consisted of two yaks and a dozen or so men, some of whom simply came for the fun of the thing. In Spiti one does not pay by the man, but by the load, and sometimes a whole village will turn out to carry one's kit.
From Toomleh we crossed the pass in three stages, first climbing about 3,000 feet to the downs of Traltak; then dropping into the gorge of the Kibar river and climbing up the other side to a camp under the pass at about 17,000 feet; and lastly crossing the pass (18,300 feet) to the glacier and down into the Pare valley. We were obliged to take the stages slowly on account of the yaks as there is no feeding between Traltak and the first halting-place in Rupshu, and owing to their poor winter feeding the animals in June are thin and out of condition. Our last camp in Spiti was fearfully cold and we were surprised to see yellow-billed choughs apparently enjoying themselves at that altitude. At 4-30 a.m., before starting the last climb, the thermometer registered 8°F. We reached the summit before sunrise, and by that time it was a good deal colder. The glacier on the Rupshu side of the pass seemed untouched by the fact that it was nearly mid-summer, and we ran down without any precautions over a smooth slope of snow. Two years previously we had crossed under very different circumstances in July, just after a Tibetan had lost a yak in one of the crevasses. The pass closes again about the middle of September.
We picked up new transport from Kanzok on the Tso Moriri, consisting entirely of yaks, and continued our way down the Pare river as far as Monkhar. Here we saw a lot of bar-headed geese and quantities of brahminy duck, the latter seeming very fond of perching on high cliffs and on exposed rocks on the tops of hills. At Monkhar we left the river and cut eastwards across the downs for two marches, finding much game en route-burrhel, ovis ammon, and Tibetan snowcock. We were lucky enough to shoot three good burrhel, the horns measuring 30, 26 ½, and 25 ½ inches.
The ultimate object of our journey was to reach the Imis La on the Tibetan border, but from here onwards our maps were inclined to fail us, and we spent a trying day looking for the Kyungzang pass, leading out of Rupshu into the Hanle province. In a country of downs, however, a pass is not essential, and we finally crossed the ridge at a great elevation—we calculated we must have touched 20,000 feet that day—and dropped down to a camp a few miles from the Hanle river. This was the only occasion on which our Spiti men suffered from mountain-sickness.
We followed the Hanle river towards its source until we were within a few miles of the Imis La. We were camping then at 17,500 feet, which we found too cold for comfort, so we dropped a couple of thousand feet and camped near the river, spending a week or thereabouts in search of ammon and Tibetan gazelle. The number of kyang here was stupendous, and we got positively sick of mistaking them for other things.
Having bagged a 42 ½ -inch ammon and a 12 ½ -inch gazelle we decided to return by way of Hanle to the Tso Moriri. It was now getting on for the middle of July and the summer may be said to have set in Certainly in the Hanle plain the sun was most unpleasantly hot in the middle of the day. We again changed transport here, sending our first lot of yaks back to Kanzok. The facility with which we obtained transport was entirely due to our Spiti shikari, who was friendly with the important personages both of Rupshu and Hanle.
We had two more passes of 17,000 feet to cross before we finally dropped to the edge of the Tso Moriri. However these " down " passes are quite free of snow, as are all the hills here below about 20,000 feet, owing to the small snowfall and the high winds. Obviously another foot or two of snow in winter would make the country uninhabitable, as the nomads depend on feeding their animals on the hill-side all the year round. There is never enough grass to collect for winter feeding. At times when there is abnormal snowfall, the animals die in hundreds, witnesses by certain camping-grounds we passed, marked by nothing but piles of bones.
We marched round the northern end of the lake, which is increasing in size, as we found to our cost when we were cut off by a huge lagoon not marked on the map. The rocky island off Kanzok still shown on some maps has been submerged for years. There were quantities of bar-headed geese and brahminy duck with their families paddling about near the edge of the lake, and recently deserted nesting-places all along the shore. There were also black-crested mergansers and small ducks, which I think must have been pochards.
At Kanzok there is an important lamasery and one house, which belongs to the Gova of Rupshu, the head-man of the nomads. It- was a few days before the annual fair and the lamas gave a devil-dance in our honour and allowed us to attend a service in their temple. We inspected the summer encampment of the nomads a few miles above the lamasery, where they were collected together for the yearly shearing of sheep and yaks. The weather was unkind to us ; it was intolerably hot in the middle of the day, once registering 108°F. in the tent, and in the evening tremendous squalls attacked us from across the lake, so that we had to hang on to our tent-poles to prevent the tent from blowing away. These storms followed us all the way up the Pare valley to the Parang La, which we re-crossed into Spiti on 22nd July in great fear lest we should be caught by one of them on the top of the pass.
Spiti was in the prime of summer and full of glorious flowers. We still had a week to spare and spent it moving back slowly towards the Kunzam pass, enjoying the luxury of gentle marches, plenty of gossip and fresh yaks' milk to drink.
The rest of our journey was uneventful. Lahul was a rock- garden full of flowers, and the roads had all been beaten out by the invading flocks of nomad shepherds. On the 2nd August we crossed the Hampta pass ; it was unrecognizable. There was hardly a drift of snow remaining, where a few weeks before we had cut steps. Kulu was a void of mist and cloud. We plunged down into the Monsoon.