Himalayan Journal vol.12
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (F. LUDLOW)
    (J. B. AUDEN)
    (LIEUT. J. F. S. OTTLEY)
    (Lieut. I. H. LYALL GRANT and Lieut.-Colonel KENNETH MASON)
    (Flight-Lieut. ARTHUR YOUNG)
  13. NOTES



This account describes some journeys carried out when on duty amongst the main ranges of the Central Himalaya. After several seasons of geological survey in the lower ranges, I was at last able, on account of blue prints being available of the new surveys, to examine the main ranges and connect up with the work which Griesbach carried out between 1879 and 1883. I had already made an excursion when on leave in 1935 to the Harsil-Gangotri region, but at that time there were no modern maps and an accurate survey was impossible.1
I left Calcutta by car on the 14th January, reaching Dehra Dun (1,113 miles) via Delhi on the 18th. Work was begun in the Siwaliks near Hardwar, but was abruptly terminated by a call to Baroda and the Mehsana district on a water-supply problem. This brought me to the granite tors at the south-west end of the Aravalli range, the worn-down stumps of a range, once perhaps of Himalayan dimensions, which is now the backbone of India. I returned in ten days time to Dehra Dun and Rikhikesh (Map 53j/sw),2 continuing on to Tehri (53J/sw), Dangchura, Srinagar (53J/se), Nagnath, Pokhri, and Karnaprayag (53N/sw) and joining up with a traverse made in 1932 from Ranikhet to the Arwa glaciers. From there I passed the old copper mine of Dhanpur and crossed the high northern rim of the Dudatoli massif on the 4th March by a pass 9,400 feet in height. This was under deep snow, and my mules had to be dismissed and the luggage relayed over the pass to Dobri (53N/sw). Thence down the unattractive western Nayar river to I.-msdowne (53K/ne), where S. Whitehead reintroduced me to the hospitality of the Royal Garhwal Rifles and collected ten excellent coolies who remained with me for six weeks until their scanty clothes proved inadequate for the altitude. He also told me of a dump of drlir.M ies left by the Germans at Nandanban on the Gangotri glacier, which unfortunately I never reached. After a week spent in the plains we left Lansdowne on the 3rd April, going northwards to Devaprayag (53J/se), Tehri (53J/SW), Nakuri (53/Nw), Singoti, and Jumnotri (53I/sw). Snow was lying down to 12,000 feet on the hills above Jumnotri on the 1st May. I camped at 12,800 feet and went up to 15,600 feet on a glacier north-east of the temple, unfortunately not having time to go as far as the col which leads over to the Tons river. Anyone wishing to try that route from the south would find Durga Datta of Kharsali a useful guide. He knows the local mountains well, having been shikari to many in the days when yearly trips were made to the Himalaya instead of to Europe.

1 Himalayan Journal, vol. viii, 1936, p. 96.

2 I regret that pressure of work has prevented me from finding time to illustrate this paper with a sketch-map. I have therefore added references to Survey maps throughout. -Ed.

There are boiling springs at Jumnotri issuing from tufa, the shapes of which the priest pointed out to me, explaining in considerable detail their anatomical analogues. The water is led into a tank in which the pilgrims bathe in a temperature of 105° F. I did so at night after allowing sufficient time for the floating residues to flow away. My tent was pitched on sand which was uncomfortably hot at 920 F., and hot vapours rose through the ground sheet into my sleeping-bag, giving me a headache. One of the sadhus assured me that this was easily explicable. I was no pilgrim coming to make darshan to the deities, but one of the idly curious. Curiosity and darshan were manifestly different things and the former brings its own disasters.

The return journey to the Bhagirathi river was made via Kupra over a ridge just below Thadol trigonometrical survey station (12,362 feet) and Uprikot (53J/nw). The old forest bungalow at Kot, near Barahat, is now used as a ranger's quarters and another bungalow has been created out of the hulk of one of the famous Wilson's houses. Mr. E. Benskin (then Forest Advisor to Tehri- Garhwal State) and I camped a night at the trout hatcheries at Kaliana. Most of the trout are eaten by mahseer as soon as they are put into the Binsi Gad, the altitude of the hatcheries being only 4,700 feet.

This part of Tehri-Garhwal State is very unpleasant to camp in during the hot months on account of the torment caused by the Potu Fly (iSimulium indicum). Mobbs, in the Working Plan for the Tons Forest Division, quotes Colonel Pearson, who wrote in his annual report for 1869-70:

The bites of the Totu-fly' are a terrible scourge to plains men, and just before my return to the Tons last June, 180 pairs of sawyers all bolted off, declaring that nothing would induce them to work in such a place.

The temperature was 103° F. in the shade at Maneri (53J/ne, 4,384 feet) on the 10th May, and a leaf shelter proved more endurable than a Whymper tent. At Harsil (53I/se) I paid off the Lansdowne coolies, who went with much reluctance. But they had only hot-weather clothes and did not know the local region. Besides two Sherpas whom I had, I relied on five men from Harsil, two of whom had been with me in 1935 at Gaumukh and up the Rudugaira. They were Juin Singh, Jagru, Mor Singh, Saingya Sian, and Siama. The first excursion was up the Sian Gad, which to me is the most delightful of the valleys around Harsil. The highest camp was 14,500 feet on the Sian glacier. On the 23rd May we crossed over into the Jalandra valley by a col of 15,900 feet atlat. 31° 07½', long.78°4o' and had a magnificent view of the Nela or Chhotkhaga pass. The descent on the north side of the col was over steep but soft snow clown which the Harsil men and I glissaded for 3,000 feet. One of the Sherpas did not like this slope and turned out to be inexperienced on both the simplest snow and rock. The other had developed a bad cough, so I sent both of them back to Darjeeling and for the remainder of the time had only the Harsil men.

View from 15,900 foot col (lat. 310 7 ½’, long. 780 40’), northwards towards the Chhotkhaga (or Nela) pass, 16,900 feet, and peaks forming the boundary between Tehri-Garhwal State and Bashahr. Map 53I/SE. May 1939

View from 15,900 foot col (lat. 310 7 ½’, long. 780 40’), northwards towards the Chhotkhaga (or Nela) pass, 16,900 feet, and peaks forming the boundary between Tehri-Garhwal State and Bashahr. Map 53I/SE. May 1939

On reaching Harsil again I found J. F. S. Ottley just returned from Jadh Ganga and Gangotri, eating chupattis in Wilson's mansion. We killed a sheep and sat round a smoky fire drinking his rum, the remainder of my brandy, and a bottle of rather nasty local spirits. The home-brewed chang made by the Jadh people is infinitely preferable. Ottley left for the Nela pass and I camped for the night at Kani Tal, in the Kakora valley, going the next morning to Dada- pokhri survey station (14,812 feet). The morning was beautifully clear and we had a magnificent view of the Srikanta-Gangotri peaks.

Up the Kakora valley there is an excellent wild vegetable, the leaves of which have minutely serrated margins, known as chiluli. Both here, along the Sian Gad, and up the Bhilanga valley, this vegetable grows best between about the 10,000 and 12,000-foot contours.

We returned once more to Harsil and made preparations for five weeks work in the Nelang-Gangotri region. Nelang (53M/se), up the Jadh Ganga, was reached on the 31st May, and, after three days had been spent in ascending Nelang survey station (53I/se, 18,204 feet), we continued in cold and wet weather up the Jadh Ganga to Pulamsumda grazing-ground, and finally Mendi (15,700 feet). On the 8th June I went up to the Tsang Ghok La (17,500 feet; lat. 310 22', long. 790 13' approx.) in a blizzard, which prevented me from seeing Griesbach's profile along the Hop Gad. The whole of the Jadh Ganga down to the Bhagirathi river at Jangla, and I believe to the junction of the Gumgum nala, is claimed by the Tibetans as part of Tibet, while the Tehri-Garhwal officials regard the boundary as on the Tsang Chok La. Both Tibet and Tehri-Garhwal have placed boundary pillars on their respective frontiers, but these are periodically uprooted and the political status of the Jadh Ganga remains unsettled. Physiographically the Jadh Ganga and its tributaries above Dasumdu and Nilapani (53M/sw) are absolutely Tibetan in character, just as is the part of Sikkim north of Deutang, Kangchenjau, and the Dongkya La.

After returning to Pulamsumda in drenching rain we turned east up the Chuaraji valley, catching a wolf cub bitch at Shetuaragar grazing-ground (15,000 feet) which had been attacked by an eagle and dropped just as we arrived. The new map 53M/sw does not extend north of Sundu (Dasumdu) for the Jadh Ganga and its tributaries, and it was difficult to decide which route to take southwards from the Chuaraji valley so as to reach the Chunganmu (Nilapani Gad of the new map) without either descending into Tibet proper on the east or into the Rongbuji valley which joins the Jadh Ganga at Tirpani.1 On the 9th June we camped in a snowstorm at 15,700 feet and the next day continued up the valley to 16,500 feet before turning south-east and then south towards a col which looked as if it would lead over into the Chunganmu. Snow had been falling for five days, and, as there had been no severe frost, it was soft and binding, clinging to our feet in unbalancing clogs. We struggled up the slope, none of us liking our loads, wondering what would lie the other side. On approaching the col, a blizzard descended and visibility became bad. We'reached it at 3 p.m. and through patches in the blizzard saw a valley dropping down towards the east, unquestionably into Tibet and probably a tributary of the upper reaches of the Hop Gad. But there proved to be another col just to the south over what is shown on the new map (53M/sw) as the Sonam Dhar. Accompanied by unpleasantly close lightning and thunder we crossed it and descended, south-eastward, a snow- filled ravine which joined the Chunganmu (Nilapani) at height 15,560 feet. This southern and higher col is situated at lat. 310 15' N., long. 790 12' 47" E., and is given a height on the map of about 19,300 feet. My aneroid, which usually flatters in its readings above 16,000 feet, indicated only 18,500 feet, though from the effort and time taken to reach the col from the Chuaraji valley I can quite believe that for once it had read too low.

The wolf cub was carried by Juin Singh in a rucksack. It was at first miserable and listless and had to be fed forcibly with 'Klim' and pemmican. During the nights it slept with me somewhat incontinently in my sleeping-bag.

On the 11 th June we descended the Chunganmu to its confluence with the Mana Gad at Nilapani (12,960 feet). The last 3 miles involved scrambling over none too easy granite slabs. Griesbach, on his way in 1883 from Nelang to the Muling pass (east of our col over the Sonam Dhar) and upper Hop Gad, had preferred an easy pass of 19,000 feet, above Jadhaphu, rather than negotiate the gorges of the Ghunganmu. He says of this route:1
1 The country hereabouts is only shown very roughly on the existing Preliminary Edition (1930) of Map 53M (1 inch to 4 miles).-Ed.

It is a route which, according to the natives of Nilang, used to be much frequented by shepherds some thirty years ago, but is absolutely never traversed now. Certainly it is a particularly difficult one, and the country for many marches is an absolute wilderness, and mostly covered with snow.

At the present time the Nelang people do not seem to ascend the Chunganmu-Mana Gad beyond about 5 miles. My men live some months of every year at Nelang and none of them had ever been up the Mana (except one with the recent survey parties) or knew of the Muling pass ever having been used.

From Nilapani we turned eastwards up the Mana Gad. Old moraines, oxidized and crumbling like rotten slag heaps, flanked the oppressive gorge, and we arrived with relief at the top of one of the glacial steps formed during the Pleistocene Ice Age, camping in the rain at 14,800 feet just west of Tirdhara. From the new survey map 53N/NW it seemed that there might be a passable col, about 20,300 feet in height, from the head of the south-west branch of the Mana glacier leading over to the Arwa glacier. From this it appeared possible to reach the Chaturangi branch of the Gangotri glacier by the Kalindi Bamak col used by Martyn and Gibson in 1937.2 We camped at 18,000 feet on the Mana glacier, and the next morning, which was gloriously fine, I went up to 19,000 feet on the south-west branch. The contours shown on the map, which indicated a slope of about 30°, unfortunately proved to be too widely spaced, for the top 1,000 feet of the col were really steep and the col did not in fact seem to lie between the Arwa and Mana glaciers, but between the two branches of the Mana glacier. There is an easy col of 19,500 feet at the east end of the south-east branch of the Mana glacier, 4 miles to the east of which is the Saraswati valley. We could have crossed that col, descended the Saraswati to the Arwa valley and reached Gangotri by the Kalindi Bamak, but as I was obliged to be at Gangotri on the 20th June in case of recall to duty rise where, we could not attempt this route. We returned down the M.in.1 Gad, camping at the foot of the Jadhaphu Gad, where the woll cub had her first taste of meat since her capture.

Nelang was fully occupied when we arrived. Some chang of long maturity worked havoc amongst the porters. Four gallons were drunk by six people. Two porters passed out very quickly, and one, who had rone to a Brahmin's house to borrow a drum, slapped a woman’s face. He was called a Dom, which made him frenzied with anger. From where I was only his bow legs could be seen hopping clown-like along the veranda while shrill voices were raised out of the darkness of the interior. An hour was spent the next morning in persuading him not to bring up a case of defamation in the local court, which he would certainly have lost, after which we descended with leaden and uncertain feet to Lamathat (53I/se). It was nice to be amongst the cedars again and a pleasant day's halt was spent at Gangotri (53J/ne), marred only by the dirtiness of the glacier water.

From Gangotri we went on the 22 nd June up the Kedar Ganga over a laborious route along small cliffs and through forest growth. Five hours were spent in covering 2 miles, during which it rained continuously. Another type of wild onion, with broad lanceolate leaves up to 1½ inches in width, was found growing abundantly at 11,000 feet. It is known as pongrir, and mixed well with rice and potatoes. The rain clouds lifted on the evening of the 23rd and we had a magnificent view of peak 22,650 feet, which lies at the south end of the extraordinary line of peaks along the 79th meridian. This peak has been given the unfortunate name of Phating Pithwara by the Survey of India. Brigukoti would havebeen a better name since this mountain may be considered to be the dwelling-place of the Sadhu Brigu, to the north of which lies the peak Brigupanth named after his path. I went up the glacier for 3 miles past a glacial lake, far enough to see up to the end of the valley. Ganesh Parbat (21,210 feet)1 was, unfortunately, hidden in cloud and nothing could be seen of what is likely to be the best route up it from the Kedar Ganga. The 25th June started fine, but it clouded over at 10 a.m. and we had to reach the 16,500-foot col between the Kedar Ganga and Rudugaira valleys by compass. Nothing was seen from the col from where, on a fine day, there would be a magnificent view of the whole line of Gangotri peaks, and we steered by compass due west obliquely down the scree slopes to a camp at 14,900 feet in the Rudugaira valley. It then rained without stopping for 25 hours and almost continuously for 60 hours. I lay in my tent, wrote out notes and finished Seven Red Sundays for the third time. Everything got wet and the men were rather depressed by a sadhu's report, brought back by the two whom I had sent down to Gangotri, that it was written in the Sastras that the rain would last for nine days. This may have been an invention on the part of Mor Singh to make me decide to return via Harsil, but I doubt it as he had been as keen as Juin Singh to attempt a new crossing of the main range. The next day, however, we were able to move up the glacier to a camp situated on it at 15,900 feet. The sunset that evening, the 28th June, was the most superb I remember in the Himalaya and the moon rose over the sharpened crest of Ganesh Parbat as the blue-green sky darkened in its crystalline clearness.

Telephotograph southwards of Srikanta, 20,120 feet, Gangotri I, 21,890 feet (map 53J/ne.), from Dadapokhri Survey Station, 14,812 feet (map 53I/se.). 27th May 1939

Telephotograph southwards of Srikanta, 20,120 feet, Gangotri I, 21,890 feet (map 53J/ne.), from Dadapokhri Survey Station, 14,812 feet (map 53I/se.). 27th May 1939

View  south south-west from 18,000-foot camp on the south-west branch of the Mana glacier towards the Mana peaks, 22,090 feet. Map 53N/NW. 16th June 1939

View south south-west from 18,000-foot camp on the south-west branch of the Mana glacier towards the Mana peaks, 22,090 feet. Map 53N/NW. 16th June 1939

View southwards from 16,000 feet on Kedar Ganga glacier of Phating Pithwara peak, 22,650 feet. Glacier lake in right foreground. Map 53J/NE. 24TH JUNE 1939

View southwards from 16,000 feet on Kedar Ganga glacier of Phating Pithwara peak, 22,650 feet. Glacier lake in right foreground. Map 53J/NE. 24TH JUNE 1939

View south- south rest over Khatling glacier from 18,000 foot col between the Khailing and Rudugaira glaciers. Map 53J/NE. 29th June 1939

View south- south rest over Khatling glacier from 18,000 foot col between the Khailing and Rudugaira glaciers. Map 53J/NE. 29th June 1939

1 The name does not appear on the new map 53J/NE. It is presumably the mountain of this altitude in the Jogin Group.-Ed.

In 1935 Macdonald and I had intended to explore the head of the Rudugaira, but my six weeks' leave did not then give me enough time and Macdonald was keen to make an attempt on Bandarpunch. Since then the Survey of India has completed map No. 53J/ne. A col of 18,000 feet is shown on this map leading from the Rudugaira to the Khatling glacier on the south side of the main range (lat. 30° 52 ½ ', long. 78° 53 ½ '). We left camp at 6.10 a.m. on the 29th June in perfect weather and reached the col at 8.20 by an easy climb zigzagging amongst crevasses. A steep snow gully drops down to the Khatling glacier, and for the first time my light alpine line proved a necessity. After some slips, which were held by ice-axe belaying, we dropped down to the neve-field. By 9.45 the recently fallen snow had softened and the trudge down the first 2 miles of the Khatling glacier was extremely tedious. On rounding the bend towards the east it was upsetting to find that from 15,600 to 14,600 feet the whole width of the glacier was occupied by an ice-fall. The severity of this fall is not indicated on the map, although much easier ones above it are faithfully rendered, and it is possible that the glacier has broken up into seracs since the survey was made in 1936. It proved to be difficult, and an unpleasant reminder of the struggle I had had in 1937 with the four Baltis on crossing the Karakoram range into the Nobande Sobande branch of the Panmah glacier. In 1937 I had concluded that the Nobande Sobande was in a state of degeneration and had consequently broken up into tumbled masses of ice. In the Himalayan Journal for 1938, however, Finsterwalder makes the interesting and more probable suggestion that such broken-up glaciers are passing through a phase of rapid schollen movement. It was largely through the fearlessness and athletic balance of Juin Singh that we managed to get down through the maze of blocks, wedges, and crevasses. In spite of suffering mildly for years from an untreated complaint, Juin Singh was certainly the best of us all in his balance on rock and ice. He would jump with a load from boulder to boulder even when these were submerged and slippery below water. On this day he excelled himself with absolute sureness on difficult ice. The end of the day was his and we all acknowledged it.

We reached a camp at 14,200 feet on the left (north) wall of the Khatling glacier late in the evening, and next day descended to the glacier snout. On rounding the bend just below the snout we saw the remarkably green valley of the Bhillangana dropping down to the south-west. It took four hours to travel the four pathless miles to the first grazing-ground, and the first joy of being amongst trees and rhubarb gave way to exasperation as we crawled through thickets of birch and willow. The left bank of the river looked easier, but I did not risk going along it in case the snow bridges had all melted, for the first village, Gangi, lies on the right bank. Actually there were three snow bridges, the lowest being at about 10,800 feet. We arrived at Gangi soaked through on the 1st July.

According to the villagers, there is a tradition that years ago people used to cross over from the Khatling to the Rudugaira on the way to Gangotri, though they said the route had never been used in their lifetime or in that of their fathers. Nobody on the Harsil side knew of the route, although three people at Gangi independently mentioned the Rudugaira as soon as we spoke of the Khatling, and the tradition seems confined therefore to the south side of the main range. If this tradition is correct, the glaciers must have changed radically, for, although the actual col is not technically very difficult, it is not one that could now be crossed by unequipped parties. The same problems are raised as in the case of the Muztagh passes.

The six marches, totalling 86 miles from Gangi to Mussoorie via Tehri, were hot and sticky and were done partly at night with the help of an almost full moon. The men stayed three days at Mussoorie, long enough to see my beard shaved off and the lice-infested clothes shed. None of us was happy. Four of them became timid amongst the fittings of the hotel, and one, in reaction to this, strutted about and whistled, to the horror of the de-naturalized servants. Once, as we had sat shivering around a meagre dung fire at Pulamsumda, with the snowflakes falling, Juin Singh had said how nice it was we could thus sit and talk, but he knew that when the trip was over I should become the sahib and they a sahib's porters. Mussoorie broke our party up, imparting unwilling differentiations, and when we said goodbye it was not without relief. No camp lasts for ever, and though one hopes to break down the barriers of circumstance, and succeeds to some extent, there is always the feeling of masquerading in the simple life, the knowledge that one can return from the mountains to other and more varied things.

Thus ended a season of six months, which brought me from the Aravalli backbone of India to the Gangetic plains, the Siwaliks, and across the whole 100 miles breadth of the Himalaya to Tibet. Except perhaps for three cols, nothing was done that is not done as a matter of course by the local inhabitants. The Jadh people must travel daily along some of the roughest village routes in the world. They do not write about them in the papers, but live and die with their sheep and goats in an environment which, in spite of its harshness, must to them be normal, the gift of a stern but not unkind Creator. Up the Jadh Ganga there are numerous Mani walls to remind them that somewhere, but surely not there, is the jewel of the lotus, the smiling paradise to which they will some day attain. Through that country, I pass for a few months with my ice-axes, tricouni nails and equipment, my vitamins A, D, and C, and more or less balanced diet. I am asked about aeroplanes and motor-cars (in my packets of Players Cigarettes there was a speed series), about the wonders of Europe and America, and what Japan is doing in China. But my limited vocabulary could not tell them properly of war in peace, of Blubo-empires, bombs, and concentration camps. Perhaps after all the Mani walls are right, and the lotus is indeed nearer to them than their arid environment would seem to admit.


Between 1935 and 1937 the Survey of India have carried out a modern survey of the whole region between Bandarpunch and Kamet peaks. The maps will be published on sheets 53I/se, J/ne, M/sw, N/nw, N/ne. Blue prints of these maps were on sale in 1939 at the Geodetic branch of the Survey of India, Dehra Dun. These maps are extremely accurate and a tribute should be paid to the Indian surveyors, many of whom had probably never worked in such a country before.

Note by Editor: At the time of going to press the first three maps are available in proof form and will be published very shortly.


I took up with me 30 lb. of Bovril Pemmican, but used very little of it and preferred it raw to cooked. Cheddar cheese was packed for me in 5-lb. tins. On opening each tin there was found to be a slimy covering of mould about 1/8 inch thick, but when this was scraped off the interior proved to be excellent.

For breakfast I had tea, suttu, chupattis, and bacon fat; for lunch, cheese and chocolate; for supper, tea, rice, and potatoes. Wherever possible wild vegetables were added to the rice and potatoes, which were first boiled and then fried in butter. The best of these were two types of wild onion and the chiluli.

Klim was used for milk, 1 lb. lasting 5 days. It is unwise to open several tins at once and keep the powder in a bag, since the milk loses its flavour and when stale mixes poorly with water. ½ lb. butter lasted 3 days, ½ lb. slab chocolate 3 days, and 5 lb. of cheese about 3 weeks.

The rations were much the same as we had with Shipton in 1937, but the bulk eaten was somewhat greater.

Rice ata,suttu were all bought at Harsil from my own porters, who live there. Prices ofcourse vary from year to year. I paid in May 1939:

Rs. 6/- per maund of ata.

Rs. 7/- per maund of rice.

Rs. 7/8/- per maund of suttu.

Rs. 2/- per maund of potatoes.

Rs. 1/- per 1J lb. ghee.

There is a shop at Harsil run by a Sikh family. The dukanadar is a pleasant man, but his charges are exorbitant, and it is better to buy the cereals in the village and cigarettes and sugar at Mussoorie or Uttarkashi (Barahat). Apples can be bought from the mail in charge of the garden at Harsil. They are excellent but do not pack well.

I carried generally a load of from 15 to 20 lb., and the others from 40 to 80 lb., depending on the amount of food consumed. I had three Whymper tents, the total weight of which was 52 lb.

Juniper occurs up to 13,500 feet by Jumnotri and Nelang. Up the Jadh Ganga, Chunganmu (Nilapani) and Mana Gad low woody shrubs, which provide a poor but burnable fuel, are found up to about 16,500 feet.

The temperature was generally above freezing-point, except on cloudless nights on the glaciers, when it frequently dropped to below 22° F., the lowest to which my thermometer would read. After the monsoon temperatures drop lower, but the air is drier. Griesbach states that at Mendi (lat. 310 21', long. 790 13') late in 1882 the temperature during the day never rose above 8° F. When I was there it snowed and was just about at freezing-point.