Himalayan Journal vol.16
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.16

Publication year:
1951

Editor:
H. W. Tobin
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. ANNAPURNA
    (MAURICE HERZOG)
  3. SWISS HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1949
    (RENE DITTERT)
  4. SCOTTISH KUMAON EXPEDITION
    (W. H. MURRAY)
  5. NORWEGIAN EXPEDITION TO TIRICH MIR, 1950
    (H. R. A. STREATHER)
  6. SIKKIM KHANGKYONG PLATEAU AND KANGCHENJAU
    (T. H. BRAHAM)
  7. SIR JOSEPH HOOKER, K.G.S.I., M.D., D.C.L., F.R.S,
    (F. F. FERGUSSON)
  8. EXPEDITIONS
  9. HIMALAYAN PORTERS
  10. NOTES
  11. REVIEWS
  12. IN MEMORIAM
  13. CLUB PROCEEDINGS

SIR JOSEPH HOOKER, K.G.S.I., M.D., D.C.L., F.R.S,

F. F. FERGUSSON

EARLY TRAVELS IN NEPAL AND SIKKIM

Sir Joseph hooker commenced his travels in Nepal and Sikkim in the year 1848, and the extent of these travels entitles him to be looked upon as one of the pioneers in the exploration of a region which is of special interest to members of the Himalayan Club.

A very detailed account of his expeditions and the scientific work accomplished on them is available in Himalayan Journals or Notes of a Naturalist by Sir J. D. 1 looker, and should prove of great interest to all who travel in Sikkirn.

Joseph Hooker was the second son of Sir W.J. Hooker, a Director of Kew Gardens, and his mother was the daughter of Mr. Dawson Turner, F.R.S., of Yarmouth; he was born in 1817 and studied medicine at Glasgow University, graduating M.D. in 1839.

The pursuit of medicine, however, claimed only about four years of his life from 1839 to 1843 while serving as Assistant Surgeon on the Antarctic Expedition under Sir James Clark Ross, and even on this expedition he worked unofficially as naturalist.

Dr. Hooker, as he then was, decided, on his return from the Antarctic, to visit India in order to add a knowledge of the natural history of the tropics to that of the temperate zones, and through his father's influence with the Earl of Carlisle (then Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests) his proposed expedition received government aid in the form of a grant of £400 per annum for two years. On the voyage to India Hooker was fortunate enough to be a fellow passenger with the Marquis of Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India, who honoured him with his friendship and help in many directions.

Calcutta was reached on 12 th January 1848 after a voyage of two months, and on the 28th Hooker had already left to join the camp of Mr. Williams of the Geological Survey at the Damoodia Coal Fields, and throughout his travels, besides practising the same economy of time, he displayed an energy and devotion to his scientific work which is amazing when one attempts to visualize the discomforts of travel in those days; he records in his journals observations embracing geology, meteorology, botany, and human geography together with a wealth of comparisons and deductions therefrom which are at once a tribute to his erudition and to his industry.

Hooker travelled as far as the Kaimur river with Williams, whence he set out for Darjeeling, going via Benares and Purnea; every moment of the journey was apparently occupied with the minutiae of his scientific observations.

Darjeeling was reached on 16th April and owing to the difficulty of obtaining permission to travel in Sikkim Territory Hooker was detained there, occupied in making short local excursions until 27th October when, negotiations with the Sikkim authorities having failed, he set out for a visit to Nepal, hoping that the necessary permission to enter Sikkim would be granted in time to be of use to him.

Some idea of Hooker's zeal in the pursuit of his scientific work and of the scope of his observations may be gathered from the following passage taken from his journal:

I carried myself a small barometer, a large knife and digger for plants, note book, telescope, compass, and other instruments, whilst two or three Lepcha lads, who accompanied me as satellites, carried a botanizing box, thermometers, sextant and artificial horizon, measuring tape, azimuth compass and stand, geological hammer, bottles and boxes for insects, sketch book and etc. arranged in compartments of strong canvas bags.

For this journey the selection of porters proved something of a difficulty; Lepchas were considered to be the most suitable but they feared to enter such a warlike country as Nepal and were moreover said to be unfit for work in the snowy regions; the choice eventually fell upon some Bhotan runaways who were at that time domiciled in Darjeeling and were said to be accustomed to travel at all elevations and to fear nothing but a return to their own country, from which they had fled to escape slavery or retribution for their evil deeds.

The choice turned out to be unfortunate, as the men chosen were unreliable and lazy, and earned from their master the following description: 'The Bhotan coolies behaved worse than ever; their conduct being in all respects typical of the turbulent mulish race to which they belong. They had been plundering my provisions as they went along and neither the Sirdar nor the Ghurka soldiers had the smallest authority over them.' He had decided to dismiss these coolies and engage Ghurkas when he was relieved of the necessity by their desertion; some of them, however, returned of their own accord later on.

On 18th November, while camped at Mywa Guola on the Tambur river, Hooker received letters from his friend Dr. Campbell in Darjeeling, born by a Lepcha from the court of Sikkim, giving the necessary permission to enter that country and stay as long as he wished; the bearer of the letter attached himself to Hooker and served him well for some months.

After continuing up the valley of the Tambur beyond the village of Walloong to the pass leading from Nepal to Tibet, where his observations gave an altitude of 16,764 feet, Hooker retraced his steps with a view to crossing over into Sikkirn by way of the Nango or Kambachen and Kanglanamo passes; the route lay up the Yangma valley and across the pass to the south of Mt. Nango to the village of Kambachen, where a halt was made.

The villagers received the expedition in a kindly manner and presented Hooker with the leg of a musk deer and some potatoes which he says were about as big as walnuts but which he was nevertheless glad to receive as his provisions had become greatly depleted.

The village of Kambachen was left on 5th December and Hooker proceeded over the Ghoonjerma pass, which he reached at sunset, pushing on down in order to reach the upper reaches of the Yalloong valley, where he could be sure of obtaining wood for fires, as he was wet through himself and some of his coolies had suffered from frostbite; upon tlicir arrival in camp Hooker gave them each a nip of brandy, which they received with considerable joy.

Next day the route lay down the valley, where they were met by a party travelling with sheep laden with salt and were told that the next village wa s deserted owing to the lateness of the season and that the pass of Kanglanamo was no longer practicable; Hooker therefore had to abandon the idea of proceeding into Sikkim by that route, and instead was obliged to follow the west flank of Singalelah to the first pass which he might find open.

On 71h Deeembct the ascent to a saddle on the Yaloong ridge was made and the ridge was followed for several days entailing the traversing of valleys flowing into the Tambur and the intervening ridges. It was on this part of his journey that Hooker discovered, to his great mortification, that his Ghurka havildar had been defrauding him of all the presents and offerings usually made by the inhabitants to strangers, and this to such an extent that the havildar's coolies were groaning under heavy loads, while Hooker's were lightly laden.

The entry into Sikkim was made on the morning of 15th December by way of the Ishumbo pass over the Singalelah ridge, at an elevation of 11,000 feet, and notwithstanding that Hooker had, on the previous evening, consumed the last remains of his food, consisting of a miserable starved pullet with some rice and chili vinegar, he pursued his scientific observations with his characteristic devotion and vigour throughout the day, arriving at 7 p.m. at the village of Lingcham, where he was received by the head man with a salute of musketry and an abundance of provisions and murwa beer.

While at Lingcham news was received that letters were awaiting him at Yoksun, as he had been expected to cross by the Kanglanamo pass, and later a letter arrived from Dr. Campbell asking Hooker to meet him on the Teesta river at Bhomsong, where he had gone to attempt to enter into a conference with the ruler of Sikkim.

Hooker proceeded via Pemiongchi, receiving lavish hospitality at every village; he was met by Dr. Campbell, who escorted him to his camp on the Teesta, where a present from the Rajah consisting of a brick of Tibetan tea, 80 lb. of rancid yak butter done up in a yak- hair cloth, and numerous other items, was received.

Dr. Campbell had been sent by the British Government to attempt to enter into direct conversation with the Rajah in order to circumvent the baleful influence of 1 lis Dewan, who was the author of all the trouble then existing between India and Sikkim; on their way to an interview with the Rajah, which had been arranged with much difficulty, they were played a very shabby trick by the Dewan, who contrived that the presents brought by the Europeans should be sent in prior to the audience instead of being presented by themselves afterwards, thus making them appear as suppliants or tributaries to His Highness.

The Dewan was a most unscrupulous man who took every advantage of his master's age and devotion to religious practices in order to advance the interests of himself and his relatives.

Dr. Campbell's mission now being at an cud he decided to accompany his friend some distance on his way north to explore the region round Kinchinjunga; they visited temples and convents at Tassiding and finally parted company at Pemiongchi on 2nd January 1849. Hooker continued on to Yoksim where he stayed for some days, leaving on the 7th on an expedition to the foot of Kinchinjunga by way of the Ratong valley, and ascending what he described as a very steep mountain called ‘Mon Lepcha', from the summit of which he obtained views southwards to Darjeeling and northwards to Kinchinjunga, which he said fronted him as Mont Blanc does the beholder from the opposite side of the valley of Chamonix.

It is interesting to note that at this time Kinchinjunga was supposed to be the highest mountain in the world and it was partly for this reason that Hooker was anxious to explore its neighbourhood.

The next camping-place of the expedition was at some stone huts on a spur ofjongri at an elevation of 13,000 feet, where a stay of some days was made; Hooker gave the only habitable hut to his coolies and arranged for himself a lean-to contrived of some of his blankets and a stone wall; during their stay at this camp the whole party suffered considerably from a snow-storm, from cold during the night, and the strong sunlight on the snow, against which they improvised various protective devices such as pieces of old veil, shades of yak hair, and the coolies even drew across their eyes the loosened hair of their pigtails; during the night Hooker's Tibetan puppy showed signs of uneasiness but eventually settled down at his master's feet and went to sleep.

The expedition now returned to Yoksun, where the villagers received them again with great kindness, and Darjeeling was reached on 19th January via Tengling and Tchongpong.

Hooker spent the greater part of the next two months on a tour in the Terai doing botanical and geological work, only returning to Darjeeling on 24th March, where the following five weeks were spent in preparation for his projected visit to the higher parts of Sikkim; vexatious opposition was again encountered from the Dewan to the Rajah and he finally left, on 3rd May, after having informed the Rajah's Agent that unless an official objection came from the ruler himself, through a properly accredited representative to the Government of India, he intended to proceed.

On his arrival at Namtchi Hooker was met by a Lama attached to the local mendong, who after some disingenuous dissembling informed him that instructions had been received to stop his progress; Hooker gave the Lama short shrift, told him that he intended to proceed, and forthwith dismissed him.

Later on at the village of Gorh Hooker was again met by a Lama, who informed him that the road was impassable and endeavoured to dissuade him from continuing, even going to the length, during the night, of removing the planks forming a bridge over a stream which crossed the route.

Hooker, however, was not to be so easily deterred, and next day he continued his journey accompanied by the Lama, whom he described as a disagreeable-looking lei low and on whom he got his own back to a certain extent by putting him to all the trouble he could devise.

The same annoying opposition was met with continually, and we find Hooker at Ghungtam being met by a bearer with a letter, supposedly written by the Durbar, commanding him to return immediately, which injunction, however, he disregarded.

Notwithstanding the continual obstruction Hooker never shirked his scientific work for an instant, his journal being a continual commentary on the plants he saw and on their resemblance to those he he knew of or had seen elsewhere.

On 2nd June he received the unpleasant news that a party bringing food to him from Darjeeling had not continued their journey, being afraid of landslips along the route; this left him very short of food, but he continued on to Lamteng, where further obstructive tactics were employed to deceive him as to the exact location of the Tibetan frontier; here, on 5th June, he received one bag of rice from Darjeeling-all that remained of what had been dispatched; however, letters informed him that more was to follow later; to add to his tribulations he lost many of his plant specimens through dampness and an insufficiency of sunny days to effect drying.

While encamped at the junction of Zemu and Thlonok rivers Hooker ascended many times the north flank of Tukcham to obtain views and compass bearings; from this camp also he made two unsuccessful attempts to ascend the Thlonok to the great glaciers at the foot of Kinchinjunga; later on, however, he found a path leading up the Zemu and took his tent and some of his men to a suitable camping-place at an elevation of 12,070 feet; from this spot several attempts were made to ascend the river, but owing to the dense growth of rhododendron bushes and the cliffs his efforts met with no success.

In this camp Hooker had a very narrow escape from a huge piece of granite which fell from the cliff at the very door of his tent, nearly killing him and his dog.

The camp was evidently a miserable one owing to the incessant rain, and to add to their difficulties a band of some fifty men sent by the Lachen Phipun actively interfered with Hooker's men, making it necessary for him to make a show of resistance in order to rid himself of their importunities.

A descent to Thlonok was made on 2nd July, where letters were received from Dr. Campbell and from the Raj all authorizing Hooker to continue to the Tibetan frontier; presents of food from the Rajah and Ranee accompanied the letters.

The representative who brought the letters wished to hurry Hooker on to the frontier and back and insisted that it was located at Tallum Samdong, but Hooker was not to be put off so easily.

On 11 th July five coolies arrived with rice and letters from England, and Hooker set off up the Lachen on the following day, reaching Tungu on the 23rd; from Tungu the Phipun conducted Hooker towards Kongra Lama, arriving at the Phipun's camp about 11 miles beyond Tungu, where they were hospitably entertained by his wife. Kongra Lama was visited and many botanical specimens were collected, after which the party returned to Tungu.

On the 26th, at the invitation of the Phipun, Hooker visited a party of Tibetans encamped at the foot of Kinchinjau and the source of the Chachoo, obtaining by the boiling-point method an altitude of 16,522 feet; as they were all suffering from the great cold, hot toddy was made from the water used in making the observation and served out to all hands; Hooker records that this refreshed them wonderfully.

A week was spent at Tungu ascending the surrounding mountains and mixing with the people, by whom Hooker was apparently very well received; he left this camp on 30th July and reached Choong- tam on 5th August, where a stay was made until the 15th in order to arrange the botanical and other scientific collections made in the Lachen valley.

Further supplies arrived from Darjeeling on the 15th and a start up the valley of the Lachoong was made on the same day: in crossing a bridge over the river Hooker lost his dog Kinchin, which fell into the river and was swept away; this was a sad loss as the dog had been his constant companion for a long time.

The next camp was made at Lachoong, from which place the Tunkra-la pass was visited, which Hooker found to live up to its reputation of being the snowiest pass in Sikkim; he camped for two days under a rock at the foot of a glacier directly fronting Tunkra mountain at an elevation of 15,250 feet.

On 29th August the party continued up the valley from Lachoong, arriving at Yeumtong the next day, leaving again the following day for Mome Samdong, where they camped until 30th September.

At Mome Samdong Hooker made fifty-six barometrical observations for altitude, the mean of which placed his camp at 15,362 feet.

He visited the Donkia pass on the 9th and ascended to about 19,300 feet on the slopes of Donkia itself, and he relates that he repeatedly attempted to climb Kinchinjow and Donkia, but never succeeded in getting higher than about 19,000 feet, though he does not say why except that he adds a footnote reading as follows: 'An elevation of 20,000 and perhaps 22,000 feet might, I should think, easily be attained by practice in Thibet north of Sikkim.'

Hooker's failure to go higher could probably be attributed to the want of proper equipment and food and to faulty climbing technique, but in courage he was certainly not lacking.

On 20th September he ascended to the Great Donkia glacier east of Mome Samdong and records that he found progress over it far more fatiguing than that experienced on any Swiss glacier; he had two days previously visited Sebolah pass, the height of which he determined to be between 17,585 feet and 17,517 feet.

On 5th October Hooker met his friend Dr. Campbell at Choong- tam, where he had gone to meet him, Campbell having decided to visit Sikkim in the hope of coming to a better understanding with the Rajah and his officials.

The two friends decided to try to visit the Kongra Lama by way of Cholamoo lakes and the Donkia pass and they arrived at Tungu on the 9th, where Dr. Campbell took the Lachen Phipun to task for his obstructional tactics in dealing with Hooker.

The party set out for the Donkia pass on the 16th, where they were met by a Tibetan guard; and Hooker, scenting a possible refusal of permission to continue, dashed past on his pony, being pursued for some distance by Tibetan soldiers; he continued on to Yeumtso, where he was relieved to find the Tchebu Lama and the Lachen Phipun; Campbell also arrived soon after sunset, having followed Hooker's route, after the more diplomatic preliminaries of obtaining permission from the Tibetan guard had been gone through.

From the camp at Yeumtso they ascended Bhomtso, the altitude of which they made 18,305 feet by boiling-point observation; a second ascension was made on the 18th in order to carry out a series of check observations, a proceeding which greatly puzzled the Tibetans who accompanied them.

On the way to the Donkia pass Hooker made another attempt to climb Donkia mountain, reaching this time again an altitude of 19,000 feet, after which he continued on to Mome Samdong, where Campbell had already made camp.

Hooker recounts an episode which illustrates the great fidelity of one of his servants; they had descended as far as Lachoong when Hooker found that one of his thermometers had dropped through a hole in the sack in which Cheytoong, a Lepcha, had been carrying it; on learning of its loss Cheytoong was very distressed and made preparations to return and look for it at the hot springs of the Kinchinjow glacier; three days later he overtook the expedition at Keadom, radiant with joy at having found the lost instrument.

The expedition now proceeded to Singtam and on 3rd November they saw for the first time the Rajah's house at the village of Ran- gang, near which they were met by a large party of armed Lepchas who escorted them to the village; they noticed that neither presents nor greetings came from the Rajah nor were they able to gain an audience, for which Campbell was anxious in order to transact official business.

From now on they met much insolence and rudeness, most of which was obviously directed against Campbell, but it is worthy of note that some among the officials were friendly and received both Hooker and Campbell in their homes.

They continued on to Chola and Yakla passes; leaving Bar- fonchen on 7th November they emerged from the woods at Chuma- nako, where obstruction by the authorities took a much more serious turn than heretofore.

Campbell had to defend himself with a stick against some Sikkim Sepoys, and later, when they were resting in a hut, a crowd of people came in, at which Campbell said it would be preferable to leave the hut to them and went out to see the tents pitched; suddenly Hooker heard his friend call out: 'Hooker! Hooker! the savages are murdering me!' Hooker, who rushed out to render assistance, was also attacked and pressed back into the hut, where he was forcibly held but not maltreated.

Soon after this attack the Singtam Soubah and the Tchebu Lama entered, signed to the captors to release Hooker, and then informed him that Campbell had been arrested on the orders of the Rajah, who was dissatisfied with his conduct as a government officer during the past twelve years.

The two friends were kept separate, but with the connivance of some friendly people they managed to exchange written notes; the next day the Soubah and the Dingpun offered Hooker his freedom to proceed to the Yakla pass if he so wished, but Hooker refused to leave Campbell.

They were finally taken to Tumloong, Campbell being treated with great indignity throughout the journey, and on arrival at the village they were placed under guard in separate prison rooms.

After a long interview on 13th November between Hooker and one of the Rajah's councillors the two Englishmen were, to their great relief, housed together.

It is typical of Hooker that during his confinement he did not neglect his scientific observations. During their detention many of the good families in the village sent presents in secret to the prisoners and the Ranee herself sent tobacco to Hooker and brown sugar and murwa beer to Campbell.

The Dewan, who was throughout the instigator of all the trouble, returned from Tibet on 20th November and employed every device to persuade Campbell to give him a letter exonerating the Sikkim authorities from their reprehensible behaviour, but Campbell was too stout-hearted a man to accede to such an impudent request. By this time the Dewan began to fear for the consequences of his conduct, for the Lamas of Pemiongchi, Changachelling, Tassiding, and other places began to arrive at Tumloong to protest in person to the Rajah against the Dewan's action. The Pemiongchi Lama, an old and venerable man of over seventy years of age, was evidently much distressed at seeing Campbell a prisoner and suffering from ill treatment, and voiced his disapproval.

After an interview with the Dewan on the 22nd they were allowed to communicate with their friends in India, and Hooker wrote directly to Lord Dalhousie, giving him the hint that a letter couched in very strong terms would be needed to effect their release.

Hooker's letter resulted in a show of force being made by the British Government at Darjeeling, causing the Sikkim authorities to release the prisoners and speed them on their way on 9th December.

They received presents from the Rajah and Ranee, official families, and the whole population, and accompanied by the I )ewan they commenced their return journey, but still under surveillance and still pestered by the arrogance of this objectionable fellow, who caused delays in the progress and did everything else in his power to make things as unpleasant as he could for his two prot6g£s.

The closer they got to Darjeeling the shorter became the daily marches, one of which only attained to 3 miles, probably due to the nervousness of the Dewan at his approach to British territory; nevertheless, up to the last possible moment he adopted every device known to an extremely crafty mind to extract some advantage out of the two men he was supposed to be escorting, but on the afternoon of 23rd December he finally gave in and released them.

Hooker and Campbell arrived in Darjeeling in the evening, where they were received with great joy by Mr. Hodgson.

Some further journeys were made by Hooker in the Khasia hills, Shillong district, and in other parts of eastern India, and he finally left the country on 28th January 1851, arriving in England on 25th March of the same year.

The reading of Hooker's journals, which are in the Himalayan Club Library, is recommended to anyone who is interested in the Eastern Himalayas; they form a very detailed record of travel in times now beyond the reach of memory of any living traveller and are of considerable value from the point of view of the history of travel in that part of the world.

It is a tribute to Hooker's labours as a scientist that his seven- volume work, The Flora of British India, is still looked upon as one of the standard works on Indian botany, and it is very fitting that a charming little Wedgewood portrait of him is still to be seen hanging on the walls of the Herbarium of the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta.

Note.-The spelling of place and other names is of course Hooker's. ED.