Himalayan Journal vol.44
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Soli S. Mehta
  4. ZHANGZI - AUTUMN, 1987
  5. BRITISH XIXABANGMA Expedition, 1987
    (LT COL M. W. H. DAY)
  6. MENLUNGTSE, 1987
    (S. K. BERRY)
  8. RATHONG, 1987
  10. MAKALU
  11. CHO OYU, 1987
    (W. J. POWELL)
  16. A RETURN TO LINGTI, 1987
    (J. K. PAUL and S. N. DHAR)
    (A. V. SAUNDERS)
    (N. D. JAYAL)



DURING FOUR YEARS in the 1930's I was seconded from my regiment to the Intelligence Branch of the Police in Bengal. One of the stations to which I was posted towards the end of that period of service was Rangpur, with Darjeeling and the $tate of $ikkim beyond it, temptingly close. My wife and I lost no opportunities to set off to the mountains, sometimes only for a long week-end. We trekked all over the little mountain kingdom and, during the winter of 1937, undertook an ambitious expedition in the Zemu glacier region in company with C.R. (Reggie) Cooke, a senior official of the Indian Posts and Telegraphs who was stationed in Calcutta. All these outings were blessed with the invaluable support of the Himalayan Club, whose Secretary Joan Townend was the moving spirit in those far-off days.

Our last exploit took place in the first year of the war. This was a difficult time for myself as a regular army officer, for I was expecting to be posted back to my regiment in England before being sent to one or other of the battle zones in Europe or in the Middle East. However, I obtained permission for a month's leave of absence on condition that I should return immediately to Darjeeling if my order for recall arrived during that period.

We decided to take the risk, and Reggie Cooke, myself and our wives set off with a small group of our trusted Sherpas at the beginning of May 1940. We were heading for an area which had attracted us for some time past.

Diary: 4 May 1940: Arrived by car in Darjeeling, and decided finally to start out, and risk the posting orders coming. We had a busy two hours finishing off the loads, writing letters and paying advances to the porters. Pasang Sherpa is in charge of them, Reggie and Margaret having gone ahead yesterday via Rinchin-pong.

Start at 12.30, and went down to Singla without incident, where we had some tea at the same shop as two years ago. Hence to the police post, where it was found that our passes were wrongly dated. At Nayabazar, just at the corner of the Little and Great Rangit rivers, we decided to push on a bit, and about i mile further along the path found a good spot where a stream crosses the track. We had to wait an hour for the porters and meanwhile boiled some water; the men must have started late from Darjeeling. It was stuffy here, but after a few drops of rain, the stars are now clear, and we have put our sleeping bags on the path. The porters are round a fire a few yards away. Distance to-day about 12 miles; there has been no view, but the hills no less welcome for that - they have already removed all my petty worries and cares of a few hours ago.

Photo 11
5 May: We had to use the tent from 4 a.m., owing to light rain; got up at 5, and started at 6 o'clock. It was cloudy, which was just as well in view of the heat in the valley. We found the river path unexpectedly pleasant; level and fairly open, with good views; and the weather improved as we went on; in fact from 10 o'clock it was sunny and decidedly hot. Without a map, we made a succession of mistaken guesses as to the location of the bridge at the foot of the Rinchinpong hill, and finally reached it only at mid day. By a curious coincidence, as we were sitting drinking tea at a 'shop* there, R and M came down the hill path. We left them having some food, and made our way up to Geysing, where all decided to stay for the night. I had taken rather a heavy load, and we both found the pull up from the river trying, arriving only shortly before the others. Up till now (6t20 p.m.) no sign of the men - Reggie and Mary are just arriving - 18J miles today.

6 May: We camped just outside the village. Our men did not turn up till after midnight, and only half of them came then; the rest were at the bottom of the hill, and two had turned back with fever. A very heavy shower came on at 7, and with this, and the delay in securing more coolies to replace defaulters, we could not start before 9 o'clock; it was decided not to go further than halfway towards Yoksam, as the men are so slow. The weather finally cleared, and it was quite fine and hot as we made our way down the Pemionche hill. We ate large quantities of raspberries on the way, and spent a pleasant hour bathing in the stream at the bottom, in the same pool as in January 1939. We reached Tashiding at 2 p.m., after a very easy march; drank milk and tea while waiting. Reggie and I went on to bathe in the stream beyond Tashiding in the evening. We have camped in a strawfield. It is settled that Joy and I are to go ahead tomorrow, taking Pasang and one porter; on the whole it is better for the two parties to move separately, in view of the difference of speed between them. It rained again in the night.

7 May: J and I left at 7.15, and after a bath in the torrent at the foot of the Yoksam hill, reached Yoksam, very hot and thirsty, at 10.30. We drank some very dirty water offered us by the Kazi, as well as some welcome tea, and started off after an hour towards the Praig Chu bridge. We made a long halt at 2 p.m. for the men at a place where there is a cave and some water. They were anxious to stay there, the bridge being still a good way ahead; as J is not feeling very fit, we have camped, and perhaps it is just as well, for at 4 a thunderstorm began, and we all sheltered in the cave. It is now clearing and will be fine tonight. I have carried about 40 pounds today, and managed fairly well. It is a pity that the sky is so overcast, as the scenery is dulled, and there is little chance of photography.

8 May: We eventually put up the tent last night, and after a short shower it remained fine. We started at 6 this morning, and reached the Praig Chu bridge in 1J hours; it was a beautiful clear morning and cool, and a certain amount of new snow was seen to have fallen higher up. The ascent of the Dzongri ridge proved most trying; for whatever reason I was going very badly, and after a long halt for tea, was even worse than before. Rhododendrons in full flower from 9000-11,000 ft, but not above this. We climbed into the mist and eventually (2 p.m.) reached a small alp on top of the ridge at nearly 14,000 ft, not far short of Dzongri, where we found water; I was pretty done up. By 4.30 it had begun to clear, and this evening we have had a magnificent view of Pandim, Narsing and intervening peaks; a lot of new snow, but the weather looks settled. The south ridge of Pandim definitely looks 'fierce'. It is cold up here. I am feeling better this evening; perhaps it is the height.
9 May: We woke this morning to find it beautifully clear, with a hard ground frost. Some time was spent drying out the tents, but we got off at 6.30, and reached Dzongri in half an hour's easy going; on the way along the ridge we saw at least one fire-tailed yellow sunbird - the colouring is scarcely credible, even when you see it. Surprised to find the ground so dry; in fact much the same as in midwinter. We dropped down to the Parek Chu, where Joy had a bath, and I started a sickening headache; I found the last few miles up the valley to base camp very trying, and had to lie down on arrival. We arrived at 11 a.m., and sent off Dawa Tsering with a note to Reggie. In the afternoon, Joy went up the hillside opposite Pandim while I looked for butterflies. Had seen some Argynnis, Coleus and Parnassius on the way up, but had no luck in the afternoon. Flowers are scarce. Yesterday, we found some mauve and white violets in the forest, and today a few mauve and purple primula, and some tiny gentians, but the ground is remarkably arid. There is a good deal of old snow in sheltered places. Curse this headache; it must be the height.
10 May: A cold night and another clear morning. We started up the hillside opposite Pandim, entering a little valley running east, and headed by Forked Peak. We then made northwards up steep moraine, and reached a col on the ridge descending from a buttress of Forked Peak; it must be about 17,000 ft, and gives access to the head of the Alukthang glacier. To reach it we had to traverse a wide snow-slope in our light footwear. We had fair view of Pandim col and its approaches; the crux is that steep ice-couloir which I photoed last year. Returned to camp with a splitting headache. Reggie and the remaining porters came in shortly after our arrival; we paid them off, and spent the afternoon putting camp ship-shape and handing out porters clothing. We have kept an extra man for camp - Mingma. Clouds up as usual before midday, but it is clearing this evening.

11May: Heavy cumulus clouds down valley this morning, Reggie went up towards Forked Peak, in order to have a look at our Pandim route. Joy and I followed a ridge descending from the right side (South) of Pandim Col. We followed it almost to its junction with the ice, where I had an excellent view of the left branch of my couloir, not very much higher than us at this point. It looks feasible, but the main stem of the couloir is icy, and apparently swept by ice and stones. Clouds had obscured the general view, and at 11 a.m. it was cold and misty; we returned to camp, seeing two Lammergeier on the way; which reminds us that at Yoksam J saw what was probably a crested Serpent Eagle. Reggie was already back, with a bad headache, and feeling sick; it is curious that we should all be feeling the height in this way. In the afternoon it started snowing, soon after we had fixed a tent roof to our stone shelter; by evening some three inches had fallen, to the accompaniment of thunder. This is quite an unexpected state of affairs at this time of year - still snowing hard at 7 p.m.
12May: Still snowing at 6 a.m. this morning. We spent some time clearing the camp, making paths and drying out. Then the weather improved, and individually we went off for short strolls in various directions; considerable heat and strong glare. I sat by the lake on the way to Guicha la, and watched a lone tufted duck swimming on it. We have decided to try Forked Peak, and tomorrow will reconnoitre and carry loads part way up; we spent the afternoon getting tents and food ready. Snow had by now melted completely from the valley - a rapid transformation, and the weather looks more promising.
13May: Usual clear morning, with clouds assembling down valley. Reggie and J started at 6.45 a.m. for our recce of Forked Peak, taking Kusang and Pasang with loads of food and equipment. The clouds forestalled us, in spite of our early start; by 8 a.m., and while still on the moraine we were enclosed in mist, and from 1hen on had to guess our way upwards. On reaching the foot of the rock rib, we roped, and found a none too obvious route up the ftrst section of 300 ft, starting up a crack; the difficulties were greatly increased by the wet slushy snow covering the rocks and grass. Above this, Reggie led up a short snow-slope to the foot of a clearly defined rock ridge; it was impossible to see whether a better route existed to right or left of it, but my impressions of the icefall at this point, as seen the other day, are not favourable. A very short but excessively steep couloir led us onto the ridge above the lowest gendarme. Thence we skirted the rocks by the snow-slope on their left flank, and soon after ascended a steepish couloir to a small snow col on the ridge. It was now past 11, and the men were getting tired; also Pasang had foolishly left his goggles behind, so they had to share a pair, and the glare was terrific. We found a ledge for the loads, and R and I went on to see whether this ridge would lead satisfactorily onto the upper glacier. There was no getting off it at this stage, and it now narrowed and steepened considerably. A traverse to the left gave access to a short crack, and Reggie led out successively two 100 ft pitches of comparatively difficult rock. At the top of the second pitch, about 250 ft above the col, we found the rocks merging into the snow - no view upwards, but this was what we wanted, so we descended to the porters. We decided to leave the loads a little lower, and dumped them eventually in a cache below the first gendarme. Slush was worse than ever on the descent, and care was needed even on less difficult ground. The porters had done well, but Kusang a bit nervous and not very sure of himself. We got down to the little valley at 2 p.m., and I was back in camp half an hour later. Reggie very done up, but he did particularly well on the two highest pitches of the climb. It is better to wait a day before the ascent, partly in order to give this awful slush time to dissolve. It has rained a little this afternoon.

Later: We were sitting in our shelter after supper, self very tired and about to go off to my tent, when a curious whistle was heard outside. Someone thought it was a bird, but I had ominous forebodings. A few minutes later, Sonam appeared with letters; of course there was the recall order, and it was the end of the expedition. Joy and I at once got together a few necessities, took Pasang, Kusang and Mingma, and saying farewell to the others, started in the dark for Dzongri at about 8.15, They were awful, those ten miles, specially the pull up from the stream - they seemed endless. At exactly midnight we reached the cowherds' hut at Dzongri, awoke the inmates, and found a corner by the fire, thoroughly worn out. Thirteen is certainly an unlucky number.

14 May: We passed a good night, despite the noise made by the young yaks inside, and got away at 5.45. We decided to dispense with the tent and nearly all the food, so we sent Kusang back to Base. The objective was Geysing, about 30 miles distant, and a good many ups and downs. Reached the Parek Chu bridge at 8.30, and the Kazi's house at Yoksam at 12 noon, some raspberry bushes near Yoksam were nearly our undoing, and upset the schedule a bit. The Kazi placed his prayer room at our disposal, where we unceremoniously spread our sleeping bags on the floor, and lay down to a meal of tea and eggs. We spent li hours there before leaving for Tashiding at 1.30 p.m. Mingma came in very late, saying he could not get beyond Tadong that day.

We arrived there in exactly scheduled time, after a refreshing half hour bathing in the stream. Time allowed at Tadong was one hour; we spent it taking more eggs and tea. Mingma, who has all the food with him, did not turn up - a great blow; Pasang was pretty tired by then. We left at 5 for Geysing, feeling fairly fresh, but the pull up from the stream of Pemionche told on us, and the last twenty minutes through the trees were a strain; Joy did amazingly well. Luckily, for this part of the journey I had unearthed a torch left with other things at Tadong. It rained as we descended to Geysing, where we arrived at 8.10 just before a heavy downpour started. We knocked at the door of the police head-constable, who at once cleared his sleeping room for us, and he with the postmaster and their women folk set about preparing rice and eggs and tea - we had no food with us at all. We lay and bathed our leech bites; Joy's were very bad.

Pasang turned up about 10 p.m. when we were settling down for the night; he had had to hire a coolie to carry his small load, and there was no sign of Mingma. I am sending Parwa (special messenger left here) early with a letter to Wale, to get us rooms and phone Calcutta. A strenuous day's march.

15 May: Started at 5.45, after eating some of last night's rice, more eggs and tea. It had simply poured in the night, and the path down to the Rangit was very slippery in gym shoes. We had 20 miles to cover to reach Singla; against our principles, it was decided that ponies must be resorted to for the last ten miles up to Darjeeling. The river path was hot and monotonous. We reached the Police cutpost at Singla at exactly 12 noon, and rested in the inspection bungalow while the head-constable sent for ponies. They were a long time coming, and it was 2 p.m. before we started off from Singla bazaar; and we had had nothing but a chappati and some plantains to eat so far. Pasang had meanwhile arrived, but was very tired, so I gave him money for a pony. To our disgust we were passed on our way to Nayabazar by Parwa, who had delayed en the way; a worthless fellow. My pony was pretty slow, but tetter than Joy's. It took me four hours to reach North Point, where I took a taxi to Wales'. Joy came in half an hour later, having changed her steed en route.

A phone call to district only elicits the fact that I am to be sent home at the 'earliest public opportunity' - a euphemistic phrase which is cold comfort for all this wild dash from the mountains. A wretched finish to all the high hopes of Pandim; but the world news which greets us here makes any personal feelings of this sort perhaps out of place.

Postscript: I was eventually sent home by a ship leaving Bombay on 6 June; we should have had plenty of time to attempt Pandim and Forked Peak after all!

Pandim From the summit of Kabru. 										(C. R. Cooke)

Pandim From the summit of Kabru. (C. R. Cooke)