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TRAVELS IN THE HIMALAYA COUNTRY.
In the “ Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society," vol. i. part. ii, is a paper On the Valley of the Setlej River, in the Himalaya Mountains, from the Journal of Capt. A. Gerard, with Remarks by H. T. Colebrooke, Esq., which contains so much curious and interesting matter, that we shall lay before our readers an abridgement of it.
Capt. Gerard, with his brother, Mr. J. G. Gerard, has several times explored the terrific Himalaya country. A diary of their journey in 1821 has been transmitted to the East-India Company, by whom it was communicated to Mr. Colebrooke.
These travellers began their journey from the Shátúl pass in June 1818; they had previously travelled the ordinary road, and now determined to strike directly across the ridge, at an elevation of 15,556 feet above the level of the
“ The rocks were chiefly mica slate, and gneiss. In the ascent they had noticed a huge granitic rock, in the chilly recess of which they rested; and their route had led them in some places over heaps of angular fragments of gneiss, granite, quartz, and felspar, jumbled together in wild disorder, where every step was dangerous.
“ To the east and south-east was seen low part of the Himalayan range. Its altitude is much less than that of Shátúl ; but it is rendered impassable by a perpendicular wall of gneiss, that forms an impracticable barrier for several miles.
“ The snow became more frequent as they ascended, till they attained the crest of a ridge, at the elevation of 13,450 feet, where it is continuous at that early season. A month later it would be dissolved. Upon the snow, at the greater height of Sháiúl, were many insects like mosquitoes : at first they were torpid; but sunshine revived them. Some birds were seen, resembling
Mosses were found on the few rocks. “ The travellers halted for the night at Kaniján, under the shade of a large rock, at the height of 13,400 feet, whence the steep ascent of the pass begins. There were plenty of flowers where the snow had melted, but no bushes. The firewood was brought from the last camp.
“ From this spot the ascent seemed appalling. The crest was nearly 2,200 feet higher. Here and there a rock projected its black head; all else was a dreary solitude of unfathomable snow, aching to the sight, and without trace of a path.
“ The travellers found the snow, which was soft at mid-day, afford good footing, and reached the summit with less fatigue than they anticipated. They remained the night and following day at the crest of the pass, and suffered much from head-ache and difficulty of breathing, usually experienced at such elevated positions. It snowed in the evening. The temperature did not rise above 41° at noon: it was 24° and 26° at sunrise (9th and 10th of June).
On the subsequent day, they descended upon the same side, and proceeded along the dell of the Andrétí, a branch of the Pabar river, rising near Shátúl, and halted on the bank of a rivulet called Dingrú, at an elevation of 12,300 feet, just above the limit of the forest. The lowest point in the dell was 11,100 feet. Leeks were gathered at the height of 12,000 feet. The ground was here a rich sward, cut up in grooves by a large kind of field-rat, without a tail. (Spalat-Mus typhlus ?) Asiatic Journ. VOL. XXI. No. 123. 2 U
“ The Himalayan glens for the most part run almost perpendicular to the range, or from N.N.E. and N.E. to S.S.W. and S.W. The face exposed to the N.W. is invariably rugged ; and the opposite one, facing the S.E., is shelving. The roads to the most frequented passes lie upon the gentle acclivity: the difference of the elevation of forest on either side is remarkable. On the declivity towards the N.W., which, as before observed, is the most abrupt, the trees rise several hundred feet higher than those upon the opposite face, which has a more gentle slope; and in some instances, the difference exceeds 1,000 feet. The general height of the forest on the southern face of the Himalaya, about 11,800 to 12,000 feet above the sea. Oaks and pines reach that elevation; birches extend a few feet higher. Descending from the pass of Bandáján, the level of the highest juniper was observed 13,300 feet.
“From Shéarghal, at an elevation of 13,720 feet (which the travellers reached by a very steep path, crossing several snow-beds, where it was necessary to cut steps with a hatchet, and passing among gigantic oblong masses of mica state, disengaged from the impending crags), the prospect is very extensive. Towards the plains appear the Chúr mountains, 12,000 feet (one measured barometrically is 12,143 feet); to the S.E., snowy summits of immense altitude, in the direction of Yamunávatári, rising one above another in majestic disorder, and presenting mountains of eternal snow; and beyond the source of the Pabar, one of the huge Raldang peaks, above 21,000 feet. Across the Pabar, is the Chashál range, through which are several passes, 13,000 to 14,000 feet high.
“ The Yusú pass, at the head of the Sipon river, which is called Yúsú, in its upper course, above Bandáján, is 15,877 feet high. The dell, between this and Bandáján pass (14,854 feet above the sea), is shut in towards the N.E. by snow-capped mountains, upwards of 17,000 feet high, amongst which the river has its source. The rocks at Bandáján, and on the bank of the river, where the travellers encamped at the height of 13,650 feet, were gneiss; and the adjoining mountains the same, and clay slate. The descent was over broken slate, from Bandáján.
“ The ascent of Yúsú pass was extremely fatiguing: Messrs. Gerard describe themselves as having been so exhausted at first, that they rested every hundred yards; and, had they not been ashamed, before so many people, some of whom they had induced to accompany them after much intreaty, they would have turned back.
The Yúsú river is divided into several streams, all of which, but the principal one, were crossed by arches of snow. The largest, which was forded, was forty feet broad, and six inches deep : the bed full of pebbles, and the margin snow-washed by the stream. With the exception of that principal channel of the river, and some openings partially disclosing the smaller branches, the rest is a bed of snow six or eight inches thick.
“The glen becomes more and more contracted, till at last it is bounded by mural rocks of granite, with the Yusú forcing its passage between them in impenetrable obscurity, under immense heaps of indestructible ice, running in ridges, and studded with mounds of snow.
“The Búrendo, or Bruäng pass, near the Pabar, was again visited. It had been measured barometrically in 1818: the measurement now taken exceeded the former one (which was 15,095 feet) by 153 feet. To that extent the barometric measurements must be considered uncertain. They halted two days on the summit of the pass; and, as is usual at so great elevations, were
troubled with head-aches and difficulty of respiration. The nights were calm; but the solemn stillness was now and then interrupted by the crash of falling rocks.
They descended into the valley of the Baspá ; sliding down the declivity of a snow-bed by seating themselves upon a blanket on the snow. This mode is invariably practised by the mountaineers, where there are no rocks nor precipices. They had then a dreadfully dangerous footpath along the rugged sides of the dell : it crossed many snow-beds, inclined at an angle of 30° or more; which delayed them much, as they had to cut steps in the
“ The Nalgún pass, the lowest pass through the Himálaya which had been yet visited, is 14,891 feet above the sea. From this pass they descended to the confluence of the Nalgún and Bakti rivers, and thence proceeded along the Bakti, and across the Baspá river to Sangla, where they halted several days (23d to 29th of June), and whence they despatched their collection of plants and geological specimens; but the paper envelopes of the latter were rendered illegible, and the whole of the former destroyed, by the heavy rain which overtook the despatch in the following month.
Messrs. Gerard, resuming their journey, ascended the valley of the Baspá to Chétkúl, the last, and highest village in it, crossing the first day two large branches of the Baspá, the Chuling, and Gór, from the Cailás range on the north ; and the second day, two other considerable streams, the Mangsá and Shútí. They first passed over tremendous blocks of coarse-grained granite, the decomposition of which seems to have formed the sand in the river; it gives the water a turbid appearance. The granite is white, and from a distance looks like chalk.
“ The first part of the valley has the same general character with most others in the Himálaya; but it is considerably broader. The face of the mountain exposed to the S.W., which is part of the Cailás, or Raldang group, presents abrupt precipices and threatening cliffs, with little soil, and but few trees; the opposite face again is more gently sloped, and thickly wooded with pines, which are overtopped by a belt of birches. Near the top of this chain there is a good deal of snow. The last half-mile to the village of Rákchám, situate in the western corner of the glen (and 10,500 feet above the sea), is a rugged descent upon enormous masses of granite. The dell has here a pleasing appearance, and it expands to three furlongs in breadth : half of it is laid out in thriving crops of wheat and barley, and the rest is occupied by sand-beds, which form many small islands, with the river winding among them. Just above the village, huge piles of black rock, composed of black mica (fine grained) with a little oxide of iron, rise abruptly in numerous black spires to’ about 9,000 feet higher, or nearly 20,000 feet above the level of the sea. Approaching Chétkúl, the dell becomes more contracted; the right bank becoming very precipitous, and almost mural to the Baspá. The altitude of the village is about 11,400 feet, and the highest fields are scarcely 200 feet more. The valley continues about 800 yards wide for two or three miles; the Baspá then makes a bend to the southward, and the view is shut up by snowy mountains of great height. '
“ From Chétkúl the travellers attempted the Kimliá pass, at the head of the valley of the Rúsú river, a large stream, derived from a double source, one branch rising in the snow of Saglá pass, which bears nearly south; the other, or smallest, in the Kimliá, about S.W. Above the elevation of 13,300 feet, the level of the highest birches, the Rúsú is increased in rapidity and turbu2 U 2
lence to a torrent, and foams in dreadful agitation and noise. Still higher up, the road ascends gradually, upon snow of immense thickness in the channel of the current, which now and then shows itself in deep blue lakes. The travellers passed along the margin of one 150 feet in diameter : the way was extremely dangerous, upon ice sloping abruptly to the water ; in this there was no footing, till notches were cut with a hatchet, an operation which long delayed their progress. Latterly, they travelled over mounds of unfathomable snow, so loose as scarcely to be capable of supporting them at the depth of three feet. The guides had snow-shoes, which were at least five or six inches in breadth. They said, that early in the morning, before the sun had power, the snow would bear the weight of a loaded person; and in May and June, when the pass is most frequented, it does not sink at any time of the day.
“The travellers reached the elevation of 15,500 feet, where the pass appeared to be 1,400 or 1,500 feet higher, over vast fields of snow.
“The dell is broad (half a mile wide), and covered with snow in high wreaths. The mountains, which have a S.E. exposure, are nearly bare, a few patches of snow only appearing at great heights. The line of cliffs may be 17,500 feet. On the other side, the mountains are nearly of the same height, and they present a chain of mural precipices, eaten away by frost into forms like towers and steeples. Much of the rock near the summits is exposed ; and snow, having lost its hold on their steep craggy sides, has accumulated below.
“ Messrs. Gerard proceeded by the Chárang pass (17,348 feet high) to the valley of Nangaltí. The inclemency of the weather rendered it very arduous. They were detained three days at Shalpiá (a resting-place for travellers) by incessant rain ; on the fourth day their guides consented to proceed. Many snow-beds were crossed; and, about the height of 16,300 feet, continuous snow-beds commenced ; at first, a gentle acclivity, and latterly a very steep slope, surpassing in terror and difficulty of access any thing which the travellers had yet encountered. The acclivity was at an angle of 37° of loose stones, gravel and snow, which the rain had soaked through and mixed together, so as to make moving laborious, and all but impracticable. The stones gave way at every step, so that it became necessary to use hands as well as feet. The travellers reached the crest of the pass at noon, in a state of exhaustion and numbedness of hands and feet, from continued exposure to snow and sleet, with a violent freezing wind.
“The dell leading to the pass is very much contracted: and the ridges on each side are almost bare. The rock is generally a sort of slaty gneiss, sometimes in large masses, but more commonly tumbling in pieces, with little soil and less vegetation.
“ Here, as at Shátúl, Captain Gerard noticed the circumstance of the mercury appearing quite pure (perfectly fluid ?], when they left camp; but, at the pass (when used for filling a barometer) it had lost its lustre, and adhered to the fingers and cup as if it were amalgamated.
The descent from the pass for half a mile was at an angle of 33° upon gravel and snow, with a sharp pointed rock occasionally projecting through it. Some of the loaded people slid down this declivity at the greatest risk. Travelling was rendered laborious on the easier slope of snow, from its sinking one and a-half to two feet. The fissures were beginning to appear, and the guides picked their steps with much caution, leaping over whatever had the least appearance of a rent. The snow fell fast; and a piercing wind blew with fury down the dell.
“The principal branch of the Nangalti has its source much further to the west; a rivulet joins it from the pass. The mountainous range having a N.W. aspect, is very rugged; and the snow (often of a reddish colour) presents enormous banks of sixty or eighty feet thick, as shown by the part towards the dell having fallen down where it cracked. This is always the case on the precipitous sides of the vallies, because the ridges for a considerable down are too abrupt for the snow to rest upon them : it therefore accumulates in large quantities, where the inclination is more gentle; it then cracks and tumbles down by its own weight, during the rainy season, and leaves a perpendicular wall of eighty to a hundred feet in depth. The mountains on the other side were less steep, and the snow lies in continuous fields.
“The travellers proceeded over heaps of loose stones, snow, and slush, at the point of congelation. They passed by several deep blue lakes, with their banks of frozen snow: these are always to be dreaded; and they made a circuit by a seemingly more arduous road, to avoid the danger. Two avalanches descended opposite to them: one of rock, which spent its force in distance, the smaller fragments just reaching them ; the other of snow, but arrested by intervening rocks.
“Recommencing their journey, the travellers followed the course of the Nangalti river, to its junction with the Tidúng, and explored the valley of this last-mentioned river, ascending to the village of Charang (12,000 feet), amidst mountains 18,000 feet high; and proceeding thence to Thangi, and afterwards to the confluence of the same river with the Setlej. The principal branch, retaining the name of Tidúng, flows from the E.S.E., having its source in Chinese Tartary.
The valley of the Tidúng is very narrow; in parts so much so, as scarcely to afford a passage for the river. The stream is furiously rapid, the declivity very great, and the rumbling of large stones, carried down with velocity by the force of the water, was incessant. For six or seven miles the fall of the river is 300 feet per mile, and in some places almost double: where it presents an entire sheet of foam and spray, thrown up and showered upon the surrounding rocks with loud concussion, re-echoed from bank to bank with a noise like thunder.
“The dell of the Tidúng, at Húns, a Tartar village, is confined by towering clift's of white granite and mica slate. The mountains in the neighbourhood of Chárang are all of blue slate, naked to their tops, and exhibiting decay and barrenness in the most frightful forms. They tower in sharp detached groups to about. 18,000 feet. No vegetation approaches their bases, whilst their elevated summits offer no rest to snow.
Where the dell was narrowest, there was so little space for the stream, that the road continued but for a small distance on the same side, and crossed the river repeatedly by Sangas ; one was inclined at an angle of 15°. The travellers had to pick their way: one while upon smooth surfaces of granite, sloping to the raging torrent: at another, the route led among huge masses and angular blocks of rock, forming capacious caves, where fifty or sixty people might rest: here the bank was formed of rough gravel, steeply inclined to the river; there the path was narrow, with a precipice of 500 or 600 feet below, whilst the naked towering peaks, and mural rocks, rent in every
direction, threatened the passenger with ruin from above.
“In some parts of the road there were flights of steps; in others, framework, or rude staircases, opening to the gulph below. In one place is a con