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Nepal Himalaya by H. W Tilman 1949 Trip

THERE can be no other country so rich in mountains as Nepal. This narrow strip of territory, lying between Sikkim and Garhwal, occupies 500 miles of India's northern border; and since this border

Nepal is usually referred to as 'unknown'. Possibly the reader has already mistakenly inferred that the whole country, including the Nepal Himalaya, is unexplored, whereas there are maps of the whole country on a J-in. scale. One of the pleasing traits of the Westerner or Paleface is to assume that what is not known to him cannot be known to anyone. * Un explored' country means country unexplored by him, rather in the grand manner of Mrs Elton who had never been to Box Hill and talked ardently ofconducting an exploring party there. Unknown Nepal must have become thoroughly well known to the fourteen Indian surveyors (European officers of the Indian Survey Department were excluded) who in three seasons, 1924^7, surveyed the whole 55,000 sq. miles from the 'terai* along the Indian border to the Himalaya. Even before this, Nepal must have been tolerably familiar to its inhabitants, and some of the remote valleys were made known to the outside world by a few of the devoted 'pundit' explorers sent out by the Survey of India. 'M.H.', for example, who in 1885 travelled up the valley of the Dudh Kosi west of Everest to Tingri in Tibet, whence he returned to India by Kyerong and the Trisuli valley, thus traversing Nepal twice; while in 1873 Hari Ram, another Indian explorer, followed the valley of the Kali river to Tradom in Tibet. Two Jesuit missionaries are also believed to have returned from Shigatse in Tibet to Katmandu in 1629, probably by Nyenam, but unfortunately they left no record of their journey. Moreover, the various British Residents at Katmandu from 1 802 onwards have collected from native sources a mass of information ? in particular, Hodgson, who for ten years made it his principal task. He never moved out of the valley, but he knew fairly accurately, for example, the drainage system of the Gandak river and much of the natural history of the country. In short, Nepal is by no means terra incognita, but it is true to say that it is the largest inhabited country still unexplored by Europeans. The area we were to visit had thus been surveyed (of which more hereafter), but a glance at the relevant map sheet (71 H Jin), showed a tract of country immediately north of the Langtang Himal in Tibet that bore the magic word 'unsurveyed'; this was the more interesting because in it lay Gosainthan (6,291 ft.) some ten miles north of the main Himalayan crest-line. Tibet was out of bounds but it occurred to me that by lugging a photo-theodolite up to several points on the frontier ridge we might with luck get enough data for the mapping ofthis stretch ofcountry ofwhichnoteven the drainage system was known. Gosainthan probably lies on thewatershed between the Trisuli Gandak and the Kosi system, but the J in. map shows an intervening ridge to the west of the mountain, the whole of which is thus made to lie in the Kosi basin. Gosainthan, meaning the Place of the Saint, is the Sanskrit name for the peak the Tibetans call Shisha Pungma. Kailas and Gurla Mandhata are two other Sanskrit names for very famous mountains, both in Tibet, given by Hindu pilgrims visiting the sacred shrines in the vicinity of the peak. With the spread of Buddhism the same places became the goals of Buddhist pilgrims who gave the peaks Tibetan names. Kailas (22,028 ft.) lying to the north ofLake Manasarowar was Siva's paradise, and still is the resort of Hindu pilgrims who walk right round the mountain prostrating themselves as they go, a journey which under these arduous conditions takes three weeks. No Hindu pilgrim visits Gosainthan; were it not for the evidence of the name it would be difficult to believe they had even seen it. They do, however, visit in large numbers the sacred lake of Gosainkund situated high on a long southerly spur of the Langtang Himal on the east side of the Trisuli valley. Possibly some confusion exists between this lake and the mountain; for in the Nepalese map published in Landon's Nepal, the frontier is so drawn as to include the mountain, implying that it is of importance to Hindus. It is not often possible to visit the Himalaya at the best time. West of the central Himalaya there is probably not much to choose between any of the summer months, but in the eastern Himalaya from the end of June to the end of September the prevalence of monsoon conditions is a serious handicap to climbing and to comfort. Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a-pleasuring, but the first consideration would persuade the mountaineer, if he could, to climb in May and June, to lie at earth during July and August, and to return refreshed in October for a final fling. For those who visit the Himalaya for less serious reasons the weather is ofless account, the only exception being the surveyor for whom weather is all important. In order to see the first flowers a botanist should be in the field by early May, remain throughout the summer (having much trouble drying his specimens) for successively later ones, and stay until the end of October when most of the seeds have ripened. Generally such nice considerations of the ideal time have to be omitted; the party goes out when it can and returns when it must, which in our case was late May and early September respectively. Thus only our geologist could view with indifference our arrival in the field only a week or two before the expected breaking of the monsoon. It did not take long to collect the necessary stores and equipment, to sketch a rough plan, an even rougher estimate of cost, and toarrange for the assembly of the motley party in Kat mandu towards the end of May. Lloyd and I, coming from opposite directions, met in Calcutta, while the other two travelled via Bombay. The four Sherpas I had engaged met us safely in Calcutta, in spite of the fact that in coming from Darjeeling they had had to pass from India to Pakistan and then back again to India. Travelling north across the great flat alluvial plain ofBengal and Bihar, where for hundreds of miles a man may lift his eyes no higher than a mango tree, is a salutary but fortunately short-lived experience for a mountaineer. In 4* hours, after a steamer voyage across the Ganges, when we were nearly separated from our nineteen bulkypackages, we reachedRaxaul near the frontier ofIndia and Nepal. From here anarrow gauge railway, opened in 197, runs to Amlekhganj, the railhead twenty-nine miles away. Shortly after crossing the frontier at Birgunj the line enters the terai. This is a peculiar strip of jungle, twelve to twenty miles wide, stretching more or less continuously along the whole southern border. The thin gravel soil is of little use for cultivation, but the terai is of value on account of its flourishing growth of sal trees, which are in great demand for railway sleepers; it is also a big-game reserve, where tiger, panther, the one-horned Indian rhino (found also in Assam), wild elephant, wild buffalo, and smaller game abound. In the cold weather, H.H.the Maharajah and members of the ruling family, many of whom are keen shikaris, organise shoots to which privileged guests are sometimes invited. The renowned Jang Bahadur, Prime Minister from 1846 to his death in 1877, the most illustrious of a distinguished line, one who is now an almost legendary character, was a very mighty hunter. Before he had settled himself firmly in the saddle, he hunted his numerous enemies as vindictively and as effectively as later he did the tigers of the terai. He became his country's* greatest benefactor, and proved a very staunch friend to Britain in the critical years of the Mutiny.

Another curious denizen of the terai at one time was Nana Sahib, the leader of the Indian Mutiny, who after his final defeat at Tantia Topi fled across the Nepal frontier and took refuge in the terai. He opened negotiations with Jang Bahadur, who, refusing either to shelter him or to give him up, yet managed to acquire at a quite moderate price the Nana's principaljewel the Naulahka, an unrivalled necklace ofpearls, diamonds and emeralds. The circumstances of the Nana's death, or even the time and place, are still a mystery; but he was reported to have died in 1859 which, if he remained in the terai, is very probable. For six months of the year it is an unhealthy, indeed, a lethal place, where anyone who spends a night unprotected is almost sure to contract the deadly local form of malaria called ' awal'. Deadly malaria is not a mono poly of the Nepal terai. The belt of country between the Himalayan foothills and the plain of India is unhealthy every where from central India eastwards. In 1939, after one night in the Assam terai, three Sherpas and myself all contracted different forms of malaria, all of which were serious and one fatal. From Amlekhganj the journey is continued by car or lorry, and the dejected traveller soon perceives from the frightful grinding of gears, that the world is not so flat as he had feared. In the journey of twenty-seven miles to road-head at Bhimpedi (3650 ft.) the road rises a hundred feet in every mile. This country of the Siwalik foothills is well wooded and well watered, but sparsely inhabited and probably fever-ridden. The Siwalik is a remarkable range; though never rising above 5OOO ft. it stretches almost unbroken, parallel to the Himalaya, from the Brahmaputra to the Indus. The ancient Aryans called  it, very appropriately, the edge ofthe roofofSiva's Himalayan abode *. The motor-road passes under the crest of the Siwaliks by a tunnel 300 yd. long; the old road crossed by the Churia pass, which is a place of some military interest. In the Nepalese war of 1816 a British column 13,000 strong under General Ochterlony, advancing on Katmandu, outflanked the defended pass by means of a goat-track to the west, thus turning the main Gurkha position based on the fortress of Makwanpur. Two higher passes and much difficult country still lay between Ochterlony's force and their objective, while the Gurkha army was still intact, but the Nepalese, fearful for the hitherto in violate Katmandu valley, made terms. Ochterlony, from whom the suggestion must have come with double force, was the first to suggest, during this very war, that Gurkha troops should be enlisted in the Indian Army. Beyond the Siwalik range the road enters and ascends the valley of the Rapti, on the north side of which forest-clad hills rise to over 8,OOO ft. The motor-road ends at the head of the valley at Bhimpedi, a straggling corrugated-iron bazaar. We turned off two miles short of this to the ropeway station, Dhusing. The electrically driven ropeway, opened in 1925, is fourteen miles long and rises to a height of 4,50O ft. above Dhusing; each sling carries about 5 cwt and travels at four and a half miles an hour. The mountaineer who allows himself and his load to be hauled uphill attached to the endless rope of a ski-lift should feel a slight sense ofguilt, much as an anchorite would who changed his hair shirt for a silk one; but in con signing our nineteen packages to the care of this invaluable machine we experienced nothing but relief. At much less cost than the hire of coolies and with no worry on our part, the bae-erasre would be in Katmandu before we arrived. The ropeoo o * way can deliver fifty or sixty tons a day, the equivalent of 1 ,5OO coolies working for two days. The goods shed was overflowing with bags ofgrain, salt and general merchandise, waiting to go up; but since very little conies down these imports must be paid for by 'invisible' exports of which the major one, no doubt, is the Gurkha soldier. Having arranged this matter we drove on to Bhimpedi where we were decanted at three o'clock of a hot afternoon at the foot of a formidable hill quite devoid, so far as one could see, of anything in the nature ofa lift. True the pylons of the ropeway could be seen inarching up in giant strides, but on that no passengers are carried. So far, thanks to the admirable arrange ments made by the Nepalese authorities and the British embassy, no effort, physical or mental, had been required of us until now, when for the next eighteen miles we had to put foot to ground. Even that we might have spared ourselves had we wished, H.H. the Maharajah having sent two ponies for us. Between Bhimpedi and Thankot in the valley itself there are two passes, the Sisagarhi (6,225 ft.) and the Chandragiri (7,700 ft.) . A night is spent at a rest-house below the first pass whence the journey to Thankot can be done in six or seven hours. Our early arrival on the pass having gone unrewarded for on a clear day the Himalaya can be seen we dropped 2,500 ft. to a valley across which the ropeway swings in one enormous span of l,30O yd. Crossing the clear rippling Kuli, a tributary stream of the sacred Bagmati river which alone drains the Katmandu valley, we continued up an open valley to Chitlong at the foot ofthe steep rise to the Chandragiri, where, in company with the coolie traffic, we paused to brace ourselves for the serious business of the day. As the ropeway cannot deal with very heavy or bulky loads there is the opportunity for coolies to prove the superiority ofman over machine by dealing with things like brass cannons and motor cars, for which there seemed to be a steady demand in the valley. Ateam ofthirty coolies handled a brass cannon easily, almost running in fact, while seventy, or perhaps ninety, if it is a Rolls Royce, are needed for a car. Two long poles which project well fore-and-aft are lashed under the car as it stands. To these wooden shoulder pieces are attached, each of which is sup ported by two men, one each side of the pole. On level ground this works well, but the Chandragiri pass is steep, particularly so on the Katmandu side, and a load carried thus on a thirty degree slope must set up some curious stresses. We met several car-carrying parties but the coolies each time were taking a rest, of which, no doubt, they need a lot.

As he looks from the Chandragiri pass upon the fair and spacious valley below, the most jaded traveller must feel his imagination stirred by its secluded position, its turbulent past, and by the mystery and sanctity attending this most ancient shrine of Hindu and Buddhist tradition, with its temples and stupas of Asoka, sacred groves and burning ghats. Even the traveller who views it upon a cloudy day, without seeing the sublime background of the Himalaya which are the source of these religious traditions, cannot but be charmed by the pattern ofgreen and yellow fields, the terra-cotta houses, the gleaming white palaces and the dark roofs of the city, the whole ringed with gentle, wooded hills. Since almost the whole valley, only some twenty by fifteen miles, is in view, he may well say he is looking at Nepal: for to those who live outside the valley this is Nepal. And in a sense it is true enough; for in this small arena has been enacted and recorded in brick, wood, and stone, nearly all the ancient and modern history ofwhat we call Nepal ; and within it is concentrated nearly half a million people and nearly all the power, art, prosperity, commerce in short everything appertaining to the life of the country. Pursued and finally overtaken by a thunderstorm we reached Thankot in the afternoon, where we were picked up by the waiting embassy car and wafted the remaining nine miles to Katmandu.

Sourse : THE LANGTANG HIMAL (1949)/ CHAPTER I /TO NEPAL

This material is taken from H. W Tilan Pdf book found in internet .

Tags: Dhaulagiri , Langtang, Nepal Himalaya , W H Tilman, Nepal 1949, Nangpa La, Gauri Shankar, Maharaja, Gosaikunda, Gandak, Cacutta, old Nepal