1936 - 1937 Mission Diary

The official diary of the Gould mission to Lhasa sent by the British government. Read more about the mission diary.

December 23rd, Wednesday.

Finch and Chapman arrived, the former having done double stages (about 30 miles per day) from Gyantse. Chapman spent four days at the Yamdrok Tso. The scenery there is quite different from that of the vale of Lhasa. In the first place there are no trees; and the whole landscape is dominated by an immense lake shaped like an irregular starfish with twenty miles distance between the points. From the water side hills, in the summer brightened by a profusion of wild flowers, but now covered only with sere brown grass, rise steeply for three thousand feet above the lake which is itself 14,500 feet above sea level. In folds of the hills, where the land flattens sufficiently to allow a certain amount of cultivation, are scattered villages often dominated by a fort. Ruined dwellings, and the derelict remains of an extensive irrigation system, show that the land has suffered considerable depopulation.

As one rides along the narrow stony track between the hills and the lake, countless minute black dots can be discerned usually near the summit of the most remote and inaccessible ridges: these are grazing yaks. Lower down are flocks of sheep and goats, tended by a solitary shepherd - often a mere child. Between the sheep, and the yaks, at an intermediate height, a sharp eye might detect a number of fawn coloured animals. Powerful glasses show them to be a herd of Tibetan gazelle. In the early morning these graceful animals come low down the hill sides, perhaps to drink from the lake, as all the mountain water-courses are frozen. By getting above them, before dawn, and waiting as they grazed slowly upwards, some cinema 'shots' were obtained. But so wary, are these animals that at the instant they come into the field of the camera's finder they become aware of it, and bound away up the mountainside.

All along the edge of the lake were innumerable Bar-headed geese, Gadwall, Mallard, Pintail and Wigeon; while a few hundred yards from the shore were packs of diving ducks - redcrested and common Pochard, Tufted Ducks and Goosanders.

At the Eastern extremity of the lake, by Nagartse, there are shallows; and here alone, save for a border of a few feet right along the margin, was the lake frozen What had been weedy shallows and Redshank-haunted marshes in the summer was now a desolate frozen plain, swept by bitter winds and blinding sandstorms. However, in the still early morning, hundreds of tiny mouse-hares came out of their holes and basked in the sun, often sitting up, marmot-like, to squeak shrilly at any intruder; while Ground Choughs and several varieties of Snow-finches and larks searched the ground for food. For miles this plain slopes imperceptibly towards the foothills of the great mountain belt which one has to cross (by the Kara La, 16,500 ft.) on the way to Gyantse. From this range the snows of several immense peaks tower majestically above the surrounding mountains catching, long before their neighbours, the ruddy glow of the early morning sun.

Returning to Lhasa from this lake the Kampa La (15,400) was crossed; though in summer, when the Tsang Po was flooded that the ferry could not be used, we were forced to cross by the higher Nyapso La. A rough track was followed downwards for 4,000 feet to, the valley of the Tsang Po, which was crossed at Chaksam Ferry. Anyone using the Ferry would be well advised to cross very early in the morning, as on each occasion that we were there the whole valley was swept by so violent a duststorm that we had to wait for several hours before it was safe for the crazy old box of a boat to venture out into mid-stream.

Author: Frederick Spencer Chapman [see handwritten annotations in Diary by Hugh Richardson in MS. Or. Richardson 2, Bodleian Libary, Department of Oriental Collections, University of Oxford]

Page Reference: Pt XI p.1

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