Fragrance in Travel Literature-Tibet




Tibet, the mysterious
Holdich, Thomas Hungerford, Sir


Next to the Dalai Lama, the Teshu Lama of Teshi-
lumpo (whom Hastings believed to be the chief reli-
gious authority) is the ruling high priest in Tibet.
Bogle's description of this personage is exceedingly
interesting. " On a throne carved and gilt with some
cushions above it " sat the lama cross-legged. " He
was dressed in a mitre-shaped cap of yellow broadcloth
with long bars lined with red satin; a yellow cloth
jacket without sleeves, and a satin mantle of the same
colour thrown over his shoulders. On one side of
him stood his physician with a bundle of perfumed
sandal-wood rods burning in his hand, on the other
stood his Sopon Chumbo, or cup-bearer." He re-
ceived Bogle " in the most engaging manner," and
thereafter, when two or three official visits had been
made and returned, he used to receive him without
ceremony, " his head uncovered, dressed only in his
large red petticoat, which is worn by all the gylongs "
(priests or monks), " red Bulgar boots, a cloth thrown
across his shoulders."

On the second day of the first month of each year
this oracle prophesies the events of the year to come.
His consulting fee is about five rupees, and as private
adviser as well as public functionary his time is well
occupied. Much superstitious reverence surrounds
him; no one is permitted to look on him as he ap-
proaches Lhasa, and the atmosphere of mysticism in
which he is enveloped is strictly maintained by the
authority of the State, which surrounds him with a
staff of seventy lamas and burns incense before him.


"Journey to Lhasa and central Tibet"

Das, Sarat Chandra

He did what he
could, however, to make the acquaintance of Tibetan
and Chinese dignitaries who might be helpful to him.
He polished up a pair of old brass candlesticks which
were not his own property (they belonged to the Hon-
ourable East India Company), and adding them to
two wax candles, some pieces of cloth, and a few silver
coins, he made them presentable as an offering to the
Grand Lama. He also possessed a bottle of some
ancient form of scent (Smith's lavender water) which
was added to the offering. The bottle was broken
during the process of presentation, and the streamlets
of scent imparted a new character to the pervading
essence of burnt sandal wood which permeated the
sacred presence chamber. But he saw the Grand Lama
and made his " katesi," " touching the ground three
times with my head to the Grand Lama and once to
the Ti-mu-fu."

In the service hall, where the priests were assembled for
religious service, hundreds of lamps were burning, and incense-sticks
were smoking so as to nearly darken the room. We ascended at
once to the top story, but the other visitors began their circu-
niambulation from the bottom upwards — the usual practice, though
many become so wearied going round and round that they do not
reach the uppermost story. The chortcn is about 100 to 120 feet
high, the top covered by a gilt dome, the gilded copper plates of
which are so thick that they have withstood centuries of exposure to
the weather. The base of this sacred edifice is, we found by actual
count, 50 paces square. From the cupola {inimjia), immediately
under the gilt dome, I had a magnificent view of the town and
monasteries and the surrounding hills and distant mountains ; their
black surface, broken here and there by some white-walled monastery,
offered a singularly wild aspect.

During my stay at Gyatsoshar I occupied the little pavilion
belonging to the minister, which I have described previously. The
flowers in the garden which surrounded it filled the aii' with their
fragrance; the tall poplars, the widespread willows, the fragrant
junipers, the graceful cedars, all contributed to make this place the
most favoured of all the neighbourhood.

By 3.30 p.m. we had descended so far in the gorge of Chu
lonkyok that patches of grass showed here and there amidst the
snow, and I saw an alpine shrub called upala* with large pink
leaves at the top like those of the water-lily, waved in the wind,
which had again begun to blow. The coolies now pushed rapidly
ahead, leaving me far behind, but the gradual reappearance of grass,
rhododendrons, and juniper bushes revived my spirits as I walked
on, frequently halting to catch my breath. Continuing down the
gorge through rhododendrons, junipers, and several species of prickly,
sweet-scented shrubs, we finally reached, about dark, a great boulder,
underneath which we camped. In front of it ran a brook about four
feet wide, said to be the head-stream of the famous Kabili of Nepal,
which receives the waters from the Chum-bok and the Semarum
mountains.

Trans-Himalaya : discoveries and adventures in Tibet Vol 1
Sven Hedin

Next day we cross a bridge and slowly mount the slopes
of the left bank. The morning is beautifully fine, and the I
not over-abundant vegetation of the hills exhales an agree-
able summer perfume. On our left rushes the stream, often
white with foam, but its roar strikes our ears only when we
make a halt ; at other times it is drowned by the rattle of
the tonga. I follow with the closest attention the changes
of scenery in this wonderful country. The road is carried
through some of the mountain spurs in broad vaulted
tunnels. The^ last of these is the longest, and opens its »
gaping jaws Kef ore us hke a black cavern. Within it is ^
delightfully cool; the short warning blasts of the signal
horn reverberate melodiously in the entrails of the
mountain.


After a short pause the trumpets sound again, and now
appear some lamas with white masks and white robes,
heralding a procession of monks, each of whom carries
some article used in the ritual of Buddhism, holy temple
vessels, golden bowls and chalices, censers of gold swinging
in their chains and emitting clouds of sweet-smelling
incense.

When I came out of my tent in the cool of the morning
the rest of the caravan had already set out, and the camp
looked empty and deserted. The new day was not pro-
mising, for it rained hard, and thunder growled among the
mountains; but the summer morning gave forth an odour
of forest and fresh green vegetation, and after a good
breakfast my detachment, to which Robert and Manuel
belonged, started on its march.


"Among the Tibetans"

Bird, Isabella L.

All day long a white, scintillating
sun blazes out of a deep blue, rainless, cloudless sky.
The air is exhilarating. The traveller is conscious of
daily-increasing energy and vitality. There are no
trees, and deep crimson roses along torrent beds are
the only shrubs. But for a brief fortnight in June,
which chanced to occur during my journey, the
valleys and lower slopes present a wonderful aspect
of beauty and joyousness. Rose and pale pink
primulas fringe the margin of the snow, the dainty
Pedicularis tuhifiora covers moist spots with its
mantle of gold ; great yellow and white, and small
purple and white anemones, pink and white dianthus,
a very large myosotis, bringing the intense blue of
heaven down to earth, purple orchids by the water,
borage staining whole tracts deep blue, martagon
lilies, pale green lilies veined and spotted with brown,
yellow, orange, and purple vetches, painter's brush,
dwarf dandelions, white clover, fi^lling the air with
fragrance, pink and cream asters, chrysanthemums,
lychnis, irises, gentian, artemisia, and a hundred
others, form the undergrowth of millions of tall Um-
belliferae and Compositae, many of them peach-scented
and mostly yellow. The wind is always strong, and
the millions of bright corollas, drinking in the sun-
blaze which perfects all too soon their brief but
passionate existence, rippled in broad waves of colour
with an almost kaleidoscopic effect.

The Lower Nubra valley is wilder and narrower
than the Upper, its apricot orchards more luxuriant,
its wolf-haunted hippophaii and tamarisk thickets more
dense. Its villages are always close to ravines, the
mouths of which are filled with chod-tens, manis,
prayer- wheels, and religious buildings. Access to
them is usually up the stony beds of streams over-
arched by apricots. The camping-grounds are apricot
orchards. The apricot foliage is rich, and the fruit
small but delicious. The largest fruit tree I saw
measured nine feet six inches in girth six feet from
the ground. Strangers are welcome to eat as much
of the fruit as they please, provided that they return
the stones to the proprietor. It is true that Nubra
exports dried apricots, and the women were splitting
and drying the fruit on every house roof, but the
special raison detre of the tree is the clear, white,
fragrant, and highly illuminating oil made from the
kernels by the simple process of crushing them be-
tween two stones. In every goiijjo temple a silver
bowl holding from four to six gallons is replenished
annually with this almond- scented oil for the ever-
burning light before the shrine of Buddha. It is
used for lamps, and very largely in cookery. Children,
instead of being washed, are rubbed daily with it,
and on being weaned at the age of four or five, are
fed for some time, or rather crammed, with balls of
barley-meal made into a paste with it.

Trees and trailers drooped over the path, ferns and
lilies bloomed in moist recesses, and among myriads
of flowers a large blue and cream columbine was
conspicuous by its beauty and exquisite odour. The
charm of the detail tempted one to linger at every
turn, and all the more so because I knew that I should
see nothing more of the grace and bounteousness of
Nature till my projected descent into Kulu in the late
autumn. The snow-filled gorge on whose abrupt side
the path hangs, the Zoji La (Pass), is geographically
remarkable as being the lowest depression in the great
Himalayan range for 300 miles; and by it, in spite
of infamous bits of road on the Sincl and Suru rivers,
and consequent losses of goods and animals, all the
trafiic of Kashmir, Afghanistan, and the Western
Panjab finds its way into Central Asia. It was too
early in the season, however, for more than a few
enterprising caravans to be on the road.

A summer ride through western Tibet

Duncan, Jane E

Oh, no, he said, he was going to stay, and at once
lighted a fire, folding himself up on his heels beside it,
while I sat on a high stone near it with my feet on
another. Eight o'clock, and it was quite dark. The scent
of the flowers and herbs at my feet grew stronger, and
the stars came out in such myriads that the heavens were
paved with them; the Plough and each separate star in
it looked twice as large as it does at home, and wondrous
constellations hung in the south, such as I never remember
to have seen before, all glittering and magnified, and
showing geometrical figures in their light in a manner
visible only to very short-sighted eyes. When I look at
the stars through a glass which reduces them to what
people with good sight can see I am always disappointed
in them, and rejoice that they appear so much more
beautiful to me. Defects sometimes have valuable com-
pensations.


Land of the Lamas

Peter Goullart
The trail down passed at the foot of Chiburongi Konkka, its
glittering summit seemingly so near, inviting a climb. The going
was hard, however, among the myriad stones of a dry morain
lake between which frozen ground quickly changed to black mud
under the burning rays of the sun. Then came a descent from a
dizzily high rocky escarpment into a lower valley covered with
a forest of stately firs and larches where the crisp air was fragrant
with rosin. Pheasants darted from bushes across the trail and once,
going ahead, I heard some clucking in a thicket; in a little while
a mass of little chicks poured out on to the meadow escorted by
their mother, a guinea hen, only to disappear again when the rest
of the party came up. I did not tell them for I feared for the safety
of the chicks. At last we found a lovely alpine meadow by the
stream and had a peaceful night lulled to sleep by the roar of the
torrent.


The country opened up into lush little meadows and low hills,
a broad luxuriant valley still protected by the mighty
ranges on the left and right. A low ridge on the left was covered
with magnificent old oaks, giving way sometimes to tall chestnut
and plane trees. It was like a picture of old Europe. Flowers
became taller and more numerous, with fragrant cascades of
wild roses adding more colour to an already incredibly beautiful
landscape. As the sun rose higher more Lolos began to travel
and the sound of the flute playing and songs came from distant
dwellings.


The evening shadows began to gather in deep translucent pools
as a fragrant breeze from the woods filled the room through the
open door and the cracks in the wattle walls. The higher slopes of
the mighty range, touched here and there by the creamy white
puffs of stray clouds, became mauve with blue columns of smoke
to mark other hidden Lolo habitations. The dusk mellowed and
concealed the dingy, unpretentious surroundings, leaving in relief
only the brightly costumed ladies and knights with their eager,
flushed faces and brilliant, inscrutable eyes. The old uncanny feel-
ing of receding through space and time into unexplored depths of
bygone ages gripped me again.

Numerous caravans passed us going in both directions. Our
little party looked pathetic amidst the vast riches of transported
goods and the groups of opulent-looking military officers trotting
on their prize mules. We became good friends Alamaz, Hwama
and myself travelling when we liked and stopping where we
liked, without any schedule or the discipline of a large expedition
or caravan. I now realized how idyllically happy we were in the
seclusion of the unsophisticated and unspoilt Taliangshan moun-
tains. It was like a dream and now I hated the idea of arriving in
Sichang and still worse, in Tachienlu. I wished we could go on,
like this, for ever and for ever from one beautiful valley into
another, stopping over-night in intimate, peaceful and friendly
hamlets, or from one Lolo castle to another, caressed by the gentle
and fragrant air of mountain summer.

The trail led up and up and soon I left the cultivated tracts of the
valley, entering the shady, fragrant woods of higher altitudes. As
we climbed the seasons began to change in reverse. The hot, humid
summer of Moshimien merged into the benign coolness of spring,
with many kinds of flowers just opening. I rode a little and walked
a little. We must have reached 10,000 feet or more when the decid-
uous woods began to merge into a forest of dark firs and larches,
and I found a brook, its sparkling, leaping waters appearing oddly
blue when they foamed between the rocks of pink granite. Pretty
clearings by the banks were studded with flowers, with blossom-
ing creepers cascading from tall trees. Walking ahead slowly to
drink in this sun-drenched beauty, I was arrested by the vision of
the incomparable cardiocrinum which I had met earlier in the
forests of Yehli. Here they were much taller, more gigantic, fan-
tastically towering against the background of dark tree trunks. I
wanted to get to them this time, but a movement across a patch
of sunlight made me stop dead, holding Hwama's bridle, llien I
advanced tiptoeing softly only to find that I was standing in front
of a huge black snake coiled on the path. It was too late to retreat.
The reptile lifted its head about two feet, looking at me with the
sun playing on the softly green iridescence of its black skin faintly
marked with diamond designs. It gently waved its head to and fro
whilst I stood frozen, and then very deliberately started to with-
draw into the bushes, coil after coil straightening into a large
black ribbon. It was the biggest snake I had seen in my life until,
years later, I encountered some pythons in Malaya. When the
rustling of its huge body had died in the distance, I dug up some
bulbs of the giant lilies to take with me.

Evening came and
with it the terrible blasts of icy wind which shook the castle.
Whilst the meal was being cooked the hostesses fetched small
branches of juniper and burned them before the gods and on the
roof, murmuring their 'Aum manipadme hum ' . This was done in
Tibet in every household in the morning and in the evening to
honour the gods. It was a pleasant odour and afterwards became
for me synonymous with Tibet.

It was afternoon, but the larks were still singing in the warm
air and sweet, honeyed odour came from the dazzlingly yellow
fields covered with flowering mustard plants. We readied Leng-
chi and decided to call it a day. After early dinner we strolled up
to the cliff with the Tatu River boiling below.

There was a sharp turn in the path as the mountains on the left
opened up and we were walking away from the river and through
a sea of yellow mustard flowers with their sensuous odour. There
was a village at the end of this plain where we had our modest
lunch. Then there was a long, long climb till we reached another
hamlet on the top of the mountain. It was already late afternoon.
I looked at Lee Chizau questioningly.


There was no more excitement with wild animals and we soon
descended to a pretty alpine meadow for a long rest and a drink
of wine, the Lolo chewing a dry buckwheat pancake which he
had produced out of his skin bag. I looked around as the whole
panorama of the country lay at my feet. Right in front of me
stretched the dazzling chain of snow peaks of Yajagkan, 20,000
feet high, beyond which Tachienlu lay. Silvery clouds, mere
puffs of vapour, slowly drifted below them like the chariots of
mountain spirits. Below was piled range upon range of forest-dad
foothills like the mammoth waves of a dark green sea dappled
with patches of jade and purple, rent now and then by narrow
gorges out of which foamed blue torrents into the abysmal valley
where, I knew, the beautiful Tatu struggled and fought on its
endless course towards her distant lover, the Min. The bright hot
sunshine had melted the rosin of larches and pines and the crisp
air was heavy with their exhilarating and balmy odour. Birds
sang and flitted whilst the first flowers of spring were already
opening in sunny glades.
"Was there any other conception of an earthly paradise which
could rival this ?* I wondered. I was overcome and prostrated by
the vision of this splendour, tears gathering in my eyes at the
revelation of God's magic of creation. How could puny human
art be compared to the transcendent flight of Divine phantasy?
Here was the key to Jesus seeking beauty in the lilies of the field
rather than in the sumptuous palaces of Herod in Tiberias.


I found the great lama sitting cross-legged on rich rugs spread
on a bed in a large, bright room with the sun rays streaming in
through red pelargoniums which stood in pots on the window
sills. It was a signal honour to me when he got up to receive me;
such exalted incarnations do not have to render such courtesies to
ordinary mortals except to the Governor himself. He stood before
me smiling, a huge figure, tall and athletic, clad in a rusty red
toga with one arm bare. His eyes, large and magnetic, bored into
mine. I bowed deeply, proffering with both hands the white scarf
khata which he immediately accepted and then I presented
him with a few packets of costly incense which, it was explained
to me, was one of the most acceptable gifts in Tibet signifying the
profoundest respect and admiration for a person, especially if he
were of a priestly or official rank.

The air was filled with the fragrance of flowers and the hum
of bees as butterflies flitted from blossom to blossom or sat in
colourful flocks on moist spots in the ground. Farther on the
gorge became narrower as the mountains closed in. The river
gurgled and hissed, growling noises came from the whirlpools
among the rocks and there was a hooting sound as the current
struggled in submerged caverns. Nowhere else have I seen a river
so marvellous, so alive and so personal. It was truly a living being
with a will and a mode of existence all of its own. This impres-
sion, first created when I met the river at Luting, never left me
afterwards. I had a mystic impulse to contemplate this river
forever, to sit by it and even to talk to it. My spirit longed to
befriend this terrible beauty, to commune with her spirit and to
seek her protection and benevolence in the mortal dangers I might
meet whilst travelling along her precipitous banks. I even dropped
flowers sometimes in homage to her. . . . And, after a while, I
had a strange and mysterious conviction that whatever might
happen whilst I was in the grip of this strange river, she would
never harm me, would never betray or destroy me.


Shivering from cold I dismounted and began to walk briskly to
warm myself. The forest became less dense and my discomfort was
quickly forgotten when we encountered meadows and clearings
foil of lilies. I can never forget this paradisaical scene as rusty
speckled blooms of one species competed with the pure white of
another. Some were sulphur yellow and others dark red on the
outside. But to top them all were the glorious flowers of the cardio-
crinum species, 1 their trumpets attached to the stalks higher than a
man and their powerful fragrance filling the air around with
heavy sweetness.