National Geographic : 1950 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine At least, there was enough of a road through the Terai of east Nepal so that we could travel north from Biratnagar in style in a command car and truck. If not picturesque, it saved us two days each way. At the foot of the hills we again collected coolies for the onward journey. Here too we gathered in an addition to the party, Mrs. Sidney Legendre, world traveler and explorer, who hunted and hiked with us for a month. Leaving the Terai, we crossed the Siwalik Range and the Tamur River beyond and climbed steadily upward until we made our main camp six marches later at a place called Mangalbare, about 9.700 feet above sea level. It was an unforgettable spot (page 14). A Lavish Panorama At dawn each morning we could look out to the north where, framed in 60-foot rhodo dendrons, spread the most lavish panorama in the world. The whole massif of Everest, with its complex of supporting mountains extending for miles on either side, lay stretched before us, 60 miles away, almost at arm's length in that brittle air * (pages 28 and 29). To the right rose Makalu, the most ma jestic sight of all. It is a wonderfully bal anced mountain, the central peak flanked by ridges evenly spaced like the shoulders and arms of a majestic sitting figure. To the left lay a huge, flat, unnamed ridge, and far to the left the icy pinnacle of Gauri Sankar. A five-minute walk brought us to the edge of our own steep ridge, and there before us, amid swirling masses of cloud, lay the wild jumbled masses of Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain. By about 9 or 10 in the morning all this would be blotted out by the swift-ranging clouds. As we walked over the hills, over open screes of rock and stunted grass, through clusters of moist, dripping rhododendrons and tangles of stunted fir and bamboo, clammy eddies of cloud would drift by, enveloping us in silence. What few birds there were seemed to vanish then, and all was quiet except for the faint sighing of the wind and sometimes, far away, the notes of the curled dragon horns of the hill people. February is one of the wedding months in the Hindu calendar. Every day we could hear horns echoing up from the valleys, and drums, and sometimes shrill squeals of clari netlike shawms and the boom of a muzzle loading gun (pages 3 and 9). On the eighth day snow started, softly compelling, piling in endlessly in swirling eddies. The wind had changed to the north- east, and we were in for it. Our tents began to give way under the weight, for it was wet, heavy snow. No one seemed to have the right sort of shoes; the coolies had none. In no time the camp was a weltering, half frozen mess. It was difficult to keep fires going. Most of the servants had never seen snow before and were apprehensive, to say the least. In spite of our hopes, the snow came on and on. By the third day, with 14 inches of snow blocking the pass behind us, it was time to get out fast. The coolies had sunk into a kind of apathy, huddling over their fires in their leaf huts. Food would be gone in an other day, but they seemed not to realize or care. By breaking up the fires, kicking snow into the huts, and shouting at the top of my lungs, I managed to get them out and on the move. Soaking wet, we finally trudged off through the knee-deep drifts down another trail lead ing into a deep valley. The last snow was at 6,000 feet. We were out of it by that night without serious trouble and with a deep sense of thankfulness. Eight more days of marching through the Kosi Valley and we were again in the Terai, our adventures over, and the richer by a mag nificent collection of 500 more bird specimens and a good number of mammals (page 27). Now we closed the door on the 16th cen tury, on the silences of the high cliffs, the quaint, neat villages, the tinkling bells of the temples, and the wild bray of the curling horns. After five weeks of walking, jeeps and trucks looked strange indeed, but welcome. The last morning in Biratnagar I walked out before breakfast. The heat haze of the Terai had not yet formed, and there in the pink dawn light were the tips of the hills rising in space like the dragon teeth of Cadmus, magical and evanescent. It seemed only a moment before the sharp shapes were blotted out by puffy cloud and the hills were gone. An hour later the train moved out. We had left Nepal, starting back on the long and tortuous trek home with our precious cargo of specimens. Much remains to be done in the way of research. It will be many months before our work on the expedition is completed. None of us, I am sure, will ever forget the months that we were privileged to step back into a microcosm of vanished time, into the high hills of Nepal. * See, in the NATIONAL EO(GRAPHnIC MAG\ZINI: "Aerial Conquest of Everest," by Lt. Col. L. V. S. Blacker, August, 1933.