National Geographic : 1950 Jan
Peerless Ncpal-A Naturalist's Paradise Gurungs, Gurkhas (Gorkhalis), Newars, Ta mungs, Bhutias, and so on, coming from a certain district or place. IfIaskamanifheisaNepalese,Iprob ably get a blank stare. It doesn't occur to him that he belongs to a nation. Since early times this central Valley has been the only area in which foreigners have been allowed. There is one route up from the Indian border and down again, and in recorded history perhaps 200 Europeans and 30 Americans have been invited by the rulers or by the British Resident to visit this remote capital and a radius of territory about it of no more than 15 miles. \My visit in 1947 was important, for it seemed to me that now, if ever, would be a good time to try to arrange a trip into the back country of Nepal to visit unknown areas and to collect species which Hodgson had described a hundred years before, but whose home sites had never been visited by a naturalist. Expedition Planned by Invitation After World War II the rulers of Nepal had decided to undertake a new program of development and contact with the outside world. I found the then Maharaja, Prime Minister Padma, and his cousin, the Com mander in Chief, the present Maharaja, cor dial. My plans for collecting in the western and eastern valleys were approved, and I returned to the United States. Our equipment for the expedition of 1948, to a considerable extent, was procured in the United States. Any such party as this would need large numbers of coolie porters in the hills, and I was anxious to minimize the num ber by cutting down weight. Human bearers of burdens are expensive, and the food and supply problem looms very large. By exercising care in cutting down weight, we were able to keep our coolies' number down in the low forties most of the time, although high up in eastern Nepal we had more than sixty. The chief lightweight items were tents and dehydrated food, both of which served us extremely well. A comfortable 10-by-12-foot tent, which with side walls and ground sheet weighs only 25 pounds, was unheard of a few years ago. All members of the party joined forces in India in October, 1948. India has changed perceptibly since August, 1947.* There is new energy, enthusiasm, and a spirit of cooperation at the top government levels, although there are plenty of growing pains at the bottom. Although free entry had been accorded equipment for this expedition by the Central Government at New Delhi, I found that the official papers had not arrived at the customs offices in Bombay and Calcutta. The customs officers were naturally unwilling to take my word for the fact that the papers I had were true copies of the original Government docu ments given me by the American Embassy. As a result, we tarried 10 days before we were able to clear our shipments through the port authorities. These ripples of frus tration tended to smooth out magically as we got aboard a train and set forth from Calcutta for the Nepal border. All traffic to and from Katmandu goes through the small Indian border village of Raxaul, in Bihar Province, which is primarily a railroad siding. There are two guesthouses here for overnight visitors, one maintained by the Nepal Government for its officials and members of the ruling family, and the other, far more spacious, run by the Indian Government for members of the Indian and British Embassies and their guests. All except official visitors are here issued a pass to enter the country. From Raxaul there is a Nepal Government Railway, a narrow-gauge line built in 1927, which crosses the Terai 29 miles to Amlekganj. At this point people and goods are transferred and crammed into terrifying buses which wheeze and sway through the Siwalik foot hills, another 28 miles to Bhimphedi, a hamlet at the base of an impressive hill. "Where Do We Go from Here?" Here we all dismounted. On asking, "Where do we go from here?" we were shown a ribbon of a trail winding directly up a 2,500-foot hill. It was a good hour and a half on foot, by pony, or in one of two sorts of coolie transported litters to a pleasant two-story stone resthouse perched on the edge of a superb view. There electric light, a fire (for it is always cool here at night), and hot tea were waiting for us. After a jolting and tiring day this house with its comparative comforts made us glad we had persevered in coming. The next day was a mingled trial and pleas ure, with a 16-mile walk, or pony or litter ride, up and down, up and down, over two passes 7,000 feet above sea level. On the * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Delhi, Capital of a New Dominion," by Phillips Talbot, November, 1947; "India Mosaic," by Peter Muir and Frances Muir. April, 1946; "India-Yester day, Today, and Tomorrow," by Lord Halifax, Octo ber, 1943; "New Delhi Goes Full Time," by Maynard Owen Williams, October, 1942.