LIGHT IN THE
Sound in the great desert. Rings out the conch shell. Do you hear
The long, lingering, wistful call vibrates, quivers, melts in the
Is there perhaps a monastery or a hermit?
Here we have reached the most deserted spot. Not within six days
from here is there one dwelling. Where, in these desolate mountains
is there one lama, thus sounding his evocation?
But it is not a lama. We are in the mountains of Dun-bure, and from
times beyond memory this signified: “The Call of the Conch Shell.”
Far off, the mountain call fades away. Is it reechoing among the
rocks? Is it the call of the Memnon of Asia? Is it the wind furling
through the corridored crevices? Or is the mountain stream somewhere
gurgling? Somewhere was born this enticing, lingering call. And he
who named these mountains by their caressing title, “The Call of the
Conch Shell,” heard the summons of the sacred desert.
“White Chorten” is the name of our camp-site. Two mighty masses form
great gates. Is not this one of the boundaries? White signs. White
pillared drippings of the geysers. White stones. Known are these
boundaries. Around us, from out the death mounds of avalanches,
emerge the crags of rocks. It is evening.
Above us lies another mountain pass. One must examine this site.
From here we heard the conch shell. A short ascent. Between two
natural turrets, like cones, is an opening; and beyond, a small
circular plain like a fortress, fortified on all sides by sharp
rocks. There is abundant grass upon this square and under the rocks,
silently gleams the ribbon of the rivulet. Here is the very place
for a camp. One can hide long and securely within this natural
“Look . . . Something moves there . . . People,” whispers our
fellow-traveler, and his eyes peer through the
Through the curtain of fog it seems as if a spectacle of phantoms is
passing. Or was it a sound that intrigued our imaginations? Were
these perhaps swift antelopes that were noiselessly leaping by?
Gazelles and antelopes are almost unnoticeable against the mellow
rocks. Perhaps some one, preceding us, coveted this unapproachable
site. But all is serene. In the dusk the grass seems not to rustle.
The sounds and whispers slumber for the night. The fires flash out
in the camp. For whom shall they serve as a guiding star?
* * *
Again fires. The shadows dance. The tents merge into the darkness.
People seem to have multiplied. The men and camels seem numberless.
Heads of camels and horses appear. The heat is ponderable. It is the
time of rest. The arms are laid down and one forgets that this is
the very site of the looting of caravans. Only one month ago a
caravan bound for China was demolished
It is long since our men have seen trees. It is long since they felt
the caress of the tall grass. Let the fires of peace
glow. A rifle shot sharply pierces the silence! Our rest is
“Put out the fires! Guards—form a file! Watch the tents! Two men
with rifles, to the horses! Konchok is sent to reconnoiter. If there
is peace, he will sing the song of Shambhala! If there is danger—a
Once again a leap, a quiver, passes through the camp and all becomes
still. The row of rifle-men take their places in the tall grass.
Between the trunks of the Kara-gach the tents disappear as though
submerged. A whisper—”Perhaps the men of Ja-lama. His bands are
still active. His head, impaled on a spear, was taken through all
bazaars but his centurions wander the length of the Gobi. You—in the
rear—listen! Is it the grass rustling?” Suddenly out of the darkness
sounds the song of Shambhala. Konchok is singing. Somewhere, far
off, the voice is heard. It means there is no danger. But the guards
still remain at their posts and the fires are not lit. The song
comes nearer. Out of the rustling grass appears the dim figure of
Konchok and laughs:
“Stupid Chinese. He became frightened at our bonfires. And he fired
a shot in order to frighten us. He thought we were robbers. And he
himself is riding a white horse.” A Chinese caravan was going from
Kara-Khoto to Hami, with a hundred camels and but one rifle. The
Chinese mistook our fires for the bonfires of Ja-lama and wished to
frighten us. He himself was completely terrified. He constantly
asked if we were peaceful people and pleaded that we stay away from
his caravan by night. Then his caravan became noisy and merry little
fires started to twinkle. Fire is the sign of confidence.
Nevertheless, the watch increased. The password was given:
“Shambhala” and the countersign: “Ruler, Rigden.”
* * *
“Arantan” cries out lama Sange, as he reins in his horse. Between
two hills in the morning mist leap the outlines of galloping
horsemen with a spear and long rifles.
Now they are surely here! These are the same fifty horsemen of whom
we were warned by the unknown well-wisher who came galloping to us
from the mountains. Our road is intercepted. The attack will begin
from the hill. Our forces are divided. The Torguts—our best
shots—are far behind. Konchok and Tsering are with the camels. There
is also Tashi and the other Konchok from Koko-nur. But behind us is
a hill, a high one. If we succeed in reaching it, we gain a
commanding position over the entire site. And there we can gather
our forces. The enemy in groups approaches the next hill but we
waste no time. We reach the hill. We are prepared.
Osher and Dorje
ride out to meet the enemy and wave a hatik. Osher calls out and his
Mongolian address is heard far around. He calls: “Beware of touching
great people; if some one dares, he will feel the power of mighty
arms which can demolish an entire city in ten minutes.” The Panagis
huddle together in a group. They listen to Osher and count our arms.
Even our lama, Malonoff, has put a spade into his gun-case and
threatens them. The counting of arms is in our favor. The Panagis do
not dare an open battle. They lower their rifles. Only one long
spear, as before, remains rising in mid-air.
“Can you sell this spear? I want to buy it.” Our enemy smiles. “No,
this spear is our friend. We cannot part with it.” Afterwards I
heard that this spear was a sign of war and that riders leave their yurtas only in case of hostile intentions. Our enemy, finally
deciding to abandon hostilities, begins to relate some long story
about a lost white horse which they had gone to search. This story
about a lost white horse is already familiar to us. In other parts
of Asia suspicious strangers would also begin a story about a lost
horse, thus hiding their original intentions.
When we spread our tents, we saw how the herds were being driven
home, from the mountains to the far-off yurtas. This also was a
characteristic sign that a battle had been resolved upon.
Strange riders went to the mountains, in different directions. Did
they ride to retrieve their hidden possessions or to summon new
One must be ready for unexpected events and one’s arms must always
be at hand.
Towards evening, when the bonfires of peace were already lit, some
of our “enemies” came to the camp. Their special interest concerned
our firearms. With astonishment we learnt that this wild tribe knows
such words as “mauser,” “browning,” “nogan,” and were discussing
very profoundly the quality of our rifles.
Again they went back and nobody knew what final decision they had
taken. But they asked us, under various pretexts, to stay there one
day more. Who knows! perhaps expecting some help on their side.
In spite of the peaceful fires of the camp we took measures against
a night attack. In two points, defending the camp from two sides,
dugouts were made in the soft sandy ground. The watch was increased
and a post was assigned to every one, which he had to occupy in case
Before the dawn we discovered the loss of a few camels. After long
searches they were found in a very strange place, between the rocks.
Perhaps some one hoped that we would depart, disappointed at being
unable to find our animals.
The sun was already setting when we moved towards the pass, with
guards flanking both sides of our caravan.
Again, strange armed riders rode past us. They dismounted from their
horses and stood with their long rifles. Some of our men also
dismounted and paraded before them with their rifles ready.
Passing a stony way we came to the pass, and suddenly we heard two
rifle shots in the far distance. Later, on the very edge of the
mountains we saw our vanguard with his rifle over his head. This was
a sign of warning. We again took position and two of our men with
field glasses approached the danger zone. Several minutes passed,
they examined something and then we saw a signal—”no danger.”
When we came near, our vanguards were still looking through the
field glasses. One of them insisted that something had happened and
that probably one of our Torguts and a horse were shot. But the
other noticed that our mule detachment was proceeding without any
obstacles and behind it was a black spot outlining several figures
below the pass.
This must be something free from danger. Descending from the pass,
we saw in the distance huge herds of wild yaks—several hundred
heads—so typical of the mountains of Marco Polo. By now it was
apparent to us that the black mass below was a huge yak, which had
been shot and was being skinned by our Torguts.
But the danger of an attack had not completely vanished. Our Mongols
insisted that the Panagis would not attack us near their yurtas,
fearing that, in case of defeat, their yurtas would be set on fire.
But that beyond the pass, in a far more isolated spot, there would
be greater possibility of an attack. The Mongolian lama Sange was
frightened to such an extent by these hypotheses, that he approached
us with a white hatik in his hand and begged our leave that all
Mongols depart and return at once to their homes. But we did not
accept the hatik and this entirely unpleasant discussion remained
hanging in the air.
Accidentally, another circumstance was already hurrying to our aid.
The local deities, in spite of September, had been spilling thunder
for some time in the mountains and our Mongols whispered that the
powerful god, Lo, was very angry at the Panagis for their evil
motives. After the thunder and lightning, heavy snow began to fall,
which was most unusual for that time of the year. The courage
returned to our Mongols and they shouted: “You see the wrath of the
gods! They are helping us! The Panagis never attack in snow, because
we could persecute them, following their traces!”
But nevertheless our camp was a gloomy one. Through the blizzards
the fires burned but dimly and the voices of the sentinels sounded
I recall another stop, also around bonfires, but other fires are
seen in the distance. These are the camps of the Golloks. The entire
night they shout: “ki-ho-ho!” and our horpas answer: “Hoyo hey!” By
these distant calls the camps announce to each other that they are
vigilant and ready to resist and fight. It means nothing, that at
sunset the men were still visiting each other, for with the
departure of the sun and the opposite luminary in sway, the mind may
also change. And suddenly the fires of peace may be extinguished!
Again a snowfall. Huge sharp rocks surround the camp; gigantic
shadows are throwing open their flat ridges. Around the fire sit
some drooped figures. Even at a distance you see one of them lifting
up his arms, and, against the red streams of fire, you see his ten
fingers. He is ardently recounting something. He counts the
innumerable army of Shambhala. He speaks about the unconquerable
weapons of these legions; how the great conqueror, the ruler of
Shambhala himself, leads them.
How no one knows whence they come,
but they destroy all that is unjust. And behind them follows the
happiness and prosperity of the countries. Messengers of the ruler
of Shambhala appear everywhere. And as an answer to this tale, on
the opposite rock there appears a gigantic shadow! And some one, all
golden in the rays of the fire, descends from the mountain.
Everybody is ready for most exalted news. But he who comes is a yak
driver. Nevertheless he brings good news; that the yaks for Sanju
Pass are ready. Good news! But the charm of a fairytale is gone.
With disappointment they throw new tar roots into the fire.
And the fire hisses and sinks again. On a guilded yellow stone,
surrounded by the violet mountains with snowy white peaks, under the
dome of the blue sky, they sit closely. And on the long stone
something in shiny bright colors is stretched out. In a yellow high
hat, a lama is relating something to an attentive listener, while
with a stick, he points to something illustrating his story. This
bright-colored picture is an image of Chang Shambhala.
In the middle there is the ruler, the Blessed Rigden-jyepo, and
above him, Buddha. Many magnificent offerings and treasures are
displayed before the Ruler, but His hand does not touch them and His
eyes do not seek them. On the palm of His hand, stretched out in
blessing, you can see the sign of high distinction. He is blessing
the humanity of the future. He is on His Watchtower, helping the
good and destroying the sinners. His thought is an eternal,
victorious battle. He is the light destroying the darkness. The
lower part of the picture shows the great battle under the guidance
of the Ruler Himself. Hard is the fate of the enemies of Shambhala.
A just wrath colors the purple blue clouds. The warriors of
Rigden-jyepo, in splendid armor with swords and spears, are pursuing
their terrified enemies. Many of them are already prostrated and
their firearms, big hats and all their possessions are scattered
upon the battlefield. Some of them are dying, destroyed by the just
Their leader is already smitten, and lies spread under the
steed of the great warrior, the blessed Rigden. Behind the Ruler, on
chariots, follow fearful cannons, which no walls can withstand. Some
of the enemy, kneeling, beg for mercy, or attempt to escape their
fate on the backs of elephants. But the sword of justice overtakes
defamers. Darkness must be annihilated. The point of the lama’s
stick follows the course of the battle.
In the silence of the desert evening, seated around a bonfire, the
sacred history of the Victory of the Light is related. Ten fingers
are not accounted sufficient to indicate the number of legions of
Shambhala. No hyperboles are adequate to describe the might of the
King of the World.
Amidst the all-conquering frost, the bonfires appear meager and
without warmth. The short period from eleven to one seems somewhat
warmer, but after one o’clock the frost is augmented by a sharp wind
and the heaviest fur coat becomes no warmer than light silk. For the
doctor there is a wonderful possibility to observe the extraordinary
conditions of altitude. The pulse of E. I. reaches 145, or as the
doctor says becomes as that of a bird. Instead of 64, which is my
normal pulse, I have a pulse of 130. The ears ring, as if all the
cicadas of India were gathered together. We are attacked by snow
blindness. Afterwards, it is followed by an extraordinary sensation:
the eye sees everything double and both reflections are equally
strong! Two caravans, two flocks of ravens, a double silhouette of
Our doctor prophesies that with such frosts, the heart, already
exhausted by the altitude, will begin to get weaker and during the
coldest night a man may fall asleep forever.
The doctor writes another medical certificate: “Further detainment
of the expedition will be considered as an organized attempt on the
lives of the members of the expedition.”
Early one morning, when the sun had just touched the highest
summits, the doctor came in quite excited, but satisfied,
exclaiming: “There you have the results of our situation! Even
brandy is frozen! And so, all that lives may become frozen and quiet
forever!” He was told: “Certainly, if we desire to freeze, we shall
be frozen. But there is a remarkable thing, like psychic energy,
which is warmer than fire and more nourishing than bread. The chief
thing in cases like this, is to preserve our calm, because
irritation deprives us of our best psychic weapon.”
Naturally, I do not blame the doctor for his pessimism; the usual
medicines, in such unusual situations, do not have good results.
Moreover, the chief medicine of his supplies, strophanthin, is at
its end. And of the other needed medicines—adonis vernalis—he could
produce only an empty bottle.
Fuel is almost impossible to get. For a bag of argal the inhabitants
of the black tents demand large sums of money. And each one prefers
some special coins. One requires old imperial Chinese tads; another
insists on coins with a figure—a dollar from Sinkiang; the third
wants money with the head of Hun-Chang and with seven letters, and
still another desires this same coin with six letters. One person
will only sell for silver Indian rupees. But nobody accepts American
or Mexican dollars, nor the Tibetan copper sho, despite the imposing
inscription upon it: “The government victorious in all directions.”
But what gives their warmth to the modest bonfires? In spite of an
indescribable cold, ten fingers are again uplifted. First they are
lifted to count the frozen caravans and then to enumerate the
numberless armies of sacred warriors, which shall descend from the
Holy Mountain to erase all criminal elements. And during these
stories of fiery battles, of victory, of righteousness over the dark
forces, the bonfires begin to glow and the ten uplifted fingers
apparently cease to feel the cold. Bonfires of the cold!
A black mass moves quickly up a very steep rock. Wild yak herds of
no less than three hundred heads flee from the caravan. Our
Mongolian shooters sit up, move their rifles and try to slow up and
remain behind the caravan. But we know their tricks. Although they
are Buddhists, and around their necks and even on their backs they
have incense bags and small caskets containing sacred images, above
all they are shooters, hunters, and great is their desire to send a
sharp shot into the black mass of fleeing yaks. The hunters stop.
“Osher, Dorje and Manji, listen, you must not shoot! You have food
But does a hunter shoot for food? Far away on the flint-stone plains
a black mass can be seen again. It is still larger, and even more
dense. There is something awe-inspiring in such a large herd of wild
yaks. This time the Mongols themselves advise us to take a side path
and go around the herd, for they estimate the herd at a thousand
yaks. And there may be very old and fierce ones among them.
But as regards hunting kyangs, the Mongols are unre-strainable.
Fines were levied in the camp for every unnecessary shot, and also
for wilful absence from the camp.
But what can one do when a hunter, despite this, disappears behind a
neighboring hill and returns, some two hours later, with the still
bloody skin of a kyang thrown over the rump of the horse and with
pieces of meat, hastily cut from the carcass, hung all around the
saddle? They are just like the Hunn horsemen carrying their meat
under their saddles. All smeared with blood, the hunter smiles.
Whether you punish him or not his passion is satisfied. And the
other Buddhists also watch you disapprovingly for your prohibition
to kill animals. They all simply delight at the thought of having
fresh meat of yaks or kyangs roasting over their evening fires.
An antelope, pursued by a wolf, runs right into the caravan. The
riflers, under restraint, look covetously. But, if people may be
restrained, you cannot restrain a dog, and the poor antelope soon
finds itself between two fires. However the wolf is also frightened
in the neighborhood of the caravan, and turning aside takes off,
jumping instead of leaping. But the antelope will escape the dogs.
Even the mountain hen and small wild goats make fools of the
Mongolian dogs, and lead them far away from their young ones.
And here are the bears! Dark brown with wide white collars. At night
they come quite close to the camp and if it were not for the dogs,
they would satisfy their curiosity calmly without any attempt at
escape by daytime also. Now we move along the riverbed of the clear
Buren-gol. Under the hoofs of the horses, blue copper-oxides shine
like the best of turquoises. Above us is a steep rock and at the
very edge of it a huge bear keeps pace with our caravan, watching us
curiously. Who will touch him, and for what?
But certain species of animals have become real enemies of the
caravan. Those are the marmots, the tabagans and the, shrewmice. The
whole district is undermined by their innumerable burrows. Despite
the greatest care, the horses often slip, and at once they are up to
their knees in these underground cities. Not a day passes without a
horse slipping into the treacherous excavations of these burrowers.
In the evening the Tibetan Konchok brings two mountain pheasants up
to the bonfires. How he caught them barehanded, remains a riddle.
One need hardly guess who it is that wants to kill and eat them, but
there are also voices for their release. We again turn towards the
Buddhist covenants and after some bargaining, we exchange the birds
for a Chinese tael. And a minute later both prisoners gaily flit
away in the direction of the mountains.
The fox hunts mountain partridges; a kite watches a hare and the
dogs zealously chase marmots. The animal kingdom lives its own law.
The last case regarding the animal kingdom concerned three hens.
From Suchow we had taken with us a cock and two hens, and the latter
dutifully presented us with eggs every day, notwithstanding the
unpleasant stirring up they got during the daily voyage. However,
when there was nothing more left with which to feed the fowl, we
presented them to a Tibetan officer. The eye of a searcher noticed
the absence of the hens and he immediately reported it to the
governor. A very lengthy correspondence was started regarding
whether we had eaten the three fowls. In fact there were even
letters to Lhassa about it.
And again, by the light of the night bonfires, our shaggy Tibetans
assembled and, blinking to each other, told the latest gossip from
the neighboring dzong, as usual, deriding their Governor. And the
same warming fire, which just before had been the scene of inspired
narratives about Shambhala, now illumined the faces that were
condemning the officials of Lhassa.
* * *
The lamas consecrate a suburgan in the name of Shambhala. In front
of the image of Rigden-jyepo they pour water on a magic mirror; the
water runs over the surface of the mirror, the figures become
blurred and resemble one of the ancient stories of magic mirrors. A
procession walks round the suburgan with burning incense and the
head lama holds a thread, connected with the top of the suburgan,
wherein various objects of special significance have been previously
There is an image of Buddha, there is a silver ring with
a most significant inscription, there are prophecies for the future
and there are the precious objects: “Norbu-rinpoche.” An old lama
has come from the neighboring yurtas and he brought a small quantity
of “treasures”—a piece of mountain crystal, a small turquoise stone,
two or three small beads and a shiny piece of mica. The old lama had
taken part in the building of the suburgan and he brought these
treasures with the insistent request to place them into the opened
shrine. After a long service the white thread that connected the
lama and the suburgan was cut and in the desert there remained the
white suburgan, defended only by invisible powers. Many dangers
threaten these shrines. When caravans stop for a rest, the camels
spoil the edges of the base; curious deer jump upon the cornices and
try the strength of the picturesque images and ornaments with their
horns. But the greatest danger comes from the Dungan-Moslems.
The Mongols have a saying: “If a suburgan can resist the Dungans,
then it is safe for ages.” Round the bonfire, stories are told of
the destruction of Buddhist sanctuaries by Dungans. It is said that
the Dungans light bonfires in the old Buddhist caves, which are
decorated with ancient murals, in order to burn and destroy these
frescoes with smoke. The people, with terror in their eyes, tell how
in the Labran province, Dungans demolished the statue of the
Not only did they persecute the Buddhists, but
also the Chinese followers of Confucius. The Mongols say, that
though it is difficult with the Chinese, the Dungans are still
worse—they are absolutely impossible. They are regarded as inhuman,
cruel and bloodthirsty. One remembers all manner of atrocities that
took place during the Dungan uprising. One sees ruins on every hill,
and everywhere there are stones in formless heaps. In the mind of
the people almost all these remnants are somehow associated with the
name of Dungans. Here was a fort built by the Dungans; there were
fortifications destroyed by the Dungans; here was a village burnt by
the Dungans; and that gold mine became silent after the Dungans had
passed through it; there again was a well which the Dungans had
filled with sand in order to deprive the place of water.
A whole evening was devoted to these horrible stories.
And around the bonfire one could again see the ten raised fingers,
and how they attested the cruelty of the Dungans.
The bells on the camels of the caravan are of different sizes and
sound like a symphony. This is an essential melody of the desert.
The heat during the day kills everything. Everything becomes still,
dead. Everything creeps into the coolness of the shadow. The sun is
the conqueror and is alone on the immense battlefield. Nothing can
withstand it. Even the great river, even the Tarim himself, stops
its flow. As claws in agony, are projected the burning stones, until
the conqueror disappears behind the horizon, seeking new victories.
Darkness does not dare to reappear.
Only a bluish mist covers the
expanse, without end and without beginning. To this bluish symphony,
what kind of a melody may be fittingly added? The symphony of bells,
soft as old brass and rhythmic as the movement of the ships of the
desert. This alone can complete the symphony of the desert and as an
antithesis to this mysterious procession of sounds, you have a song
accompanied on the zither by the untiring hands of the baksha—the
traveling singer. He is singing about Shabistan, about fairies,
which come from the highest planes down to the earth, to inspire the
giants and heroes and the beautiful sons of the kings.
He sings about Blessed Issa, the Prophet, who walked through these
lands, and how he resurrected the giant, who became a benevolent
king of this country. He sings about the holy people behind this
very mountain and how a holy man could hear their sacred chants,
although they were six months’ distance away from him. In the
stillness of the desert, this baksha joins the bells of our caravan.
Some holiday is held in the next village, and he is going there to
present his sacred art and to relate many stories about all sorts of
wonderful things, which are not a fairy tale, but the real life of
The first camel of the caravan is adorned with colorful carpets and
ribbons and a flag is placed high above his load. He is an esteemed
camel, he is the first. He takes all the responsibility of filling
the desert with his ringing and he steps proudly on. And his black
eyes also seem to know many legends.
But instead of a baksha with holy songs, some rider overtakes us.
And high penetrating notes imperatively pierce the space.
This is a Chinese heroic song.
I doubt whether you can ever hear these heroic and sometimes
Confucian chants in the European quarters of the harbor cities of
But in the desert the feeling of ancient China, of the Chinese
conquerors of immense spaces even penetrates the heart of a
contemporary amban. The rhythm of the camel bells is broken. The
chimes of the horse of the amban are thundering. And the large red
tassel is waving on the neck of a big Karashar horse, gray with
stripes, like a zebra. And another tassel is hung on the breastplate
of the horse. Under the saddle, there is a big Chinese sword. The
points of the black velvet boots are curled upwards. The stirrups
have gilded lions. Complicated is the adornment of the saddle.
Several rugs soften the long ride. From Yarkend to Tun-huang, it is
a two months’ journey to follow the ancient Chinese road where jade
and silk and silver and gold were transported by the same riders,
with the same songs, with the same bells and the same swords.
Noisily the amban with his retinue joins us. The camels are behind
and the horses are inspired by this noise and by the piercing sounds
of the chants. This is something similar to a passage of the hordes
of the grandsons of Chingiz-Khan.
A small city. Another amban comes out of his yamen, surrounded by
fenced walls, to greet our Chinese traveling companion. Both
potentates with great ceremony greet each other. It is like
something from an old Chinese painting. They are so glad to see each
other and they hold each other’s hands and enter the big red gates.
Two black silhouettes in the sandy-pearl mist, guarded by two armed
warriors, are painted on both sides of the clay wall.
Allah! Allah! Allah!—shout the Moslems, preparing for the Ramasan,
when they fast during the day and can only eat at night time. And to
avoid falling asleep they fill the air around the town with their
shouts and songs.
But quite another shout is to be heard from the vicinity of a great
tree. Two Ladakis of our caravan are singing some prayers dedicated
to Maitreya. So the songs of all religions are gathered round one
On old stones, throughout the whole of Asia, are to be found
peculiar crosses and names, written in Uighur, Chinese, Mongolian
and other tongues. What a wonder! On a Mongolian coin is the same
sign! In the same way the Nestorians have trespassed the desert. You
remember how the great Thomas Vaughan cites a Chinese author of the
early Christian era in Sia, on how the sands, as silk waves, have
covered everything of the past. And only a pink line in the East
crosses the silhouettes of the sand dunes.
Moving sands. Like miserly guardians they defend the treasures which
sometimes appear on the surface. Nobody shall dare to take them
because they are guarded by hidden forces and can be given out only
at a predestined time. From the earth are spreading some poisonous
essences. Do not lean over the ground, do not try to raise from the
ground that which does not belong to you. Otherwise you will fall
dead, as falls the robber.
An experienced rider sends a dog before him, because the dog will
first feel the influences of these earthly essences. Even an animal
will not dare to enter the forbidden zone. No bonfires will attract
you in these hidden places. Only some vultures will fly high over
the mysterious land. Are they not also guardians? And to whom belong
the bones, which glimmer so whitely on the sands? Who was this
intruder, who dishonored the predestined dates?
A huge black vulture rushes over the camp.
But what is this high above in the air? A shiny body flying from
north to south. Field glasses are at hand. It is a huge body. One
side glows in the sun. It is oval in shape. Then it somehow turns in
another direction and disappears in the southwest, behind Ulandavan,
the red pass in the Humboldt chain. The whole caravan excitedly
discusses this apparition. An air balloon? An Ebolite? An unknown
apparatus? Not a vision, because through several field glasses you
cannot see visions. And then the lama whispers: “A good sign. A very
good sign. We are protected. Rigden-jyepo himself is looking after
us!” In the desert you can see wonderful things and you can smell
fragrant perfumes. But they who live in the desert are never
Again around the bonfire ten fingers are raised and a story,
convincing in its simplicity and reality, will uplift the human
heart. Now the story is about the famous black stone. In beautiful
descriptive symbols the old traveler will tell to the awed audience
how from times immemorial from some other world fell down a
miraculous stone—the Chintamani of the Hindus and Norbu-rin-poche of
the Tibetans and Mongols. Now since these times, a part of the stone
is traveling on earth, manifesting the new era and greatest world
events. How some ruler possessed this stone and how the forces of
darkness tried to steal the stone.
Your friend, listening to this legend, will whisper to you: “The
stone is black, ‘vile’ and ‘fetid’ and it is called the origin of
the world. And it springs up like germinating things. So dreamed
Paracelsus.” And another of your companions smiles: “Lapis exilis,
the Wandering stone of the Meistersinger.”
But the narrator of the fire continues his tale about miraculous
powers of the stone, how, by all sorts of manifestations, this stone
is indicating all kinds of events and the nature of existence.
“When the stone is hot, when the stone quivers, when the stone is
cracking, when the stone changes its weight and color—by these
changes the stone predicts to its possessor the whole future and
gives him the ability to know his enemies and hostile dangers as
well as happy events.”
One of the listeners asks: “Is not this stone on the tower of the
Rigden-jyepo, whose rays penetrate all oceans and mountains for the
benefit of humanity?”
And the narrator continues: “The black stone is wandering on earth.
We know that a Chinese Emperor and Tamerlane possessed this stone.
And authoritative people say, that the Great Suleiman and Akbar had
it in their possession and through this stone their might was
augmented. ‘Treasure of the World’ this stone is called.”
The bonfires are burning like old fires of sacrifice.
You are entering your tent. All is calm and usual. In the usual
surroundings it is difficult to imagine something unreal and
unrepeatable. You touch your bed—and suddenly there leaps up a
flame. A silvery-blue flame. Entering through the gates of the
practical you attempt to act in the usual way, trying to extinguish
it. The flame does not burn your hand, it is slightly warm—warm and
vital as life itself. Without noise or odor it moves, issuing long
tongues. This is not a phosphorescence—this is a living substance.
The fire coming from space by a happy combination of elements. An
intangible moment passes. And the unceasing flame begins to droop as
mysteriously as it was born. It is dark in the tent and not a trace
is left of that phenomena which you felt and saw in full reality.
And another time. In another place, also at night, out of your
fingers the flame leapt up and rushed through all the objects
touched by you, not harming them. Again you come in contact with
some inexpressible combination of currents. This occurs only on
heights. The bonfires did not yet grow brighter, when a shot
resounded in the twilight. Who is shooting?
Tashi has killed a snake. What a strange snake! With a sort of
beard, gray with black and gray shadings.
Around the fires long stories are told about snakes. One Mongol
“If somebody does not fear the snakes, he should grab them by their
tail and should shake them very strongly. And the snake will become
as hard as a stick, until you will shake it again.”
My companion was bending down to me:
“You remember the Biblical staff of Moses, how he manifested a
miracle, when the staff was transformed into a snake. Maybe he used
a cataleptic snake and with a powerful gesture returned her to
Many Biblical signs are to be remembered in the desert. Look at
these huge pillars of sand, which suddenly appear and move for a
long time as dense masses. This miraculous pillar, which moved
before Moses, is so clearly vi-sioned by him who knows the desert
wanderings—and again you remember the burning and unburnable bush of
Moses. After seeing the unceasing flame in your tent such a bush is
for you no longer an impossible miracle, but a reality that lives
only in the desert. When you hear how the great Mahatma traveled on
horseback for the fulfilment of undelayable high missions you also
do not wonder, because you know of the existence of the Mahatmas.
You know their great wisdom. Many things which absolutely cannot
find a place in the life of the West—here in the East are becoming
There are still more Biblical echoes. On the very summit of a
mountain several stones can be seen. Some ruins, probably.
“This is the throne of Suleiman,” explains the leader of the caravan
“But how does it happen that throughout Asia everywhere there are to
be seen thrones of Solomon. We have seen them in Srinagar, near
Kashgar; there are several in Persia.”
But the caravaneer does not give up his favorite idea.
“Certainly there are many thrones of the Great King Suleiman. He was
wise and powerful. He had an apparatus to fly all over many lands.
Stupid people, they think that he used a flying carpet, but learned
men know that the King possessed an apparatus. Truly it could not
fly very high, still it could move in the air.”
So again something of the way of the traveling is revealed, but the
old flying carpet has been given up.
In the same way the stories of the conquests of Alexander the Great
are mixed up. On one side the Great Conqueror is linked with Geser
Khan, in another version he is the Emperor of India. But to Geser
Khan is attributed quite an elaborate myth. It tells about the
birthplace of the beloved hero. In a romantic way are described his
wife Bruguma, his castle and his conquests, which were always for
the benefit of humanity. Quite simply a Horpa will tell you about a
palace of Geser Khan in the Kham province, where the swords of his
innumerable warriors were used instead of beams. Singing and dancing
in the honor of Geser Khan, Horpa offers to procure one of these
inconquerable swords. Sands and stones are around, but still the
idea of inconquerability is living.
In Europe when you hear about a city of a robber-conqueror you think
that perhaps you have something of the old tales of Spain or
Corsica. But here, in the desert, when you hear that your next stop
shall be before the walls of the city of the famous Ja-lama, the
bandit of Central Gobi, you are not a bit astonished. You only look
over your arms and ask what kind of an attire is most suitable for
this encounter: European, Mongolian or Sartian. During the night you
hear dogs barking, and your men say calmly: “Those are the dogs of
the men of Ja-lama. Ja-lama himself has already been killed by the
Mongols, but his band has not scattered as yet. During the night, in
the red flames of the bonfires you can again see the ten fingers.
Some stories about the awe-inspiring Ja-lama and his cruel
companions are being told. How he stopped big caravans, how he took
many people as captives and how hundreds of these involuntary slaves
worked upon the construction of the walls and towers of his city
which gave life to the solitude of Central Gobi. It is told in what
battles Ja-lama was victorious, what supernatural powers he
possessed, how he could give most terrorizing orders and they were
executed at once. How, following his orders, ears, noses and hands
of the disobedient ones were cut off, and the living witnesses of
his terrible powers were set to go free.
In our caravan there are two, who knew personally Ja-lama. One is a
Tsaidamese, who was fortunate enough to escape from captivity. The
other is a Mongolian lama, an experienced smuggler, who knows all
secret paths in the desert, paths unknown to any one else, and
hidden streams and wells. Was he not at one time the co-worker of
Ja-lama? He smiles:
“Not always was Ja-lama a bad man. I have heard how generous he
could be. Only you had to obey his great forces. He was a religious
man. Yesterday you saw a big white suburgan on the hill. His
prisoners were ordered to put these white stones together. And
whoever was protected by him, could cross the desert quite safely.”
Yes, yes, probably this lama had something to do with this late
illustrious bandit. But why should a simple bandit build a whole
city in the desert?
In the first rays of the sun we saw a tower and part of a wall
behind the next sandy hill. A party of us, with carabins ready, went
to explore the place, because our caravaneers insisted that some of
the men of Ja-lama might be lurking behind that wall. We remained
and looked through our field glasses, but after half an hour George
appeared on the top of the tower and this was the sign that the
citadel was empty. We went to inspect this city and found that only
the spirit of a great warrior could have outlined such a building
plan. Around the citadel we saw many traces of yurtas, because the
name of the Ja-lama attracted many Mongols, who came to be under his
protection. But later they scattered, having seen, in the Mongolian
bazaars, the gray head of their former leader on a spear.
Probably Ja-lama dreamt to live long in this place, because the
towers and walls were solid and his house was spacious and well
defended by a whole system of walls. In an open field of battle the
Mongols could not conquer him. But a Mongolian officer came to his
place, apparently for peaceful negotiations. And the old vulture,
who always penetrated into all sorts of ruses, was this time blind.
He accepted this mission and the bold Mongol came, carrying a large
white hatik in his hands, but behind the hatik a Browning was ready.
Thus he approached the ruler of the desert and while transmitting to
him the honorable offering, shot him straight through the heart.
Really, everything must have been dependent on the strong hypnotic
power of Ja-lama, for, strange to say, when the old leader fell
dead, all his followers were at once in great commotion, so that
quite a small detachment of Mongols could occupy the citadel without
a battle. Behind the walls we could see two graves.
Were they the
graves of the victims of Ja-lama, or, laying to rest in one of them,
was there the decapitated body of the leader himself?
I remember how in Urga I was told a long striking story about the
speculations which arose regarding this head of Ja-lama. It was
preserved in alcohol and so many wanted this peculiar relic, that
after changing many hands the “relic” disappeared. Did it bring luck
or sorrow to its possessor? Nobody knows the real psychology of
Ja-lama, who was graduated in law in a Russian university and
afterwards visited Tibet, being for some time in personal favor of
the Dalai-Lama. One thing is evident, and that is that his story
will complete the legend of Gobi and for many years it will be
magnified and adorned with the flowers of fantasy of Asia. For long
times to come the ten fingers will be in the air in front of
bonfires. The flames of the bonfires are glowing.
But there are moments when the fires of the desert become extinct.
They are extinguished by water, whirlwind and fire.
Studying the uplands of Asia one is astonished at the quantity of
accumulated loess. The changeability of the surface gives the
biggest surprises. Often a relic of great antiquity appears washed
up almost to the surface. At the same time an object of considerably
recent times appears covered up with heavy accumulated layers.
During the study of Asia, one has especially to consider surprises.
Where are those gigantic streams which carried on their way such
quantities of stone and sand, completely filling ravines and
changing the profile of the entire district. Maybe all these are
only catastrophes of long ago.
The sky is covered with clouds. In the neighboring mountains in the
direction of Ulan-Davan, at night, a strange dull noise constantly
fills the space. And not once, or twice, but for three whole nights,
you awaken and hear this incomprehensible symphony of nature and you
do not even know, is it friendly or hostile? But in these vibrations
there is something attracting and compelling you to listen
A gray day begins. Small rain. During the daily noises you do not
discern this mysterious tremor of the night. People are busy with
the customary tasks. Their thoughts are directed towards the usual
perspectives of the near future. They are ready to sit at their
usual dinner on the shore of a tiny stream, around which live
But the wonders of Asia are coming suddenly. Through a broad chasm,
from the mountain tops a current rushes onward. Suddenly it
overflows the high banks of the stream. It is no longer a stream,
but a gigantic stormy river. It attacks a big area. Yellow, foaming
waves full of sand catch the tents and whirl them away like the
wings of butterflies. From the depths of the waves the stones are
leaping to your very feet. It is time to think of saving oneself.
Horses and camels, sensing danger, themselves rush up the mountain.
From the distant Mongolian yurtas that stand in the valley, cries
are heard. The current fills and demolishes strongly made yurtas.
What can withstand this power? The tents are destroyed, many things
are carried away. The current rushes through, transforming all into
a slimy swamp. Twilight and a cold unfriendly night and as cold a
The sun lights up a new site. The stream has settled already in new
banks. Before us there lay lifeless, sloping hills, newly created by
the power of the stream. Our things, during one night, became deeply
imbedded in the new soil. Digging up some of them you imagine the
formation of stratas of Asia. What surprises they present for an
investigator, when really the prehistoric is mixed with the almost
contemporary. The fires, extinguished by the stream, slowly begin to
burn anew the dry branches and roots.
Not only water extinguishes the fires, but the great fire itself
destroys these peaceful milestones.
The steppe is burning. Local people hurry to depart. And you rush
away from these dangerous parts. Horses feel the danger equally
strongly and tense their ears, hark-ening to the whirling, rumbling
noise. The yellow wall, covered with black rings of smoke, is moving
on. What an unheard-of noise and what leaps of flames.
Looking at the wall you recall how Mongolian Khans and other
conquerors of Asia used to light up the steppes deciding thus the
destiny of battles. But of course the fiery element sometimes turned
against the creators of the fire themselves. Your fellow traveler
measures the distance between the flames and you with calm Mongolian
eyes and talks quietly, as of the most usual thing: “I think that we
will succeed in departing in time. We have to reach that
mountain”—and he points to a far-off hill.
The next morning you observe the burned steppe from the mountain
top. All is black, all has changed. And again the layers of dust
shall come and cover the black carpet. But you see smoke on the next
mountain. What is it? A Mongol explains to you—there under the
ground coal is burning and has burned for many months. Thus calmly
speaks the Mongol of the destruction of his own treasures.
Likewise the whirlwind extinguishes the bonfires. After midday a
gale begins. The Mongols cry out: “Let us stop, otherwise we will be
carried away by the wind.” Sand and stones fly in the air. You are
trying to hide behind the boxes of the caravan. In the morning it
appears that you stand on the very shore of a lake.
Various are the miracles of the desert.
And other fires, not the bonfires, are glowing in a far distance.
They are yellow and red. From these mysterious sparks complicated
structures are created. Look, there are cities in red sparks, some
are rising as palaces and walls. Is that not a gigantic sacred bull
glowing in red sparks? Are there not, in the far distance, several
windows sparkling and inviting the travelers? From the darkness near
you big black holes are emerging, like an old cemetery some ancient
flat stones surround you. Under the hoofs of horses something strong
and firm rings out like glass.
The Tsaidam guide says severely: “Walk, all of you. One after the
other, without turning from the path. Caution!” But he does not
explain the reason for caution and he does not want to go first. And
the other Mongolian lama also does not wish to walk in front.
Some danger is lurking near. One hundred and twenty miles we walk
steadily without a halt. There is no water for the horses. In the
early dawn we see that we are going over a rather thin crust. One
could see through the holes in it the black bottomless salt water.
These are not the slabs of the cemetery but sharp precipitants of
the salt. Maybe they can also become tombstones for those who
carelessly fall into the gaping black pit. What metamorphoses took
place in these regions? Flaming castles disappeared in the rays of
light. But when this peculiar seeming cemetery ended, we saw again
around us yellow rosy sands.
Then came a story. Once upon a time a
big city stood on this site. The inhabitants of the city were
prosperous and lived at ease surrounded by great wealth. But even
silver gets dark when not used. So the accumulated treasures have
not been used in a proper way. And good principles of life were
forgotten. But there is justice, even on our earth and all nefarious
things are to be destroyed, when the great Patience is exhausted.
With cries and screams, in fire, this city suddenly plunged down and
the sea filled this gigantic cavern. A great deal of time passed.
And again the sea was covered with salt, but this site still remains
uninhabited. All places, where some injustice has been manifested,
will remain uninhabited.
And the guide asks you with a mysterious look: “Perhaps during the
night you have seen some strange lines in the darkness?” One of our
fellow travelers whispers: “Is it not a story of Atlantic? Is not
Poseidon revealed in this legend?” But the guide continues: “Some of
the people of this city, the best ones, have been saved. An unknown
shepherd came from the mountains and warned them of the coming
disaster. And they went to the caves. If you want, you may go once
to these caves. I will show you a stone door which is tightly
closed. But we do not know how to unlock it.”
“Probably you also know some directions, where are the sacred
frontiers, which you dare never to cross?”
“Yes, only those who are called can enter these boundaries. There
are some signs indicating these forbidden regions. But even without
visible signs you can feel it, because every one who approaches,
will feel a tremor in his whole body. A hunter was sufficiently
strong to cross this boundary. He has seen there some miraculous
wonderful things, but he was senseless and he tried to speak about
the hidden matters, and therefore he became dumb. With sacred
matters we must be very careful. Everything revealed before the
destined date involves a great calamity.”
In the distance some shiny white peaks are emerging. They are the
Himalayas! Not so high they seem to be because we ourselves are on
heights. But how white they are! They are not mountains, but realms
of snow. That is the Everest—says the guide.
Nobody as yet ever ascended this sacred treasury of snows. Several
times “pellings” tried to overpower this mountain. And some of them
perished in the effort. And others had many hardships. This mountain
is predestined for the Mother of the World. Its summit must be pure,
unviolated and virgin. Only She, the Mighty, She can be there. The
silence guarding the world.
The bonfires are glowing. Best thoughts are accumulating round the
flames. In the far desert thousands of pigeons are living about the
sacred massar old tombs. As holy messengers they are flying far
around and inviting the travelers under the hospitable roof. Around
the bonfires glimmer their white wings. The light in the desert.
Near the stream, over the very precipice, the silhouette of a horse
becomes faintly visible in the mist. And something, so it seems,
glitters strangely on the saddle. Perhaps this is a horse that has
been lost by a caravan. Or maybe this horse has thrown off its rider
whilst jumping over an abyss. Or perhaps this is a horse left behind
because he was weak and without strength, and he now looks for his
So speaks the mind, but the heart remembers other things. The heart
remembers how from the great Sham-bhala, from the beautiful mountain
heights, at a destined hour, there will descend a lonely horse and
on its saddle instead of the rider there will shine forth the jewel
of the world: Norbu-rinpoche—Chintamani—the miraculous stone,
preordained to save the world.
Has not the time come? Does not the lonely horse bring us the Jewel
of the World.
Back to Contents
GODS OF KULUTA
Sometimes it would seem that all the strange countries of Asia have
already been described. We have admired the curious tribe of the
Todas. We have been amazed at the sorcerers of the Malabar coast. We
have already heard of the Nagas of Assam and of the extraordinary
customs of the Veddas of Ceylon. The Veddas and Paharis of Northern
India are always pointed out as most unique tribes.
Although many articles have already been published about the
Northern Punjab, where an incomprehensible conglomerate of ancient
hill tribes are massed together, yet the remote hillmen have been
touched so little by civilization, that the inquisitive observer
constantly finds interesting new material.
The mixture of ancient Rajputs, Singhs with Nepalese and Mongoloid
hillmen has produced quite an individual type, which also produces a
peculiar religion—a combination of Hinduism and Buddhism.
The sacred Kulu valley lies hidden on the border of Lahoul and
Tibet, forming the most northern part of Punjab. Whether this was
Aryavarsha or Aryavarta is difficult to say. But the most
significant names and events have gathered in this beneficial
valley. It is called the Silver Valley. Whether in winter, when the
snowy cover sparkles, or in spring when all the fruit trees are
covered with snowy-white blossoms, the valley equally well merits
In this ancient place they have their three hundred sixty gods.
Among them also is Gotama Rishi, dedicated to Buddhism, which is
known to have been here for ages. There is also Akbar the Great,
whose statue is in the Malana temple, and all teachers and heroes
who by sword or spirit won great battles.
Deoban, their sacred forest, is entangled with century-old trees.
Nothing may be destroyed in the silence of the protected grove. Even
leopards, bears and jackals are quite safe in this abode of the god.
People say that some of these protected trees are over a thousand
years old and some even two thousand. Who has counted their age? Who
knows their beginning? And their end is not near, so powerful are
the unembraceable trunks and roots.
Equally ancient are the deodar trees round the Maha-devi temple in
Manali. Heavy boulders, stones resembling huge monuments, are
scattered all over the mountain-slopes of the Himalayas. Near the
temple are seeming altars, built of stone. Here the gods are said to
meet during the spring festivals. In the darkness inside the temple
rises a rock, washed by a prehistoric stream. Was it here that Manu
compiled the first commandments for the good of mankind?
On the mountain slope above every village can be seen a comb of
ancient giant pine trees or deodars. These are all places sacred to
the three hundred sixty gods of the glorious Kulu valley, or as the
ancient people called it, “Kuluta.” These places were marked by the
Indian pundits, by old Tibetans, and by the famous Chinese traveler
of the seventh century, Hsuan-tsang.
In Kulu valley, even up till now, disputes are settled by the
prophet priest. In the sanctuaries of temples are untold sanctities,
which the human eye is not allowed to see. The guardian of a temple
enters the sanctuary only rarely and always blindfolded, and carries
out one of the sacred objects to an initiate, for a brief moment.
The people of the mountain nest, Malana, speak an incomprehensible
language and nobody has as yet clearly defined this dialect. They
live their own lives, and only rarely do their elected
representatives descend into the valley to visit the temples of the
god Jamlu. In high black cone caps, with long ear-pieces, and in
homespun white garments these mountain hermits tread the snowy
During the New Year of India, the entire Kulu valley celebrates the
festival. We were told that the goddess Tripura-Sundari had
expressed the wish to visit us. The triumphal procession of the
goddess, of her sister Bhu-tanta and the god Nag, arrived. In front
of our house stood a long row of multi-colored banners. Further away
was a multitude of drums, pipes and bent brass horns. Farther on, in
finely ornamented costumes, dancing all the way, with bent sabers,
came the priests, gurs, kadars and local festival dancers. On the
broad terrace the procession halted. Every one of the three
palanquins of the gods was covered with silver and golden masks. The
music roared, songs were chanted, and they began a wild war-like
sword-dance. Like Caucasian hillmen or sword-bearers of Kurdistan
the sons of the ancient militant valley, madly but gracefully
whirled round in dance.
Then an old Brahmin priest appeared. He took two sabers from the
young dancers ... as if a miracle had happened, the bent old priest
suddenly became full of life, and like a warrior leaped about in a
wild sacred dance. The curved sabers flashed. With the back of the
saber blade the old man inflicted on himself imaginary symbolical
wounds. It seemed as if he would gash his throat. Then with an
unexpected movement the bare steel was run between the open mouth .
. . was this an old man, or a youth masked in a gray beard?
All this was unusual. But the most unusual was to come. The dancers
calmed down. The musicians stepped aside. The palanquins of the
goddess were borne upon the shoulders of the men, but the men who
carried them did not touch the poles with their hands. On the
contrary, the palanquins seemed to push them about, and, as if
drunk, they staggered around, led by an unknown power. They began
turning around with the palanquins on their shoulders. Suddenly the
palanquin seemed to rush at a chosen person propping itself up with
the end of the poles against his chest. He shuddered, became pale,
and his entire body shook. ... In a transformed voice he shouted out
prophecies. But the goddess also desired to speak through another.
Again the palanquin moved around in a circle. And again some one was
chosen and endowed. It was a pale youth with long black curls. Again
the blunt look of the eyes, the chartering teeth, the trembling body
and the commanding proclamation of prophecies. The New Year had been
honored. The procession lined up again and returned by the steep
hilly path to the temple, where drums were to thunder till long
after midnight and where the dancers would again whirl round in
sacred war dances.
It is good when the gods of Kulu are gracious.
What do the inhabitants of Kulu valley like most? Dancing and
flowers. We visited another sword dance. Skilfully the sword blades
whizzed through the air and around in a semi-circle danced a row of
colorfully dressed men, arm in arm, singing drawling songs,
accompanied by drum-beats and large kettle-drums. On rich
stretchers, under an ornamented canopy, sat Krishna with a blue face
and in gold brocaded garments. Next to him sat Radha, and in front
was a small Kali, her face black, like a Nubian, with a long, red,
out-stretched tongue attached to it. The children who represented
the gods sat up very seriously, with an understanding of their
nomination. And round stood the crowd—a mixture of many nations:
Paharis, Tibetans, Hindus, Ladakis and many other types of hillmen
with strange faces. All this seemed to carry me back to the American
Southwest Pueblos, where, during the festivals, we saw similar rows
of people with their arms interwoven, who represented rain clouds,
the harvest, and hunting—everything that harasses and delights the
people who live in contact with nature.
During our travels, we heard much of every manner of god. We saw how
the Chinese punish their gods, drown them in the river, cut off
their hands and feet and deprive them of their dignity. The Samoyeds
either anoint their gods with fat or flog them. In short, all sorts
of things may happen even to gods. But, that in our times, a legal
contract should be made with a god such as is done in Kulu still
seems a novelty. In the Bible we read of covenants made with gods,
but of course, this was without government revenue papers. But here
in Kulu valley the gods are very close to life and they base all
their decisions according to the up-to-date laws of the country.
Here I have before me a contract between a private individual and
the god Jamlu, concerning the water supply. Such written contracts
with gods I have never before seen. Everything becomes modern and
even gods sign contracts on revenue paper.
But not only do contracts with gods occur in Kulu, but even the
fairy tale of the Coq d’Or. Before me is a deed of sale of an
ancient fortress and there is a special clause that the previous
owner retains his right to a quarter part of a golden cock, buried
on these grounds. The tale of the Coq d’Or! . . .
The gur, priest of the gods, is the most revered person in all Kulu.
He is all clad in white, in a homespun woolen mantle, with a small
cap on his black and gray hair. His nose is aquiline and he has
sparkling deep-set eyes. His legs are also covered with white.
The gur is seated on a rug, and having completed the burning of his
incense, he gives every one of us a flower as a sign of the grace of
The gods are very satisfied, he informs us, We did not offend them.
On the contrary we have even collected their images near our house,
bringing them from an old ruined temple. There is the statue of
Juga-Chohan on horseback, there is also the goddess Kali, the Rishi
Kartik Swami Nansigang, Parbati and several images of Nar-sing, the
protector of this place.
“Tell us, gur, have you seen Narasimha?” we ask him. “We heard that
many people have seen the protector of these regions.”
Before the gur had time to answer, a Hindu school teacher, who was
“Certainly many of us have seen Narasimha. The old Rajah, who became
the protector of this valley, wanders at night-time near his former
castle and along the mountain paths. All your servants here have
seen how on a moonlight night, a tall, majestic figure with a long
staff has descended the mountain and disappeared under their very
eyes. ... I have myself seen Narasimha twice. Once in this very
house. The protector entered my room at night, and touching me,
wanted to tell me something. But it was so sudden that I became
frightened and the vision disappeared. Another night I returned by
the mountain road from the castle homeward. And I met the protector
himself, who said: ‘Why walk so late when everybody already sleeps?’
You can ask Capt. B. and the wife of the planter L. They both know
of apparitions of Narasimha.”
And the old gur, chewing his thin lips, said:
“I have seen Narasimha. And also the goddess. She came to me as a
small child and blessed me for my initiation as gur. I was very
young at the time. At the gates of the temple I imposed a fast on
myself and sleeplessness for seventy-two hours. And in the morning
after these hours had passed, an unknown little girl came to me. She
was about seven years old, dressed in superb robes, as if for a
festival, although it was an ordinary day. And she said to me: ‘Your
task is fulfilled. Go and act as you decided!’“
The gur has told us much about the great local Rishis: the gods in
the valley live in prosperity. They have plenty of property and
land. Without their sanction nobody is allowed to fell a tree. The
gods visit each other as guests. Many people have seen the gods
traveling. Sometimes they fly, sometimes they walk with great leaps
propping themselves on sticks. Of course, besides that, several
times every year they have triumphal processions with drumbeats and
trumpets as accompaniment. In the store houses of the temples are
hidden rich garments, pearls, gold and silver masks—all attributes
of the gods.
The wife of the planter L. told us that indeed, staying once
overnight at the Naggar castle, she was awakened by a noise in the
neighboring room and on the threshold a white figure appeared of
medium height, but she became terribly frightened and the figure
disappeared, making such a loud noise that two English ladies,
sleeping next door on the other side, became very much frightened.
And with the same noise the figure moved along other parts of the
castle. Mrs. L. also saw another interesting thing. On the maidan of
Sultanpur she saw a dog running, pursued by a white transparent
A Brahmin in a large yellow turban told us how the local gods help
the inhabitants of Kulu valley.
“Some misfortune happened in the house of a man, and in terror he
fled up into the mountains, seeking the help of the gods. Three days
he spent on the rocks. Some one invisible brought him food and a
voice said: ‘You may return home.’ And the man returned and found
everything in order. Another man went into the mountains of
Manikaran and secluded himself in meditation. An unknown yogi
appeared before him and surrounded him with radiant light. From that
day on all the inhabitants of the valley followed that man, paying
him homage and trust. This was about fifty years ago. If you want to
try to see a Rishi, go up into the mountains, to one of the mountain
lakes. And in fasting and prayer stay there, and perhaps one of the
protectors will appear before you.”
Thus the people of Kulu regard their deities with familiarity. In
this ancient place, as in Naggar, and in Manali, are gathered all
the great names. The law-giver, the Manu himself, gave his name to
Manali. The great Arjuna, in a miraculous way, laid a passage from
Arjuna-gufa to Manikaran, where he went to the hot springs. After
the great war, described in the Mahabharata, the Pandavas came to
Naggar and high above the Thava temple they built their castle, the
remnants of which arc still being shown. Here also in Kulu valley
lived Vyasa, the compiler of the Mahabharata. Here is Vyasakund the
sacred place of fulfilment of all wishes. In Bajaura, near the river
Beas, stands a temple connected with the name of Geser Khan. Coming
from the side of Ladak, the great hero here overtook his enemies and
defeated them. On the same river Beas, called in history Hypathos,
near Mandi, Alexander the Great, once stopped. A hill is shown there
connected with the conqueror’s name. On the top of the hill are some
Here also in the neighborhood lies the famous lake Ravalsar, the
place where the great teacher Padma Sam-bhava stayed. Thousands of
pilgrims visit this remarkable place, coming from beyond the
mountain ridges of Tibet, Sikhim, Ladak and Lahoul, where Buddhism
prospers. From Kulu came the famous propagator of Buddhism, Santa
Rakshita. It has been ascertained that Kulu and Mandi are the sacred
lands Zahor, which so often are mentioned in ancient records. Here
after the persecution of the impious King Landarma were hidden the
most ancient books. Even the place of these hidden treasures is
In Naggar is shown the cave of the famous spiritual teacher Pahari
Babu, who converted the cruel Rajah into leading a pious life. It is
a lovely, quiet place, hidden among dense deodars and pine trees. A
small brook gurgles and birds call to each other. A Brahmin guards
the sacred cave, which has now been adorned by a Temple. The chief
deity of this temple is an image of—as the Brahmin calls
Him—Taranata. He brings the image out of the temple, and one cannot
fail to recognize in it Tatha-gata, the Gotama Buddha—the Teacher.
In this way the Hinduism of the hill Paharis has become blended with
its predecessor—Buddhism. In other temples also one can see, besides
Shiva, Kali and Vishnu, images of Buddha, Maitreya and
Avolokiteshvara. And all these memorial images are reflected in the
gathering of the three hundred sixty Rishis, the protectors and
holders of this blessed place.
One cannot omit to mention that under the name of Trilokanath—Lord
of the Three Worlds—in upper Kulu, as also in Chamba State and
Lahoul, Avolokiteshvara is worshiped. This is confirmed by the
typical aspects of the images.
On the border of Lahoul, which is also an ancient former Tibetan
principality, on the rocks, are inscribed images of a man and a
woman up to nine feet high. It is said that this was the height of
the ancient inhabitants. It is curious, that in Bamiam, in
Afghanistan, where there are also huge images on the rocks, these
are also connected with a legend of the height of ancient giants.
The earthquakes in Kangra have destroyed many of the temples, but
the memory of the people preserves the names of heroes and teachers.
Here also are erected monuments of a different character, reminding
one of things which might well be forgotten. In Mandi and in Kulu
you can see big stone stelae like ancient menhirs, with some
time-worn images. In close groups stand these granite blocks, hiding
some secret. What is this secret? What memory do they recall? These
memorials refer to all the generations of local rajahs, and show the
number of their wives, who were buried alive together with the body
of their deceased sovereign. This is the cruel custom, against which
Akbar had already fought; sometimes this unifier of India rushed
personally on his steed to prevent the cruel fate of the innocent
These stones speak of the past. But to the north of Kulu rise the
white peaks of the main Himalayan range. Beyond them lies the road
to Lahoul and Ladak and the main white giant is called Guru-Guri
Dhar—the Path of the Spiritual Teacher. This conception unites all
Rishis into a great whole, leading the way to the Heights.
In this Silver Valley the Great Shepherd called to life all living
beings by the silvery sounds of his flute. He calls toward joy. And
the apple-trees, pear-trees, cherry-trees and plum-trees respond in
their enthusiasm of blossoming. The willow-tree opens its fluffy
blossoms, apricot-trees turn lilac, the vigilant nut-tree unfolds in
rich yellow, and as a healing nectar flows the aromatic sap of the
Under the apple-tree, covered with rose-colored blossoms, the
eternal Krishna, on his silver flute, plays his divine songs of
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