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Rungli-Rungliot {Thus Far and No Further}

By Rumer Godden

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Rungli-Rungliot.

All that I have left of it are these pages of notes and some lemon leaves that I put between them; the leaves are brittle now and will soon dry into dust but they still have a scent. It is not long since I picked them, but days and happenings and changes have widened into a gulf. I remember—but I am forgetting; forgetting the exact small things. I am forgetting the sound of the prayer flags in the wind on the ridge that stood up into the sky, where the Rungli-Rungliot Lama might have walked and meditated as I liked to walk and think; and I am forgetting the sound of the flute that played in the dusk as I was coming home; and the sight of the clouds blowing off the snows, and the wild cherry trees, and the sunflowers tumbling down the hill and the coolie women stooping to marvel at Sabrina’s feet, small and green-white as lilies, as she paddled in the stream.

I am forgetting; but when I smell the lemon leaves I am back again.They seem to distil Chinglam. To distil? That is to extract the spirit or essential oil. That is what I want these notes to do.

Rungli-Rungliot, means in Paharia ‘thus far and no further’.

Once upon a time, perhaps when Noah lived and perhaps this flood was Noah’s flood too, in another time when the earth was filled with violence, the waters of the Teesta river in North Bengal, India, began to rise in the valleys of the Himalayas, whose ranges are higher and more terrible than the Andes. The water rose higher and higher, past the foot hills and the low hills, past the villages of Riyang and Teesta Bazaar, until it reached to the spurs nearly at the top of the mountains and the people began to be seriously afraid that their retreat would be cut off by the sky. I think only the spines of the ridges showed in the water, spines of monsters and dragons petrified, with their colours hidden in the Teesta that today, after the rains, is that same milky blue. The prayer flags were snatched and carried to the ridge, the horns blew and the drums sounded, while behind and inaccessible, the line of snows that not even a flood could reach, reared themselves into the sky.

Down below them the consternation continued and the water spread and rose and spread.

In a temple at the top of one of these ridges, a Lama was saying his prayers. The people went in and disturbed him, but they disturbed him quietly; the horns stopped blowing, the drums were not beaten, and the people were still as their headmen went in to him.

‘Well, what is it?’ said the Lama.
‘The water—the water is coming up.’ It was. The people were standing in it; it was lapping the temple steps.
‘Tell it to go down,’ said the Lama.
‘Tell it?’
‘Yes. Give it a positive order.’
‘But—it won’t pay any attention.’
‘Won’t it?’ said the Lama.‘Then I must tell it myself.’ And he came out from his prayers and put out his hand.

I think of him as looking Chinese in a stiff robe, with a Chinese absorbed and peaceful face. He looked at the spines of the hills and the water swirling round them and the jumbled colours of the people and their frightened faces and silent horns and agitated flags; he looked up at the sky and the unmoving snows and back at the water, and he put out his hand and said,‘Rungli Rungliot. Thus far and no further.’

The flood immediately stopped; the water went down and the Lama went back to his prayers.

The words that he said, stayed there in the place as its name.

Rungli-Rungliot is a real place on the spur of the Himalayas, facing south above the plains and the gorge of the little Runglee river that they say was left behind by accident when the Teesta water fell. Rungli-Rungliot is now a post and telegraph office and a police out-post; it serves eight tea estates. It has two small white-washed buildings in hedges of poinsettia, two policemen, a post-office clerk and a very old peon who delivers telegrams at a crawl. Every afternoon the runners come in from the tea gardens with locked leather satchels on their backs to which the post-clerk babu has the key; he unlocks the bags, takes out the post and puts in the day’s mail that has come by another runner from Darjeeling; he locks the bag again and sends the runners off. Some of them come in twelve miles every day.

I had a runner too and Rungli-Rungliot was my postal address; I stayed seven miles below it at Chinglam, the out- bungalow of Rungolo Tea Estate, for a winter unique in beauty, humour and joy. This was surprising, as when I went there I had no expectation of anything, particularly not of joy.

It was wartime; I was threatened by trouble; but all the time I was there I seemed to be living under the protection of that little yellow hand.

There were three addresses: What did I know about them? What did I know between them? Only that they were all on the same tea-garden though they were several miles apart; that they had been, even when they were lived in, rather ramshackle; that they were all unbelievably beautiful. The assistants who had lived in them had gone to the war, these remote bungalows were to let to anyone who liked mountains and clouds and spaces and loneliness. They were all empty.

I left Calcutta to see them on a July night in a train that rolled and groaned northwards across Bengal until the morning, when it left me at a little town on the edge of a forest that dripped with rain. I took another train, like the train in an Amusement Park, and puffed away through the trees up the foothills of the Himalayas. The trees dripped, the hanging orchids dripped, the creepers dripped, the banks at the edge of the track dripped and the carriage dripped inside as well as out. We crept along at the edge of the Teesta river, up the valley, and the river looked as if it might flood again; it was wide and deep and incredibly swift, neither green nor grey in the rain swell but celadon, between low banks of grey white stones all made smooth by the water. After the rains, in the winter, the river would be blue; first a chalky blue and then a blue with a grape-green tinge from the ice water. It is a dangerous cruel river, as cruel as it is beautiful, and the hill people say it has to take a life a year.

Each side of it the gorge goes up to the mountains and, at the far end, they part to show the snow peak, Kabru.

The little train stopped and started and made an amount of smoke and an amount of noise far beyond its size. The engine had a high, flat-topped funnel and bulging coal bunkers, it was painted a spinach-green and a coolie stood on the ledge in front of it as we went along; occasionally he stepped off and walked. The first- and second-class carriages were empty and the third-class carriages were so full that people sat on the window ledges, on the luggage, on each other, and luggage and children and hens oozed out of the corners and openings. All along the train, blowing into my window as I sat solitary in state, was an overpowering smell of biris; a biri is a little evil-smelling cigarette rolled in its natural leaf; every hill man, woman or child, smokes them.

After a great many hours the train crossed a red bridge over another river with deep fish pools, looped the loop, and arrived panting at my station, that was a collection of tin- roofed huts in the middle of the forest; but it had a station- master in full uniform with a whistle and a green flag, and a small-size grey car that had come to meet me and drive me twelve miles on a hairpin track up the precipices and gorges of the mountain to the tea estate.

W. was the manager of the tea estate, and W. took me to see the houses.

They were spread out along the ridge of the mountain, with the valley below and Rungli-Rungliot above; the factory and the manager’s house, W.’s house, were in the centre. The valley was between the folds of the mountains that folded back on themselves, higher and higher, blue towards their tips and streaked with waterfalls. The Runglee river lay in the bottom of the valley, and often, now in the rains, it was covered with clouds, and clouds lay across the mountains in isolated fantastic shapes.

The first bungalow, the Little Bungalow, was small and new, close beside the factory and near W.’s house; it was accessible, it had electric light, it was not lonely; but the rooms were little and dark and they were filled with the skins, the mounted heads and skulls and bones of the animals its former owner had shot. They would all have to be cared for and I did not think I should like dusting dead tiger heads.

The second house was Rungjeli, far up against the hill at the head of the valley with a wonderful view to the plains. To reach it we crossed a suspension bridge hung in space above a precipice, a bridge that swung and bounced and quivered under us. The house was built close up against the hill and the rankness and earth smell of the close thickets and grass was in every room; the view opened in front of us, but there was a smell of old earth and decay and softening wood and the rain had made streaks of green down the walls. There was a perpetual soft dripping and creaking and a falling-down of dust.

W. All that can be made right, you know.
‘But, W., look!’ High up in the eaves of the verandah were hundreds of red paper tags on strings. ‘Bats?’W.nodded.
W.—after a minute. No, I suppose it wouldn’t do.

The road to the third house was a scratch along the ridges of the mountain with nothing to edge it; it was just wide enough to hold the car; its corners cut clear into the sky; we had to reverse round some of those corners and the drop below was more than a thousand feet. I emphasize this road because the menace of it was always between us and the outside world; the fear endured on it always made the arrival at Chinglam more than ever pleasant.

W. drove on, in and out of streams, up perpendicular banks, while the pebbles rolled from our wheels and bounced into the gulf. We rounded gorges and glades of bamboos interspaced with plantations of tea; when we came into the tea I breathed again, because the bushes looked sturdy and comfortable. We passed earth coolie huts built on shelves along the hill, and the people and the children ran out to look at us; the boys laughed, the girls looked at us more seriously and the little ones ran after the car until they fell down, when they did not cry, but lay on their stomachs in the dust still looking. Round corners we came suddenly on pack ponies carrying panniers of tea-leaf and their drivers snatched at their heads and turned them to the hill and we edged past their tails. Terraces of tea spread above us, and below, far below, were bamboos and coolie crops. The car screamed in first gear up a hill like a wall, struggling, screaming, while we all leant forward and did not dare to breathe.

The road made one more tremendous climb and ran out, with a curious gentleness, on to a white drive among the tea bushes that was Chinglam.

Chinglam is the out-bungalow of the garden where once, before the war, the senior assistant lived, inhabiting the house when he was not away working or shooting or visiting.

Chinglam is the last section of the garden and the house is on a knoll. I do not know how else to describe it, it is so gentle, but the knoll is thousands of feet high and sits above the clouds, and from the lawn it looks down over the tops of the trees and the tea to the river. It looks up to the mountains and away to the plains that make a faint map to the East, and in the valley that morning the clouds lay in the exact shape of the Chinese character for heaven.

The house is an island entirely surrounded by tea; the tea goes down below to the river with zigzag paths cutting it into sharp patterns, and the bushes make a pattern of dark green on pale green undergrowth and the shade trees spread above them like dull green lace. The tea goes up above with more zigzags to a crest of bamboos where the ridge cuts the sky, the ridge we call the Saddle where the Lama may have walked. The saddle looks north to Kalimpong and Rinchinpong and the Sikkim snows, and a path leads away from it along the spine of the mountain to the View Point where we go to see the big snows, the Kanchenjunga range.

Tea spreads away again to the East where the mountains open, and, on fine days, show the Teesta river winding in the plains; and it spreads back to the West past the bungalows and factory to the waterfall at Rungjeli. Opposite on mountains rearing themselves against the sky are the buildings and nurseries of the Chincona Plantation; the houses look clear and tiny, the wooden rows of nursery huts for the young quinine look like honeycombs, and the plantations of trees are only blurs of green on the mountain side.

When I first saw it that morning Chinglam house sat on the knoll against the hill, but not too near it; it was a large, shabby, white-washed house with the paint peeling off the verandah posts and a red roof that came low to the ground. It had the quality of a good house though it was old; it was dry and had wide windows and wide fireplaces for wood fires. There were only four rooms, high with white ceilings and white-washed walls, but it had a big verandah and big bathrooms. Inside it smelled of wood just sawn, which is what it was patched with, and outside it smelled of roses and lemon trees and jasmine and growing tea.

The garden was mostly green and I like green gardens. I walked up and down the little rough lawn that had a path to one side where lemon trees grew; on the borders of the lawn were beds full of a strange mixture of bushes and flowers and weeds; unpruned roses, orchids, zinnias and wild coffee that has thick white flowers the shape of stars.

W. left me to make up my mind. On the edge of the lawn was the gong for calling the coolies in and, as I stood there, an old old man came out and rang it and the sound of it floated across the valley. He took no notice of me and the sound of the gong echoed back to him from the mountain on the other side. That was the only sound, that and the sound of the streams. It was very quiet and quite alone. I listened to the streams and thought.

Can I live here alone, with the mists and the rain and the silence, when the waterfall at the head of the valley miles away will make a roar in the night and the streams will sound loudly all day long? There will be no one but the Chinese- faced coolies with their old clothes and soft indistinct speaking; no one but the children because I do not think our governess, Giovanna, will stay; there will be no one but the children and the servants and the dogs. W. and his wife live at the other end of the valley, and they have busy lives; I cannot expect to get to Darjeeling more than once in a long while; I am melancholy and nervous. Can I bear it? And as I thought, I had a feeling as if I had escaped; a feeling of release or, if it could not be as much as that, of reprieve.

I looked at the house again. There was none of the dreariness of Rungjeli, none of the fright I expected to find, so isolated and away. Chinglam has the gentleness I marked as we first came to it, and a beauty of space and cloud and water and the wild deep colours of the mountain. Then, in the rains, the colours were sodden green with the growth of the monsoon; dark green tea, pale and dark bamboos, pale grasses, brilliant patches of millet, and the colours were heavily streaked with white of waterfalls and clouds. Later in the winter, W. said, the mountains would be blue with a wild harebell blueness and the waterfalls would narrow to a thread and the river be ice-green without rapids, and every shadow and leaf and twig and bud would stand out in clear sun.

So I looked at it with that feeling of release in my mind, and up the path to me came W.
W. Well, do you like it? Do you want to stay? ‘Yes,’ I said slowly,‘I want to stay.’



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