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nina elizabeth mazuchelli
Copyright © 2017Nina Elizabeth Mazuchelli
All rights reserved.
THE INDIAN ALPS AND HOW WE CROSSED THEM
The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them
Being a Narrative of Two Years' Residence in the Eastern Himalaya and Two Months' Tour into the Interior, By a Lady Pioneer.
By Nina Elizabeth Mazuchelli, 1832-1914.
JUNNOO, FROM BELOW SOUBAHGOOM
HANHART CHROMO IMP
THEINDIAN ALPSANDHOW WE CROSSED THEM
BEING A NARRATIVE OFTWO YEARS RESIDENCE IN THE EASTERN HIMALYAAND TWO MONTHS TOUR INTO THE INTERIOR
A LADY PIONEER
New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1876
THE FOLLOWING PAGES were written principally in India, and sent home at short intervals for the exclusive perusal of a family circle. They make no pretension to a scientific character, the little band of travellers who ventured with me into the interior of the Eastern Himalaya having done so, not for the purpose of scientific research, but simply to explore an almost unknown country, and to enjoy the incidents of travel. Neither do they pretend to give any adequate conception of the magnificence of the scenery of that vast mountain region, for in truth its beauty and grandeur are alike beyond all power of description.
For the defects of this volume I may perhaps be allowed to plead the difficulties of a task which can never be more than imperfectly achieved; while, in asking an indulgent judgment of the drawings from which the chromolithographs and woodcuts have been executed, I may mention that they were painted, in almost every instance, with frozen fingers, the smaller sketches being often scratched hastily on letter paper, as I sat sometimes on a portmanteau and sometimes on a tent-peg. In laying them before the public I have yielded to the earnest solicitation of my friends. If the perusal of these pages should prove a source of gratification to others, who, by following on paper my footsteps over untrodden paths, may be able in ever so faint a degree to realise something of the glory and sublimity of that highly favoured land, I shall not regret that I overcame the diffidence I felt in giving publication to the book.
In indicating our route into the 'interior' by a red line on the map, I have given the general bearings only of our journey. Had we taken 'observations' at the end of each day's march, our route would have presented a zig-zag appearance, as the configuration of the mountains we had to cross sometimes obliged us to travel in a north-westerly and sometimes in a north-easterly direction. As no such 'observations' were taken, I have Indicated the route in the simplest manner possible – viz. by a comparatively straight line. In computing the distance of our tour by the scale on the map, I may also mention that the elevations and depressions necessarily incident to mountain-travelling should be taken into consideration, none of which could be indicated on the flat surface of a map.
CLEVEDON: December 16, 1875.
This Edition Includes
One Hundred and Fifty Illustrations
Some of them:
MAP OF SIKKIM
JUNNOO, FROM BELOW SOUBAHGOOM
THE BHOOTIA BUSTI (VILLAGE), DARJEELING
KINCHINJUNGA AND PUNDEEM, BY MOONLIGHT
THE PLAINS OF NEPAUL, FROM MOUNT TONGLOO
DEODUNGA (MOUNT EVEREST). SUNRISE
OUR CAMP ASCENDING THE SNOW-FIELDS
WE ENCAMP IN A SNOW-STORM
THE DESOLATE HEIGHTS OF SINGALEELAH
NURSYNG, FROM THE SINGALEELAH RANGE
NURSYNG AND PUNDEEM, FROM SOUBAHGOOM
THE INDIAN ALPS AND HOW WE CROSSED THEM
There is a spot of earth, supremely blest,A dearer sweeter spot than all the rest. – MONTGOMERY.
O SCARLET poppies in the rich ripe corn! O sunny uplands striped with golden sheaves! O darkling heather on the distant hills, stretching away, away to the far-off sea, where little boats with white sails, vague and indistinct in the misty horizon, lie floating dreamily!
How exquisitely the soft neutral grey of the sea contrasts with that bit of bright sandy beach, and the crimson clover with the canary colour of the sunlit meadows! One's sense of harmony is never ruffled or disturbed by the colours on earth's broad palette. The sky, flecked with fleecy clouds, is soft and blue. Lights and shadows, ever shifting, play athwart the quivering fern-brake, just showing the first warm tinge of autumnal splendour. All nature inanimate is immersed in the semi-slumber of noontide. Now and then a buttercup nods its head as though it were napping, and on a harebell stalk a butterfly poises itself, with a gentle see-saw motion, as if rocking itself to sleep. Nothing seems really awake but the bees, still buzzing about the wild flowers; but even they are gathering no honey, as far as I can see, and are only pretending to be busy. The very rooks have ceased to whirl round those old elms yonder, and, congregated on the church tower, which seems to keep guard over the quiet dead in the churchyard beneath, are far too drowsy to enter into animated conversation. Occasionally an argumentative bird sustains a prolonged caw, but finding no one in the humour to contradict him, he soon subsides into the general stillness.
But see! the upland there to westward, bathed in a flood of ambient light an instant ago, is immersed in sombre shade, as a cloud floats lazily between it and the sun; and, hidden before, now bursts into view, as if by magic, a thatched cottage, the one salient point of the whole landscape. Within the doorway the movements of the cotter's wife may be seen, at some occupation, and a little picture of rural contentment and quietude has been created in a moment. She comes out, and a charming woman she proves to be – charming, that is to say, in an artistic sense – something orange about her neck, and wearing a madder-coloured gown, whilst a small red-and-white child toddles after her. She has evidently come out to feed the pigs, by the clamour they make at her approach, and there is no need to ask the hour, or note that the sun is at its meridian; for, entering by the wicket, comes the goodman home for his mid-day meal, and from the steeple, surmounted by its weathercock, which gently swings from side to side, the clock strikes twelve, its cracked bell the one bit of discord the ear needed to make the harmony complete.
Why at this instant does the bright blue ribbon round the neck of my little Skye terrier sitting beside me look out of 'keeping'? Why does his sharp civilised yap-yap grate on my ear, as he gazes beseechingly in my face for a token of permission to be off to worry the pigs? Why would a female rustic in ragged attire, sitting on a sunny bank, be more in harmony with nature than one wearing the 'last sweet thing' in hats, its feather just at the particular pose of the year eighteen hundred and seventy – no matter what? Is there no affinity between Mother Nature and the wearers of purple and fine linen? Must we be sons and daughters of the soil to render us one kin? There is poetry in that ragged time-worn thatch, with its tufts of weed and moss growing out of every available cranny; there is poetry in the cotters wife and her little red-and-white child; there is poetry even in those squeaking and excited pigs, quarrelling greedily over their 'wash.' Then why not in me and my Skye? In what consists the picturesque?
Such questions as these I used to ask in the golden days of childhood, and on one occasion received a severe snubbing from my governess, who, shaking her head ominously, predicted I should grow up to be a visionary creature not fit for this world, bidding me the rather be practical and get on with my geography. For in those days of my non-age nature was ever a delight to me, and I could draw a landscape pretty accurately, the trees it may be too much like Dutch toys, and the perspective somewhat startling; for has not one of those brilliant productions been preserved by loving hands through all the vicissitude of the chequered past, wherein I am represented in conventional pinafore standing at a window listening to the warbling of a sentimental bullfinch as big as myself? But the 'three r's' were an abomination unto me, and geography the very bane of my existence. How little I thought then – ah me! how little any of us think in that Paradise of childhood, when our future lives are to be 'so happy,' where the paths are to be hedged with thornless roses and the flowers to be all 'everlastings,' none to be gathered by the reaper Death – how little I thought, I repeat, in those days whilst she endeavoured to impress upon my unlistening ear the position of the Himalayan mountains, that in after years I should climb their heights and be able, as now, to recall to mind visions of fairer scenes and fairer skies than even that on which my eye is resting, and behold such grand things in God's beauteous earth, of which man in his philosophy never dreamt.
But are there scenes more fair than those in our own dear land? Well, perhaps not fairer, for nature is sweet in her homely English garb. I love these scented meadows in the glorious summer time; I love these rounded hills and sloping pasture-lands, telling of centuries of peace and plenty; but there are scenes which to look upon make man humbler, and, I think, the better; and even as I sit here quietly drinking in all this placid, tranquil beauty, I am seized with a spirit of unrest, and long to be far away and once more in their midst. Would you see Nature in all her savage grandeur? Then follow me to her wildest solitudes – the home of the yâk, and the wild deer, the land of the citron, and the orange, the arctic lichen, and the pine – where, in deep Alpine valley, rivers cradled in gigantic precipices, and fed by icy peaks, either thunder over tempest-shattered rock, or sleep to the music of their own lullaby – even to the far East, amongst the Indian Alps.
Kennst Du das Land wo die Citronen blühn,Im dunkeln Laub die gold Orangen glühn,Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht.Die Myrte still, und hoch der Lorbeer steht,Kennst Du es wohl?Dahin! Dahin!Mocht ich mit Dir, O mein Geliebter, ziehn.
It has been said that nothing can be more grand and majestic than the Alps of Switzerland, and that size is a phantom of the brain, an optical illusion, grandeur consisting rather in form than size. As a rule it may be so; but they are 'minute philosophers' who sometimes argue thus. Not that I would disparage the Swiss Alps, which were my first loves, and which, it must be acknowledged, do possess more of picturesque beauty than the greater, vaster mountains of the East; but the stupendous Himalaya – in their great loneliness and vast magnificence, impossible alike to pen and pencil adequately to pourtray, their height, and depth, and length, and breadth of snow appealing to the emotions – impress one as nothing else can, and seem to expand one's very soul.
We were sitting at dinner one evening beneath a punkah in one of the cities of the plains of India, feeling languid and flabby and miserable, the thermometer standing at anything you like to mention, when the 'khansamah' (butler) presented F— with a letter, the envelope of which bore the words, 'On Her Majesty's Service;' and on opening it he found himself under orders for two years' service at Darjeeling, one of the lovely settlements in the Himalaya, the 'Abode of Snow' – Him in Sanscrit, signifying 'Snow,' and alaya 'Abode' – the Imaus of the ancients.
Were the 'Powers that be' ever so transcendently gracious? Imagine, if you can, what such an announcement conveyed to our minds. Emancipation from the depleting influences of heat almost unbearable, for the bracing and life-giving breezes which blow over regions of eternal ice and snow.
But even in these days it is wonderful to what an extent ignorance prevails about the more unfrequented parts of India; for it is not generally known, except as a mere abstract truth, that in this vast continent – associated as it is in the purely English mind with scorching heat and arid plains, stretching from horizon to horizon, relieved by naught save belts of palm girt jungle, the habitat of the elephant, the tiger, and the deadly snake – every variety of climate may be found, from the sultry heat and miasma of the tropical valley, to the temperature of the Poles.
Is not India, indeed, almost exclusively regarded as a land of songless birds arrayed in brightest plumage; of gorgeous butterflies and 'atlas' moths; of cacao-nuts, and dates, and pines more luscious than anything of which the classic Pomona could boast? – a land also where snakes sit corkscrew-like at the foot of one's bed, and wild beasts take shelter in one's 'bungalow'; and where her Majesty's liege subjects, whose fate it is to be exiled there, are exposed to the alternate processes of roasting under a tropical sun, and melting beneath a punkah?
To the feminine mind, again, is it not a land of Cashmere shawls – 'such loves' – and fans, and sandalwood boxes, and diaphanous muslins? – presents sent over at too infrequent intervals from uncles and cousins, about whom, vegetating in that far-off land, there is always a halo of pleasant mystery, and arriving, redolent of 'cuscus' and spicy odours and a whole bouquet of Indian fragrance, which wafts one away in spirit across the desert and the sunlit ocean to that wonderland in an instant.
A region there is, however, of countless bright oases in these vast plains, where the cuckoos plaintive note recalls sweet memories of our island home, and mingles with the soft melody of other birds; where the stately oak – monarch of our English woods – spreading its branches, blends them with those of the chestnut, the walnut, and the birch; where in mossy slopes the 'nodding violet blows,' and wild strawberries deck the green bank's side, like rubies set in emerald. I allude of course to the noble snow-capped Himalaya, the loftiest mountains in the world, with whose existence everyone is acquainted, but about which brains even saturated with geographical knowledge are yet as ignorant, so far as their topographical aspect and wondrous hidden beauty are concerned, as they are about the mountains in the moon.
Along this chain, at elevations where the temperature is similar to that of England, numerous sanataria lie nestling, enfolded in their mighty undulations, and dwarfed by the vastness of the surrounding peaks into little toy-like settlements. These are convalescent depôts for our British soldiers, and refuges for Indian society generally; for all who are able migrate from the plains to these cool regions during the fierce heat of summer, to reinvigorate themselves in the delicious climate.
The most beautiful of all these sanataria, as far as scenery is concerned, though by no means the largest, is Darjeeling, or the 'Holy Spot' – the Sceptre of the Priesthood – as its name signifies in the Thibetan language; and to this fair Eden – oh, joy! – we are to proceed without delay.
AND so it came to pass one stifling evening, the sun setting a disc of fire, that two figures might be seen, not descending a hill on 'white palfries,' but stepping into a prosaic 'dinghy,' to be ferried across the Hooghly, a branch of the Ganges – a muddy river truly, but all a-glow now with the sun's crimson dye, which has kindled the dome of Government House and the many cupolas and spires of the fair City of Palaces almost into a blaze.
Away down the river noble ships ride at anchor, waiting for the morrow's tide to bear them over its treacherous and ever-shifting sandbanks to the distant sea. Looking towards the city, forests of stately masts from every port under heaven tower skywards, and along the Strand a dense throng of carriages may be seen moving slowly, as the denizens of the proud metropolis, released from their closed houses – from which every particle of the outer atmosphere has been excluded throughout the livelong day – take their 'hawā khanā,' which, literally translated, means 'eat the air.' From the beautiful 'Eden Gardens' the sound of the band, borne on the sultry breeze, comes wafted towards us; while at the many 'ghauts' numerous figures are seen standing on the steps or in the sacred waters, salaaming to the Day-god as he sinks to rest. Bathing is a religious ceremony with these children of the East – a process said to wash away sin; but, as a rule, they economise time by cleansing their linen and their consciences together, and may generally be seen alternately salaaming and scrubbing away at their 'chuddahs' as they stand waist-deep in the mystic flood.
Noisily settling themselves to roost in the tall pepūl trees that fringe its margin, are enormous bald-headed adjutants; whilst others still linger about the steps, balancing themselves on one leg, their long pouches dangling in the air, as they gravely watch the proceedings of the bathers. Loathsome vultures flutter uneasily 'neath the palm fronds, uttering every now and then a shrill moan, as though possessed with the unquiet spirit of the Hindoo which but a day or two ago tenanted the body they have just left, stranded somewhere down the rivers banks. From the jungle a mile or two away comes the wild jackals cry, answered by another herd more distant still, as they call each other to some unholy feast. The Mahomedans bury their dead, but there was a time, not so long ago either, when the bodies of the 'mild Hindoo,' except those of high caste, were invariably thrown into the river: but cremation of some sort is now, I believe, the custom amongst Hindoos, if not actually enforced by law, although frequent evasions of it still exist
In the days I speak of, the statement that the living were left on the banks to die or be washed away by the tide was no Eastern fable, for I have myself often seen the sick carried along on 'charpoys' (bedsteads) in the direction of the sacred river, moving as they went
But let us quit such painful scenes. Already merrily gleam the thousand lamps which surround the white palaces of the King of Oude's zananas, like a necklace of diamonds, casting their reflection in the water. In little inlets – arms of the river – all amongst the dark trees, fires are burning, indicating the existence of boats moored there, in which swarthy boatmen are cooking their evening meal. Here and there a tiny light may be seen floating down the river; and you may be sure, though you cannot see them in the gathering darkness, that rustic houris – whose beehive dwellings are hidden in the thick jungle – are standing or kneeling on the slimy brink, watching with eager prayerful eyes the fortunes of the little bark; for these superstitious people seek therefrom the foreknowledge of events. If it float on out of sight still burning, well is it for the object of their wishes; but should it go out – by no means unfrequently the case – the contrary is augured. These lights, floating star-like on the dark waters, and seen from the suburban bridges at all hours of the night, are to my mind the one poetical feature of this eastern city.
Ferried across to the measure of our boatmen's 'barcarolle,' we reach the opposite shore just as the steam-ferry draws up to the pier; and there is no time to lose, for the express is waiting its arrival.
'Can't get in there, sir; that is reserved accommodation for ladies,' shouts the station-master from the other end of the platform, on F—'s following me into the luxurious first-class carriage, fitted with berths for night travelling. As there happens to be no other lady passenger, however, he is permitted to remain; and to prevent molestation at either of the subsequent stations, he at once lies down, and covering himself with shawls and other articles of feminine attire, hopes thus to elude detection.
Leaving all signs of the great metropolis behind, we are soon whirling through rural Bengal: and what a deadly looking swamp it is! Through rice fields, stretching away into the distant horizon; by morass, and fen, and sedgy pool, till the whole country seems under water; by clumps of waving palm trees, standing out black against the afterglow like funereal plumes; till evening at length gives place to night, and all colour fades save in the West, where a narrow blood-red streak, like the reflection from a hundred monster furnaces, still lingers in the heavens, and we reach Serampore.
The official looks in, apparently regarding the lanky figure opposite me with some suspicion. He is no doubt up to these little subterfuges, but he passes by notwithstanding; and I have just made up my mind that we are to be left undisturbed, when he returns, and this time stands upon the step and looks in.
'Is that a lady opposite you?' he enquires.
'A lady? Well, no; not exactly! The fact is, it is my husband,' I am obliged to confess at last, as F—, moving slightly, lets the shawl slip with which I had endeavoured to conceal him, thereby betraying an unmistakably masculine boot.
'Then you must come out of this carriage, sir.'
'I can't,' replies F—, with some degree of truth; 'my wife's an invalid, and I cannot leave her.'
'Can't help that, sir,' rejoins the uncompromising station-master. 'There's a carriage here, where you can both travel together' (holding the door of one of the general first-class carriages open).
At this juncture, having heard the altercation, the guard appeared, and, master of the situation, addressing F— with a significant look, said: 'Come into this carriage, sir;' and aside, 'I'll make it all right at the next station.'
Upon which F— retired for the present, soon to return in triumph for the remainder of the night, when he subsided into sound sleep till peep of day, by which time we reached Sahibgunge, and our railway journey was completed.
Here we were told by an oleaginous native functionary, who gave us the information as though it were a matter of no consequence whatever – which nothing ever seems to be to these phlegmatic people – that all our baggage had been left behind, adding that a luggage train left an hour or two after the express, by which he thought it likely they might forward it, in which case we should get it in the course of the day. At this announcement F— growled out something that I did not catch; perhaps it was a benediction, perhaps it was not. At any rate, it was already too hot to think of getting into a passion; for, early as it was, the sun had sent upwards his avant-guard of crimson cloud, bearing, as on ensign armorial, all the blazonry of his pomp and splendour, and a curtain, like cloth of gold, suddenly spread itself over the Eastern sky, as it does only in these latitudes.
Now this non-arrival of our effects would have obliged us to stay at Sahibgunge all the next day – one of the most execrable places in the Mofussil of India – had we not brought a trustworthy servant with us, the steamer by which we were to cross to Caragola leaving hours before the baggage-train would be due. But we are able to depart, fortunately, committing our belongings to his charge, and leaving him to wait their arrival, and follow with them the next day.
The sacred river from this point looks like a broad lake, with low sand-banks here and there, like little flat islands, just peeping above the water. Reaching the Steamer, we find that, being the only passengers, we are to have it all to ourselves; and at ten o'clock, casting off her moorings, we are afloat for the first time upon the sacred Ganges.
Sitting under the awning we watch the various boats float by: some like immense hay-stacks rowed by twenty men; others with clumsy square sails, and thatched huts on their decks, containing merchandise from Nepaul; whilst light little dinghies, with sails set to the wind, bob up and down as they get into the swell of the steamer, and seem to be curtseying to us as they pass.
AND now, how can I describe the old-world style of locomotion, still existing in the nineteenth century, on the 'Grand Trunk Road' in this magnificent Dependency, 'the brightest jewel,' &c. &c., for we have reached a shore where the shriek of the locomotive is never heard.
Having left the steamer on our arrival at Caragola, and crawling up the steep incline knee-deep in sand, we find a 'hackery' awaiting us, covered by a rough tilt – a sort of gipsy arrangement – to which are yoked two small bullocks; the whole thing of a kind which you feel sure must have been in use in the time of the Pharaohs, the wheels of almost solid wood rolling round with a reluctance and squeak that is positively maddening. This goes, laughable as it may seem, by the dignified and euphonious appellation of the 'Government Bullock Train.'
All is ready for departure, for they had seen the steamer, a little black speck in the horizon, two hours ago. We mount our chariot therefore and start at the magnificient pace of a mile and a half an hour. The rules are, I believe, that they shall not be required to go faster than three miles an hour; but as they, never by any chance arrive at this alarming speed, the prohibition is scarcely necessary.
A lantern suspended from the tilt sways to and fro, the tassel of F—'s smoking-cap, doing likewise, keeps time with it; the body of the driver, sitting astride the pole to which the bullocks are attached, sways backwards and forwards too, with the regularity of a piece of mechanism, as he pokes and pushes first this bullock and then that, varied only, alas! by screwing their tails round and round in his endeavours to get them on. Besides this, the goad, a short stout stick, is often called into requisition, answering the double purpose of poking and striking, the latter accomplished in successive thuds on their poor lean backs, and accompanied by an amount of jabbering persuasion inconceivable to anyone who has not travelled under the Jehuship of an Asiatic, the former making one's very heart sick, and the latter beyond everything annoying to the ear. But nothing makes the slightest impression upon them. By all these combined efforts they are simply kept in motion, and I soon grow stoical in the matter, and learn to believe that without them they would not move at all.
After a while, however, just when we are sinking into a state of somnolence, induced by the monotony of the whole performance, we hear the stick administered with more than ordinary energy, and they do make an effort for once, and succeed in getting into a trot; but it is only to take us clean off the road and land us upside-down in the 'paddy' (rice) field seven feet below.
But this does not appear to excite the smallest surprise in our Jehu, who seems to take it all as a matter of course; and after we have managed to scramble out – hardly knowing which is our head or which our heels, not hurt, but severely shaken – he gives them one deprecatory glance, and proceeds leisurely to unfasten the yoke.
The bullocks, once loose, begin quietly grazing as if nothing had happened, whilst we sit down on the bank and bear it as philosophically as we can, till our triumphal car is righted and again put in motion, when, in process of time, we reach the first 'chokee' (or stage), and have to change our noble beasts.
This is a sleepy little village, surrounded by 'paddy' fields, a light here and there glimmering feebly through the doors of the mud huts. The driver shouts, to arouse the amiable native who has to furnish us with the expected relay. 'Jaf-fa!' repeated several times, but no answer; 'Ho! Jaf-fa-a-a-a!' descending the gamut in an injured tone. At length a light is seen slowly approaching from a distant hut – they never hurry themselves, these Orientals, under the most pressing circumstances – and the bearer of it gives us the consoling information that there is no relay of bullocks, a 'bobbery (quarrelsome) sahib' having taken those we were to have had for his own 'dâk' about an hour ago, his beasts having broken down by the way.
At this declaration, the driver makes use of choice Hindustani expletives, and pronounces it to be a 'jhūt' (lie); but on his maintaining the assertion, what can we do but 'bless the bobbery sahib,' which I am afraid F— does in language no less complimentary, and offer 'backsheesh' to our informant if he will only obtain other bullocks speedily elsewhere.
Stimulated by this magic word, he retires with more precipitation than is their wont, and we watch his light growing fainter and fainter as he crosses the paddy-field. No matter how bright may shine the moon, natives are never seen without carrying a lantern at night, which they say frightens away 'cobras,' a snake whose bite is death; and presently we hear his voice growing more and more distant, as he calls his kine, straying in the jungle far away; whilst we are compelled to wait two weary, dreary, miserable hours, before we can once more proceed on our way.
This, then, is the 'Government Bullock Train' – what an imposing title! – for which, together with the transit of our luggage by a similar conveyance, F—, with becoming gravity, paid 75 rupees (7l. 10s.) to the Post-office authorities a few days before starting, the name in itself being a guarantee of its respectability, suggesting to the mind of the uninitiated, if it suggested anything in particular, a train freighted with bullocks! At any rate the word train at once conveyed the idea of speed, and for this reason it has no doubt been ironically given; but we hope the Indian Government will be more sedate in its nomenclature for the future, and give up jesting, which is improper and undignified in the Great.
In like fashion creeping along the road, the monotony relieved by similar incidents, the first faint streak of dawn appears, and in the cold grey half-light we overtake long lines of 'hackeries' of a more primitive kind than that even in which we are journeying, each wheel, as it revolves, producing its own particular and peculiar squeak – for they never grease them, to do so would cause the drivers to lose their caste – all looking as if they had come straight out of the land of Canaan, and were going down into Egypt to buy oil, and corn, and wine; and, following in their wake, we fancy we must be going down into Egypt too, with our money in our sack's mouth.
Past miles and miles of dusty pepūl trees, growing on each side of the road, the soft blue distance seen through them, bathed in silvery mist, and there is a dewy freshness in the air. Past strings of pilgrims, walking wearily along to or from some shrine, probably Parisnāth, a mountain of unusual sanctity across the Ganges, the centre of Jain worship. On, till we meet commissariat waggons, drawn by immense bullocks, beautiful creatures with large meek eyes like gazelles, soft dove-colour skins, and large humps on their backs, which, being hungry, we feel inclined to eat, there being nothing carnose half so delicious as these humps when salted. Past little villages, scarcely awake yet, and more hackeries, the poor beasts moving their heads from side to side, as they strive to make the hard yoke easier to their necks. Ah! well, indeed, has Scripture used it as a symbol of a burden grievous to be borne.
At length a great clatter is heard in the distance, and something is seen hovering above the road, bearing down upon us like an enormous vulture, which turns out to be nothing more or less than Her Majesty's mail, sending up clouds of dust, and hiding everything but the driver and an unhappy traveller clinging on by his eyelids to the back seat.
IT was broad day by the time we reached Purneah, and came to anchor in the little 'bungalow' which answers to a roadside inn. We caught sight of the kitmutgar, or table attendant, some little time ago, performing his simple toilet in the verandah, as he heard the familiar squeak of our chariot wheels, and knew that some 'sahib logue' must be approaching. We have scarcely alighted when he presents himself, and with a low salaam begs to be informed what we wish for breakfast, which is followed by the very natural question from the 'sahib logue' of 'What can you give us?' – the rejoinder, nine times out of ten in these places, where travellers are comparatively few and far between, being, 'Moorghee grill, sahib, aur chupattee (grilled fowl and chupattee):' the former, a dish known in India, in the language of modern ethics, as 'sudden death,' from the fact of the unfortunate little feathered biped being captured, killed, skinned, grilled, and on the table in the space of twenty minutes; and the latter an odious leathery, and indigestible compound, apparently made of equal proportions of sand and flour, and eaten as a substitute for bread.
Now follows the chase for the irrepressible 'moorghee,' which is always at hand, pecking and strutting about amongst its kind in the 'compound,' or inclosure of the bungalow; sometimes making migratory raids and explorations into the hackery in search of crumbs, or any other small delicacies that may happen to be found within it, till the bāwārchi (cook) is seen emerging from the cookhouse across the yard, at the sight of whom, even before he is in pursuit, the whole brood are in violent commotion, their instinct – or 'hereditary experience,' handed down to them by a long line of suffering ancestors, likewise sacrificed to 'grill' – warning them what is to come. The greater number, however, manage to elude the inevitable for a while, by making their escape; but one or two of nervous temperament get too frightened to follow the rest in their flight, and, losing their heads entirely, make a dash into the bungalow itself, then under the table, and, hunted down for a few minutes longer, are usually run to earth at last beneath one's very chair. Then succeeds the poor little captive's last speech and confession, whilst the kitmutgar is hastily laying the cloth, and one can hear it frizzling over the fire in a twinkling. Should the traveller require a second or third course, as he generally does, moorghee cutlets or moorghee currie await him; and other victims have to be sacrificed, accompanied by the usual preliminaries.
Here, however, we find ourselves in clover, and in the lap of luxury itself, for Purneah being a station of some importance, it possesses a bazaar, and the kitmutgar informs us that, in addition to 'moorghee grill,' we can have 'mutton chop grid-iron-fry,' whatever that may be – a dish hitherto unknown to us in our experience of the deep mysteries of the Indian cuisine.
These staging bungalows usually contain four rooms, each opening pleasantly upon a verandah; the furniture, however, is of the most wretched description, consisting merely of a table, a punkah, and a few uncomfortable chairs, in which, after your long journey, you sit ill at ease, wishing you possessed the buckram vertebræ of your ancestors, whilst the matting covering the floors is too frequently in holes. Musing as you sit bolt upright, you will probably be attracted by the least possible noise, and, on looking in the direction of the sound, may see a pair of antennæ or tiny legs, with a small head peeping above the matting where it skirts the walls. It may be that of a centipede or little black scorpion, or, if the time be evening, a fleshy-brown cockroach. They are as a rule, however, very clean, being under the superintendence of the Public Works Department – not the cockroaches, but the bungalows – and are unquestionably a great convenience to travellers up the country.
Weary of our long night in the 'Government Bullock Train' – I wish with all my heart the members of the 'Supreme Government' were obliged to travel in it for fifteen consecutive hours! – we hire a 'palkee gharee' to take us on to the next station, Sileegoree, deciding to halt where we are during the day, and to proceed on our journey in the cool of the evening. Accordingly at 6 P.M. an oblong deadly-looking machine, resembling a hearse, makes its appearance, drawn by two horses, the pace whereof is guaranteed to be ten miles an hour, when once they have been persuaded to make a start!
To our inexpressible relief our servant arrived some hours ago, bringing with him our long-lost luggage, and whilst it is being packed on the top, the horses are taken out, something being amiss with the harness. One of them is a sturdy little animal, the other a tall bony creature, with a neck like a giraffe, of the genus Bucephalus Alexandrinus, with a great deal of 'spirit' in him, judging from his proud exterior, and the way he carries his head; but we soon find, alas! that this quality resides in his outward bearing only. During the process of harnessing, which proceeds with no small difficulty, requested by the coachman to take our places, we get in, and lie down side by side at full length, that being the appropriate mode of conveyance.
Six men seize the wheels, crack goes the whip, 'Whr-r-r-r-r!' shouts the coachman, simultaneously; Bucephalus assumes a war-like attitude, raises his head haughtily, and paws the air. The smaller animal pulls conscientiously, but still we do not move. The coachman performs a feat, not only of arms but legs, throwing both over his head in utter desperation. Another crack of the whip, and Bucephalus this time backs determinedly, threatening to overturn us into a dirty pond hard by.
Chorus of men still at the wheels, 'La-la-hi-hi-iddl-iddl-iddl-whish-sh-sh!' The last syllable prolonged and hissed through the teeth. Truly the mouths of these Bengalees seem made especially for the utterance of infinitesimal monosyllables. But they prevail at last, and we are en route. The coachman, or chief undertaker, seizing his bugle, plays a pathetic, 'Too-too-too,' and we go on now at an ever-increasing pace, whilst the vehicle sways from side to side ominously, and we realise in an instant the meaning of the hearse, and feel we are being borne along to a speedy and untimely grave, and so on, and so on, till – as Mr. Pecksniff remarked to his charming daughters, on their way to London –' It is to-morrow, and we are there.'
BUT although it is 'to-morrow,' for it is long past midnight, and we are 'there,' that does not mean Darjeeling, but Kishengunge; and a dismal and ugly place it truly is at this time of night.
Kishengunge, through which the road passes, is a thickly populated village, noted at one time for dacoits; and even now it not unfrequently happens that travellers, on their way to or from the Hills, are molested by these daring highway robbers. Not very long ago a British officer journeying to — was beset by a band of them, and robbed of every stitch of luggage he possessed. Now it happened that, according to the custom of Indian travellers on these long night journeys, he had disencumbered himself of all superfluous attire, and donning his dressing-gown and night-cap, under a happy consciousness of absolute security, he laid him down comfortably, as he thought, till morning. But behold the gallant officer as he appeared on arrival at his destination!
Moral: when travelling by dāk gharee in India, be not over-confident, but go to sl
IT was a lovely dewy morn, that on which we started for our destination twenty miles distant, our kind host having sent a relay of ponies the previous day to await our arrival at Sonadah, rather more than half way. The road from Kursiong to Darjeeling is a very broad one, skirting the mountains, and winding round their stupendous flanks, very much like the famous Cornice road made by Napoleon I., connecting Nice with Genoa, only on a much grander scale. What azure depths and dark green sombre forests, stretching up, up to the stainless blue! How nobly the broad road winds, and how exciting it is to canter side by side as we breast the wind, which comes borne over icy regions, now not so far away!
We had not gone more than two or three miles, when we observed, on turning an angle of the road, two men driving a herd of buffalo, large bony animals, stalking leisurely along, their skinny necks outstretched, and square nostrils snuffing the air, as the manner of them is, whether indigenous to mountain or plain. As we rode up, however, instead of their passing us and proceeding on their way, as we naturally expected they would do, for some reason or other they took fright at our formidable appearance, and wheeling straight round, took to their heels and galloped off as hard as they could go; whilst the cries of the herdsmen, and their endeavours to keep pace with them and turn them back, served but as a signal for our ponies to start off too; and away we went giving involuntary chase, soon leaving the men far behind, who kept shouting to us in beseeching accents to stop, and not drive their kine away they knew not whither, their voices growing fainter and fainter each moment, as increasing distance separated us.
From the first, I had lost all control over my fiery little steed, and it was as much as I could well do to keep in my saddle; whilst F— having his own by no means well in hand, it would have been quite impossible to rein them in at this part of the road, which was almost level ground. At length, coming to a little path diverging from the roadway, the buffalo took advantage of it, and fled from their pursuers down the mountain side; with the exception of one big fellow, who, slightly in advance of the rest, overshot the mark and could not turn in time to follow. Infuriated at finding itself deserted by its companions, it dashed on a few paces, and then turned round and faced us boldly, ten yards ahead. Then, as F— brandished his whip and shouted loudly, it dashed off once more, but only to return to the charge again and again; and it was 'On, Stanley, on! charge, Chester, charge!' for more than a mile, when coming to another mountain path, it also happily left us, and was soon lost sight of amongst the thick brushwood below.
Long before we had time to recover our composure after the little episode just narrated, we were overtaken by one of those dense fogs, of which we had ample experience during our residence in Darjeeling, and which rendered fast riding out of the question. Nor was it easy at all times, even when riding slowly, to steer clear of the hackeries, and the long strings of ponies we met, scarcely more than four feet high, laden with sacks and protruding packs of the gipsy order, all of which had an uncomfortable way of rubbing against us as they passed.
Having, as we imagined, ridden about twelve miles, and accomplished nearly two-thirds of our entire journey, F— accosted the driver of a hackery, and enquired how far it was to Darjeeling.
'Sāt kos (fourteen miles),' was the reply; a kos being equal to two English miles.
Proceeding onwards yet another hour, we saw an old pilgrim plodding along the road, to whom F— repeated the question. After gazing intently at the top of his staff for some moments, upon which he was leaning, as though he expected to find the answer written there, he slowly counted on his fingers, like one making an abstruse calculation, and muttered in Hindustani, 'Well, there was Sonadah, and that was tīn kos (six miles), and then there was "the Saddle," and that was chār kos (eight miles); and then there was Darjeeling, and that was ek kos (two miles), and that made āt kos (sixteen miles) altogether.'
'What!' exclaimed F—, lifting up his voice, 'have we then been going backwards the last hour, misled by the fog? Or are we condemned to journey on perpetually, like the Wandering Jew, never to come any nearer to the goal?'
'Hogā, sahib, hogā,' rejoined the old man, encouragingly, reading an expression of disappointment in our faces, and making use of that provoking idiom, so peculiar to Hindustani, which forms the vague and indirect answer to nine out of every ten questions you may ask a native, embracing as it does the past, present, and future tenses, as well as the conditional and potential.
For instance, if you ask a servant, 'Is So-and-So coming to day?' he will reply, 'Hogā, sahib,' meaning may be. 'Did he come yesterday?' he will still reply, 'Hogā, sahib,' signifying he might have come; and so on. On this occasion, therefore, hogā was intended to convey the consoling assurance, that although Darjeeling was āt kos distant yet, and a long way off, still, if we persevered, it would be, i.e. we should arrive there at last.
And so we did; at any rate, people told us we were there: a crowd of hackeries to steer through, and fowls and pigs and children to be ridden over, and visions of huts frowning down upon us on either side of the road, all exaggerated in the darkling mist, and a mysterious voice proceeding from the shadowy outline of a native, telling us he was our 'bearer,' who had arrived before us with the luggage, and was waiting to conduct us to the house that had been secured for us.
* * * * * *
Standing under the porch of our pretty mountain dwelling the morning after our arrival, what a sight presented itself to our view! 'See Darjeeling and die!' has become a familiar aphorism now; and well it may, for how can I ever hope to be able to describe the awful beauty of the snowy range from this spot! Grander than the Andes and the Red Indian's mountains of the setting sun; grander than the Apennines and Alps of Switzerland, because almost twice their height; grander than anything I had ever seen or dreamt of – for what must it be, think you, to fix your gaze upon a mountain more than 28,000 feet high, rising 21,000 feet above the level of the observer, and upon which eleven thousand feet of perpetual snow2 are resting, rearing its mighty crest into the very heavens! Overcome as I am by its grandeur and majesty, I will not attempt a description of it now, for language fails me, but leave it to develope itself as I proceed in my narrative, and the eye once grown familiar to the scene, emotion grows fainter, and forms itself into speech.
THIS sweet little cantonment, the sanitarium for Bengal, became British territory in 1835, together with a small tract of adjacent hill, ceded by the Rajah of Sikkim to enable our Government to create a convalescent depôt for its troops; in return for which favour it agreed to give 300l. per annum as compensation, the Rajah's 'deed of grant' expressing that he made this cession out of friendship to the British Government; little thinking, in his amiable simplicity, that Darjeeling would ultimately become the key to Sikkim, Nepaul, and Bhootan, or he would doubtless have been less generously disposed.
Its native population numbers upwards of 20,000, consisting of various tribes, Bhootias, Lepchas, Limboos, and Goorkhas; the three former having originally migrated from some province in Thibet. They are, for the most part, an inoffensive and peace-loving people, particularly the Lepchas, a nomad race, natives of Sikkim, who possess many virtues and none of the vices of the more highly civilised dwellers of the plains, the Mahomedans and Hindoos.
The dress of these mountaineers is exceedingly picturesque, varying with each tribe as greatly as their language. In a climate like that of the Himalayas they are, of course, fully clad, the material being composed of some warm woollen fabric, woven by themselves in small triangular looms, after a very primitive manner. The Bhootias wear a long loose robe of some brilliant colour; brilliant, that is to say, until subdued by the mellowing influences of time, and its concomitant. This is confined at the waist by a long narrow scarf or girdle, the front of the robe above the waist forming a natural pocket, or 'opossum-like pouch,' in which they keep, when travelling, their little worldly all. I have seen one Bhootia produce from his pouch a canine mother and several puppies for sale, and another any number of cats! whilst from their belt hangs a very formidable knife, fully half a yard long, enclosed in a leathern scabbard, often highly chased with silver. A powerful, square-built, and very manly tribe, armed with these knives, they appear not a little hostile, some experience of their harmless habits being necessary, before one can feel altogether at ease in living amongst them. They are, however, on the other hand, a very wily and cunning people, with much of the Chinese nature about them; and when one of old gave utterance to that memorable and not very complimentary statement regarding the truthfulness of mankind, he most assuredly made no exception in their favour.
Very different in each respect are the gentle Lepchas, who are truthful and honest to a singular degree, those who have had transactions with them declaring that seldom if ever have they known them commit a theft or tell a lie. Their complexion is fair and ruddy, but of that yellowish tinge observable in all the Mongolian races, and, like the Chinese, they are oblique-eyed and flat-faced, giving one the idea that they must have been accidentally sat upon when they were babies, and that they have never got the better of it since.
These peculiarities, however, are more common amongst the Lepchas of Darjeeling, for in the 'interior' of Sikkim, as I afterwards found, when we made a tour to the region of perpetual snow, they frequently possess great regularity and even beauty of feature. These people are intelligent, and great entomologists, scarcely an insect or tiny earth-worm existing for which they have not a name: but although they have a written language, they have no recorded history of themselves. They are much smaller of stature than the Bhootias, and effeminate looking, partly from the fact of possessing neither beard nor moustache, which they destroy by persistent plucking. They also part the hair down the middle of the head, plaiting it into a tail reaching below the waist. Rightly have they been designated the 'free, happy, laughing, and playful no-caste Lepcha, the children of the mountains, social and joyous in disposition.' They are, however, an indolent race, taking life easily, and when not basking in the sunshine when there is any, or huddling inside their huts with the pigs when there is none, their favourite occupation is butterfly catching, with which they contrive to earn a tolerable subsistence, almost every visitor to Darjeeling, scientific or otherwise, making a collection of Lepidoptera, for which the neighbourhood is justly celebrated.
The costume of this tribe consists of a long striped scarf or toga, fringed at each end, with which they drape themselves in an exceedingly graceful manner, allowing one end to fall loosely over the shoulder. A bow, a quiver of poisoned arrows, and a butterfly-net complete their equipment, not forgetting the knife, or 'ban,' suspended from a red girdle, a long straight weapon enclosed in a wooden sheath, quite different in shape from those used by other tribes, called 'kookries,' which are short and curved.
The dress of the women of each race is almost alike; a short petticoat, striped with green, red, blue, and orange, tight bodice, with chemisette and sleeves of white calico, or a long white robe open down the front, and worn over all. Those of the better classes adorn themselves with gold and silver filigree ornaments, in which real agates and turquoises, procured from Thibet, are sometimes set; whilst a tiara of black velvet, ornamented with large coral or turquoise beads, encircles the head. They also wear amulets, or charm-boxes, containing prayers and relics of departed Lamas, such as nail pairings, &c.; and happy and thrice blessed is that fair one supposed to be – her fortune, in fact, made for life – who possesses that most precious of all relics, a departed Lama's tooth.
The Lepchas, though an indolent race themselves, do not allow their wives to enjoy the same privilege, but constitute them their domestic drudges, agricultural labourers, and beasts of burden also. They do not marry young, like the natives of the plains; and when they do marry often have to pay heavily for their wives, a Lepcha father frequently making a small fortune out of the sale of his daughters; some few, on the other hand, being sold for the modest sum of one rupee (two shillings). Occasionally the marriage is permitted to take place before the money has been paid; but in that case the husband becomes, like Jacob, the bondsman of his wife's father, and the wife never leaves her father's house, until the stipulated sum has been either worked out or paid in full.
The planters exempt their coolies from work on Sundays, a circumstance the latter take advantage of, by going to the market, or 'bazaar,' as it is called, to make their weekly purchases. This is situated in a large open space, where the vendors of woollen cloths made in Bhootan, silks woven from the fibre of a worm that feeds on the castor-oil plant, grain, vegetables, and other produce, all squatted on the ground, display their wares. It is consequently always at its fullest on Sundays, when the people, clad in every conceivable colour and costume, flock to it in crowds, and, collected together, form a very interesting and picturesque scene. On one side of the bazaar is a Mahomedan mosque, surmounted with its white cupola, where the devout sons of the Prophet, who have migrated hither from the plains, are wont to resort at their hours of prayer. Above this is the convent, and beyond all, bathed in sapphire, stretches a wondrous expanse of mountain, half filling the sky.
It is one of the prettiest sights possible to see the picturesque mountaineers wend their way upwards from the plantations on their way to market, dressed in all their Sunday best, their hair often adorned with flowers. The ears of the Lepchas and Limboos have large holes in them, from the perpetual dragging of heavy silver earrings; and these they not unfrequently fill with flowers, sometimes those of the large pink magnolia, sometimes the scarlet blossoms of the cotton-tree: the women carry their children on their backs in baskets; and there never were people, I really think, in all the world, half so merry, and free, and light-hearted as these.
Not only are the people themselves picturesque, but all their surroundings, which add not a little to the beauty of the landscape, with which they harmonise marvellously. Their brown huts dot the mountain slopes, the blue smoke curling through the thatch in graceful wreaths, whilst groups of bright-robed figures, sitting or standing about the doorways, form a kaleidoscope of perpetually moving colour. Although by no means indigent as a rule, they love to live and burrow, in tattered huts, surrounded by every kind of squalor, where they and their numerous progeny – the goats, the sheep, the poultry, and the pigs – exist in almost one common apartment, and lie down together a happy and contented family party. A pig to these hill tribes is not the loathsome, unholy, and unclean quadruped it is in the estimation of the Mahomedan and Hindoo, but their much respected brother, with whom in life they love to fraternise, and in due time, when slain, to eat.
Their abodes form perfect studies for a painter; but perhaps they never look so entirely picturesque as at nightfall, just when, the sun having set far beneath the horizon, the mountains, cerulean blue, are veiled in a dreamy haze. At such times these huts, perched on the ledges of the hill-sides, in all their rich deep colouring and ragged outline, a bright fire burning within the open doorway, form pictures indeed.
At one period of my Darjeeling career, I haunted the Bhootia village, or Busti