Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Crossing the Choor Mountain
CROSSING THE CHOOR MOUNTAIN.
The height of the loftiest peak of this magnificent mountain is ascertained to be twelve thousand one hundred and forty-nine feet above the level of the sea, being the most considerable of the range south of the Himalaya, between the Sutlej and Jumna rivers. From its commanding position it turns and separates the waters of Hindostan, the streams rising on the southern and eastern face being forced into the direction of the Pabar, the Giree, the Tonse, and the Jumna, which find their way over the great plain into the bay of Bengal; while those that have their sources to the north and the west are compelled toward the Sutlej and the Indus, and, uniting in the last, pour their waters into the Arabian ocean.
During a considerable part of the year, the Choor is hoary with snow, and in bad weather intense cold may be experienced at the elevation which we had reached, a short distance below the loftiest peak. We here found ourselves in a region of ice; and when moonlight came and lit up the scene, we were charmed by the novel effect produced by the floods of molten silver which shed their soft radiance over the snow. Moonlight, ever beautiful, amid these snowy masses assumes a new and more exquisite charm. The rugged peaks, stern and chilling as they are, lose their awful character, and become brilliant as polished pearl; the trees, covered with icicles, seem formed of some rich spar, and the face of nature being wholly changed, we may fancy that we have reached another world, calm and tranquil, but still and deathlike. The storms, however, which frequently rage and roar through these solitudes, effectually disturb the serenity of the landscape, and frequently the whole scene is enveloped in clouds, which, upon some sudden change of the atmosphere, will draw off like a curtain, revealing the cold bright and pearly region beyond. To be overtaken by a snow-storm in crossing the Choor, proves one of the least agreeable varieties in a tour through these hills.
Hitherto our journey had proceeded very prosperously, but we were not destined to complete it without sustaining considerable inconvenience from inclement skies. While marching rather wearily along, the aspect of the heavens changed, the clouds darkened over our heads, and presently down came a heavy storm of hail, which was quickly followed by snow falling fast and thick. On reaching our tents, we found them loaded with snow, which lay several feet in depth upon the ground, while the only wood attainable was not to be procured without great difficulty and toil. There was no fire, consequently no cookery, and the night was passed in a miserably freezing condition. Morning dawned only to shew a fresh fall of snow, and the prospect of more, for if the fleecy shower ceased for a few minutes, the change merely developed a sullen black canopy above, threatening to overwhelm us with its fierce discharge. Loud rose the cries of mutiny in our camp; many were the groans uttered by our followers, the native coolies not scrupling to vent their feelings in words, while our Mohammedan servants, paralyzed and aghast at a predicament so new to them, looked unutterable things. As long as the snow lasted, there was no possibility of doing any thing to effect an improvement in our comfortless condition, patience being the sole resort—and that, it was vain to expect to teach men dragged against their own consent into so disagreeable a dilemma. At length we began to fancy that their predictions might be accomplished, and that there was a chance of our being buried in the snow. The wind blew very cold, adding for a time to our sufferings; but presently, about noon, the clouds began to break away, and to reveal patches of blue sky and welcome glimpses of sunshine; in another hour the heavens became clear and glorious, and then we made an attempt to render our situation more comfortable. Persuasion, threats, and tempting promises of reward, at length induced our half-frozen followers to bestir themselves in real earnest. They braced their energies to the encounter, and, having procured sufficient fuel, fires again blazed in our camp; and, though the cold was still intense, its bitterness was alleviated by the influence of the warm potations which we were now enabled to imbibe. The weather still continuing to improve, we rose in the morning with renovated spirits, and notwithstanding the fierce intensity of the cold, and the difficulties which the large masses of snow encumbering our path threw in our way, proceeded vigorously onwards. We were sometimes up to the waist, and frequently knee-deep in the snow, which concealing the danger of a road over rough and rugged blocks of granite, occasionally threatened precipitation into some treacherous abyss, in which life and limb would have been perilled. We ourselves got on tolerably well, but our people, loaded with baggage, lagged far behind, and we were obliged to be content with a sort of canvass awning rather than a tent, only a portion of our usual habitation being forthcoming at night, and to make a scanty meal of tea and hastily-kneaded cakes of flour.
The servants who had accompanied us from the plains looked in these emergencies the very images of despair; they were completely at fault, knowing not what to do in so unaccustomed a difficulty, and feeling perfectly incapacitated from the effects of the frost, which seemed to shoot bolts of ice into their hearts, and to freeze the very current in their veins. It was impossible not to sympathize with them in their distress, as we lay upon the cold ground, and recollected how active these men had been during the burning-hot winds, which peeled the skins from our faces, and obliged us to take shelter under the leather aprons of our buggies from its scorching blasts, whilst respiration seemed to be on the very eve of suspension. If we found the cold difficult to endure, how much more sensibly must it affect people who, habituated to heat which affords to Europeans very lively notion of a dominion which must not be named "to ears polite," bask delightedly in the beams of a sun which heats the earth like a furnace, and to whom in the most sultry weather a fire never appears to be unacceptable.