Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Crossing the River Tonse by a Jhoola, or Rope Bridge
CROSSING THE RIVER TONSE BY A JHOOLA, OR ROPE BRIDGE.
Having crossed the rivers of these districts, as we thought, in every sort of way; that is, by fording, wading, swimming, on the trunk of a tree, by means of a sangha, and the more commodious edifice at Bhurkote, we were destined to be initiated into a new method of getting over the stream. The natives, who would form excellent materiel for rope-dancers, perform the operation with great apparent ease, by holding on with hands and feet, and making a sort of loop of their bodies; but, for people who are unaccustomed to such exercise, there is a wooden slide attached to the rope stretched across the water, which is at this place too broad to be spanned by any bridge of native construction, being about seventy or eighty yards in width. The left bank is considerably more elevated than the one opposite, and from this side, a three-stranded rope, about as thick as a man's wrist, was attached to a log of wood, secured among the rocks. The rope being then stretched across the river, was passed through the prongs of a fork, or wooden prop, planted firmly in the ground, and the rope, now divided into three strands, was secured to the trunk of a tree kept in its place by a heavy weight. Upon this rope, which is well twisted and greased, is placed a semicircular slide of hollowed wood, with two handles, to which a loop is attached; the passenger seats himself in this novel conveyance, taking hold of the handles, and is launched from the higher to the lower bank with considerable celerity; a thin cord at the same time remaining attached to the slide, from either side of the river, for the purpose of recovering it, or of pulling the traveller from the lower to the higher bank, in which event the passage is more slowly made.
Other jhoolas in the mountains vary a little in their construction: half a dozen stout worsted ropes are stretched across the river, and fastened to a projecting buttress on
each bank. On these ropes runs a block of wood, which is drawn backwards and forwards by persons stationed on either side of the stream, by means of strings attached to it. There are other loops, which pass round the body of the passenger, who, thus secured, swings off from the buttress, and is dragged across. In this manner, goats and sheep are conveyed one by one; and though the jeopardy appears to be considerable, it is only occasioned by the danger of trusting to a rope which has seen too much service. If the apparatus be new, and sufficiently strong to bear the weight placed upon it, there is no sort of danger in this method of getting across the deep and rapid rivers of the Himalaya; but such circumstances are not to be depended upon, and several fatal accidents have attended the fragile state in which these jhoolas are but too often permitted to remain. It is, perhaps, necessary that the rope should break, and drown one or two passengers, in order to enlighten the people in the neighbourhood with the necessity of repairs—for they are seldom at the trouble to take the length of time in which it has served their purpose, the fragile nature of the materials, and their liability to injury from exposure to the weather, into consideration.
The existence of the river Tonse was not known to Europeans until the year 1814. Too soon losing its name in that of the Jumna, which it trebles in size previous to its junction with the more celebrated stream, it is one of the most considerable of the mountain torrents. When it issues from its bed of snow at an elevation of twelve thousand seven hundred and eighty-four feet above the level of the sea, it flows in a grand volume, thirty feet wide and three deep, maintaining its dignity of character until its confluence with the river, which should, if rivers had their just rights, have been considered its tributary. During its comparatively short career, the Tonse receives into its bosom the waters of several other beautiful streams; the Rupin is one of the most interesting. Descending in the course of our tour to its left bank, we passed through a forest of intermingled birch, cedar, and rhododendron, crossing the river by one of the numerous arches of snow, which afforded a safe bridge, and ascending some hundred feet to a high crag, thickly wooded, we obtained a view which, accustomed as we now were to mountain scenery, struck us with admiration and surprise. The precipices overhanging the torrent were grand beyond all conception; one, at least two thousand feet in height, rose perpendicularly like a wall, and above it mountain was piled upon mountain like gigantic ladders piercing into heaven: the river thundered at a fearful depth below, while the surrounding rocks were draperied with foliage, every cleft holding the roots of some luxuriant shrub or magnificent tree. A rugged path led us again to the bed of the Rupin, and our journeys always consisting of a series of ascent and descents, we afterwards mounted upwards through forests of enormous filberts, walnut, elm, ash, cedar, and fir. Here our march was diversified by crossing a sangha forty-four feet in length, flung over this tumultuous stream, which led us into softer scenery, through wood and brake, and, after passing another torrent, along a path which commanded a beautiful succession of cascades silvering the side of the opposite mountain, we arrived at our encamping ground for the night.
However varied, delightful, and exciting to the traveller a tour in the Himalaya may be, the descriptions given of each day's march must necessarily appear monotonous; there is no possibility of conveying to the mind of the reader the gratification which we have experienced in some new burst of scenery, when, emerging from the sombre labyrinths of a thick forest, we come suddenly upon one of those glorious landscapes which fill the whole soul with ecstasy. It is even more than realizing the early dreams of youth, inspired by the perusal of Shakspeare's beautiful description of the forest of Ardennes, while thus living under the greenwood tree—thus enjoying the contemplation of nature in her wildest and most magnificent solitudes. The winter and rough weather which we encounter occasionally in our progress, only serve to heighten the enjoyment of the heavenly serenity which we so frequently experience, while the necessity, sometimes existing, of depending upon our guns for the supply of the table, gives a new interest to the day's march.
Our Mohammedan attendants take care that the most and the best shall be made of every thing; for in our case certainly his satanic majesty has not provided the cooks. No sooner have they arrived on the encamping-ground, and they do not loiter idly on the road contemplating the scenery, than they set earnestly to work. A fire is kindled in a hole in the earth, and a sort of oven, or hot-hearth, constructed, with which the most delicate operations of the cuisine may be accomplished. If we have no charcoal to roast withal, our birds are braised; if milk is obtainable, it is speedily converted into butter; and these thrifty fellows, foreseeing the difficulties of procuring the materiel for a fry, will, when they get a sheep, carefully preserve the suet for future consumption.
If time and opportunity permit, we may find our cold partridges at breakfast embedded in savoury jelly, formed of the head and feet of the animal that feasted ourselves and our followers the day before; wherever there are eggs, there are omelettes; our soup is flavoured with fresh herbs and roots; and sometimes, when our spirits have failed at the too strong chance of being obliged to rest content with a cake of meal for breakfast we have been most agreeably surprised by a broiled jungle-fowl appearing on the table almost by magic. These jungle- fowls, which are the domestic poultry in their wild state, are excellent eating, finer and of a better flavour, perhaps, than any game bird, with the exception of the florikin. They are shy, and run very swiftly through the bushes, so that it is difficult to procure them, even where they abound; but we had a shikaree (native hunter) in our suite, who was always successful where success was possible. There is one great advantage in having Indian servants; the better class, and it is useless to employ any other, thoroughly understand their business, and set about it with an earnestness that nothing but the most adverse circumstances can damp. It is their duty to get a dinner for their master, and they consider their honour concerned to make it the best that the nature of affairs will admit. Every kind of spice and condiment which may be wanted in a long journey, is carefully provided for the occasion; and whenever it is possible, a feast is spread, and little luxuries produced, as unexpected as they are welcome. In fact, travelling in the Himalaya combines all the pleasures of savage life, and all the conveniences of the highest state of civilization, subject, of course, to the accidents and mutations which journeying over so rough a road must necessarily produce.
One of the least agreeable vicissitudes of a mountain tour consists of a continued succession of rain, in which event the spirit and energy of our followers are literally drenched out of them; wet to the skin, the tents wet, and every thing wretchedly damp and uncomfortable around, they have little or no vigour left to meet the exigencies of the case. Happy to find a dry cavern, or the shelter of some overhanging rock, they cower round a miserable fire of wet sticks, looking the very pictures of wo. Our friend who had traced the course of the Baspa in Kannowar, had suffered exceedingly from the frequent duckings and deluges to which the party had been subjected, and narrated with glee the joyful change which took place when he and his people, dripping and disconsolate, were accommodated by some friendly villagers with lodgings in an old temple. The shelter of a dry roof, and a good floor, after damp ground and wet canvass, can only be fully appreciated by those who have enjoyed them. Fires were kindled, garments dried; and faces, elongated to the most doleful length, expanded in the blaze, and became cheery again. Our meeting with this gentleman has been already mentioned, and an extract from the diary kept by him while wandering in Hungrung, a district bordering upon the Chinese territories, will shew how frequently Anglo-Indians encounter each other in these mountain tours. "Two days after our return to Nako, there arrived three officers of the——dragoons, the first Europeans we had seen for a long time; and as they were pleasant fellows, the meeting proved very agreeable. At Hango, on the 2d, we found Dr. W. and Capt. A., and in the Rurang pass, fourteen thousand feet high, we came upon the Rev. Mr. B, chaplain at——."
To proceed, however, with our own travels. We pursued our route to the south bank of the Tonse, opposite to the spot where the Rupin, (having come 10,000 feet, 350 feet per mile of descent, in less than thirty miles,) joins the larger stream. We crossed the Tonse at this place by a sangha, and commenced our descent down a tremendous precipice, which led to a gorge even more awful than any we had yet passed. Emerging, we obtained a noble view of a snowy mountain, and, climbing again, entered a forest of pines which led us along a high ridge overhanging the river, and afforded at every opening the most enchanting views possible, the mountains being wooded to their summits, and shewing every rich variety of foliage as they swept along in graceful undulations, now in dark shadow, and now glittering in sunshine. Some of our party were of opinion that this part of the country would be most desirable as the site of a new station, since it forms a kind of frontier, or neutral ground, between the tamer and the sublimer scenery, and commands every variety of prospect which either can yield; while, if the notion which they entertained concerning the capability of timber being floated down the Tonse and the Jumna could be realized, the proprietors would be speedily enriched by the speculation.