Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Entrance to the Keeree Pass, leading to the Valley of Deyrah Dhoon
ENTRANCE TO THE KEEREE PASS, LEADING TO THE VALLEY OF DEYRAH DHOON.
A visit to the Hills, the common term applied in India to the inferior ranges of the Himalaya mountains, forms one of the most agreeable diversities which can occur in the lives of the European residents of Hindostan. Many are compelled to try the effects of a more bracing climate for the recovery of health; but the love of the picturesque, and a desire to seek amusement in change of scene, prove the principal incentives to a great number of travellers.
In a tour of pleasure to the hills, made by a party from whose journals the following notes have been taken, the route pursued lay through the district of Saharunpore, a part of the province of Delhi, which at one period was said to have formed the granary of the upper country. Though portions of the land are still very fertile, its condition at the present time is not so flourishing; the devastating influence of the Ghoorka invasions having been very severely felt. A new era, however, is opening for India; and, as we surveyed the magnificent prospect around us, our hearts warmed with the hope that the lapse of a quarter of a century would add to their sublimity attractions of another kind—those which will arise from the skilful application of science in aid of the natural resources of the country.
The view of the Himalaya from a spot in the vicinity of Saharunpore, is of that dreamy, poetical description, which, though full of beauty, presents little that is definite. Two inferior belts, divided from each other by deep intersecting vales, appear tier above tier, the pyramidal snow-capped heights, which seem to lift themselves into another world, crowning the whole with almost awful majesty. From this site, the mountain ranges have all the indistinctness which belongs to the land of faërie, and which, leaving the imagination to luxuriate in its most fanciful creations, lends enchantment to the scene. The pure dazzling whiteness of the regions of eternal snow, give occasionally so cloud-like an appearance to the towering summits, as to induce the belief that they form a part of the heaven to which they aspire; while in other states of the atmosphere they stand out in bold relief, either catching the rays of the sun, and reflecting a golden tint, or rearing their lofty points, white with the unsullied snow of ages, against a darkened sky, shewing that while all else on earth is liable to change, they endure immutable and for ever.
The northern part of the district of Saharunpore lies within the influence of the hills, and rain occasionally falls throughout the year along the Sewalik range, at the distance of a few miles; but notwithstanding that it is traversed by streams which take their rise from springs in these hills, it suffers from want of water; and there is every reason to believe that Artesian wells might be formed with great success, and much advantage to the district.
The city of Saharunpore is of very ancient date, but possesses few or no remains of interest: a fortress strengthened for the purpose of resisting the incursions of the Ghoorkas, and a religious institution in the neighbourhood, being the only places worthy of a visit, with the exception of the botanical garden, which forms, indeed, its principal attraction. Though not so great a pet of the government as the Calcutta establishment, the garden at Saharunpore is kept in excellent order, the most being made of the comparatively small sum allowed for its maintenance. Common report states, that this useful and ornamental work owes its existence to the family of Zahita Khan, a former chief; but it must have undergone great changes since its early formation, being laid out in serpentine walks, which, with their flower-borders, and shrubs of foreign growth, render it truly English in its aspect. Divested of the formality which characterises native plantations, the garden at Saharunpore may be said to combine all the advantages of a highly embellished pleasure-ground with the interest of the nursery, and on this account to excel many of the most celebrated specimens of landscape-gardening at home. There are rides and drives through this beautiful enclosure, which, being secluded, and free from dust, become the favourite places of rendezvous for the European residents of the station. Amongst the splendid creepers, denizens of a tropic clime, arising in verdant pomp, there is a more humble stranger, the ivy, which grows with the utmost luxuriance, and by its association with home scenes, the ancient village church, and old baronial hall, awakens a thousand tender recollections in the breast of the traveller: here, too, is to be found the violet, betraying itself by its delicious odour, and bringing with it thrilling remembrances of our loved and distant native land. Amid a large collection of hill trees and shrubs, which shew the possibility of inuring the hardy denizens of the north to the heat of the Indian plains, there are splendid specimens of the flora of Hindostan. The plants are generally cultivated in the first instance at Mussooree, a station in the hills, and the experiments made at Saharunpore have been confirmed at Bareilly, where a fir-tree may be seen thirty feet in height, together with the walnut, cherry, barberry, hawthorn, and apricot, which grow without much care being taken in their cultivation. Bareilly, however, seems to possess a soil peculiarly favourable to foreign products: it is celebrated for the excellence and abundance of its strawberries, a fruit which, though growing freely in some parts of India, cannot always be cultivated with success.
Saharunpore may be called the threshold of the hill districts; and, in addition to its garden, the scientific traveller finds other objects of interest, some gentlemen-residents having opened a rich and inexhaustible mine of fossil remains in the Sewalik hills. This range abounds with relics of a former world, and is also said to be favourable to the growth of the tea plant, which the inhabitants of Sukroudah affirm, upon traditional authority, to have been brought there in former times by a fakeer, but subsequently lost in consequence of neglect. The religious establishment mentioned as being one of the lions of Saharunpore, consists of a body of Gosseins, one of the numerous tribes of Hindoo devotees. This class distinguish themselves by dyeing their hair yellow, and substituting oil and ashes for more decent covering; they present one of those anomalies so frequently found among the people of India, many of them practising the most frightful austerities, for the sake, it would appear, of worldly wealth; for these deformed, miserable-looking wretches are said to be rich, and to indulge occasionally in all the luxuries of life. The Gosseins of Saharunpore are great patrons of monkeys—animals which are held sacred all over India, but are in some places peculiar objects of veneration. It is said that in one of the battles of a favourite god against a powerful enemy, the giant, Humaoon, led an army of monkeys to the assistance of the nearly-worsted deity, and thus turned the tide of fortune in his favour—a service for which they have been ever afterwards tolerated, and, in many instances, worshipped, by the idolatrous portion of the natives of India. Where monkeys reside under the protection of a fraternity like this of Saharunpore, they are subjected to a very necessary degree of control, and learn to conduct themselves with as much propriety as their natural propensities will admit. There are certain limits assigned, which they are not allowed to pass with impunity, whatever may be the temptation to commit a trespass. Every day at noon, one of the Gosseins on whom this duty devolves, rings a bell, which causes the whole of the monkeys attached to the establishment to assemble in front of the temple, where they await their diurnal meal with all the gesticulation and grimace which such a crowd would naturally exhibit. The moment that the priest, bearing an earthen pot filled with grain, is descried, the whole party is on the qui vive, pressing forwards to the utmost limit, and endeavouring to get before their brethren, and thus secure the greatest share of the provant. Should any unlucky wight, in his eagerness to approach the tempting vase, overstep the bounds assigned, he is beaten and turned out. The grain being scattered amongst the expectant crowd, a general scramble takes place; each strives to fill his pouch at the expense of his neighbour, and, while biting, scratching, and tearing, is intent upon the grand object of the fray. Amid this fierce contention, the grain speedily disappears, the largest possible quantity being bagged in the shortest possible time; and at the sound of a second bell the monkeys make their exit. There are, however, festival days, on which, in addition to their usual allowance, they are regaled with fruit; the whole scene affording much entertainment to the by-standers, who, whatever their religious creed may be, are allowed to witness it without scruple.
On leaving Saharunpore, on our march to the valley of the Dhoon, our road conducted us through the Keeree Pass; and this lovely portal to a new country gave delightful promise of the scenery beyond. The distant view which we had caught of the true Himalaya, the birth-place and abode of the gods of Hindostan, was lost, and the scene became one of the softest beauty imaginable, the devious valley winding through rocky eminences, and richly clothed with stately trees. At every step of our progress, the landscape changed its features, and, though the character remained the same, presented so great a variety of forms, of crag and precipice, wild rock, deep forest, and smiling valley, that we paused continually in delightful amazement—now recognising, with that joy which the exile alone can feel, in suddenly encountering some well-known object, points of resemblance between our northern homes—and now struck with wonder by some splendid production of an Indian soil. Here, in all its native luxuriance, may be seen the giant creeper, which, with justice, is denominated the monarch of its tribe—the scandent bauhinia. This enormous parasite winds its snake-like stem, which attains the size, and somewhat resembles the body of the boa-constrictor, round the trunk of the forest-trees, either mingling its flowers with their foliage, or flinging them from the festoons which it forms from branch to branch as it travels along. The rich scent of these superb blossoms, together with that of the baubool, filling the air with perfume, and gratifying at once the sight and smell.
The elevation of these low hills, composing, as it were, the outworks of the Himalaya, varies from five to nine hundred feet above the plains, and about two thousand five hundred above the level of the sea. Geologists describe them as being composed chiefly of sandstone of different degrees of destructibility, of indurated clay, and beds of rounded pebbles and gravel, circumstances which characterise them throughout the range, from Hurdwar to its termination. The thick forest and brushwood are full of peacocks, and, amid game of less importance, the tiger is to be found, while hares, and the black and gray partridge, literally swarm in the neighbourhood. There are two halting-places in the Keeree Pass, one the Mohun Chokee, at the entrance, and the Shoupore Chokee within the pass, which extends to a length of upwards of six miles. Our party consisted of several persons, and we had with us a numerous cortege, comprising horses, elephants, and bullocks, for the conveyance of the baggage; our encampment, therefore, was extensive and picturesque, and rendered animated by groups of our people assembled round their fires, the horses and elephants picketed under the trees, with the bullocks reposing on the ground. In looking out on this scene, we all experienced an exhilaration of spirits which the cool and bracing air, and the anticipation of pleasures still to come, were so well calculated to produce. It is not, however, at all times and seasons that travellers journeying through these low passes, of which there are several, to the Valley of the Dhoon, can rejoice in the climate; for at some periods of the year, few can encounter the malaria, which comes laden with jungle fever, with impunity. Vegetation, in the thickly-wooded regions which form the outer belt of the Himalaya, riots in the strength given to it by the extensive swampy places which intersect the forests, and the exceeding heat of the solar rays. Nurtured in this hot and damp atmosphere, the coarser weeds and grasses exhale a rank steam, which impregnates the whole air, warning the traveller to pass onward without delay, and to guard by every means in his power against the attacks of the insidious enemy. Unfortunately, it is at the most deleterious season of the year that the sportsman, in India, is tempted, by the abundance of the nobler kinds of game, to try his fortune in these pestiferous jungles. The ardour and excitement of the pursuit, the active employment of the mind, for ever upon the alert to make the most of some favourable circumstance, and the unyielding spirit which defies all hazards, and seems to delight in danger, certainly in many instances prove great preservatives. An old sportsman, one who has survived his early training, enduring, without the natural consequences of fever and ague, long field-days against the tiger in the hottest weather, may set all the physical ills which flesh is heir to at defiance; but there are many who break up in this dangerous attempt, some speedily finding a grave, while others return home with impaired health or ruined constitutions. Three young officers returning from a tour of pleasure in the hills, and incautiously exposing themselves to the malaria of the forests, which skirt their bases, were struck down with fever, and, though living to reach a spot where medical aid could be obtained, speedily fell victims to their temerity.
There are parts of these woody ranges so strongly infected with poisonous exhalations, that at the worst season they are deserted even by the brute creation; monkeys, tigers, every species of quadruped, together with the birds, urged by some instinctive warning, quit the deadly spot, and seek a resting-place in distant and more healthful scenes.