Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Mussooree, from Landour
MUSSOOREE, FROM LANDOUR.
Upon leaving Hurdwar, we travelled up the valley of the Dhoon to the village of Rajpore, at the foot of the secondary chain of the Himalaya. Part of our journey conducted us through a thick forest of lofty trees, amid which we found the rhododendron in full bloom, together with other strangers to the plains of India. The underwood was composed of richly flowering plants, and the air came loaded with the fragrance of the corunda, whose white starry blossoms are redolent with perfume, which is sometimes almost oppressive to the sense. The fruit of the corunda, which in its wild state resembles that of the black currant, is sweet and well-flavoured, affording abundant and delicious food to wild hogs and paroquets, the former feeding eagerly upon it; when over-ripe, the berries fall, and cover the ground.
In some places, the road formed itself into an avenue, the branches of the trees meeting over-head; near the inhabited portions, however, the jungle has been cleared, and even where it has been left to its natural state, the utmost variety of scenery is to be found in this beautiful valley, part of which is watered by a clear stream shaded by alders, while the turf is enlivened by the amaranth, a bright scarlet and pink flower, and several species of the ranunculus. Here, too, may be found large bushes of sage springing from a carpet of thyme, which gives out its aromatic odour to every breeze. The valley of the Dhoon has been selected for the residence of the political agent of the province, who, however, takes refuge in the hills during the hottest period of the year—an example followed by all who have it in their power to escape to a better climate while the thermometer is at its highest altitude.
The town of Deyrah, the station of the Ghoorka battalion of hill-rangers, has many advantages to recommend it, and is celebrated for a temple sacred to the memory of a Hindoo devotee who was its founder. The pagoda is constructed of stone, embellished with ornaments formed of a peculiar kind of chunam, made from the shells of cowries, and resembling variegated marble. The holy person who built this temple has also won for himself the gratitude of the people of the neighbourhood, by the construction of a handsome stone tank, which occupies an acre of ground, and forms an ornamental, as well as a most acceptable bequest.
The ascent from Deyrah to Rajpore is so gradual as to be scarcely perceptible, but at this point it becomes more abrupt, and is in some places exceedingly steep. Being provided with ghoonts, or hill-ponies, we left our less useful cattle below, and, mounting these rough but sure-footed animals, gave ourselves up to their guidance. Our road led us up the sides of precipices of the most romantic character, craggy with rocks, and richly clothed with trees, descending to the bottom of deep and almost unfathomable ravines, whence, however, the ear can detect the sound of murmuring streams pursuing their course through some unseen channel.
The summit of this ridge is elevated eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and from its utmost height a glorious burst of view is obtained; the plains below stretching far and wide, and bounded on either side by the Jumna and the Ganges, which, at the distance of forty miles apart, pursue their tortuous career, until their silvery traces are lost in the meeting skies. After winding for several hundred miles in a south-easterly direction, these beautiful rivers unite, the Jumna throwing itself into the Ganges at Allahabad, thus enclosing a very extensive tract of country called the Doaab, and by their fertilizing waters rendering it one of the most productive districts in India.
Turning in another direction to the mountain scenery, the view is awe-inspiring; height rises above height, the intersecting valleys seem to be interminable, and the mind is almost overpowered with astonishment, which, as we survey the gigantic wonders of the scene, is not wholly unmixed with a sensation allied to fear. Mussooree, the site of a station which is now one of the chief resorts of the visitors from the plains, stands at an elevation of seven thousand five hundred feet above the level of the sea, and is situated on the southern face of the ridge, called the Landour range, and overlooking the village of that name, which has been chosen for the establishment of a military depot, or sanitorium for those officers and privates belonging to the Bengal army who have lost their health in the plains. The barracks are roomy and comfortable, and there are commodious bungalows for the residence of the officers upon duty. The neighbouring station, distinguished by the name of Mussooree, is daily increasing in size, in consequence of the great resort of invalids to this salubrious spot; but the houses differ very much in appearance, and are inferior in elegance to those at Simlah, the more fashionable hill-settlement. The dwellings erected by the European residents have been compared, not inaptly, to gull's nests on the side of a cliff. There is so little table-land—the level places, composed of a few square yards, being chiefly cut out of the rock—that the foundation of many of the cottages are built up with masonry at the edge of precipices, and there is scarcely an enclosed piece of ground round any dwelling. The roads are narrow, and in many places scooped out of the sides of steeps of the most fearful-looking nature, yet so speedily does the eye become accustomed to the appearance of danger, that ladies gallop along them without experiencing any apprehension. Accidents, however, and those of a very frightful nature, do sometimes occur; but in consequence of the extraordinary activity and sagacity of the mountain ponies, when fatal, they are usually occasioned by some injudicious act on the part of the rider, for, if left to themselves, they are wonderfully successful in scrambling up the steep sides, or holding on at roots or other projections until assistance can be afforded them.
Mussooree is not at present much indebted to the hand of art: the roads are glaringly white, and the appearance of the houses is bare and ugly, even the scenery in the immediate neighbourhood owes its attractions more to space than any thing else: the distant prospects are splendid, but the home scenes want that exquisite beauty which is to be seen to so much perfection in many of the villages of these hills. There are no billiard-tables or reading-rooms at present in Mussooree, which is composed entirely of private houses, and is usually termed the Civil, as Landour is the Military station. The bazaar, though small, and not tenanted by a single European tradesman, is well supplied with necessaries, and even luxuries, wine and beer excepted; but it is enlarging, new demands being created as the station increases in size, while a more picturesque style of building may render it equal in exterior attraction to its military neighbour. The traveller who comes suddenly upon a view of Landour is struck with its beauty, and the picturesque appearance of its scattered houses: being higher up, it is sometimes preferred to Mussooree, but is scarcely at the present period so agreeable as a residence; and the perpetual descent and ascent to and from the latter-named place, which possesses the best bazaar, and engrosses all the life and bustle of the community, are found to be inconvenient. The Mussooree heights are composed of transition limestone, very craggy and bold, and argillaceous schistus, the slate exceedingly crumbling: there is also a large vein of trap in its valleys, for though geologists did not expect to find volcanic rocks in the Himalaya, trappean rocks have been discovered in some hundred places on this side of the gneiss, mica, slate, and granite country.
No great expense is incurred in the building of the houses at Mussooree, the abundance of timber,(though it has recently been cut down with too unsparing a hand,) affords beams and all the woodwork, in its immediate vicinity: the oak and rhododendron, the latter attaining the size of a forest tree, supply these materials. Bricks may be made close at hand, should a preference be accorded to them over the stone, which is only to be dug from the adjacent quarries. Some Europeans have been rather unfortunate in the site of their houses; others are more happily placed, sheltered from the north wind, which, passing over the snowy mountains, exercises a chilling influence over every thing exposed to its keen blasts: the trees on the northern side of the range are stunted and withered, but luxuriance and beauty characterize the south; the one being covered with rhododendron rich with flowers, while the other is gloomy with pines.
The splendid tree mentioned in the foregoing paragraph bears a magnificent crimson flower, and forms one of the most beautiful, as well as the most prominent, features of the scene; the cherry, pear, and barberry are also found. The neighbouring valleys and ridges afford, to the lovers of field-sports domiciled at Mussooree, abundant opportunities of procuring every sort of game, although there may be some difficulties in the pursuit: pheasants are exceedingly numerous, and of great size and beauty, and those who are fond of the study of natural history in any of its departments, will find an ample field for their labours, in a country abounding with objects of interest.
The first European mansion constructed at Mussooree belonged to Colonel Young, who commanded a Ghoorka corps stationed in the Dhoon; it was called the Potato Garden, in consequence of a plantation of that useful vegetable, and remained for some years the only habitation of the kind upon the hill. It is very prettily situated, perched upon the summit of one of the lower eminences, or rather knolls, clustering together, and rising one above the other from the Mussooree range. This hill is wooded with scattered trees, looking, so judiciously are they placed, as if they were planted for effect; it is less steep, and better adapted for garden ground, than many of the hanging terraces attached to the more recent erections.