Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/The Abbey and Hills from near Mussooree


Although the general appearance of Mussooree might have been much improved by more tasteful arrangements on the part of the early residents, yet there are many habitations which possess a very considerable portion of picturesque beauty; and amongst these, the mansion which has, with greater regard for early associations than for local appropriateness, been entitled the "Abbey," stands conspicuous. We ought not perhaps to quarrel with a name; and it is always pleasing to surround ourselves in a foreign country with memorials of our loved and distant home, but the term Abbey is so closely connected with the monastic institutions of a Christian land, and in England usually serves to perpetuate the memory of some pious brotherhood, established, in times long passed, upon the soil, that we can scarcely be reconciled to its transplantation to a scene to which it is so singularly ill-adapted.

Travellers of any taste or feeling have continually to quarrel with the names given by European settlers to places in foreign countries, since they are frequently extremely barbarous, and nearly always ill-chosen. India from numerous causes has suffered less from this kind of desecration than other scenes of European adventure; Barrackpore and Fort Hastings being the only places throughout the British presidency which bear an anglicised name. Not wishing, however, to be hypercritical, we pass over many circumstances which might be alleged against the appellation of the Abbey, and proceed to say, that it stands apart from all other habitations, occupying a very commanding site on the extreme summit of a rugged mountain. During the fine weather, the prospects attainable from this elevated situation much more than compensate for any disadvantage, but there is a season of rains in which it is completely enveloped in mist, and in which the clouds penetrate through every aperture. The entrance of fog into a house is sufficiently disagreeable, but in these altitudes the clouds take the same liberty, and suddenly, if sitting in an apartment with the door or window open, the inhabitants may find themselves wrapped in a very poetical, but a very inconvenient garment. The storms also which are experienced in these exposed situations are exceedingly terrific; occasionally they rage below the residence chosen upon some sublime peak, but at other times they pour their fiercest fury on the devoted mansion, thunder and lightning occurring in the midst of a snow-storm, while a tremendous hurricane at the same time threatens destruction to every thing it meets in its sweeping progress. The noise of the thunder,

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The abbey and hills from near Mussooree.
Himalaya Mountains, India.

as it peals and reverberates through the hills, affords a very forcible idea of the crack of doom, seeming indeed as if the globe itself must be shattered, and falling to pieces, while the lightning, if possible more terrific, flashes out in broad sheets, or flies like winged arrows through the sky, assuming that beautiful but appalling shape which in its zigzag course brings deadly havoc wherever it alights.

The extent of mischief occasioned by these frightful contentions of the elements is often very great; and it is with fear and trembling that, after the storm has passed away, the owners of live-stock go out to survey the ravages it has made;—trees torn up by the roots, rocks precipitated from their foundations, the soil and the vegetation having been borne along with them in their descent to some dark abyss, and sheep or poultry lying dead upon the ground—are among the usual casualties; while sometimes there is added the still more heart-rending destruction of human life.

During the months of July and August the rain falls almost incessantly, and the inhabitants of Mussooree being only able to take short walks and rides between the showers, must find amusement for themselves within their houses. At this period the view from the Abbey is extremely circumscribed, but good fires will impart a glow of genial warmth and comfort to the weather-bound, and whenever the sky clears up, the most beautiful effects are visible in the scenery either wholly or partially unveiled by the sunbeams breaking through the clouds. A lover of nature, domiciled in one of these altitudes, will always find something to interest and engage the attention, in the numerous changes which take place in different states of the atmosphere, giving endless variety to scenery always sublime. Sunrise is accompanied by the highest degree of splendour in these alpine regions, lighting up the mountain-brows with gold, and flinging over the snowy range those gorgeous hues which the hand of nature alone can create. Then, as the mists curl upwards and disappear, how beautifully do the distant towns and villages come out, shewing scenes of loveliness which seem like fairy-land!

Mussooree assumes a very interesting appearance at night, with the lights from its numerous houses, and the fires which native servants always kindle on the ground wherever they can find space, marking the site of each homestead. Many of the builders of these mansions have been influenced in the choice of a site almost wholly by the prospects it commands, but there are other considerations which the prudential have kept in view. Amid these is the accessibility of water, for though it may be heard and even seen meandering through the bottom of the ravine which the house overlooks, yet it is not always easily attainable, and becomes very costly on account of the expense of the carriage. The neighbourhood of the bazaar is also advantageous, but a spring of water is always the great desideratum. The materials for building, as we have before remarked, are close at hand; and speculative workmen from the plains, better versed in the art of constructing houses for European residents, than the mountaineers, may be procured at a moderate rate. Estates are purchased or rented upon lease from the rajah of the district, who is very willing to let land to strangers, which has hitherto contributed little or nothing to the revenue. Spots thus taken are indicated by a board bearing the proprietor's name, who thus frequently possesses himself of a large and beautiful estate, consisting perhaps of a whole hill covered with forest trees, and stocked with abundance of game, of which he is sole master, subject only to some regulations which have been lately found necessary to prevent the wanton demolition of timber. In the dearth of amusement, the cutting down trees, either for fuel, or merely for the purpose of watching their fall, formed the employment of vacant minds, whose organs of destructiveness were strongly developed; but such pastimes have been restricted, and those who would have disregarded the suggestions of the more tasteful, are obliged to abide by the orders of government. In consequence of the frequent mutations of Anglo-Indian society, the Abbey has more than once changed its master, and has always been considered a desirable property, notwithstanding its exposure to all the winds of heaven. It is scarcely possible to have a finer or more extensive view than that which is commanded from the windows. The gigantic Choor is visible to the right, capped with snow, which remains unmelted during the greater part of the year, while it looks down upon hills and valleys in endless succession, flourishing villages surrounded with wide cultivation, scattered hamlets, and thick forests; a partial glance of the Dhoon, and the plains beyond, closing in the prospect to the left, while in the distance the river Jumna may be seen threading the mazes of the champaing country, and marking its course in silver.