Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/The Bridge at Bhurkote
THE BRIDGE AT BHURKOTE.
In travelling through the hill-districts, we are continually surprised into a remark respecting the changeful nature of the scenery on our line of march, and it is impossible to attempt to give even the most brief description of the country, without a constant repetition of the observations to which these sudden alterations in the landscape give rise. The transitions from heat to cold, and vice versâ, are frequently very sudden, as we ascend and descend; sometimes dreadfully annoyed by the incumbrance of our clothes while passing through a deep and sunny valley, and envying the freedom of our followers, who make no scruple of divesting themselves of every superfluous garment—and at others shivering with cold.
The features of the landscape are subjected to equally striking mutations: a horrid region of barren rocks, bare and bleak, without a trace of vegetation, surmounted by beetling cliffs frowning in unreclaimed sterility, afford an awful portraiture of desolation and famine; no living creature is to be seen in these dismal solitudes, neither bird nor beast intruding on the rugged wild. The pass threaded, we mount some steep and rocky pathway, and, gaining the summit of a ridge, look down for several hundred feet upon a tangled scene, trees scattering themselves between the rocks, and an impetuous torrent running through them with dash and foam; anon, we emerge into green and smiling pastures, enamelled with flowers and shaded by fruit-trees, and showing some interesting memorial of the ingenuity and industry of man, such, for instance, as the bridge at Bhurkote, which is, in its way, a perfect specimen of the architecture of the Himalayan engineers.
When the stream is too wide to be spanned by single trees, the banks are brought nearly to a level by the means of stone buttresses erected on either side; these are surmounted by rows of stout beams, laid close to each other, one end projecting about one-fourth of their length across the river, and the other secured to terra firma. Over them another row of beams is placed, projecting still further, and supported by those below; and in this manner the sides are raised, floor above floor, until the vacant space between may be crossed by single planks. The whole is very skilfully put together, neither glue, rope, or nails being employed; the absence of these articles, and the tools which an European workman would consider necessary for any structure of the kind, being supplied in a very ingenious manner by contrivances which are quite sufficient for the purpose. Even the masonry is occasionally bound together with a frame-work of wood employed as a substitute for mortar, and so admirably managed as to give great strength and security to the fabric. The platform across is furnished on either side with rails; but although they afford some appearance of safety, the springing motion of the planks, and the rapidity of the current which hurries along the rocky bed beneath, render considerable steadiness of brain necessary in crossing. The bridge of Bhurkote is constructed of a species of larch, and the river is shaded by some very fine alders, which here attain a gigantic size.
Our sportsmen filled their game-bags, after a very exhilarating pursuit of the furred and feathered race, most beautiful to the eye, and certainly excellent eating. The antelopes which they succeeded in killing emulate in speed the swiftest of their kind. At the slightest alarm they begin their flight, for such it may be called, doubling up their limbs close to the body, and bounding along with such graceful and elastic springs, that they scarcely appear to touch the earth, and seem to wing their way bird-like through
Bridge at Bhurkote.
the air. When closely pursued, the speed increases; fleet as thought, they bound across astonishing distances at a time, springing over very considerable heights, and, but for the fatal bullet, would leave pursuit far behind, since horses and dogs would have no chance against them. The monal, or hill-pheasant, a most superb bird both in size and plumage, affords a very acceptable regale for the hungry traveller; and though the fish of these mountain-streams, usually the leather-mouthed kind, are not particularly good, they form a welcome variety to the daily fare. Sometimes the shikarrees, native-hunters, bring in a wild sheep for sale in our camp; the specimens we have seen are large animals with short horns, and superior in flavour to the common sort of the hills, at least we thought them so; but gastronomical opinions, given under the influence of sharp appetites in these mountainous regions, are not always to be relied upon as infallible. When too much fatigued to enjoy a meal, or suffering from heat or indisposition, we are apt to pronounce the mutton coarse, rank, or flavourless, which under other circumstances we should extol as the finest it had ever been our fortune to banquet upon. The existence of wild sheep was not known until our occupation of these hills placed the matter beyond a doubt; many flocks have established themselves in inaccessible regions, where they tantalize the traveller by their appearance upon some green slope, so effectually encircled by impassable ravines, as to defy the intrusion of man, and completely out of the reach of the shot which many persons in mere wantonness would fire at them.