Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/The Village of Kursalee

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The Village of Kursalee.


This village, which is well built, and which stands at the height of seven thousand eight hundred and sixty feet above the sea-level, is one of the largest of the class usually found in the Himalaya, consisting of at least thirty houses, with a population amounting to nearly three hundred persons. It is seated on a plain of considerable dimensions on the left bank of the rocky ravine which forms the channel of the Jumna, surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains piled one upon another, some dark with rock and forest, and others shining in all the bright resplendence of eternal snow; it is reached by an extremely steep and rough road, which presents a magnificent view in front. Although the winters are said to be very severe, and the temperature always rather low, Kursalee is a place not only of great beauty, but abundance, being cultivated into a perfect garden, well wooded with luxuriant fruit trees, which, while they add so much attraction to the landscape, are pleasingly associated with ideas of wealth and comfort to those who live beneath their shade.

The people of Kursalee have now become much accustomed to the visits of European strangers on their route to the source of the Jumna, and it is the custom for the principal inhabitants to come out to meet the pilgrims, of whatever religion, who pass through. The Hindoos are exceedingly tolerant in their faith, and are, generally speaking, eager to extend the benefits to be derived from their gods to every body who comes in their way; and though conversion is not exactly their object—for to be any thing but a pariah, the followers of Brahma must be born in the faith—desire to enlist votaries in his service. Accordingly all who choose to submit to it, are daubed on the forehead with the distinguishing mark of yellow ochre, denoting the peculiar thakoors, that is, the heads of the doctrine, to which they subscribe, some inclining to one sect, and some to another. The Hindoos in the service of European strangers joyfully avail themselves of this testimonial of their near approach to what they consider to be one of the most holy places in the world. Christian pilgrims dispense with the ceremony altogether, but while omitting any mark of respect to the pagan deities of the scene, it will be very long before the hill-people will believe that motives connected with science, or mere curiosity, have induced them to submit to the toils and dangers which religious zeal seems alone sufficient to surmount.

At a short distance from Kursalee, the celebrated hot spring occurs which issues from the bed of a torrent that joins the Jumna at a place called Banass. This torrent rushes from the cleft of one of the mountains which hem in a small valley, or rather dell, and rushes down in one unbroken volume from a height of at least eighty feet: the hot spring which issues from the base of the opposite mountain, and mingles its waters with its colder but more impetuous neighbour, is of a scalding description, and will not admit of the immersion of the hand or foot for a single moment. The thermometer stands at 144° when placed in the nearest part of the hot spring to its junction with the rock whence it flows. The water is pure and tasteless, but there appears to be something ferruginous in the spring, as the stones are discoloured, some being encrusted with a black substance.

The rocks from which it issues are all quartz, surrounded by gneiss and mica schist on every side, except one, down which the torrent rushes, wearing the rock as smooth as marble in its fierce descent.

This spot is considered by the Hindoos to be exceedingly holy, and they are rapt in religious ecstasy, happy in the belief that they have secured the road to heaven, while the European surveys with admiration and wonder the sublime features which the great Creator of the universe has here assembled. The width of the channel allowing the river to spread at this place, renders the stream not so tumultuous as above and below, and its comparatively tranquil surface forms a pleasing contrast to the furious tributary which rushes into it. The rocks, piling themselves one above another in fantastic confusion, are peopled by thousands of pigeons, which, when disturbed, flock out in clouds; and here, a fitting scene for such a guest, the gigantic elk of these mountains finds a favourite haunt. The country round about partakes of the same wild, sublime, and savagely romantic character. Paths, rough, rocky, and dangerous, ascending and descending across the sides of steep precipices, down to deep ravines, and then winding upwards, lead to a halting-place on a ledge or terrace, where the hunter may take his stand, and watch for an opportunity to slay the musk deer, which, though scarce and shy, are sometimes attainable; while the traveller in search of the picturesque looks down heights of many hundred or even thousand feet, watching the course of some neighbouring rill, which flings itself in cascades to the dark abyss below. The foliage of these tremendous solitudes harmonizes well with the character of the scene, it is sombre, luxuriant, and heavy; but in his wanderings the pilgrim comes upon rich clusters of white roses, while the innumerable family of ferns, mingled with a bright variety of flowers, spring beneath his feet.