Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/View at Simla
VIEW AT SIMLA.
Simla deservedly takes rank as the superior European station of the hill-districts; the spot which it occupies has risen to its present rank and importance in consequence of its having been chosen for the summer residence of the political agent, stationed at Subathoo for the purpose of maintaining a good understanding among the various potentates in the neighbourhood. Visited in his encampment under the cedars, by several friends, anxious like himself to escape from the heat of the plains, it seemed desirable to erect a mansion, which was expeditiously accomplished, and, the example being followed, considerable numbers of picturesque and commodious dwellings have sprung up in all directions. The Earl of Amherst, governor-general of India, as early as the year 1827, was tempted to pay a visit to Simla. Lord Combermere made it for some time his head-quarters; and, to the strong interest taken by this public-spirited commandant in the prosperity of the infant settlement, it is indebted for a great many improvements, especially for an excellent road, broad, safe, and not possessing any unpleasant acclivities; a bridge, represented in the accompanying engraving, spanning a ravine which it crosses in its progress. This road encircles the principal hill, and is about two miles in circumference, thus affording an agreeable ride or drive to the inhabitants; but there is another, which stretches to a very considerable distance, of sufficient breadth, and sufficiently level to ride along with rapidity and safety. Bungalows, or post-houses, have been erected at the end of each stage, varying from eight to twelve miles in distance, for the accommodation of travellers proceeding into the interior ranges of the Himalaya, on the road to Chinese Tartary; and this route affords great facilities for persons who have no desire to penetrate so far, to make themselves acquainted with the character of the country, without being exposed to the hardships and dangers which they must encounter in following the primitive tracks with which the natives have been content.
The greater number of houses at Simla range from seven to eight thousand feet above the level of the sea; a very considerable portion of wood enters into their construction, the walls being strengthened by stout beams introduced at intervals; some of the roofs are nearly flat, having just sufficient slope to allow the rain to run off, and are formed of chunam, a peculiar kind of stucco used in India, intermixed with wood, and closely cemented to the rafters; others, however, are sloping with gable-ends, (Major Kennedy's being of this description,) and rather Chinese in their appearance : many, indeed all the situations, are exceedingly beautiful; the summit of a small green knoll, sheltered by a steeper hill at the back, and looking down upon a valley, being usually chosen, every part magnificently wooded with pines of various kinds, the larch and the cedar, evergreen oak, and rhododendron, the two latter not bearing the same proportion as the former.
The gardens are numerous and thriving; potatoes, cabbages, and other vegetable esculents grow very freely, and beautiful parterres of flowers may be obtained by the mere trouble of transplanting the numerous wild varieties which wreathe the side of every hill; while the seeds procured from the plains are easily matured. The greensward is at Simla enriched with the violet, the primrose, red and white roses, some double and some assuming the form of a creeper, convolvoli of many kinds, the whole family of geraniums, the orchis, and others of great beauty peculiar to the hills. The rose may
be seen climbing to the summit of a tall tree, and mingling the profusion of its perfumed flowers with the dark foliage of the larch. Fruit is abundant, but the quality requires the improving hand of cultivation; pears and apples inhabit the deep glens, and would doubtless, by transplantation and grafting, be rendered very superior to their present condition; in their wild state they are hard and tasteless. At Mussooree, an English apple-tree having been successfully introduced, has already furnished several grafts. This plant came from Liverpool, and proved the only one which survived the long journey to the upper provinces of India, whence being transferred to the hills, it was preserved from the heat and rains of the plains, which are found to be so destructive to European plants. This single apple-tree cost upwards of seventy pounds before it was planted in the botanic garden at Mussooree, where it flourishes luxuriantly, and will in all probability be the means of bringing its congeners of the hills to perfection. The walnuts are excellent and abundant, and the peach and apricot, being cultivated in the villages, are of good quality; these, together with the strawberries, form a very acceptable dessert. Extremely fine grapes are imported from the countries beyond the Sutlej; and the bazaar is very well supplied with mangoes, oranges, and plantains from the plains. It has not been thought advisable hitherto to shock the prejudices of the natives by slaughtering beef in the hills, and butcher's meat is therefore confined to mutton and pork, the station being indebted to the political agent of Subathoo for the establishment of a piggery. A difference of opinion exists respecting the comparative excellence of the mountain mutton, free to browse on the grass that clothes the thymy hills, and the gram-fed sheep of the plains; and where high authorities disagree, it is very difficult to determine: game is of course abundant; but there was at first some difficulty in raising domestic poultry, which became diseased and blind; doubtless, this inconvenience will in future be obviated.
The abundance of game at Simla has been disputed by sportsmen of great authority; but the disappointments of which they complain, were in all probability the results of imprudence arising from their want of acquaintance with the right way of going to work: determined sportsmen have found it possible to employ dogs with success, and they enjoy opportunities of woodcock-shooting which can never be gratified in the plains. Dogs are frequently essential in getting up the birds, the woodcock can very seldom be flushed without them, for on the beaters coming down a nullah, the game will run up the bank unperceived, and will of course elude them, but the dog, which of necessity accompanies the beaters, immediately acknowledges the scent, and when the bird stops, comes to a point: some descriptions of pheasant can scarcely be made to move by the beaters, who have been known to pitch large stones into a bush where a dog had come to a point, without getting them out; the dog has been blamed, when, behold, the moment the disappointed party have turned away, out would scud three or four birds, running and threading the jungle like hares. Other descriptions of game-birds are more easily attainable with dogs, and the dog is indispensable in securing birds which on being shot have fallen into thick jungle. The pointer suffers considerably from his rough encounters with thorns and jungle, and therefore should be well fed, carefully treated, and hunted only two days in the week; if proper attention be paid to him, he will thus be enabled to keep the field during the whole season. It is also very necessary to maintain a vigilant eye over our canine favourites at Simla, when not employed in the chase, for the hyena and the leopard are their deadly enemies; the former prowls about at night, and will sometimes in the dusk of the evening rush at a solitary dog, and walk off with him with the greatest ease, occasionally carrying one away from the very door of a European dwelling. The leopard will make the attack in open day, and when pursued, these animals manage to conceal themselves with so much adroitness as to lead the party to believe that they take to earth. They do not attempt to attack the large hill-dogs belonging to the natives, and the latter sometimes assemble a pack together, and hunt the cat-a-mountain to his very lair, or rouse him in his den. A solitary tiger will occasionally straggle up to the neighbourhood of Simla, and the natives, though not distinguished for their bravery, will on such an emergence attack him very boldly. A shikarie, or huntsman, surprised one in the act of pulling down a cow; he shot him through the head with a bullet from his matchlock, and, following up the victory, closed upon him, and divided the spine with his sword. To those persons acquainted with the danger of approaching a tiger, however severely wounded, such an instance of personal courage will be justly estimated.
An excellent bazaar is established at Simla, which is well supplied with foreign products and provisions from the plains—the former, of course, on account of the length of carriage, at rather an expensive rate. Hitherto, though much wanted, nothing in the shape of a house of public entertainment has been attempted. It is rather surprising that while Europeans are always found ready to embark in indigo speculations, and to waste their lives in some horrid solitude, half the year compelled to the most dangerous superintendence of the labours of the factory under a climate fraught with disease, and the other half condemned to miserable inactivity; no one has been found to take up a project which could not fail to produce an excellent return for the capital laid out, and which would prove a pleasurable employment of time.
Three thousand pounds would suffice for the purpose of establishing an hotel at Simla, which, with proper care, must be rendered very productive, since the high rent of houses, and the expense of building them, deter many families and vast numbers of single men from visiting the hills, who would otherwise gladly make them their summer resort. A commodious family dwelling-house averages, in building complete, from three to five hundred pounds; and the hotel premises would, of course, cost the proprietor a proportionate sum, according to their extent. The ground is to be obtained on application to the political agent, at a trifling annual rent paid to Government; and there are various spots in Simla admirably calculated for the purpose of an hotel; one in particular on the entrance, and one at a higher elevation, comprising a succession of terraces, which would afford ample room for spacious buildings, out-houses, &c., and excellent garden -ground. Besides the families who seek health in the hills, numerous parties would run between return-days from Meerut, Loodianah, Kurnaul, and the adjacencies, if they had a place in which they could be accommodated without the necessity of carrying every thing with them excepting their wearing apparel. The landlord might also keep a number of goonts, and let them out to the public at considerable advantage; these ponies are procurable at exceedingly low prices at the annual fair at Rampore, and they may be fed upon barley, which is cheap in the hills. The hotel-keeper, besides the profits of his house, would have an opportunity of setting up, unrivalled, as general provisioner and farmer, and, in a very short time would be dependent only upon foreign supplies of wine and brandy. There is no doubt that brewing might be very successfully undertaken at Simla, and he could supply the whole station with beer, butcher's meat, poultry, butter, and cheese. Pickling, preserving, and confectionary might be carried on upon a large scale; the candles and lamps supplied from the oil and wax which the hills produce in abundance; and when the visitors quit the station, which is usually about November, the return taking place in March, the winter months might be very profitably employed. Wax, honey, cherry -brandy, preserves of all kinds, the skins of the numerous wild animals properly prepared, shawls, which may be purchased great bargains, and the soft, light, warm, excellent blankets made from the coarser portions of the wool of Thibet, would, with many other articles, prove excellent investments for sale upon the plains, Labour is cheap, and there would be no difficulty in procuring the services of excellent cabinet-makers from Bareilly, or other towns in India, to manufacture furniture upon the spot. The same plan might be adopted at Mussooree with equal advantage; billiards and reading-rooms forming a portion of the establishment, while a garden, carefully attended by a regular resident, would be equally profitable with the nursery grounds of England. The hill-stations are rapidly increasing in size; and families intending ultimately to build, would gladly put up in the first instance at an hotel, while, until their gardens and farm-yards had considerably progressed, they would seek their supplies from the general provisioner. In a climate so healthy, employments so exciting, and such constant communication with strangers arriving from distant places, the occupations of a family keeping an hotel at Simla must necessarily be exceedingly beneficial to both body and mind; while, as a matter of course, if conducted on a liberal scale, and for moderate profits, they would speedily lead to wealth.
Simla boasts a theatre and assembly-rooms, and is often, when visited by the rich and the fashionable portion of the Company's civil and military servants, the scene of great gaiety. During the sojourn of Lady Barnes and Lady Bryant, a fancy-fair was held in a romantic glen, named Annandale from the lady who first graced its solitude. The talents of both ladies and gentlemen were put into requisition to furnish drawings, and fancy articles of every kind, while there were many goods for sale, for use as well as ornament; the proceeds being collected in aid of a native school, to be established at Subathoo, for the purpose of affording mental instruction, needle-work, and other useful arts, to the female Ghoorka children; a boy's school at the same place having been found to answer. A fete of this nature seemed particularly adapted both to the features of the scene, and the talents of the subordinates employed: native genius always appearing to great advantage in the open air, tents were pitched amid the pine-groves of this romantic spot, and the interiors spread with productions of great taste and elegance, drawings and sketches of the magnificent scenery around, forming a very appropriate contribution. The most interesting, however, of the numerous objects of interest, was a profusion of garlands, wreathed of the flowers of the Himalaya, and brought to the fair by the first class of the boys of the Subathoo school, attended by the old Gooroo, their superintendent. These were offerings of gratitude to the ladies who had so benevolently sought to extend the advantages of instruction to the whole of the native community, whether male or female, who were so fortunate as to be within the circle of their influence. Between seventy and eighty pounds were collected, very high prices having been cheerfully given for the articles put up for sale, the drawings especially being in great demand.
- The experiment of making beer has been tried at Meerut, and failed, but the causes which prevented success upon the plains, would not operate in the hills. The hop plant could be freely cultivated, and what is still more essential, as a substitute can be found for hops, the manufacture of malt might be carried on, which requires an equable temperature unattainable in the plains. In addition to the large consumption by Europeans, good beer would find a ready sale amongst the richer classes of natives, who are not fettered by the restrictions imposed upon more orthodox Hindoos. Amongst other customers, the brewer might reckon upon Runjeet Singh himself, for we are informed by the Delhi Gazette, that the Lion of the Punjab having heard that Furtee Allee, shah of Persia, had derived great benefit from the use of beer, sent to Loodianah for a hundred bottles of Hodgson's best.