Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/View near Jubberah

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View near Jubbera.


The village of Jubberah lies to the north of the Mussooree and Marma ridges, on the route from the latter towards the source of the Jumna. The hills at this place have the regular Himalaya character, a three-quarter perpendicular slope, to a hollow, from which at once a similar hill strikes up. From the summit of a neighbouring promontory we obtained one of those striking views which so much delight the lovers of the picturesque, but which, though they fill the bosom with strange and thrilling emotions, would be unfitted for canvass. The pure white pyramid of one of the highest of the snowy range, towering in bold relief to the clear heaven, which it seemed to touch, contrasted finely with the dark hills in front, yet with so abrupt a transition, that persons who never beheld so novel an effect, would fancy any attempt to portray it, to be some wild vagary on the part of the artist. Indeed, it has been very justly remarked, that the most common Oriental sky is often thought to be an exaggeration, when its mellowed beauty is represented on paper or canvass at home, and yet no painting can afford a just idea of its peculiar glory.

The skies of England, though not without their charms, and producing occasionally some fine effects, do not afford the slightest notion of this mountain hemisphere, with its extraordinary variety of colours, its green and scarlet evenings, and noon-day skies of mellow purple, edged at the horizon with a hazy straw-colour. It is impossible, in fact, to travel through the Himalaya, without perpetually recurring to the rich and changeful hues of its skies; every day some hitherto unnoticed state of the atmosphere producing some new effect, and calling forth the admiration of the most insensible beholder. This is particularly the case at dawn; for while the lower world is immersed in the deepest shade, the splintered points of the highest range, which first catch the golden ray, assume a luminous appearance, flaming like crimson lamps along the heavens, for as yet they seem not to belong to earth; all below being involved in impenetrable gloom. As the daylight advances, the whole of the chain flushes with a deeper dye, the grand forms of the nearer mountains emerge, and night slowly withdrawing her obscuring veil, a new enchantment decks the scene: the effects of the light and shadows are not less beautiful than astonishing, defining distant objects with a degree of sharpness and accuracy which is almost inconceivable: and until the sun is high up in the heavens, the lower ranges of the mountains appear to be of the deepest purple hue, while others, tipped with gold, start out from their dark back-ground in bold and splendid relief. A new and sublime variety is afforded when a storm is gathering at the base of the snowy chasm, and dark rolling volumes of clouds, spreading themselves over the face of nature, give an awful character to the scene.

Our day's march to Jubberah was peculiarly agreeable; we had risen as usual with the sun, enjoying the sweetness and freshness of the mountain air, and, after a steady advance of some hours, in which a great part of our journey was performed, came to a peculiarly beautiful spot, where we found our breakfast laid out, our people having gone forward, as usual, to prepare it. It was a platform of rock, scooped by the hand of nature in the precipitous side of a shaggy mountain: above our heads crag piled itself upon crag, the interstices being richly clothed with foliage, forest trees springing from the rifts, while creepers threw down their wild garlands to our feet. In front, and all around, we looked upon a chaotic confusion of hills, some separated from us and from each other by narrow and deep ravines, and some running in long ridges, throwing out what appeared to be endless ramifications.

While seated at our repast, we observed another European traveller at a considerable distance, pursuing the path which we had just trodden, and, having the day before us, we awaited his approach. We found in this gentleman a very acceptable addition to our party, he being well acquainted with the mountains, and having spent a considerable period in places out of the common route of the tourist, and where, previous to his arrival, the English were only known by name. In looking over the notes of my fellow-travellers, I found none so copious or interesting as those which he made during his wanderings through the valley of the Baspa, and, as they form a very agreeable variety to each day's itinerary, little apology need be made for inserting some interesting extracts in this place.

"The Baspa derives its source from a lofty range of mountains, shutting in the valley to which the river has given its name, to the east, and forming the boundary of Koonawar, a small and fertile district, situated between the Sutlej and the Jumna in that direction. The Baspa runs nearly east and west in a stream of considerable volume, expanding occasionally over a broad bed of stone, and assuming at these times a tranquil character, as its shallow waters glide calmly along. In many places, however, the stream narrows, as it is girt in on either side by rocky banks, and then it pursues its course with headlong fury, rushing over its rugged bed in a sea of foam, and with a velocity which defies all comparison. At length, three miles below Sungla its savage beauty is completed, as, suddenly contracting in breadth, it forces its passage through a frightful chasm, so narrow as to admit of one of the rude native bridges being thrown across it, and, bounding from rock to rock, it flings itself in fearful torrents over the gigantic obstructions which chafe, but cannot delay it in its rapid flight. From this point, until it throws itself into the Sutlej, its waters are perfectly ungovernable, dashing madly down a steeply inclined plane, and forming cataracts as they leap over the ridges of rock which continually cross the bed. The river gathers foam as it goes surging along, and while flinging up dense masses of spray, which descend again in silvery showers, roars and rages with terrific violence, sending forth wrathful sounds like the angry messages of some incensed deity, which tell of impending ruin.

"Those who have brains and nerves to bear the frightful whirl, which may assail the steadiest head, plant themselves on the bridge that spans the torrent, and from this point survey the wild and awful grandeur of the scene, struck with admiration at its terrific beauty, yet, even while visions of horror float before them, unable to withdraw their gaze. On the right, the snowy ranges shoot up their hoary peaks to a tremendous height, while to the left the inferior chains extend far and wide, shewing an endless variety of forms, all clothed in a mantle of green, the luxuriant herbage darkening into forests of pine, and the whole fertilized by innumerable streams. Imagination, however vivid, can scarcely figure to the mind a prospect so grand and thrilling, and the most gifted pencil would fail in the attempt to delineate its savage splendours: lying out of the common track, it is not often visited by Europeans, although perhaps no portion of the Himalaya affords so many attractions to those who delight in contemplating the more wondrous works of nature."

Arriving at Sungla, our friend was just in time to be present at one of the religious festivals celebrated annually by the natives of the valley, at which, according to the custom prevailing throughout Asia, a fair was also held. The people who attended were congregated in a small plain about a mile from Sungla, having brought out their gods in whose honour the assembly was convened. They consisted of four images, two of Narayan, one of Nagus, or the snake god, and one of Budrinath: these were placed upon a moveable throne, not unlike the rath or car of Juggernaut, draperied with gay-coloured tissues, and placed upon a circular platform of stone, which upon other occasions served for the purpose of treading out and winnowing corn. The images, though frightful enough, were less barbarous than some which are exhibited in the plains; each was furnished with a considerable number of faces, carved in gold and silver, and of no mean execution. They were crowned with enormous plumes of the silken hair of the cow of Thibet, dyed in purple and red, and profusely garlanded with the flowery products of the neighbouring jungles, many of great beauty and fragrance, and some of the splendid blue which is the least common of the varieties which the floral wreath exhibits. Around these idols, weapons of various kinds, and the ornaments belonging to the different temples, were piled, forming altogether a most fantastic group, and shewing the perversity of the human mind, in preferring such grovelling objects of worship in a scene so strongly indicative of the power and grandeur of the Creator of all things. One of these monsters, who figured as the principal divinity, and who mounted eighteen heads, six of gold and twelve of silver, was honoured by the imperial chattha or umbrella, a mark of sovereignty said to have been bestowed upon it by a pious rajah, who having made a pilgrimage to one of the most sacred places in the mountains, brought away the image of Narayan, which now bears the name of Budrinath in honour of his former residence.

The religious ceremonies consisted of a peculiar, frantic kind of dance, performed by persons of both sexes, and of all ranks, who formed themselves into a ring, holding each other's hands, and moving round to the music which should have marked the time. This dance was led by one of the chief attendants of the temples, who regulated the movements somewhat in the way of the conductor at the Italian Opera, using a silver-handled chowrie, instead of the roll of paper; and the musicians, who performed upon various instruments, all more or less barbarous, likewise made the circle with the dancers. Never were deities welcomed with greater noise and clamour, or more horrid dissonance. Time and measure were equally set at nought, each striving to make himself heard above the rest; drums beating, trumpets blowing, cymbals clashing, mixed with the shriller blasts of the clarions, and an indescribable twangling and jangling besides. Some of the instruments were of considerable value, being formed of silver, and purchased by a subscription from the chieftain of the neighbouring district, and the inhabitants, who seemed to delight exceedingly in the noise, that reverberated in an astounding manner through the hills, returning upon the ear in prolonged echoes, which would have been not unpleasing at a greater distance.

As the dancers flagged, or deemed it expedient to allow others to take a share in the rites, their places were supplied by new performers, the ring being composed of about fifty persons at a time, of a very motley character—rich and poor, the ragged and the splendidly attired, joining together in great amity. Every body appeared in their best garments, and all were adorned with flowers; but notwithstanding these beautiful decorations, the costume was any thing but attractive, while many individuals made a very sorry and squalid appearance. Many of the women had extremely long hair, but this natural beauty, though plaited and adorned with considerable care, had not the greater charm of cleanliness to recommend it; the long black braids, descending nearly to the feet, were surmounted by caps of black and scarlet woollen cloth, exceedingly dirty, and raising disagreeable ideas in the mind. The women wore silver and gold ornaments across the forehead, rich and fantastical, but not particularly becoming; and those who were wealthy enough, loaded themselves with a great variety of tasteless incumbrances—chains and bells of precious metals, a profusion of ear-rings, and silver fringes pendent over the eyes, while their bracelets, necklaces, amulets, nose rings, finger rings, and clasps of various kinds of coloured stones, were innumerable.

Petticoats of woollen dyed in stripes, generally red and blue, formed the principal garment of the women, and to this a boddice was added, sometimes of coloured chintz, the favourite material of the richer classes;—the costume which would have been pretty had it been clean, and worn by persons of less offensive habits, being finished by a mantle folded gracefully over the left shoulder, and fastened in front by an enormous clasp made of brass, grotesquely carved and exceedingly heavy, some of them weighing nearly two pounds.

Part of the company were of a very tatterdemalion description, having little covering except of dirt, and such clothing as they had, hanging about them in shreds and patches.—This poverty-stricken appearance did not prevent them from meeting with a good reception, and the poorest and the dirtiest mingled freely in the dance, linking themselves with the rich and the gay, whose expensive clothing and superabundance of ornaments contrasted strangely with their rags. Contrary to the general custom throughout the Himalaya, where every village sends out its troop of professional dancers, there were no public performers at this meeting, the whole promiscuous assembly assisting at the ceremonials. The scene was certainly animated and picturesque, the principal group revolving round the centre, while others were scattered about, some resting under the shade of noble walnut-trees, others lying down upon the grass, after the manner of the ladies and gentlemen depicted in the illustrations of the Decameron.

On one side, a belt-like range of wooded hills, backed by the more lofty Kylass towering in eternal snow, formed a part of the magnificent amphitheatre, the open valley sloping down to the Baspa, which went dashing and foaming along, swollen and turbid with the melting of the icy glaciers above. Worn out perchance by the wasteful exertions of their lungs, a sudden pause took place amongst the instrumental performers; the instant the music ceased, the dancers broke up, and the whole assembled multitude made a simultaneous rush to the spot in which the deities were enthroned; the inhabitants of each village, seizing upon their god, carried him off without further loss of time; and thus the whole concourse dispersed, as if by enchantment.

Bending their steps to Sungla, the party found the people of the village assembled in an open area in front of the temple, dancing in the same order as before, that is, joining hands, and advancing and receding instead of making the round. They accompanied themselves with their own voices, singing or rather chanting in a wild but not unpleasing manner, completely suited to the occasion: the females were the principal performers here, as well as in other places, the sex manifesting a great predilection to arts which men, both civilized and uncivilized, sometimes regard with disdain. Meantime both men and women indulged very freely in the juice of the grape, drinking deep of the wine, which is imbibed without scruple by these unorthodox Hindoos. The dance, under these circumstances, degenerated into a romping-match, which was kept up until strength and steadiness failed, many measuring the ground in a hopeless state of intoxication, which prevented every effort to rise.

The village of Jungla is small and scattered, in consequence of fires, which on two several occasions committed great havoc among the houses; it is situated on the Thibet side of the snowy chain, and, at the base of the range, at an elevation of nearly nine thousand feet above the level of the sea. The houses are constructed of stone and cedar, the upper story overhanging the road in the peculiar manner which characterizes native architecture in the Himalaya. The air is humid, and unfavourable to several kinds of cultivation, especially that of the grape, which is, however, extensively grown in Koonawar, for the purpose of making wine; while other intoxicating liquids are obtained from different species of grain, the process employed being very effective in procuring a potent spirit. A quantity of dough being prepared and baked, is immersed in wooden vessels with half its weight of water, and buried in the earth for six days in the warm, and nine days in the cold season. Another ingredient is then obtained from grain sown, and plucked up as soon as it appears above the ground; which being dried in the sun, and reduced to powder, is mixed with four times its weight of dough, and then boiled over a slow fire, when it yields a spirit, which is doubled in value if submitted to the boiling process a second time.

Peas and beans thrive very tolerably, but the turnip does not succeed so well, on account of the quantity of rain which falls at this place. The valley of the Baspa is considered to be without the influence of the periodical rains, but though not exposed to the torrents which fall elsewhere, it is visited by such frequent showers, that the ground is kept constantly wet. The tobacco, like all that is at present grown in the hills, is of an inferior quality; the natives improve it for smoking by a mixture of an intoxicating drug, obtained from the leaves and seeds of a plant which exudes a glutinous substance: black cummin is a product of the valley, which the cultivators export to the plains of India; and two descriptions of dye are obtained from the Indian madder; the red sort is in great request, both for giving a vivid colour to the wool which is woven into garments, and as a substitute for the more delicate preparations of rouge used by foreign belles. So efficacious is this root considered in India as a beautifier, that the women, who are particularly anxious to improve their charms, swallow it under the idea that it will heighten the complexion, and add brilliance to their whole appearance. The fruit-trees attain, at this elevation, a very luxuriant growth; and walnuts, nectarines, and apricots, the latter especially, are found in great abundance. The kernels of this fruit form the principal fare of many of the neighbouring inhabitants, in addition to a kind of spinach, and the coarser descriptions of grain.