Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Village of Mohuna, near Deobun
VILLAGE OF MOHUNA, NEAR DEOBUN.
Mohuna is built upon a high ridge in the secondary Himalaya, stretching between the Tonse and the Jumna, which at this place is called Deobun, and gives its name to the tract lying to the north-westward of Landour. The ridge itself is characterized by the peculiar beauties of these mountain scenes, and presents a succession of rugged rocks piled grandly upon each other, entwined with lichens and creepers of every kind, and affording at intervals large clefts whence spring the giant wonders of the soil, magnificent trees of immense girth and redundant foliage. We pitched our tents upon one of a series of terraces which, according to the mode of cultivation necessary to be pursued on the steep sides of these mountains, are cut for the purpose of affording a level surface to the husbandman.
The lofty, precipitous, and almost impracticable rocks above, are the favourite haunts of the musk deer, a denizen of these mountains, which is highly prized, and which
Mohuna, near Deobun.
attracts the pursuit of hunters, who climb the apparently inaccessible crags, risking life and limb for the purpose of securing this valuable species of game. In many parts of the Himalayas, the musk deer and the hawk are the property of the state, and in Bussaher particularly, and many other principalities between the Sutlej and the Jumna rivers, they are claimed by the chieftain, who gives a reward for those brought to him, while any person convicted of having otherwise disposed of these regal tributes is liable to a heavy fine.
The petty barons offer hawks and musk-bags to the princes to whom they are feudatory, and many of the assessed villages make up a deficiency in their revenue by presenting their musk-bags, which are received at a certain valuation. They are sold throughout the hills, and are particularly vendible at the Rampoor fair, the drug being exceedingly acceptable to those luxurious nobles, who can afford to mix it with the tobacco and other ingredients of the highly-perfumed chillum. Musk-bags may be purchased of a good quality, that is, tolerably pure, in the hills, at about ten or twelve rupees each; but it is difficult to get the drug any where in its pristine state, and by the time it reaches the plains, and travels to Europe, it becomes a vile adulteration. The rustooree, or muskdeer, is rather larger than the common red or ravine deer of the plains; its colour is very dark brown approaching to black, and it is distinguished by a peculiarity which it requires a scientific zoologist accurately to describe; the skin being covered with a very singular texture, more resembling short soft thin quills than hair or fur, neither of which it can be said to possess. It has tusks which turn downwards, and a sort of apology for a tail; the musk-bag only occurs in the male, and as there is little or no difference between the sexes, in size or figure, to direct the pursuit of the hunter, a great deal of trouble is sometimes taken to secure an animal, which, if a female, proves valueless. The flesh is eaten by the mountaineers, but Europeans consider it to possess too spicy a flavour.
English sportsmen often obtain a fair shot, but the natives have another and surer method of securing the game. No sooner is a musk-deer espied, than the people of the nearest village are made acquainted with the circumstance, and the whole population are aroused by the intelligence, and convey it with extraordinary celerity to their next neighbours. The country being up, a cordon is formed round the destined victim, heights are climbed which appear to be perfectly impracticable, and men are to be seen perched like eagles upon the steepest points and pinnacles. The moment that the whole party have taken up their position, the assault is commenced by hurling down large fragments of stone; and the deafening cries and shouts of the hunters so bewilder the affrighted animal, that he knows not where to turn. Meantime he is wounded, the ring closes round him, he seeks vainly for some opening, and in the desperation of his despair would plunge madly down some steep abyss, but there also he is mocked by horrid shouts, and now, struck to the earth by some overwhelming blow, he sinks to rise no more. The musk-deer are seldom met with lower than eight thousand feet above the level of the sea: when taken young, endeavours have been made to rear them in a domesticated state, but the attempt has failed—they die speedily in captivity.
The hawk of the Himalaya is very highly prized; it is taken alive for the purpose of training, and carried down into the plains for sale, where, if of the best description, it fetches a high price, a hundred rupees, that is, ten pounds, being given for one of these chivalric birds.
Mohuna, the village in the neighbourhood of our tents, is very beautifully situated, the sites of the small hamlets of these mountain districts being generally judiciously situated, it would be difficult, however, to make an unfortunate choice, and the people seemed a quiet harmless race, happy in the enjoyment of the few necessaries which formed the sum total of their wants. The natives of these districts are good-natured and obliging, and may be easily managed by kindness, by those who endeavour rather to humour than to force them out of their prejudices; a practice to which the scornful European is rather too strongly addicted. The women were particularly civil and kind-hearted; and indeed, from our earliest occupation of these hills, they have manifested a very amiable attention to the comfort of those white strangers who have invaded the most remote districts. At first the apprehension of danger from persons of so extraordinary a colour, rendered them anxious to conceal themselves, but speedily discovering that in reality they had nothing to dread, they dismissed their fears, and came forward with all the little services which their limited means enabled them to offer. In passing through a village, the women will frequently bring out, unasked, milk and fruit for the refreshment of the travellers; and although, according to the custom of all semi-barbarous countries, they are looked upon with great contempt by the other sex, we found them generally more intelligent, as well as more communicative, than the men; and they are certainly quite as industrious, taking their full share, or even a greater proportion, of the manual labours of the field. A love of flowers seemed to be the most elegant taste manifested by the people of these hill-districts; they were fond of adorning themselves with the wild garlands which grew profusely around. They did not appear to regard with any deep feeling of admiration those splendid prospects so eagerly sought by the lovers of the picturesque; and beyond those local attachments which render the inhabitants of hill-districts more unwilling to quit the homes of their children than any other race of people, they seemed to take little interest in scenery which threw us into raptures. Contrast is perhaps necessary for enjoyment of any kind, and it was impossible to make them comprehend the motives that induce Englishmen to wander through strange lands for the mere purpose of seeing the country, and admiring the prospects.
In every part of the Himalaya which we visited, we were surprised by the abundance of fruit trees, and berries of every description. In some places the strawberries completely carpet the ground, which appears crimson with the multitudinous offspring of this prolific plant. The neighbourhood of every village absolutely teemed with the almond, the peach, the apricot, the plum, and the cherry; in some places we found walnuts and chesnuts in great quantities. Many deserted villages are now only indicated by the apricot trees which still remain to shew "where once a garden smiled," and it is said that in consequence of their great abundance all over the country, scientific men find it difficult to ascertain whether they are indigenous to the soil, or have thriven so luxuriantly in consequence of transplantation to so congenial a clime. The natives of the Himalaya frequently feed their cattle with apricots, and obtain an oil from the kernels which is highly esteemed throughout India. In Caubool, a country much farther advanced in civilization and refinement, where the apricot also abounds, it is said to be preserved in fourteen different ways; the finest of these preparations finding a ready sale in distant kingdoms. In India, particularly, the preserved apricot, having an almond substituted for the stone, is reckoned a great delicacy, and always figures at the banquets of rich natives. The cherry requires cultivation to render it an acceptable guest at the dessert, but it makes excellent cherry brandy; and upon the first occupation of the hills by the servants of the Company, their friends in the plains were agreeably surprised by presents of apricot jam, cherry brandy, and sacks of walnuts.
Some of our party, though unprepared to imitate the native hunters in their pursuit of the musk deer, took their guns in search of smaller game, following through an almost endless flight of fields—which, from their very peculiar construction, have been aptly described as a fitting staircase for the Titans of old—the black partridge, the pheasant, and the hill-chikor. The former-named bird is in great favour, in consequence of making an excellent figure on the table, with the sojourners of the hills; the male is a beautiful creature, with a glossy star-spangled breast; he is to be seen in all the grassy ridges which intersect the fields, and the calls of his fellows may be heard on all sides—a peculiar creaking note. The hill-chikor also abounds, and of this species there are several varieties, larger, but resembling in plumage the red-legged partridges of France; it is also followed by its call, which bears a strong similarity to the low cluck of the hen of the poultry-yard as she leads out her young brood.
Marching along a country like that described in the accompanying plate, has a picturesque, and, not to speak it profanely, somewhat of a melo-dramatic effect. The zig-zag nature of the road, winding along" the steep side of a mountain, affords curious views of the cavalcade: the more active and adventurous may be seen advancing above with unabated vigour, the body of the servants and baggage toiling steadily on below, while still lower the rear guard, weary and straggling, follow "with fainting steps and slow." The sighing of the wind through the trees, the call of a bird, or the murmuring of some far-off stream, alone breaks the solitary stillness, until, while absorbed in the sublime reveries which the scene is so well calculated to produce, we are suddenly startled by the crack of a rifle, fired by the most determined of the sportsmen at some wild animal, presenting itself in too tempting a situation to be resisted.