Page images

Mahomedan serai, to which the traveller can go up as a guest for entertainment—it is good only for laying the head under a roof at night. In the time of Aurungzebe, Sultan Aazim, and his son Bedr Bukht, rode on post from Dacca to Agra, over an excellent road. But they had to live on the way only on bread and dried fruits. One day during the journey they wanted to have the treat of a little keechery. It was brought from a serai in a large wooden bowl; and although they were very hungry, they could not bring themselves to taste it out of such a vessel. The Hindoo, again, is a still more unsociable creature, who scarcely knows the pleasure of association at meals. He is accustomed to cook his own dinner, and eat it in solitary separation, against the principle of human gregariousness. On the road, therefore, his inn at the best is either a rude hut of matting, or the shade of a peepul or mango tree. It is not known how were Asoca’s durmshalas on the ancient highroads of India. Caste-prejudices then were as much a bar to the cultivation of sociableness as in our day, and those houses of public entertainment could scarcely have abounded with the plenty and comfort of a modern table d'hôte.

The south-western extremity of the compound was occupied by two or three long brick-walled sheds, with high-mounted roofs of tiles. These, we were given to understand, had been hastily put up to accommodate those detachments of European troops who had to move up in a constant succession during the late rebellion. Doubtless, native soldiers have passed up and down An Evening in the Hill Country.


this road many a time. But never have such neat and comfortable sheds been placed at their disposal on the way. Aliens from a colder latitude certainly require a greater attention than the children of the soil. But invidious distinctions in the same profession beget a grudge that should be avoided.

It was near nightfall. As the sun went down behind the hills, its receding rays were gradually withdrawn from the landscape. The great mounds of nature threw their dark shadows far across the plain, while the dying sunbeams yet lingered to play upon their tops. Over the pure, cloudless sky, was the glow of the last light. The breeze, bland and perfumed by the odour of the wild flowers, came in soft cool gushes. It was one of those calm and delightful evenings which we went out to enjoy by spreading a carpet on the green sward surrounding the bungalow. To heighten the enjoyment by a sauce piquante, we had each passed round to us a glass of that beverage, which was brewed not from the Vedic Soma plant, but from the English hops, -accompanied by that sovereign luxury, that never-failing source of refreshment to the weary—the invaluable Hooka. Shortly after dark, dinner was announced. Indeed, the lighted room, the matted floor, the neat chairs, the white table-cloth, the knives, forks. plates, dishes, and napkins set on the table, had nowhere produced the same effect on our minds, as in the solitary public-house that gives welcome to the wanderer in the wilderness of Taldangah. How miserable in comparison is a native serai! Our countrymen are

[ocr errors]

never so open to a charge of barbarism, as when they are judged of by the mean and squalid huts composing their inns. The voice of unanimity called upon the doctor to take the chair- a tavern chair that was Johnson's "throne of human felicity. Our worthy tradesman now did the justice that was expected from his obesity. The sensible doctor took to a veteran fowl for cargo sufficient to outlast his voyage of a long wintry night. The spare attorney was judicious, as he is wont to be. To speak of our own self, a chronic headache has long cured us of the glutton, and we can never venture to load our stomach beyond its registered tonnage. The meal being over, the travellers' book was produced, to note down the hours of our entry and exit. Our fares were then paid down with an additional gratuity to each of the men. The charge of an extra half-rupee per head was also counted down, as each traveller, alighting at the bungalow, has to contribute that sum to its repair. .

Though the day had been warm enough, the night in these highlands was agreeably cold. Packing ourselves up in the gharry this time, was felt to be rather snug than otherwise. To exclude the artificial draughts of air, created by the motion of the carriage, we drew close the doors, keeping open the shutters, to cast a look now and then at the landscape. Our route lay through a country full of jungles, the gloom of which was thickened by the shadows of the hills. The moon, sunk down near the horizon, cast only those 'pale glimpses, which made darkness visible.' On either

[blocks in formation]

hand the scenery was completely wrapped up in the triple shades of Hecate, the hills, and the forests. No choice was left to us, but to lie extended in full length, and consign ourselves to sleep.*

* The country thus missed is particularly interesting in a geological point of view. From fossils obtained here, Ederest thinks these eminences were once, like Europe, islands of primitive rocks, rising in the middle of a large ocean ; the débris formed beds of humus out of which vegetables grew and formed the present soil.' The twigs of the butea frondosa are covered here with the 'lurid red tears of the lac.' There is a Deputy Magistrate at Bagsama, and a Dawk Chowkey at Gobindpore for postal correspondence from the wilderness.

: 202


October 22nd.-FOUND ourselves at daybreak in the very

heart and core of the hill-regions—upon the highest plateau of Upper Bengal. From its very foot we now gazed upon the Parisnath-covered all over with a gorgeous vegetation, and standing in the 'wild pomp of its mountain majesty. The head was tipped with the first rays of the sun, and jocund day stood tiptoe upon the misty top.' Face to face to Parisnath stands a range of hills, vying its sovereign height with as proud an eminence. Beyond them peep the diminished heads of others, till at last the farthest ridge seems to have melted away in the horizon.

Woods crowding upon woods, hills over hills,
A surging scene, and only limited

By the blue distance.--MRS HEMANS. The valley below spreads out into a beautiful amphitheatre, and the little village nestled in its bosom looks like 'beauty sleeping on the lap of horror.'

To one accustomed only to the monotonous flat of alluvial plains the first sight of this sublime mountain scenery is an epoch in his life, the romantic panorama realizing the truth of the best simile in the English

« PreviousContinue »