« PreviousContinue »
ALMORAH TO MEERUT.
TREES USED AS GALLOWS-BHOOTEAHSYKEMAOON SUBJECT TO EARTH
QUAKES—HAVELBAGH-VEGETATION IN KEMAOON-ANIMALS AND BIRDS-WILD DOGS-VISITS FROM VAKEEL AND PUNDIT-COLD AT PRUNY-POVERTY OF GHURWALI-KOOSILLA RIVER-DESCRIPTION OF OKUL DOONGA-PILLIBHEET RICE-EMETIC PROPERTY OF WILD TEA -GHORKHA BOY-MANNER OF CATCHING FISH-CASAIPOOR-WOMEN SPINNING-WHITE BUFFALO-SUGAR MILL-IMPERIAL TREE-MORADABAD-MAKING ICE-YOGIS AND TIGERS-CANES SET ON FIRE BY FRICTION-PARTY OF SUPPOSED BHEELS—THUGS.
November 27.-As we had to climb the eastern side of so steep a hill as that on which Almorah stands, I conceived that the sun might possibly be troublesome, and started a little earlier than I had done the two preceding days; we descended into a valley with a very rapid river, the Koosilla, running through it, over a rugged and stony bottom. The abutments of a bridge which had, as usual, lost its arch, and had only its slack rope, pointed out the place where we were to cross by rather a difficult ford. One of my followers, a poor Pariah dog, who had come with us all the way from Bareilly for the sake of the scraps which I had ordered the cook to give him, and by the sort of instinct which most dogs possess, always attached himself to me as the head of the party, was so alarmed at the blackness and roaring of the water that he sate down on the brink and howled pitifully when he saw me going over. When he found it was a hopeless case, however, he mustered courage and followed.
But on reaching the other side, a new distress awaited him. One of my faithful
sepoys had lagged behind as well as himself, and when be found the usual number of my party not complete, he ran back to the brow of the hill and howled, then hurried after me as if afraid of being himself left behind, then back again to summon the loiterer, till the man came up, and he apprehended that all was going on in its usual routine. It struck me forcibly to find the same dog-like and amiable qualities in these neglected animals, as in their more fortunate brethren of Europe. The dog had, before this, been rather a favourite with my party, and this will, I think, establish him in their good graces.
We had two more toilsome ascents, and another deep and black ford to pass before we reached the foot of the hill of
TREES USED AS GALLOWS,
Almorah. The town is approached by a very long and steep zig-zag road, which a few resolute men might defend against an army. On seeing the impenetrable nature of this whole country, one cannot help wondering how it ever should have been conquered. Its first subjection, however, by the Ghorkhas, was in consequence of a disputed succession, and forwarded by the dissensions of the people themselves. Its recent conquest by the British was aided by the good-will of all the natives, whom the cruelty of their masters had disposed to take part with any invader. The Khasyas in every village lent their help, not only as guides, but in dragging our guns up the hills, and giving every other assistance which they could supply:
I was met by Mr. Traill about half a mile from the town, mounted on a little pony like that which he had sent me. We rode together under a spreading toon-tree, so like an ash that I at first mistook it for one, There are four of these trees in the four approaches to the town, one or other of which is the usual gallows, when, which happens rarely, a capital execution takes place. Under the Ghorkhas all four were kept in almost constant employment. I have, indeed, had reason to find, from the conversation of my guides with Abdullah, that this province is one of the parts of our Eastern Empire, where the British Government is most popular, and where we are still really regarded as the deliverers of the people from an intolerable tyranny. I mentioned this to Mr. Traill during our ride. He said that the Ghorkha government had, certainly, been very tyrannical, less from the commands or inclination of the Court of Catmandu, than from its want of power to keep in order the military chiefs, by whom the conquest of the province had been effected, and who not only had divided the lands among themselves, without regard to the rights of the ancient proprietors, but, on any arrears of rent, sold the wives and children of the peasants into slavery, to an amount which was almost incredible, punishing at the same time, with barbarous severity, every appearance of mutiny or discontent which these horrible proceedings excited. He said that, at the present moment, hardly any young persons were to be found through the country who, during the Ghorkha government, had been of a marketable age. Children there were, in plenty, but only such as had been born shortly before, or since the transfer of the dominion to the British. The Court of Catmandu sent repeated edicts against the practice, which was in a fair way to extirpate their new subjects. But all which they did, or thought it necessary to do, was of no avail, and the country was at the very lowest ebb of misery, when, happily for its surviving inhabitants, the Ghorkhas took it into their heads to quarrel with the English.
Nundidevi, the highest peak in the world, is stated to be no less than 25,689 feet above the sea, and four thousand feet and upwards higher than Chimboraza. Bhadrinath and Kedarnath are merely two ends of the same mountain, its height is 22,300 feet. The peak which the chuprassces called Meru, is properly Sumeru, as distinguished, by the modern Pundits at least, from the celestial and fabulous one. It is really, however, pretty near the sources of the Ganges, and about 23,000 feet high, though the three great peaks of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick, whence the Ganges really flows, are from this point obscured by the intervening ridge of Kedarnâth. Kedarnath, Gungothee, Sumeru, and Nundidevi, are all within the British territory, and Mr. Traill has been to the northward of them, though the peaks themselves have never been scaled. Nundidevi is, as the crow flies, forty miles from Almorah, but following the winding of the only accessible road, it is eight or nine days march. Between it and the Chinese frontier, two remarkable racés of men are found, the first the Bhooteahs, a Mongolian tribe, worshippers of the Delai Lama, who are said to be the descendants of one of the hordes who crossed the snowy mountains with Tamerlane ; the other, a savage race, who neither plough nor dig, but live by the chase and on wild fruits only. They call themselves the original inhabitants of the soil, and appear to be the same people with the Puharrees of Rajmahal. I saw some Bhooteahs during my stay at Almorah, who had come down with a cargo of “chowries," tails of the “yâk,” or mountain ox. They are a short, square built people, with the true Calmuk countenance and eye, and with the same remarkable cheerfulness of character and expression, by which the Calmuk tribes are in general distinguished. Their dress was also completely Tartar, large boots with their trowsers stuffed into them, caftans girded round the waist, and little bonnets edged with black sheep's skin.
Beyond them is the Chinese frontier, strictly guarded by the jealous care of that government. Mr. Moorcroft did, indeed, pass it some years ago, and was kindly received by one of the provincial Governors, but the poor man was thrown into prison and died there, as a punishment for his hospitality, and, since, nobody has been allowed to go beyond the frontier village. When Mr. Traill visited it they showed him great respect and attention ; brought him fire-wood, milk, eggs, earthen vessels, and would receive no payment; but on his mounting his horse to push on a little further, he was immediately surrounded and brought back, though in the civilest manner, by the Tartar horsemen, who pleaded the positive orders of the emperor. To the north, however, the small independent Tartar kingdom of Ladak has shown itself exceedingly hospitable and friendly. Mr. Moorcroft, when
he was there, was treated with unbounded kindness and confidence, and their Khân has since sent a formal offer, which I am sorry was declined, of his allegiance to the British Government.
To return from this digression. I found Almorah a small but very curious and interesting town. It chiefly consists of one long street, running along the ridge of the mountain from the fort westward to a small block-house eastward, with scattered bungalows, chiefly inhabited by Europeans, to the right and left hand on the descent of the hill. The main-street has a gate at each end, and, on a small scale, put me in mind of Chester. The houses all stand on a lower story of stone, open to the street, with strong square pillars, where the shops are, looking like some of the rows. Above the buildings are of timber, exactly like those of Chester, in one or sometimes two very low stories, and surmounted by a sloping roof of heavy gray slate, on which many of the inhabitants pile up their hay in small stacks for winter consumption. The town is very neat, the street has a natural pavement of slaty rock which is kept beautifully clean: the stone part of the houses is well white-washed, and adorned with queer little paintings; and the tradesmen are not only a fairer but a much more respectable looking race than 1 had expected to see, from the filth and poverty of the agricultural Khasyas.
We passed two or three little old pagodas and tanks, as well as a Mussulman burial-ground. The Mussulmans were treated with great rigour here during the Ghorkha government. They are now fully tolerated and protected, but their numbers are very small. Government, on the conquest of Almorah, very liberally built a number of small bungalows in airy situations round it, for the accommodation, gratis, of any of their civil or military servants, who might come to reside here for their health. They are small low cottages of stone with slated roofs, and look extremely like the sea-bathing cottages on the Welch coast, having thick walls, small windows, low rooms, and all the other peculiarities (most different from the generality of Anglo-Indian houses) which suit a boisterous and cold climate. Yet, in summer, the heat is considerable, and the vallies very far from wholesome, being, some of them, indeed only a shade better than Tandah, and the rest of the Terrai. On the hill tops, however, there is always a fine breeze, and, even in May and June, the nights are chilly.
There is another reason why the bungalows of this country are built low. Kemaoon is extremely subject to earthquakes ; scarcely a year passes without a shake or two, and though all have been slight since the English came, it would not be wise to build upper roomed houses, unless, like the natives, they made the superstructure of timber. In the best of these bungalows I found Mr. Adams, who received me most hospitably. He introduced me to
Sir Robert Colquhoun, the Commandant of the local troops of Kemaoon, who invited me to accompany Mr. Adams and himself, on Monday, to his house at Havelbagh, where the native lines are, and where Mr. Adams is residing at present, as being a milder climate than that of Almorab. Mr. Adams had a party to dine in the evening, and I found that almost all the civil and military officers here were Scotch.
Sunday, November 28.-This day I enjoyed the gratification of being the first Protestant Minister who had preached and administered the sacraments in so remote, yet so celebrated, a region. I had a very respectable congregation of, I believe, all the Christian inhabitants of Almorah and Havelbagh. Mr. Adams allowed me to make use of the two principal rooms in his house, which, by the help of the folding-doors between them, accommodated thirty or thirty-five persons with ease. I was, after service, introduced to Lady Colquhoun, who is celebrated in the province as a bold rider along the mountain paths. I was also introduced to Captain Herbert, who has the situation of geologist in this province, and who seems a very well-informed, as he is a very pleasing and unassuming man. He and Sir Robert Colquhoun were just returned from a scientific expedition to the eastern frontier, and gave an interesting account of the Ghorkha troops there, whom they described, as they have been generally represented, as among the smartest and most European-like soldiery of India. We had family prayers.
I forgot to mention that, during this day, I walked up to the fort of Almorah, a very paltry thing, so ill contrived as to be liable to an escalade from any daring enemy, and so ill situated as to be commanded from two points of land on opposite sides, and not to have a drop of water within its walls. It is out of repair already, and certainly not worth mending.
November 29.— I went down this morning to breakfast, and to remain, during the rest of my stay in Kemaoon, at Sir Robert Colquhoun's, at Havelbagh, by a steep and winding, but firm and safe road, carried down the northern side of the mountain of Almorah, into a larger valley than I had yet seen in Kemaoon, where are lines for the provincial troops, and several bungalows for the civil officers. The situation is very pretty, and indeed fine. At a considerable depth below the houses, through a narrow rocky glen, the deep black Koosilla runs with much violence, crossed by one of those suspension-bridges of branches and ropes made of grass, which have been, from considerable antiquity, common in these mountains, and appear to have given the original hint both to the chain-bridges of Europe, and those which Mr. Shakespear has invented. The situation is striking, and the picturesque effect extremely good, but the bridge ai present so much out of