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INDIA: PLAINS AND TABLE-LAND.
they, in their turn, were and are partially making way for a culture nobler still. Exclusive of the Malayan or Trans-Gangetic Peninsula, which we have already visited, Mr. Kurz, a well-known botanist, has divided India from a physical point of view into three main regions :-(1) The Himalaya, extending from Kashmir to Bhotan and Chittagong ; (2) The Peninsula with Ceylon, stretching as far north as the table-land extends; and (3) The Great Plain between, the home of the Hindoos, or Hindostan proper.* The Himalaya is in reality not a mountain range, as it appears on the mar, but a mountain region, and, as Mr. Markham has pointed out, in his masterly description of its physical features, is composed of three great culminating chains, running more or less parallel to each other for their whole length, from the Gorge of the Indus to that of the Dihong. Between the inner and the outer range lies for the most part the lofty region of Great Tibet, already described (pp. 101-111), and most of the rivers of Northern India take their rise in the central chain, and run through its length. The Karakoum Range is the name given to the western section of the most northern and inner of the Himalayan chains. Its valleys are blocked by vast glaciers, and among its peaks is one 28,000 feet above the sea, while some of its passes are 18,000 and 19,000 feet in height (p. 180). The eastern section. of the Northern Range forms the natural boundary of Great Tibet, and, like the western part, has lofty peaks, one being 25,000 feet high, while the Gangri “Knot” of the Tibetans—a name Mr. Trelawney Saunders has proposed for the whole range—is 22,000 feet above the sea. The Central Range is very little known, but the Southern Himalaya, with its stupendous peaks, has been more studied by travellers in this wild region. It averages ninety miles in breadth, the culminating points being from 10,000 feet to 29,000 feet above the sea level. In fact, the character of the Himalayan slope is a perpetual succession of vast ridges, with narrow intervening glens, and open valleys, such as that of Nepal, are very rare.t This Central Range is divided into three longitudinal zones, each varying in products and climate according to its distance above the sea level, the temperature diminishing 30 and 31° Fahrenheit for every thousand feet of ascent, while every movement towards the west or north-west "brings the traveller into a dryer climate, and takes him farther and farther away from the line of the rainy monsoon. In ascending the gorges, from the terai (or lowest zone], to the Alpine ridges, the traveller passes through three zones of vegetation. In the lower region he finds the sal and sissu, banyans and peepuls, bamboos and palms. The central slopes are clothed with oaks, chestnuts, magnolias, laurels, rhododendrons, cherry and pear-trees, thorns, ashes, and elms; and the upper region is that of junipers, larches, yews, poplars, dwarf rhododendrons, hollies, birches, and willows." The animals also vary in a similar manner, according to the zone of altitude ; and altogether the great Himalayan mountain region—2,000 miles in length and from 100 to 500 miles in breadth—has exercised a remarkable influence, not on the climate, but on the peopling and civilisation of Asia. The highest elevations of the Himalayas are of course incapable of nourishing animal life, but in the lower valleys live hardy races of mountaineers who have from time immemorial maintained an independent existence,
Clarke : Transactions of the Linnean Society, 2nd Ser., Bot., Vol. I. (1880), p. 425. + Hodgson : “Geography of the Himalaya,” p. 3, cited by Markham: “Tibet,” Introd., p. xxxiv.
while the languid dwellers in the lower plains, enervated by heat and luxury, have again and again succumbed to the conqueror.
The sub-Himalayan countries consist of Kashmir, Gurwhal, Kumaon, Nepal, Sikkhim,
and Bhotan, all of which are hilly regions, with a cool climate and vegetation of the temperate zones. The Terai, or great Indian swamp, a belt five to twenty-five miles in breadth, separates these countries from the Plain of India (p. 178). This terai, though exceedingly fertile, is very malarious, at least from April to October, and at that season is abandoned even by wild beasts, while most men shun it as a permanent place of abode at all times of the year. The villagers in the vicinity speak of it with bated breath as “ Mar”-i.e., death—and the only people who dare permanent residence in it are the Taroos, a squalid, feebly-formed, truthful race, whose existence is a standing physiological miracle. Great forest trees cover it, innumerable wild animals haunt it, and altogether the tera orms a marked barrier between the races of the sub-Himalayan countries and those inhabiting the plains. It is not only a dividing wall between the cool uplands and the hot lowlands of India, but is a narrow strip, the people on one side of which are shut off, owing to their difference of language, from those living on the other side.
The Plain of the Indus, Brahmapootra, and the Ganges, stretching right across India, we have already alluded to. It is not only one of the richest but one of the finest-watered regions in the world. Throughout this rich alluvial flat the Ganges and its endless tributaries ramify in a fertilising network, making the great Province of Bengal, which is included in it, the most populous portion of all India. Bahar, the Doab, Oude, Rohilcund, are all in the Plain of the Ganges; and taking into account its cities, towns, villages, and teeming agricultural population, the region cannot hold less than 100,000,000 people, or about one-fourth more than the whole inhabitants of the Russian Empire, and more than twice as many as are at present settled in the United States of America. Crossing the Aravalli Hills, we descend on the other side of India into the more circumscribed but still vast plain of the Indus, a mighty river which flows into the opposite ocean. In this region lies the Punjab: south of this province for nearly five hundred miles stretch parallel with the river the sandy deserts of the Indus, and in its lower course the river flows through the unhappy land of Sinde. In addition to the countries named, Cutch and Gujerat stretch over the Indus Plain to the Arabian Sea ; while between the river and the Aravalli Mountains is the Thur Desert, an expanse 400 miles long and 100 broad, covered with sandhills, among which crops of grain can only be grown in a very few spots in the vicinity of the rivers or after the rains. In the Hindoo records it is described as
Valley of Death.” Men cannot cross it on foot, and even the horse and camel often succumb before they can pass its dreary wastes of sand, which, like the moist terai on the north, has ever acted as a dividing line between the races on either side of it.
THE GHAUTS AND BACKWATERS.
The table-land of India comprises Malwa and Rajpootana, the home of a fine race, who live in an atmosphere 2,000 feet above the sea, north of the Vindhya Mountains, and the Deccan, or peninsular portion of Hindostan, south of that range. This vast plateau is enclosed on all sides by lofty mountains, between which and the sea are low strips of level land, from which the mountains rise abruptly by a succession of great terraces, or ghauts, to the table-land beyond. These “Ghauts,” meaning literally gates or
passes, thus run parallel with the east and west coasts of India, and hence are known as the Eastern and Western. On the land side they slope gradually to the table-land of the Deccan, but seaward they show perpendicular precipices, at a distance varying from six to seventy miles from the sea, forty or fifty miles, however, being the usual distance. The interval is the maritime strip mentioned. To this region the south-west monsoon brings fearful Hoods of rain, and aids in forming the interesting “ backwaters" about which so much has been written at different times. In the State of Cochin we see many of these curious lagoons. The Hat country between the Ghauts and the sea is elevated but slightly, if at all, above the tide, and may be said to be formed by the alluvial soil brought down by the torrents from the wearing away of the great precipitous buttresses beyond. Hence the brooks which plunge over the Western Ghauts are in their upper course fierce torrents, which carry everything before them, and in their lower sluggish, almost imperceptibly moving estuaries, black and unsightly in appearance, and more or less brackish in taste. These estuaries are frequently breasted by a lighter strip of ground, and by their union often form an inland lagoon, in one case—as in Cochin—120 miles long, and varying in breadth from a few yards to more than 100 miles, only communicating with the sea
at a few places where the streams which form them flow into the
The navigable value of these backwaters is great. The Malabar coast is thus furnished by nature with a highway which traverses its whole length, from Trivanderum to the railroad at Panany, except at one point, the Wurkallay Barrier, which, if cut through, would complete the inland navigation of this part of India.* The contrast between the rush of the bright mountain stream while its upper waters dashes over the Ghauts, and the dark, sullen character of its final course to the sea, is very marked. A correspondent thus graphically describes the scene. Alluding to the Sarda, , he tells us that in its debouchere at Burrumdeo, down to Moondia Ghaut, it is a bright “sparkling, merry mountain stream, often broken into two or three channels. It flows through grassy glades and sissu forests, swells here over deep sunken rocks, and then forms a tail below a shoal of glittering gravel, which makes the fisherman's eye glisten as it recalls to memory happy days on the Spey or Findhorn. But here and there a backwater, still as death, runs back far into a ghastly swamp, where the water is never rippled, save by the silent plunge of the weird snake bird or the stealthy waddle of a gorged alligator. Huge ungainly fish and bloated carrion-turtle clide far below the surface, round the skeleton roots of bleached and barkless trees—a phantom forest, lichen-shrouded. On the stark framework of bone-like branches sit motionless the gaping lock-jawed cormorant, with half-spread, stiffened wings, a bony parody of taxidermy, or the foul vulture, its livid neck smothered in fluffy feathers, like some shapeless Caffre kaross, the only sign of life a dull, deceitful eye. On a dead willow, stretching far over the inky pool, lies twined a python, limp and semi-rotten.
The head is gone; the muscles of the neck, blanched and torn into strings, are hanging a few inches above the water, jagged by resistance to the tug of the turtle teeth. Here and there scales have separated, and the glairy, sodden skin hangs flabby and ruptured. Can you believe that you are within ear-shot of a babbling mountain torrent, on whose
* Markham: Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. XXXVI. (1866), p. 195.
INDIA: THE INDUS; THE GANGES.
floods the mightiest tree-trunks are but straws-a torrent irresistible, ever living, ever fitful ?"
THE RIVER SYSTEM.
Some of the mightiest rivers in the world, and in Asia certainly the most interesting, are in India. The Ganges, the Brahmapootra, and the Indus drain the northern part of the empire. They rise in the Tibetan range; and, curionsly enough, almost the whole of the waters of the high plateau of Tibet flow through British India between 95th and 75th meridians, the only part of the drainage thrown off to the north being, as General Strachey notes, that of the northern mountain slope. The Indus rises in a Himalayan peak 18,000 feet above the sea, and before it falls into the Arabian Sea, through a delta measuring 75 miles by 130, it drains more than 400,000 square miles of country, or an area quadruple that of Great Britain and Ireland. The Cabul, the Attock, the accumulated waters of the Punjab, in the form of the Punjnud and hundred minor rivers, combine to swell the great flood of the Indus; but below its confluence with the Punjnud, so narrow is the valley through which it runs that its volume decreases rather than swells, while the circumscribed character of its basin prevents it receiving many affluents. Add to these circumstances the fact that the river here divides into a number of branches, some of which never return to the main current, but branch off, and, under different names, strike out new
for themselves. Others, again, return much shrunken in dimensions, so that the decrease of the size of the waters of the Indus can easily be accounted for, though the observer does not at first sight notice this, owing to the current now becoming sluggish, and the tides running up to augment its bulk.
Yet, in spite of its size and length, the Indus is not of great value to commerce. Its channels through the delta are not all navigable, even at the highest state of the water, for any save the smallest vessels ; but its importance has been Jessened since railways have permeated the country through which it flows. Kurrachec is the terminus of these lines, while Hyderabad, Sukkur, Sbikapore, Mooltan, and other cities are united in their network, and the railway will soon cross the Indus itself by the bridge which it is proposed to throw over it from Sukkur on the right bank to Roree on the left, the resting-place being Bukkur, a rocky island between them. A still nobler river is the sacred Ganges, which, together with its tributaries, drains about 500,000 square miles from the ice-cave where it rises, 10,300 feet above the sea, in the Gurhwal State, to where it falls, 1,500 miles away, through many mouths, into the Bay of Bengal. At Allahabad the Jumna joins it, and in its course through the north-western provinces the Gumti and Gogra; and soon after passing the holy city of Benares into Behar the Son unites with it; and after Patna is left behind, the Gandak, from Nepal, adds its volume to the great river of India. The Kusi is the next important tributary, and by the time the ruined city of Gaur is reached the current has expanded into a mighty volume, and approached within 240 miles of the sea in a straight line, though by the tortuous windings of the current the distance is much greater. It, however, soon loses its individuality,