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and branches out into the various mouths which, under different names, cut up the delta into a number of low, marshy, ever increasing or decreasing islands. The main channel is the Padma, and after being reinforced by the Jamuna, or chief stream of the Brahmapootra, and numerous other additions from the hill country on the east, it forms the broad estuary of Meghna, which ends in the Bay of Bengal, near Noakhali.
But this is only one of many such estuaries. The Hooghly, on
which Calcutta is built, is one of these, and between it the Meghna is the delta proper, which in its upper portion is rich and thickly inhabited, but on its southern borders by the sea is little better than a series of great swamps, seeped through by innumerable channels of the river. The sundari-tree is the chief product of this tract, which is hence known as the Sundarbans. The Ganges is well suited for navigation, but with the exception of the basy traffic along the various channels below Calcutta, steam navigation on the river has ceased to be important, the great cities by its waters being now all connected by rail. Calcutta,
Monghyr, Patna, Benares, Allahabad, are populous towns on its banks below its union with the Jumna, while Agra and Delhi are among the familiar names of places on its
upper waters. But the river itself, quite as much as the progress of railways, bas determined the fate of the cities which from time to time have grown up in its vicinity. At uncertain intervals great changes take place in the bed of the stream, which alter the whole condition of the neighbouring country. Islands are thrown up in places where,
a few weeks before, the river rolled, and, owing to the rapid growth of vegetation in these countries, are speedily covered with bush, which afford a shelter to alligators and the other wild animals of the region bordering the sacred river. By-and-by the silt brought down shoals up the space between the islands and the bank, until the current, deflected by the newly-formed peninsula abutting into it, sweeps against the opposite shore, washing into its flood a cultivated farm, a mile of forest, or a village of mud huts, or it may be cutting out for itself a new channel far away from the old one. So frequent and sudden are these changes in Lower Bengal that it is considered dangerous to erect any edifice of a large or permanent character within the range of the river's action. Rajmahal, wbich was formerly on its banks, is now miles in the back country, and the existence of ruined cities, long ago deserted of their commerce and population, attest the vagaries of the Ganges in former times. But apart from its character as a great highway for millions of people whose life will not for a time to come be seriously influenced by steamboats or railways, the Ganges is a sacred river. Deo Prayag, the point at which the united currents of the Jahnavi and Alaknanda takes the name of the Ganges, has for ages been a favourite place of pilgrimage, though Gangotri, near which the river takes its source, has up to this day maintained its popularity with the more devout Hindoos. Indeed, the points of juncture of the tributaries with the main river have all pretensions to sanctity.
But even the deboucheres of the Gumti and Gogra are of sanctity very inferior to the tongue of land at Allahabad where the Jumna flows into the Ganges, and to which every year thousands of the pious flock in poverty and misery, happy if, after praying and washing in the holy water, they can return to their distant village conscious that they have taken a fresh start in holiness. Finally, not to enumerate the numerous other places of more or less celebrity, Benares (p. 185) is everywhere celebrated as the holy city of the Ganges valley. Its fame in Warren Hastings' time has been sketched in one of Macaulay's most brilliant passages. “It was commonly believed," writes the famous historian, “that half a million of human beings were crowded into that labyrinth of lofty alleys, rich with shrines and minarets, and balconies and carved oriels, to which the sacred apes clung by hundreds. The traveller could scarcely make his way through the press of holy mendicants and not less holy bulls. The broad and stately flights of steps which descended from these swarming haunts to the bathing places along the Ganges were worn every day by the footsteps of an innumerable multitude of worshippers. The schools and temples drew crowds of pious Hindoos from every province where the Brahminical faith was known. Hundreds of devotees came hither every month to die: for it was believed that a peculiarly happy fate awaited the man who should pass from the sacred city into the sacred river. Nor was superstition the only motive which allured strangers to that great metropolis. Commerce had as many pilgrims as religion. All along the shore of the venerable stream lay great fleets of vessels laden with rich merchandise. From the looms of Benares went forth the most delicate silks that adorned the halls of St. James and of Versailles ; and in the bazaars the muslins of Bengal and the satins of Oude were mingled with the jewels of Golconda and the shawls of Cashmere.” The Benares of those days still partially exists. It is still
the holy city, but its Old World aspects are altered in so far that railways now run into it, and amid the crowd of pilgrims who have adopted that modern mode of speeding on an Old World errand, jostle at the station the “pugareed ” officials of the dominant race, and the noisy tourists who have come to "do” the sacred city, its monkeys, its bulls, its devotees, and its ghauts.* India, however, does not change much. The traveller who in the last cold season glided down the Ganges might, for all the change he sees in the fundamental habits of the people, have been performing his journey a couple of centuries ago (p. 184). To read the narrative of Ralph Fitch, one of the early adventurers in India, is to read the description of the river to-day. In 1585 he sailed down the Ganges in a boat, which was one of a fleet of 123 vessels laden with salt, opium, indigo, lead, carpets, and other commodities. The Brahmins then, as now, were performing their mysterious rites. The Hindoo women were bathing, and the men saluting each other with cries of “Rama.” At Allahabad he saw naked mendicants. In those days they were quite common, though—and this is one of the few changes which time has wrought-they have almost disappeared from India in modern times. At Benares le gazed on the same bewildering world of temples and idols, thronged with endless crowds of worshippers, that meet the eye at the present time. But Lower Bengal has vastly improved since the day when the pioneer of the English merchants wandered through Hindostan; where now spread indigo, cotton, and opium fields was then a wide region "so beset with thieves” that, to use General Fytche's words," the jungle was safer than the highways.”
The Brahmapootra is a less important, though larger, river. It does not extend far, for from its source in the Tibetan plateau to the place where it flows into the Bay of Bengal it is about 1,800 miles long. But the last part of its course constitutes in reality an estuary studded with islands, and formed by the union of the Ganges and Meghna with it, while its upper waters are still imperfectly known, and even some of its main tributaries have been only partially explored. In its current are numerous islands. Some of these, like Majuli, which contains over 280,000 acres, are well cultivated and inbabited, and on its banks, both in Assam and in India proper, are many towns and populous villages, though it is navigable only as far as Dibrugarh, and even then during the dry season only by steamers of light draught (Hunter). The “bore,” which has given the river a certain notoriety in text-books of physical geography, is caused by the upward rush of the tide suddenly flowing through the passages between the islands which stud the estuary formed by the union of the Brahmapootra, Ganges, and Meghna into the great estuary mentioned. It is thus seen that India is cut up by three great rivers and their tributaries. But there is no extensive region of the country which has not the benefit of water communication of a more or less important character, the
• Ghauts-not to be confounded with the cliffs of the same name (p. 181)—are buildings erected along the banks of the Indian rivers for the convenience of bathers. On the flights of steps which lead down from the kiosks to the water the Hindoo passes some of the happiest hours of his life. Here, away from the narrow, unwholesome streets, he can breathe the fresh air of the river, and sit in contemplative attitude, intent on devout things, gossip with the idle, or perhaps transact some business with those not unwilling to combine pleasure with profit.
number of rivers, greater and smaller, which form a network throughout it being much too numerous to describe, or even to name.
THE HILL COUNTRY.
In like manner, though the Himalayas are the great mountain partition between the plains of Central Asia and India, they do not constitute the only upland range of the latter country. In Southern India there are the Neilgherries, or Blue Mountains, which rise isolated in the midst of the surrounding plain to the height of 7,400 feet, and extend over an area of 600 square miles. They form the greater sanitarium for the neighbouring region. Ootacamund is, indeed, to Madras what Simla is to Calcutta, and Mahabaleshwar to Bombay—the breathing-place where the languid frames of the dwellers in the low, moist plains can get recruited for the labours of life. It is wet, but cooler even than its Himalayan rivals. The Palnai Hills, still further south, form another retreat of the same nature, while the Shevarai Hills, which are part of the Eastern Ghauts, afford a cool holiday home for those who do not care or to undertake the journey to the Neilgherries. The Sewalik range-famous for its fossil remains-rise to the height of 3,000 feet, the Kala, or Salt Mountains, to the height of 2,500 feet, the Aravulli, forming the division between the basins of the Indus and the Ganges, culminate in Mount Abu, 5,000 feet high, the Kattywar Hills, with peninsula of the same name, are lower, the Bundelcunds lower still, but the Rajmahals rise in places as high as 7,000 feet. The Vindhya Mountains, which cross India and separate its southern or peninsular portion from Hindostan proper, nowhere exceed 6,000 feet, but the Suliman Mountains rival the Himalayas, of which they may indeed be considered a part, in the grandeur of their peaks. The Satpura range is a spur of the Vindhya, while the Western Ghauts, on which are situated the Mahabaleshwar Sanitarium, are the counterpart of the eastern ones on the opposite coast, which we have already described (p. 181).
This, of course, varies greatly in different parts of a region so immense. In the extreme north the difference between summer and winter does not exceed 40°, but as the traveller proceeds south he finds the difference less and less, until it is about 15° at Calcutta, and only 10° or 20° at Bombay and Madras. But these figures very imperfectly explain the character of the climate of India, as it is dependent on different circumstances than mere heat or cold. In all parts of the country there are three more or less pronounced seasons—the hot, the rainy, and the cold.
These seasons, however, vary in different parts of the country. As a rule, the first usually lasts from the middle of March to the middle of June, but the heats in the moist plains of Bengal, where for weeks life is passed in a vapour bath, and the same season in North-Western India and the Punjaub, where the hot dry winds raise the temperature to 120° in the shade, are the same, but with a world of difference. This season in the low lands of the interior is unhealthy, but on the coast the cool breezes temper it, while on the higher hill-stations existence is, during the “heats,” most endurable.