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- Diary of a Pedestrian in Cashmere and Thibet - 3/42 -


"An arriving house," but neatly and appropriately corrupted into the term "Punch Gur," which speaks for itself, and troubles no one much about its derivation. We were rather disappointed with the general appearance of the city: dirt and grandeur were closely combined, and the combination gave the usual impression of shabby genteelness in general, not at first sight prepossessing. After driving through what might have been an Eastern Sebastopol, from the amount of ruin about, we reached a cut-throat-looking archway; and the coachman, here pointing to a dirty board, above his head, triumphantly announced the "Punch Gur!" Hot and thirsty, we got out, with visions of rest and cooling sherbets, too soon to be dispelled. Passing through long dirty halls, and up unsavoury steps, we at last reached a sort of court, with beds of sickly flowers, never known to bloom, and from thence issued to a suite of musty hot Moorish-looking rooms, with gold-inlaid dust-covered tables, and a heavily-draped four-post bedstead, the very sight of which, in such a climate, was almost enough to deprive one of sleep for ever. Our speech forsook us, and without waiting to remark whether the lady of the house was an ogress, or possessed of a "rose-coloured body" and face like the full moon, we fairly turned tail, and drove in all haste to our despised dak bungalow, where, meekly and with softened feelings towards that edifice, we were glad to deposit ourselves on a couple of charpoys, or "four-legs," as the bedstead of India is called, and endeavour to sleep the best way we could. "Delhi," we found, quite kept up its reputation of being the hottest place in India. All idea of sight-seeing was out of the question, and the whole of our energies we were obliged to expend in endeavouring to keep moderately cool.

After enjoying the two first of blessings in a hot climate -- viz. a plentiful supply of cold water and a change of raiment, we felt ourselves able to undergo the exertion of meeting the traditional grilled fowl at breakfast, and of inspecting the curiosities from the bazaars. At the first wish on the latter subject, we were invaded by a crowd of bundle-carrying, yellow-turbaned, rascally merchants, who, in half a minute, had the whole of their goods on the floor -- rings, brooches, ivory ornaments, and inutilities of all sorts and kinds, all of them exorbitantly dear, and none of any real value.

We left Delhi again at about six P.M., after loitering about the city for a short time, among the teeming bazaars, some parts of which were picturesque and "Eastern" enough. Outside the city walls, the country was ruined and dilapidated in the extreme; demolished houses and wasted gardens telling their tale of the loss of Delhi, and our struggle for its recapture.

MAY 26. -- During the night, we got over seventy-three miles, and reached "Kurnaul" at seven A.M. The bungalow we found unusually comfortable, being a remnant of the old regime, and one of the few which escaped from the hands of the rebels during the mutiny.

The country here begins to improve in appearance -- more trees and cultivation on all sides; and the natives appear finer specimens than their more southern relations. The irrigation, too, seems to be carried on with more systematic appliances than further south -- the water being raised by the Persian wheel, and bullock-power introduced in aid of manual labour.

MAY 27. -- Arrived at Umballa at three A.M., and found the staging bungalow full. The only available accommodation being a spare charpoy in the verandah, F. took a lease of it, while I revelled in the unaccustomed roominess of the entire carriage, and slept till six, when we got into our lodgings. Although so near the foot of the Himalayas, the weather was so oppressive here that exploring was out of the question; and at six P.M., changing our carriage for palankeens, or dolies, we commenced a tedious and dusty journey to the village of "Kalka," the veritable "foot of the hills," where we were met by a string of deputies from the different "DRY-LODGINGS" in the neighbourhood, soliciting custom. The first house we came to was guarded by an unmistakeable English hotel-keeper, of some eighteen stone; and so terrible was the appearance she presented, with her arms akimbo, rejoicing in her mountain air, that in our down-country and dilapidated condition, we felt quite unequal to the exertion of stepping into HER little parlour; and passing her establishment -- something in the small bathingplace-style of architecture -- we went on to the next, very much of the same order, and called the "Brahminee Bull." Here, to my dismay however, standing in the selfsame position, weighing the same number of stone, and equally confident in the purity of her air as her neighbour, stood another female "Briton," with the come-into-my-parlour expression of countenance, regarding us as prey. Under the circumstances, exhausted nature gave in; though saved from Scylla, our destiny was Charybdis, and we accordingly surrendered ourselves to a wash, breakfast, and the Brahminee Bull. During the day, we had a visit from a friend and ex-brother officer, whom we had promised to stay with, at "Kussowlie," on our road up. Kalka was not HOT, but GRILLING, so that a speedy ascent to the station was soon agreed upon. Not caring to risk a sun-stroke, I resigned myself to the traditional conveyance of the country, a "jhampan," while the other two rode up; but here, for the second time, it was "out of the fryingpan into the fire." Such an infernal machine as my new conveyance turned out never could have existed in the palmiest days of the Inquisition. It was a sort of child's cradle, long enough for a creature of some five or six summers, made like a tray, and hung after the fashion of a miniature four-post bedstead, with goat's-hair curtains. The structure is suspended, something in the fashion of a sedan-chair which has been stunted in its growth, between two poles; between the projections of these again, before and behind, connected by a stout strap, are two shorter bars, each supported, when in travelling order, on the shoulders of two bearers. When the machine is in motion, therefore, there are four men in line between the shafts.

The pace is always rather fast, and down a declivity the torturers go at a run; the result is, that prominent parts of one's body are continually in collision with the seat or sides of the machine, coming down from various altitudes, according to the nature of the ground and the humour of the inquisitors. After getting over about six miles in this graceful and pleasing manner, we reached the first of the fir-trees, and as we rose still higher a delicious breeze came over the hills, as precious to the parched and travel-stained pilgrim from the plains as a drop of water to the thirstiest wanderer in the desert. Kussowlie appeared a picturesque little station, perched at the summit of one of the first of the hilly ranges, and here I found my two companions, burnt and red in the face as if they, too, had had their sufferings on the road, occupied in looking over the goods of a strolling Cashmere merchant; luckily for themselves, however, it was under the protecting superintendence of our hostess. Our friends were living on a miniature estate commanding a magnificent view of the mountain ranges on one side, and, on the, other, the plains of the Punjab, the scorching country from which we had just made our escape lying stretched out before us like an enormous map in relief. Towards the mountains were the military stations of "Dugshai" and "Subathoo," and the boys' asylum of "Senore," the latter rather marring the face of nature by the workhouse order of its architecture. "Simla" we could just distinguish, nestled among the blue mountains in the far distance.

Here we spent a couple of days very pleasantly with our hospitable entertainers, and satisfactorily pulled up all arrears of sleep -- a luxury none can really appreciate who have not travelled for six days and nights in the different local conveniences I have mentioned.

Before leaving we had an opportunity of seeing how England in the Himalayas makes its morning calls. Walking, which amounts almost to an impossibility in "the plains," seems to be voted INFRA DIG. in "the hills," and Mrs. Kussowlie according made her appearance seated in state in a jhampan, and borne on the shoulders of four of her slaves.

These were active, wiry-looking natives, dressed in long green coats, bound with broad, red, tight-fitting pantaloons, and with small turbans of red and green on their heads. Altogether, a more startling-looking apparition to the uninitiated than this Himalayan morning visitor could hardly be imagined, even in a tour through the remotest regions of the earth.

MAY 29. -- About six o'clock in the evening we remounted our instruments of torture and took the road to Simla. For about seven miles the path was down hill, and the bearers being fresh, they huddled us along at a pace calculated to outrage our feelings most considerably, and, at the same time, with no more consideration for our welfare than if we were so many sacks of coal. In spite of the sufferings of the principal performers, the procession was most amusing; and as we jolted, bumped, and bundled along, it was impossible to keep from laughing, although crying, perhaps, would, under the circumstances, have been more appropriate. My machine led the way, four of the inquisition being in the shafts, and four in waiting, running along at the side with pipes, bundles, sticks, &c. Then came F. similarly attended, and finally the Q.M.G., hubble bubble in hand, and attired in a gold embroidered cap, surrounded by a lilac turban: seated in a sort of tray, and reclining at his case in full enjoyment of his high position, he looked the priest of the procession, and managed to retain his dignity in spite of the rapid and unceremonious way in which he was being whirled along. As the moon went down we had the additional effect of torchlight to the scene, three bearers having the special duty of running along to show the pathway to the rest. This seemed a service of some danger, and our torch-bearers at times verged upon places where a stumble would have apparently extinguished both themselves and their torches for ever. About half way we stopped for about an hour for the bearers to partake of a light entertainment of "ghee and chupatties" -- otherwise, rancid butter and cakes of flour and water. This was their only rest and only meal, from the time they left Kussowlie at six P.M. until they reached Simla at eight A.M. The same set of bearers took us the entire distance, about thirty-five miles; and the four men who were not actually in the shafts used to rest themselves by running, ahead and up precipitous short cuts, so as to insure a few minutes' pull at the pipe of consolation before their turn arrived again. To us, supposed to be the OTIUM CUM DIG. part of the procession, the road seemed perfectly endless. No sooner were we up one ascent than we were down again on the other side; and when we thought Simla must be in sight round the next turn, it seemed suddenly to become more hid than ever. In one of these ups and downs of life my machine, during a heavy lurch, fairly gave way to its feelings, and with a loud crash the pole broke, and down we both came, much to my temporary satisfaction and relief. A supply of ropes and lashings, however, formed part of the inquisitors' stores, and we were soon under weigh again to fulfil the remainder of our destiny.

The entrance to Simla led us through a fine forest of oaks, firs, cedars, and other large trees; and winding along through these we could, every now and then, discern, towering over the backs of endless ranges of blue and hazy mountains, ridge upon ridge of glittering snow, which cast its icy breath upon us even where we were, helping us to forget the horrors of the night, and giving us a renewal of our lease of existence. Simla itself soon opened on our view, a scattered and picturesque settlement of houses of the most varied patterns perched about over the mountain top, just as an eligible spot presented itself for building purposes. It is situated 8,000 feet above the level of the sea and 7,000 over the average level of "the plains," Umballa, which is near the foot of the range, being 1,000 above the sea-level. From our halting-place we could discern the scene of our night's journey, with Kussowlie looking like a mere speck in the distance, and we felt a proud sort of consciousness of having accomplished a desperate undertaking in very good style. Passive


Diary of a Pedestrian in Cashmere and Thibet - 3/42

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