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- Himalayan Journals V2. - 40/94 -


months from the commencement of the improvements, a great change had already taken place. The grounds bore a park-like appearance; broad shady walks had replaced the narrow winding paths that ran in distorted lines over the ground, and a large Palmetum, or collection of tall and graceful palms of various kinds, occupied several acres at one side of the garden; whilst a still larger portion of ground was being appropriated to a picturesque assemblage of certain closely allied families of plants, whose association promised to form a novel and attractive object of study to the botanist, painter, and landscape gardener. This, which the learned Director called in scientific language a Thamno-Endogenarium, consists of groups of all kinds of bamboos, tufted growing palms, rattan canes (_Calami_), _Dracaenae,_ plantains, screw-pines, (_Pandani_, and such genera of tropical monocotyledonous plants. All are evergreens of most vivid hue, some of which, having slender trailing stems, form magnificent masses; others twine round one another, and present impenetrable hillocks of green foliage; whilst still others shoot out broad long wavy leaves from tufted roots; and a fourth class is supported by aerial roots, diverging on all sides and from all heights on the stems, every branch of which is crowned with an enormous plume of grass-like leaves.* [Since I left India, these improvements have been still further carried out, and now (in the spring of 1853) I read of five splendid _Victoria_ plants flowering at once, with _Euryale ferox,_ white, blue, and red water-lilies, and white, yellow and scarlet lotus, rendering the tanks gorgeous, sunk as their waters are in frames of green grass, ornamented with clumps of _Nipa fruticans_ and _Phoenix paludosa._]

The great _Amherstia_ tree had been nearly killed by injudicious treatment, and the baking of the soil above its roots. This defect was remedied by sinking bamboo pipes four feet and a half in the earth, and watering through them--a plan first recommended by Major M`Farlane of Tavoy. Some fine _Orchideae_ were in flower in the, gardens, but few of them fruit; and those _Dendrobiums_ which bear axillary viviparous buds never do. Some of the orchids appear to be spread by birds amongst the trees; but the different species of _Vanda_ are increasing so fast, that there seems no doubt that this tribe of air-plants grows freely from seed in a wild state, though we generally fail to rear them in England.

The great Banyan tree (_Ficus Indica_) is still the pride and ornament of the garden. Dr. Falconer has ascertained satisfactorily that it is only seventy-five years old: annual rings, size, etc., afford no evidence in such a case, but people were alive a few years ago who remembered well its site being occupied in 1782 by a Kujoor (Date-palm), out of whose crown the Banyan sprouted, and beneath which a Fakir sat. It is a remarkable fact that the banyan hardly ever vegetates on the ground; but its figs are eaten by birds, and the seeds deposited in the crowns of palms, where they grow, sending down roots that embrace and eventually kill the palm, which decays away. This tree is now eighty feet high, and throws an area 300 feet* [Had this tree been growing in 1849 over the great palm-stove at Kew, only thirty feet of each end of that vast structure would have been uncovered: its increase was proceeding so rapidly, that by this time it could probably cover the whole. Larger banyans are common in Bengal; but few are so symmetrical in shape and height. As the tree gets old, it breaks up into separate masses, the original trunk decaying, and the props becoming separate trunks of the different portions.] in diameter into a dark, cool shade. The gigantic limbs spread out about ten feet above the ground, and from neglect during Dr. Wallich's absence, there were on Dr. Falconer's arrival no more than eighty-nine descending roots or props; there are now several hundreds, and the growth of this grand mass of vegetation is proportionably stimulated and increased. The props are induced to sprout by wet clay and moss tied to the branches, beneath which a little pot of water is hung, and after they have made some progress, they are inclosed in bamboo tubes, and so coaxed down to the ground. They are mere slender whip-cords before reaching the earth, where they root, remaining very lax for several months; but gradually, as they grow and swell to the size of cables, they tighten, and eventually become very tense. This is a curious phenomenon, and so rapid, that it appears to be due to the rooting part mechanically dragging down the aerial. The branch meanwhile continues to grow outwards, and being supplied by its new support, thickens beyond it, whence the props always slant outwards from the ground towards the circumference of the tree.

_Cycas_ trees abound in the gardens, and, though generally having only one, or rarely two crowns, they have sometimes sixteen, and their stems are everywhere covered with leafy buds, which are developed on any check being given to the growth of the plant, as by the operation of transplantation, which will cause as many as 300 buds to appear in the course of a few years, on a trunk eight feet high.

During my stay at the gardens, Dr. Falconer received a box of living plants packed in moss, and transported in a frozen state by one of the ice ships from North America:* [The ice from these ships is sold in the Calcutta market for a penny a pound, to great profit; it has already proved an invaluable remedy in cases of inflammation and fever, and has diminished mortality to a very appreciable extent.] they left in November, and arriving in March, I was present at the opening of the boxes, and saw 391 plants (the whole contents) taken out in the most perfect state. They were chiefly fruit-trees, apples, pears, peaches, currants, and gooseberries, with beautiful plants of the Venus' fly-trap (_Dionaea muscipula_). More perfect success never attended an experiment: the plants were in vigorous bud, and the day after being released from their icy bonds, the leaves sprouted and unfolded, and they were packed in Ward's cases for immediate transport to the Himalaya mountains.

My visit to Calcutta enabled me to compare my instruments with the standards at the Observatory, in which I was assisted by my friend, Capt. Thuillier, to whose kind offices on this and many other occasions I am greatly indebted.

I returned to Dorjiling on the 17th of April, and Dr. Thomson and I commenced our arrangements for proceeding to the Khasia mountains. We started on the 1st of May, and I bade adieu to Dorjiling with no light heart; for I was leaving the kindest and most disinterested friends I had ever made in a foreign land, and a country whose mountains, forests, productions, and people had all become endeared to me by many ties and associations. The prospects of Dorjiling itself are neither doubtful nor insignificant. Whether or not Sikkim will fall again under the protection of Britain, the station must prosper, and that very speedily. I had seen both its native population and its European houses doubled in two years; its salubrious climate, its scenery, and accessibility, ensure it so rapid a further increase that it will become the most populous hill-station in India. Strong prejudices against a damp climate, and the complaints of loungers and idlers who only seek pleasure, together with a groundless fear of the natives, have hitherto retarded its progress; but its natural advantages will outweigh these and all other obstacles.

I am aware that my opinion of the ultimate success of Dorjiling is not shared by the general public of India, and must be pardoned for considering their views in this matter short-sighted. With regard to the disagreeables of its climate, I can sufficiently appreciate them, and shall be considered by the residents to have over-estimated the amount and constancy of mist, rain, and humidity, from the two seasons I spent there being exceptional in these respects. Whilst on the one hand I am willing to admit the probability of this,* [I am informed that hardly a shower of rain has fallen this season, between November 1852, and April 1853; and a very little snow in February only.] I may be allowed on the other to say that I have never visited any spot under the sun, where I was not told that the season was exceptional, and generally for the worse; added to which there is no better and equally salubrious climate east of Nepal, accessible from Calcutta.

All climates are comparative, and fixed residents naturally praise their own. I have visited many latitudes, and can truly say that I have found no two climates resembling each other, and that all alike are complained of. That of Dorjiling is above the average in point of comfort, and for perfect salubrity rivals any; while in variety, interest, and grandeur, the scenery is unequalled.

From Sikkim to the Khasia mountains our course was by boat down the Mahanuddy to the upper Gangetic delta, whose many branches we followed eastwards to the Megna; whence we ascended the Soormah to the Silhet district. We arrived at Kishengunj, on the Mahanuddy, on the 3rd of May, and were delayed two days for our boat, which should have been waiting here to take us to Berhampore on the Ganges: we were, however, hospitably received by Mr. Perry's family.

The approach of the rains was indicated by violent easterly storms of thunder, lightning, and rain; the thermometer ranging from 70 degrees to 85 degrees. The country around Kishengunj is flat and very barren; it is composed of a deep sandy soil, covered with a short turf, now swarming with cockchafers. Water is found ten or twelve feet below the surface, and may be supplied by underground streams from the Himalaya, distant forty-five miles. The river, which at this season is low, may be navigated up to Titalya during the rains; its bed averages 60 yards in width, and is extremely tortuous; the current is slight, and, though shallow, the water is opaque. We slowly descended to Maldah, where we arrived on the 11th: the temperature both of the water and of the air increased rapidly to upwards of 90 degrees; the former was always a few degrees cooler than the air by day, and warmer by night. The atmosphere became drier as we receded from the mountains.

The boatmen always brought up by the shore at night; and our progress was so slow, that we could keep up with the boat when walking along the bank. So long as the soil and river-bed continued sandy, few bushes or herbs were to be found, and it was difficult to collect a hundred kinds of plants in a day: gradually, however, clumps of trees appeared, with jujube bushes, _Trophis, Acacia,_ and _Buddleia,_ a few fan-palms, bamboos, and Jack-trees. A shell (_Anodon_) was the only one seen in the river, which harboured few water-plants or birds, and neither alligators nor porpoises ascend so high.

On the 7th of May, about eighty miles in a straight line from the foot of the Himalaya, we found the stratified sandy banks, which had gradually risen to a height of thirteen feet, replaced by the hard alluvial clay of the Gangetic valley, which underlies the sand: the stream contracted, and the features of its banks were materially improved by a jungle of tamarisk, wormwood (_Artemisia_), and white rose-bushes (_Rosa involucrata_), whilst mango trees became common, with tamarinds, banyan, and figs. Date and _Caryota_ palms, and rattan canes, grew in the woods, and parasitic Orchids on the trees, which were covered with a climbing fern (_Acrosticum scandens_), so that we easily doubled our flora of the river banks before arriving at Maldah.

This once populous town is, like Berhampore, now quite decayed, since the decline of its silk and indigo trades: the staple product, called "Maldy," a mixture of silk and cotton, very durable, and which washes well, now forms its only trade, and is exported through Sikkim to the north-west provinces and Tibet. It is still famous for the size and


Himalayan Journals V2. - 40/94

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