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- Himalayan Journals, V1 - 10/63 -
During the night of the 14th of February, I observed a beautiful display, apparently of the Aurora borealis, an account of which will be found in the Appendix.
_February_ 15.--Our passage through the Soane sands was very tedious, though accomplished in excellent style, the elephants pushing forward the heavy waggons of mining tools with their foreheads. The wheels were sometimes buried to the axles in sand, and the draught bullocks were rather in the way than otherwise.
The body of water over which we ferried, was not above 80 yards wide. In the rains, when the whole space of three miles is one rapid flood, 10 or 12 feet deep, charged with yellow sand, this river must present an imposing spectacle. I walked across the dry portion, observing the sand-waves, all ranged in one direction, perpendicular to that of the prevailing wind, accurately representing the undulations of the ocean, as seen from a mast-head or high cliff. As the sand was finer or coarser, so did the surface resemble a gentle ripple, or an ocean-swell. The progressive motion of the waves was curious, and caused by the lighter particles being blown over the ridges, and filling up the hollows to leeward. There were a few islets in the sand, a kind of oases of mud and clay, in laminae no thicker than paper, and these were at once denizened by various weeds. Some large spots were green with wheat and barley-crops, both suffering from smut.
We encamped close to the western shore, at the village of Dearee (alt. 330 feet); it marks the termination of the Kymore Hills, along whose S.E. bases our course now lay, as we here quitted the grand trunk road for a rarely visited country.
On the 16th we marched south up the river to Tilotho (alt. 395 feet), through a rich and highly cultivated country, covered with indigo, cotton, sugar-cane, safflower, castor-oil, poppy, and various grains. Dodders (_Cuscuta_) covered even tall trees with a golden web, and the _Capparis acuminata_ was in full flower along the road side. Tilotho, a beautiful village, is situated in a superb grove of Mango, Banyan, Peepul, Tamarind, and _Bassia._ The Date or toddy-palm and fan-palm are very abundant and tall: each had a pot hung under the crown. The natives climb these trunks with a hoop or cord round the body and both ancles, and a bottle-gourd or other vessel hanging round the neck to receive the juice from the stock-bottle, in this aerial wine-cellar. These palms were so lofty that the climbers, as they paused in their ascent to gaze with wonder at our large retinue, resembled monkeys rather than men. Both trees yield a toddy, but in this district they stated that that from the _Phoenix_ (Date) alone ferments, and is distilled; while in other parts of India, the _Borassus_ (fan-palm) is chiefly employed. I walked to the hills, over a level cultivated country interspersed with occasional belts of low wood; in which the pensile nests of the weaver-bird were abundant, but generally hanging out of reach, in prickly _Acacias._
The hills here present a straight precipitous wall of horizontally stratified sandstone, very like the rocks at the Cape of Good Hope, with occasionally a shallow valley, and a slope of debris at the base, densely clothed with dry jungle. The cliffs are about 1000 feet high, and the plants similar to those at the foot of Paras-nath, but stunted: I climbed to the top, the latter part by steps or ledges of sandstone. The summit was clothed with long grass, trees of _Diospyros_ and _Terminalia,_ and here and there the _Boswellia._ On the precipitous rocks the curious white-barked _Sterculia foetida_ "flung its arms abroad," leafless, and looking as if blasted by lightning.
A hole was sunk here again for the thermometers, and, as usual, with great labour; the temperatures obtained were-- Air. 9 p.m. 64.5 degrees 5.30 a.m. 58.5 degrees 4 feet 6 inches, under good shade of trees 9 p.m. 77 degrees 11 p.m. 76 degrees 5.30 a.m. 76 degrees
This is a very great rise (of 4 degrees) above any of those previously obtained, and certainly indicates a much higher mean temperature of the locality. I can only suppose it due to the radiation of heat from the long range of sandstone cliff, exposed to the south, which overlooks the flat whereon we were encamped, and which, though four or five miles off, forms a very important feature. The differences of temperature in the shade taken on this and the other side of the river are 2.75 degrees higher on this side.
On the 17th we marched to Akbarpore (alt. 400. feet), a village overhung by the rocky precipice of Rotasghur, a spur of the Kymore, standing abruptly forward.
The range, in proceeding up the Soane valley, gradually approaches the river, and beds of non-fossiliferous limestone are seen protruding below the sandstone and occasionally rising into rounded hills, the paths upon which appear as white as do those through the chalk districts of England. The overlying beds of sandstone are nearly horizontal, or with a dip to the N.W.; the subjacent ones of limestone dip at a greater angle. Passing between the river and a detached conical hill of limestone, capped with a flat mass of sandstone, the spur of Rotas broke suddenly on the view, and very grand it was, quite realising my anticipations of the position of these eyrie-like hill-forts of India. To the left of the spur winds the valley of the Soane, with low-wooded hills on its opposite bank, and a higher range, connected with that of Behar, in the distance. To the right, the hills sweep round, forming an immense and beautifully wooded amphitheatre, about four miles deep, bounded with a continuation of the escarpment. At the foot of the crowned spur is the village of Akbarpore, where we encamped in a Mango tope;* [On the 24th of June, 1848, the Soane rose to an unprecedented height, and laid this grove of Mangos three feet under water.] it occupies some pretty undulating limestone hills, amongst which several streams flow from the amphitheatre to the Soane.
During our two days' stay here, I had the advantage of the society of Mr. C. E. Davis, who was our guide during some rambles in the neighbourhood, and to whose experience, founded on the best habits of observation, I am indebted for much information. At noon we started to ascend to the palace, on the top of the spur. On the way we passed a beautiful well, sixty feet deep, and with a fine flight of steps to the bottom. Now neglected and overgrown with flowering weeds and creepers, it afforded me many of the plants I had only previously obtained in a withered state; it was curious to observe there some of the species of the hill-tops, whose seeds doubtless are scattered abundantly over the surrounding plains, and only vegetate where they find a coolness and moisture resembling that of the altitude they elsewhere affect. A fine fig-tree growing out of the stone-work spread its leafy green branches over the well mouth, which was about twelve feet square; its roots assumed a singular form, enveloping two sides of the walls with a beautiful net-work, which at _high-water mark_ (rainy season), abruptly divides into thousands of little brushes, dipping into the water which they fringe. It was a pretty cool place to descend to, from a temperature of 80 degrees above, to 74 degrees at the bottom, where the water was 60 degrees; and most refreshing to look, either up the shaft to the green fig shadowing the deep profound, or along the sloping steps through a vista of flowering herbs and climbing plants, to the blue heaven of a burning sky.
The ascent to Rotas is over the dry hills of limestone, covered with a scrubby brushwood, to a crest where are the first rude and ruined defences. The limestone is succeeded by the sandstone cliff cut into steps, which led from ledge to ledge and gap to gap, well guarded with walls and an archway of solid masonry. Through this we passed on to the flat summit of the Kymore hills, covered with grass and forest, intersected by paths in all directions. The ascent is about 1200 feet--a long pull in the blazing sun of February. The turf consists chiefly of spear-grass and _Andropogon muricatus,_ the kus-kus, which yields a favourite fragrant oil, used as a medicine in India. The trees are of the kinds mentioned before. A pretty octagonal summer-house, with its roof supported by pillars, occupies one of the highest points of the plateau, and commands a superb view of the scenery before described. From this a walk of three miles leads through the woods to the palace. The buildings are very extensive, and though now ruinous, bear evidence of great beauty in the architecture: light galleries, supported by slender columns, long cool arcades, screened squares and terraced walks, are the principal features. The rooms open out upon flat roofs, commanding views of the long endless table-land to the west, and a sheer precipice of 1000 feet on the other side, with the Soane, the amphitheatre of hills, and the village of Akbarpore below.
This and Beejaghur, higher up the Soane, were amongst the most recently reduced forts, and this was further the last of those wrested from Baber in 1542. Some of the rooms are still habitable, but the greater part are ruinous, and covered with climbers, both of wild flowers and of the naturalised garden plants of the adjoining shrubbery; the _Arbor-tristis,_ with _Hibiscus, Abutilon,_ etc., and above all, the little yellow-flowered _Linaria ramosissima,_ crawling over every ruined wall, as we see the walls of our old English castles clothed with its congener _L. Cymbalaria._
In the old dark stables I observed the soil to be covered with a copious evanescent efflorescence of nitrate of lime, like soap-suds scattered about.
I made Rotas Palace 1490 feet above the sea, so that this table-land is here only fifty feet higher than that I had crossed on the grand trunk road, before descending at the Dunwah pass. Its mean temperature is of course considerably (4 degrees) below that of the valley, but though so cool, agues prevail after the rains. The extremes of temperature are less marked than in the valley, which becomes excessively heated, and where hot winds sometimes last for a week, blowing in furious gusts.
The climate of the whole neighbourhood has of late changed materially; and the fall of rain has much diminished, consequent on felling the forests; even within six years the hail-storms have been far less frequent and violent. The air on the hills is highly electrical, owing, no doubt, to the dryness of the atmosphere, and to this the frequent recurrence of hail-storms may be due.
The zoology of these regions is tolerably copious, but little is known of the natural history of a great part of the plateau; a native tribe, prone to human sacrifices, is talked of. Tigers are common, and bears are numerous; they have, besides, the leopard, panther, viverine cat, and civet; and of the dog tribe the pariah, jackal, fox, and wild dog, called Koa. Deer are very numerous, of six or seven kinds. A small alligator inhabits the hill streams, said to be a very different animal from either of the Soane species.
During our descent we examined several instances of ripple-mark (fossil waves' footsteps) in the sandstone; they resembled the
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