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- Himalayan Journals, V1 - 6/63 -

Next in wealth to the merchants, the most thriving-looking wanderer is the bearer of Ganges' holy water, who drives a profitable trade, his gains increasing as his load lightens, for the further he wanders from the sacred stream, the more he gets for the contents of his jar.

Of merchandise we passed very little, the Ganges being still the high road between north-west India and Bengal. Occasionally a string of camels was seen, but, owing to the damp climate, these are rare, and unknown east of the meridian of Calcutta. A little cotton, clumsily packed in ragged bags, dirty, and deteriorating every day, even at this dry season, proves in how bad a state it must arrive at the market during the rains, when the low wagons are dragged through the streams.

The roads here are all mended with a curious stone, called Kunker, which is a nodular concretionary deposit of limestone, abundantly imbedded in the alluvial soil of a great part of India.* [Often occurring in strata, like flints.] It resembles a coarse gravel, each pebble being often as large as a walnut, and tuberculated on the surface: it binds admirably, and forms excellent roads, but pulverises into a most disagreeable impalpable dust.

A few miles beyond Taldangah we passed from the sandstone, in which the coal lies, to a very barren country of gneiss and granite rocks, upon which the former rests; the country still rising, more hills appear, and towering far above all is Paras-nath, the culminant point, and a mountain whose botany I was most anxious to explore.

The vegetation of this part of the country is very poor, no good-sized trees are to be seen, all is a low stunted jungle. The grasses were few, and dried up, except in the beds of the rivulets. On the low jungly hills the same plants appear, with a few figs, bamboo in great abundance, several handsome _Acanthaceae_; a few _Asclepiadeae_ climbing up the bushes; and the Cowage plant, now with over-ripe pods, by shaking which, in passing, there often falls such a shower of its irritating microscopic hairs, as to make the skin tingle for an hour.

On the 1st of February, we moved on to Gyra, another insignificant village. The air was cool, and the atmosphere clear. The temperature, at three in the morning, was 65 degrees, with no dew, the grass only 61 degrees°. As the sun rose, Parasnath appeared against the clear grey sky, in the form of a beautiful broad cone, with a rugged peak, of a deeper grey than the sky. It is a remarkably handsome mountain, sufficiently lofty to be imposing, rising out of an elevated country, the slope of which, upward to the base of the mountain, though imperceptible, is really considerable; and it is surrounded by lesser hills of just sufficient elevation to set it off. The atmosphere, too, of these regions is peculiarly favourable for views: it is very dry at this season; but still the hills are clearly defined, without the harsh outlines so characteristic of a moist air. The skies are bright, the sun powerful; and there is an almost imperceptible haze that seems to soften the landscape, and keep every object in true perspective.

Our route led towards the picturesque hills and values in front. The rocks were all hornblende and micaceous schist, cut through by trap-dykes, while great crumbling masses (or bosses) of quartz protruded through the soil. The stratified rocks were often exposed, pitched up at various inclinations: they were frequently white with effloresced salts, which entering largely into the composition tended to hasten their decomposition, and being obnoxious to vegetation, rendered the sterile soil more hungry still. There was little cultivation, and that little of the most wretched kind; even rice-fields were few and scattered; there was no corn, or gram (_Ervum Lens_), no Castor-oil, no Poppy, Cotton, Safflower, or other crops of the richer soils that flank the Ganges and Hoogly; a very little Sugar-cane, Dhal (_Cajana_), Mustard, Linseed, and Rape, the latter three cultivated for their oil. Hardly a Palm was to be seen; and it was seldom that the cottages could boast of a Banana, Tamarind, Orange, Cocoa-nut or Date. The Mahowa (_Bassia latifolia_) and Mango were the commonest trees. There being no Kunker in the soil here, the roads were mended with angular quartz, much to the elephants' annoyance.

We dismounted where some very micaceous stratified rock cropped out, powdered with a saline efflorescence.* [An impure carbonate of soda. This earth is thrown into clay vessels with water, which after dissolving the soda, is allowed to evaporate, when the remainder is collected, and found to contain so much silica, as to be capable of being fused into glass. Dr. Boyle mentions this curious fact (Essay on the Arts and Manufactures of India, read before the Society of Arts, February 18, 1852), in illustration of the probably early epoch at which the natives of British India were acquainted with the art of making glass. More complicated processes are employed, and have been from a very early period, in other parts of the continent.] Jujubes (_Zizyphus_) prevailed, with the _Carissa carandas_ (in fruit), a shrub belonging to the usually poisonous family of Dog-banes (_Apocyneae_); its berries make good tarts, and the plant itself forms tolerable hedges.

The country around Fitcoree is rather pretty, the hills covered with bamboo and brushwood, and as usual, rising rather suddenly from the elevated plains. The jungle affords shelter to a few bears and tigers, jackals in abundance, and occasionally foxes; the birds seen are chiefly pigeons. Insects are very scarce; those of the locust tribe being most prevalent, indicative of a dry climate.

The temperature at 3 a.m.. was 65 degrees; at 3 p.m. 82 degrees; and at 10 p.m., 68 degrees, from which there was no great variation during the whole time we spent at these elevations. The clouds were rare, and always light and high, except a little fleecy spot of vapour condensed close to the summit of Paras-nath. Though the nights were clear and starlight, no dew was deposited, owing to the great dryness of the air. On one occasion, this drought was so great during the passage of a hot wind, that at night I observed the wet-bulb thermometer to stand 20.5 degrees below the temperature of the air, which was 66 degrees; this indicated a dew-point of 11.5 degrees, or 54.5 degrees below the air, and a saturation-point of 0.146; there being only 0.102 grains of vapour per cubic foot of air, which latter was loaded with dust. The little moisture suspended in the atmosphere is often seen to be condensed in a thin belt of vapour, at a considerable distance above the dry surface of the earth, thus intercepting the radiation of heat from the latter to the clear sky above. Such strata may be observed, crossing the hills in ribbonlike masses, though not so clearly on this elevated region as on the plains bounding the lower course of the Soane, where the vapour is more dense, the hills more scattered, and the whole atmosphere more humid. During the ten days I spent amongst the hills I saw but one cloudy sunrise, whereas below, whether at Calcutta, or on the banks of the Soane, the sun always rose behind a dense fog-bank.

At 9.30 a.m. the black-bulb thermometer rose in the sun to 130 degrees. The morning observation before 10 or 11 a..m. always gives a higher result than at noon, though the sun's declination is so considerably less, and in the hottest part of the day it is lower still (3.30 p.m. 109 degrees), an effect no doubt due to the vapours raised by the sun, and which equally interfere with the photometer observations. The N.W. winds invariably rise at about 9 a.m. and blow with increasing strength till sunset; they are due to the rarefaction of the air over the heated ground, and being loaded with dust, the temperature of the atmosphere is hence raised by the heated particles. The increased temperature of the afternoon is therefore not so much due to the accumulation of caloric from the sun's rays, as to the passage of a heated current of air derived from the much hotter regions to the westward. It would be interesting to know how far this N.W. diurnal tide extends; also the rate at which it gathers moisture in its progress over the damp regions of the Sunderbunds. Its excessive dryness in N.W. India approaches that of the African and Australian deserts; and I shall give an abstract of my own observations, both in the vallies of the Soane and Ganges, and on the elevated plateaus of Behar and of Mirzapore.* [See Appendix A.]

On the 2nd of February we proceeded to Tofe-Choney, the hills increasing in height to nearly 1000 feet, and the country becoming more picturesque. We passed some tanks covered with _Villarsia_, and frequented by flocks of white egrets. The existence of artificial tanks so near a lofty mountain, from whose sides innumerable water-courses descend, indicates the great natural dryness of the country during one season of the year. The hills and vallies were richer than I expected, though far from luxuriant. A fine _Nauclea_ is a common shady tree, and _Bignonia indica_, now leafless, but with immense pods hanging from the branches. _Acanthaceae_ is the prevalent natural order, consisting of gay-flowered _Eranthemums, Ruellias, Barlerias,_ and such hothouse favourites.* [Other plants gathered here, and very typical of the Flora of this dry region, were _Linum trigynum, Feronia elephantum, Aegle marmelos, Helicteres Asoca, Abrus precatorius, Flemingia_; various _Desmodia, Rhynchosiae, Glycine,_ and _Grislea tomentosa_ very abundant, _Conocarpus latifoliusa, Loranthus longiflorus,_ and another species; _Phyllanthus Emblica,_ various _Convolvuli, Cuscuta,_ and several herbaceous _Compositae._]

This being the most convenient station whence to ascend Paras-nath, we started at 6 a.m. for the village of Maddaobund, at the north base of the mountain, or opposite side from that on which the grand trunk-road runs. After following the latter for a few miles to the west, we took a path through beautifully wooded plains, with scattered trees of the Mahowa (_Bassia latifolia_), resembling good oaks: the natives distil a kind of arrack from its fleshy flowers, which are also eaten raw. The seeds, too, yield a concrete oil, by expression, which is used for lamps and occasionally for frying.

Some villages at the west base of the mountain occupy a better soil, and are surrounded with richer cultivation; palms, mangos, and the tamarind, the first and last rare features in this part of Bengal, appeared to be common, with fields of rice and broad acres of flax and rape, through the latter of which the blue _Orobanche indica_ swarmed. The short route to Maddaobund, through narrow rocky vallies, was impracticable for the elephants, and we had to make a very considerable detour, only reaching that village at 2 p.m. All the hill people we observed were a fine-looking athletic race; they disclaimed the tiger being a neighbour, which every palkee-bearer along the road declares to carry off the torch-bearers, torch and all. Bears they said were scarce, and all other wild animals, but a natural jealousy of Europeans often leads the natives to deny the existence of what they know to be an attraction to the proverbially sporting Englishman.

Illustration - OLD TAMARIND TREES.

The site of Maddaobund, elevated 1230 feet, in a clearance of the forest, and the appearance of the snow-white domes and bannerets of its temples through the fine trees by which it is surrounded, are very beautiful. Though several hundred feet above any point we had hitherto reached, the situation is so sheltered that the tamarind, peepul, and banyan trees are superb. A fine specimen of the latter stands at the entrance to the village, not a broadheaded tree, as is usual in the prime of its existence, but a mass of trunks irregularly

Himalayan Journals, V1 - 6/63

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