Great Britain. India Office.

Imperial gazetteer of India .. (Volume 15) online

. (page 10 of 50)
Online LibraryGreat Britain. India OfficeImperial gazetteer of India .. (Volume 15) → online text (page 10 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the valley from the outer world, while in the south it is cut off from
the Punjab by rocky barriers, 50 to 75 miles in width. The mountain
snows feed the river and the streams, and it is calculated that the
Jhelum in its course through the valley has a catchment area of nearly
4,000 square miles. The mountains which surround Kashmir are
infinitely varied in form and colour. To the north lies a veritable
sea of mountains broken into white-crested waves, hastening away in


wild confusion to the great promontory of Nanga Parbat (26,182 feet).

To the cast stands Haramukh (16,903 feet), the grim mountain which
guards the valley of the Sind. Farther south is Mahadeo, very sacred
to the Hindus, which seems almost to look down upon Snnagar ; and
south again are the lofty range of Gwash Brari (17,800 feet), and the
peak of Amarnath (17,321 feet), the mountain of the pilgrims and very
beautiful in the evening sun. On the south-west is the Panjal range
with peaks of r 5,000 feet, over which the old imperial road of the
Mughals passes ; farther north the great rolling downs of the Tosh
Maidan (14,000 feet), over which men travel to the Punch country;
and in the north-west corner rises the Kajinag (12,125 feet), the home
of the mdrkhor.

On the west, and wherever the mountain-sides are sheltered from
the hot breezes of the Punjab plains, which blow across the intervening
mountains, there are grand forests of pines and firs. Down the tree-
clad slopes dash mountain streams white with foam, passing in their
course through pools of the purest cobalt. When the great dark
forests cease and the brighter woodland begins, the banks of the
streams are ablaze with clematis, honeysuckle, jasmine, and wild roses
which remind one of azaleas. The green smooth turf of the woodland
glades is like a well-kept lawn, dotted with clumps of hawthorn and
other beautiful trees and bushes. It would be difficult to describe the
colours that are seen on the Kashmir mountains. In early morning
they are often a delicate semi-transparent violet relieved against a
saffron sky, and with light vapours clinging round their crests. The
rising sun deepens the shadows, and produces sharp outlines and
strong passages of purple and indigo in the deep ravines. Later on
it is nearly all blue and lavender, with white snow peaks and ridges
under a vertical sun ; and as the afternoon wears on these become
richer violet and pale bronze, gradually changing to rose and pink with
yellow or orange snow, till the last rays of the sun have gone, leaving
the mountains dyed a ruddy crimson, with the snows showing a pale
creamy green by contrast. Looking downward from the mountains
the valley in the sunshine has the hues of the opal ; the pale reds of
the karezvas, the vivid light greens of the young rice, and the darker
shades of the groves of trees relieved by sunlight sheets, gleams of
water, and soft blue haze give a combination of tints reminding one
irresistibly of the changing hues of that gem. It is impossible in the
scope of this article to do justice to the beauty and grandeur of the
mountains of Kashmir, or to enumerate the lovely glades and forests,
visited by so few. Much has been written of the magnificent scenery
of the Sind and Liddar valleys, and of the gentler charms of the Lolab,
but the equal beauties of the western side of Kashmir have hardly been
described. Few countries can offer anything grander than the deep-green



mountain tarn, Konsanag, in the Panjal range, the waters of which
make a wild entrance into the valley over the splendid cataract of Arabal,
while the rolling grass mountain called Tosh Maidan, the springy downs
of Raiyar looking over the Suknag river as it twines, foaming down from
the mountains, the long winding park known as Yusumarg, and lower
down still the little hills which remind one of Surrey, and Nilnag with
its pretty lake screened by the dense forests, are worthy to be seen.

As one descends the mountains and leaves the woodland glades, cul-
tivation commences immediately, and right up to the fringe of the
forests maize is grown and walnut-trees abound. A little lower down,
at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, rice of a hardy and stunted growth
is found, and the shady plane-tree appears. Lower still superior rices
are grown, and the watercourses are edged with willows. The side
valleys which lead off from the vale of Kashmir, though possessing dis-
tinctive charms of their own, have certain features in common. At the
mouth of the valley lies the wide delta of fertile soil on which the rice
with its varying colours, the plane-trees, mulberries, and willows grow
luxuriantly ; a little higher up the land is terraced and rice still grows,
and the slopes are ablaze with the wild indigo, till at about 6,000 feet
the plane-tree gives place to the walnut, and rice to millets. On the left
bank of the mountain river endless forests stretch from the bottom of
the valley to the peaks ; and on the right bank, wherever a nook or
corner is sheltered from the sun and the hot breezes of India, the pines
and firs establish themselves. Farther up the valley, the river, already
a roaring torrent, becomes a veritable waterfall dashing down between
lofty cliffs, whose bases are fringed with maples and horse-chestnuts,
white and pink, and millets are replaced by buckwheat and Tibetan
barley. Soon after this the useful birch-tree appears, and then come
grass and glaciers, the country of the shepherds.

Where the mountains cease to be steep, fan-like projections with flat
arid tops and bare of trees run out towards the valley. These are
known as kareivas. Sometimes they stand up isolated in the middle of
the valley, but, whether isolated or attached to the mountains, the
kareivas present the same sterile appearance and offer the same abrupt
walls to the valley. The karewas are pierced by mountain torrents and
seamed with ravines. Bearing in mind that Kashmir was once a lake,
which dried up when nature afforded an outlet at Baramula, it is easy to
recognize in the kareivas the shelving shores of a great inland sea, and
to realize that the inhabitants of the old cities, the traces of which can
be seen on high bluffs and on the slope of the mountains, had no other
choice of sites, since in those days the present fertile valley was buried
beneath a waste of water.

Kashmir abounds in mountain tarns, lovely lakes, and swampy
lagoons. Of the lakes the Wular, the Dal, and the Manasbal are the


most beautiful. It is also rich in springs, many of which are thermal.
They are useful auxiliaries to the mountain streams in irrigation, and
are sometimes the sole sources of water, as in the case of Achabal,
Vernag, and Kokarnag on the south, and Arpal on the east. Islamabad
or Anantnag, ' the place of the countless springs,' sends out numerous
streams. One of these springs, the Maliknag, is sulphurous, and its water
is highly prized for garden cultivation. The Kashmiris are good judges
of water. They regard Kokarnag as the best source of drinking-water,
while Chashma Shahi above the Dal Lake stands high in order of merit.
It is time now for the traveller who has been resting in Srinagar to
set out on the great northern road which leads to Gilgit. He will have
admired the quaint, insanitary city lying along the banks of the Jhelum,
with a length of 3 miles and an average breadth of i£ miles on either
side of the river. The houses vary in size from the large and spacious
brick palaces of the Pandit aristocrat and his 500 retainers, warmed in
the winter by hammams, to the doll house of three storeys, where the
poor shawl-weaver lives his cramped life, and shivers in the frosty
weather behind lattice windows covered with paper. In the spring and
summer the earthen roofs of the houses, resting on layers of birch-bark,
are bright with green herbage and flowers. The canals with their
curious stone bridges and shady waterway, and the great river with an
average width of eighty yards, spanned by wooden bridges, crowded
with boats of every description, and lined by bathing boxes, are well
worth studying. The wooden bridges are cheap, effective, and pictur-
esque, and their construction is ingenious, for in design they appear to
have anticipated the modern cantilever principle. Old boats filled with
stones were sunk at the sites chosen for pier foundations. Piles were
then driven and more boats were sunk. When a height above the low-
water level was reached, wooden trestles of deodar were constructed by
placing rough-hewn logs at right angles. As the structure approached
the requisite elevation to admit of chakivdris (house-boats) passing be-
neath, deodar logs were cantilevered. This reduced the span, and huge
trees were made to serve as girders to support the roadway. The foun-
dations of loose stones and piles have been protected on the upstream
side by planking, and a rough but effective cut-water made. The secret
of the stability of these old bridges may, perhaps, be attributed to the
skeleton piers offering little or no resistance to the large volume of water
brought down at flood-time. It is true that the heavy floods of 1893
swept away six out of the seven city bridges, and that the cumbrous
piers tend to narrow the waterway, but it should be remembered that
the old bridges had weathered many a serious flood. Not long ago two
of the bridges, the Habba Kadal and the Zaina Kadal, had rows of
shops on them reminding one of Old London Bridge ; but these have
now been cleared away.



The distance by road from Srinagar to Gilgit is 228 miles, and the
traveller can reach Bandipura at the head of the Wular Lake by boat or
by land. The Gilgit road, which cost the Kashmir State, in the first
instance, 15 lakhs, is a remarkable achievement, and was one of the
greatest boons ever conferred on the Kashmiri subjects of the Maharaja.
Previous to its construction supplies for the Gilgit garrison were carried
by impressed labourers, many of whom perished on the passes, or
returned crippled and maimed by frost-bite on the snow or accident on
the goat paths that did duty for roads. The journey to Gilgit before
1890 has been aptly compared with the journey to Siberia. Now, sup-
plies are carried on ponies and the name Gilgit is no longer a terror to
the people of Kashmir.

From Bandipura a steep ascent leads to the Raj Diangan pass (1 1,800
feet), a most dreaded place in the winter months, when the cold winds
mean death to man and beast. Thence through a beautifully wooded
and watered country, past the lovely valley of Gurais, down which the
Kishanganga flows, the traveller has no difficulties till he reaches the
Burzil pass (13,500 feet), below which the summer road to Skardu
across the dreary wastes of the Deosai plains branches off to the north-
east. This is a very easy pass in summer, but is very dangerous in a
snowstorm or high wind.

Descending from the Burzil the whole scene changes. The forests
and vegetation of Kashmir are left behind, the trees are few and of a
strange appearance, and the very flowers look foreign. It is a bleak and
rugged country, and when Astor (7,853 feet) is left the sense of desola-
tion increases. Nothing can be more dreary than the steep descent
from Doian down the side of the arid Hattu Fir into the sterile waste of
the Indus valley. It is cool at Doian (8,720 feet); it is stifling at Ram-
ghat (3,800 feet), where one passes over the Astor river by a suspension
bridge. The old construction was a veritable bridge of sighs to the
Kashmir convicts who were forced across the river and left to their fate
■ — starvation or capture by the slave-hunters from Chilas. A little
cultivation at Bunji relieves the eye ; but there is nothing to cheer the
traveller until the Indus has been crossed by a fine bridge, and 30 miles
farther the pleasant oasis of Gilgit is reached.

The Indus valley is a barren dewless country. The very river with
its black water looks hot, and the great mountains are destitute of
vegetation. The only thing of beauty is the view of the snowy ranges,
and Nanga Parbat in the rising sun seen from the crossing of the Indus
river to Gilgit sweeps into oblivion the dreadful desert of sands and
rock. Gilgit (4,890 feet) itself is fertile and well watered. The moun-
tains fall back from the river, and leave room for cultivation on the
alluvial land bordering the right bank of the Gilgit river, a rare feature
in the northern parts of the Maharaja's dominion.


Another route giving a general idea of the country runs from west to
east, from Kohala on the Jhelum to Leh, about 5 miles beyond the
Indus. A good road from Rawalpindi brings the traveller to Kohala,
where he crosses the Jhelum by a bridge, and enters the territories of
Tammu and Kashmir. The cart-road passes from Kohala to Srinagar,
a distance of 132 miles, by easy gradients. As far as Baramula the
road is close to the river, but for the most part at a great height above
it, and the scenery is beautiful. At Muzaffarabad the Kishanganga
river joins the Jhelum, and here the road from Abbottabad and Garhi
Hablb-ullah connects with the Kashmir route. The road runs along
the left bank of the Jhelum, through careful terraced cultivation, above
which are pine forests and pastures. It carries a very heavy traffic, but
owing to the formation of the country it is liable to constant breaches,
and is expensive to keep in repair.

From Uri a road runs south to the country of the Raja of Punch, the
chief feudatory of the Maharaja, crossing the Haji pass (8,500 feet).
At Baramula the road enters the valley of Kashmir, and runs through
a continuous avenue of poplars to Srinagar. In bygone days this route,
known as the Jhelum valley road — now the chief means of communica-
tion with India — was little used. The Bambas and Khakhas, who still
hold the country, were a restless and warlike people ; and the numerous
forts that command the narrow valley suggest that the neighbourhood
was unsafe for the ordinary traveller. The construction of the road
from Kohala to Baramula cost the State nearly 22 lakhs.

From Srinagar to Leh is 243 miles. The first part of the journey
runs up the Sind valley, perhaps the most exquisite scenery in Kashmir.
Fitful efforts are made from time to time to improve this important
route, but it still remains a mere fair-weather track. The Sind river
thunders down the valley, and the steep mountains rise on either side,
the northern slopes covered with pine forest, the southern bare and
treeless. At Gagangir the track climbs along the river torrent to
Sonamarg (8,650 feet), the last and highest village in the Sind valley,
if we except the small hamlet of Nilagrar some 2 miles higher up.
Sonamarg is a beautiful mountain meadow surrounded by glaciers and
forests. It is a miserable place in the winter time, but it is of great
importance to encourage a resident population. The chief staples of
cultivation are grim, or Tibetan barley, and buckwheat. It is good to
turn loose the baggage ponies to graze on the meadow grasses ; for in
a few more marches one passes into a region like the country beyond
the Burzil on the road to Gilgit, a land devoid of forests and pastures,
'a desert of bare crags and granite dust, a cloudless region always burn-
ing or freezing under the clear blue sky.' The Zoji La (1 1,300 feet) is
the lowest depression in the great Western Himalayas which run from
the Indus valley on the Chilas frontier. Over this high range the rains


from the south hardly penetrate, and the cultivation, scanty and diffi-
cult, depends entirely on artificial canals. The ascent to the Zoji La
from Kashmir is very steep, the descent to the elevated table-land of
Tibet almost imperceptible. For five marches the route follows the
course of the Dras river, through a desolate country of piled up rocks
and loose gravel. At Chanagund the road to Skardu crosses the Dras
river by a cantilever bridge, 4 miles above the junction of the Dras and
Suru rivers, and about 8 miles farther on the Indus receives their
waters. But the steep cliffs of the Indus offer no path to the traveller,
and the track leaves the Dras river, and turns in a southerly direction
to Kargil, a delightful oasis. Then the road abandons the valleys and
ascends the bare mountains. The dreary scenery is compensated by
the cloudless pale blue sky and the dry bracing air so characteristic of
Ladakh. Through gorges and defiles the valley of Shergol is reached)
the first Buddhist village on the road. Thenceforward the country is
Buddhist, and the road runs up and down over the Namika La ( 1 3,000 feet)
and over the Fotu La (13,400 feet), the highest point on the Leh road.
Along the road near the villages are Buddhist monasteries, mam's (walls
of praying stones) and chortens, where the ashes of the dead mixed with
clay and moulded into a little idol are placed, and at Lamayaru there
is a wilderness of monuments. Later, the Indus is crossed by a long
cantilever bridge ; and the road runs along the right bank through the
fertile oasis of Khalsi, then through the usual desert with an occasional
patch of vegetation to Leh (11,500 feet), the capital of Western Tibet
and of Western Buddhism, and the trade terminus for caravans from
India and from Central Asia. It is a long and difficult road from Leh
to Yarkand, 482 miles, over the Khardung La, the Sasser La, and the
Karakoram pass of between 17,000 and 19,000 feet altitude, where the
useful yak (Bos grunniens) relieves the ponies of their loads when fresh
snow has fallen, or serves unladen to consolidate a path for the ponies.
A brief description may be given of one more of the many routes
that follow the rivers and climb the mountains — the route from Leh
through Baltistan to Astor on the Gilgit road. At Khalsi, where the
Srlnagar-Leh road crosses the Indus, the track keeps to the right bank
of the Indus, and passing down the deep gorge of the river comes to
a point where the stupendous cliffs and the roaring torrent prevent
farther progress. There the traveller strikes away from the Indus and
ascends the mountains to the Chorbat pass (16,700 feet), covered with
snow even in July. From the pass, across the valley of the Shyok river,
the great Karakoram range, some 50 miles away, comes into view. An
abrupt descent carries the traveller from winter into hot summer ; and
by a difficult track which in places is carried along the face of the cliff
by frail scaffolding (pari), following the course of the Shyok river,
smoothly flowing between white sands of granite, and passing many


pleasant oases, one comes to the grateful garden of Khapallu, a paradise
to the simple Baltis. Crossing the united waters of the Shyok and the
Indus on a small skin raft, the traveller arrives at Skardu (7,250 feet),
the old capital of Baltistan. Here the mountains on either side of the
Indus recede, and the sandy basin, about 5 miles in breadth, is partially
irrigated by water from the pretty mountain lake of Satpura and care-
fully cultivated. Looking across the Indus to the north, the Shigar
valley, the garden of Baltistan, with its wealth of fruit trees is seen.
There the cultivator adds to his resources by washing gold from the
sands of the river. From Skardu the direct route to (lilgit follows the
Indus, which is crossed at Rondu by a rope bridge so long as to be
most trying to the nerves, but a fair-weather track over the Banak pass
lands the traveller on the Gilgit road at Astor.

It is difficult to give a general idea of a country so diversified as
Kashmir and Jammu. As will be seen in the section on History, a
strange destiny has brought people of distinct races, languages, and
religions, and countries of widely different physical characteristics,
under the rule of the Maharaja.

The Kashmir territory may be divided physically into two areas : the
north-eastern, comprising the area drained by the Indus with its tribu-
taries ; and the south-western, including the country drained by the
Jhelum with its tributary the Kishanganga, and by the Chenab. The
dividing line or watershed is formed by the great central mountain range
which runs from Nanga Parbat, overhanging the Indus on the north-
west, in a south-easterly direction for about 240 miles till it enters
British territory in Lahul.

The south-western area may, following the nomenclature of Mr. Drew,
in its turn be geographically divided into three sections : the region of
the outer hills, the middle mountains, and the Kashmir Valley.

Approaching Kashmir from the plains of the Punjab, the boundary
is not at the foot of the hills, but embraces a strip of the great plains
from 5 to 15 miles wide, reaching from the Ravi to the Jhelum. As is
generally the case along the foot of the Western Himalayas, this tract
of flat country is somewhat arid and considerably cut up by ravines
which carry off the flood-water of the monsoon. A fair amount of cul-
tivation is found on the plateaux between these ravines, though, being
entirely dependent on the rainfall, the yield is somewhat precarious.
The height of this tract may be taken at from 1,100 to 1,200 feet above

Passing over the plain a region of broken ground and low hills is
reached, running mainly in ridges parallel to the general line of the
Himalayan chain. These vary in height from 2,000 to 4,000 feet, and
are largely composed of sandstone, being in fact a continuation of the
Siwalik geological formation. Lying between these parallel ridges are


a series of valleys or duns, fairly well populated, in the east by Dogras
and in the west by Chibs. These hills are sparsely covered with low
scrub bushes, the chlr (Pinus longifolia) gradually predominating as the
inner hills are reached. Beyond these lower hills rise the spurs of a
more mountainous district.

The scope of this region, as defined by Mr. Drew, has been some-
what extended, and includes the range which forms the southern
boundary of the Kashmir Valley, known as the Panjal range, and its
continuation eastwards beyond the Chenab. This tract is about
1 80 miles long and varies in width from 25 to 35 miles. The portion
lying between the Jhelum and Chenab is formed by the mass of moun-
tainous spurs running down from the high Panjal range which forms its
northern limit. The Panjal itself, extending from Muzaffarabad on the
Jhelum to near Kishtwar on the Chenab, is a massive mountain range,
the highest central portion to which the name is truly applied having
a length of 80 miles, with peaks rising to 14,000 and 15,000 feet.
From the southern side a series of spurs branch out, which break up
the ground into an intricate mountain mass cut into by ravines or
divided by narrow valleys.

The elevation of these middle mountains is sufficient to give
a thoroughly temperate character to the vegetation. Forests of Hima-
layan oak, pine, spruce, silver fir, and deodar occupy a great part of the
mountain slopes ; the rest, the more sunny parts, where forest trees do
not flourish, is, except where rocks jut out, well covered with herbage,
with plants and flowers that resemble those of Central or Southern
Europe. East of the Chenab river rises a somewhat similar mass
of hills, forming the district of Bhadarwah, with peaks varying from
9,000 to 14,000 feet in height. These culminate in the high range
which forms the Chamba and Ravi watershed in Chamba territory.

The third section of the south-western area bears a unique char-
acter in the Himalayas, consisting of an open valley of considerable
extent completely surrounded by mountains. The boundaries are
formed on the north-east by the great central range which separates
the Jhelum and Indus drainage, and on the south by the Panjal range
already described. The eastern boundary is formed by a high spur
of the main range, which branching off at about 75 30' E. runs nearly
due south, its peaks maintaining an elevation of from 12,000 to 14,000
feet. This minor range forms the watershed between the Jhelum
and Chenab, separating the Kashmir from the Wardwan valley. It
eventually joins and blends with the Panjal range about 16 miles west
of Kishtwar. On the north and west, the bounding ranges of the
valley are more difficult to describe. A few miles west of the spot
from which the eastern boundary spur branches near the Zoji La,
another minor range is given off. This runs nearly due west for about


ioo miles at an elevation of from 12,000 to 13,000 feet, with a width

Online LibraryGreat Britain. India OfficeImperial gazetteer of India .. (Volume 15) → online text (page 10 of 50)