J.F. Foster.

Three Months of My Life online

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keep to it and not cross as I intended. In the evening a slim young
native came to me and offered to swim across the river for Bakhshish, "a
present." I promised it to him, and he ran a quarter of a mile up, and
plunged into the torrent, landing on the opposite side a little below
the bungalow. He then went up the river again, and swam down to this
side, no mean feat in turbulent water running as it did with tremendous
velocity. I gave him eight annas for it.

JULY 12th, "Sunday." - In the middle of last night a storm came on, I was
sleeping in the open air, and the lightning awoke me, it was beginning
to rain, and I had to move into the house. It was broad daylight when I
was called, and I felt disinclined to proceed. I said it would rain, and
I would halt. My boy said, "No Sir, no rain." I said the sun would come
out and it would be burning hot. He said, "No Sir, no sun." I felt it
was useless continuing the argument, so I got up and marched to Kunda,
eighteen miles, walking all the way. A hard march, nothing but steep
rough ascents, and corresponding descents, still keeping along the
river, but two or three hundred feet above it. My Coolies pointed out to
me a herd of "chiken" on a very high hill, at least four miles away. I
saw nothing, for even big trees at that distance were diminished to
very small objects, but did not dispute with them. They say uncivilized
man has wonderful sight, and if deer were there, he certainly has far
higher powers of vision even, than I had been led to expect. Met three
men leaving Kashmir, and exchanged remarks with them. Don't know who
they were. Caught sight of my destination from the top of one hill, and
was delighted to see it was quite close to me. But alas! several weary
miles of up and down and in and out had to be traversed before it could
be reached. This has several times happened to me, and I shall in future
put no faith in appearances. The Barahduree here is a two storied one,
standing I should think five hundred feet above the river, which is
here confined in a very narrow channel. I took the upper room which has
three sides and a roof, there being no wall facing the river, over which
there is a fine and rather extended view, the more distant mountains
being crowned with pine forests. Had neither sun nor rain while
marching, but soon afterwards the sun shone out, though heavy and
threatening clouds continued to hang about the horizon. As I write this
I hear the first roll of thunder, there will be another storm to-night.
The Maharajah's officials come to me at every stage to enquire my wants
and provide for the same. Other natives also come with an insane
request, - a medical prescription for a sick Bhai (or brother) who
always has fever, and is at a great distance. What possible use a
prescription could be to them I cannot decide. The storm came up just
before dinner, 6 p.m., and was rather sharp but soon over. I came up the
valley of the Jhelum, and I watched its course for some time before it
arrived. It subsequently struck the edge of the house and I was all
right; had it come down the valley which runs at right angles to the
Jhelum just opposite here I should have been blown out. I again noticed
that to which my attention has often been directed, viz.: that when in
or near the storm clouds, the thunder is of quite a different character
to that heard below. It is a continuous low muttering growl without any
claps or peals. I have stood in the storm cloud at Sinchal, 9,000 feet
high, with the lightning originating around me and affording the
sublimest spectacle of dazzling brilliancy, and varying in colour from
the purest white light to delicious rose and blue tints. I have seen it
intensified and focussed as it were within a few feet of me, and from
this centre angled lines and balls of fire like strings of beads
radiated in all directions. Yet the thunder which in the plains was
heard pealing and roaring its loudest, was up there barely audible.

JULY 13th. - From Kunda to Kuthin twelve miles of hard toiling over a
similar road to that of the last march, finishing with a long, steep,
and very rough ascent to the high plateau on which Kuthin stands. On the
top of this I took to my dandy and was carried a mile along the level to
the Barahduree, where I slept upon the charpoy which is provided at
every bungalow for the weary travellers to rest upon pending the arrival
of his baggage. These plateaus or table lands exist at intervals all the
way up the valley, sometimes on one side sometimes on the other and
occasionally on both the river in the middle. They are quite flat, very
small, and highly productive, and vary from fifty to three or four
hundred feet in height, above the river. The valley which widens where
they exist, is narrowed again at either extremity. I can only account
for their formation by supposing that at a former time, a chain of lakes
existed, of which they are the beds, and that the water subsequently
burst through and formed the channel of the present Jhelum, leaving
these beds dry as we now see them. Came across a number of large tailed
butterflies of a lovely green and blue metallic lustre. Secured an
un-injured specimen, and for want of a better place stuck it inside my
topee, where I expect to carry it safely until my return to Peshawur.
Another storm came on earlier than yesterday. I have been very lucky
hitherto, not having had a drop of rain while marching. This morning was
cloudy till within a mile or two of Kuthin when the sun shone and made
the last ascent doubly trying. This is a very small village (at Kunda
there was only one hut) but there is a mud fort with bastions at each
corner but no guns. The walls are loop-holed for musketry, but there
does not seem to be any garrison. On making enquiries, I find there is a
garrison of seven men. It is getting dusk and mosquitoes are coming out
by hundreds, they have not annoyed me before, but I think I must use my
net to-night. I lie on my bed after dinner smoking with a lighted candle
by my side. A hornet flies in and settles on my hand, then a large
beetle comes with a buzz and a thud against me, making me start. Sundry
moths, small flies, and beetles, are playing innocently round the flame.
In half an hour I shall be able to make a fair entomological collection
but as I neither (Ha! I've killed the hornet) desire them in my hat
dead, nor in my bed alive, I must put out the light, give up writing,
and smoke in darkness.

JULY 14th. - To Shadera, twelve miles walked all the way. The road worse
than ever, and for the last mile actually dangerous, as it passed along
the edge of a deep precipice, and was only a foot wide and considerably
out of the horizontal, so that a single false step would have been
fatal. Road continued same character all the way along, though much
above the tortuous and noisy Jhelum, and its ups and downs were the
roughest, longest, and most trying, I have yet experienced. I am pleased
to know that the remaining two marches will be, in the words of my
Coolies over "uch'-cha rasta," a good road. It remained cloudy and
threatening the greater part of the way, and a little rain fell, but
eventually the sun shone, though great masses of "cumuli" continue to
hang about. This is a small village completely shut in by three huge
hills standing very close together. Between the sides of the two in
front, the summit of a fourth is visible, a magnificent towering
mountain, covered with a dense pine forest. I have not seen the snows
since I crossed the Doobbullee pass, as we have been ascending the
valley of the Jhelum ever since, and the view is confined by its lofty
sides. I have eaten my last loaf for breakfast this morning, and now one
of the greatest privations of the journey will begin. No bread, nothing
but flour and water made into a kind of pancake, which the natives call
"chepattie." I have not tasted fresh meat since I left Abbottabad, but
that one can do very well without. I live upon fowls, eggs, milk, butter
and rice, with a tongue or hump, cooked when necessary. Two or three
miles from Kuthai, we passed a very pretty waterfall. The slender stream
fell over a smooth perpendicular rock, of a rich brown colour, 100 feet
high, like a thread of silver. Both sides of the gorge covered with a
variety of beautifully green trees, shrubs and ferns, altogether
constituting a delightful picture, the tints mingled so harmoniously,
yet with strong contrasts. Stopped at the Barahduree as usual, this one
surrounded with wild fig, plum, peach, pomegranate, and mulberry trees.
The mulberries only ripe, and like all wild fruit, small and
comparatively tasteless.

JULY 15th. - Started as soon as it was light for Gingle, fourteen miles
distant. Road greatly improved, hilly of course, but tolerably smooth so
that one could get on without clambering. About half way passed Dorie on
the left bank of the river, where there is another fort and a strong
rope bridge, it is one of the halts on the Murree road, farther on came
to an old ruin, four thick walls perforated by arches enclosing an open
square in the middle of two of the sides, large masses of masonry formed
archways or entrances. It is built of the rough stones and boulders with
which the surface of the ground is covered, yet the arches are of very
good shape. On the opposite bank of the Jhelum there are forests of
Deodar, but though they grow down to the waters edge, there is not one
on this side. (Larix Deodora, called by the Hindoos, "the God Tree" is a
stately pine, growing to a great height, and of a very gradual and
elegant taper. Its foliage is of the darkest green colour, and it gives
the mountains a very sombre appearance.) The hills have become much more
rugged and abrupt. I know of no single condition which gives a scene so
great an aspect of wildness and desolation, as dead fir trees. There
they stand on the most barren and inaccessible places, rearing their
gaunt and whitened forms erect as ever, and though lifeless yet not
decayed. Seared and blasted by a thousand storms, they stand stern and
silent, ghostlike and immoveable, scorning the elements. No wind murmurs
pleasantly through their dead and shrunken branches, the howling tempest
alone can make them speak, and then with wild straining shriek and harsh
rattle, they do battle with the whirlwind. It was getting hot and I was
thinking of my dandy, when a storm passed over with heavy rain. This was
a mitigated evil (if an evil at all for my bed remained dry, and a wet
bed is the worst result of a shower) as it rendered walking cool and
pleasant. It cleared up again, and I rode the last half mile. The
cleanest and best bungalow here I have been in since I left Ghuri. The
view down the valley is extremely pretty, hills rising one above the
other, but shut in on all other sides by high mountains. Gingle, which
is only one or two huts, stands on a small plateau a quarter of a mile
long by one hundred and fifty yards wide, fifty feet above the Jhelum.
The ground is laid out in paddy fields irrigated by a stream of the
coolest and purest water. It is a great satisfaction to be able to drink
water freely without fear. In the plains of India the water is so
contaminated as to be almost poisonous, and I do not think that previous
to this march I had drank a gallon of it since I landed in Calcutta.

JULY 16th. - Left Gingle with the earliest streak of dawn for Baramula,
an eighteen mile march. Road very much more level, never ascending high
above the river whose erratic course we continued to follow. Passed
through groves of hazel overrun by wild vines, but both grapes and nuts
as yet green. The plateaus become gradually larger and almost
continuous, and the hills separated and diminished in size, those on the
right being covered with the lank deodar, while those on the left
possessed only a bright green mantle of grass, far away in front they
altogether ended, and the open sky above the valley was alone visible.
And now an unusual occurrence presented itself. We were following the
stream upwards towards its source, yet at every mile it increased in
width and became more placid, till at length its surface was unbroken,
and it assumed the form of a magnificent river, wider than the Thames at
Richmond. The hills continued provokingly to overlap one another as
though anxious to shut in and hide the happy valley from sight. But at
length I discerned a far distant white cloud which I guessed betokened
the summit of a mountain, and a few yards further revealed a faint
glistening opaque line which the inexperienced eye would have certainly
taken for a portion of the cloud, but which could not be mistaken by one
who had before seen the snows. About half a mile from Buramula we
obtain the first view of the Vale of Kashmir, but not an extensive one,
as it is obstructed on either side by low hills. However, what is seen
is very pretty. A large level plain traversed by a broad smooth river
which has now lost its tortuous zig-zag course and bounded by the
everlasting snows covering the main backbone of the Himalayas. At the
head of the valley stands the quaint looking town of Baramula surrounded
by hills on all sides but one, embowered in trees and intersected by the
Jhelum, across which there is a good wooden bridge. The houses have
mostly an upper story, and are built of wood with gabled roofs. The
streets are narrow and roughly paved, and I regret to say are not more
pleasant to the nostrils than are those of other Indian towns. The
bridge built of deodar wood, beams of which are driven into the bed of
the river, and then others laid horizontally upon them, each row at
right angles to and projecting beyond the layer beneath, till a
sufficient height has been reached, six of these and two stone piers
form the buttresses of the bridge and a broad pathway of planks connects
them. The march was a fatiguing one on account of its length, and I used
the dandy freely. I shall however discard it altogether for the future.
I went to the Barahduree but found it occupied by a man whose name I was
told was " - - ," had been there five days. His Coolies had taken
possession of all the rooms, and though I was very angry and inclined to
turn them out, I thought my tent would be preferable to a room just
vacated by the uncleanly native, so I went to an orchard close by,
surrounded by a row of fine poplars, and patiently awaited the arrival
of my baggage which was a long time coming. The gate was guarded by the
Maharajah's sepoys who endeavoured to prevent my entrance. The Thikadar
told me he had no authority for this, but had done it "Zubbur-dustee."
They also say that the occupant of the Barahduree has just come from
England. He is a being shrouded in mystery, and I shall endeavour to
unravel it. My first step will be to report the occurrence to the
officials at S - - when I get there. I took a swim in the Jhelum, whose
course I have now followed for eighty-four crooked miles, and on whose
bosom I shall to-morrow continue my journey.

JULY 17th. - By boat up the river, the day so bright, the view so
glorious, the breeze so balmy and delicious, and the motion so gentle
and pleasant, that lying on my bed I devote myself to lazy listlessness,
to a perfect sense of the "dolce far niente" and can hardly prevail on
myself to disturb my tranquillity by writing these few notes. The
contrast to my thirteen heavy marches is so great that I am content to
remain for the present without thought or action, enjoying absolute
rest. Evening - We halt at Sopoor, and now let me endeavour to continue
the diary. Got up at seven this morning and sent for a boat, one of the
larger kind about thirty feet long, and six feet broad in the middle,
the centre portion covered with an awning made of grass matting. The
crew consisting of an entire family, from the elderly parents to quite
young children - 9 in all. I was towed up the still widening river by all
of them in turns, one wee girl not three feet high being most energetic,
though I should think of little real service. Boat flat bottomed, and
alike at both ends, they use paddles instead of oars. But the scene! I
am unable now to do justice to it, so I will only give the outlines to
be elaborated hereafter. Splendid river - verdant plain covered with many
varieties of trees, poplar and chenar or tulip tree the most
conspicuous, extending as far as the eye can reach and enclosed by lofty
snow capped mountains, on which rest the clouds of heaven. Bright blue
King-fishers darting like flashes of light or hovering hawk-like before
the plunge after fish and the many hued dragon flies upon the water
weeds. Among the several varieties of the weeds, I noticed a great
quantity of "Anacharis." Got fresh mutton and apple-pie for dinner.
Swarms of very minute flies came to the candle dancing their dance of
death. Many thousands were destroyed, and their bodies darkened the
board which serves me for a table. Sopoor like Baramula, river bridged,
and grass growing on the roofs of the houses.

JULY 18th. - In the night we moved on, and at five in the morning I was
awoke at the foot of Shukuroodeen Hill, 700 feet high, which I intended
to ascend, and get a _coup d'oeil_ of the valley. Instead of being on a
river, the water now spread out into a great lake (Lake Wulloor) the
largest in Kashmir. Got up and began to ascend the hill, but when half
way up, the strap of one of my sandals gave way, and as I could not
mend it, I was obliged to descend; however, I got an extensive view of
the valley lying spread out at my feet, the lake occupying a great
portion of the view. Went on to Alsoo (about three hours) from whence I
shall march to Lalpore the other side of a range of high hills which
rise very near the water. We are thirty miles from Baramula. The lake is
in many parts covered with a carpet of elegant water weeds which makes
it look like a green meadow, among them the Singara or water nut, a
curiously growing plant which bears spiny pods enclosing a soft
delicately flavoured kernel - heart-shaped, as big as a filbert.
Mosquitoes by thousands, and very annoying, red and distended with their
crimson feast. Alsoo - a rather uninteresting place, grand mountains.
Huramuk to the East, and great expanse of water.

JULY 19th, Sunday. - On the march again to Lalpore, twelve miles. I left
my heavy baggage and dandy in the boat (which here awaits my return) and
only took my tent and bedding with one week's stores, the whole only
four coolie loads, and now began my first taste of real mountain work.
For nearly four hours I was ascending the steep range which rises above
Alsoo, and hard toiling it was. Half way up we met some men with
butter-milk, of which my boy made me drink a quantity, saying it would
"keep master cool." As we rose - the vale spread out magnificently
beneath us, and the large lake was seen to full advantage shining under
the morning sun, which appeared from behind a grand snow-clad mountain.
Near the top we came to the prettiest stream I have seen, its banks
covered with maiden hair and other ferns, fruit trees and firs, and its
surface skimmed by gorgeous flies. The summit gained, I was well
rewarded by a view of the whole of the Solab an off-shoot of the main
valley. A bright gem in a dark setting of deodar covered mountains,
spurs from which radiated into the valley so fair and verdant with its
many villages, its meandering streams, and frequent orchards, the air
laden with the perfume of many flowers. My Bheisties even exclaimed
"bahut ach chtu." I gazed entranced. The descent was long but a much
better path. Going down I came to wild raspberries which I must say were
as large and well flavoured as any garden grown ones, there was also a
small yellow plum which was very nice. Arrived at Lalpore the principal
village, I encamped under a large walnut tree (very fine trees and very
common) covered with its nuts. This valley abounds with bears, I was
certainly cooler after taking the butter-milk, but I attributed it to
the ascent being less steep and the path shady. Saw a magnificent
butterfly of a specimen I did not recognise; attempted to catch it, but
like many other desirable objects in this world, it eluded my grasp at
the very moment I thought I had secured it. Got a fine one of a commoner
sort which I placed in my hat, where the other remains uninjured.

JULY 20th. - I halt at Salpore, awaiting the arrival of my Sirdar dandy
coolie, an intelligent, useful, Kashmiree man, whom I engaged to
continue with me as a servant at Baramula, and gave him four days leave
to visit his home, arranging that he should rejoin me here. I lie under
the shade of the wide spreading walnut trees, inhaling the fragrant
breeze, and enjoying perfect quietude and repose. All is so grand and
peaceful, that my heart swells with holy thoughts of praise and
gratitude to the Almighty Creator, and while gazing on one of the
fairest portions of his great work I find myself unconsciously repeating
the glorious psalm "O come let us sing unto the Lord." It would indeed
be a hard heart and a dull spirit that did not rejoice in the scene, and
acknowledge the power and magnificence of its maker. I see around me
this garden of Kashmir where every tree bears fruit for the use of man,
and every shrub, bright flowers for his enjoyment. Enclosed and guarded
by "the strength of the hills" (a noble sentence which never never
before so forcibly impressed me) and covered by the purest of blue
skies. All nature seems to say to me "To-day if ye hear his voice,
harden not your hearts," and surely the "still small voice" is speaking,
and can be heard by those who will heed it, and have the heart to feel
and the soul to rejoice in the strength of their salvation. The memory
of the beautiful duett in "Haydn's Creation," when newly made Adam and
Eve unite in praising God and extolling his wonderful works comes
freshly before me. Now, something akin to this must have crossed the
mental vision of the grand old Maestro when he wrote; and its calm
glorious music well accords with my present state of mind.

JULY 21st. - A pleasant stroll of ten miles before breakfast to
Koomerial along the level valley, through shady groves of apple, pear,
green-gage, peach, and mulberry trees, and forests of cherry trees
drooping with the weight of their golden blushing fruit. I have not seen
any vines in the Solab. Koomerial is a very small place, and I had a
little difficulty in getting supplies. I ought to have gone three miles
further to a large village; but I'll go there to-morrow, and then return
to Alsoo in two marches. A native came to me with the toothache, begging
assistance, but the tooth required extracting and I could do nothing for
him. Pitched under a walnut tope - the climate delicious, like a warm
English summer, but it is rather hot in my small tent in the middle of
the day; so I have my Charpoy put outside in the shade and lie there
smoking my pipe and thinking. I have spoken of the beauties and
pleasures of the Solab, but I must not omit mention of its annoyances,
flies and mosquitoes, by day the flies abound and cause much irritation
to any exposed part of the body. I do hate tame flies, flies that though
driven away twenty times elude capture, and will pertinaciously return
to the same spot - say your nose - until one is driven nearly mad with
vexation. At dusk the flies return to roost, and then myriads of
mosquitoes emerge from their hiding places, and make night hideous with
their monotonous hum and blood-thirsty propensities. I do not find
chepatties so bad as I expected, indeed I rather like them, but then my
boy makes them excellently well, using soda in their composition. The
process of manufacture is not pleasant - the flour is made into a paste,
and then flattened and consolidated by being thrown backwards and
forwards from one hand to the other, though one may avoid seeing this,
it is difficult to escape hearing the pit-pat of the soft dough as it
passes rapidly between the Khitmutgars extended, and I fear not always
clean fingers, it is then toasted, brought in hot, and you may eat it
dirt and all. But travellers must not be too particular, and so long as
your food is wholesome, eat and be thankful. But here comes my dinner,
with the chepatties I have just seen prepared, and which sight suggested
the foregoing lines. Chicken for breakfast, chicken for dinner, chicken
yesterday, chicken to-morrow, _toujours_ chicken, sometimes curried,
sometimes roasted, torn asunder and made into soup, stew or cutlets, or
with extended wing forming the elegant spatchcock, it is still chicken;

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Online LibraryJ.F. FosterThree Months of My Life → online text (page 2 of 6)