J.F. Foster.

Three Months of My Life online

. (page 3 of 6)
Online LibraryJ.F. FosterThree Months of My Life → online text (page 3 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the greatest and rarest change being that it is occasionally rather
tender. I have had chicken soup and roast fowl for dinner, the chicken
in the soup as stringy as hemp, the fowl as tough as my sandal, and with
so large a liver that I doubted whether the bird had not met with a
violent death. I like fowl's liver, it is my one _bonne bouche_ during
the day, but these startled me, and after straining my teeth on the
carcase, I gladly swallow the soft mouthful. Oh! English readers, you
who have never wandered far from your native shores and who esteem
chickens a luxury to put on your supper table at your festive
gatherings, come to India and surfeit on your dainties, you will see it
calmly collecting its daily food unsuspicious of danger, then comes the
rush and loud clacking as it flies pursued by the ferocious native,
ending with cries of despair and the fluttering and hoarse gurgle of its
death throes, in half an hour Murghi will be placed before you hot and
tempting to the eye but hard as nails to the touch; they are cheap in
this part of the world. I pay one anna (or three halfpence) for a
chicken, or two annas for a full grown fowl.


JULY 22nd. - A little march of three miles to Koopwaddie. I am glad I
came here for one or two reasons. In the first place the walk afforded
me a nearer and finer view of the head of the valley, surmounted by its
high and rugged snow peaks; and secondly, I find I can return from here
to Sopoor in two marches instead of going back over the old road. From
Sopoor I shall boat to Alsoo. The range which at Lalpore was on the
further side of the valley has gradually approached the other hills
until now they are only a quarter of a mile apart, and are connected by
short low spurs which I crossed this morning. My road to-morrow will be
behind the first mentioned range, where another portion of the valley
lies. The valley is in fact fork-shaped, intersected by a mountainous
ridge which runs from its lower end for about fifteen miles. The two
portions then unite and form one valley up to the snows, and Koopwaddie
is situated at their junction. The Solab proper is only the eastern arm
which is formed into a _cul de sac_ by the mountains, and in which
Lalpore stands.


JULY 23rd. - To Chargle ten miles down the western fork of a valley
rough and uncultivated by comparison with the Solab. Over a low range of
hills with a very steep descent to Chargle standing on the left bank of
the Pohroo river. Not finding a good place on that side I forded the
river, which is not more than two feet deep, and encamped on smooth
green sward under a walnut tope on the other bank. Fine view from the
top of the hill of the level valley through which the Pohroo runs, with
the broad Jhelum shining like silver in the distance. This plain is laid
out in open fields, and lacks trees except round the numerous villages.
The surrounding hills too are comparatively bare, and their summits are
to-day obscured by the low-lying clouds.


JULY 24th. - A hot and uncomfortable walk of twelve miles on the exposed
and uninteresting road to Sopoor. There were but few trees to afford any
shade, but there were mulberries bearing ripe fruit, under which you
know it is impossible to sit down. From Sopoor to Alsoo (sixteen miles)
by boat, slowly driving all day through the tangled weeds and water
lilies. At Soopoor I waited for my boy to get what he wanted for my
breakfast (which he would prepare on board) and while waiting, a
procession of natives came with bells and flags, and something
surrounded by curtains and carried under a canopy, but I could not see
what it was. It was being fanned vigorously by several men and was no
doubt very holy. A large number of men (Mahometans) followed, shouting
loudly when the bells were rung, and some of them chanted a slow but not
unpleasing melody. They were praying for rain which is rare in this
country, and which is now required for the crops. My boy returned
bringing with him to my joy a fore quarter of mutton. Stopped at
Shukuroodeen for the evening, the wind being too strong to proceed.
Those flat bottomed boats with their large heavy awnings are very
cranky.


JULY 25th. - Started early for Alsoo. Found my old boat where I had left
it, but brought my baggage on board of this one, which I mean to keep
to, as the boatman is a much more useful fellow than the other man. He
acts as a servant, knows all the places I am going to, including
Ummernath, and has many excellent characters from those who have
employed him. There was such a scene when my intentions were made known
to the other crew, at first with tears and folded hands they
supplicated, but when that proved useless they took to cursing and
gesticulating, which they continued as their boat moved away and so long
as they were within hearing, screaming across the water, making faces,
and shaking their fists aloft; the old man was especially violent, it
was very laughable. My present crew consists of the man I have
mentioned, three good looking young woman, one of whom has the hooping
cough, and a variety of children I have not yet made out the different
relations to each other. There was lightning and some heavy rain last
night (the result no doubt of yesterday's ceremony) and the sky is still
gloomy and overcast. On from Alsoo after Chota Hazree or first breakfast
to Lunka, a small island, which is only fifty yards square, is thickly
covered with pine trees, with trailing grape vines clinging around their
boughs, on it stands an old ruin, and fallen pillars and carved stones
litter the ground. From a distance it looked very lovely, floating as
it were on the bosom of the open waters, but as we neared it an
unpleasant odour became perceptible, rapidly increasing to a horrid
stench. This proceeded from a colony of natives who were in temporary
habitation of the island, and were engaged in catching and drying the
fish with which the lake abounds. I landed however, but was soon forced
to beat a rapid retreat. Such a mass of all kinds of filth crowded in so
small a space, I have never before witnessed. Man is ever the plague
spot of the world, where he is not, all is peace, and beauty, with his
presence comes contamination and discord. Saw many a whistling seal in
one part of the lake. The water soon became contracted into a narrow
channel, with a low bank on either side, after travelling a few miles
more we reached the broad Jhelum above its entrance into the lake.
Remained for the night at Hajun.


JULY 26th, Sunday. - Moved on in the morning to Manusbul, a small lake
connected with the river by a canal. This lake is about three miles long
and one mile wide, it is very deep in the middle, and said by the
natives to be unfathomable. In one of the Hindoo Legends we are told a
story of a holy man who spent all his life endeavouring to make a rope
long enough to reach to the bottom, and failing, at length threw
himself in and was never seen again. My boatman to give me an idea of
its depth, dropped in white pebbles which could be seen for a long time
sinking in the clear green water, until they gradually disappeared from
sight. I longed to take a plunge into the cool fluid, and Ungoo
evidently read my wish in my looks, for he proposed that I should gussul
or bathe. The presence of three women however proved too much for my
modesty, and I refrained, although I have no doubt that had I not done
so their feelings would not have been in the least outraged. Very
handsome water lilies (lotus) on the surface of the lake, the flowers
being of a delicate pink colour with a yellow centre, and as large as
the crown of a man's hat. At the further extremity, a high hill rises
from the edge of the water. A stream is artificially conducted along its
face at a height of about fifty feet, and the surplus water escapes in
several pretty little cascades, by the side of one of them grow some
noble chenars. The bottom of the lake around the edges is very uneven,
and covered with a dense growth of mynophillum spicatum, on which
planorbus and other molluces graze and tiny fry pick their invisible
atoms of food. The elegant shape of this plant with its branching and
finely cut leaves, and the inequalities of the ground remind me of the
pine-clad hills in miniature. A brilliant king-fisher took the gunwale
of the boat as the "base of his operations," and I amused myself all the
morning, by watching him catch fish; when one approached the surface he
descended with a splash which I imagined would have driven every fish
far away, emerging quickly and very seldom without a capture, which he
turned head downwards and swallowed alive and whole, then looked round
with a laughable air of self-satisfaction. When the fish was a size too
large to be trifled with, he first polished it off by rapping its head
on the boards. It is now sunset, and that bird is still feeding, and
probably the day will end without deciding whether his appetite or his
capacity is the larger. A native brought me a dish of excellent
apricots and mulberries - the mulberries especially good, and my garden
is celebrated for the best peaches in Kashmir.


JULY 27th. - Up the Jhelum again, past Sumbul with its deodar bridge
(similar to the others described with this exception, that the footway
appears to be built in imitation of the roof of a house sloping on
either side from a high central ridge, not the best form of bridge I
have seen, but variety is charming) to the entrance of the Scind river,
where a chenar stands in the middle of the stream, protected by a square
block of masonry. Tradition says this tree never grows. Near it is a
small island over grown with trees. Here we left the Jhelum and pursued
the course of the Scind which soon contracted into a narrow and rapidly
flowing river, its water derived from the snows, being very cold. It was
slow work rowing against the strong current, but we presently emerged
into a great lake entirely covered with high rushes except where a
winding channel was cut for the boats, and here progression was slower
still as the rope had to be abandoned, and the pole called into
requisition, so that it was nearly dark when we reached Ganderbul.
Passed a number of men wading in the water up to their necks, and
spearing the ground with poles armed with a single barbed spike.
Although this seems an insane way of attempting to catch fish, their
boat was well laden with a small species of trout, and I saw several
drawn from the water impaled and wriggling upon the sharp point.
Sreenuggur seen in the distance at the extremity of a mountainous spur,
with the Fort and Soloman's Throne, standing upon two elevated rocks.
Within a few miles of Ganderbul the lake became clear, and presented a
fine expanse of water, but with so many shallows, that our course was
very tortuous. Having travelled twenty miles, we are now only five miles
from Manusbul. Ganderbul stands at the opening of the Scind valley, but
it was too late to take any observations when I arrived; so I must wait
until my return.


JULY 28th. - A march of nine miles up the valley to Kungan, taking with
me as before only four coolie loads of baggage; my boatman accompanies
me. Met Scott, of the 88th, three or four miles from Ganderbul, the
first European I have seen since the 12th. This is a narrow and
beautiful valley, down which the Scind river rushes foaming and roaring.
Its waters are icy cold and its colour also seems to partake of its
snowy origin, for it is white, not only with foam, but the water itself
in small quantities is as though it had come out of a milky jug. Grand
hills stand on either side, and up the valley I occasionally got
glimpses of high and rugged snow peaks. Several natives came to me with
different ailments, I gave them rough directions whereby to benefit, but
what they wanted was a gift of medicine (of which I have none.) They
fancy every Englishman is an adept in the art of healing, and that
English physic especially Tyrnhill's Pills, possesses magical powers.


JULY 29th. - To Toomoo, six miles, a shorter march than I intended, for
they told me at Kungan that Toomoo was twelve miles distant. However,
when I arrived, the temptation to stop was too strong to be resisted. In
marching one gets very weary about the sixth or seventh mile, but this
passes off, and you can then go on comfortably for almost any distance,
provided you resist the first feelings of fatigue, and do not give way
to it, as I have done to-day. The mountains are now huge towering
masses, rising thousands of feet above the valley; they have lost all
smoothness of outline, and their upper portions are bare and rough,
cragged, and pine clad. Instead of having merely whitened peaks, snow
fields extend down the sides. The scene is one of wild majestic
grandeur. What tremendous agonies in past ages must have been employed
to produce such vast upheavals. One cannot help contemplating with awe
the possibility of the world again becoming violently rent and shaken
to its foundations by the forces which though now comparatively inert,
still exist beneath us and occasionally give sad proof of their
undiminished power. In the present day the slow but continued action of
this subterranean power is in some parts perceptible (as in South
America) and we have no guarantee that it may not suddenly acquire
increased energy, and overwhelm our fairest lands with a run too
terrible to be imagined. Stinging nettles abound here, of the tall sort
that grow so rankly on old earth heaps and in dry ditches. I placed my
hand among them, delighted to be stung again by English friends; the
sensation is so far preferable to mosquito bites. Besides it took me
back to "childhood's happy hours," when with bramble torn breeches and
urticarious shin, I forced the hedges, apple stealing - I have stolen
apples to-day for a tart which is now baking - robbed the trees of them
for they are no man's property. Just above here on the other side of the
valley is a very perfect crater (of course extinct) for there are now no
volcanoes in the Himalayas. Its lips are rugged and serrated like the
teeth of a saw, and form a very perfect circle I cannot tell the depth
of the basin, but on the further side I can see that the edge rises
perpendicularly to a considerable height, and at the bottom of it I just
got a glimpse of a steeply sloping floor. On its exterior are deep
grooves containing strong blocks, which at this distance appear to show
by contrast of colour their igneous origin, but I cannot speak
positively on this point. My Bheistie to whom I gave three days leave to
visit his family, came in saying he had walked one hundred miles. He
does not look any the worse for it.


JULY 30th. - Another short march of five miles to Soorapra, a small
village around which stand several enormous hills, half obscured by
clouds, for it is a thoroughly wet day, drizzling rain having fallen
ever since my arrival. It is very cool and pleasant, but I have got up
too far and am now in the rainy region, so to-morrow I shall retrace my
steps, three or four marches would take me over the Himalayas into
Lad√Ґk. This would be an interesting trip, but there still remains much
for me to see in Kashmir, and I have not time to do both. Passed
another, but smaller and less perfect crater. Some natives brought a
young black bear, which they had just caught to show me. It was no
larger than a good-sized dog, but had very long sharp claws; its
expression was anything but ferocious. A dense pine and walnut forest
extends down one of the hills to the verge of the village. I was
strolling in that direction, not a hundred yards from the huts - before
the arrival of my baggage - when two men ran after me and begged me to
come back on account of the number of tigers there. I imagined they
meant leopards, but on making enquiries I find cows are carried away,
which could not be done by leopards. This would be a good ground for the
sportsman, but no Europeans come here as it is off the regular track up
the valley. I crossed the river this morning by a ricketty bridge built
of a couple of firs, on which logs were loosely laid, leaving the main
road which runs along the other or right bank. Just behind my tent a
stream of deliciously cold and transparent water issues from the hill
side; a rough sort of shed is erected over it, and the water is
conducted a short distance in a wooden trough, from the end of which it
falls to the ground. It is the custom in Kashmir to build over the
springs and esteem them holy. No mosquitoes up here, delightful prospect
of a good night's rest.


JULY 31st. - Back to Kungan in one march, but did not encamp on the same
ground as before, as I found a better place by the side of the river. I
have been thinking all the morning about my future career, whether I
shall obtain the appointment in the Guards that I have applied for, (my
application has by this time reached England) if not, what will they do
with me when I get home, or shall I remain in the army? These questions
have been running in my head and occasionally a more delicate one
obtruded. Shall I marry, and if so, when and whom, and here, where all
my thoughts are revealed, I must needs confess that now at twenty-nine
years of age, I begin to weary of single blessedness, and long for a
fair, loving, and loveable companion. Now my gentle lady reader, here is
a chance for you, if you are content with honest love without adoration,
faithfulness without romance; for my romantic days have passed. I have
learnt the sober realities of life, and among them the truth of God's
declaration that it is not good for man to be alone. The _Saturday
Review_ in recent articles, "The Girl of the Period, &c.," holds out a
poor prospect for the would be benedict, and I fear there is much truth
in the assertion that the majority of our young women are husband
hunting, that they make matrimony their one great object, and will
condescend to any means whereby to attain the personal independance
given them by that position, that these marriages without love, only
prompted by selfish considerations, are followed by a total neglect of
all wifely duties - nay more, that even maternal care and tenderness have
nearly ceased to exist. It is a sad picture, and sternly drawn. The
well-known power of the paper is put forth in its highest degree, and
withering sarcasm, and bitter contempt accompany its stern reproofs.
Yet there is a final wail of despair at the unlikelihood of any change
for good being effected. This evil like most others is of our own
making. We men no longer marry while young, but when middle-aged or with
grey hairs beginning to show, a man desires a wife, he will most likely
choose one five and twenty years his junior. The girl often marry thus
because she cannot get a husband of her own age, and a very few years
lost will doom her to perpetual spinsterhood. It is necessarily a
marriage without love, a lucky one if there be respect. Girls have
learnt that it is useless to bestow their affections where nature would
have them, and and it is scarcely a matter for surprise that they
should in consequence endeavour to repress them altogether. Moral for my
own use. Marry while I am young, or not at all.


AUGUST 1st. - To Wangut nine miles rough and hilly walking. I lost the
path once, and had a long scramble before I regained it. Though not a
pleasant march the scenery is very fine and picturesque. Wangut lies up
a short and contracted valley, an offshoot of the Scind which is a much
larger one, and the mountains around it are very grand especially at the
head of the valley, I put up large coveys of grey partridge on the road.
I have come here for the purpose of visiting some mines two miles
further on, and I intend to halt to-morrow and walk to see them. There
is a great row going on while I write this, the natives appear unwilling
to furnish supplies (milk, eggs, &c.,) and my boatman who has
accompanied me is applying his stick freely by way of persuasion. There
is of course a Babel of tongues and I sit within a few yards, quietly
ignoring the proceeding, though if necessary, I shall get up and add
some lusty whacks as my share of the argument. A mountain torrent - a
tributary of the Scind runs down the valley with the usual noise and
hurly burly. A travelling native carpenter is here, and all the village
are bringing their ploughs to be mended, he is very clever with his
hoe-shaped hatchet fashioning the hard walnut wood so correctly with it,
that the chisel is hardly necessary for the few finishing touches. I
have seen him make some wooden ladles very rapidly, and he has provided
me with a new set of tent pegs and mallet and a wooden roller, by means
of which I hope to avoid the digital process in the manufacture of my
chepatties.


AUGUST 2nd, Sunday. - Sitting having my feet washed by a servant
(delightful sensation) after my return from the ruin of Rajdainbul and
Nagbul. I meditate on the mutability of all things human. I have taken a
walk before breakfast this Sabbath morning to witness the overthrow of
former magnificence and the destruction of man's crafty handiwork. These
two temples erected many long years ago in honour of a Hindoo Deity
named Naranay, now stand desolate piles in the dense jungle. Fallen
stones cover the ground and great trees grow from the interstices of
those that still hold together and retain a semblance of their original
shape. Confusion reigns supreme and the place that was once the scene of
mistaken worship, is now only the haunt of the wild beast and deadly
reptile. The thoughts which such a sight suggest, have been the theme of
many a moralist, but the great lesson it teaches cannot lose any of its
importance by repetition. Yet a consideration of the littleness of man
and the utter vanity of his proudest works is, I fear, distasteful to
most of us; we cannot bear to be forced to admit our own insignificance.
We go to church and cry "what is man that Thou art mindful of him," but
the words are but empty sounds. Our preachers may tell us that life is
but a shadow, but they speak to unwilling and heedless ears, and we go
on ignoring the fact, crying peace, and stifling our conscience by a
form of religion without godliness. We are arrogant, high-minded, puffed
up in our own conceit, and though there are many that would wish to be
considered holy, how few there are that are humble men of heart, and
time continues to repeat the old, old story, filling our grave-yards,
destroying our works; creation alone remaining stable, waiting for the
end. These ruins are small in size, and their architecture rude, though
the individual blocks are certainly large and well though not
elaborately carved. But they produce a strange impression of awe by the
dreary solitude and wildness of their position which is perhaps peculiar
to themselves, although they lack both the fairy elegance of Netley
Abbey, and the massive grandeur of a Pevensey Castle. The men who
accompanied me advanced very cautiously through the thick underwood,
beating with their sticks in order to drive away the Iguana Lizards,
which they call the "bis cobra" and hold in deadly fear, believing its
bite to be most surely fatal. This belief is universal among the natives
of India, but there is no proof of its truth, and I need hardly say that
the dental arrangement of Bactrachian reptiles is incompatible with the
possession of poisonous qualities. But though science will not admit it,
it is strange that the idea is so widely spread, especially as the
natives do not fear any other species of lizard, while they believe that
every snake is armed with the fatal fang.


AUGUST 3rd. - Heavy rain prevented my departure from Wangut, at the usual
early hour, but about 9 o'clock it cleared up, and I marched on Arric
eight miles distant down a path on the right bank of the river, (I
ascended the valley on the other side.) The rain has made it very
slippery, and it was a fatiguing walk the road not being good, and
occasionally dangerous; one part fairly beat me, I was expected to pass
round a smooth rock by means of several ledges one inch wide and four or
five long, cut on its surface. The precipice below was deep, and when I
had taken one step, and found myself hanging over it; I determined to go
back and try another way. The other way is bad enough, but all I object
to is having my safety depending upon a single foothold. I like to have
at least one chance of recovering myself if I slip. My walnut tree
to-day is covered with mistletoe and my mind is directed to Christmas
time, and all its (to us) sad associations. Three Christmases have I


1 3 5 6

Online LibraryJ.F. FosterThree Months of My Life → online text (page 3 of 6)