Lawrence John Lumley Dundas Zetland.

An Eastern miscellany online

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with which I am personally acquainted, the load
carried averages fifty pounds, and the pay for


a march of from twelve to twenty miles is four-
pence. The men are necessarily splendid moun-
taineers, and look upon a bridge of a single strand
of rope with rope hand-rails, which sways giddily
high above a foaming torrent, and sags discon-
certingly as one advances along it, as the highest
expression of the bridge -builder's art. But it
is in China that man as a beast of burden is
at his best. Throughout the land, those who
can afford it or whose dignity demands it travel
in sedan chairs carried by two, three, or four
bearers. A degree lower than the chair-bearers
are the ordinary porters whose powers of en-
durance are truly remarkable. In Ssu-ch'uan,
in Western China, my own bearers carried loads
of a hundred and thirty-three pounds apiece, and
marched from twenty to thirty miles a -day at
rates of pay approximating tenpence per man
per day ; and instances have been recorded by
well-known travellers of porters in this province
carrying the almost inconceivable weight of four
hundred pounds during daily marches of ten or
twelve miles of mountain track.

It now remains, before concluding, to say a
word upon the possibilities of water transport.
I have pleasant recollections of seven days and
seven nights spent upon one occasion in floating
peacefully down the broad bosom of the Tigris
River on a raft of skins and laths put together



at Mosul and taken to pieces again and sold
retail in Baghdad. A less peaceful, though in-
finitely more exciting time was that spent on
one of the Himalayan rivers upon a flimsy con-
struction known locally as a " zuck." The "zuck"
consisted of a number of goat-skins blown up by
mouth and tied roughly together into an ex-
ceedingly fragile whole by the unsophisticated
natives of Baltistan ; but I must leave the reader
to picture for himself the pleasurable excitement
of being propelled for thirty miles by the force
of the current of a Himalayan river in flood on
craft of this kind.

In China the rivers provide a field for the
activities of an immense boating population. Ar-
gosies of white-sailed junks ply to and fro upon
the thousands of miles of her navigable water-
ways. For over a thousand miles the Yang-tsze
is navigated by steamers of considerable size and
speed, and beyond, where rapid and gorge render
the river unsuitable to steamers, by native junks.
A journey over the four or five hundred miles
between Ichang and Ch'ung-k'ing amid the magic
scenery of the towering gorges, where each fresh
turn in the river's winding course opens up a new
vista of natural splendour, is a thing not easily
forgotten. And if at the end of it the voyager
finds that, in common with every other phase of
Eastern travel, it demands that he discount the


value of time, yet he will be compelled to admit
that in one respect a journey by Chinese junk is
unique, in that it alone of all the manifold methods
of Eastern travel calls for no expenditure of tissue.
For myself, I confess to deriving a greater degree
of satisfaction from the contemplation of a day's
march done, and from that peculiar joy which is
the reward of those *' who scorn delights and
live laborious days."




Before the eighteenth century was a decade old,
Peter, surnamed the Great, had laid the founda-
tion of one of the world's great capitals — had
"flung his city," in the words of the historian,
"like a forlorn hope" on the newly conquered
shores of the Baltic. That was Peter's way ;
whatsoever he did, he did it with all his might,
working himself with his own strong hands and
directing in person with imperious energy the
carrying out of his own ideas. " Following the
advice God gave to Adam," he wrote in 1696, "I
earn my bread by the sweat of my brow," and the
early years of the eighteenth century saw him
waging desperate warfare with the swamps and
marshes of the Neva, and raising literally by
force the city that was to become St Petersburg.
Any one who visits the Bussian capital to-day
can examine for himself, among other things, the
church that Peter built. It does not compare


perhaps in wealth and material adornment with
the blaze of magnificence presented by the more
modern churches of the city — the cathedrals of
St Isaacs, of Our Lady of Kazan, and many
more ; but it stands, nevertheless, a striking
monument to Peter's will. Moscow the Holy,
the home of the traditions and recollections of
the past, must bow her head before the infant
capital and appointed centre of Russian regenera-
tion, and so the Tsars of Holy Kussia, who for
upwards of three centuries had been laid to rest
in the cathedral of St Michael in the ancient
capital, were henceforth to find their last resting-
place in Peter's city in the silent vault beneath
the cathedral of St Peter and St Paul. There
may be seen at the present day the tombs of
all the Tsars save one (Peter H., who died of
smallpox at the age of seventeen, was buried
at Moscow), who have lived and reigned in
St Petersburg.

There is perhaps nothing suggestive of mystery
in the long rows of square marble tombs, each
one representing a separate link in two centuries
of Russian autocracy, that confront the stranger
who is curious enough to visit them. Neverthe-
less, over one at least of them hangs a deep
shadow of uncertainty. In November 1825 died
Alexander I., Tsar of Russia, at the town of
Taganrog, whence his body was transferred in


accordance with custom to St Petersburg for
burial. So at least it was recorded for the
benefit of posterity. But it has also been
recorded, though not officially, that, contrary
to custom, people were not allowed to pass by
and look upon the face of their late Emperor
as he lay in state, and that it was openly
declared at the time that, whatever official-
dom might say, the body was not that of
Alexander. Here are the makings of a pretty

It is a far cry even in these days of railways
from St Petersburg to Tomsk in the heart of
Siberia ; it was infinitely further before Kussia
had thrust her ribbon of steel from one end of
Asia to the other ; yet it is in Tomsk that the
key to the mystery is to be found. Any one
whose business or pleasure may chance to carry
him to this remote centre of Russian rule may
study a chapter of Russian history which
finds no place in the chronicles of recognised

Tomsk, as all the world knows, is the university
town and capital of all Siberia, the chief city, that
is to say, of a territory approaching five million
square miles in area ; yet the convenience of those
who would journey there has not even remotely
been consulted. The main line has passed it by,
and only as an afterthought, seemingly, has a


branch line been constructed to convey one over
the sixty miles of swamp and forest that lie
between the main line and the capital. So it
came about that at an unconscionably early hour
one autumn morning I was roused from my broken
slumbers and ejected from the comparative comfort
of my berth in the Siberian express to be de-
posited bag and baggage upon the cheerless plat-
form of the wayside station of Taiga. Four hours
later I found myself at my destination.

The visitor to Tomsk is likely to be assailed by
a variety of sensations : satisfaction at finding that
there are hotels for him to live in and restaurants
where decent meals are to be had — a satisfaction
which will be all the more keenly felt if he has
had the misfortune to experience the discomfort
of the numera, too often the only form of hostelry
in Kusso- Asiatic towns ; disgust at the villainous
ways that pass for streets ; astonishment at the
size and magnificence of many of its buildings ;
at its air of twentieth century progress and
modernity, at its university and museums, its
electric light and telephones, its theatres and its
shops, and above all, at the size and complete-
ness of its splendid technological institute ; and,
last but not least, absorbing interest at the chapter
of secret history which it guards. It is with this
latter subject that I am now concerned,

On November 19 (December l) 1825, Alex-


ander I., Tsar of Kussia, expired in the arms of
the Empress EKzabeth. So say the historians ;
not so the men of Tomsk. There you will learn
that what the historians describe as *' the prema-
ture and mysterious death of Alexander" was
nothing more than that monarch's abdication — that
for many years, under the disguise of a pious ascetic,
he lived a life of prayer and self-abnegation among
his subjects in far Siberia, and finally died an old
man in 1864 at the house of the merchant KhromofF,
and was buried by the monks of Tomsk in the
grounds of the Alexis monastery. In proof of
which I was taken to the sacred tomb over which
a chapel was in process of erection. Of greater
interest even than the tomb is the little house —
known to this day as " Alexander's house " — in
the vicinity of the residence of the deceased
merchant Khromoif, where the ascetic spent the
greater part of his later years. It is difiicult to
avoid being seized with something of the enthusi-
asm of the people as one stands in the small wooden
room, scarce 20 feet in length by 18 feet in breadth,
furnished only, in the lifetime of its occupant, with
the brick stove common to the Siberian settler's
home, wooden chair and pallet, and the simple
household utensils necessary for everyday exist-
ence, but ablaze to-day with golden ikons — ex-
pressions of the people's worship and respect.
Portraits of monarch and monk adorn the


walls, placed side by side to show the strong
resemblance — incontestible proof, you will be told,
of their identity.

Here, in brief, is the mysterious chapter of
Alexander's life as told by the men of Tomsk.
The Tsar, they point out, while yet in the
prime of life, was an embittered and a dis-
appointed man. His every action towards the
close of his reign was suggestive of a morbid
distaste for the position he occupied. And here
they can appeal, with no little effect, to the
pages of recorded history. Describing his de-
parture for Taganrog, the historian E-ambaud
writes as follows: "At the moment of his de-
parture he appears to have been shaken by
gloomy presentiments, and insisted on a requiem
mass being said at the monastery of St Alex-
ander Nevski. In broad daylight lighted tapers
were left in his room. At Taganrog Alexander
received circumstantial accounts as to the con-
spiracy of the Society of the South and its
schemes of regicide. Cruel recollections of 1801
may have mingled with his melancholy. He
thought sadly of the terrible embarrassments
which he would bequeath to his successor ; of
his lost illusions ; of his liberal sympathies of
former days which, in Poland, as in Russia,
had ended in a reaction ; of his broken purposes
and changed life. In the Crimea he was heard


to repeat, ' They may say what they like of me,
but I have lived and will die republican.' "

Such were the circumstances surrounding the
disappearance of Tsar Alexander I. from the
throne of Russia, — a fitting prelude, surely, to
a highly dramatic sequel ! The crown and the
sceptre were laid aside, the coarse garb and the
staff of the mendicant were henceforth to take
their place ; the privileges and pleasures, the
pomp and circumstance attaching to the autocrat
of all the Russias, had proved but vanity ; the
yearning spirit would henceforth seek peace and
consolation in a humbler walk in life.

The people of Tomsk, it must be admitted,
confess to complete ignorance, at the time, of
the exalted rank of the stranger who had
mysteriously appeared among them. Fancy and
conjecture at all times played briskly round his
name, but it was not until after his death that
such conjecture assumed the shape which it
wears to-day, or developed into definite belief.
Feodor Kuzmitch — such was the stranger's name
— drifted into Siberia in company with a band
of prisoners, having been " moved on " to the
land of exile by the frontier police on a charge
of vagrancy. For long he lived a quiet and
retired life in a village some distance from the
capital, and eventually, at the invitation of the
merchant Khromoff, whose acquaintance he had


made, took up his abode in the little shelter
at Tomsk, known at the present day as " Alex-
ander's House." Here beneath one of the portraits
already spoken of you may read his epitaph : —

" The bondservant of God, the old man Feodor
Kuzmitch, who passed a hermit life in Tomsk,
and died in 1864 in the cell of Khromoff."

On what rests his claim to identity with the
abdicated monarch ? The people of Tomsk will
adduce evidence which, to them at least, admits
of no dispute. He was a man of kingly bearing,
with a manner that from the first commanded
homage from the simple peasant folk. His like-
ness to the monarch is there for all to see, — here
your attention is drawn once more to the pictures
which adorn the hut. He himself hid his origin
and former life beneath an impenetrable curtain
of mystery, and to the frequent questions of his
patron Khromoff upon the subject his answer
was always, " No, that cannot be revealed —
never." But beyond all this it is asserted that
immediately prior to his death he handed over
to his host papers proving to him beyond all
doubt that in the humble anchorite he had been
entertaining unawares no less a person than his
abdicated emperor. These papers were carefully
preserved, and after his death were transferred at
his own request to the archives at St Petersburg.

A.nd if further circumstantial evidence be de-


manded, you may learn, as I did, how Alexander
II., when heir to the throne, visited the lonely
stranger while making a tour of inspection of
his Siberian dominions ; how for long he remained
closeted with him in the house of the priest of
a small village near Krasnoyarsk ; how the priest,
unable longer to restrain his curiosity, screwed
up his courage and peeped through the keyhole ;
and how he was struck dumb with astonishment
at there beholding the heir to the throne of all
the Russias humbly kneeling before the mysteri-
ous monk !

Such is the story of Alexander I. as treasured
by the folk of far Siberia. I have given it for
what it is worth. You may smile indulgently as
you read the tale ; but if ever you chance your-
self to visit Tomsk and to stand in " Alexander's
house" or visit the lonely hermit's grave, you
will not fail to be touched by the spell which the
belief of a devoted people has woven round the
spot. My sojourn in Tomsk has left me many
vivid memories, none more vivid or more lasting
perhaps than that of a simple peasant devoutly
crossing himself as he knelt in earnest prayer
on the brink of a lonely grave.




Every one has his own ideas as to the relative
merits of different forms of sport, and I have
heard the partisans of fox - hunting and pig-
sticking, big-game shooting and fishing, holding
heated arguments, each engaged in the obviously-
hopeless task of trying to convince the other of
the superiority of his own particular and favour-
ite sport. As far as my own experience goes,
I have never come across any form of sport that
has quite the same fascination as the pursuit of
mountain big game, and it was due to my fond-
ness for sport of this particular kind, in conjunc-
tion with certain private reasons which rendered
it expedient that I should return to civilisation
at an early date, that I found myself embarked
on a journey which I would not willingly under-
go a second time, however strong might be the

I had for some time been wandering among


the peaks and precipices of the great lonely
mountains, in various parts of the Himalayas,
and had at length reached a far-off corner of
the empire, where the earth lifts up her hoary
head, as it were, to the very heavens, and where,
amid scenery of the wildest desolation, stand
some of the loftiest mountain-peaks in the world
Here, amid crags and precipices of the most ap-
palling description, lives and dies the majestic
spiral-horned markhor [Capra Falconeri), in the
pursuit of which animal I experienced some of
the most exciting and arduous stalking it has
ever been my lot to enjoy. Thus it came about
that after some weeks' most successful hunting,
during which I had secured half-a-dozen fine pairs
of the much-coveted horns, I found myself cut
off from the outer world by huge barriers of
mountains, whose snow-bound passes loomed in
grim defiance between me and civilisation, making
my journey the anxious and dangerous one it was.
There was a good deal to occupy my attention
before starting, which caused me to decide to
halt at the village of Boonji, on the Indus, for a
couple of days, where I might make all the
arrangements possible for the journey. There
were, in addition to a bungalow occupied by two
officers attached to the Gilgit agency, by whom
I was most hospitably entertained, a post and
telegraph office, and a tesildah or native official,


who I knew would be most useful in assisting
me to collect coolies for transport. The whole
of one morning was devoted to overhauling the
baggage and dispensing with as much of it as
was possible, for I foresaw that one of my chief
difficulties would be likely to arise in connection
with transport arrangements. Winter had set
in in earnest, with its usual complement of
driving snowstorms, biting frosts, and crushing
avalanches ; and vague rumours of the hardships
suffered by those who ventured across the lonely
passes of the mountains, of frost-bite, and even
of the death from exhaustion and exposure of
certain natives who had recently essayed a
journey across the mountains, were afloat and
obtrusively prominent whenever I broached the
subject of transport among the natives. Such
rumours were doubtless exaggerated with a view
to increasing the rate of hire ; but that they
were to a certain extent well grounded was ob-
vious when a sorry-looking individual approached
me to beg for alms and showed me in the place
of hands a wretched withered stump, the result,
he assured me, of frost-bite.

Luckily there was no necessity to take tents,
there being huts at intervals the whole way ;
and having discarded all impediments of the
kind that I had with me, in addition to all
superfluous ammunition and stores, I collected


what remained and arranged it into very light
loads, to find that I should require at the least
eighteen coolies. This may seem a large number
to take all that one requires when travelling
light ; but it must be remembered that though
fifty or sixty pounds is an average load for a
coolie under ordinary conditions, he can hardly
be expected to carry more than thirty or forty
when wading through deep dry snow, if you
hope to see him at the end of the day's march :
and besides food for the whole party, the horns
required three men, the rifles and guns two more,
leaving only thirteen for everything else, includ-
ing stores, bedding, and the small amount of
camp furniture I allowed myself.

When everything was ready, plenty of coolies
were found willing to go from Boonji, especially
when they realised that they were only expected
to accompany me as far as Astor, a village a
few marches distant, where I was to obtain fresh
transport. Among them were three Kashmiris,
who had brought grass rope for making the
sandal usually worn by the sportsman in the
Himalayas, from the fertile valley of Kashmir,
earlier in the season, and were only too glad of
the opportunity thus afforded of returning to
their homes, by volunteering to accompany me
and carry loads the whole way. This was satis-
factory, and on the 12th of January 1900 I


started them off in charge of my head servant,
Ram Pershad, — a strong, thick -set, bow-legged
Hindu from Meerut, who had been with me
throughout my wanderings, and of whose ex-
cellence as a camp servant I cannot speak too
highly, — while I remained to spend a last even-
ing with my friends of the Boonji bungalow, and
to enjoy once more, before leaving them behind,
the many little trifles which go to make life
comfortable — well-cooked food, pleasant company,
an easy-chair, dry clothes, a warm room, and
a score of others, insignificant in themselves,
perhaps, and accepted as a matter of course in
the ordinary routine of everyday life, but of
sufiicient importance to make their absence felt
and their presence appreciated by any one who
may chance to have been in the often unpleasant
position of having to do without them. It was,
consequently, the 13th of January 1900 when
I left the barren sandy valley of the Indus and
began the ascent of the mountain -chain before
me. In front Nanga Par bat (26,620 feet) frowned
down like a giant sentinel on the surrounding
country ; behind, as far as the eye could see, rose
tier upon tier of stupendous mountain -peaks,
standing out on the eaves of the *' roof of the
world," great Haramosh (24,270 feet), Deobunni
(20,154 feet), and Rakapushi (25,550 feet).

My way lay up the valley of the Astor



river ; but for several miles after leaving the
junction of the Astor and the Indus the wind-
ing mountain-path zigzagged backwards and for-
wards up the precipitous sides of the Hattoo
Pir, till the river appeared but a tiny thread of
silver below me.

I was able to ride this first day's journey,
along the narrow mountain -path overhanging
sheer precipices of many hundred feet, and by
evening reached the small village of Dashkin, a
distance of about thirty miles, and caught up
the coolies with my baggage, whom I had started
off the day before. Henceforth it would be a
case of walking, or rather of wading, through
interminable stretches of deep powdery snow, in
which no sign of road or pathway would be
visible beyond the tracks of the hardy post-
runners, who for political reasons are employed
in keeping up communication as regularly as
possible with our distant frontier outposts.

The morning of the 14th broke cold and
stormy, and I had not gone far before it came
on to snow, great masses of cloud rolling down
the mountains and obscuring everything from
view with a grey pall of damp chilling fog.
The village of Astor — the largest village in
these parts — was only fourteen miles distant,
and I had no difficulty in reaching it soon after
midday, the coolies turning up by evening. All


that night and most of the next day snow fell
with persistent monotony, and I was obliged to
remain where I was, with no better occupation
to distract my thoughts from pondering on the
probable state of the passes ahead than watch-
ing the great fleecy snowflakes fall softly but
with steady persistence to earth.

Still, I was better oiF than I might have been,
for the hut here had been for some time in oc-
cupation by the European engineer in charge of
the road to Gilgit, whose duties necessitated his
living in the district ; and though he himself
was away at the time, I found the pleasing
difference that exists between a furnished abode
that has recently been lived in and an un-
furnished one that has not, and made the most
of such comfort as was to be derived from my

I had made myself quite at home, and was
sitting comfortably in a capacious arm-chair in
front of a cheerful blaze, when I was startled
out of a reverie by a fearful bang at the door,
which promptly opened inwards to admit a most
unlooked-for form of disturbance in the shape of
two wild -looking wolves, who tore round the
room, much to my perturbation, in an apparent
state of frenzy, leaping on to the bed and knock-
ing over the furniture, till reduced to a more
tranquil state by the appearance in the doorway


of au individual who performed the offices of cook,
and was left in charge when his master was
away. He apologised for having neglected to
tie up his charges, and expressed a hope that I

Online LibraryLawrence John Lumley Dundas ZetlandAn Eastern miscellany → online text (page 3 of 24)