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Montgomerie divides the journey from Srinagar to Báltal (where I camped below the Zoji La) into six marches, making in all sixty-seven miles ; and though two of these marches may be done in one day, yet if you are to travel easily and enjoy the scenery, one a-day is sufficient. The easiest double march is from Sonamarg to Gond, and I did it in a day with apparent ease on a very poor pony ; but the consequence is that I beat my brains in vain in order to recall what sort of place Gond was, no distinct recollection of it having been left on my mind, except of a grove of large trees and a roaring fire in front of my tent at night.
Sonamarg struck me as a very pleasant place; and I had there, in the person of a youthful captain from Abbotabad, the pleasure of meeting the first European I had seen since leaving Lahaul. We dined together, and I found he had come up from Srinagar to see Sonamarg, and he spoke with great enthusiasm of a view he had had, from another part of Kashmír, of the 26,000-feet mountain Nanga Parbat. Marg means a “ meadow," and seems to be applied specially to elevated meadows; sona stands for “ golden :” and this place is a favourite resort, in the hot malarious months of July and August, both for the Europeans in Kashmír, and for natives of rank. The village being composed of four houses and three outlying ones, cannot produce much in the way of either coolies or supplies. Its commercial ideas may be gathered from the fact that I was here asked seven rupees for a pound of tea which was nothing but the refuse of tea-chests mixed with all sorts of dirt. In the matter of coolies I was independent, for the bigarrís who had taken my effects over the Zoji La were so afraid of being impressed for the service of the Yarkand envoy, that they had entreated me to engage them as far as Ganderbahl, near the capital, hoping that by the time they reached that place the fierce demand for coolies might have ceased.
At Ganderbahl I was fairly in the great valley of Kashmír, and encamped under some enormous chúnár or oriental plane trees; the girth of one was so great that its trunk kept my little mountain-tent quite sheltered from the furious blasts. Truly
“There was a roaring in the wind all night,
The rain fell heavily, and fell in floods ;
but that gigantic chúnár kept off both wind and rain wonderfully. Next day a small but convenient and quaint Kashmir boat took me up to Srinagar; and it was delightful to glide up the backwaters of the Jhelam, which afforded a highway to the capital. It was the commencement and the promise of repose, which I very seriously needed, and in a beautiful land.
KASAMİR AND SURROUNDING COUNTRIES—CLIMATE-GENERAL CHAR
ACTERISTICS UNION OF SUMMER AND WINTER - ENCIRCLING
DAL OR CITY LAKE_FLOATING ISLANDS—THE LOTUS-SHALI-
LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
At Srinagar, where I stayed for a fortnight, I was the
I guest of the Resident, the amiable and accomplished Mr Le Poer Wynne, whose early death has disappointed many bright hopes. I had thus every opportunity of seeing all that could be seen about the capital, and of making myself acquainted with the state of affairs in Kashmír. I afterwards went up to Islamabad, Mártand, Achibal, Vernag, the Rozlú valley, and finally went out of Kashmir by way of the Manas and Wúlar Lakes, and the lower valley of the Jhelam, so that I saw the most interesting places in the country, and all the varieties of scenery which it affords. That country has been so often visited and described, that, with one or two exceptions, I shall only touch generally upon its characteristics.
Kashmir doubtless owes some of its charm to the
character of the regions in its neighbourhood. As compared with the burning plains of India, the sterile steppes of Tibet, and the savage mountains of the Himálaya and of Afghanistan, it presents an astonishing and beautiful contrast. After such scenes even a much more commonplace country might have afforded a good deal of the enthusiasm which this valley has excited in Eastern poetry, and even in common rumour; but beyond that it has characteristics which give it a distinct place among the most pleasing regions of the earth. I said to the Maharaja, or ruling Prince of Kashmír, that the most beautiful countries I had seen were England, Italy, Japan, and Kashmir; and though he did not seem to like the remark much, probably from a fear that the beauty of the land he governed might make it too much an object of desire, yet there was no exaggeration in it. Here, at a height of nearly 6000 feet, in a temperate climate, with abundance of moisture, and yet protected by lofty mountains from the fierce continuous rains of the Indian south-west monsoon, we have the most splendid amphitheatre in the world. A flat oval valley about sixty miles long, and from forty in breadth, is surrounded by magnificent mountains, which, during the greater part of the year, are covered more than half-way down with snow, and present vast upland beds of pure white snow. Kashmír has fine lakes, is intersected with water-courses, and its land is covered with brilliant vegetation, including gigantic trees of the richest foliage. And out of this great central valley there rise innumerable, long, picturesque, mountain-valleys, such as that of the Sind river, which I have just described ; while above these there are great pine-forests, green slopes of grass, glaciers,
Nothing could express the general effect better than Moore's famous lines on sainted Lebanon
The great encircling walls of rock and snow contrast grandly with the soft beauty of the scene beneath. The snows have a wonderful effect as we look up to them through the leafy branches of the immense chúnár, elm, and poplar trees. They flash gloriously in the morning sunlight above the pink mist of the valleyplain ; they have a rosy glow in the evening sunlight; and when the sunlight has departed, but ere darkness shrouds them, they gleam, afar off, with a cold and spectral light, as if they belonged to a region where man had never trod. The deep black gorges in the mountains have a mysterious look. The sun lights up some softer grassy ravine or green slope, and then displays splintered rocks rising in the wildest confusion. Often long lines of white clouds lie along the line of mountain-summits, while at other times every white peak and precipice-wall is distinctly marked against the deep-blue sky. The valley-plain is especially striking in clear mornings and evenings, when it lies partly in golden sunlight, partly in the shadow of its great hills.
The green mosaic of the level land is intersected by many streams, canals, and lakes, or beautiful reaches of river which look like small lakes. The lakes have floating islands composed of vegetation. Besides the immense chúnárs and elms, and the long lines of stately poplars, great part of the plain is a garden filled with fruits and flowers, and there is almost constant verdure.