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SIMLA TO THE SUTLEJ.
THE GREAT HINDÚSTHAN AND TIBET ROAD—FATAL ACCIDENTS-FEEL
INGS ON GOING OVER A PRECIPICE-TAE DANDI—BUMPING-
The cut bridle-path, which has been dignified by the name of “ The Great Hindústhan and Tibet Road,” that leads along the sides of the hills from Simla to the Narkanda Ghaut, and from Narkanda up the valley of the Sutlej to Chini and Pangay, is by no means so exasperating as the native paths of the inner Himálaya. It does not require one to dismount every five minutes; and though it does go down into some terrific gorges, at the bottom of which there is quite a tropical climate in summer, yet, on the whole, it is pretty level, and never compels one (as the other roads too often and too sadly do) to go up a mile of perpendicular height in the morning, only to go down a mile of perpendicular depth in the afternoon. Its wooden bridges can be traversed on horseback; it is not much exposed to falling rocks; it is free from avalanches, either of snow or granite ; and it never compels one to endure the almost infuriating misery of
having every now and then to cross miles of rugged blocks of stone, across which no ragged rascal that ever lived could possibly run.
Nevertheless, the cut road, running as it often does without any parapet, or with none to speak of, and only seven or eight feet broad, across the face of enormous precipices and nearly precipitous slopes, is even more dangerous for equestrians than are the rude native paths. Almost every year some fatal accident happens upon it, and the wonder only is that people who set any value upon their lives are so foolhardy as to ride upon it at all. A gentleman of the Forest Department, resident at Nachar, remarked to me that it was strange that, though he had been a cavalry officer, he never mounted a horse in the course of his mountain journeys; but it struck me, though he might not have reasoned out the matter, it was just because he had been a cavalry officer, and knew the nature of horses, that he never rode on such paths as he had to traverse in Kunáwar. No animal is so easily startled as a horse, or so readily becomes restive: it will shy at an oyster-shell, though doing so may dash it to pieces over a precipice; and one can easily guess what danger its rider incurs on a narrow parapetless road above a precipice where there are monkeys and falling rocks to startle it, and where there are obstinate hillmen who will salaam the rider, say what he may, and who take the inner side of the road, in order to prop their burdens against the rock, and to have a good look at him as he passes.
One of the saddest of the accidents which have thus happened was that which befell a very young lady, a daughter of the Rev. Mr Rebsch, the missionary at Kotgarh. She was riding across the tremendous Rogi cliffs, and, though a wooden railing has since been put up at the place, there was nothing between her and the precipice, when her pony shied and carried her over to instant death. In another case, the victim, a Mr Leith, was on his marriage trip, and his newlymarried wife was close beside him, and had just exchanged horses with him, when, in trying to cure his steed of a habit it had of rubbing against the rock wall, it backed towards the precipice, and its hind feet getting over, both horse and rider were dashed to pieces. This happened between Serahan and Taranda, near the spot where the road gave way under Sir Alexander Lawrence, a nephew of Lord Lawrence, the then GovernorGeneral. Sir Alexander was riding a heavy Australian horse, and the part of the road which gave way was wooden planking, supported out from the face of the precipice by iron stanchions. I made my coolies throw over a large log of wood where he went down; and, as it struck the rocks in its fall, it sent out showers of white splinters, so that the solid wood was reduced to half its original size before it reached a resting-place. In the case of the wife of General Brind, that lady was quietly making a sketch on horseback, from the road between Theog and Muttiana, and her syce was holding the horse, when it was startled by some falling stones, and all three went over and were destroyed. Not very long after I went up this lethal road, a Calcutta judge, of one of the subordinate courts, went over it and was killed in the presence of some ladies with whom he was riding, owing simply to his horse becoming restive. An eyewitness of another of these frightful accidents told me that when the horse's hind foot got off the
road, it struggled for about half a minute in that position, and the rider had plenty of time to dismount safely, and might easily have done so, but a species of paralysis seemed to come over him ; his face turned deadly white, and he sat on the horse without making the least effort to save himself, until they both went over backwards. The sufferer is usually a little too late in attempting to dismount. Theoretically, it may seem easy enough to disengage one's self from a horse when it is struggling on the brink of a precipice ; but let my reader try the experiment, and he will see the mistake. The worst danger on these cut roads is that of the horse backing towards the precipice ; and when danger presents itself, there is a curious tendency on the part of the rider to pull his horse's head away from the precipice towards the rock wall, which is about the worst thing he can do. The few seconds (of which I had some experience farther on) in which you find yourself fairly going, are particularly interesting, and send an electric thrill through the entire system.
I rode almost every mile of the way, on which it was at all possible to ride, from Chinese Tartary to the Kyber Pass, on anything which turned up-yaks, zo-pos, cows, Spiti ponies, a Khiva horse, and bloodhorses. On getting to Kashmir I purchased a horse, but did not do so before, as it is impossible to take any such animal over rope and twig bridges, and the rivers are too rapid and furious to allow of a horse being swum across these latter obstacles. The traveller in the Himalaya, however, ought always to take a saddle with him ; for the native saddles, though well adapted for riding down nearly perpendicular slopes, are extremely uncomfortable, and the safety which they
might afford is considerably decreased by the fact that their straps are often in a rotten condition, and exceedingly apt to give way just at a critical moment. An English saddle will do perfectly well if it has a crupper to it, but that is absolutely necessary. Some places are so steep that, when riding down them, I was obliged to have a rope put round my chest and held by two men above, in order to prevent me going over the pony's head, or throwing it off its balance. But on the Hindústhan and Tibet road I had to be carried in a dandi, which is the only kind of conveyance that can be taken over the Himalaya.
The dandi is unknown in Europe, and is not very easily described, as there is no other means of conveyance which can afford the faintest idea of it. The nearest approach to travelling in a dandi I can think of, is sitting in a half-reefed top-sail in a storm, with the head and shoulders above the yard. It consists of a single bamboo, about 9 or 10 feet long, with two pieces of carpet slung from it—one for the support of the body, and the other for the feet. You rest on these pieces of carpet, not in line with the bamboo, but at right angles to it, with your head and shoulders raised as high above it as possible; and each end of the pole rests on the shoulders of one or of two bearers. The dandi is quite a pleasant conveyance when one gets used to it, when the path is tolerably level and the bearers are up to their work. The only drawbacks then are that, when a rock comes bowling across the road like a cannon-shot, you cannot disengage yourself from the carpets in time to do anything yourself towards getting out of the way; and that, when the road is narrow, and, in consequence, your