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Debates at the East-India House on the Renewal of the Company's
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THE ASIATIC RESEARCHES..
To few literary or scientific bodies is Europe under deeper obligations than to the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The parent or prototype of all existing associations for exploring the boundless regions of Eastern literature, it has numbered, since its institution in 1784, amongst its active members, the most eminent oriental scholars, of whom Sir Wm. Jones, its founder, Mr. Colebrooke, and Mr. Wilson, have successively enriched its Transactions with all that taste, sagacity, research, and profound erudition could extract from the treasures of Hindu science. Until within a very few years past, since continental scholars were attracted to the study of Sanscrit, the Asiatic Researches comprehended the sum of our knowledge of the classical literature of India; the European inquirer into that literature began and ended his investigations with this work; and even now its periodical appearance is eagerly looked for throughout the Western world,† the most accomplished orientalist feeling assured that each volume will contain some precious revelation,-some gem recovered from the deep mine of Sanscrit lore, some beam of light which will irradiate his path.
The seventeenth volume of the Researches now invites our notice'; and we shall find that it does not derogate from the reputation of its predecessors. A "Statistical Report on the Bhotia Mehals of Kamaon," by Mr. Traill, is the first paper in the volume. Bhot, in the modern restricted sense of the name, is that part of the Himalaya ranges, which once formed part (about one-third) of the Tibet province of Bhot. The productive and
Asiatic Researches; or Transactions of the Society, instituted in Bengal, for enquiring into the History, the Antiquities, the Arts and Sciences, and Literature of Asia. Vol. xvii. Calcutta, 1832. In the Report of the Council of the Asiatic Society of Paris for the year 1832-33, read before that Society in April last, M. Burnouf, the reporter, refers to the Researches in the following terms. After noticing the obstacles which impede the zeal of those who cultivate the languages and literature of Asia, he observes: "you will not, therefore, be surprised that we have not received, since our last general meeting, a new volume of the memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta; but we believe we may state, that the portion of Vol. xvii. devoted to the historical sciences will not be long before it appears, and that it will contain the continuation and conclusion of Mr. Wilson's great paper on the Indian sects."
habitable portion is confined to the passes and their immediate neighbourhood, not exceeding a sixteenth of its total extent; the remainder consisting of snow or barren rocks: the minimum elevation in the passes may be taken at 6,000 feet above the sea. The paths to the passes are along the rivers (branches of the Ganges and the Gogra), and roads of communication through the Himalaya unite the passes from east to west, but are passable during a few days only in each year. The interior of the Himalaya, except at these passes and paths, is inaccessible, and appears to be daily becoming more so, from the gradual extension of the zone of perpetual snow. "The Bhotias bear universal testimony to the fact of such extension," Mr. Traill states," and point out ridges, now never free from snow, which, within the memory of man, were clothed with forest and afforded periodical pastures for sheep." The passes may be said to be barely practicable; though the Bhotias travel through them without difficulty, even under burthens.
The Bhot Mehals present fifty-nine villages within the ghats, consisting of 1,325 houses, which are commonly large, two or more stories high, and substantially built of stone: in the choice of a site, security from avalanches, which are very destructive, forms the primary consideration. The population is estimated at about 10,000, of whom nine-tenths are native Bhotias, who are generally in good circumstances.
During full half the year, the surface is wholly covered with snow, beginning to fall about the end of September, and continuing to accumulate to the beginning of April. In open and level situations, where the bed of snow is in some years twelve feet deep, it is dissipated early in June; in the hollows not till the middle of July. During the five months of absence of snow, the thermometer ranges at sun-rise from 40° to 55°, and at midday, from 65° to 75° in the shade, and from 90° to 110° in the sun.
The agricultural products in this rugged country and inhospitable climate are few buck-wheat, barley and wheat, and a species of amaranthus; the crop of the two latter being uncertain and in many seasons never reaching maturity the only vegetables raised are turnips and leeks, but many useful herbs grow spontaneously, amongst which is rhubarb. The Bhot villages are all situated on the northern side of the great chain, and are in some degree subject to the influence of its snows and shade. By any unusual accumulation of snow on the summit, the inferior bed is forced down, and with it the influence of the line of perpetual congelation, if not the line itself, descends, and it sometimes requires the heat of more than one summer to throw back the snow to its former level. In the southern and least elevated parts of the ghat, oaks and pines flourish; but with the increase of elevation a gradual change in the forests takes place, from these trees down to the birch, which is found on the very verge of perpetual snow: the bark of this tree is highly useful as a substitute for paper and for other domestic purposes. The domestic animals are horned cattle (including the Tartarian yak), ponies, sheep, goats, dogs, and cats. The sheep and goats are employed as beasts of burthen; the wool of the former is of good quality and manufactured into blankets. The Tibet sheep is a powerful long
legged animal, resembling the Iceland ram, having sometimes as many as five horns; it carries treble the burthen of the common sheep, and its wool is of a superior kind. The shawl-wool goat is procured from Tibet: these valuable animals are to be purchased there at from twelve annas to two rupees (one shilling and six-pence to four shillings) each! The wild animals are the barji, or tawny bear; the bharel, or wild sheep (ovis ammon), with vast horns; and the kastúri, or musk deer (moschus moschiferus); marmots, ferrets, and rats, the tails of the latter not exceeding half an inch in length. The birds are the falcon, hawk, ptarmigan, wild pigeon, and Cornish chough. Neither fish nor reptiles of any kind exist, and insects are far from abundant, although they swarm along the continuous ranges.
Granite and quartz appear the prevailing rocks; the minerals are iron, sulphur, and yellow arsenic; rock crystal is common, and fossil bones and organic remains are found in the most elevated parts of the ghats, estimated at 17,000 feet above the sea. Hot springs are numerous throughout the Himalaya; the temperature is nearly the same in all, from 130° to 138°. "No volcano is positively known to exist, but there are grounds for suspecting that the Nanda Devi peak contains something of the kind; the Bhotias and natives of the neighbouring districts bear unanimous testimony to the occasional appearance of smoke on its summit; this is attributed by them to the actual residence of a deity, and has, accordingly, invested that peak with particular sanctity; a religious mela is held every twelfth year at the highest accessible point, which is, however, about a mile from the summit: further progress is rendered impossible by a wall of perpendicular ice." Personal appearance, language, religion, customs, and tradition all unite, Mr. Traill states, in referring the origin of the Bhotias to Tibet. "The histories of Timur mention the subjugation of these hills by one of his atabegs, a fact confirmed by the local records, which consist of little more than an enumeration of former rajas, with the duration of their reigns; they note, however, an interregnum of about twenty years, during which the Mogul sway continued." Vestiges of this race are still found in the centre of the province, consisting of tombs, constructed of large flat tiles, and in other respects substantially built, which could not have been the work of the aborigines or of Hindus. In respect to religion, the Bhotias may now be regarded as pantheists, paying equal adoration at every temple, whether of Brahma, Buddh, or the Lama; they have no priests of their own caste. The only temples in Bhot are small rude buildings of loose stones, merely sufficient to shelter the idol. The Bhotias ought to have no distinctions of caste, but they have imbibed some incipient notions of such distinctions from the Hindus. The abrogation of the Brahminical government may be expected to abolish them. They universally burn their dead, which is done in the month of Kartik only, the bodies being in the interval committed to the earth. At the ceremony, goats and yaks are sacrificed to the manes of the deceased. Among the Darma Bhotias, when an individual dies absent from his native village, a clue of worsted is conducted to it from the spot where death occurs, the object of which is to enable the Mr. Moorcroft found some weighing fifty or sixty pounds.