The New York Times, July 30, 1888, p.3:|
BY RAIL UP THE HIMALAYAPHASES OF THE WILD AND VARIED PASTIME.
SUNRISE OVER THE MOUNTAINS... MOST CURIOUS OF TOWNS.
DARJEELING, EASTERN HIMALAYA, May 25.— Sunrise over the Himalaya—a spectacle which no words can describe. The valleys still lie hid in floating shadow, and between the huge wooded ridges that form the lower steps of the great mountain stair, and mighty outline of the "Snow Range" far beyond them, hovers a band of soft gray mist, as if to separate the giant mountains from the lower earth which they have in common.
Far above the encircling clouds, those glorious peaks to which the highest summits of the Andes are as nothing, tower up against the clear bright sky, secluded from the little world of men with all its petty cares, and midway toward that heaven to which they seem to belong.
The mightiest of all these great kings of nature—whose native name of "God's Throne" was far better suited than the unmeaning title of "Mount Everest," with which some civilized barbarian has replaced it—is still unseen behind the curtains of his cloud palace, but the army of giants around him stand forth in all their dazzling glory.
To the left glitter in midair the three great peaks, in a single nook of whose mighty shadow lie the spacious provinces of Sikkim and Bhootan. To the right the shining tower of Chimilari sees far below it the grim snow-clad gorge, (itself higher than Mount Blac,) which forms the gateway of the unknown solitudes of gloomy and mysterious Thibet.
And in the centre of all, right in front of the hilltop where we stand, the great, white cathedral of Kanchinjinga, rising more than five miles in perpendicular height against the marvelous transparent clearness of the Asiatic sky, looks down upon the passing travelers and soldiers of the nineteenth century as it looked down ages ago upon the first races of mankind spreading themselves over a newly-created world—the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
Strange indeed it is to think, as we stand and watch the marble whiteness of the giant mountains kindle into living fire beneath the brightening sunshine, that no human foot has ever trodden these summits of which we can see every ridge and hollow as plainly as in a photograph...
The town of Darjeeling itself, despite all that its unsightly roofs of corrugated iron can do to spoil it, undeniably shares the picturesqueness of its surroundings... All along the higher slopes of a mighty ridge, upon which all the houses of New-York and Brooklyn might stand without crowding each other, its trim little white villas lie scattered like snowflakes, contrasting very strikingly with the dark green of the rhododendron thickets and clumps of fern or magnolia, which, in their turn, make a very effective foil to the sullen gray of the mighty rocks above or the broad scars of yellow clay or sand laid bare by the earthslides below.
In fact, the best way to form an idea of this extraordinary place is to imagine a stormy ocean with waves several hundred feet high, hurling a spray of houses hither and thither, flinging up on on the crest of a monster billow while sucking down another into the depths.
But this peculiar configuration, while adding vastly to the artistic beauty of the town, certainly detracts immeasurably from its convenience. Darjeeling, like life, is all ups and down. On the narrow zig-zag ledges, which are called by courtesy "streets," there is barely room for the passers-by, and the houses, which ought to stand along either side, are pasted like postage stamps on the face of the precipice above or hung like bird cages upon the projecting points of the precipice below. You step off one man's doorstep down another man's chimney and roll down into the next province by making one false step on the hillside. Between No. 1 and No. 2 of any street may yawn a gully 500 feet deep and a quarter of a mile broad. A peach stone, flung away carelessly on one of the hill paths, may commit a murder before it reaches the valley, and any man whose roof is not particularly strong may find a friend "dropping in upon him" in the most literal sense from the ridge overhead.
The people themselves are as extraordinary as the place which they inhabit. Up here 7,000 feet above the sea, close to the border of Nepaul [Nepal] on one side and Bhootan [Bhutan] on the other, upon the great highway that leads up into the land of mystery, Thibet [Tibet], there is never any lack of strange and striking objects. Every successive shelf of the Himalaya, in fact, is a perfect museum of ethnological curiousities, and even this, the lowest shelf of all, is quite as well filled as any of them. For the Himalaya, like the Caucasus, is a kind of Noah's Ark, in which a few specimens of every race from the plains below have sought refuge from successive floods of conquest.
The small, sharp features and slender limbs of the Hindu, the squeezed-up visage and huge bat-like ears of the Yarkandi from beyond the great mountains, the dwarfish figure, wide mouth, and fierce black eyes of the Goorka mountaineer from Nepaul, the heavy frame, narrow, oblique eyes, coarse straggling hair, and queer, reddish-yellow complexion of the Bhootanese, the flat, noseless face of the Mongol (looking just like a mask that has been sat upon) are all there.
But there is plenty of employment for this miscellaneous crew, for in this region of perpendicular ascents and descents every kind of conveyance is at a premium during the "season," which opens on the 1st of March. Happy then is the man who possesses three or four ponies of his own, although the ponies themselves, ridden up and down the steep mountain paths from morning till night, may perhaps view the matter in a somewhat different aspect.
For nonriding visitors there is a choice between the box-shaped palanquin, which looks so unexpectedly like a badly-made coffin; the "dandy, a sort of insane cross between an ambulance litter and an arm chair; and the famous "jinriksha" (man go-cart) of China and the Straits Settlements, a kind of light gig drawn by a man, who, being himself horse and driver in one, is hardly likely to overdrive his team.
The journey from Calcutta up to Darjeeling would probably seem intolerably slow to any new-comer, fresh from the express trains of the West, for the daily mail train, which leaves the Sealdah station at 4:30 P. M., does not reach its destination till the same hour on the following afternoon, thus expending 24 hours upon 361 miles. But if the rate of travel is slow, there is at all events plenty to look at on the way. It is true that the enjoyment is somewhat marred by finding oneself peppered like a Madras curry with shovelfuls of hot, prickly dust, which seem to come in all the same whether the windows are closed or not. But this is so completely a matter of course in India that were the nuisance suddenly removed we should probably miss it as much as that enthusiastic collector of new experiences who complained the he "had been six months in Bengal and hadn't been bitten by a single snake yet."
During the first few hours of our journey the surrounding scenery is comparatively tame, notwithstanding the rich luxuriance of the tropical vegetation, for in order to form a correct notion of the landscape of Lower Bengal you have only to multiply a billiard board by 5,000,000 and subtract the cushions. But matters improve considerably when we reach the ferry of Damookdea Ghant on the Ganges, where a steamer lies in readiness to carry us from the Eastern Bengal train on one side of the river to the Northern Bengal train on the other.
It is quite dark when we arrive there, and the various points of the picture—the broad, smooth expanse of the great river starting out of the gloom in a blaze of electric light, the tall trees standing up phantom-like along the shadowy shore, the white hull of the steamboat looming spectrally against the dark water, the wild faces and gaunt, half-nude figures of the coolies appearing and vanishing like ghosts as they pass from darkness to light and from light back again to darkness—all combine to form a very effective tableau.
A hasty dinner on board the steamer, a hurried scramble into the train on the opposite bank, and then (having luckily got a compartment to ourselves) we spread our wraps on the two seats which it contains, and sleep as soundly as a night watchman on duty. Day is just dawning when we awake again, just in time to snatch a hasty breakfast of tea and toast at Jalpaiguri, the last station but one.
An hour later we reach Siligari, the terminus of the Northern Bengal Railway, where we are transported to the "Himalayan Railroad" itself, and get on board the curious little toy train which is to carry us 7,000 feet up into the air over the slopes of the highest mountains in the world.
Nearly an hour passes, however, before our final start is made, the platform being almost blocked up with military stores, which are on their way up to the hills in preparation for an impending expedition. The fact is (as we learn on our arrival at Darjeeling) that the Rajah of Sikkim, a semi-independent mountain principality forming one of the higher ledges of the Himalaya, has just taken the liberty of murdering or allowing to be murdered a number of European residents, at the instigation, as is generally believed, of the Thibetan priests beyond the mountains.
Lord Dufferin (who has gone up to Darjeeling on purpose) has summoned the Rajah to meet him at a place not far from that town, in order to answer for this outrage. Should the Rajah fail to appear, or to make due atonement from his offense, the soldiers will be instantly let loose upon him, and hence these preparations.
Already the shadowy mass of the great mountain range is dimly visible far away to the northward, and, almost as soon as our train starts, the fresh breeze that comes straight from the distant snows is felt stirring into sudden buoyancy the hot, heavy, lifeless atmosphere of the sultry plain.
The train itself is a queer affair, running upon the narrowest gauge in the world, except Russia's Trans-Caspian Railway, and composed of a number of quaint little toy cars, just big enough to hold six people apiece, which, with their open sides and canvas screens, are exact duplicates in miniature of the New-York street horse cars during the Summer season, a resemblance increased by the fact that for the first ten miles or so we run along the highroad itself, and pass carts and foot passengers at every turn.
And now we begin to mount in earnest, and for hours to come we are zigzagging up steep, wooded slopes, plunging into the gloomy shadow of pathless forests, rattling through cuttings so narrow that we could touch the rocks on either side by merely stretching out our hands, rushing along the brink of black and frightful chasms whose depth no eye can measure, dashing past queer little native villages (the inhabitants of which swarm out like bees to watch us scurry by,) or swinging around curves so sharp that the passengers in the foremost car can see those in the hindmost across an impassable gulf of several hundred feet, after the fashion of that gifted man who rode into New-York at such a pace that his shadow came up five minutes later to ask which way he had gone.
Higher, ever higher, till the air grows chill and keen, and the rich tropical foliage sinks away beneath us to make way for the hardier trees of the mountain, and the wide-winged vultures circle overhead, screaming hoarse defiance at the smoke-breathing monster of iron that dares to invade their domain.
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