AN eight-hour journey by train from Lahore brought us to Rawalpindi, the starting point for Kashmir. A motor car arranged for in advance was awaiting us on our arrival at the railway station. Our light luggage and bedding rolls were promptly transferred to the car and we were off over a good road leading towards the mountain range to the east. As we did not get started until 5:00 P.M., we only motored as far as Tret, 26 miles on our journey. Here we remained over night in a dak bungalow warmed by a cheery fire, for we were now at latitude 35 degrees, and at considerable altitude.
At daybreak the next morning we were again on our way, and within an hour the highway was hemmed in by banks of snow, piled high to clear the road, for this is the motor mail route into the Kashmir valley. Murree, 7,000 feet elevation, was covered by a heavy fall of snow. The limbs of the shapely conifers, deodar, pines and firs hung heavy with the damp snow and recalled memories of like winter scenes at home.
While exulting over the beauty of the scene and the purity of the snow, Lachsmilal, who had never before seen or experienced a snow storm, said: “What is your pleasure, my lord, I fear is my death.” With plenty of blankets wrapped about him he comfortably weathered the snow and cold that followed on our journey to Kashmir and lived to tell what I am sure proved a most interesting tale to his family and friends at home in the warm sunny land of Rajputana.
As we decended from the pass, the snow again disappeared, the frontier was soon reached and a little later we were briefly halted for medical examination and custom formalities. Constantly we followed the course of the Jhellum river, winding through narrow valleys, ravines with sloping banks and gorges with sheer walls of rock which steadily rose to higher and higher levels.
In a few hours we were again in a fairy land of whiteness and shut in by snow-covered mountains forested with thousands of Christmas trees drooping with snow. Snow was falling at the rate of one inch an hour. Hundreds of coolies, strung along in groups every mile, were busily engaged in clearing the snow from the roadway. Strong, dark-skinned men, their shirt fronts open, exposing their chests, walking in the snow with bare feet while some were shod with crude sandals, merely straw soles tied on with a thong. Children and women in the villages also appeared indifferent to the chill of the snow as they wandered about in bare feet.
In the evening we arrived at Baramulla, the gateway to the valley, and here we remained for the night, in fact for the following 42 hours, for the next morning we found ourselves snowed in, the roads being blocked with snow, and compelled to wait until cleared by the poor coolies. The dak bungalow at which we stayed was not very inviting nor cheerful, but we managed to be fairly comfortable by burning plenty of wood and sitting before the cheery little fireplace, reading about the beautiful, fair, sunkissed, flower strewn, gentle, happy valley of Kashmir; the happy hunting ground of the Nimrod; an earthly paradise set within a lofty rim of snow on the heights of the encircling mountains. There was no question about the snow.
The vale of Kashmir is an oval plain about 5,500 feet elevation, is approximately 85 miles long and 20 to 25 miles wide. It is entirely en-circled by the lofty snow-capped mountains of the Karakoram and Himalaya ranges, whose peaks rise from 12,000 to 26,000 feet in height. It is about the same latitude as Los Angeles, 34 degrees. The valley is well watered, having several large lakes and the Jhellum River wends its way through its entire length, its waters reaching the sea by the Indus River. The soil is said to be very productive and rice is the principal crop; every-where are seen the terraced paddy fields, which must be beautiful indeed when covered by the green of this growing cereal. Maize, wheat, bar-ley are also grown and the valley is one of the principal fruit districts of India. Its population numbers 1,100,000, practically all of whom are Mohammedans.
The valley has long since been famous as an earthly paradise, a cool retreat from the hot lands of India, and was a favorite resort of Jahangir and his famous beauty Nurjahan, “The Light of Asia.” Even now no railroad enters the valley but the 200 miles of excellent motor road leading from the railway line at Rawalpindi over the pass at Murree are comfortably and speedily covered by a motor car. In the earlier days of the Mogul emperors, Jahangir and his favorite consort came even a much greater distance, seated in their royal howdahs swaying on the backs of huge elephants, traversing a narrow precipitous trail that wended its way into the valley over a pass of 9,000 feet to the south. A lovely pleasure garden, Shalimir Bagh, the work of the emperor, still remains, and many of the glorious chenar (plane) trees of the valley owe their existence to Jahangir, who planted them extensively. Today these huge, noble, spreading trees and the lofty, straight, upright Lombardy poplars that line miles of the highways, form one of the chief attractions and glories of the valley.
Srinagar, a unique city of more than 100,000 inhabitants, is the capital of Kashmir State. It is dominated on the north outskirts by an old fort crowning an isolated hill and built by Akbar in the sixteenth century, and another promontory to the east on which stands the remains of an old temple. The river Jhellum divides it into two parts and it is also intersected by several canals. Quaint, old, crooked, wooden bridges span the river at several points. Picturesque, rickety, leaning houses, all very much unlike, some wooden, others of timber and brick combination, often several stories high, are built along the river bank, their roofs covered with earth from which in the spring of the year may be seen growing green grass, iris and tulips. Many are the combination home-and-shops of the merchants with balcony windows fitted with wooden lattice screens which jut out over the river below, where barges, house-boats, dongas and shikaras are moored along the river edge. Artistic and picturesque scenes are there, but malodorous as well. The active boat life of the river and the canals which are traversed quite as generally as the narrow, dirty streets in back, recall scenes in China and even suggest the canals and gondolas of Venice.
The waters were entirely free of any ice; it was not cold, although snow covered much of the landscape and the great mountains with extensive areas of beautiful conifersdeodars, pines, spruce and firswere glorious in their snowy mantle and contrasted sharply with the extreme filth of the narrow, exiguous thoroughfares of the native section.
It doesn’t take an imagination any greater than even I possess to picture this land in its spring and autumn raiment, but why express in words of my imagination when it has been so poetically described by Sir Francis Younghusband, who was the first European to cross from Pekin to Kash-mir, a journey of 4,000 miles and over the Mustagh Pass, 19,000 feet high, a hard, icy slope and rocky precipice down which he and his five coolie servants had to let themselves by means of their turbans and waistcloths tied together. No tent, only the wearing apparel they had on, all funds exhausted, with but a bedding roll and a kettle, penniless, they arrived at Kashmir. In the most sketchy manner I quote from “Scenery in Kashmir,” a chapter in his delightful book:
“In the heart of the Himalayas nestles the most beautiful valley in the world. It possesses a combination of quiet loveliness and mountain grandeur which has a fascination all its own; a tenderness of restful beauty not excelled. Each spot has a different aspect each day, but Kashmir beauty is at its zenith when the clouds have rolled away or the haze lifted and a real Kashmir spring or autumn day discloses itself. Wide flung are its landscapes and snow ranges stretch from one horizon to another. Rice fields in brilliant emerald; beautiful patches of tall iris, dark blue, mauve or white; rocks by the stream often covered by ivy and overhung by sprays of roses, for iris and roses are the two special beauties of Kashmir. The chief glory of the Kashmir spring is the peach tree in full blossom forming on the landscape little clouds of the purest and most delicate pink and the larger pear trees forming snow white masses.
“There is nothing in the world more exquisitely lovely than the combination of the freshness of spring green with the whiteness of the snow low down on the mountain sides. The dreamy purple haze, the mirror lake, the yellow mustard field and the clouds of pink and white fruit blossoms. Villages half hidden in clumps of willows and over-towering chenar trees, broad reaches of placid waters of lakes and rivers glistening in the sunshine with numerous boats gliding on their surface, the land of the valley gradually rising to that range of snowy mountains which forms the culminating touch of beauty in every Kashmir scene.”
As to the weather, he writes : “The exceptional may always be expected any year.” (How like California!)
Speaking of flowering trees, I might add that I have seen the delicate masses of pink formed by acres of peach trees in bloom in Georgia and Michigan and that of apricots in California; I have reveled in the snowy beauty of the clustering blossoms of the flowering cherry trees in Japan. In the Flowery Kingdom I have also seen mountain sides wreathed by the wild azaleas in a mist of lavender; I have seen the delicate regal orchid-like blossoms hanging in clusters on the Amherstia Nobilis trees of Java and Ceylon; I have breathed the perfume of the orangeries in Florida; but for pure, exquisite beauty, nothing can equal the loveliness of an apple orchard in blossom. The fresh light green of the young leaves, the delicate pink blush and white of the blossoms and the entrancing perfume that ladens the air has no competition, it is in a class by itself ; peerless, chaste, beauty.
A vacation of a few weeks during the spring season spent in a houseboat leisurely cruising about on the lakes, rivers and canals, surrounded by the charming beauty of the mountains and valley must indeed be delightful. It is quite impossible, however, for extensive travelers to be in every place visited at just the ideal season; they must be satisfied if the journeys planned as a whole from time to time are made under the most favor-able circumstances, and so it was with Kashmir. I greatly enjoyed my visit and anything we failed to see or enjoy our imagination endeavored to supply, and any seasonable loss was compensated for by a seasonable gain elsewhere on our six months’ journey.
From what I have read and heard I conclude that Kashmir’s greatest beauty is realized in April. I am not in position to fairly judge of the beauty of this valley, but I can hardly concur with Bevnier who wrote: “In truth the kingdom surpasses in beauty all that my warmest imagination had anticipated.” Its humid climate in mid-summer is apparently unbearable. Its mountains do not approach the sublime grandeur of the Himalayas at Darjeeling, and as a vacation land it does not equal places in our own country. Anyone who pronounces this the most beautiful spot in the world, I would ask had they visited the valleys in the Tyrolian or Swiss Alps.
I am often asked: “What is the most beautiful country I have seen?” A question I have only been able to answer with qualifications. If considered purely from the artistic beauty, its pastoral charm, its picturesqueness, I would say Tyrol, especially in early May, when the warm green valleys contrast with the mantle of pure white snow on the mountain tops that still extend down the rocky steeps into the forests of the upper heights. If, however, I was selecting a land embracing the greatest charm and advantages as well, then I would surely name that part of the United States embracing Pennsylvania, New York and the New England states, for here you have the sea and also the mountains, great rivers, fertile valleys, rolling hills, fine forests and a land that affords every facility for education, recreation, art, music and commerce.
I have never seen the most beautiful place in the world, or rather so many that are so reputed that I have long since concluded that each has a charm quite its own. “The most beautiful spot in all the world” does not exist. I have seen beauty in the sea whipped into fury by a storm or in the calm placid waters of a mill pond reflecting the overhanging willows and reeds. I have seen beauty in the majestic grandeur of mighty mountains or the peaceful pastoral scene of a gentle, sloping countryside. I have experienced in the aisles of noble forests a reverence for its sublime beauty or been entranced by the pure, harmonious loveliness of a flower garden. I have been exhilarated by the fresh beauty of a blizzard of swirling snow or found peace in the tranquil warmth of a June morning. Yea, I have seen a world of beauty in a wee flower in the dell bathed in the morning dew. As has well been said, “It is not the eyes but the soul that sees.”
On our return journey, when leaving the Vale of Kashmir, the heavy snow lessened as we reached the lower levels, but swirling snow storms swept along the summits of the mountains and occasionally the sun would break through a dark cloud and brighten up a solitary peak or great snow field. What was much worse, however, now threatened us and impeded our progresslandslides. One fell in the roadway just before us and while endeavoring to pass the debris, we narrowly escaped being crushed by a further slide, for it missed us by not more than two seconds.
Soon a much more extensive and serious slide was encountered, one which for three days a large number of coolies had endeavored to clear from the highway, but where, as slight gains were made, further slides continued with grave danger to the workmen, for loose stones and huge rocks hurtled clown to the roadway and on into the rivers in the gorge, hundreds of feet below. Again we were marooned in the mountain fastness of Kashmir. We carefully picked our way across the dangerous, treacherous slide amid falling rocks and walked about a mile to Chinari.
On a ledge on the slope of a mountain covered with large pine and green shrubs is the Chinari dak bungalow. Immediately before it is a small plateau of perhaps five acres of terraced rice pad-dies. Deep down flows the Jhellum River, a turbulent stream. It was early spring here, for narcissus and violets were in bloom and the buds of the trees swelling. Near the bungalow sang a brook leaping down a cascade of more than 100 feet. Entirely surrounding this lovely spot rose mountains of seven, eight, nine thousand feet and more, their heights snow-clad, while on some, amid the great snow fields, were dark areas of pine and firs. Little adobe huts without windows or chimneys are perched on the lower reaches of the mountains and the smoke of the fires within filter through the flat thatch and mud roof, or rolls out through the open doorway. I saw several monkeys and many crows croaked their shrill caw-caw.
The landslide was a constant source of interest.
The task of the gangs of coolies clearing the road-way was hazardous, indeed; stones were constantly falling from above and loose slate and earth rushing down, the men scrambling to safety whenever the outlook called his warning. One exceedingly daring fellow climbed upon the drift of loose stone and earth and pried loose great boulders, tons in size, which went hurtling down the precipitous slope into the river hundreds of feet below, with a roar and splash.
The following day the slide continued and as there was no possibility of the road being opened, it still requiring two days, possibly six or eight, before cars could again proceed past the slide, I engaged another car that was upbound and which was also detained, to make the remainder of the return journey with us. We changed our route so as to avoid Murree Pass, where deep snow prevailed, and took a longer but lower route via Abottsabad. We enjoyed the trip, as an excellent road led through great forests of pine in an undulating country, also quaint native villages. We forded many streams and were constantly surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Finally late in the evening we again arrived at Rawalpindi, relieved and happy to once more be on a main line of railway.
The next morning being Sunday, after walking about through the native section of Rawalpindi and to the cantonment of this largest military station in India, we attended divine service at the English church.
Not less than five companies of British soldiers and their officers paraded to church, headed by an excellent band, and occupied a large portion of the church. The sermon was a good one, I am sure, although I was not seated in a position to hear the remarks. I did catch the following, that his text were the words, “Deo Volente.” That pride goeth before a fall and that God humblest the mightythat might did not make right and that it behooved a soldier to humble himself be-fore his Lord as had the great generals Gordon and Lord Roberts. These few words alone are a pretty good sermon. Two glorious hymns were sung: Lead Kindly Light and Thy Will Be Done, closing with God Save the King, to which tune I could join with:
My country ’tis of thee Land of the noble free Of thee I sing, Long may our land be bright With freedom’s holy light; Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King.
And even what I have noted above was sufficient to constitute a good Christian service if sincerely entered into.
After the civilians departed the soldiers left the church, carrying with them their muskets, which arms had stood beside each soldier in his pew. They again formed into parade, the order for march was given and the band struck up a lively tune, the soldiers marched away, their rifles “at trail.”
So long as the British soldiers remain in India, and England directs the government, peace and prosperity is assured to this otherwise turbulent land. In fact, with English and American moral and physical forces policing the world under some mutual understanding, the destinies of the nations are reasonably assured until such time as an international court, or a league of nations (or under any other name that may be given it) justice may be dispensed to contending nations without re-course to arms.
The second chief objective of this visit to India, the Khyber Pass, is now close at hand. We are at Peshawar, the most important frontier city in India, the gateway to Afghanistan. It is almost completely surrounded by low mountains plainly seen a few miles in the distance. This city actually scintillates with local color, for it possesses one of the quaintest and most picturesque native sections in all India. The bazaars contain many unique objects of purchase and everywhere are seen picturesquely dressed natives from strange lands beyond the frontier. Two things in northwest India still continue to impress me as decidedly ludicrousold Mohammedan men dying their grey whiskers a vivid, obtrusive orange red, and Mohammedan women wearing white cotton robes entirely enveloping them and having two small latticed openings of drawn needle work, before the eyes. Mankind is certainly enslaved to custom.
From Peshawar begins the caravan route to Kabul, 190 miles away, passing through Khyber Pass and continuing across Afghanistan to Persia, Bokhara and central Asia, with which markets Peshawar enjoys a great transit trade by means of these caravans.
Khyber Pass; these words have had a magic charm for me for many years. Khyber Pass is old in history; it has been the northwestern gateway into India for even centuries before Christ. Armies of those great conquerors Darius, Cyrus and Alexander the Great, have passed through this very defile. It has been a lane of commerce since beyond the records of man. A caravan route from Central Asia, from the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris, yes, even from the Nile, into the land of the ancient Hindus. It occupies a most strategic position and its great natural military strength is readily recognized when seen. It is a narrow, tortuous roadway that winds through the rocky fastness of the mountains. Having secured the necessary papers and visé we proceeded through the pass to the Afghan frontier. From a high, commanding position we saw far into the mountain lands of Afghanistan; in the distance the Kabul River was plainly visible. This is a land rich in historical background and legendary tales. Some scholars claim that the present inhabitants of Afghanistan are decendants of soldiers of Alexander the Great, although the Afghans themselves claim a much more ancient lineage, maintaining they are of Jewish origin, decending from Afghana, who was in lineal decent from Abraham and Hagar by their son Ishmael. Some Afghan authors also affirm that Afghana was the grandson of King Saul. It is a country where it is held that every man is by birth and education a man of war from his youth.
Khyber Pass is wild-looking, bleak, rocky, and breathes the spirit of adventure. Several fortified positions command the pass and the Khyber Rifles Corps guard the way on Tuesdays and Fridays of each week. On these days the highway actually flows with picturesque convoys of camels, heavily laden, urged on by strong, swarthy, fierce-looking men, who have every appearance of being able to look after themselves and fight or kill if need be. It is a fascinating and unusual sight, indeed, to stand at one side on some eminence commanding a view of a mile or two of road and witness the movements of these caravans, composed of not less than two or three thousand camels, huge, well-furred male animals, very similar to those seen in Mongolia. A kaleidoscopic flow of camels, more camels and half savage men, a glimpse of another world.
In fact, the northwest frontier province of India presents an entirely different phase of life and conditions in India from that of the south and north central districts and also suggests something of the task that is England’s to perform in policing these half-civilized frontiers, maintaining her prestige and quelling the constant uprisings. And they do their job well. To these English officers and Tommies it is all in a day’s work, and many unflinchingly pay the price with their lives and sometimes that of their wives, carried away by tribesmen.
A stirring tale was told me by a colonel at Peshawar. The daughter of an English officer, a girl of about 14 years, was stolen and carried away to the hills by a gang from one of these pestiferous tribes. All efforts to locate and rescue the young girl proved fruitless. Finally a Mrs. Starr, a medical missionary, volunteered to undertake the task of finding and rescuing her. Alone with an escort of but a few natives, this brave woman, unmindful of her own safety or the humiliating indignities she might suffer, even worse than death, advanced into the enemy’s fastness, depending upon her knowledge of their language and her past acts of humanity among them to protect her life. She not only discovered the place where the girl was being detained, but also secured her release and brought her back safely to her anxiously awaiting parents.
England’s job in India? It is a courageous, humane, righteous task, an undertaking that I thank God is not oursAmerica’sto accomplish.
We left Peshawar in the early morning, a beautiful sunrise gilding the snow-capped peaks to the west a rosy tint. We were beginning our journey southward to the port of Karachi, there to sail away from India. Frontier conditions as observed in Kashmir and especially on the Afghan border, had revealed to me another phase of Indian life.
At the seaport of Karachi we took our leave of our traveling attendant, Lachsmilal. At the final parting at the dock, he bowed nearly unto my feet, saying: “It is with sorrow that I leave you, my lord. May your days be greatly lengthened, though mine needs be shortened; present my compliments to your wife, my love to your daughters, and may you be blessed with a son.”
In saying goodbye to Lachsmilal, who had served us so faithfully and added so much to our interest and enjoyment of the places visited, I felt that I was leaving a friend. When I am in my homeland in Christian America and he in his Hindu India, the wide world lying between, our thoughts may at least commune and reminisce upon the days spent together in northern India, and dwell upon our frank expressions to one another in an endeavor to catch a glimpse of each other’s philosophy of life, realizing that good men everywhere have much in common and their various paths lead to the same end.