March 28, KOHALA DAK BUNGALOW. This is where I am stopping the first night en route for Kashmir.
I started in the tonga at eight o’clock. A tonga is like a low back-to-back pony-cart with a hood. For the first fifteen miles we proceeded at a hand-gallop, changing ponies every five miles. The pace was a little nerve-trying, as the way the ponies are yoked without traces makes the driver’s control of the steering rather vague. Luckily the road was good and gently uphill. The most alarming moment was starting each new pair of ponies, as they generally pranced wildly round before the driver had gathered the reins properly. The first new pair swung the tong-a round a complete circle, and then darted off like arrows from the bow or a Roman chariot-race.
After fifteen miles the real climbing began, and the road was muddy with yesterday’s rain. The ponies still started madly, but had to be changed after every two and a half miles they were generally quite cooked. At about twelve it clouded over and soon after one it began to hail, and then sleet fell. The road was foul and slushy, and we nearly stuck once with our near wheel locked in a bullock-cart’s : the latter had stuck, and left us very little room to pass, but we just pulled through. This was the place where I was warned the road might be blocked with snow : but luckily the spring is very early this year, and there was no snow except a little that fell yesterday, now thawed into slush. But it was bitterly cold, and I was very glad of the nine layers of garments I had put round me.
At half-past one I got to Murree, which is thirty-five miles from Pindi and seven thousand five hundred feet high : it is the hill-station for the North Punjab. I had lunch over a fire at a deserted hotel (the Murree season has wisely not begun yet) with a very pretty view over a deep wooded valleythe trees being mostly firs (nearly like Scotch firs) and pines and thujas. There were also quantities of peach, apricot, and medlar trees in full blossom, and these remained common all the way to here.
Leaving Murree at three o’clock, we left also the valley we had come up and, crossing the shoulder of the spur on which Murree stands, had a magnificent view of the plain with the green sloping hills for foreground. Then, rounding a bluff, we came on to a quite different and even more lovely view of an enormous chasm-valley for foreground, and behind it a line of high, wooded hills (about ten thousand feet), the tops of which had kept yesterday’s snow sprinkled among the pine-trees ; while behind these again showed a grand chain of real Eternal Snows, some in sunlight and some with snowstorms playing on them. We had this view for two hours, till as we got lower down the near hills hid the snows. About five o’clock we dropped into the Jhelum Valley, here so steep and narrow as to be fairly called a gorge, with the Jhelum looking tiny far below us. However, an hour and a half brought us down to it, thankful to be alive.
For soon after we entered it, at one of our changes of horses, the usual stampede taking place, the off pony pranced a little too near the edge of the road, which was narrow and unparapeted ; in fact, both his hind-legs went over the edge, and he was left in the attitude of an heraldic unicorn. Our off wheel was as near as possible over, but fortunately a large stone acted as curb and stopped it, and the pony scrambled back like a dog out of a swimming-bath before our near wheel had more than just left the ground. It was quite an exciting moment, and Peer Mohammed ejaculated ” Al-lah! Al-lah! ” more fervently than ever, though he had been moved to utter it at several previous crises : for the journey, though long, was far from uneventful, being full of little incidents: this last one, however, was a trifle beyond a joke.
We got into Kohala at half past six. It is sixty-four miles from Rawal Pindi, and almost exactly one-third of the way to Srinagar. I went down and looked at the Jhelum. Just here it is under forty yards wide : I made it thirty-seven by pacing the bridge : the measuring-scale on the bridge’s piers shows it is now forty feet deep, and last rains was fifty-nine feet deep. It is running like a mill-race–brown, swirling water. The view from the bridge up and down the gorge is most picturesque, though nothing surprising : the hills on either side are (to look at) about a thousand feet high, perhaps not quite so much.
Friday, URI.-Another long day and full of incidents. I started from Kohala at half-past eight this morning. The gorge looked bigger and more beautiful than it did last night. We crossed the bridge and went along the face of the right-hand hillside (being the left bank of the stream, which flows south here). We have been in the gorge all day, with a rushing sound of the river for company, and most lovely scenery. All the morning a big snow-mountain headed the gorge : it was fifty miles away, but looked quite close.
About eleven o’clock the gorge broadened and became a valley, i.e., there was a little fiat, cultivatable ground on either side of the river. In this valley were many trees, the prettiest being a kind of mountain-ash, the young leaves of which were so bright a copper-pink that, in the distance, they looked like blossom.
About twelve we turned sharp eastward, and continued to follow the valley till we reached Garhi, where I lunched. This was thirty-three miles from Kohala.
Starting again at two, the valley soon narrowed to a gorge again, and for the rest of the afternoon the road was just cut in a ledge on the face of the ravine-side : the river about two hundred feet below, and the hills a thousand feet above us, with glimpses of snow in front. It was very wild and grand, and quite a contrast to the almond-blossom of the valley. In several places there had been small landslips, one still in progress, and we drove past with one eye on the stones in the road and the other on those rolling down ; we dodged the latter, but the former were very bumpy.
About six o’clock we came to a big landslide which had blocked the whole road with loose earth. A large gang of coolies was working at it, but the more they cleared the more fell. However, they had banked it so as to leave space about five feet wide on the extreme edge of the precipice, and over this we had to pass. I got out to take a photo-graph, and got in on the far side. In fact, they had to take the ponies out, and the coolies drew the tonga through, with about two inches to spare.
Finally, we got in here about a quarter-past seven, having travelled sixty-nine miles. I was fearfully sleepy, and can hardly keep my eyes open, but the bungalow is full, so I have had to sleep in the dining-room, so take the opportunity of writing this while dinner is being cleared away.
Saturday, SRINAGAR.-Not quite such a long day to-day, but I’m very glad to be out of the Conga.
When I got up this morning I found we were in a lovely kind of dell where two valleys met at right angles, completely encupped by hills, most of them with snow. Just before we got in last night deodars had begun to appear, and all this morning they were the prevailing tree. They were not very tall, though a few were about ninety or a hundred feet, but they were slenderer and more larch-like in growth than the ones at home.
We started at eight and continued along the gorge as before, now high above the river, now almost on a level with it, making longish detours to cross tributary streams. We passed two temples of the peculiar and very effective Kashmiri style, which Fergusson describes (I hope you have looked at Fergusson).
About half-past eleven the gorge opened and the hills subsided, the river became broad and calm, and in front was disclosed a flat valley, on the other side of which rose (thirty miles away) a long wall of snow mountains. Soon we got to Baramula, where the houses were built of cedar-wood and roofed with green turf, quite the prettiest combination I have ever seen, I think. The green roofs especially were lovely, being steep and often gabled.
After lunching here, I started for Srinagar, thirty-three miles of nearly flat road, lined through-out by tall poplars planted so close together that when they get their leaves they must make a continuous shade, for all their narrowness.
The valley itself was rather prosaically prosperous, consisting chiefly of irrigated plough-land. When the corn and rice shows, however, it will be deliciously green. There are also masses of iris plants, for which the valley is famous, but they were not yet in flower. The prettiest pieces of colour were the mustard-fields, of which there were a good many, in full bloom. Otherwise it is a little too early. The poplars are leafless and the planes hardly showing green the elms are greenish, and the fruit-trees in full blossom, but of these there were not many till we neared Srinagar.
The valley itself, in fact, was a trifle disappointing. But the setting ! When we got near the middle of it I could see all round, and so far as I could make out (it had clouded over and was misty in places) the valley is completely surrounded by snow-mountains without a single break, and as it is eighty miles long by twenty-five broad, this means a continuous oval chain of snows about two hundred miles in length. Later in the season I dare say many of the lower mountains lose their snow but now the snow-line looked about two thousand feet above the valley (i.e., seven thousand feet above sea-level), and so every hill had plenty of it. The effect was fairy-like under the grey sky, and the light from them was such that I needed my smoked glasses all the way, though there was no sunshine at all.
I got in here at five o’clock. The town looks most attractive, built of wood, many turfed roofs, on a network of streams and canals which centre in the Jhelum. Traffic is by water, as in Venice and Stockholm, and the snows form the background to every picture, while almond-blossom comes into the foreground of most.
I have taken up my abode in a doonga, which is a kind of long, low house-boat, navigable. I think I shall have a heavenly Holy Week here before moving farther. It is doubtful whether the Sindh Valley is open enough to make it advisable to go up it.
April 2, ON THE JHELUM, NEAR SRINAGAR,
KASHMIR. -I thought I shouldn’t be able to write to you this week, as I suddenly decided on Sunday evening to go down the river for two days’ duck-shooting at a place where I heard there were some. But it rained so much on Sunday night and yesterday morning that I was afraid if I went the whole way I shouldn’t be able to get back by Wednesday evening against the swollen current : these house-boats move very- slowly and can’t travel by night because of mudbanks. So I stopped yesterday afternoon at a jhil, halfway down. A ;ha is a sheet of shallow water, like a fen without the grass : there are only weeds and a few rushes. The method of shooting is to get into a canoe-like boat and paddle about quietly, putting the duck up, and then shoot them as they circle round. To get to the boat on this jhil I had to walk through two hundred yards of marsh. There were only three small lots of duck on it, and we put them up all right : but the weak part of the scheme was that they circled round well out of shot. After about an hour of this process, during which I got one long shot at a mallard, it began to rain again hard, and I gave it up. It was so cold I decided not to wait on the chance of a fine morning, and so we are making our way back to Srinagar. One really wants some one who knows the places to find anything, especially at the fag-end of the season. Earlier in the season there are enough reeds on the jhils to give one cover, and on the best ones shelters are provided.
This would be a delightful country to come for three months’ shooting in, either in winter or summer. In winter you get the splendid waterfowl shooting, every kind, from geese to snipe, and a good deal of big game, especially stags only one can’t go up the high mountains. In summer you get no bird-shooting except quail, but you get good fishing, fish up to 25 lb., and very good Himalayan big-game shooting, viz., Markhor, Ibex, Sharpu, Ammon, Thibetan Antelope, Thibetan Gazelle, Kashmir Stag, Serow, Tehr, Goral (these last three are only names to me), Brown Bear, Black Bear, Pig, Leopard, and Snow Leopard. Leopards are very common, but snow leopards are Me thing : they have lovely skins and are very difficult to get at. In any case you have the most glorious scenery in the world the whole time below the snow-level the flowers are marvellous, they say ; and the whole affair is said to be the cheapest shooting in the world. I asked the Agency man here the average cost of a three-months trip, and he said, ” is the average per head, but it can be done for less.” The Uganda Agency sent me a prospectus in December, and they gave an estimate of £100 per head per month three times as much.
The rain has stopped now, but there are still heavy clouds about, hiding the mountains. It is very tiresome, as this is the weather they ought to be having in March, and March was unusually fine however, I hope it will clear up in a few days, as there are some lovely expeditions to be made from Srinagar, only they depend on clear weather.
It is distinctly warmer today, too ; my thermometer says 54°, whereas yesterday no efforts would induce it to rise above 46° ; as soon as the sun can get through it will shoot up to 70°. Then the spring ought to come in with a run. The great tree hereabouts is the chenar, or plane. Its leaf looks to me smaller and more prettily indented than the English plane ; but they aren’t out yet, though the buds are bursting, and three days’ sun would do the trick.
There is a wonderful atmosphere of beauty about to place. The city is extraordinarily picturesque. There are more waterways than streets, and the houses are built on high embankments (to escape floods) and overhang the river, supported by great bracket beams. The houses are of wood, weather-stained to all sorts of browns and greens, and are roofed with brilliantly emerald turf. They have bow-windows, in which their turbaned proprietors sit like spiders all day overlooking the river. One travels about in a cigar-shaped wooden boat, called shikara, paddled by four men : it goes a great pace. There are lots of house-boats and barges on the river, too, and it is crossed by seven bridges, all built entirely of wood, with rows of logs laid alternate ways and broadening at the top, I continually wish I could sketch the places I see.
Even the people are good-looking, and have nice happy, laughing faces, though they are the idlest and most worthless people in all India, almost. But they certainly have artistic genius, which seems to go with lovely scenery : you can see that in their architecture and also in their products. Their wood-carving is the best in the world, and their silk embroideries are also lovely. Almost alone among Indians they go to nature for their models, which is contrary to the spirit of Indian art : and being Mohammedans, nature means for them flowers and trees and fruits : and the result is a perfection of flower-imitation which is like nothing Indian, but very close to the Persian art at Delhi and Agra.
Wednesday, SRINAGAR.-This has missed the mail, after all, so it will have to wait till next week. While I was writing yesterday morning, they told me we were passing a jhil which might have duck, so I got out and into a shikara with a local shikari and paddled to the jhil. It was a much more satisfactory affair than the last one : very big, quite a mile long, and over half a mile broad, and full of short reeds or iris-leaves which stood eighteen inches out of the water, and gave a little cover : also the clouds had lifted bit, and it was quite warm. The chief defect of it was that it contained hardly any duck. We only found two couples and a lot of about twenty in three hours. I got one of the former, but missed the twenty badly.
However, I decided to try again in the evening, and went out at five. There were several lots circling about, but they always kept just too far ; I had some long shots but only tailed one. But on our way back in the dark at 7.30, a single bird crossed in front of us fairly high and I got him in the head, so I didn’t go home empty-handed. The shot put up several score of duck, but I didn’t get another chance. However, I could see that even as late in the season as this a man who knew the place and the language could probably get a dozen on this “kit any evening.
I was quite content to stay out six hours for the two duck, because the scenery was simply enchanting. In the evening there was a heavy storm raging in the mountains to the west, all along one side of the valley. I could hear the thunder and see the mist in slanting lines of rain, like a Turner picture, while gleams of the sun made lurid lights and indigo shadows in the cloud-mantle that hid the hills. To north the clouds hung low, but the mountains showed dimly through like ghosts. To the east the mountains were close and clear, but heavy isolated clouds hid their snows : while away to the south there was blue sky, and the evening sun caught the successive ranges of snows so that they gleamed a soft golden white ; but the steep places of bare rock were of so pale a blue as to be indistinguishable from the sky behind them, only imagination supplied their outlines.
The establishment of a minimum wage makes one wonder how long we shall compete against this country, where the maximum wage for skilled labour is eightpence a day–to say nothing of China and Japan.
I have been meaning to send you for a week or two the enclosed cutting about a police scandal.
Almost every week since I’ve been out there has been some case in the courts in which police are accused of torturing witnesses, etc., generally in some fairly mild way : this is quite the worst case I’ve seen reported. It is very difficult to get at the truth, for witnesses are just as likely to be faking the charge against the police as the police are to be faking that against the prisoner. But where such cases are possible things must be pretty bad.
Easier Eve, SRINAGAR.-Virtue found its due reward yesterday. I have been much tried by the experiments in Prayer Book revision which find favour here : but in spite of sundry choppings and changings in matins yesterday, I sallied forth again in the evening, and on my way met the Resident, who very kindly asked me to a shoot to-day, the last of the season, at Holkrah.
When I got up this morning I discovered Kashmir for the first time. It was cloudless, and behold the mountains stood round about us like a chorus of white angels. It was astonishing. I felt like the servant of Elisha in Dothan : my eyes were opened. East, west, south, north was a glittering line of snow, not the dim, distant forms I had guessed were mountains, but marching up close, the long lines east and west seeming to flank the river like the sentinels guarding a procession. Truly here one must lift up one’s eyes unto the hills.
Feeling as if I had breakfasted on champagne, I found myself at the Residency and mounted a motor-car. We drove about nine miles along the poplar-lined road till we came to Holkrah. There we got out and joined three other guns, making seven in’ all. A. very short walk brought us to the jhil, where fourteen shikaras were waiting, and we made our way to our posts.
The jhil was a biggish lake : it must be two miles long and nearly as broad (but I couldn’t see properly). On it were, so to speak, continents and islands of a thick, rush-like green pampas-grass, standing about four to five feet out of the water. So there were straits, isthmuses, archipelagoes, and inland seas, through which one threaded one’s way. One of the guns, paddling near me, said that, being the last, this would be the worst shoot of the year: he doubted if we should get a hundred and fifty. In November they counted on eight hundred every time ; the duck were so thick on the water you could hardly see it, and when they were put up the air was full of them ; but now they were all gone except a few mallard, teal, and pochard.
However, as it was we passed quantities of duck on the ” inland seas ” ; they kept well in the open. After about twenty minutes’ paddling the skikari ran the boat into a small islet, an isolated thicket of rush-grass. We managed so that the boat was hidden, but aground, and I could see through two gaps : an ideal ambush. I sat and waited for the first shot, which was to signal the beginning. I felt I could wait for ever, in the brilliant warm sun, with the still, reed-thicketed lake all round me, and the cool, silent, wonderful snows above. Another boat crossed the open water silently and waited in another reed-bed a hundred and fifty yards away, to pick up.
Then I made two disconcerting discoveries. The first was that the boatmen had mixed up the cartridges, and instead of a hundred and seventy-five No. 4’s, I had only twenty-five 4’S, and a hundred and fifty 8’s and 9’S, some one else’s snipe-shot. The second was, that if I tried to shoot upwards, the brim of my helmet caught my shoulder and tilted the helmet over my eyes, or else it fell off : while if I wore it back to front the barrel touched the brim.
Then the first shot went, and almost immediately two duck came high over me, and I missed them, my helmet falling right over my eyes. When I recovered, I saw more duck in the air together than I have even seen before : there must have been about two thousand, and the air was full of their swish. Most of them were soon clean out of shot, but the guns were going busily. Four came over me so high as to oblige one to fire, but leaving one at a loss where to fire. I missed clean, my hat falling off (one’s only chance was to take them exactly overhead). Again a pair and I missed, my hat completely obscuring the left eye. This was insupportable, so seeing three approach, I took my hat off, fired yards in front and winged one. Another minute and a low teal swooped over like a driven grouse and caught it in the head : then three more rocketing duck, one again winged. Soon afterwards another express driven shot, broadside this time and cannoning into the water like a bullet. Then a couple more rocketers, and four unavailing shots at them. 0 By this time the duck were all circling sky-high and one could only watch their swishing flights. I was interested to see that, beyond all doubt, the teal flew faster than the duck, every time. Yet I found them easier to shoot because they look their full pace, whereas the duck, which are ten per cent. slower, look fifty per cent. slower.
By this time my 4’s were exhausted, and I had to use 9’s, but I found that for low (i.e., up to fifty feet) driven or broadside shots up to thirty yards, they were quite as good as the 4’S, in fact killed cleaner, but I couldn’t touch the rocketers with them, which I doubt was the shot’s fault. They were all over eighty feet and many a full hundred feet up.
When the first lot were cleared off, coolies went in and beat up the rush-grass pools and creeks, and several pairs and single birds were set moving. I got three at ordinary pheasant-height, two of them second barrel, receding, which shows that 9’S can get through feathers at this angle, both of them over thirty yards. One of these I winged, and soon afterwards killed an approaching one dead, which fell behind me and drifted. The spare boat was hunting for the winged one, which got into an islet of rush-grass, and the dead one drifted a hundred and fifty yards from me. This was observed by a large kite or hen-harrier, which coolly hovered and swooped, and made off heavily flapping with his booty. The spare boat pursued him with curses, but to no purpose, losing both birds. .
However, the kite or his mate paid fairly for his spoils, for half an hour later he came sailing up again and began to take an interest in the afore-mentioned islet, where the winged duck was. Lower and lower he circled, and then, when only ten feet up, dropped lightly, and remained down. So the spare boat hurried quietly up and frightened him off and found the retrieved duck with its neck torn, but otherwise undamaged.
I got two more nice ones, making nine, before 1.15, when a cease-fire was prearranged for lunch. I discovered with something of a shock that I had let off fifty cartridges, besides ten quietus at the first two diving winged ones. But I couldn’t find the place for the rocketers. I expect a very small aberration takes the charge to one side of the neck, and 9’S won’t break a wing at that height, as the 4’s did.
I had been presented with a card containing the following imposing list of waterfowl :MALLARD.-The mallards were huge : several were killed: I missed one easy one and some rocketers.
PINTAIL.-Only one lot seen (I saw them), none killed. These are the great winter bird.
WIGEON.-One was killed. This swarms in winter.
TEAL (four).Three-fifths of the total bag were teal.
POCHARD (four).One-third total bag were these ; a big as a small duck: red-brown heads.
GADWALL (one).As big as an English wild duck and very like it, with greyer head and breast.
SHOVELLER. None seen: a winter bird. GEESE. None seen: a winter bird. SNIPE.Three killed.
VARIOUS. Two coots killed per errorem.
There was yet another, next to shoveller but I have forgotten it; my bag was constituted as marked; two of the teal were what the shikari called gargan teal: they had odd white-streaked feathers on the back. The coots were innumerable but not shot at.
By this time it was oppressively hot (I had thick things on), and the mosquitoes swarmed : in the cold I had forgotten them and left my citronella and veil behind. I was bitten thirty times if once ; luckily they are a painless sort ; no swelling, and I believe no malaria.
I sent the spare boat and recovered my 4’s for the afternoon, but to no purpose. Only a few duck were coming back. I missed three perfectly straightforward ones, and after that never got a chance. At four o’clock we paddled slowly home, the mountains now being covered by fleecy clouds. I was feeling I had very few to show for my sixty shots.
At the landing I met another gun who had only killed five and a coot. The three local guns had already started home. Their cards showed they had killed eleven, twelve, and thirty-one respectively (the thirty-one was a noted shot) ; in my place a noted shot could have certainly got thirty if the hundred-foot ducks were really permeable : but this noted shot had twenty teal out of his thirty-one, and the teal flew averagely much lower. I only missed two teal.
We saw the Major-General approaching, being paddled through some low reeds. A snipe got up in front of him, and he rose unsteadily (it is not easy to stand in a moving canoe) and fired at it. Unfortunately, both barrels went off at once, and this was altogether too much for the poor Major-General’s equilibrium, and he was next seen with his head in the boatman’s lap and his legs where his head had lately been. It lacked but little that his head was not in the water-lilies’ roots : but the snipe was killed. He arrived in consequence rather peppery. “How many ? ” we asked. ” Umph shot damned badly ; how d’you expect a man to hit birds a mile high when his topi lands on his eye if he looks at them, and he’s standing on a see-saw in a cactus-jungle, with damned gnats eating slices out of every inch of his skin ?
There was some sword-grass among the rushes ; but when the general had cooled down it was clear he’d enjoyed himself very much, though he himself had only killed seven and three snipe. Soon the last gun appeared, having killed fourteen : so the total bag was about ninety, the worst ever known on the jhil, but the duck are ” flying exceptionally high this year ” : every one must have fired over fifty shots, to judge from the sounds. I should have liked to see Uncle W. in my place. Seven guns of his calibre would have got over two hundred birds, because the central places got even more shooting than I did. I was No. 8, i.e., the end of all, so tended to get the highest and fewest ; but I had quite as many as I wanted in the morning ; in the afternoon no one got much.
I feast on wild duck and teal every meal. My host gave me my eight (the kite has the ninth) ; and apart from that one can buy duck for three annas and teal for two annas.
April 12, ON THE JHELUM, NEAR ISLAMABAD.-
This will be my last letter before sailing : it seems cruel to come away from this place just now, it is like being interrupted in watching a butterfly out of its chrysalis : but apart from that I shall be quite ready to come home.
I dined at the Residency on Sunday and talked to the Noted Shot about the duck-shooting. He said that they got over a thousand on two consecutive “days ” this season at Holkrah, and always expected eight hundred from November to February. He asserted that the rocketers I had been shooting at were about a hundred and twenty feet high and travelling about ninety miles an hour. Consequently one had to aim yards in front, and nobody had the courage to aim far enough in front at first ; one had to throw one’s gun back and lose sight of the bird altogether. Even so he had often killed birds twelve feet behind the one he aimed at. Another N.S. always shoots them with 8’s, but says it means allowing them another foot. So I was right in thinking my 9’S didn’t make much difference. All present agreed that those hundred and twenty feet ducks can be pulled out of the sky, if one shoots well enough, which was the chief point of doubt in my mind.
I have been cruising up to Islamabad at the south-east end of the valley, which is even more beautiful than Srinagar. The plane-trees are extremely fine, enormously thick, but not so high as those at Winchester, because almost all of them fork into three at twelve or fifteen feet from the ground. I measured the girth of one with the towing cord and found it was twenty-nine feet two inches ; and I have seen several quite as big.
The walnuts are fine too, and look very pretty just now, with their delicate copper-coloured young leaves. There are no other big timber trees in the valley, but masses of fruit-trees with indescribably lovely blossoms. With the aid of the boatmen I made out nine sorts in one orchard, viz., two kinds each of peach, cherry, and plum, besides apricot, pear, and apple. There are also almond and medlar, and various thorns. Much the biggest of them all is the pear, and I think they must be larger than English pear-trees. I measured one roughly this morning and judged it to be forty-five feet high, and its shadow (at eleven o’clock) was about seventy feet in diameter, nearly round. I t was one mass of snowy blossom with delicate green leaves among it.
There are three specially attractive birds here, besides the waterfowl. One is the hoopoe, which has the air of being ” the bird of the place,” and delights to flutter round one as one walks or rides. It settles in front of one and lets one come within ten or so feet of it ; they are always in pairs just now. Another is a large canary-coloured wagtail, a study in yellow and black-grey, that runs about on the water-lily leaves on the jhils and lakes : and the third is not unlike a giant-crested tit in colouring, but its beak and flight are more like a finch’s. It is fully the size of a greenfinch, or even butcher-bird, and has an indigo cockatoo-crest. I find that this is none other than the celebrated bul-bul, but vocally it is a very poor substitute for the nightingale. There is a pair that has accompanied this doonga for two days, flying in and out of the rooms as tame as anything : I can’t find a nest.
This morning I saw a marvellous bird, brilliant crimson or scarlet, and it was so plain, though a hundred and fifty yards off, that I think it must have been iridescent, one of the honey-birds. For a moment I thought a large poppy had fallen out of the sky. I never saw it closer.
April 11, ON THE JHELUM, NEAR ISLAMABAD.- This is your birthday, but I haven’t got nothing to drink your health with that’s strong enough to be lucky, except the Jhelum water, and that would not be calculated to bring many happy returns to me, so I must be content to do it in spirit (which sounds quite appropriate).
Gloriouser and gloriouser is this valley becoming. Before I left Srinagar on Monday the irises were coming out fast ; they are the little parma-violet-coloured ¬ kind, like those we saw in Cos, and they just carpet the whole of the uncultivated land, like grass. Their colour is not strong enough to produce the effect bluebells do ; but perhaps when they are all out they will.
I vainly imagined the fruit-trees were out when I arrived, rashly generalising from a few peaches and almonds, but now there are five times as many and they are the feature of every foreground. It is a particularly good year, and the blossom simply hides the trees in snowy white. I think the pear is the loveliest of all, as it shows glimpses of green leaves to set off the white, and it is much the biggest.
On leaving Srinagar I was towed up the river to Islamabad, which is thirty-five miles from Srinagar by road, being at the south-eastern end of the valley. It took two days, as the river winds like a Chinese dragon. Every wind gave a new view of the surrounding snows, so the journey was an orgy of scenery, especially when we passed between mustard-fields or pear-orchards, as we frequently did.
Of course, as we got nearer Islamabad, we got more and more into the cul-de-sac of the mountains ; so instead of seeing a complete circle of snows from ten to forty miles off, I had them quite close up on three sides, and hardly visible on the fourth.
I got to Islamabad yesterday afternoon, and rode up to Martand, where there is a ruined temple. It was on a sort of plateau or shelf, quite flat, about four miles wide, which makes a kind of entresol between the valley and the mountains. My pony had oriental views on pace, so it took me two hours to do the six miles. From the edge of the plateau the view was heavenly. One looked right away over the valley on one side. It was brilliantly blotched and streaked with the mustard-fields, of which I calculated I could see over a thousand. The rest of the earth was brown, except for green wheat patches on the hill slopes, where you can’t irrigate for rice. The flanking snows, dim below the sun, framed the picture the distant northern snows just showed like faint icebergs, eighty miles away. I have never seen such finely cobalt blue distances as one has here. On the other side one looked across the little plateau, striped wish mustard and dotted with pear, peach, cherry, plum, apple, appricot, etc., to the overlooking snows, close and encircling and shining with the evening sun.
One of the most exhilarating things about this place is the wealth of light. In fact, it takes some time to get one’s eyes used to it, but then it flows in, so to speak, at every pore, and bathes one in brilliancy. Light affects one’s spirits more directly than any external condition, I think ; and here I don’t see how one could be anything but happy and chirpy like a bird. It lasts wonderfully long too, and I still feel its ozone at seven p.m.
The temple was very dilapidated, but large and fine, and specially interesting as having clear remains of a peristyle very like a Greek temple’s ; a quite regular series of columns and architraves in stone only it formed a kind of cloister, being placed some six feet inside the outer court wall, which was in the regular Kashmiri pointed style, an extremely handsome one, with carved gable-windows or arches.
This morning I started at seven and rode up to an old garden of Jehangir’s called Atchibal, where one of the sources of the Jhelum is. It was very pretty, with waterfalls going through the garden, in which were orchards of blossom and big planes, and summer-houses of the usual wood and turf style ; while on the hillside above were deodars mixed with blackthorn.
There are two other items which add to the beauty of this end of the valley. One is that many of the roofs are not only covered with green grass (long bright grass like that which grows in water-meads), but have on them clumps of crimson tulips, which make glorious patches of brilliance calling aloud for a sketcher. Others have iris clumps. The other item is that instead of the little iris, they have the big purple one (like those in the borders at home), and it grows just as profusely. In fact, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t grown for some purpose, but the boatman is positive it is merely a weed. Alas ! it is not in flower yet, except for three or four blossoms in each patch (some are white, not purple) ; in two weeks’ time there will be acres of royallest purple to make the place even more like fairyland.
Planes, walnuts, and poplars are coming early into leaf, and already look quite clothedbut I regret the iris.
I am on my way back to Srinagar now. It gets quite hot in the afternoon, over 7o0 in my cabin, but the least breeze is like an iced drink, straight from the snows.
15th, SRINAGAR.-When I got back here on Friday, I found a lot more things had come out in my absence, notably the big white irises which cover the earth embankments of the river just above the town. Already they make a lovely show but there are still three or four buds for every flower that’s out.
On Saturday I went to the Dal Lake again. This time it was clear, and the distant amphitheatre of snows stood out beautifully and was reflected in the lake. The nearer amphitheatre was reflected so clearly you could see every line of the rocks. At the far end is a magnificent grove of chenars (planes), and behind this I found a very large mustard-field, so bright that it hurt one’s eyes to look at it from close by, and it stretched away to the blue hills.
I don’t think I told you about the floating gardens on the lake. The villagers make large matted platforms out of the lake reed, and moor them in the water (which is quite shallow) by long stakes. Then they heap them with earth, and plant melons and cucumbers and tomatoes on them, and get incredible crops. Just now there wasn’t much on them, but some had mustard.
Yesterday afternoon it clouded over and we had a storma very high wind and some rain, which has wrought sad devastation to the pear-blossom. It rained again this morning (and this evening), but was fine by ten o’clock, so I went out in a boat, and explored the back parts of the native town. It was a bit whiffy, but very picturesquethough how men can be content to live in the places I saw I do find it very hard to conceive. So little trouble could so vastly improve it, yet they don’t seem to care a straw. It must be the sun.
I think I shall leave here on Wednesday and go by boat down the river to Baramula via the Wular Lake, which is the largest in India. I ought to get there on Friday.
From there I start on Saturday or Sunday in the tonga for Rawalpindi and catch the train for Bombay on Wednesday, arriving Friday morning. Thursday will be very hot, I expect. I see it is already over 104° in many places, and by the 25th it may easily be 110. However, the trains are arranged to mitigate it.
May 5, ss. Maloja, SUEZ CANAL. It’s a long time since I last wrote, and this ought to reach you only four days before I do, but I may as well tell you what I’ve been doing.
I left Srinagar on Wednesday, the 17th, and went down the river by boat to Baramula, where it enters the gorge. The northern half of the valley is barer than the Islamabad end, being more fen and pasture, having orchards only in the villages. But the river-banks were carpeted with the little blue iris, which were thick enough to produce the effect bluebells do, though in pale mauve, instead of sky-blue.
I stopped the first night at Sambal, where a canal branches off to an exquisite little lake called the Manasbal Lake, like a horizontal mirror filling the bottom of a cup of hills, with the inevitable snows behind, but almost hidden.
The next day I got to the edge of the Ovular Lake, and waited a night before crossing. It is the largest lake in India, twelve miles by seven, being formed by the Jhelum as it comes to the cul-de-sac of the valley, until it finds a way out through the gorge. It is not safe to cross, excepting in the early morning, on account of sudden storms down the ravines. One came that evening, very curiously. The boatman ran in to say a storm was coming, and began to quadruple the tethering of the boat. I went out and found it perfectly calm, but I could hear a noise in the nearest mountains, just like that of a distant train when one is waiting by night at a station. It came nearer, and after a few minutes a breeze began, and in another minute it was a gale. It lasted about a quarter of an hour, and then vanished as suddenly as it came.
Next morning I started at seven. The lake was the loveliest spot of all . I had seen. The snows looked quite close all round. Those on the west were really some eighteen miles away, but the golden sunrise-light made them seem near and luminous. To the north appeared range behind range, culminating in Nanga Parbat seventy miles away. To north-east and east the mountains run up sheer from lake-side to snow, and the sun flashed on and through their serrations. A spur of them runs out into the valley so as to overlap the south-west line of snows. The whole scene was duplicated in the water.
It took nearly three hours to paddle across (fifteen paddlers working), and then we carne to a deliciously picturesque town called Sopor, where the river leaves the lake. Its bridge and orchards are its chief features and, of course, its wooden houses and grassy roofs.
From Sopor it is only a few miles to Baramula, which I reached in the afternoon. It then began to rain, and rained all night but on Saturday morning it was fine, so I climbed a spur of the Kaj Nag and enjoyed a last panorama of the valley, lake and snows. I could see from Nanga Parbat on the north to Banihal (behind Islamabad) on the south, about seventy miles each way. On the way down I picked a lot of strange flowers.
Soon after I got down it clouded over again and began to rain. It rained all that afternoon and all night, so that when I started on Sunday morning the road was very filthy and the sky threatening. About eleven o’clock it began again, and rained steadily for twenty-four hours. So the drive out was not so enjoyable as the drive in but the road had stood it very well, and I made sixty-four miles the first day without mishap. The second day we stuck twice, once where the coolies had heaped stones two feet deep on the road and left them unspread, and there was no room to get round. I got out and abused the coolies, who were calmly heaping yet more stones thirty yards ahead, and made them come and pull us through, which they did, though almost upsetting us. The second stick was in eighteen inches of muda dissolved landslipwhere we stuck fast. The prospect of getting out into knee-deep slime was uninviting, so I suggested that Peer Mahomed should. Bit eventually, with four coolies shoving, the ponies staggered through somehow ; there was only about twenty-five yards of it.
There were hundreds of new flowers out since I had come in. Of those I knew, the most conspicuous were St. John’s wort, wild rose (in high masses of white, festooning the trees), passion-flower, also a small white clematis, marguerites, and horse-chestnuts (just beginning). There were besides two scarlet-flowered shrubs, and a tree with flowers like a cross between magnolias and tiger-lilies, and several white-flowering bushes.
I got to Murree that evening, and spent Tuesday morning there, driving down to Rawal Pindi in the afternoon, passing through one phenomenally heavy shower.
Pindi was surprisingly cool : it never touched 70° while I was there. I slept at the station, and while breakfasting I was accosted by yet another Oxford acquaintance ; they seem to haunt the refreshment-rooms of Indian railways. I caught the midday Bombay mail, and even in the train it was not hotter than 70° all day. Next morning, Thursday, I awoke between Delhi and Muttra, and saw a fine lot of peacocks roosting in the jungle trees. Then I shut up the shutters, expecting great heat, but it only just struggled up to 920 at tea-time, so I need hardly have been so cautious but there was nothing much to see outside.
We got to Bombay on Friday morning. I spent the day packing and at Cook’s.
On Saturday I bought some mangoes to eat on the ship, and embarked at one o’clock.
The voyage has been perfectly calm so far, and reasonably cool. Till Aden it never exceeded 82°. Then we had two days of 86° and a following wind ; but now it is rapidly turning chilly, and the north wind is ominous of pitching in the Mediterranean.