Travel: India – Among The Mountains

Darjeeling lies three hundred and eighty-seven miles north from Calcutta, and is situated on a spur of the Senchul Mountains which jut out from the main range. Its population varies greatly according to the season. In summer its cottages are all filled with people from Calcutta and other parts, but in winter there are any number of them “to let.” A large sanatorium is located here, conducted by the government, and patronized very liberally by invalids who come here to receive benefit from the invigorating air. The treatment does not vary from that of the ordinary hospital. The “Woodlands” hotel, which became our home for a few days, is perched on the mountain side, two hundred feet almost directly above the railway station.

In this country no traveler carries his own luggage. Generally he is accompanied by his own servant, who takes charge of such matters, but if this is not the case, upon alighting from the train he is at once surrounded by a pushing, bawling crowd of “bearers” (a caste) who jostle and scold each other to get their hands on valise, bundle, trunk, or whatever he may possess. They cunningly divide the packages among themselves, so that as many as possible may earn something, unless this ruse is headed off by the traveler who, in authoritative tone and gestures, commands the whole pack to lay his goods down, and indicates one man whom he is willing to pay, and let him divide it up as he chooses. The result is that he takes the lot. I found it useless to try any other course, no matter how independent and democratic a person may be at home, here he must recognize the multitude of poor wretches who depend for the most meager support with which it is possible to sustain life, upon their opportunities to render little services, and receive therefor but a trifle, which it is really cruel to deny them. These people being always at hand, a white man rarely lifts his valise or carries a package, for he finds the nuisance of a crowd following him if he undertakes to do his own work, to be greater than he cares to endure for the sake of the cent or two with which he can hire the work done, besides, he can thus satisfy popular custom, and perhaps help a starving family.

The bearers at Darjeeling were mostly young girls. And as this was my first experience, it seemed a little ungallant to see them load up with heavy packages. But I finally yielded to what seemed the inevitable, and a fine specimen of girlhood about sixteen years of age proceeded to load my possessions upon her back. I proposed to divide the load between us, but she would not listen to it, so I started to climb the steep path. It was soon necessary, in the thin air, for me to stop for breath, but those Bhutian damsels, loaded with trunks and valises, walked nimbly past without waiting for the emptyhanded travelers who sat panting by the wayside,

Any attempt to describe the grandeur of the scenery in the midst of which Darjeeling is situated would be vain. The next morning after arriving was the Sabbath. After taking chota hazri (little breakfast) upon arising, according to universal custom, I went to the top of Mount Jalopin immediately above the hotel. It was yet early, the sun not having come in sight from behind the mountains. But it has a good excuse for its tardiness, seeing that the mountains are twenty thousand feet in height. The pen hesitates to undertake the task of describing the glorious scene which was now spread before me. I was standing seven thousand and five hundred feet above the sea, on the point of a short range of foot-hills. From northwest to southwest, swinging around to the east, the gigantic mountains formed an amphitheater crowned with everlast ing snow. In the small opening of the circle to the west lay the dark recesses of the Ranjit valley, in which, thousands of feet below, lay heavy banks of motionless clouds.

In the mountain wall are not less than eight peaks, the lowest of which rises twenty-two thousand feet above the sea. To the north was old Kanchanjanga, whose hoary head reaches the height of twenty-eight thousand seven hundred and fifty feet, or nearly five and a half miles perpendicularly. Just behind this monster, but out of sight from our standpoint, sits her slightly superior neighbor, Mount Everest, three hundred feet higher, the highest peak in the world. These peaks were covered with the purest snow, and as the sun rose slowly behind them, their outlines shone like burnished gold, while the immaculate whiteness of their snowy sides was enhanced by contrast with the wooded heights and valleys that intervened.

An inexpressible rapture filled the heart and bated the breath as I gazed upon the scene whose beauty and glory I never expect to see equaled till God once more makes all things new. It was a fit place in which to spend a Sabbath of rest. The surroundings seemed to bring the soul into close communion with its Maker. The greatness of God never appeared in more striking contrast with our own insignificance. And involuntarily the language of praise flowed from heart and lips.

Such we apprehend to be the object of the Sabbath. It is not designed to be an empty and formal ceremony, but to direct the mind to the active contemplation of God as manifested in his work, especially in that grandest of all revelations, his Son Jesus Christ. Whether viewing the majestic in nature or the humbler forms of life and the minute beauties of creation, we may see in all things the handiwork of God indicating his character of wisdom, truth, and love. When the world was made and perfect harmony and happiness reigned everywhere, the first Sabbath was kept. The assembled universe viewed with admiration and glad surprise the work of the divine Hand. God himself beheld, and lo, it was very good. Then the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. This song of praise was in honor of Christ, for by him and for him were all things made.

The Son of God is the great Creator. Through him the Father ordained the worlds. The apostle tells us that ” by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were created by him, and for him.” After having wrought in creation, Christ rested upon and then blessed the seventh day. When upon earth, he acknowledged the day as his own, saying that “the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath-day.” And as in the beginning it was the sign of his creative power, so now in these days it is also the sign of his work in redemption. And thus the original Sabbath stands forever as the memorial of God and of his Son.

After some hours spent in contemplation of these grand themes, the upper air meanwhile becoming warmer, the clouds began to rise in the valleys, till the curtain was drawn.

As we are to have a brief time for rest here in this grand and beautiful place, far above the simmering plains with their teeming millions of people, it will be our best opportunity to glance over India by anticipation, and point out some of the characteristic facts that our visit will reveal, but which, if previously understood, will render our visit more intelligible.

Books innumerable have been written on India-, and there were in our minds some vivid images of bamboo jungles, striped tigers, deadly serpents, gigantic juggernauts, burning widows, and children thrown to the alligators. But those who for the first time come to India carrying such notions with them will find a double task imposed upon them-to unlearn the untrue, as well as to learn the truth of everything as it is. One will furnish about as much astonishment as the other. To begin with, here is this significant statement: India covers nearly one and one-half million square miles of territory, or about one thirty-fifth of the earth. It contains nearly three hundred million people, or almost one fifth of the earth’s population. The world’s average density of population is twentyeight persons to the square mile. For India the average is one hundred and eighty-six to the mile. In the United States it is one tenth of that, or eighteen to the mile. In several of the provinces of India there are over four hundred and fifty people to the mile. In Bengal there are four hundred and seventy-four, in Oudh five hundred and twenty-two people living on each square mile of territory. The longest extent of the country from north to south is nineteen hundred miles, and from east to west it is just about the same. The southern extremity, or apex, reaches to within eight degrees of the equator. Its eastern shores are washed by the Bay of Bengal, its western coast, by the Arabian Sea. Since the cession of Burmah to Great Britain, and its union with the Indian dependencies, India nearly encircles the Bay of Bengal. The long shores of the peninsula are washed by broad seas which have in all ages presented a barrier to invasion. The base of the pyramid extends into Asia, but even here it is not left without an effectual defense. The majestic Himalayas, the most gigantic range of mountains in the world, form a natural, rocky, and impassable rampart for a distance of nearly two thousand miles. On the northwest angle the Hindoo-Koosh mountains form the boundary, but they constitute one system, and as they approach the sea, the lofty heights degenerate into elevated plateaus, and are pierced by various passes. Through these have passed all the invaders of India.

But besides forming a wall of defense to India, the Himalayas serve other purposes of even greater practical good. During the monsoon season the strong winds from the ocean bring vast clouds of vapor over the land. In southern India the rains begin in June, gradually extending northward so that they reach the northern regions a month later. The thirsty soil drinks greedily deep draughts of the life-giving moisture, but the great mass of the dense clouds are hurried off toward the arid regions of Thibet, where rain is almost unknown. But as they are about to leave India, the high mountains present a staunch barrier to their further progress. Being driven against the sturdy sides of the Himalayas, or encircling their crowns, they are precipitated in copious rains on the foot-hills or piled in vast drifts and fields of snow on the summits. During the rainy season, which extends from July to September inclusive, the southern slopes of these mountains have a phenomenal fall of rain. In the province of Assam the rain-fall is the heaviest in the world. The average annual fall is over four hundred inches, and in 1861 it received eight hundred and five inches. This year there fell in the month of July three hundred and sixty-six inches. This means a foot of water a day. Of course official figures are required to give a satisfactory confirmation to such reports, but this statement is based on such testimony. The fall for the entire year would have covered the country with sixtyseven feet of water. The snow is melted by the rays of the sun during the hot part of the year, thus dealing out this immense store of moisture to the thirsty plains below.

The climate of India divides itself into two seasons, the warm and the hot. The temperature descends to the warm degrees in the latter part of October, and by the first of November it is quite endurable with the mercury in Calcutta between eighty and ninety degrees Fahrenheit. This is the time to visit India, and it is then that steamships are crowded with those who are going thither. But even at that time of year, the rays of the sun are very hot, and the head of the stranger needs to be well protected with a double umbrella and a sola topi hat. This state of the weather continues till February. During this time there is no rain except perhaps a little at about Christmas. From then on the heat increases until April and May, by which time it has become to white people a question of mere existence. It is a mistake to suppose, as many do, that there is an advantage in being situated in the northern districts, for, on the contrary, the farther one goes south the narrower the land becomes, and the greater the preponderance of the sea breezes. In June, as already mentioned, the rains begin to come, and in some respects bring relief, though in others this is the most trying season of all, for the heat and moisture combine to produce an atmosphere which many pronounce the most uncomfortable of the year. Sickness is more prevalent at this time than at any other.

But, taken as a whole, the average rainfall of the entire country is small and confined to a very limited part of the year. To obviate this difficulty, as far as possible, the gov ernment has aided the work of irrigation. It has caused the construction of over fifteen hundred miles of main canals, and over six thousand miles of secondary channels, and private effort has supplemented this to a very great extent. Throughout the northern provinces this method must be resorted in order to secure a crop.