Page:A Brief History of the Indian Peoples.djvu/24

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20 THE COUNTRY. to the Indian people. They collect and store up water for the hot plains below. Throughout the summer, vast quantities of moisture are exhaled from the distant tropical seas. This moisture gathers into vapour, and is carried northward by the monsoon, or regular wind, which sets in from the south in the month of June. The monsoon drives the masses of vapour northwards before it across the length and breadth of India, — sometimes in the form of long processions of clouds, which a native poet has likened to flights of great white birds ; sometimes in the shape of rain-storms, which crash through the forests, and leave a line of unroofed villages and flooded fields on their track. The moisture which does not fall as rain on its aerial voyage over India, is at length dashed against the Himalayas. These stop its further progress northwards, and the moisture descends as rain on their outer slopes, or is frozen into snow in its attempts to cross their inner heights. Very little moisture passes beyond them, so that while their southern sides receive the heaviest rainfall in the world, and pour it down in torrents to the Indian rivers, the great plain of Tibet on the north gets scarcely any rain. At Cherra Piinjf, where the monsoon first strikes the hills in Assam, 523 inches of rain fall annually ; while in one year (1861) as many as 805 inches are reported to have poured down, of which 366 inches fell in the single month of June. While, therefore, the yearly rainfall in London is about two feet, and that of the plains of India from one to seven, the usual rainfall at Cherra Punji is thirty feet, or enough to float the largest man- of-war ; while in one year sixty-seven feet of water fell from the sky, or sufficient to drown a high three-storeyed house. Himalayan Products and Scenery. — This heavy rainfall renders the southern slopes of the Himalayas very fertile. Their upper ranges form bare grey masses, but wherever there is any depth of soil a forest springs up ; and the damp belt of lowland at their foot, called the Tarai, is covered with dense fever- breeding jungle, habitable only by a few rude tribes and wild beasts. Thickets of tree-ferns and bamboos adorn their eastern ranges ; tracts of rhododendron, which here grows into a forest tree, blaze red and pink in the spring ; the deodar, or Himalayan cedar, rises in dark stately masses. The branches