Page:Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains.djvu/112

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The extreme limit of these river territories were marked in the manner usually employed in rude and desolate places, by heaps of stone—many raised by Europeans, who thus commemorate their pilgrimage. These cairns being destitute of an inscription, it is impossible to say who the adventurous architects were, since no European name has any chance of being retained in its primitive form by a native.

The next point of great interest is the summit of a ridge whence the first view of the Ganges is obtained; a sight which never fails to raise the drooping spirits of the Hindoo followers, and which excites no small degree of enthusiasm in the breast of the Christian travellers. The sacred river, as seen from this height, flows in a dark, rapid, and broad stream, and, though at no great apparent distance, must still be reached by more than one toilsome march. From a height about two miles from Gungootree, the first glimpse, and that a partial one, is obtainable of that holy place, which lies sequestered in a glen of the deepest solitude, lonely and almost inaccessible, for few there are who could persevere in surmounting the difficulties of the approach. Considerable distances must be traversed over projecting masses of rough stones, flinty, pointed, and uncertain, many being loose, and threatening to roll over the enterprising individual who attempts the rugged way. Sometimes the face of the rock must be climbed from cliff to cliff; at others, where there is no resting-place for hand or foot, ladders are placed in aid of the ascent; while awful chasms between are passed on some frail spar flung across. These horrid rocks would seem indeed to form invincible obstacles to the approach of the holy place, but religious enthusiasm on the one hand, and scientific research stimulated by curiosity on the other, render the barrier inadequate for the purpose of resisting the invasions of man. The difficult nature of the access, however, prevents the concourse of pilgrims, who resort to more easily attainable spots esteemed sacred on this hallowed river.

The grandeur of the scene which opened upon us, as we at length stood upon the threshold of Gungootree, cannot be described by words. Rocks were piled upon rocks in awful majesty, all shivered into points, which rise one upon another in splendid confusion, enclosing a glen of the wildest nature, where the Ganges, beautiful in every haunt, from its infancy to its final junction with the ocean, pours its shallow waters over a bed of shingle, diversified by jutting rocks, and even here shadowed by the splendid foliage of some fine old trees. The devotee who undoubtingly believes that every step that he takes towards the source of that holy river, which from his infancy he has been taught to look upon as a deity, will lead him into beatitude, is content to seek its origin at Gungootree, but the true source of the sacred stream lies still higher, in still more inaccessible solitudes: and it was reserved for the ardour of those who measured the altitudes of the highest peaks, and penetrated, to the utmost limits of man's dominion, to trace the exact birth-place of the holy river. Captains Hodgson and Herbert, in 1818, found, at the height of thirteen thousand eight hundred feet above the sea-level, the Bhagarati, or true Ganges, issuing from beneath a low arch at the base of a vast mass of frozen snow, nearly three hundred feet in height, and composed of different layers, each several feet in thickness, and in all probability the accumulation of ages. Neither here, nor at Gungootree, is there any thing resembling a cow's mouth, to support the popular fable, which must have been invented by persons utterly unacquainted with the true features of the scene in which the sacred river gladdens earth with its ever-bounteous waters.

A pilgrimage to Gungootree is accounted one of the most meritorious actions which a Hindoo can perform; and in commemoration of his visit to this holy place, a Ghoorka chieftain has left a memorial of his conquests and his piety, in a small pagoda, erected in honour of the goddess on a platform of rock, about twenty feet higher than the bed of