Page:Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains.djvu/71

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.



attracts the pursuit of hunters, who climb the apparently inaccessible crags, risking life and limb for the purpose of securing this valuable species of game. In many parts of the Himalayas, the musk deer and the hawk are the property of the state, and in Bussaher particularly, and many other principalities between the Sutlej and the Jumna rivers, they are claimed by the chieftain, who gives a reward for those brought to him, while any person convicted of having otherwise disposed of these regal tributes is liable to a heavy fine.

The petty barons offer hawks and musk-bags to the princes to whom they are feudatory, and many of the assessed villages make up a deficiency in their revenue by presenting their musk-bags, which are received at a certain valuation. They are sold throughout the hills, and are particularly vendible at the Rampoor fair, the drug being exceedingly acceptable to those luxurious nobles, who can afford to mix it with the tobacco and other ingredients of the highly-perfumed chillum. Musk-bags may be purchased of a good quality, that is, tolerably pure, in the hills, at about ten or twelve rupees each; but it is difficult to get the drug any where in its pristine state, and by the time it reaches the plains, and travels to Europe, it becomes a vile adulteration. The rustooree, or muskdeer, is rather larger than the common red or ravine deer of the plains; its colour is very dark brown approaching to black, and it is distinguished by a peculiarity which it requires a scientific zoologist accurately to describe; the skin being covered with a very singular texture, more resembling short soft thin quills than hair or fur, neither of which it can be said to possess. It has tusks which turn downwards, and a sort of apology for a tail; the musk-bag only occurs in the male, and as there is little or no difference between the sexes, in size or figure, to direct the pursuit of the hunter, a great deal of trouble is sometimes taken to secure an animal, which, if a female, proves valueless. The flesh is eaten by the mountaineers, but Europeans consider it to possess too spicy a flavour.

English sportsmen often obtain a fair shot, but the natives have another and surer method of securing the game. No sooner is a musk-deer espied, than the people of the nearest village are made acquainted with the circumstance, and the whole population are aroused by the intelligence, and convey it with extraordinary celerity to their next neighbours. The country being up, a cordon is formed round the destined victim, heights are climbed which appear to be perfectly impracticable, and men are to be seen perched like eagles upon the steepest points and pinnacles. The moment that the whole party have taken up their position, the assault is commenced by hurling down large fragments of stone; and the deafening cries and shouts of the hunters so bewilder the affrighted animal, that he knows not where to turn. Meantime he is wounded, the ring closes round him, he seeks vainly for some opening, and in the desperation of his despair would plunge madly down some steep abyss, but there also he is mocked by horrid shouts, and now, struck to the earth by some overwhelming blow, he sinks to rise no more. The musk-deer are seldom met with lower than eight thousand feet above the level of the sea: when taken young, endeavours have been made to rear them in a domesticated state, but the attempt has failed—they die speedily in captivity.

The hawk of the Himalaya is very highly prized; it is taken alive for the purpose of training, and carried down into the plains for sale, where, if of the best description, it fetches a high price, a hundred rupees, that is, ten pounds, being given for one of these chivalric birds.

Mohuna, the village in the neighbourhood of our tents, is very beautifully situated, the sites of the small hamlets of these mountain districts being generally judiciously situated, it would be difficult, however, to make an unfortunate choice, and the people