Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Crossing by a Sangha near Jumnootree
CROSSING BY A SANGHA NEAR JUMNOOTREE.
It is not always that the traveller in the Himalaya will find himself accommodated with such a bridge as we passed at Bhurkote, and repairs being considered as works of supererogation throughout the greater part of Asia, the chances are strongly against his being equally fortunate with ourselves, in crossing even that, while in good condition.
The most common contrivance in these hill-districts, when the stream is sufficiently narrow to admit of its employment, is the sangha, the rudest bridge imaginable. No one being at the trouble to repair a work which is not at any time very secure, these sanghas are usually in an exceedingly crazy and precarious condition, and side-rails being deemed superfluous, the narrow footway, only sufficient to admit of the passage of one traveller at a time, forms a method of crossing a torrent neither very easy nor very agreeable. Where two projecting rocks are found facing each other, they are employed as the support of a couple of fir-trees which rest on either side, a narrow platform being constructed by the boughs cut from the neighbouring forests, and placed crosswise: this is often performed in a careless and slovenly manner, without any endeavour to prevent gaps of an inconvenient width, and without any fastening whatever. So long as the traveller can keep in the centre, he is tolerably safe, but the moment that he plants his foot either to the right or left, he is in danger of being precipitated into the torrent by the boughs on the opposite side tilting up. Persons possessing the very steadiest head find their brains severely tried in these difficult passes; few can look upon the impetuous current below, and preserve any accuracy of vision, the best plan being to fix the eyes upon some object on shore, and to pass firmly and steadily along, for there is no parapet, no guiding rail, and
in a high wind the frail bridge is so fearfully swayed, that even the mountaineers themselves refuse to cross it; many accidents of course occur; but that they are not more numerous is wonderful, considering that not men only, but baggage of various kinds, is conveyed across. Our Mussulman servants, and the people from the plains, looked upon these tottering sanghas with great horror, and a sense of shame, and the dread of our ridicule, alone induced them to attempt the passage. Not participating in our delighted admiration of the romantic characters of the scene, they had nothing but a point of honour to console them under its terrors.
It is not every European who goes forth from the hill-stations on an exploring expedition, that fulfils his original intentions; many find the difficulties and dangers of the enterprise too great to be compensated by the wild beauties of the landscape, and turn back, some on the very threshhold of the undertaking, and others before they have proceeded half-way. We were obliged to dispense with our ponies at a certain point, and they were sent away under proper care to an appointed place, which we intended to pass on our journey to Simlah, where they would be available. We did not make any extraordinary use of our jhampans either, performing the greater portion, and all the perilous parts of our journey, on foot. We were now nearing the source of the Jumna, and though the ascent of its wild and rocky valley was any thing but easy, we moved forward steadily and with unabated ardour. The cold in the early part of our march from Kursalee was excessive, the thermometer in the shade being below the freezing point; but our exercise was of a description to render the circumstance of little importance.
The glen of the Jumna became narrower and narrower at every step, and the precipices on either side steeper, more lofty, and of a still more awful character. The brahmins, who never fail to make some advantage of their sacred calling, volunteered their services as cicerones; we had our own coolies besides, who having come afar with us, of course determined to avail themselves of all the benefits of the pilgrimage; together with a numerous train of fakeers, who are always ready to travel at the cheapest rate, and regarded the burra buxies' great present, which the head brahmin would receive from us, as a sufficient remuneration for the whole party:—thus we mustered strong.
Up we went, emulating the monkeys as we scrambled upon hands and knees with every possible contortion of body, while clinging and climbing the very steepest ascent that it seemed possible for human beings to achieve. Upon gaining a breathing-place, we found that we had reached a spot accounted very holy, being the portal as it were to the sacred source. A small shrine or temple is erected at this place, dedicated to Bhyram Jee, and called Bhyram Ghati, and here we found a brahmin ringing a bell; we paused to recover our breath, and to survey the prospect, which was inexpressibly grand. The glen of the river lay under our feet, and we could trace the lofty ridges which enclose it nearly as far as the plains. Opposite, bare and bleak precipices arose, rearing their lofty and sterile peaks to an astonishing height, while to the north-east we caught a view of the western angle of Bunderpooch, glittering in snow; and nearly in front, immense masses of frozen snow, whence the Jumna derives its source, were piled in icy grandeur.
While recovering our breath and enjoying the prospect, the devotees of the party employed themselves in gathering the flowers which adorned the wild and desolate spot, as an offering at the shrine. The difficulties of the approach precluded the pious architects of this place from any great attempt, and this altar is in consequence of a very rude description, being merely a collection of loose stones, put clumsily together, and enclosing a few wretched idols of the most trumpery description. Strange it is, that men having so grand a shrine, so wonderful a temple, made by the Deity himself, in the midst of the sublimest portion of his creations, should disregard the fitness of the scene for that instinctive homage which the least religiously inclined person must pay to the mighty Author of the surrounding wonders, and stoop to offer adoration to the mishapen works of his own hands.
Though the distance from Kursalee to Jumnootree is only eight miles, the difficulties and dangers of the route render it a very arduous journey. From our last resting-place, Bhyram-ghati, we scrambled up and down, sometimes finding nothing but a notched tree for a path, and wandering backwards and forwards through the river, which was very cold, as either side offered the better footing; occasionally traversing the projecting stones arising from the midst of the stream. This devious way led us to a series of exceedingly beautiful cascades, the Jumna being in some places joined by tributary streams tumbling from immense heights, the precipitous masses of rock on either side attaining a still greater degree of nobleness and grandeur. Completely shut in by these mountain ranges, which rose abruptly on both sides of the narrowing stream, we could only catch glimpses of the snowy peaks beyond. The course of the river at this place is indeed a mere chasm cut in the rock, and worn by the action of the water in its continual flow. In some places the solid rocks on either side run up in a perpendicular height, rendering the opening as narrow at the top as at the base, and forming a dark pass, the foliage of the trees springing from clefts, and shallow beds of earth meeting at the summit. At each step the path became more difficult and laborious; deep pools obliged us to mount to the top of a precipice, and to leap down again from heights too steep to be mastered in any other way, while there was some danger of precipitation into the rapid waters boiling below. Then we clambered up loose fragments of a gigantic size, which seemed to have fallen from above purposely to block the way, and anon scrambled through a sort of sea of crumbling stones bedded in quag, and exceedingly difficult to pass, where the trees, occasionally laid along to serve as a pathway, are wanting.