Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Rocks at Colgong on the Ganges

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Rocks at Colgong on the Ganges.

chiefly among


This beautiful cluster of rocks occurs at about a day's sail below Janghera, on the river Ganges, amid exceedingly picturesque scenery of the loveliest kind, yet varied in character. In the rainy season the river runs roaring through these rocks with fearful turbulence, spreading its broad waters like an ocean, the projecting points of Colgong and Patergotta forming an extensive and beautiful bay, surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills, from which it is difficult to fancy that a river has supplied the floods that reach from shore to shore.

These rocks are esteemed holy by Hindoo devotees, and have been sculptured in many places with the effigies of their gods; a variety of wild garlands, the luxuriant creepers of the soil, fling down their rich wreaths over the rugged masses of these crags, and tangled shrubs spring wherever a shallow bed of earth permits them to take root. In fact, the luxury of foliage cannot be seen to greater perfection than from the rocky islets of Colgong, which overlook the lovely woods spreading in all directions on the opposite shore; while beyond, the Rajmhal hills gleam with the purple glory of the amethyst.

These lovely crags are the haunt of numerous birds; pigeons nestle in the trees, and, at the slightest alarm, myriads of small water-fowl rush out in snowy flocks, adding, by their hurried flight, to the animation of the scene; while the numerous flotillas of native craft, of strange but highly picturesque construction, serve also to heighten the beauty of a landscape, which, in despite of their superior utility, we must regret should ever be disturbed by the smoke and paddles of steam-vessels.

Colgong forms the occasional habitation of a fakeer, but does not appear to be the settled residence of any recluse of great celebrity. There are no regular temples, although a rude shrine has been shaped out of one of the largest blocks of granite which crown the summit of the rock to the westward of the group. There are also caverns in these islands, and it is seldom that either a living or dead specimen of the religious mendicants, who are established in such places over the whole of India, is not to be found here. A nameless tomb occurs upon the summit, probably that of a Mohammedan saint, for the Hindoos do not usually bury their dead. This personage, whoever he may be, having received his apotheosis, would be equally venerated by the professors of both religions. The Mohammedans of India, and especially of Bengal, forgetful that their creed assures them that there is but one God, have no objection to worship at the shrine of some holy person deified in the imaginations of his votaries; while the Hindoos are of so idolatrous a nature, that they will not pass any altar without dropping a flower upon it by way of offering. The reverence for the dead, which is a distinguishing trait of the natives of India, is strongly manifested in the lonely tombs which occupy great numbers of the heights in the vicinity of Rajmhal. Wherever the traveller comes upon one of those mausoleums, however neglected and apparently deserted the place may be, he is certain to find the traces of pious care from human hands. The precincts of the tomb may, perhaps, be the haunt of a solitary jackal, or other beast of prey, too little accustomed to man's intrusion to be alarmed at his approach; and yet even when it would seem that the prowling savage was sole tenant of the wild, the newly-swept pavement, strewed with fresh flowers, shews that some human being has recently performed a daily task. Frequently it is impossible to guess who has been at the pains to keep the shrine free from the pollutions of bats and birds; but occasionally, scarcely more human in his outward form than the savage denizens of these deep solitudes, the attendant fakeer will appear upon the scene, his long, matted locks, and the distinguishing marks of his caste and calling, chalk and dirt, forming his sole attire. Money would appear to be perfectly superfluous to personages so independent in the way of clothing, lodging, and, in all probability, food; but though in some cases it is not solicited, it is generally acceptable, and the offered rupee disappears in a marvellous manner, since, there being no garments, there can be no pockets.

All the mooring-places within a day's sail of Colgong, are distinguished for their surpassing beauty; and indeed the whole voyage down to Calcutta conducts the traveller through scenes of the softest enchantment. Rajmhal, in particular, excites the attention of all who have any taste for picturesque scenery, the ruins of its once splendid palaces now adding a melancholy interest to the landscape. The origin of this royal city, stretching into remote antiquity, is lost in the obscurity which hangs over the early history of the Hindoo dynasties of India, but retaining its dignity and importance after the Mohammedan conquests, it remained the capital of Bengal during a splendid succession of princes, who embellished it with the tasteful architecture for which they were famed. The stone principally found in these interesting remains is a red granite, and its colour, decayed by age, harmonises well with the lichens and weeds which have flung themselves over every "coigne of vantage," and the trees that now spread their umbrageous foliage over quadrangle and court. Occasionally we find a mixture of marble, the favourite material of the luxurious Moguls, and brought into fashion about the reign of Acbar. A hall of noble dimensions, erected by the sultan Shujah, the unfortunate brother of Aurungzebe, lined throughout with marble, a product rare in Bengal, has been advantageously, though not very happily, employed as a receptacle for coals, for the supply of the steamers which are now common upon the Ganges:— "to what base uses may we come at last!" This hall, one of the few remaining evidences to attest the grandeur of the kings and princes who reigned and revelled in Rajmhal, is visited by every European traveller voyaging on the Ganges, many finding a pensive pleasure in musing over those vicissitudes of fortune which have reared the red-cross banner of St. George over the fallen glories of the crescent. While some persons consider the conversion of the marble hall into a depot for coals a shocking desecration, others are of opinion that the element of this new power, which is changing all the moral, political, and physical relations in the world, and is working a revolution more stupendous and radical than any that history records, is well lodged in a palace. The hall, once filled with courtiers blazing in diamonds, now contains the true diamond; while the emblem of that astonishing power, whose gigantic resources it is impossible to calculate, lying at anchor under the buttresses of the ancient towers of Rajmhal, in the shape of a steam-vessel, can scarcely fail to fill the contemplative mind with gorgeous visions of the future.

A voyage on the Ganges, interesting even when made under all the disadvantages attending the slow and clumsy craft in which travellers ascending the stream were, when the wind was against them, towed by the crew, perhaps at the rate of five or six miles per day, is now performed in the most delightful manner possible in the government iron steamers. The arrangement of these commodious vessels is very judicious and convenient. The cuddy, a cheerful apartment, with a sky-light above, and four large windows on either side, stands athwart-ship, about the centre of the vessel, with eight cabins abaft, and six before it; a narrow passage runs between each range of cabins, and terminates in the cuddy, which thus enjoys the most ample ventilation. The vessel, which is in technical language denominated a flat, is towed by a steamer, also of iron; and in consequence of the difficulties which at present attend the navigation of a river beset with shifting sand-banks, the whole concern is brought to anchor at sunset every evening, the commandant not being allowed to put the steam up until sunrise the following morning. As Government despatches treasure by these boats, they are accompanied by a guard of soldiers who live and mess in the steamer, but at eight bells post a sentinel on the flat; thus enabling the passengers to throw open their windows at night with the strongest feelings of security—feelings which they would not otherwise enjoy, the thieves of India being exceedingly expert, and frequently committing great depredations on the river, by means of the small boats, in which they glide noiselessly to any unguarded vessel, which they speedily strip of every thing valuable.

Native pilots are stationed along the river, who are taken on board at different points; they receive eighteen rupees (thirty-six shillings) a month, for which they have to provide a small dingee (wherry) and crew, to sound all the depths and shoals of the river. These men are at the present period exceedingly useful in pointing out the hidden sand-banks which lie perdu at every angle of the stream, and in time, under the discipline of a good system, may be made invaluable. The roof or deck of the flat is covered with an awning, and affords a delightful promenade during those periods of the twenty-four hours, and that season of the year, in which Anglo-Indians may venture to emerge into open air. The eve of the cold weather is certainly the best time for river travelling, since, while enjoying a gentle and balmy breeze, the voyager can, without the slightest personal inconvenience, look out upon the rapid succession of villages, groves, and trees, temples, towers, and widely-spread ghauts, which form the beautiful panorama through which he is gliding. As yet the novelty of this extraordinary method of navigating the Ganges has not worn off in the eyes of the native population on its banks; crowds are drawn up to survey the marvellous spectacle, and every employment is suspended while the fire-ship shoots rapidly along.