Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Source of the Jumna
SOURCE OF THE JUMNA.
By dint of untiring perseverance, and no small exertion of bodily strength, we at last found ourselves on the confines of eternal snow. As we approached Jumnootree, which is not accessible until the month of May, we found the river gliding under arches of ice, through which it had worn its passage, and at length, these masses becoming too strongly frozen to yield and fall into the current, the stream itself could be traced no longer, and, if not at its actual source, we stood at the first stage of its youthful existence. It is quite impossible to prevent a feeling of exultation from springing up in the mind, at the completion of a pilgrimage to a place so deservedly celebrated; an enterprise which few people have an opportunity of achieving, and still fewer the nerve to undertake. We had deemed it impossible that the awful grandeur of the preceding scene could have been heightened, yet standing on the snow which now completely covered the bed of the river, and beholding it from the place whence it emerged, we were as much struck with the sublimity of the landscape, as if we had come upon it suddenly and without previous preparation. The glen is not more than thirty or forty feet in width, and the rocks on either side are of the noblest dimensions, and crowned with dark luxuriant foliage, while the impenetrable region beyond—solemn, majestic, and wonderfully beautiful—seems abso-
lutely to strike upon the soul, so strange are the sensations which it produces in the craving heart of man, as it defies the farther intrusion of his adventurous footsteps.
The most holy spot is found upon the left bank, where a mass of quartz and silicious schist rock sends forth five hot springs into the bed of the river, which boil and bubble at a furious rate. When mingled with the icy-cold stream of the Jumna, these smoking springs form a very delightful tepid bath, and the pilgrims, after dipping their hands in the hottest part, perform much more agreeable ablutions, where the temperature offers the desirable medium between the scalding water above and the chilling stream below. It is usual with the devotees to make an offering of money to the divinity of the river, an offering which of course finds its way to the pocket of the officiating priest, who prays over the bathers, and marks them on the forehead in the most orthodox fashion with the sacred mud of the place.
European travellers pay the tax, for they feel that they owe something to the brahmin for his attendance; but they, at least those who are acquainted with the prevailing feeling of the Hindoos, dispense with the distinguishing badge of idolatrous worship, and make no scruple of standing beside the holy spring with their shoes on. The approach with bare feet is an acknowledgment of the sanctity of the place, which no Christian ought to give, and the natives of India do not insist upon it from those who differ from them in religious belief, preventing them only from penetrating to the interiors of a few temples. If we offer an insult to the religious feelings of a Hindoo by refusing this mark of respect to their deities, we ought to remain at the prescribed distance from their sacred places, since it has been very justly remarked, that no native would understand why a Christian should take off his shoes, or in any other way mark the holiness of any particular spot, unless he really considered the spot to be holy.
The height of the snow bed at Jumnootre is about ten thousand feet, and in the month of October, when all the snow that ever melts is melted at this place, it is possible to advance somewhat nearer to the real source than at any other period of the year. Crossing the snowy bed whence the water emerges at Jumnootree, is a work of some difficulty, and when accomplished we find that the infant river is divided into three streams, each forming a separate waterfall, and flowing over steep green hills. The lower of these are surmountable, but with great difficulty and some danger, as the stones are loose, and slip from under the feet: in process of time, however, we may look forward to such an improvement in the roads of these hills as will allow the traveller to reach the utmost extent which human means can render possible.
Those persons who have proceeded as far as the present circumstances will admit, that is, about a mile beyond Jumnootre, have ascertained that the most direct stream of the river does not arise from any part of Bundurpooch, but from the range that runs off it to the westward. As we stand at Jumnootree, these small streams are perceptible before their junction into one fall, which loses itself under a mass of snow, whence it issues near the hot springs before mentioned.
The forest stretches at least fifteen hundred feet above the snowy bed of the Jumna, before vegetation is entirely forbidden by the frosts of the giant heights beyond. The geologist may make a very interesting collection at Jumnootree; beautiful specimens of garnet, shorl, and tourmaline crystals being to be found: there is a considerable quantity of talcose gneiss rock, but the greater proportion is a coarse gneiss, while the granite summits of the mountain peaks rise to the height of ten thousand feet above.
The brahmin who accompanied the party was a good-looking, intelligent man, who had made the pilgrimage very frequently before, in company with other European travellers, whose motives in performing the journey he can now pretty well comprehend; and the congratulations which he offered upon the accomplishment of our toilsome and perilous march, were of a different character to those bestowed upon the pious, who had the greater satisfaction of feeling that they had found the way to heaven.
After we had indulged in the gratification which the sublime prospects of this interesting place afforded, we proceeded to satisfy some of the cravings of appetite, which had very forcibly reminded us of our terrestrial nature. We might have caught and cooked our fish in the same stream, had we not been otherwise provided; but one of the first things which a native of India undertakes, at a halting place, is to kindle a fire, and commence the preparations of the meal. Some of the Hindoos, who had brought rice with them, boiled it over the hot springs, by enclosing the grain in a cloth which they tied to the end of a stick. In the vent of the principal spring, which issues with great force from a fissure in the rock, the temperature of the water is about 194°, which at that elevation is near the point at which water is converted into steam; and at the same time the mercury, when placed in the bed of the river, has been known to sink as low as 37°. The water itself is exceedingly pure, transparent, and tasteless, without any kind of sulphureous smell. There are several hot springs to be found along the course of the Jumna, for which, according to general belief, the traveller is indebted to an exceedingly pious person, favoured by the gods with the gift of causing hot water to flow whenever he found that of the river too cold for the comfortable performance of his ablutions.
After invigorating ourselves with a due proportion of food, we prepared to set forth upon our return. The prospect of the difficulties which it must be our fate to encounter, in getting back to Kursalee, were rather dispiriting, being most assuredly equal, and perchance still greater, than those which we had surmounted upon our approach. In the course of the day's journey we crossed the Jumna more than thirty times, and having to slide down the places which we had previously scrambled up, and to leap many gaps which had been more easily passable on the other side, it was necessary to summon all our energy to the task. The spots on which we occasionally rested offered, in their soft loveliness, a pleasing contrast to the rugged horrors of many portions of the scene—the beautiful mingling with the sublime. Sometimes we seated ourselves upon banks of violets of the richest blue, and surrounded by luxuriant vegetation of fruit and flowers, the strawberry spreading itself far and wide, and raspberry, blackberry, and black currant bushes forming a perfect garden. Another turn of an angle brought us almost in immediate contact with the snow, which in some places lies smooth and hard, unbroken and glittering in its unsullied purity, while in others it occurs in rougher masses, darkened by stains of earth, and, anon, we traced its course in long tracks descending into the nullahs and valleys below.
- It may be, perhaps, necessary to state, that in making these observations there is no wish to countenance the disdain of native opinion, which it is, but too frequently, the practice of Europeans to display. Many, who from their education and intelligence should know better, insist upon forcing their way with their shoes on into places considered holy by the Hindoos; a wanton act of sacrilege, for which there is no excuse: all that is here advocated, is a determination not to shew a degree of homage which is liable to misinterpretation, and to keep aloof from places which involve an acknowledgment of reverence to pagan gods. There is great reason to fear that the influx of European travellers to the hills is doing much to impress the natives of those districts with the same opinion which the haughty superciliousness, arrogance, and contemptuous conduct, too characteristic of Anglo-Indians, have rendered so prevalent in the plains. Instead of exerting the superior knowledge, virtue, wisdom, science, &c., of which we make so great a vaunt, in gaining the respect of, and affording an example to the less fortunate people of India, we disgust them by the display of all our bad qualities, while they cannot possibly, by intuition, know that we have any good ones. Few, indeed, there are who regard the estimation in which they may be held by the natives, caring not a farthing what "those black fellows" may think of them; and yet there are no better judges of manners.