Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/View near Deobun
VIEW NEAR DEOBUN.
The traveller in the Himalaya must accustom himself to the most dangerous and slippery bridges imaginable: habituated from their infancy to the sight of the steepest precipices in the world, the mountaineers are indifferent to circumstances which produce giddiness in the heads of those who have hitherto traversed comparatively level ground. Strange to say, the cattle of the mountains, guided by some extraordinary instinct, can make their way in safety over the frail and crazy bridges which at some places span rapid streams, and at others are thrown across deep ravines. Morning and evening the flocks and herds may be seen passing these narrow footways, and, accustomed to this mode of transit, they will cross on their way home, or to their distant pastures, without any human being to direct them. There can, however, be no doubt that the difficulties of communication between the inhabitants of neighbouring hills must often be very severely felt, and that to this cause the low intellectual state of the mountaineers of the Himalaya may in a great measure be attributed.
Living in isolated circles, apart from each other, the hill-people can acquire little or nothing from an interchange of ideas, and grovel on through life without a single attempt to improve their condition, or to increase the facilities of access with the neighbouring districts. The materials being close at hand, safe and commodious bridges might be constructed in all parts of the hills; but with very inadequate tools, and no conception of the extent of the advantages to be derived from improvements of the kind, it can scarcely be expected that the natives, accustomed to live as their fathers had done before them, should, without the example and assistance of strangers, attempt undertakings which belong to a higher degree of knowledge, and a more advanced state of civilization. It is, perhaps, only in periods of famine and pestilence that they feel the miseries of their situation—the impossibility of obtaining assistance from those poor neighbours, who would willingly accord it if they possessed the means; and the scanty population being kept down by dreadful mortality, which sometimes sweeps away the inhabitants of a whole village at once, and by the wretched customs and marriage laws which have been universally adopted, it can scarcely be expected that any improvement should emanate from the natives themselves.
At present the number of Europeans who seek health or amusement in these hills is too small to effect much in the way of example, except in the immediate vicinity of the stations which they have established. The tourists, who, considering the sum total of visitors, may be called numerous, cannot fail to requite the services of the simple mountaineers, whom they employ on their line of march, with practical lessons of greater value than the wages which they pay; but it may be doubted whether they take a sufficiently strong interest in the welfare of these poor people. It requires a very philanthropic spirit to induce men, in search of their own gratification, to pause upon the road for the purpose of imparting useful knowledge, to distribute tools, and teach the method of their employment—labours which might not be immediately rewarded by success, or properly appreciated by those who are to benefit from them, but which nevertheless should be persevered in as a duty which the intelligent man owes to his less fortunate brother. Something, however, must be learned even in our harum-scarum progress through the country—our incessant demands for supplies of all kinds, which, though at first reluctantly brought into the camps of those extraordinary bipeds, who must be possessed with some restless demon to wander thus far, are found to be more advantageously disposed of than if stored up for family use. At present an acquaintance with native opinion would not be very flattering to the European visitor, who, though he himself, in consequence of the kindness he has shewn, may have obtained a high character with the mountaineers, consider him to be at least crazy, and, for want of any other motive sufficient to account for his travels, suppose that his own country must be the most desolate place in the world. The notions entertained respecting England are exceedingly diverting, notions which can only be removed by ocular demonstration of their fallacy, that is, by a visit to the country, where, much to their astonishment, Asiatics find wealth and comfort beyond all their previous experience.