Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/View near Kursalee

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View near Kursalee.


At our halting-place near the village of Ozree, on the road to Kursalee, the immense assemblage of mountains, range swelling upon range, again forcibly brought the image to our minds of the waves of a mighty ocean lashed into fury, and rearing their billows on high, until, suddenly checked by an all-powerful hand, they ceased their wrath, and, stilled into sullen majesty, became gigantic masses of earth and rock. The clothing of these hill-sides favours the idea, adding considerably to their wave-like appearance, and presenting altogether a chaotic mass of wild and singular grandeur.

Kursalee is a large and flourishing place, full of temples and brahmins, the latter-named gentry establishing themselves in great abundance near the scenes most in repute with the numerous pilgrims resorting to the sacred sources of the Ganges and Jumna, from whose pockets these wily priests contrive to pick a very pretty subsistence. The brahmins who are attached to the temples have certainly the best of it, for the numbers resorting to the hills for the purpose of making as much as they can of their sacred caste, render it necessary that some should toil for their support. Occasionally we find them populating a whole village, and settling down as cultivators; and many who are not so fortunate as to establish themselves as proprietors of land, travel to and fro from the hills to the plains, with jars of the holy water, which obtain a ready sale among the pious who are unwilling or unable to make the pilgrimage themselves. During their journeys, the sanctity of the order is sufficient to procure board and lodging gratis; to refuse a meal to a brahmin would, indeed, be a heinous offence, for which no punishment, either in this world or the next, could be considered too great. Some of the temples are said to have been miraculously raised by the gods themselves, and of course derive superior holiness from that circumstance: they are adorned according to the revenues of the neighbouring devotees, with ornaments of various descriptions, musical instruments, and images of different degrees of value.

The horns of numerous species of deer are very favourite decorations, both of temples and tombs, the natives attaching some peculiar virtue to these sylvan trophies, and believing that they exercise a mysterious influence over their present and future fortunes. In addition to the worship of the numerous deities introduced by the brahmins of the plains; it is supposed at no very remote antiquity; the people of the hills have a very extensive catalogue of superstitions exclusively their own, performing religious worship to the symbolical representations of good or evil beings, which their imaginations have invested with supreme power. The cow is, however, reverenced by the most degenerate followers of the brahminical faith; and when we first occupied the hills, the very poorest persons have refused to sell one of these sacred animals to a purchaser of a different persuasion, even though he engaged to respect a life so highly venerated, and offered gold in exchange.

The sacred character of the cow does not secure it from hard work, it being employed in the laborious departments of agriculture, in the same manner pursued by the more orthodox Hindoos of the plains, but it is better treated, being fed and tended with much greater care than the ill-used animal mocked by the worship of those who often prove cruel task-masters.

Some fine pieces of land attached to the neighbouring villages are wholly appropriated to the maintenance of the temples and their priests, and the images in some of these pagodas are remarkably well executed. The five brothers of the Pandoo family, who make so conspicuous a figure in the cave-temples of Ellora, have a religious edifice dedicated to them at Lakha Kundul, a beautiful village in this district, where is also to be found a bullock couchant, of black marble, as large as life, and sculptured by no mean hand. Our road to this lovely place, which deserves more than a passing remark, led through a noble forest, in which the oak and the rhododendron mingled freely with the pine, and on emerging from these woody labyrinths, we came at once upon the Jumna, as it swept round the base of a lofty mountain, covered with wood to its topmost height. Presently we reached a little valley, our march taking us along the side of gentle eminences in a high state of cultivation, and there, shaded by a grove of fruit-trees, stood a temple, in one of the most beautiful situations imaginable, an opening between the neighbouring hills affording a view of the snowy mountains, and a cascade, which forms their welcome tribute to the plains. This valley, in addition to its natural beauties, wore a trim appearance, the evidence of human occupation; the apricots attained their largest size, and the enclosures of flowering hedge-rows were neatly kept.

The scenery of the glen of the Jumna is universally allowed to be exceedingly beautiful; some, however, of our party preferred that of the Rupin and Pabar rivers, where the precipices close in over the gradually rising bed of the stream, steeper and still more grand at every march, and where the forests which clothe the bases of these cliffs assume an aspect of more purely alpine character than those in their neighbourhood, the dark yews, cedars, and firs, and the silver birch, occurring in greater profusion than in the vicinity of Kursalee, though at so much higher an altitude. It is difficult to decide between the various claims to beauty which these striking scenes possess. One of our fellow-travellers was particularly delighted with a march along a steep ascent through woods of oak and rhododendron, which lasted a whole mile. Upon reaching the summit, an exceedingly grand prospect of the snowy peaks, from Bundurpooch to the right, and Bachunch on the left, was obtained, the lower view being wide and varied, shewing the course of the Jumna to the south-west, until it was lost in a distant range. The mountain he traversed was white with recent snow, but many of the surrounding peaks, which rose still higher, were, on account of their greater steepness and shaft-like summits, of the most deep and sombre hue; subsequently descending, we followed another beautiful tract of forest, of a perfectly new character, the trees being ash, sycamore, horse-chesnut, bamboo, and the wild pomegranate, which were growing luxuriantly at the elevation of six thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven feet above the level of the sea.