Passing the somewhat uninviting little village of Rampur, we crossed a torrent pouring out of a dark pine-clad gorge, and halted for tea by the curious ruined temple of Bhanyar. The building consists of a rectangular wall, cloistered on two sides of the interior and surrounding a small temple approached by a dilapidated flight of stone steps. I regret to be obliged to own that I know but a mere smattering of architecture. I do not feel competent therefore to discuss this, the first Kashmiri temple I have seen, upon its architectural merits. I only know that it struck me as being extremely small, and principally interesting from its magnificent background of shaggy forest and snow-capped mountain.
Tea on a short smooth sward, starred with yellow colchicum, while the carriage, travel-stained and with one step lacking, stood on the road hard by, and the horses nibbled invigorating lumps of "gram" and molasses. Then the etna was returned to the "allo bagh" (yellow bag) and the tea things to the tiffin basket, and away we went along the now smooth and level road with only fifteen easy miles between us and Baramula.
The vegetation had gradually grown much richer. The sparse and storm-buffeted pines and the rough scrub merged into a tangled mass of undergrowth and forest, where silver firs and deodars rose conspicuous. The little streams that rushed down the hillsides were fringed with maidenhair fern, lighted up here and there with a bunch of pink primula or a tiny cluster of dog violets.
Jhelum had ceased from roaring, pursuing his placid path unwitting of the rush and fury that would befall him lower down, and by-and-by we emerged from the dark and forest-covered gorge into a wide basin where the river, now smooth and oily, reflected tall poplars and the red shoots of young dogwood.
Through a village, round a sweep to the left, over a tract said to be much frequented by serpents, and then in the deepening and chilly dusk we made out Baramula, lying engirdled by a belt of poplars about a mile away.
Glad were we, and probably gladder still our weary horses, to draw up before the uninviting-looking dak bungalow, knowing that only thirty-five miles of level and open road lay now between us and Srinagar.
The dak bungalow of Baramula is, upon the whole, the worst we have yet sampled. No fire seemed able to impart any cheerfulness to the gloomy den we were shown into, and the dinner finally produced by the khansamah-kitmaghar-chowkidar (for a single tawny-bearded ruffian represented all these functionaries when the morning tip fell due) was not of an exhilarating nature. Strolling out to have a look at the town of Baramula, I shivered to see a heap of snow piled up against the wall. It snowed here, heavily, three days ago, I am told.
We have not been, so far, altogether lucky in the weather. Bitter cold in Europe, cold at Port Said and Suez, chilly in the Red Sea, and wet at Aden! Distinctly chilly in India, excepting during the day; we seem to have hit off the most backward spring known here for many years. The Murree route, which was closed to us by snow, should have been clear a month earlier, and spring here seems not yet to have begun.
April 5.—We crept shivering to our beds last night, to be awakened at 6 A.M. by an earthquake!
I had just realised what the untoward commotion meant when I heard Jane from under her "resai" ask, "What is the matter—is it an earthquake?" Almost before I could reply, she was up and away, in a fearful hurry and very little else, towards the open country.
I followed, but finding hoar-frost on the ground and a nipping eagerness in the air, I went back for a "resai." The feeling was that of going into one's cabin in a breeze of wind, and the door was flapping about. Seizing the wrap in some haste, as I was afraid of the door jamming, I rejoined Jane in the open, to watch the poplars swaying like drunken men and the solid earth bulging unpleasantly. The shock lasted for three minutes, and when it seemed quite over we retired to our beds to try to get warm again.
The morning at breakfast-time was perfectly beautiful. Baramula lay serenely mirrored in the silver waters of the Jhelum, its picturesque brown wooden houses clustering on both banks, and joining hands by means of a long brown wooden bridge. No signs of any unusual disturbance could be seen among the chattering crews of the snaky little boats and deep-laden "doungas" that lined the banks or furrowed the waters of the shining river.
We left Baramula in high spirits to accomplish the five-and-thirty miles which still stretched between us and Srinagar. The scenery was quite different from anything we had yet known, for now we were in the broad flat valley of Kashmir, which stretches for some eighty miles from beyond Islamabad, on the N.E., to Baramula, planted at the neck where the Jhelum River, after spreading itself abroad through the fertile plain, concentrates to pour its many waters through the mountain barrier until it joins the Indus far away in Sind.
A broad and level road stretched straight and white between a double row of stark poplars, reminding one of the poplar-guarded ways of Picardy; also (as in France) not only were the miles marked, but also the thirty-two subdivisions thereof. On the right hand the ground sloped slowly up in a succession of wooded heights, the foothills of the Pir Panjal, whose snow-crowned peaks enclose the Kashmir valley on the south. Opposite, through a maze of leafless trees, one caught occasional gleams of water where the winding reaches of the river flowed gently from the turquoise haze where lay the Wular Lake, and beyond—clear and pale in the clear, crisp air—shone a glorious range of snow mountains, stretching away past where we knew Srinagar must lie, to be lost in the distant haze where sky and mountain merged in the north-east.
By the roadside we passed many small lakes, or "jheels," full of duck, but as there was never any cover by the sides I could not see how the duck were to be approached.
We lunched at the fascinating little bungalow at Patan (pronounced "Puttun"), about half-way between Baramula and Srinagar. The Rest House stands back from an apparently extremely populous and thriving village, the inhabitants whereof were all engaged in conversation of a highly animated kind! In the compound stood a fine group of chenar trees (Platanus orientalis) whose noble trunks and graceful branches showed in striking contrast to the slender stems of the poplars. The guide-book informed us that an ancient temple lay in ruins near by, but we trusted to a later visit and determined to push on. By-and-by a fort-crowned hill rose above the tree-tops. This we took to be Hari Parbat, the ancient citadel of Srinagar, and presently, through the poplars and the willows queer wooden huts or chalets began to appear, and the increasing number of men and beasts upon the road showed the proximity of the city.
Ekkas, white-hooded, with jingling bells hung round the scraggy necks of their lean ponies; brown men clad in sort of night-shirts composed of mud-coloured rags; brown dogs, humpy cattle, and children innumerable, swarmed upon the causeway in ever-increasing density until we drew up at the custom-house, and the usual jabber took place among Sabz Ali, the driver, and the officials.
All appeared satisfactory, however, and we were presented with bits of brown paper scrawled over with hieroglyphics which we took to be passes, and drove on, leaving the native town apparently on our left and making a detour through level fields and between rows of poplars, until we swung round and crossed the river by a fine bridge. Here we first got some idea of the city of Srinagar, which lay spread around us, bisected by the broad, but apparently far from sluggish river, which seems here to be about the width of the Thames at Westminster at high water.
Tier upon tier, the rickety wooden houses crowded either bank, the prevailing brown being oddly lighted up by the roofs, which were frequently covered with deep green turf. Here and there the steep and peculiar dome of a Hindu temple flashed like polished silver in the keen sunlight, while around and beyond all rose the ring of the everlasting hills, their peaks clear, yet soft, against a background of cloudless blue.
Close below us stood a remarkably picturesque pile of buildings, of a mixed style of architecture, yet harmonising well enough as a whole with its surroundings. Over it flew a great "banner with a strange device," and we assumed (and rightly) that we looked upon the palace of His Highness Sir Pratab Singh, Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir.
Crossing the river, we dived into a bit of the native town, and were much struck by the want of colour as compared with an Indian street. Everything seemed steeped in the same neutral brown—houses, boats, people, and dogs! Emerging from the native street, with its open shop-fronts and teeming life, we drove for some little way along a straight level road, flanked, as usual, on either side by poplars of great size which ran through a brown, flat field, showing traces of recent snow, and finally finished our two-hundred-mile drive in front of the one and only hotel in all Kashmir.
Our two little chestnuts, which had brought us right through from Chakhoti to Srinagar—a distance of about seventy-eight miles—in two days, were as lively and fit as possible, and playfully nibbled at each other's noses as they were walked off to their well-earned rest.
The ekka horses, too, had brought our heavy luggage all the way from Abbotabad over a shocking road in the most admirable manner, and we had every reason to congratulate ourselves on having entrusted the arrangement of the whole business—the "bandobast" in native parlance—to our henchman Sabz Ali, who had thus proved himself an energetic and trustworthy organiser, and saving financier to the extent of some twenty rupees.
I may emphasise here the importance of keeping one's heavy baggage in sight, herding on the ekkas in front, if possible, and keeping a wary eye and a firm hand on the drivers at all halts. The Smithsons, who had sent on their gear from Rawal Pindi some days before we got there, did not receive it in Srinagar until the 22nd of April. It took about five weeks to do the journey, and the rifle which I was obliged to leave in Karachi on the 19th of March finally turned up in Srinagar, after an infuriating and vain expenditure of telegrams, on the 1st of May!
Of course, part of the delay was due, and all was attributed, to the unusually bad state of the roads. The heavy storms and floods which, by wrecking the road, had delayed us so much, naturally checked the heavy transport still more; and severe congestion of bullock-carts resulted at all the halting-places along the route. Still, the main cause of delay lies in the fact that the monopoly of transport has been granted by the Maharajah to one Danjibhoy, who charges what he pleases, and takes such time over his arrangements as suits his Oriental mind.
The motto over the Transport Office door might well be "Ohne Hast—mit Rast!"
The other (much-cherished) monopoly in this favoured land is that enjoyed by Mr. Nedou, the owner of THE HOTEL in Kashmir.
We were advised when at Lahore to approach Mr. Nedou (who winters in his branch there) with many salaams and much "kow-towing," in order to make a certainty of being received into his select circle in Kashmir. The great man was quite kind, and promised that he would do his best for us; and he was as good as his word, as we were immediately welcomed and permitted to add two to the four persons already inhabiting the hostelry. I confess that, even after a dak bungalow of the most inferior quality—such as that at Ghari Habibullah or Baramula—Mr. Nedou's hotel fails to impress one with an undue sense of luxury. In fact, it presented an even desolate and forlorn appearance with its gloomy and chilly passages and cheerless bed-vaults.
 N. Smyrnensis (?).
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF SRINAGAR
We learnt that the earthquake of this morning was far more than the ordinary affair that we had taken it to be. The hotel showed signs of a struggle for existence. Large cracks in the plaster, spanned by strips of paper gummed across to show if they widened, and little heaps of crumbled mortar on the floors, betrayed that the grip of mother earth had been no feeble one.
Telegrams from Lahore inquired if the rumour was true that Srinagar had been much damaged, and reported an awful destruction and loss of life at Dharmsala. I think if we had fully known what an earthquake really meant, we should not have so calmly gone back to bed again!
The advent of Mrs. Smithson upon the scene relieved a certain anxiety which we had felt as to immediate plans. The idea of rushing into Astor had been given up, we found—not so much on account of our tardy arrival, permits being still obtainable, but on account of the impossibility—at any rate for ladies—of forcing the high passes which the late season has kept safely sealed.
Walter, having pawed the ground in feverish impatience for some days, had gone off into a region said to be full of bara singh; so we decided to possess our souls in patience for a little time, and remain quietly in Srinagar. Accordingly, instead of unpacking our "detonating musquetoons," we exhumed our evening clothes, and began life in Srinagar with a cheerful dinner at the Residency.
Friday, April 7th.—We are evidently somewhat premature here as far as climate goes. The weather since our arrival has become cold and grey, and we have seemed on the verge of another snowfall. However, the clerk of the weather has refrained from such an insult, contenting himself with sending a breeze down upon us fresh from the "Roof of the World," and laden with the chilly moisture of the snows. We have consumed great quantities of wood, vainly endeavouring to warm up the den which Mr. Nedou has let to us as a sitting-room. Fires are not the fashion in the public rooms—probably because the only "public" besides ourselves consist of one or two enterprising sportsmen, who doubtless are acclimatising themselves to camp life amid the snows, and have implored the proprietor to save his fuel and keep the outer doors open.
Yesterday, we went on a shopping excursion down the river, our "hansom" being a long narrow sort of canoe, propelled and dexterously steered by four or five paddlers, whose mode of digging along by means of their heart-shaped blades reminded me not a little of the Kroo boys paddling a fish-canoe off Elmina on the Gold Coast.
We embarked close to the back of the hotel, at the Chenar Bagh, and went gaily enough down the strong current of what we took to be an affluent of the Jhelum. As a matter of fact, the European quarter forms an island, low and perfectly flat, the banks of which are heaped into a high dyke or "bund," washed on one side (the south) by the main river, and on the other by the Sunt-i-kul Canal, down which we have been paddling.
The river life was most fascinating—crowds of heavy doungas lay moored along the banks—their long, low bodies covered in by matting, and their extremities sloping up into long peaked platforms for the crew. These—many of them women and children—were all clothed in neutral-tinted gowns, the only bit of colour being an occasional note of red or white in the puggaree of the men or skull-cap of the children. The married women invariably wore whity-brown veils over the head. The wooden houses that lined the banks were all in the general low scheme of colour, but a peculiar charm was added by the roofs covered in thick, green turf.
Srinagar has been called the "Venice of the East," and, inasmuch as waterways form the main thoroughfares in both, there is a certain resemblance. Shikaras (the Kashmiri canoes) are first-cousins to gondolas—rather poor relations perhaps; both are dingy and clumsy in appearance, and both are managed with an extraordinary dexterity by their navigators.
Both cities are "smelly," though Venice, even at its worst, stands many degrees above the incredible filth of Srinagar.
Finally—both cities are within sight of snowy ranges; although it seems hardly fair to place in comparison the majestic range that overhangs Srinagar and the somewhat distant and sketchy view of the Alps as seen from Venice.
Here, I think, all resemblance ceases. The charm of Venice lies in its architecture, its art treasures, its historical memories, and its interesting people.
Srinagar has no architecture in particular, being but a picturesque chaos of tumble-down wooden shanties. It has no history worth speaking of, and its inhabitants are—and apparently have always been—a poor lot.
Shopping in Srinagar is not pure and unadulterated joy. Down the river, spanned by its seven bridges, amidst a network of foul-smelling alleys, you are dragged to the emporiums of the native merchants whose advertisements flare upon the river banks, and who, armed with cards, and possessed of a wonderful supply of the English language, swarm around the victim at every landing-place, and almost tear one another in pieces while striving to obtain your custom.
Samad Shall, in a conspicuous hoarding, announces that he can—and will—supply you with anything you may desire, including money—for he proclaims himself to be a banker.
Ganymede, in his own opinion, is the only wood-carver worth attention.
Suffering Moses is the prince of workers in lacquer, according to his own showing.
The nose of the boat grates up against the slimy step of the landing-place, and you plunge forthwith into Babel.
"Will you come to my shop?"
"No—you are going somewhere else."
"No—no time to-day."
"To-morrow, then—I got very naice kyriasity [curiosity]—to-morrow, master—what time?"
"Oh! get out! and leave me alone."
"I send boat for you—ten o'clock to-morrow?"
"Twelve o'clock?" &c. &c.
After a short experience of Kashmiri pertinacity and business methods, you cease from politeness and curtly threaten the river.
Certainly the Kashmiri are exceedingly clever and excellent workers in many ways. Their modern embroideries (the old shawl manufacture is totally extinct) are beautiful and artistic. Their wood-carving, almost always executed in rich brown walnut, is excellent; and their old papier-mache lacquer is very good. The tendency, however, is unfortunately to abandon their own admirable designs, and assimilate or copy Western ideas as conveyed in very doubtful taste by English visitors.
The embroidery has perhaps kept its individuality the best, although the trail of the serpent as revealed in "quaint" Liberty or South Kensington designs is sometimes only too apparent. Certain plants—Lotus, Iris, Chenar leaf, and so-called Dal Lake leaves, as well as various designs taken from the old Kashmir shawls, give scope to the nimble brains and fingers of the embroiderers, who, by-the-bye, are all male.
Their colours, almost invariably obtained from native dyes, are excellent, and they rarely make a mistake in taste.
The coarser work in wool on cushions, curtains, and thick white numdahs is most effective and cheap.
Curiously enough, the best of these numdahs (which make capital rugs or bath blankets) are made in Yarkand; and Stein, in his Sand-Buried Cities of Kotan, found in ancient documents, of the third century or so, "the earliest mention of the felt-rugs or 'numdahs' so familiar to Anglo-Indian use, which to this day form a special product of Kotan home industry, and of which large consignments are annually exported to Ladak and Kashmir."
The manufacture of carpets is receiving attention, and Messrs. Mitchell own a large carpet factory. Designs and colours are good, but the prices are not low enough to enable them to compete with the cheap Indian makes; nor, I make bold to say, is the quality such as to justify high prices. The shop of Mohamed Jan is well worth a visit, for three good reasons—first, because his Oriental carpets from Penjdeh and Khiva are of the best; second, because his house is one of the first specimens of a high-class native dwelling existing; and third, because he never worries his customers nor touts for orders—but, then, he is a Persian, and not a Kashmiri!
The famous shawls which fetched such prices in England in early Victorian days are no longer valued, having suffered an eclipse similar to that undergone by the pictures of certain early Victorian Royal Academicians, and the loss of the shawl trade was a severe blow to Kashmir. With the exception of occasional specimens of these shawls, which, however, can be bought cheaper at sales in London, there are no old embroideries to be got.
The wood-carving industry, too, is quite modern; but, although of great excellence and ingenuity in manipulation, it does not appeal to me, being too florid and copious in its application of design. A restless confusion of dragons from Leh, lotus from the Dal Lake, and the ever-present chenar leaf, hobnob together with British—very British—crests and monograms on the tops of tables and the seats of chairs—portions of the furniture that should be left severely plain.
British taste is usually bad, and to it, and not to Kashmiri initiative, must be ascribed the production of such exotic works as bellows embellished with chaste designs of lotus-buds, and afternoon tea-tables flaunting coats-of-arms (doubtless dating from the Conquest), beautifully carved in high relief just where the tray—the bottom of which is probably ornamented with a flowing design of raised flowers—should rest!
The lacquered papier-mache work—often extremely pretty when left to its own proper Cabul pattern or other native design—aims too often at attracting the eye of the mighty hunter by introducing an inappropriate markhor's head. The old lacquer-work is difficult to get, and, when obtained, is high in price; but comparison between the old and the new shows the gulf that lies between the loving and skilful labour of the artist and the stupid and generally "scamped" achievement of him who merely "knocks off" candlesticks and tobacco-boxes by the score, to sell to the English visitor—papier-mache being superseded by wood, and lacquer by paint.
The workers in silver, copper, and brass are many, but their productions are usually rough and inartistic. Genuine old beaten metal-work is almost unobtainable, although occasionally desirable specimens from Leh do find their way into the Srinagar shops.
Chinese porcelain is to be got, usually in the form of small bowls; but it is not of remarkably good quality, and the prices asked for it are higher than in London.
The jewellers' work is very far behind that of India. Amethysts of pale colour and yellow topaz are cheap. Fine turquoise do not come into Kashmir, but plenty of the rough stones (as well as imitations) are to be found, which, owing to a transitory fashion, are priced far above their intrinsic value. They come from Thibet.
A great deal of a somewhat soft and ugly-coloured jade is sent from Yarkand, also agates and carnelian; beads of these are strung into rather uncouth necklets, which may be bought for half the sum first asked.
Bargaining is an invariable necessity in all shopping in Kashmir, as everywhere else in the East, where the market value of an article is not what it costs to produce, but what can be squeezed for it out of the purse of the—usually—ignorant purchaser.
Three things are essential to the successful prosecution of shopping in Srinagar:—
(1) Unlimited time.
(2) A command of emphatic language, sufficient to impress the native mind with the need for keeping to the point.
(3) A liver in such thorough working order as to insure an extraordinary supply of good temper.
Without all these attributes the acquisition of objects of "bigotry and vertue" in Srinagar is attended with pain and tribulation.
The descent of the river is accomplished with ease and rapidity, but revocare gradum involves much hard paddling, with many pants and grunts; and it was both cold and dark when we again lay alongside the bank of the Chenar Bagh, and scurried up the slippery bund to the hotel, with scarcely time to dress for dinner.
Sunday, 9th April.—Friday was a horrible day—rainy, dull, and cold; but a thrill of excitement was sent through us by the news that Walter has shot two fine bara singh! Charlotte (who is nothing if not a keen sportswoman) was filled with zeal and the spirit of emulation, so we resolved to dash off down the river to Bandipur, join Walter—who has now presumably joined the ranks of the unemployed, being only permitted by the Game Laws to kill two stags—and take our pick of the remaining "Royals," which, in our vivid imaginations, roamed in dense flocks through the nullahs beyond Bandipur!
All Friday and yesterday, therefore, were devoted to preparation. I had already, through the kindness of Major Wigram, secured a shikari, who immediately demonstrated his zeal and efficiency by purchasing a couple of bloodthirsty knives and a huge bottle of Rangoon oil at my expense. I pointed out that one "skian-dhu" seemed to me sufficient for "gralloching" purposes, but he said two were better for bears. My acquaintance with bears being hitherto confined to Regent's Park, I bowed to his superior knowledge and forethought.
A visit to Cockburn's agency resulted in the hire of the "boarded dounga" Cruiser, which the helpful Mr. Cockburn procured for us, in which to go down the river; also a couple of tents for ourselves with tent furniture, one for the servants, and a cooking tent.
The local bootmaker or "chaplie-wallah" appeared, as by magic, on the scene, and chaplies were ordered. These consist of a sort of leather sandal strapped over soft leather boots or moccasins. They are extremely comfortable for walking on ordinary ground, but perfectly useless for hill work, even when the soles are studded with nails. The hideous but necessary grass shoe is then your only wear. The grass shoe, which is made as required by the native, is an intricate contrivance of rice straw, kept in position by a straw twist which is hauled taut between the big and next toe, and the end expended round some of the side webbing. The cleft sock and woollen boot worn underneath keep the feet warm, but do not always prevent discomfort and even much pain if the cords are not properly adjusted. However, the remedy is simple. Tear off the shoe, using such language as may seem appropriate to the occasion, throw it at the shikari's head, and order another pair to be made "ek dam"! Jane and I each purchased a yakdan, a sort of roughly-made leather box or trunk, strong, and of suitable size for either pony or coolie transport. Our wardrobe was stowed in these and secured by padlocks, and the cooking gear, together with a certain amount of stores in the shape of grocery, bread, and a couple of bottles of whisky were safely housed in a pair of large covered creels or "kiltas."
Each of the party provided him or herself with a khudstick, consisting of a strong and tough shaft about five feet long, tapering slightly towards the base, where it is shod with a chisel-shaped iron end.
Our staff of retainers had now been brought up to five—the shikari, Ahmed Bot, having procured a satellite, known as the chota shikari, a youth of not unprepossessing appearance, but whose necessity in our scheme of existence I had not quite determined. Ahmed Bot, however, was of opinion that all sahibs who wanted sport required two shikaris, so I imagined that while I was to be engaged with one in pursuit of bara singh, the other would employ himself in "rounding up" a few tigers for the next day's sport in another direction. Ahmed Bot agreed with me in the main, but did not feel at all sure about the tigers—he proposed ibex.
The fifth wheel to our coach was a strikingly ugly person, like a hippopotamus, whose plainness was not diminished by a pair of enormous goggles; this was the harmless necessary sweeper, that pariah among domestics, whose usefulness is undreamed of out of India.
After dinner last night we left the hotel, truly thankful to shake the dust of its gloomy precincts from our feet, and sought our boats, which were moored in the Chenar Bagh. How snug and bright the "ship" seemed after the murky corridors of Nedou! And yet the Cruiser was not much to boast of, really, in the way of luxury.
Let me describe a typical boarded dounga. Upon a long, low, flat-bottomed hull, which tapered to a sharp point at bow and stern, was raised a light wooden superstructure with a flat roof, upon which the passengers could sit. The interior was divided off into some half-a-dozen compartments, a vestibule or outer cabin held boxes, &c., and through it one passed into the dining or parlour cabin, which opened again to two little bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms. There was no furniture to speak of, but we had hired from Cockburn all that we required for the trip.
The servants, as well as the crew of the dounga, were all stowed in a "tender" known as the cook boat—no one, except for navigating duties, having any business on board the "flagship."
Charlotte Smithson had a smaller ship than ours—a light wooden frame, which supported movable matting screens or curtains, taking the place of our wooden cabins. The matted dounga looked as though it might be chilly, particularly if a strong wind came to play among the rather draughty-looking mats which were all that our poor friend had between her and a cold world!
OUR FIRST CAMP
The fleet, consisting of four sail (I use this word in its purely conventional sense, a dounga having no more sails than a battleship), got under way about 5 A.M., while it was yet but barely daylight, and so we were well clear of Srinagar when we emerged from our cosy cabins into a world of clean air and brilliant colour.
The broad smooth current of the Jhelum flowed steadily and calmly through a level plain, bearing us along at a comfortable four miles an hour, the crew doing little more than keep steerage-way with pole and paddle.
Beyond the green, tree-studded levels to the south, the range of the Pir Panjal spread wide its array of dazzling peaks, while on the right towered the mountains which enclose the Sind Valley, culminating in the square-headed mass of Haramok. In the clear air the snows seemed quite close, although we knew that the snow-line was really some three thousand feet above the level of the valley.
A day like this, as we sit on the little roof of our floating home watching the silent river unfold its shining curves, goes far to obliterate the memory of the fuss and worry inseparable from the exodus from Srinagar. After lunch we tied up for a while, and I took my gun on shore to try and pick up a few of the duck that dotted the waters of the little lakes or jheels which lay flashing amid the hillocks beyond the river banks. The shores of these being perfectly bare and open, it was obviously impossible to escape the keenly observant eyes of the duck, which appeared, unlike all other birds in Kashmir, to retain their customary wariness.
Crouching low amid the furrows of a newly-ploughed field, I sent the shikari with a knot of natives to the far side of the water, whence they advanced in open line, splashing and shouting.
Presently, with much fuss and indignant quacking, a cloud of duck rose, and, circling after their fashion, as though reluctant to quit their resting-place, gave me several chances of a long shot before, working high into the air, they departed with loud expostulation to some quieter haunt.
Later in the afternoon we tied up to the bank for the night near a large jheel, where we all landed, Charlotte to try a rifle which she had borrowed, and I, if possible, to slay a few more duck, while Jane sat peacefully on a bank and enjoyed the glorious sunset.
The bag having been swelled by the addition of another dozen "specimens"—obtained by the same manoeuvres as before—we strolled back to our ships in the luminous dusk, visions of roast "canard" floating seductively before our mental vision.
There proved to be several varieties of duck among the countless flocks which I saw, notably mallard, teal, pochard, and shoveller. Likewise there were many coots, while herons, disturbed in their meditations by the untoward racket, flapped heavily away with disgusted squawks.
Jane is getting along remarkably well with her Hindustani. I have just found her diary, and hasten to give an extract:—
"Woke up very early; much bitten by pice. Tom started off to try and shoot a burra sahib, as he hears and hopes they've not yet shed all their horns."
"He really looked very nice in his new Pushtoo suit, with putty on his legs and chaplains on his feet.... His chickory walked in front, carrying his bandobast."
"9 A.M.—Sat down to my solitary breakfast of poached ekkas and paysandu tonga, with excellent chuprassies (something like scones). After breakfast, tried on my new kilta, which I have had made quite short for walking. I generally prefer walking to being carried in a pagdandy."
"Then took another lesson in Hindustani from my murghi, though I really think I hardly require it! My attention a good deal distracted by the antics of a pair of bul-buls (not at all the same as our coo-coos) in the jungle overhead."
"7 P.M.—T. returned after what he called a blank blank day. He found some bheesties (one of them a chikor ram or wild ghat) chewing the khud on a precipitous dak."
"They were rather far off, about a mile he thinks, but he couldn't get any nearer owing to a frightful ghari-wallah with deep piasses which lay between, so he put up his ornithoptic sight for 2000 yards and 'pumped lead' into the bheesties for half-an-hour."
"He says he thinks he hit one, but they all went away—as his chickory remarked—'ek dam,' and Tom agreed with him."
"He fell into a budmash on his way home and was half-drowned, but the chickory, assisted by a friendly chota-hazri, managed to pull him out ... quite an eventful day!"
"10 P.M.—The body of the ram chikor has just been brought in. It looks as if it had been dead for weeks, but the doolie, who found it, says that in this climate a few hours is sufficient to obliterate a body.... Anyhow the head and tail seem all right.... Tom says the proper thing to do is to measure something—he can't quite remember whether it is the horns or the tail, but the latter seems the more remarkable, so we measured that, and found it to be 3 feet 4 inches."
"By a little judicious pulling, the chickory, who knows all about measuring things, elongated it to 4 feet 3 inches."
"This, he says, is a 'Record'—how nice!"
Wednesday, April 12.—The place where we tied up was not far from the point where the Jhelum expands into the Wular Lake—a broad expanse of water, some seven or eight miles wide in places, which holds the proud record of being the largest lake in all India.
The mountains rise steeply from its northern shores, and from their narrow glens, squalls swift and strong are said frequently to sweep over the open water, particularly in the afternoons. The bold sailormen of Kashmir are not conspicuous for nautical daring—in fact their flat-bottomed arks, top-heavy and unwieldy, destitute alike of anchor and rudder, are not fit to cope with either wind or wave; they therefore aim at punting hurriedly across the danger space as soon after dawn as may be—panting with exertion and terror, they hustle across the smooth and waveless water, invoking at every breath the protection of local saints.
Long before we had left our beds, and blissfully unconscious of our awful danger, we were striking out for Bandipur, which haven we safely reached about 8 A.M. on a still and glorious morning.
Then came the business of collecting coolies and ponies, and loading them up with the tents and lesser baggage under the direction of Sabz Ali and the shikari.
By nine o'clock we were off. Charlotte and Jane, mounted astride a brace of native ponies, led the way, and, in ragged array, the rest of the procession followed. A quarter of a mile from the landing-place, clustered at the foot of a steep little hill—a spur from the higher ranges—lies the village of Bandipur, dirty and picturesque, with, its rickety-looking wooden houses, and its crowded little bazaar. It is a place of some importance in Kashmir, being the starting-point for the Astor country and Gilgit—and here the sahib on shikar bent, obtains coolies and ponies to take him over the Tragbal Pass into Gurais. A post and telegraph office stands proudly in the middle of the little village, and behind it lies a range of "godowns" filled with stores for the use of a flying column should the British Raj require to send troops quickly along the Gilgit road.
Passing through into the open country, we found ourselves on a good road—good, that is to say, for riding or marching, as no roads in Kashmir are adapted for wheeled traffic excepting the main artery from Baramula to Srinagar, and the greater portion of the route from Srinagar to Gulmarg. This road we followed up a gradually narrowing valley, and over a brawling little river, until at Kralpura the Gilgit road begins the steep ascent to the Tragbal by a series of wide zigzags up the face of a mountain. The pass which we should have had to tackle, had we carried out our original intention of going into Astor for markhor and ibex, is nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, and is still securely and implacably closed to all but the hardiest sportsmen. A short cut, which we took up the hill face, led us through a rough scrub of berberis and wild daphne (the former just showing green and the latter in flower) until, somewhat scant of breath, we regained the road, and followed it to the left up a gorge. As the mountains closed in on either side, we began to look out for the camp, which we knew was not far up the nullah. Presently, turning off the Gilgit road, along a track to the left, we came upon Walter—bearded like the pard—a pard which had left off shaving for about a week. He was pensively sitting on a big sun-warmed boulder, beguiling the time while awaiting us by contemplating the antics of a large family of monkeys, which he pointed out to Jane, to her great joy.
Tender inquiries as to camp and consequent lunch revealed the sad fact that some miles of exceedingly rough path yet lay betwixt us and the haven where we would be.
So we pricked forward, along a sort of cattle track, across dirty snow-filled little gullies, and over rock-strewn slopes, until the white gleam of Walter's tent showed clear on its perch atop of a flat-roofed native hut.
Crossing the stream which tumbled down the valley, by a somewhat "wobbly" bridge, and picking our way through the mixen which forms the approach to every well-appointed hut, we arrived upon the roof which supported the tent. This we achieved without any undue trouble, the building, like most "gujar" homes, being constructed on the side of a hill sufficiently steep to obviate the necessity for any back wall—the rear of the roof springing directly from the hillside. A Gujar village, owing to this peculiarity of construction, always looks oddly like a deposit of great half-open oysters clinging to the face of the hill.
After a welcome lunch, the ladies both pronounced decidedly against remaining in or near the highly-scented precincts of the village. The argument that there was no flat ground excepting roofs to be seen was overruled; so Walter and I climbed a neighbouring ridge, and selected a site on the crest.
It was not, certainly, a very good site for a camp, as it was so narrow that the unwary might easily step over the edge on either side, and toboggan gracefully either back on top of the aforesaid roof, or forward into a very rocky-bedded stream which employed its superfluous energy in tossing some frayed and battered logs from boulder to boulder, and which would have rejoiced greatly in doing the same to a fallen nestling from the eyry above.
Neither was the ridge level, and our tents were pitched at such an angle that the slumberer whose grasp of the bed-head relaxed
"In the mist and shadow of sleep"
was brought to wakefulness by finding his toes gently sliding out into the nipping and eager air of night.
The holding-ground for the tent-pegs was not all that could be desired, and visions of our tents spreading their wings in the gale and vanishing into space haunted us.
No—it was not an ideal camping-ground, and Jane, whose rosy dreams of camping in Kashmir had pictured her little white canvas home set up in a flowery mead by the side of a purling brook, gazed upon the rugged slopes which rose around—the cold snow gleaming through the shaggy pine-trees—with a shiver and a distinct air of disapproval.
It grew more than chilly too, as the sun dipped early behind the ridge that rose jealous between us and the western light, and an icy breeze from the snow came stealing down the gorge and whispering among the taller tree-tops in the nullah at our feet.
We were about 1500 feet above the Wular Lake, and snow lay in thick patches within a few yards of our tents, and had obviously only melted quite recently from the site of the camp, leaving more clammy mud about the place than we really required.
As it is reasonable to suppose that the bilingual lady who composes the fashion columns of the Daily Horror is most anxious to know how the fair sex was accoutred at our dinner party that night, I hasten to inform her that Charlotte was gowned in an elegant confection of Puttoo of a simply indescribable nuance of creme de boue—the train, extremely decolletee at the lower end, cunningly revealing at every turn glimpses of an enchanting pair of frou-frou putties.
The neat bottines, a la Diane Chasseresse, took a charming touch of lightness from the aluminium nails which decorated the "uppers" with a quaint and original Dravidian cornice.
She carried a spring bouquet of wild onions en branche—ornaments (of course), diamonds.
Every one remarked that Jane was simply too lovely for words, as, with the sweet simplicity of an ingenue, en combinaison with the craft of a Machiavella (I beg to point out that I know my Italian genders), she draped her lissom form in the clinging folds of an enormous habit de peau de brebis—portions of ear and the tip of her nose tilted over the edge of the deep turned-up collar, which, on one side, supported the coquettish droop of the hairy "Tammy" that, dexterously pinned to the spikes of a diamond fender, gave a clou to the entire "sac d'artifice."
Walter, having already shot two bara singh and a serow, came under the "statute of limitations" of the Kashmir Game Laws, and had to sound the "cease firing" as regards these animals; but Charlotte and I, having "khubbar" of game, started at 7 A.M. in pursuit. She, attended by Walter and in tow of Asna (the best shikari in all Kashmir), followed up the nullah which lay to our right, while I deflected to the north. Having donned grass shoes, I started off up a very steep slope which rose directly behind the camp. Reaching snow within a few minutes of leaving my tent, I was glad to find it hard and the going good, the early sun not yet having had time to soften and destroy the crisp surface.
Up and up we toiled, I puffing like any grampus—partly by reason of not yet being in good condition, and partly on account of the height, which was probably nearly 9000 feet above sea level. As we rose to the shoulder of the hill the gradient became much easier, and I had leisure to admire the panorama that stretched around the snowy ridge, which fell away abruptly on either side through dense pine forests. The day was quite glorious.... The sun, blazing in a cloudless sky, cast sharp steel-blue shadows where rock or tree stood between the snow and his nobility. The white peaks that rose around in marvellous array seemed so near in the bright air that it seemed as though one could see the smallest creature moving on their distant slopes. But there was little life observable in this still and silent world—nothing but an occasional pair of crows flapping steadily over the woods, or a far vulture circling at a giddy height in the "blue dome of the air." Silence everywhere, except for the distant and perpetual voice of many waters murmuring in the unseen depths below.
To the south—showing clear above the serrated back of the ridge beyond the camp—stood the Pir Panjal; pale ivory in the pale horizon below the sun. At the foot of the valley up which we had come yesterday, and partly screened by the intruding buttresses of its enfolding hills, the Wular Lake lay a shimmering shield of molten silver.
In front, the sheeted mountains which guard Gurais and flank the icy portals of the Tragbal stood, a series of glistening slopes and cold-crowned precipices, while to the east Haramok reared his 17,000 feet into a threefold peak of snowy majesty.
It was a sight to thank God for, and to remember with joy all the days of one's life. Doubtless there are many views as wonderful in this lovely land, but this was the first, and therefore not to be effaced nor its memory dimmed by anything that may come after.
The shikari had not climbed the mountain's brow to waste time over scenery; so, having apparently gone as far as he wanted on the ridge, he plunged down among the silver firs to the right, and I, with my heart in my mouth, went after him. At first it seemed to the inexperienced that we were slithering down the most awful places, and that, should the snow give way, I should have to swiftly embrace the nearest tree to avoid being shot down, a human avalanche, farther than I cared to think. However, I soon found it was all right. A welcome halt for lunch brought the tiffin coolie to the front. A blanket spread upon the hard snow at the foot of a fir made an excellent seat, and a cold roast teal, an apple, and a small flask of whisky were soon exhumed from the basket. Water, or rather the want of it, was a difficulty, for I was uncommonly thirsty, and no sign of any water was to be seen. A judicious blending of the dry teal with bits of succulent apple overcame the drought, and the half-hour for refreshment passed all too quickly.
The men considered it now time to get up some "shikar," so they invented a bear. This was exciting! They had separated (there were four of them) in search of traces of bara singh, &c., and some one found the bear, or its den, or a lock of its wool—I really couldn't quite ascertain which—but fearful excitement was the immediate result.
A consultation took place in frenzied whispers. My rifle was peeled from its case, and we proceeded to scramble stealthily down a horribly steep face much broken by rocks. The shikari being in front with my rifle over his shoulder, I was favoured with frequent glimpses down its ugly black barrel as I, like Jill, "came tumbling after," and I rejoiced that all the cartridges were safely stowed in my own pocket. Well! we searched like conspirators for that bear, peeped round rocks and peered into holes, and anxiously eyed all possible and impossible places where a bear might be supposed to reside, but there was no bear; and at length we arrived on the bank of the torrent which rioted noisily down the bottom of the nullah.
I now began to realise that plunging about in snow, often over one's knees, and scrambling among the fallen tree-trunks and great rocks selected by the torrent to make its bed, was distinctly tiring work!
Presently we came to a bridge over the river. It consisted of a single log, and appeared extremely slender. The stream was not deep enough to drown a man, but, all the same, a slip, sending one into the foaming water among a particularly large and hard collection of boulders, seemed most undesirable, and I stepped across, like Agag, delicately, carefully balancing myself with a khudstick. The men came prancing over as if they were on a good high-road, the careless ease with which they made the passage bordering on impertinence! I reflected, however, that sheep, and such like beasts of humble brain, can stroll upon the brink of gruesome precipices without any fear of falling, and my self-respect returned.
After another half-hour of stiff scrambling I sat down to rest awhile, leaving the men to spy the neighbourhood. Of course they had to find something, so this time they found a "serow"—a somewhat scarce beast. I awaited the coming of the serow at various coigns of vantage where they said it was bound to pass, while the four men surrounded it from different directions. Finally, like the Levite, it passed by on the other side—at least I never saw it. The shikari afterwards informed me, in confidence, that it was, like the inexcusable baby in Peter Simple, "a very little one."
We now made the best of our way down the nullah, and when an apology for a path became apparent I rejoiced greatly, and followed it along its corkscrew course until the camp came suddenly into view as we topped a spur, which gave the path a final excuse for dragging me up a stiff two hundred feet, and then sending me down a knee-shaking descent, for no apparent reason but pure "cussedness."
Charlotte had got home just before me, having seen nothing to shoot at. She, too, seemed anxious for tea!
During the day Sabz Ali had been doing his level best to improve the position in our sleeping-tent. The camp-beds had stood at such an angle that it was almost impossible to avoid sliding gradually into the outer darkness, but S.A. had scraped out earth from the head, and filled up a terrace at the foot, in a way which gave us hope of sound sleep. Our things had been carefully stowed, too, and a sort of hole scooped for the bath. Luxury stared us in the face!
The sunset certainly was a little dull last night, but we were quite unprepared for the dreary aspect of Dame Nature to which we awoke this morning. It was raining very heavily, and a dense pall of mist hung low among the pines, giving an impression of melancholy durability.
There was obviously nothing to do but exist as cheerfully as might be until the weather improved. The wet had shrunk canvas and rope gear till the tent-guys were as taut as fiddle-strings; and as it did not seem to have occurred to any of the servants to attend to this, an immediate tour of the camp had to be undertaken, in "rubbers" and waterproofs, to slack off guys and inspect the drainage system, as we had no wish to have our earthen floor—already sufficiently cold and clammy—turned into an absolute swamp.
These things done, we scuttled and slid down to the mess tent, and breakfasted as best we might; and the best was surprisingly good, considering the difficulties the wretched servants must have had in cooking anything in their wet lair, where the miserable fire of damp sticks produced apparently little but acrid smoke.
We passed a dismal day, as, wrapped in our warmest clothes, we sat upon our beds watching the rain turn to snow, then to hail and sleet, and finally back to rain again; while the ever-changing wisps of grey mist gathered thick in the glens, or "put forth an arm and crept from pine to pine."
Towards evening the clouds broke a little, and the forest-clad steeps appeared through them, powdered thickly with new snow. Walter and I sallied forth from our sodden tents and held a council of war in the mud. It was decided to quit our somewhat unsatisfactory and precarious position early to-morrow, if fine, as the weather looked so nasty, and a squall of wind might have awkward consequences.
Friday, April 14.—A very fairly fine morning enabled us to strike camp yesterday, and get the baggage off in good time. The Smithsons decided to make for the jheels near the river, in order to give the duck a final worry round before the season closes on the 15th.
My shikari having reported a good bara singh in a small nullah off the Erin, I arranged to go in search of him. The march down to Bandipur was a short and easy one, and we got comfortably settled on board our boats early in the afternoon. About sunset the clouds gathered thick over the hills which we had left, and a thunderstorm broke, its preliminary squall throwing the crews of our fleet into a fearful fuss, and sending them on to the bank with extra ropes and holdfasts to make all secure. An elderly lady, with a dirty red cap and very untidy ringlets, superintended the business with much clamour. We take her to be the wife or grandmother (not sure which) of the skipper.
It was with an undoubted sense of solid comfort that we lay in our cosy beds under a wooden roof, whereon the fat rain-drops sputtered, while the thunder still crackled and banged in the distance!
We shifted before dawn to a small village a couple of miles to the east, and at 6.30 Jane and I set out to attack the bara singh, of which the shikari held out high hope. My wife, mounted on a rough pony, was able to accomplish with great comfort the two miles of flat country which we had to traverse before turning off sharp to the right along a track which led steeply upwards through the scrub that clothed the lower part of the nullah.
There is something unusually charming in the dawn here—the crisp, buoyant air, the silent hills, their lower slopes and corries still a purple mystery; on high, the silver peaks—looking ridiculously close—change swiftly from their cold pallor into rosy life at the first touch of the risen sun.
The first part of our day's work was easy enough. The sun was still hidden from us behind the mountain flange on our left; the snow patches on the sky-line ahead seemed comparatively near, and the diabolical swiftness of the shikari's stealthy walk was yet to be fully realised.
Up and up we went, first through a thick scrub or jungle of a highly prickly description, over a few small streams, then out upon a grassy ridge, up which we slowly panted. The gradient became sharper, and I began to feel a little anxious about Jane, as the short, brown grass was slippery with frost—a slip would be very easy, and the results unpleasant. However, with the able assistance of the shikari, she did very well, and, having crossed a shelving patch of snow by cutting steps with our khudstick, we found ourselves, after an hour and a half's stiff climbing, on the sky-line of the ridge that had seemed but an easy stroll from below. The heights and distances are most deceptive, partly on account of the crystal clearness of the air, and partly because of the magnitude of everything in proportion. The mountains are not only high themselves, but their spurs and foothills would rank as able-bodied mountains were they not dwarfed by peaks which average 15,000 feet in height above the sea. The pines which clothe their sides, the chenars and poplars in the valley, are all enormous when compared with their European cousins.
The view was most remarkable as we gained the crest of the ridge—a sea of white cloud came boiling up from the valley to the east, and, pouring over the saddle upon which we stood, gave only occasional glimpses of snow and pine and precipice above, or the glint of water in the rice-fields far below. Once, between the swirling cloud masses, the near hills lay clear in the sunshine for a few moments and revealed a party of five bara singh hinds, crossing the slope in front of us, and not more than 150 yards away. Alas! there was no stag.
This was not satisfactory weather for stalking. However I was hopeful, as I have noticed that in the fine forenoons a thick white belt of cloud often forms about the snow level—roughly, some 8000 feet above the sea, or 3000 above the Wular Lake—and hangs there for an hour or two, to disappear entirely by midday. And so it came about to-day; after a halt for tiffin, I set forward in brilliant sunshine, while Jane remained quietly perched on the hillside, as the shikari said the road was not good for a lady. The shikari was right, as, within ten minutes of starting, we had to drop from the crest of the ridge to circumvent a big rock which barred our way, to find ourselves confronted by a very unpleasant-looking slope of short brown grass, which fell away at an angle of about 50 deg. to what seemed an endless depth. This grass, having only just become emancipated from its winter snow, had all its hair—so to speak—brushed straight down, and there was mighty little stuff to hold on to! Carefully digging little holes with our khudsticks, and not disdaining the help of my shikari, I got across, and thankfully scrambled back to the safety of the ridge.
Now we reached snow, and the going became easier, whereupon Ahmed Bot promptly set a pace which left me struggling far behind. As the sun grew stronger the surface-crust of the snow became soft, and at every few steps one went through to the knees, until both muscles and temper became sorely tried. For an hour or so we kept climbing up what was evidently one of the many steep and rugged ranges which, radiating from Haramok, on this side flank the Wular with their lofty bastions. Having apparently attained the height he deemed necessary, and got well above the part of the pine forest in which he expected to find game, Ahmed Bot turned to the left of the ridge, and we were immediately involved in the deep drifts which covered the pine-clad slope of the nullah. Over snow-covered trunks of prostrate trees, over hidden holes and broken rocks, we toiled and scrambled until, emerging breathless on a bare knoll—smooth and white as a great wedding-cake—we obtained a searching view into the neighbouring gullies. Still no sign or track of any "beast," so we worked back until, tired and hot, I regained the place where Madame lay basking beneath her sunshade. The shikari and his myrmidons departed to "look" another bit of country, while I, nothing loth, remained to await events in the neighbourhood of the refreshment department.
On the return of the men, who had of course seen nothing, we set off for home, climbing down the edge of the ridge where yellow colchicum starred the turf. It was steep—verging on the precipitous in places—and Jane frankly expressed her satisfaction when we accomplished the worst part and entered a dense jungle of scrubby bushes, all of which seemed to grow spines of sorts. A bear was said to have been seen here yesterday, so we kept our weather eyelids lifting, but were not favoured with a sight of him. We had almost gained the bottom of the hill, with but two short miles to dinner and a tub, when weird shrieks and whistles were exchanged between our people and an excited villager below. The shikari, his eyes gleaming with uncontrollable excitement, announced that the "big stag" was waiting for me at that very moment!—and therewith Ahmed Bot dashed off down the hill, leaving me to follow as best I might. Leaving my wife in charge of the tiffin coolie, I tumbled off after the shikari, whom I found gloating with the messenger over the inspiriting particulars of the monarch of the glen, which, I understood, crouched expectant some paltry 2000 feet above us, near the top of the nullah!
It was past six o'clock, and the light already showing signs of waning, so we lost no time in attacking the hill again. I was pretty well "done," and had to accept a tow from the shikari, and hand in hand we pressed up that accursed hill until, at seven o'clock, the sun set and it began to grow dusk. Lying down near the edge of the snow, to gain breath and let the shikari crawl round and "look" the face of the hill, I was soon moved to activity by the news that the stag was lying under a pine tree within a few hundred yards. A short "crawl" brought me within sight of the beast, who lay half-hidden by a rock. It was now so dark that even with my glasses I could only make sure that it was a "horn beast" and not a hind; there was no time to lose, so, putting up my sight for 150 yards, I let him have it, and was nearly as much surprised as gratified to see him roll out on the snow to the shot. My vexation and disgust may be imagined when I found the noble beast to be a miserable 8-pointer, which I would never have fired at if I could have seen its head properly. Heartily consigning the shikari, together with the mendacious villager and all his kind, to a hot place, I dolefully stumbled away downhill again in the gathering dark, and finally deposited my weary and dejected self on board the boat, after fourteen hours of the hardest walking I have ever done.
There is a confused tale prevalent that the bear, taking a mean advantage of my absence, has been down to the village and eaten a few ponies, or frightened them—I can't make out which.
BACK TO SRINAGAR
Easter Day, April 23.—We left the Erin district early in the morning following the bara singh fiasco, and punted and poled up the river to join the Smithsons in a last attack upon the duck. We found the bold Colonel,
"Rough with slaughter and red with fight,"
enjoying himself hugely among the jheels, and we prepared to join in the fray; but our chasse was put an end to by the discovery that the 14th, and not the 15th, was the last legal day for shooting. So we packed away our guns and towed up to Srinagar, which we reached on Sunday afternoon.
Our brief experience of camping and "shikar" had proved to my wife that she was not cast in the heroic mould of a female Nimrod. Not being a shot herself—as Charlotte is—she saw that, as far as she was concerned, a shooting expedition with the Smithsons would entail a great deal of solitary rumination in camp, while the rest of the party pursued the red bear to his den, or chased the nimble markhor up and down the precipices. The joys of reading, knitting, and washing the family clothes might—probably would—pall after a time; and the physical exertion of "walking with the guns" in Kashmir is decidedly more of an undertaking than over a Perthshire grouse moor! Our original arrangement, before coming out to join the Smithsons, was that the time should be spent in camping, boating, "loafing," and shooting. Being perfectly ignorant of the conditions of life out here, we were unaware of the fact that it is practically impossible to combine serious shooting with any other form of amusement. In Scotland one may stalk one day, fish the next, and golf the third, but out here it is not so. The worshipper of Diana must be prepared to sacrifice everything else at her shrine; he must go far afield, and be prepared to live hard and work hard, and even then it may befall that his trophies of the chase are none too plentiful. That will depend a good deal on his shikari and his own knowledge, together with luck.
Walter had the good fortune to come upon two fine stags not far from his camp almost as soon as he got there. He was within fifty yards of them as they were moving slowly in deep snow, and he killed them both; the best of these was a remarkably fine 10-pointer, length of horn 41 inches and span 38-1/2 inches. His wife spent an equal time in the same neighbourhood and never saw anything.
When we talked over plans with Colonel and Mrs. Smithson at Pindi, the general idea had crystallised into a scheme for going into Astor to shoot, immediately upon our arrival in Kashmir, and, in order to reach Srinagar before April 1st—the date of issue of shooting passes—we had struggled hard to make our way into the country before it was really attractive to the ordinary visitor.
When we did reach Srinagar we found that our friends had abandoned all idea of an expedition to Astor, partly on account of expense, but principally on account of the backwardness of the season, which practically precluded ladies from crossing the Tragbal and Boorzil Passes for some time. The merits and demerits of the Tilail district and Baltistan came up for review, and then we almost decided to go to Leh until we reflected that the return journey over a bare and open country—arid and hot as an Egyptian desert—in the month of August might not be unmixed joy, and the Smithsons were assured that they would find no sport whatever en route, but would have to go several marches beyond Leh to obtain the chance of an Ovis Ammon or Thibetan antelope.
The Leh scheme thus having come to naught, and our friends being still wholly intent on "shikar" to the exclusion of all other pursuits, we decided to be independent, so we hired a nice-looking boarded dounga, whose fresh and clean appearance pleased us, for a term of three months. Nedou's Hotel offered so few attractions and so many drawbacks that we were prepared to do anything rather than return to it, and, as a matter of economy, we scored heavily, as, on working it out, we found that the boat, including the cook-boat, would cost 60 rupees per month. Our food and the wages of those servants whom we should not have required at the hotel came to approximately 80 rupees per month, making a total of 140 rupees, or L9, 6s. 8d.; whereas our hotel bill would have come to 12 rupees per day, without extras—or 360 rupees (L24) per month—a clear saving in money as well as in comfort.
Our new habitation—the house dounga Moon—was owned and partly worked by Satarah, an astute old rascal, whose "tawny beard," like Hudibras'—
"Was the equal grace Both of his wisdom and his face; In cut and dye so like a tyle A sudden view it would beguile: The upper part whereof was whey, The nether orange mixt with grey."
His costume consisted of a curious sort of short nightgown worn over white and flappy trousers, below which were revealed a pair of big, flat naval feet. The first lieutenant, Sabhana—sleek and civil-spoken, but desperately afraid of work—was, we understand, son-in-law to the Admiral Satarah, having to wife the Lady Jiggry, eldest daughter of that worthy, who, with her younger sisters Nouri, Azizi, and "the Baba," completed the ship's company.
The Moon differed from an ordinary house-boat in being narrower, and possessing a long bow and stern which projected far enough from the body of the boat to enable men to pole or paddle with ease; a house-boat can only be towed. On embarking by means of a narrow gangway—a plank possessed of an uncontrollable desire to "tip-up" at unexpected and disconcerting moments—one entered first a small vestibule, or "ante-cabin," which held our big boxes and opened into the drawing-room—quite a roomy apartment, about fifteen feet by ten feet, fitted with a fireplace, a rough writing-table, and overmantel, surmounted by a photograph—something faded—of Mrs. Langtry! A small table and a couple of deck chairs graced the floor, while upon the walls a heterogeneous collection of pictures, including a coloured lithograph of a cottage and a brook, a fearful and wonderful portrayal of an otter, and a very fancy stag of unlimited points dazzled the eye. The ceiling was decorated with an elaborate and most effective design in wood—a fashion very common in Srinagar, consisting of a sort of patchwork panelling of small pieces of wood, cut to length and shape, and tacked on to a backing in geometrical designs. At a little distance the effect is rich and excellent, but close inspection shows up the tintacks and the glue, and a prying finger penetrates the solid-looking panel with perfect ease.
The drawing-room was separated from the dining "saloon" by a sliding door—which frequently refused to slide at all, or else perversely slid so suddenly as to endanger finger-tips and cause unseemly words to flow. This noble apartment of elegant dimensions (to borrow the undefiled English of the house-agent) could contain four feasters at a pinch. Sabz Ali having cooked the dinner, the cook-boat was laid alongside, and Sabz Ali, clambering in and out of the window, proceeded to serve the repast, a black paw, presumably belonging to Ayata, the kitchenmaid-man, appearing from time to time to retrieve the soiled plates or hand up the next course.
A funny little sideboard and cupboard contained a slender stock of knives, forks, and glasses, and part of a broken-down dinner set, while the fireplace easily held three dozen of soda-water.
Then came Jane's bedroom, fitted with a cupboard and shelves, which were a constant source of covetousness to me, who had none. A small bathroom completed our suite of apartments, and, after the bare boards of the Cruiser, the Moon seemed to overflow with luxury.
We have been taking life easily here for the last week. The Smithsons intend going into Tilail as soon as the Tragbal becomes feasible; we propose to remain in Srinagar for a while. The weather has not been very fine—cold winds and a good deal of rain, varied by thunderstorms, being our daily experience. The spring is, I am told, exceptionally backward, and, although the almond is in full and lovely flower, the poplars and chenars are barely showing a sign of life.
My wife having gone to lunch at the Residency this afternoon, I walked half-way up the Takht-i-Suleiman, whose sharp, rock-strewn pyramid rises a thousand feet above Srinagar.
The view of the Kashmir plain, through which the river winds like a silver snake; the solemn ring of mountains, enclosing the valley with a rampart of rock and snow; the innumerable roofs of the city, glittering like burnished scales in the keen sunlight, densely clustered round the fort-crowned height of Hari Parbat, went to make up such a picture as Turner would have kneeled to.
Of course it is simply futile to compare one magnificent view with another which differs entirely in kind. All that one can do is to lay by in the memory a mental picture-gallery of recollection; and as I sat in the shelter of a big rock, gazing out over the level plain stretching below, where the changing shadows as they swept by turned the amber masses of the trees to gold, I conjured up in my mind's eye other scenes whose beauties will remain with me while life shall last:—The purple and gold of a glorious sunset over Etna, the Greek theatre of Taormina in front of me, with the sea below—a shimmering opal that melted away in the haze beyond Syracuse; the awful rapids raging furiously below Niagara, a very ocean tortured and maddened to blind fury, pouring its irresistible torrents through the chasm above the whirlpool; and again, a cloudless October morning, with just the keen zest of early autumn in the air, as I lay high up on a hillside in Ardgour watching for deer—with the hills of Lochaber and Ballachulish reflected in all their glory of purple and russet in the waters of Loch Linnhe, windless and still!
Chills can be caught amidst the most glorious scenery—the little tufts of purple self-heal at my feet were shivering and shaking in a biting breeze that swept down from the snows to the north-east, and although I am an admirer of Kingsley, I do not hold with him in his wrong-headed admiration for a "nor'-easter"—so I quitted my perch in search of tea.
Easter Monday.—The Smithsons scuttled away in a great hurry to-day, their shikari, Asna (the best shikari in Kashmir), having heard that, owing to the lateness of the season, the bara singh have not even yet all shed their horns—so Charlotte is filled with high hope. The bears, too, are said to be waking from their winter's doze and poking around in warm and balmy corners.
Armed to the teeth and thirsting for blood, the hunter and the huntress cast loose their matted dounga and paddled away merrily down the Jhelum to Bandipur, thence to pursue the royal bara singh, and later, if possible, scale the snow-barred slopes of the Tragbal and penetrate the lonely Tilail Valley to assail the red bear and the multitudinous ibex.
Jane and I having decided that a purely shikar expedition into the more difficult parts of the country was not suited to our prosaic habits, remained to enjoy the effeminate pleasures of Srinagar till the weather should grow a few degrees warmer.
As we are bidden to a sort of state luncheon to-morrow, given by the Maharajah, it appeared to me to be but right and seemly to go and inscribe my name in the visitors' book of His Highness, and also to call upon his brother, the Rajah Sir Amar Singh. I went with the more alacrity as I thought it might prove interesting. Strolling across the big bridge above the Palace, I soon found myself in the purely native quarter, immersed in a seething crowd of men and beasts, from beneath whose passing feet a cloud of dust rose pungent. The water-sellers, the hawkers of vegetables and of sweets, the cattle, the loafers and the children got into the way and out of it in kaleidoscopic confusion. By the side of the street, money-changers, wrapped in silent consideration, bent over their trays of queer and outlandish coins. Bright cottons and silks flaunted pennons of gorgeous colours. Brass, glowing like gold, rose piled on low wide counters. In front stood the Palace, looking its best from this point, and showing huge beside the huddle of wooden and plaster huts which hem it in.
General Raja Sir Amar Singh lives in a sort of glorified English villa. Were it not for the flowering oleanders and hibiscus in front and the silvery gleam of temple domes beyond, one might suppose oneself near the banks of Father Thames. And were it not for the group of stalwart retainers at the door, the illusion need not be lost on entering the house.
The hall and staircase were decorated with a profusion of skins and horns, somewhat modern and brilliant rugs, and tall glasses full of flowers closely copied from Nature; while the drawing-room was of a type very frequently seen near London.
Like so many British reception-rooms, it shone replete with objets d'art, rather inclining to Oriental luxury than Japanese restraint.
My host, who came in almost immediately, was charming, speaking English with fluency, although he has never been in England.
He is essentially a strong man, and remarkably well posted in everything, both political and social, that occurs in the state, mixing far more freely than his brother with the English, towards whom his courtesy is proverbial.
His elder brother, the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, is in many respects of a different type. Keeping more aloof from the English colony, he spends much of his time in devotion and the privacy of the inner Palace.
On leaving Sir Amar Singh, one of his henchmen conducted me across the iron bridge spanning a cut from the Jhelum, and into the warren-like precincts of the Palace; presently we emerged from an obscure passage, and found ourselves at the "front door," where, in the visitors' book, by means of the stumpy pencil attached thereto, I inscribed my name and condition.
April 27.—His Highness the Maharajah having invited us to a luncheon given by him in honour of Colonel Pears, the new Resident, we prepared to cross the famous Dal Lake to the Nishat Bagh, the scene of the present feast, which we fondly hoped might recall the glorious days of the Moguls when Jehangir dallied in the historic Shalimar with the fair Nourmahal.
"Th' Imperial Selim held a feast In his magnificent Shalimar:— In whose saloons ... The valleys' loveliest all assembled."
Our shikara, a sort of canoe paddled by four active fellows, with the stern, where we sat on cushions, carefully screened from the sun by an awning, was brought alongside the dounga at about 11.30, as we had some seven or eight miles to accomplish before reaching the Nishat Bagh.
Leaving the main river just above the Club, we paddled down the Sunt-i-kul Canal, which runs between the European quarter and the Takht-i-Suleiman, the rough brown hill which, crowned with its temple, forms a constant background to Srinagar.
The canal was closely lined with house-boats and their satellite cook-boats, clinging to the poplar-shaded banks. The golf-links lay on our left, and on a low spur to the right stood the hospital, which the energy and philanthropy of the Neves has gained for the remarkably ungrateful Kashmiri. It is told that a man, being exceedingly ill, was cared for and nursed during many weeks in the Mission Hospital, his whole family likewise living on the kindly sahibs. When he was cured and shown the door, he burst into tears because he was not paid wages for all the time he had spent in hospital!
Just before entering the waterway of noble chenars, known as the Chenar Bagh (a camping-ground reserved for bachelors only), we ported our helm (or at least would have done so had there been any rudders in Kashmir), and pushed through the lock-gate, which gives entrance to the Dal Lake, against a brisk current.
This gate, cunningly arranged upon the non-return-valve principle, is normally kept open by the current from the Dal; but if the Jhelum, rising in flood, threatens to pour back into the lake and swamp the low ground and floating gardens, it closes automatically, and so remains sealed until the outward flow regains the mastery.
A sharp bout of paddling, puffing, and splashing shot us into the peaceful waters of the Dal Lake, over which every traveller has gushed and raved. It is difficult, indeed, not to do so, for it is truly a dream of beauty.
A placid sheet of still water, its surface only broken here and there by the silvery trails of rippled wake left by the darting shikaras or slow-moving market boats, lay before us, shining in the crystal-clear atmosphere. On the right rose the Takht, his thousand feet of rocky stature dwarfed into insignificance by holy Mahadeo and his peers, whose shattered peaks ring round the lake to the north, their dark cliffs and shaggy steeps mirrored in its peaceful surface.
On the lower slopes strong patches of yellow mustard and white masses of blossoming pear-trees rose behind the tender green fringe of the young willows.
As we swept on, the lake widened. On the left a network of water lanes threaded the maze of low-growing brushwood and whispering reeds, and round us extended the half-submerged patches of soil which form the celebrated "floating gardens" of the lake. From any point of view except the utilitarian, these gardens are a fraud. A combination of matted and decaying water-plants, mud, and young cabbages kept in place by rows and thickets of willow scrub, is curious, but not lovely; and our eyes turned away to where Hari Parbat raised his crown of crumbling forts above the native city, or to the mysterious ruins of Peri Mahal, clinging like a swallow's nest to the shelving slopes above Gupkar.
"Still onward; and the clear canal Is rounded to as clear a lake;"
and we emerged from the willow-fringed water lanes, and saw across the wider shield of glistering water the white cube of the Nishat Bagh Pavilion—the Garden of Joy, made for Jehangir the Mogul—standing by the water's edge, and at its foot a great throng and clutter of boats, amidst whose snaky prows we pushed our way and landed, something stiff after sitting for two hours in a cramped shikara.
Other guests—some thirty in all—were arriving, either like us by boat, or by carriage via Gupkar, and we strolled in groups up the sloping gardens, which still show, in their wild and unrestrained beauty, the loving touch of the long-vanished hand of the Mogul.
Down seven wide grassy terraces a series of fountains splashed and twinkled in the sun. Broad chenars, just beginning to break into leaf, gave promise of ample shade against the day when the blaze should become overpowering. So far so good, but the grass that bordered the path was not the sweet green turf of an English lawn, and the way was edged by big earthen pots, into which were hastily stuck wisps of iris blooms and Persian lilac. The topmost terrace widened out, enclosing a large basin of clear water, in the middle of which played a fountain. On one side was raised a marquee, revealing welcome preparations for lunch. On the opposite side of the fountain a profusion of chairs, shaded by a great awning, stood expectantly facing a bandstand. Here we were welcomed by His Highness, a somewhat small man with exceedingly neat legs and an enormous white pugaree, in his customary gracious manner.
It was now half-past two, and we had breakfasted early, so that a move towards the luncheon tent was most welcome. Finding the fair lady whom I was detailed to personally conduct, and the ticketed place where I was to sit, I prepared to make a Gargantuan meal. Was it not almost on this very spot that
"The board was spread with fruit and wine, With grapes of gold, like those that shine On Casbin's hills;—pomegranates full Of melting sweetness, and the pears And sunniest apples that Cabul In all its thousand gardens bears. Plantains, the golden and the green, Malaya's nectar'd mangusteen; Prunes of Bokara, and sweet nuts From the far groves of Samarcand, And Basra dates, and apricots, Seed of the sun, from Iran's land;— With rich conserve of Visna cherries, Of orange flowers, and of those berries That, wild and fresh, the young gazelles Feed on in Erac's rocky dells.. Wines, too, of every clime and hue Around their liquid lustre threw; Amber Rosolli.. And Shiraz wine, that richly ran.. Melted within the goblets there!"
This reckless, but unsubstantial and very unwholesome meal, was not for us, and while waiting patiently for the first course to appear, I glanced down the long table to admire the decorations. They were delightful, consisting of glass flower-vases spaced regularly along the festive board, and filled to overflowing with tufts and clumps of flowers. Innumerable plates filled with fruit and sweetmeats graced the feast, and a magnificent array of knives and forks gave promise of good things to come.
Presently the expected dainties arrived, resembling but little the lately-described poetic feast; a strict attention to business enabled us to keep the wolf from the door, and a very cheerful party finally emerged from the big tent to stroll by the fountains that flashed under the chenars.
The Maharajah, of course, did not lunch with us, but held aloof, peeping occasionally into the cook-house to satisfy himself that the lions were being fed properly, and in accordance with their unclean customs.
Finally, he and his chief officers of state vanished into a secluded tent, where he probably took a little refreshment, having first carefully performed the ablutions necessary after the contamination of the unbeliever.
His Highness reappeared from nowhere in particular as his guests strolled across the terrace, and, after a little polite conversation, we took our leave and set forth for Srinagar.
It was a glorious afternoon, and we deeply regretted that time would not permit us to visit the neighbouring Shalimar Bagh, which lay hidden among the trees near by. The excursion must remain a "hope deferred" for the present, as we had again to thread the maze of half-submerged melon plots and miniature kitchen gardens which, even in the golden glow of a perfect evening, could not be made to fit in with our preconceived ideas of "floating gardens." Jane was frankly disappointed, as she admitted to having pictured in her mind's eye a series of peripatetic herbaceous borders in full flower, cruising about the lake at their own sweet will and tended by fair Kashmirian maidens.
By-the-bye, here let me expose, once for all, the fallacy of Moore's drivel about the lovely maids of fair "Cashmere." There are none! This appears a startling statement and a sweeping; but, as a matter of fact, the Eastern girl is not left, like her Western sister, to flirt and frivol into middle age in single "cussedness," but almost invariably becomes a respectable married lady at ten or twelve, and drapes her lovely, but not over clean, head in the mantle of old sacking, which it is de rigueur for matrons to adopt.
The good Tommy Moore did not know this, but, letting his warm Irish imagination run riot through a mixed bag of Eastern romancists and their works, he evolved, amid a pot pourri of impossibilities, an impossible damsel as unlike anything to be found in these parts as the celebrated elephant evolved from his inner consciousness by the German professor!
As I traversed the main, or rolled by train, From my Western habitation, I frequently thought—perhaps more than I ought— Upon many a quiet occasion Of the elegant forms and manifold charms Of the beautiful female Asian.
For the good Tommy Moore, in his pages of yore, Sang as though he could never be weary Of fair Nourmahal—an adorable "gal"— And of Paradise and the Peri, Until, I declare, I was wild to be where I might gaze on the lovely Kashmiri.
Through the hot plains of Ind I fled like the wind, Unenchanted by mistress or ayah, The dusky Hindu, I soon saw, wouldn't do, So I paused not, until in the sky——Ah!— Far upward arose the perpetual snows And the peaks of the proud Himalaya.
But in Kashmir, alas! I found not a lass Who answered to Tommy's description— For the make of such maid I am sadly afraid The fond parents have lost the prescription, And I murmured; "No doubt, the old breed has died out, At least such is my honest conviction."
In the horrible slums which form the foul homes Of the rag-covered dames of the city, I saw wrinkled hags, all wrapped in old rags, Whose appearance excited but pity. Beyond question the word which it would be absurd To apply to these ladies is "pretty."
In the high Gujar huts were but brats and old sluts, These last being the plainest of women; Then I sought on the waters the sisters and daughters Of the Mangis—those "bold, able seamen" (I have often been told that the Mangi is bold, And as brave as at least two or three men).
One lady I saw—I am told her papa In the market did forage and "gram" sell— Decked all over with rings, necklets, bangles and things, She appeared a desirable damsel; And I cried "Oh, Eureka! I've found what I seek: Tell me quick—Is she 'madam' or 'ma'mselle'?"
It was comical, but to this question I put— A remarkably innocent query— I received but a sigh or evasive reply, Or a blush from the modest Kashmiri; And I gathered at last that the lady was "fast," And her name should be Phryne, not Here.
Toddled up a small tot—her hair tied in a knot— Who remarked, "I can hardly consider You've the ghost of a chance on this wild-goosie dance Unless you should hap on a 'widder!' For our maidens at ten—ay, and less now and then— Are all booked to the wealthiest bidder."
"My dear man, it's no use to indulge in abuse Of our customs, so be not enraged, sir— No woman a maid is—we're all married ladies. Our charms very early are caged, sir— I'm eleven myself," remarked the small elf, "And a year ago I was engaged, sir!"
Ah, well! The country is the loveliest I ever saw, and that goes far to make up for its disgusting population.
Here, indeed, it is that
"Every prospect pleases, and only man is vile."
We stopped to look at the ruins of an ancient mosque, built in the days of Akbar by the Shiahs. Its remains may be deeply interesting to the archaeologist, but to me a neighbouring ziarat, wooden, with its grassy roof one blaze of scarlet tulips, was far more attractive. Moving homeward, we floated under a lovely old bridge, whose three rose-toned arches date from the sixteenth century—the age of the Great Moguls. The extreme solidity of its piers contrasts strongly with the exceedingly sketchy (and sketchable) bridges manufactured by the Kashmiri.
In fairness, though, I must point out that, as the bridge in Kashmir usually spans a stream liable at almost any moment to overwhelming floods, it would appear to be a sound idea to build as flimsily as possible, with an eye to economical replacement.
The Kashmiri carries this plan to its logical conclusion when he fells a tree across a raging torrent, and calls it a bridge, to the unutterable discomfiture of the Western wayfarer.
 That lady subsequently killed a remarkably good 13-pointer bara singh and some bears in October.
May 1.—The pear and cherry blossom has been so lovely in and around Srinagar that we determined to go to the Lolab Valley and see the apple blossom in full flower.
We started in some trepidation, for the warm weather lately has melted much snow on the hills, and Jhelum is so full that we were told that our three-decker would be unable to pass under the city bridges—of which there are seven. We decided to see for ourselves, so set forth about eleven, and soon came to the first bridge, the Amira Kadal, which carries the main tonga road into Srinagar, tying up just above it, amid the clamour and jabber of an idle crowd.
The Admiral solemnly measured the clear space between the top of the arch and the water with a long pole, consulted noisily with the crowd, yelled his ideas to the crew, and decided to attempt the passage.
Hen-coops, chairs, half-a-dozen flower-pots containing sickly specimens of plants, and all other movables being cleared from the upper deck, we set sail, and shot the bridge very neatly, only having a few inches of daylight between the upper deck and the wooden beams upon which the roadway rests.