Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

from the foot of the hills up to the hill-station of Naini Tal. Road-constructing is a very important operation, which comes necessarily into the work of Forest Officers ; therefore I make no apology for including it in these recollections, and describing the work and its incidents first. Next will follow the story of the surveying of the forests, both in the hills and in the plains of North-West and Central India. Lastly I will treat of later experiences in the duties of a Forest Conservator, and the management of forests generally, and work in the districts of Gorakhpur and the Nerbudda valley and Satpura hills, in the Central Provinces.

1

THE FORESTS OF UPPER INDIA

CHAPTER I

FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE HIMALAYAN FOREST

[ocr errors]

A LINE of deep red along the eastern horizon was the first signal of dawn, after a hot night of pitchy blackness.

The morning of October 16, 1861, was breaking. The dust of an unmetalled road, with the dense smoke of flaring torches, had filled the air all night long and made it unbreathable. The monotonous 'Huh, huh! huh, huh !' of the black and perspiring kahars, or dooly-bearers, as they struggled along under the weight of a primitive apparatus, made of canvas stretched on a rough framework, and called a 'dooly,' had made the night appear everlasting. There had never been a chance of five minutes' consecutive sleep for the weary traveller reclining within. The long bamboo on which the vehicle hung, borne on the shoulders of four men, while four more ran beside, taking shift every five minutes, following the masalchi, or torch-bearer, swung horribly from the trotting motion of the bearers. The suffering traveller who was borne along on that sultry night through the Terai, by the broad straight road leading from Bareilly to the foot of the Himalayan hills, would occasionally express his dissatisfaction at the swinging motion by plaintive commands. Step out of time' is the usual form of instruction given by the chaudhri, or head bearer; for the art of carrying a dooly steadily at a semi-running pace is never to step in time together, an error which causes the bamboo to bend with the steps of the kahars, and the unlucky passenger to be shot up and down on the elastic cordlaced bottom of the dooly like a pea on a drum. Each man is ready enough to give the order to his bhai or brother, but the steps would invariably relapse into the regular beat, of which a soldier marching would be proud, and the pole would bend and rebound with provoking elasticity. The sliding-doors at each side, if closed to keep out the dust and flare of the smelly torches, would also exclude what slight air might be stirring, and the heat inside would be stilling. Added to these discomforts, the uncertainty of finding the fresh relays of bearers at each ten mile chauki, or change, and the yelling of the tired men to announce their arrival to the fresh bearers, who might be asleep by the roadside, or perhaps still in their village, had also a disturbing effect on the traveller's sleep. Ditto the demands for backshish in addition to the legal pay already given when the dak is laid, in consideration for the unexceptionable excellence of the manner in which the stage had been performed.

Notwithstanding these drawbacks, the traveller generally found himself at the end of his forty or fifty miles' night journey by dooly dak not much the worse for a bad night's rest. He could lie at full length, and had the comfort of his own pillow and blankets, also a store of provisions and—most important-drink on the shelf above his toes. When used to it, a night's journey was about the easiest way of avoiding the sun and getting over a good many miles of road where wheeled vehicles could not travel at all, crossing ravines and water-pools in perfect safety. It was considered in those days quite luxurious. The traveller's light portmanteaux were borne by bahangi wallahs, who accompanied the dak, swung at each end of the bahangi, an elastic yoke of split bamboo, across its bearer's shoulder. In these days of railway travelling, with sleeping and dining cars and every modern improvement, the comfort of the passenger may be superior, but he does not gain any experience of the country he passes rapidly through. He scarcely sees the scenery, and has often not an idea what the physical character of the land is like, or the people inhabiting it. His eye dwells more on the pattern of the lining of the railway carriages than the beauties of nature, and his ear, instead of receiving the new sounds of interest afforded by the language of the natives, becomes weary of the steam whistle and the invitation to feed of the cosmopolitan waiter. To have travelled through India in the old ways, by dooly dak, gharry dak, and bullock-train, not to speak of marching and the more rapid post-cart, is an experience worth having gone through. These thoroughly Indian methods of locomotion, the only ones in John Company's days, were no doubt tedious and full of discomfort; but the pleasure and excitement of seeing a new country on the same level as its inhabitants, and in the true Oriental manner customary in India from times immemorial, leave an impression of interest on the mind never afterwards effaced.

The breaking of the glorious day in India after such a night of darkness and uncertainty is a pleasant relief. Weariness and relaxation rapidly give way to freshness and a feeling of exhilaration as the crisp morning air is felt, and the light rapidly increases till the sun makes its way upwards. The first glimpse of the great wall of forest-clad mountains is obtained through the long vista ahead. The swamps and tall feathery jungle-grass of the Terai had been passed in the darkness twenty miles astern, and had given place to the dark green forests of the Bhabar through which the road was cut. This great belt of jungle, principally a close mass of tall evergreen sal trees, extends all along the base of the foot hills for hundreds of miles and ten to twenty in width, scarcely penetrated except on elephants, when the jungle fires have cleared out the luxuriant undergrowth which springs up in the rains. It is the home of every wild animal, from the elephant downwards. Troops of great white langur apes, with long tails and black grinning faces and hands, bound across the path and leap from tree to tree.

The approach to the mighty Himalayas, after seeing nothing but the dead level of the plains for so long, is very impressive, and strikes the traveller with strange anticipations. There above and before him tower the great forest-clad hills. Under his feet are actual round stones, which remind him of northern highlands, and in the blue haze of the mountains above he fancies he can see precipices of real solid rock. Beyond those distant summits which rise one over another, he knows, though he cannot see them, that there lies the everlasting snowclad range of the most lofty mountains in the world. The snowy range can be seen only rarely from Bareilly, on clear days glistening like opal among the clouds 100 miles away. No wonder that the natives of the plains reverence, and fear to approach, these mysterious mountains, and do not credit that any man could walk up there without falling down. The inhabitants of the vast plains of Bengal and the Doab have most of them never seen a stone, as the level and dusty surface is all deep alluvial. To those even who have lived in moderately hilly countries, the sudden rise from the plains of the huge

« AnteriorContinua »