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Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XXVIII

 

Chapter XXVII

Leave Dorjiling for Calcutta — Jung Bahadoor — Dr. Falconer — Improvements in Botanic Gardens — Palmetum — Victoria — Amherstia — Orchids spread by seed — Banyan — Cycas — Importation of American plants in ice — Return to Dorjiling — Leave with Dr. Thomson for the Khasia mountains — Mahanuddy river — Vegetation of banks — Maldah — Alligators — Rampore-Bauleah — Climate of Ganges — Pubna — Jummul river — Altered course of Burrampooter and Megna — Dacca — Conch shells — Saws — Cotton muslins — Fruit — Vegetation — Elevation — Rose of Bengal — Burrampooter — Delta of Soormah river — Jheels — Soil — Vegetation — Navigation — Mosquitos — Atmospheric pressure — Effects of geological changes — Imbedding of plants — Teelas or islets — Chattuc — Salubrious climate — Rains — Canoes — Pundua — Mr. Harry Inglis — Terrya Ghat — Ascent to Churra — Scenery and vegetation at foot of mountains — Cascades.


 

I was chiefly occupied during January and February of 1850, in arranging and transmitting my collections to Calcutta, and completing my manuscripts, maps, and surveys. My friend Dr. Thomson having joined me here, for the purpose of our spending a year in travelling and botanising together, it became necessary to decide on the best field for our pursuits. Bhotan offered the most novelty, but it was inaccessible to Europeans; and we therefore turned our thoughts to Nepal, and failing that, to the Khasia mountains.

The better to expedite our arrangements, I made a trip to Calcutta in March, where I expected to meet both Lord Dalhousie, on his return from the Straits of Malacca, and Jung Bahadoor (the Nepalese minister), who was then en route as envoy to England. I staid at Government House,


 

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where every assistance was afforded me towards obtaining the Nepal Rajah’s permission to proceed through the Himalaya from Dorjiling to Katmandu. Jung Bahadoor received me with much courtesy, and expressed his great desire to serve me; but begged me to wait until his return from England, as he could not be answerable for my personal safety when travelling during his absence; and he referred to the permission he had formerly given me (and such was never before accorded to any European) in earnest of his disposition, which was unaltered. We therefore determined upon spending the season of 1850 in the Khasia mountains in eastern Bengal, at the head of the great delta of the Ganges and Burrampooter.


 
Dr. Falconer's residence, Calcutta Botanic Gardens, from Sir L. Peel's grounds

 

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I devoted a few days to the Calcutta Botanic Gardens, where I found my kind friend Dr. Falconer established, and very busy. The destruction of most of the palms, and of all the noble tropical features of the gardens, during Dr. Griffith’s incumbency, had necessitated the replanting of the greater part of the grounds, the obliteration of old walks, and the construction of new: it was also necessary to fill up tanks whose waters, by injudicious cuttings, were destroying some of the most valuable parts of the land, to drain many acres, and to raise embankments to prevent the encroachments of the Hoogly: the latter being a work attended with great expense, now cripples the resources of the garden library, and other valuable adjuncts; for the trees which were planted for the purpose having been felled and sold, it became necessary to buy timber at an exorbitant price.

The avenue of Cycas trees (Cycas circinalis), once the admiration of all visitors, and which for beauty and singularity was unmatched in any tropical garden, had been swept away by the same unsparing hand which had destroyed the teak, mahogany, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon groves. In 1847, when I first visited the establishment, nothing was to be seen of its former beauty and grandeur, but a few noble trees or graceful palms rearing their heads over a low ragged jungle, or spreading their broad leaves or naked limbs over the forlorn hope of a botanical garden, that consisted of open clay beds, disposed in concentric circles, and baking into brick under the fervid heat of a Bengal sun.

The rapidity of growth is so great in this climate, that within eight months from the commencement of the improvements, a great change had already taken place. The grounds bore a park-like appearance; broad shady


 

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walks had replaced the narrow winding paths that ran in distorted lines over the ground, and a large Palmetum, or collection of tall and graceful palms of various kinds, occupied several acres at one side of the garden; whilst a still larger portion of ground was being appropriated to a picturesque assemblage of certain closely allied families of plants, whose association promised to form a novel and attractive object of study to the botanist, painter, and landscape gardener. This, which the learned Director called in scientific language a Thamno-Endogenarium, consists of groups of all kinds of bamboos, tufted growing palms, rattan canes (Calami), Dracćnć, plantains, screw-pines, (Pandani), and such genera of tropical monocotyledonous plants. All are evergreens of most vivid hue, some of which, having slender trailing stems, form magnificent masses; others twine round one another, and present impenetrable hillocks of green foliage; whilst still others shoot out broad long wavy leaves from tufted roots; and a fourth class is supported by aerial roots, diverging on all sides and from all heights on the stems, every branch of which is crowned with an enormous plume of grass-like leaves.*

The great Amherstia tree had been nearly killed by injudicious treatment, and the baking of the soil above its roots. This defect was remedied by sinking bamboo pipes four feet and a half in the earth, and watering through them—a plan first recommended by Major M`Farlane of Tavoy. Some fine Orchideć were in flower in the, gardens, but few of them fruit;

* Since I left India, these improvements have been still further carried out, and now (in the spring of 1853) I read of five splendid Victoria plants flowering at once, with Euryale ferox, white, blue, and red water-lilies, and white, yellow and scarlet lotus, rendering the tanks gorgeous, sunk as their waters are in frames of green grass, ornamented with clumps of Nipa fruticans and Phśnix paludosa.


 

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and those Dendrobiums which bear axillary viviparous buds never do. Some of the orchids appear to be spread by birds amongst the trees; but the different species of Vanda are increasing so fast, that there seems no doubt that this tribe of air-plants grows freely from seed in a wild state, though we generally fail to rear them in England.

The great Banyan tree (Ficus Indica) is still the pride and ornament of the garden. Dr. Falconer has ascertained satisfactorily that it is only seventy-five years old: annual rings, size, etc., afford no evidence in such a case, but people were alive a few years ago who remembered well its site being occupied in 1782 by a Kujoor (Date-palm), out of whose crown the Banyan sprouted, and beneath which a Fakir sat. It is a remarkable fact that the banyan hardly ever vegetates on the ground; but its figs are eaten by birds, and the seeds deposited in the crowns of palms, where they grow, sending down roots that embrace and eventually kill the palm, which decays away. This tree is now eighty feet high, and throws an area 300 feet* in diameter into a dark, cool shade. The gigantic limbs spread out about ten feet above the ground, and from neglect during Dr. Wallich’s absence, there were on Dr. Falconer’s arrival no more than eighty-nine descending roots or props; there are now several hundreds, and the growth of this grand mass of vegetation is proportionably stimulated and increased. The props are induced to sprout by wet clay and moss tied to the branches, beneath which

* Had this tree been growing in 1849 over the great palm-stove at Kew, only thirty feet of each end of that vast structure would have been uncovered: its increase was proceeding so rapidly, that by this time it could probably cover the whole. Larger banyans are common in Bengal; but few are so symmetrical in shape and height. As the tree gets old, it breaks up into separate masses, the original trunk decaying, and the props becoming separate trunks of the different portions.


 

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a little pot of water is hung, and after they have made some progress, they are inclosed in bamboo tubes, and so coaxed down to the ground. They are mere slender whip-cords before reaching the earth, where they root, remaining very lax for several months; but gradually, as they grow and swell to the size of cables, they tighten, and eventually become very tense. This is a curious phenomenon, and so rapid, that it appears to be due to the rooting part mechanically dragging down the aerial. The branch meanwhile continues to grow outwards, and being supplied by its new support, thickens beyond it, whence the props always slant outwards from the ground towards the circumference of the tree.

Cycas trees abound in the gardens, and, though generally having only one, or rarely two crowns, they have sometimes sixteen, and their stems are everywhere covered with leafy buds, which are developed on any check being given to the growth of the plant, as by the operation of transplantation, which will cause as many as 300 buds to appear in the course of a few years, on a trunk eight feet high.

During my stay at the gardens, Dr. Falconer received a box of living plants packed in moss, and transported in a frozen state by one of the ice ships from North America:* they left in November, and arriving in March, I was present at the opening of the boxes, and saw 391 plants (the whole contents) taken out in the most perfect state. They were chiefly fruit-trees, apples, pears, peaches, currants, and gooseberries, with beautiful plants of the Venus’ fly-trap (Dionća muscipula). More perfect success never attended an experiment: the plants were in vigorous

* The ice from these ships is sold in the Calcutta market for a penny a pound, to great profit; it has already proved an invaluable remedy in cases of inflammation and fever, and has diminished mortality to a very appreciable extent.


 

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bud, and the day after being released from their icy bonds, the leaves sprouted and unfolded, and they were packed in Ward’s cases for immediate transport to the Himalaya mountains.

My visit to Calcutta enabled me to compare my instruments with the standards at the Observatory, in which I was assisted by my friend, Capt. Thuillier, to whose kind offices on this and many other occasions I am greatly indebted.

I returned to Dorjiling on the 17th of April, and Dr. Thomson and I commenced our arrangements for proceeding to the Khasia mountains. We started on the 1st of May, and I bade adieu to Dorjiling with no light heart; for I was leaving the kindest and most disinterested friends I had ever made in a foreign land, and a country whose mountains, forests, productions, and people had all become endeared to me by many ties and associations. The prospects of Dorjiling itself are neither doubtful nor insignificant. Whether or not Sikkim will fall again under the protection of Britain, the station must prosper, and that very speedily. I had seen both its native population and its European houses doubled in two years; its salubrious climate, its scenery, and accessibility, ensure it so rapid a further increase that it will become the most populous hill-station in India. Strong prejudices against a damp climate, and the complaints of loungers and idlers who only seek pleasure, together with a groundless fear of the natives, have hitherto retarded its progress; but its natural advantages will outweigh these and all other obstacles.

I am aware that my opinion of the ultimate success of Dorjiling is not shared by the general public of India, and must be pardoned for considering their views in this


 

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matter short-sighted. With regard to the disagreeables of its climate, I can sufficiently appreciate them, and shall be considered by the residents to have over-estimated the amount and constancy of mist, rain, and humidity, from the two seasons I spent there being exceptional in these respects. Whilst on the one hand I am willing to admit the probability of this,* I may be allowed on the other to say that I have never visited any spot under the sun, where I was not told that the season was exceptional, and generally for the worse; added to which there is no better and equally salubrious climate east of Nepal, accessible from Calcutta.

All climates are comparative, and fixed residents naturally praise their own. I have visited many latitudes, and can truly say that I have found no two climates resembling each other, and that all alike are complained of. That of Dorjiling is above the average in point of comfort, and for perfect salubrity rivals any; while in variety, interest, and grandeur, the scenery is unequalled.

From Sikkim to the Khasia mountains our course was by boat down the Mahanuddy to the upper Gangetic delta, whose many branches we followed eastwards to the Megna; whence we ascended the Soormah to the Silhet district. We arrived at Kishengunj, on the Mahanuddy, on the 3rd of May, and were delayed two days for our boat, which should have been waiting here to take us to Berhampore on the Ganges: we were, however, hospitably received by Mr. Perry’s family.

The approach of the rains was indicated by violent easterly storms of thunder, lightning, and rain; the thermometer ranging from 70° to 85°. The country around Kishengunj

* I am informed that hardly a shower of rain has fallen this season, between November 1852, and April 1853; and a very little snow in February only.


 

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is flat and very barren; it is composed of a deep sandy soil, covered with a short turf, now swarming with cockchafers. Water is found ten or twelve feet below the surface, and may be supplied by underground streams from the Himalaya, distant forty-five miles. The river, which at this season is low, may be navigated up to Titalya during the rains; its bed averages 60 yards in width, and is extremely tortuous; the current is slight, and, though shallow, the water is opaque. We slowly descended to Maldah, where we arrived on the 11th: the temperature both of the water and of the air increased rapidly to upwards of 90°; the former was always a few degrees cooler than the air by day, and warmer by night. The atmosphere became drier as we receded from the mountains.

The boatmen always brought up by the shore at night; and our progress was so slow, that we could keep up with the boat when walking along the bank. So long as the soil and river-bed continued sandy, few bushes or herbs were to be found, and it was difficult to collect a hundred kinds of plants in a day: gradually, however, clumps of trees appeared, with jujube bushes, Trophis, Acacia, and Buddleia, a few fan-palms, bamboos, and Jack-trees. A shell (Anodon) was the only one seen in the river, which harboured few water-plants or birds, and neither alligators nor porpoises ascend so high.

On the 7th of May, about eighty miles in a straight line from the foot of the Himalaya, we found the stratified sandy banks, which had gradually risen to a height of thirteen feet, replaced by the hard alluvial clay of the Gangetic valley, which underlies the sand: the stream contracted, and the features of its banks were materially improved by a jungle of tamarisk, wormwood (Artemisia), and white rose-bushes (Rosa involucrata), whilst mango trees became common,


 

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with tamarinds, banyan, and figs. Date and Caryota palms, and rattan canes, grew in the woods, and parasitic Orchids on the trees, which were covered with a climbing fern (Acrosticum scandens), so that we easily doubled our flora of the river banks before arriving at Maldah.

This once populous town is, like Berhampore, now quite decayed, since the decline of its silk and indigo trades: the staple product, called “Maldy,” a mixture of silk and cotton, very durable, and which washes well, now forms its only trade, and is exported through Sikkim to the north-west provinces and Tibet. It is still famous for the size and excellence of its mangos, which ripen late in May; but this year the crop had been destroyed by the damp heats of spring, the usual north-west dry winds not having prevailed.

The ruins of the once famous city of Gour, a few miles distant, are now covered with jungle, and the buildings are fast disappearing, owing to the bricks being carried away to be used elsewhere.

Below Maldah the river gets broader, and willow becomes common. We found specimens of a Planorbis in the mud of the stream, and saw apparently a boring shell in the alluvium, but could not land to examine it. Chalky masses of alligators’ droppings, like coprolites, are very common, buried in the banks, which become twenty feet high at the junction with the Ganges, where we arrived on the 14th. The waters of this great river were nearly two degrees cooler than those of the Mahanuddy.

Rampore-Bauleah is a large station on the north bank of the Ganges, whose stream is at this season fully a mile wide, with a very slow current; its banks are thirty feet above the water. We were most kindly received by Mr. Bell, the collector of the district, to whom we were


 

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greatly indebted for furthering us on our voyage: boats being very difficult to procure, we were, however, detained here from the 16th to the 19th. I was fortunate in being able to compare my barometers with a first-rate standard instrument, and in finding no appreciable alteration since leaving Calcutta in the previous April. The elevation of the station is 130 feet above the sea, that of Kishengunj I made 131; so that the Gangetic valley is nearly a dead level for fully a hundred miles north, beyond which it rises; Titalya, 150 miles to the north, being 360 feet, and Siligoree, at the margin of the Terai, rather higher. The river again falls more considerably than the land; the Mahanuddy, at Kishengunj, being about twenty feet below the level of the plains, or 110 above the sea; whereas the Ganges, at Rampore, is probably not more than eighty feet, even when the water is highest.

The climate of Rampore is marked by greater extremes than that of Calcutta: during our stay the temperature rose above 106°, and fell to 78° at night: the mean was 2·5° higher than at Calcutta, which is 126 miles further south. Being at the head of the Gangetic delta, which points from the Sunderbunds obliquely to the north-west, it is much damper than any locality further west, as is evidenced by two kinds of Calamus palm abounding, which do not ascend the Ganges beyond Monghyr. Advancing eastwards, the dry north-west wind of the Gangetic valley, which blows here in occasional gusts, is hardly felt; and easterly winds, rising after the sun (or, in other words, following the heating of the open dry country), blow down the great valley of the Burrampooter, or south-easterly ones come up from the Bay of Bengal. The western head of the Gangetic delta is thus placed in what are called “the variables” in naval phraseology; but only so far as its


 

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superficial winds are concerned, for its great atmospheric current always blows from the Bay of Bengal, and flows over all northern India, to the lofty regions of Central Asia.

At Rampore I found the temperature of the ground, at three feet depth, varied from 87·8° to 89·8°, being considerably lower than that of the air (94·2°), whilst that of a fine ripening shaddock, into which I plunged a thermometer bulb, varied little from 81°, whether the sun shone on it or not. From this place we made very slow progress south-eastwards, with a gentle current, but against constant easterly winds, and often violent gales and thunder-storms, which obliged us to bring up under shelter of banks and islands of sand. Sometimes we sailed along the broad river, whose opposite shores were rarely both visible at once, and at others tracked the boat through narrow creeks that unite the many Himalayan streams, and form a network soon after leaving their mountain valleys.

A few miles beyond Pubna we passed from a narrow canal at once into the main stream of the Burrampooter at Jaffergunj: our maps had led us to expect that it flowed fully seventy miles to the eastward in this latitude; and we were surprised to hear that within the last twenty years the main body of that river had shifted its course thus far to the westward. This alteration was not effected by the gradual working westwards of the main stream, but by the old eastern channel so rapidly silting up as to be now unnavigable; while the Jummul, which receives the Teesta, and which is laterally connected by branches with the Burrampooter, became consequently wider and deeper, and eventually the principal stream.

Nothing can be more dreary and uninteresting than the scenery of this part of the delta. The water is clay-coloured and turbid, always cooler than the air, which


 

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again was 4° or 5° below that of Calcutta, with a damper atmosphere. The banks are of stratified sand and mud, hardly raised above the mean level of the country, and consequently unlike those bordering most annually flooded rivers; for here the material is so unstable, that the current yearly changes its course. A wiry grass sometimes feebly binds the loose soil, on which there are neither houses nor cultivation.

Ascending the Jummul (now the main channel of the Burrampooter) for a few miles, we turned off into a narrower channel, sixty miles long, which passes by Dacca, where we arrived on the 28th, and where we were again detained for boats, the demand for which is rapidly increasing with the extended cultivation of the Sunderbunds and Delta. We stayed with Mr. Atherton, and botanised in the neighbourhood of the town, which was once very extensive, and is still large, though not flourishing. The population is mostly Mahometan; the site, though beautiful and varied, is unhealthy for Europeans. Ruins of great Moorish brick buildings still remain, and a Greek style of ornamenting the houses prevails to a remarkable degree.

The manufacture of rings for the arms and ancles, from conch-shells imported from the Malayan Archipelago, is still almost confined to Dacca: the shells are sawn across for this purpose by semicircular saws, the hands and toes being both actively employed in the operation. The introduction of circular saws has been attempted by some European gentlemen, but steadily resisted by the natives, despite their obvious advantages. The Dacca muslin manufacture, which once employed thousands of hands, is quite at an end, so that it was with great difficulty that the specimens of these fabrics sent to the Great Exhibition


 

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of 1851, were procured. The kind of cotton (which is very short in the staple) employed, is now hardly grown, and scarcely a loom exists which is fit for the finest fabrics. The jewellers still excel in gold and silver filagree.

Pine-apples, plantains, mangos, and oranges, abound in the Dacca market, betokening a better climate for tropical fruits than that of Western Bengal; and we also saw the fruit of Euryale ferox,* which is round, soft, pulpy, and the size of a small orange; it contains from eight to fifteen round black seeds as large as peas, which are full of flour, and are eaten roasted in India and China, in which latter country the plant is said to have been in cultivation for upwards of 3000 years.

The native vegetation is very similar to that of the Hoogly, except that the white rose is frequent here. The fact of a plant of this genus being as common on the plains of Bengal as a dog-rose is in England, and associated with cocoa-nuts, palms, mangos, plantains, and banyans, has never yet attracted the attention of botanists, though the species was described by Roxburgh. As a geographical fact it is of great importance, for the rose is usually considered a northern genus, and no kind but this inhabits a damp hot tropical climate. Even in mountainous countries situated near the equator, as in the Himalaya and Andes, wild roses are very rare, and only found at great elevations, whilst they are unknown in the southern hemisphere. It is curious that this rose, which is also a native of Birma and the Indian Peninsula, does not in this latitude grow

* An Indian water-lily with a small red flower, covered everywhere with prickles, and so closely allied to Victoria regia as to be scarcely generically distinguishable from it. It grows in the eastern Sunderbunds, and also in Kashmir. The discoverer of Victoria called the latter “Euryale Amazonica.” These interestiug plants are growing side by side in the new Victoria house at Kew. The Chinese species has been erroneously considered different from the Indian one.


 

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west of the meridian of 87°; it is confined to the upper Gangetic delta, and inhabits a climate in which it would least of all be looked for.

I made the elevation of Dacca by barometer only seventy-two feet above the sea; and the banks of the Dallisary being high, the level of its waters at this season is scarcely above that of the Bay of Bengal. The mean temperature of the air was 86·75° during our stay, or half a degree lower than Calcutta at the same period.

We pursued our voyage on the 30th of May, to the old bed of the Burrampooter, an immense shallow sheet of water, of which the eastern bank is for eighty miles occupied by the delta of the Soormah. This river rises on the Munnipore frontier, and flows through Cachar, Silhet, and the Jheels of east Bengal, receiving the waters of the Cachar, Jyntea, Khasia, and Garrow mountains (which bound the Assam valley to the south), and of the Tipperah hills, which stretch parallel to them, and divide the Soormah valley from the Bay of Bengal. The immense area thus drained by the Soormah is hardly raised above the level of the sea, and covers about 10,000 square miles. The anastomosing rivers that traverse it, flow very gently, and do not materially alter their course; hence their banks gradually rise above the mean level of the surrounding country, and on them the small villages are built, surrounded by extensive rice-fields that need no artificial irrigation. At this season the general surface of the Jheels is marshy; but during the rains, which are excessive on the neighbouring mountains, they resemble an inland sea, the water rising gradually to within a few inches of the floor of the huts; as, however, it subsides as slowly in autumn, it commits no devastation. The communication is at all seasons by


 

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boats, in the management of which the natives (chiefly Mahometans) are expert.

The want of trees and shrubs is the most remarkable feature of the Jheels; in which respect they differ from the Sunderbunds, though the other physical features of each are similar, the level being exactly the same: for this difference there is no apparent cause, beyond the influence of the tide and sea atmosphere. Long grasses of tropical genera (Saccharum, Donax, Andropogon, and Rottbśllia) ten feet high, form the bulk of the vegetation, with occasional low bushes along the firmer banks of the natural canals that everywhere intersect the country; amongst these the rattan cane (Calamus), rose, a laurel, Stravadium, and fig, are the most common; while beautiful convolvuli throw their flowering shoots across the water.

The soil, which is sandy along the Burrampooter, is more muddy and clayey in the centre of the Jheels, with immense spongy accumulations of vegetable matter in the marshes, through which we poked the boat-staves without finding bottom: they were for the most part formed of decomposed grass roots, with occasionally leaves, but no quantity of moss or woody plants. Along the courses of the greater streams drift timber and various organic fragments are no doubt imbedded, but as there is no current over the greater part of the flooded surface, there can be little or no accumulation, except perhaps of old canoes, or of such vegetables as grow on the spot. The waters are dark-coloured, but clear and lucid, even at their height.

We proceeded up the Burrampooter, crossing it obliquely; its banks were on the average five miles apart, and formed of sand, without clay, and very little silt or mud: the water was clear and brown, like that of the Jheels, and very different from that of the Jummul. We


 

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thence turned eastwards into the delta of the Soormah, which we traversed in a north-easterly direction to the stream itself. We often passed through very narrow channels, where the grasses towered over the boats: the boatmen steered in and out of them as they pleased, and we were utterly at a loss to know how they guided themselves, as they had neither compass nor map, and there were few villages or landmarks; and on climbing the mast we saw multitudes of other masts and sails peeing over the grassy marshes, doing just the same as we did. All that go up have the south-west wind in their favour, and this helps them to their course, but beyond this they have no other guide but that instinct which habit begets. Often we had to retreat from channels that promised to prove short cuts, but which turned out to be blind alleys. Sometimes we sailed up broader streams of chesnut-brown water, accompanied by fleets of boats repairing to the populous districts at the foot of the Khasia, for rice, timber, lime, coal, bamboos, and long reeds for thatching, all of which employ an inland navy throughout the year in their transport to Calcutta.

Leeches and mosquitos were very troublesome, the latter appearing in clouds at night; during the day they were rarer, but the species was the same. A large cray-fish was common, but there were few birds and no animals to be seen.

Fifty-four barometric observations, taken at the level of the water on the voyage between Dacca and the Soormah, and compared with Calcutta, showed a gradual rise of the mercury in proceeding eastwards; for though the pressure at Calcutta was ·055 of an inch higher than at Dacca, it was ·034 lower than on the Soormah: the mean difference between all these observations and the


 

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contemporaneous ones at Calcutta was +·003 in favour of Calcutta, and the temperature half a degree lower; the dew-point and humidity were nearly the same at both places. This being the driest season of the year, it is very probable that the mean level of the water at this part of the delta is not higher than that of the Bay of Bengal; but as we advanced northwards towards the Khasia, and entered the Soormah itself, the atmospheric pressure increased further, thus appearing to give the bed of that stream a depression of thirty-five feet below the Bay of Bengal, into which it flows! This was no doubt the result of unequal atmospheric pressure at the two localities, caused by the disturbance of the column of atmosphere by the Khasia mountains; for in December of the same year, thirty-eight observations on the surface of the Soormah made its bed forty-six feet above the Bay of Bengal, whilst, from twenty-three observations on the Megna, the pressure only differed +0·020 of an inch from that of the barometer at Calcutta, which is eighteen feet above the sea-level.

These barometric levellings, though far from satisfactory as compared with trigonometric, are extremely interesting in the absence of the latter. In a scientific point of view nothing has been done towards determining the levels of the land and waters of the great Gangetic delta, since Rennell’s time, yet no geodetical operation promises more valuable results in geography and physical geology than running three lines of level across its area; from Chittagong to Calcutta, from Silhet to Rampore, and from Calcutta to Silhet. The foot of the Sikkim Himalaya has, I believe, been connected with Calcutta by the great trigonometrical survey, but I am given to understand that the results are not published.

My own barometric levellings would make the bed of the


 

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Mahanuddy and Ganges at the western extremity of the delta, considerably higher than I should have expected, considering how gentle the current is, and that the season was that of low water. If my observations are correct, they probably indicate a diminished pressure, which is not easily accounted for, the lower portion of the atmospheric column at Rampore being considerably drier and therefore heavier than at Calcutta. At the eastern extremity again, towards Silhet, the atmosphere is much damper than at Calcutta, and the barometer should therefore have stood lower, indicating a higher level of the waters than is the case.

To the geologist the Jheels and Sunderbunds are a most instructive region, as whatever may be the mean elevation of their waters, a permanent depression of ten to fifteen feet would submerge an immense tract, which the Ganges, Burrampooter, and Soormah would soon cover with beds of silt and sand. There would be extremely few shells in the beds thus formed, the southern and northern divisions of which would present two very different floras and faunas, and would in all probability be referred by future geologists to widely different epochs. To the north, beds of peat would be formed by grasses, and in other parts, temperate and tropical forms of plants and animals would be preserved in such equally balanced proportions as to confound the palćontologist; with the bones of the long-snouted alligator, Gangetic porpoise, Indian cow, buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant, tiger, deer, boar; and a host of other animals, he would meet with acorns of several species of oak, pine-cones and magnolia fruits, rose seeds, and Cycas nuts, with palm nuts, screw-pines, and other tropical productions. On the other hand, the Sunderbunds portion, though containing also the bones of the tiger, deer, and


 

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buffalo, would have none of the Indian cow, rhinoceros, or elephant; there would be different species of porpoise, alligator, and deer, and none of the above mentioned plants (Cycas, oak, pine, magnolia and rose), which would be replaced by numerous others, all distinct from those of the Jheels, and many of them indicative of the influence of salt water, whose proximity (from the rarity of sea-shells) might not otherwise be suspected.


 
View in the Jheels

On the 1st of June we entered the Soormah, a full and muddy stream flowing west, a quarter of a mile broad, with banks of mud and clay twelve or fifteen feet high, separating it from marshes, and covered with betel-nut and cocoa-nut palms, figs, and banyans. Many small


 

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villages were scattered along the banks, each with a swarm of boats, and rude kilns for burning the lime brought from the Khasia mountains, which is done with grass and bushes. We ascended to Chattuc, against a gentle current, arriving on the 9th.

From this place the Khasia mountains are seen as a long table-topped range running east and west, about 4000 to 5000 feet high, with steep faces towards the Jheels, out of which they appear to rise abruptly. Though twelve miles distant, large waterfalls are very clearly seen precipitating themselves over the cliffs into a bright green mass of foliage, that seems to creep half way up their flanks. The nearly horizontal arrangement of the strata is as conspicuous here, as in the sandstone of the Kymore hills in the Soane valley, which these mountains a good deal resemble; but they are much higher, and the climate is widely different. Large valleys enter the hills, and are divided by hog-backed spurs, and it is far within these valleys that the waterfalls and precipices occur; but the nearer and further cliffs being thrown by perspective into one range, they seem to rise out of the Jheels so abruptly as to remind one of some precipitous island in the ocean.

Chattuc is mainly indebted for its existence to the late Mr. Inglis, who resided there for upwards of sixty years, and opened a most important trade between the Khasia and Calcutta in oranges, potatos, coal, lime, and timber. We were kindly received by his son, whose bungalow occupies a knoll, of which there are several, which attracted our attention as being the only elevations fifty feet high which we had ascended since leaving the foot of the Sikkim Himalaya. They rise as islets (commonly called Teela, Beng.) out of the Jheels, within twelve to


 

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twenty miles of the Khasia; they are chiefly formed of stratified gravel and sand, and are always occupied by villages and large trees. They seldom exceed sixty feet in height, and increase in number and size as the hills are approached; they are probably the remains of a deposit that was once spread uniformly along the foot of the mountains, and they in all respects resemble those I have described as rising abruptly from the plains near Titalya (see vol. i. p. 382).

The climate of Chattuc is excessively damp and hot throughout the year, but though sunk amid interminable swamps, the place is perfectly healthy! Such indeed is the character of the climate throughout the Jheels, where fevers and agues are rare; and though no situations can appear more malarious to the common observer than Silhet and Cachar, they are in fact eminently salubrious. These facts admit of no explanation in the present state of our knowledge of endemic diseases. Much may be attributed to the great amount and purity of the water, the equability of the climate, the absence of forests and of sudden changes from wet to dry; but such facts afford no satisfactory explanation. The water, as I have above said, is of a rich chesnut-brown in the narrow creeks of the Jheels, and is golden yellow by transmitted light, owing no doubt, as in bog water and that of dunghills, to a vegetable extractive and probably the presence of carburetted hydrogen. Humboldt mentions this dark-coloured water as prevailing in some of the swamps of the Cassiquares, at the junction of the Orinoco and Amazon, and gives much curious information on its accompanying features of animal and vegetable life.

The rains generally commence in May: they were unusually late this year, though the almost daily gales and


 

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thunder-storms we experienced, foretold their speedy arrival. From May till October they are unremitting, and the country is under water, the Soormah rising about fifty feet. North-easterly winds prevail, but they are a local current reflected from the Khasia, against which the southerly perennial trade-wind impinges. Westerly winds are very rare, but the dry north-west blasts of India have been known to traverse the delta and reach this meridian, in one or two short hot dry puffs during March and April. Hoarfrost is unknown.*

China roses and tropical plants (Bignonić, Asclepiadeć, and Convolvuli) rendered Mr. Inglis’ bungalow gay, but little else will grow in the gardens. Pine-apples are the best fruit, and oranges from the foot of the Khasia: plantains ripen imperfectly, and the mango is always acid, attacked by grubs, and having a flavour of turpentine. The violent hailstorms of the vernal equinox cut both spring and cold season flowers and vegetables, and the rains destroy all summer products. The soil is a wet clay, in which some European vegetables thrive well if planted in October or November. We were shown marrowfat peas that had been grown for thirty years without degenerating in size, but their flavour was poor.

Small long canoes, paddled rapidly by two men, were procured here, whereby to ascend the narrow rivers that lead up to the foot of the mountains: they each carry one passenger, who lies along the bottom, protected by a bamboo platted arched roof. We started at night, and early the next morning arrived at Pundua,† where there is a

* It however forms further south, at the very mouth of the Megna, and is the effect of intense radiation when the thermometer in the shade falls to 45°.
† Pundua, though an insignificant village, surrounded by swamps, has enjoyed an undue share of popularity as a botanical region. Before the geographical features of the country north of Silhet were known, the plants brought from those hills by native collectors were sent to the Calcutta garden (and thence to Europe) as from Pundua. Hence Silhet mountains and Pundua mountains, both very erroneous terms, are constantly met with in botanical works, and generally refer to plants growing in the Khasia mountains.


 

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dilapidated bungalow: the inhabitants are employed in the debarkation of lime, coal, and potatos. Large fleets of boats crowded the narrow creeks, some of the vessels being of several tons burden.

Elephants were kindly sent here for us by Mr. H. Inglis, to take us to the foot of the mountains, about three miles distant, and relays of mules and ponies to ascend to Churra, where we were received with the greatest hospitality by that gentleman, who entertained us till the end of June, and procured us servants and collectors. To his kind offices we were also indebted throughout our travels in the Khasia, for much information, and for facilities and necessaries of all kinds: things in which the traveller is more dependent on his fellow countrymen in India, than in any other part of the world.

We spent two days at Pundua, waiting for our great boats (which drew several feet of water), and collecting in the vicinity. The old bungalow, without windows and with the roof falling in, was a most miserable shelter; and whichever way we turned from the door, a river or a swamp lay before us. Birds, mosquitos, leeches, and large wasps swarmed, also rats and sandflies. A more pestilential hole cannot be conceived; and yet people traverse this district, and sleep here at all seasons of the year with impunity. We did so ourselves in the month of June, when the Sikkim and all other Terais are deadly: we returned in September, traversing the Jheels and nullahs at the very foot of the hills during a short break of fine weather in the middle of the rains; and we again


 

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slept here in November,* always exposed in the heat of the day to wet and fatigue, and never having even a soupçon of fever, ague, or rheumatism. This immunity does not, however, extend to the very foot of the hills, as it is considered imprudent to sleep at this season in the bungalow of Terrya, only three miles off.

The elevation of Pundua bungalow is about forty feet above the sea, and that of the waters surrounding it, from ten to thirty, according to the season. In June the mean of the barometer readings at the bungalow was absolutely identical with that of the Calcutta barometer, In September it was 0·016 inch lower, and in November 0·066 lower. The mean annual temperature throughout the Jheels is less than 2° below that of Calcutta.

Terrya bungalow lies at the very foot of the first rise of the mountains; on the way we crossed many small streams upon the elephants, and one large one by canoes: the water in all was cool† and sparkling, running rapidly over boulders and pebbles. Their banks of sandy clay were beautifully fringed with a willow-like laurel, Ehretia bushes, bamboos, palms, Bauhinia, Bombax, and Erythrina, over which Calamus palm (rattan) and various flowering plants climbed. The rock at Terrya is a nummulitic limestone, worn into extensive caverns. This formation is said to extend along the southern flank of the Khasia, Garrow, and Jyntea mountains, and to be associated with sandstone and coal: it is extensively quarried in many places, several

* At the north foot of the Khasia, in the heavily timbered dry Terai stretching for sixty miles to the Burrampooter, it is almost inevitable death for a European to sleep, any time between the end of April and of November. Many have crossed that tract, but not one without taking fever: Mr. H. Inglis was the only survivor of a party of five, and he was ill from the effects for upwards of two years, after having been brought to death’s door by the first attack, which came on within three weeks of his arrival at Churra, and by several relapses.
† Temperature in September 77° to 80°; and in November 75·7°.


 

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thousand tons being annually shipped for Calcutta and Dacca. It is succeeded by a horizontally stratified sandstone, which is continued up to 4000 feet, where it is overlain by coal-beds and then by limestone again.

The sub-tropical scenery of the lower and outer Sikkim Himalaya, though on a much more gigantic scale, is not comparable in beauty and luxuriance with the really tropical vegetation induced by the hot, damp, and insular climate of these perennially humid mountains. At the Himalaya forests of gigantic trees, many of them deciduous, appear from a distance as masses of dark gray foliage, clothing mountains 10,000 feet high: here the individual trees are smaller, more varied in kind, of a brilliant green, and contrast with gray limestone and red sandstone rocks and silvery cataracts. Palms are more numerous here;* the cultivated Areca (betel-nut) especially, raising its graceful stem and feathery crown, “like an arrow shot down from heaven,” in luxuriance and beauty above the verdant slopes. This difference is at once expressed to the Indian botanist by defining the Khasia flora as of Malayan character; by which is meant the prevalence of brilliant glossy-leaved evergreen tribes of trees (as Euphorbiaceć and Urticeć), especially figs, which abound in the hot gulleys, where the property of their roots, which inosculate and form natural grafts, is taken advantage of in bridging streams, and in constructing what are called living bridges, of the most picturesque forms. Combretaceć, oaks, oranges, Garcinia (gamboge), Diospyros, figs, Jacks, plantains, and Pandanus, are more frequent here, together with pinnated leaved Leguminosć, Meliaceć, vines and peppers, and above all

* There are upwards of twenty kinds of Palm in this district, including Chamćrops, three species of Areca, two of Wallichia, Arenga, Caryota, three of Phśnix, Plectocomia, Licuala, and many species of Calamus. Besides these there are several kinds of Pandanus, and the Cycas pectinata.


 

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palms, both climbing ones with pinnated shining leaves (as Calamus and Plectocomia), and erect ones with similar leaves (as cultivated cocoa-nut, Areca and Arenga), and the broader-leaved wild betel-nut, and beautiful Caryota or wine-palm, whose immense decompound leaves are twelve feet long. Laurels and wild nutmegs, with Henslowia, Itea, etc., were frequent in the forest, with the usual prevalence of parasites, mistleto, epiphytical Orchideć, Ćshynanthus, ferns, mosses, and Lycopodia; and on the ground were Rubiaceć, Scitamineć, ferns, Acanthaceć, beautiful balsams, and herbaceous and shrubby nettles. Bamboos* of many kinds are very abundant, and these hills further differ remarkably from those of Sikkim in the great number of species of grasses.

The ascent was at first gradual, along the sides of a sandstone spur. At 2000 feet the slope suddenly became steep and rocky, at 3000 feet tree vegetation disappeared, and we opened a magnificent prospect of the upper scarped flank of the valley of Moosmai, which we were ascending, with four or five beautiful cascades rolling over the table top of the hills, broken into silvery foam as they leapt from ledge to ledge of the horizontally stratified precipice, and throwing a veil of silver gauze over the gulf of emerald green vegetation, 2000 feet below. The views of the many

* The natives enumerate about fourteen different kinds of bamboo, of which we found five in flower, belonging to three very distinct genera. Uspar, Uspet, Uspit, Usken, Uskong, Uktang, Usto, Silee, Namlang, Tirra, and Battooba are some of the names of Bamboos vouched for by Mr. Inglis as correctly spelt. Of other Khasia names of plants, Wild Plantains are called Kairem, and the cultivated Kakesh; the latter are considered so nourishing that they are given to newborn infants. Senteo is a flower in Khas, So a fruit, Ading a tree, and Te a leaf. Pandanus is Kashelan. Plectocomia, Usmole. Licuala, Kuslow. Caryota, Kalai-katang. Wallichia, Kalai-nili. Areca, Waisola. Various Calami are Rhimet, Uriphin, Ureek hilla, Tindrio, etc. This list will serve as a specimen; I might increase it materially, but as I have elsewhere observed, the value attached to the supposed definite application of native names to natural objects is greatly over-rated, and too much reliance on them has introduced a prodigious amount of confusion into scientific works and philological inquiries.


 

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Living bridge formed of the aerial roots of the india-rubber and other kinds of figs.

 

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cataracts of the first class that are thus precipitated over the bare table-land on which Churra stands, into the valleys on either side, surpass anything of the kind that I have elsewhere seen, though in many respects vividly recalling the scenery around Rio de Janeiro: nor do I know any spot in the world more calculated to fascinate the naturalist who, while appreciating the elements of which a landscape is composed, is also keenly alive to the beauty and grandeur of tropical scenery.

At the point where this view opens, a bleak stony region commences, bearing numberless plants of a temperate flora and of European genera, at a comparatively low elevation; features which continue to the top of the flat on which the station is built, 4000 feet above the sea.


 
Dewan's ear-ring

Next Chapter XXVIII