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Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XXIX

 

Chapter XXVIII

Churra, English station of — Khasia people — Garrow people — Houses — Habits — Dress — Arms — Dialects — Marriages — Food — Funerals — Superstitions — Flat of Churra — Scenery — Lime and coal — Mamloo — Cliffs — Cascades — Chamærops palm — Jasper-rocks — Flora of Churra — Orchids — Rhododendrons — Pine — Climate — Extraordinary rain-fall — Its effects — Gardens of Lieuts. Raban and Cave — Leave Churra to cross the mountain range — Coal, shale, and underclay — Kala-panee river — Lailangkot — Luculia Pinceana — Conglomerate Surureem wood — Boga-panee river — View of Himalaya — Green-stone — Age of Pine-cones — Moflong plants — Coix — Chillong mountain — Extensive view — Road to Syong — Broad valleys — Geology — Plants — Myrung — Granite blocks — Kollong rock — Pine-woods — Features of country — Orchids — Iron forges.


 

Churra Poonji is said to be so called from the number of streams in the neighbourhood, and poonji, “a village” (Khas.): it was selected for a European station, partly from the elevation and consequent healthiness of the spot, and partly from its being on the high road from Silhet to Gowahatty, on the Burrampooter, the capital of Assam, which is otherwise only accessible by ascending that river, against both its current and the perennial east wind. A rapid postal communication is hereby secured: but the extreme unhealthiness of the northern foot of the mountains effectually precludes all other intercourse for nine months in the year.

On the first opening up of the country, the Europeans were brought into sanguinary collision with the Khasias, who fought bravely with bows and arrows, displaying a most blood-thirsty and cruel disposition. This is indeed


 

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natural to them; and murders continued very frequent as preludes to the most trifling robberies, until the extreme penalty of our law was put in force. Even now, some of the tributary Rajahs are far from quiet under our rule, and various parts of the country are not safe to travel in. The Garrows, who occupy the western extremity of this range, at the bend of the Burrampooter, are still in a savage state. Human sacrifices and polyandry are said to be frequent amongst them, and their orgies are detestable. Happily we are hardly ever brought into collision with them, except by their occasional depredations on the Assam and Khasia frontier: their country is very unhealthy, and is said to contain abundance of coal, iron, and lime.

We seldom employed fewer than twelve or fourteen of the natives as collectors, and when travelling, from thirty to forty as coolies, etc. They are averse to rising early, and are intolerably filthy in their persons, though not so in their cottages, which are very poor, with broad grass roofs reaching nearly to the ground, and usually encircled by bamboo fences; the latter custom is not common in savage communities, and perhaps indicates a dread of treachery. The beams are of hewn wood (they do not use saws), often neatly carved, and the doors turn on good wooden pivots. They have no windows, and the fire is made on the floor: the utensils, etc. are placed on hanging shelves and in baskets.

The Khasia people are of the Indo-Chinese race; they are short, very stout, and muscular, with enormous calves and knees, rather narrow eyes and little beard, broad, high cheekbones, flat noses, and open nostrils. I believe that a few are tattooed. The hair is gathered into a top-knot, and sometimes shaved off the forehead and temples. A loose cotton shirt, often striped blue and red, without


 

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sleeves and bordered with long thread fringes, is their principal garment; it is gathered into a girdle of silver chains by people of rank. A cotton robe is sometimes added, with a large cotton turban or small skull-cap. The women wear a long cloth tied in a knot across the breast. During festivals both men and women load themselves with silk robes, fans, peacock’s feathers, and gold and silver ornaments of great value, procured from Assam, many of which are said to be extremely curious, but I regret to say that I never saw any of them. On these occasions spirits are drunk, and dancing kept up all night: the dance is described as a slow ungraceful motion, the women being tightly swathed in cloths.

All their materials are brought from Assam; the only articles in constant use, of their own manufacture, being a rude sword or knife with a wooden handle and a long, narrow, straight blade of iron, and the baskets with head-straps, like those used by the Lepchas, but much neater; also a netted bag of pine-apple fibre (said to come from Silhet) which holds a clasp-knife, comb, flint, steel, and betel-nut box. They are much addicted to chewing pawn (betel-nut, pepper leaves, and lime) all day long, and their red saliva looks like blood on the paths. Besides the sword I have described, they carry bows and arrows, and rarely a lance, and a bamboo wicker-work shield.

We found the Khasias to be sulky intractable fellows, contrasting unpleasantly with the Lepchas; wanting in quickness, frankness, and desire to please, and obtrusively independent in manner; nevertheless we had a head man who was very much the reverse of this, and whom we had never any cause to blame. Their language is, I believe, Indo-Chinese and monosyllabic: it is disagreeably nasal and guttural, and there are several dialects and accents in


 

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contiguous villages. All inflections are made by prefixing syllables, and when using the Hindoo language, the future is invariably substituted for the past tense. They count up to a hundred, and estimate distances by the number of mouthfuls of pawn they eat on the road.

Education has been attempted by missionaries with partial success, and the natives are said to have shown themselves apt scholars. Marriage is a very loose tie amongst them, and hardly any ceremony attends it. We were informed that the husband does not take his wife home, but enters her father’s household, and is entertained there. Divorce and an exchange of wives is common, and attended with no disgrace: thus the son often forgets his father’s name and person before he grows up, but becomes strongly attached to his mother. The sister’s son inherits both property and rank, and the proprietors’ or Rajahs’ offspring are consequently often reared in poverty and neglect. The usual toy of the children is the bow and arrow, with which they are seldom expert; they are said also to spin pegtops like the English, climb a greased pole, and run round with a beam turning horizontally on an upright, to which it is attached by a pivot.

The Khasias eat fowls, and all meat, especially pork, potatos and vegetables, dried and half putrid fish in abundance, but they have an aversion to milk, which is very remarkable, as a great proportion of their country is admirably adapted for pasturage. In this respect, however, they assimilate to the Chinese, and many Indo-Chinese nations who are indifferent to milk, as are the Sikkim people. The Bengalees, Hindoos, and Tibetans, on the other hand, consume immense quantities of milk. They have no sheep, and few goats or cattle, the latter of which are kept for slaughter; they have, however, plenty


 

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of pigs and fowls. Eggs are most abundant, but used for omens only, and it is a common, but disgusting occurrence, to see large groups employed for hours in breaking them upon stones, shouting and quarrelling, surrounded by the mixture of yellow yolks and their red pawn saliva.

The funeral ceremonies are the only ones of any importance, and are often conducted with barbaric pomp and expense; and rude stones of gigantic proportions are erected as monuments, singly or in rows, circles, or supporting one another, like those of Stonehenge, which they rival in dimensions and appearance. The body is burned, though seldom during the rains, from the difficulty of obtaining a fire; it is therefore preserved in honey (which is abundant and good) till the dry season: a practice I have read of as prevailing among some tribes in the Malay peninsula. Spirits are drunk on these occasions; but the hill Khasia is not addicted to drunkenness, though some of the natives of the low valleys are very much so. These ascend the rocky faces of the mountains by ladders, to the Churra markets, and return loaded at night, apparently all but too drunk to stand; yet they never miss their footing in places which are most dangerous to persons unaccustomed to such situations.


 
The table-land and station of Churra, with the jheels, course of the Soormah River, and Tipperah Hills in the extreme distance, looking south.

The Khasias are superstitious, but have no religion; like the Lepchas, they believe in a supreme being, and in deities of the grove, cave, and stream. Altercations are often decided by holding the disputants’ heads under water, when the longest winded carries his point. Fining is a common punishment, and death for grave offences. The changes of the moon are accounted for by the theory that this orb, who is a man, monthly falls in love with his wife’s mother, who throws ashes in his face.


 

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The sun is female; and Mr. Yule* (who is my authority) says that the Pleiades are called “the Hen-man” (as in Italy “the chickens”); also that they have names for the twelve months; they do not divide their time by weeks, but hold a market every four days. These people are industrious, and good cultivators of rice, millet, and legumes of many kinds. Potatoes were introduced amongst them about twenty years ago by Mr. Inglis, and they have increased so rapidly that the Calcutta market is now supplied by their produce. They keep bees in rude hives of logs of wood.

The flat table-land on which Churra Poonji is placed, is three miles long and two broad, dipping abruptly in front and on both sides, and rising behind towards the main range, of which it is a spur. The surface of this area is everywhere intersected by shallow, rocky watercourses, which are the natural drains for the deluge that annually visits it. The western part is undulated and hilly, the southern rises in rocky ridges of limestone and coal, and the eastern is very flat and stony, broken only by low isolated conical mounds.

The scenery varies extremely at different parts of the surface. Towards the flat portion, where the English reside, the aspect is as bleak and inhospitable as can be imagined: a thin stratum of marshy or sandy soil covers a tabular mass of cold red sandstone; and there is not a tree, and scarcely a shrub to be seen, except occasional clumps of Pandanus. The low white bungalows are few in number, and very scattered, some of them being a mile asunder, enclosed with stone walls and shrubs; and a small white

* I am indebted to Mr. Inglis for most of this information relating to the Khasias, which I have since found, with much more that is curious and interesting, in a paper by Lieut. Yule in Bengal Asiat. Soc. Journal.


 

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church, disused on account of the damp, stands lonely in the centre of all.

The views from the margins of this plateau are magnificent: 4000 feet below are bay-like valleys, carpetted as with green velvet, from which rise tall palms, tree-ferns with spreading crowns, and rattans shooting their pointed heads, surrounded with feathery foliage, as with ostrich plumes, far above the great trees. Beyond are the Jheels, looking like a broad shallow sea with the tide half out, bounded in the blue distance by the low-hills of Tipperah. To the right and left are the scarped red rocks and roaring waterfalls, shooting far over the cliff’s, and then arching their necks as they expand in feathery foam, over which rainbows float, forming and dissolving as the wind sways the curtains of spray from side to side.

To the south of Churra the lime and coal measures rise abruptly in flat-topped craggy hills, covered with brushwood and small trees. Similar hills are seen far westward across the intervening valleys in the Garrow country, rising in a series of steep isolated ranges, 300 to 400 feet above the general level of the country, and always skirting the south face of the mountains. Considerable caverns penetrate the limestone, the broken surface of which rock presents many picturesque and beautiful spots, like the same rocks in England.

Westward the plateau becomes very hilly, bare, and grassy, with the streams broad and full, but superficial and rocky, precipitating themselves in low cascades over tabular masses of sand-stone. At Mamloo their beds are deeper, and full of brushwood, and a splendid valley and amphitheatre of red cliffs and cascades, rivalling those of Moosmai (p. 261), bursts suddenly into view. Mamloo is a large village, on the top of a spur, to the westward: it


 

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Mamloo cascades

is buried in a small forest, particularly rich in plants, and is defended by a stone wall behind: the only road is tunnelled through the sandstone rock, under the wall; and the spur on either side dips precipitously, so that the place is almost impregnable if properly defended. A sanguinary conflict took place here between the British and the Khasias, which terminated in the latter being driven over the precipices, beneath which many of them were shot. The fan-palm, Chamærops Khasiana (“Pakha,” Khas.), grows on the cliff’s near Mamloo: it may be seen on looking over the edge of the plateau, its long curved trunk rising out of the naked rocks, but its site is generally


 

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inaccessible;* while near it grows the Saxifragis ciliaris of our English gardens, a common plant in the north-west Himalaya, but extremely scarce in Sikkim and the Khasia mountains.

The descent of the Mamloo spur is by steps, alternating with pebbly flats, for 1500 feet, to a saddle which connects the Churra hills with those of Lisouplang to the westward. The rise is along a very steep narrow ridge to a broad long grassy hill, 3,500 feet high, whence an extremely steep descent leads to the valley of the Boga-panee, and the great mart of Chela, which is at the embouchure of that river. The transverse valley thus formed by the Mamloo spur, is full of orange groves, whose brilliant green is particularly conspicuous from above. At the saddle below Mamloo are some jasper rocks, which are the sandstone altered by basalt. Fossil shells are recorded to have been found by Dr. M’Lelland† on some of the flats, which he considers to be raised beaches: but we sought in vain for any evidence of this theory beyond the pebbles, whose rounding we attributed to the action of superficial streams.

It is extremely difficult to give within the limits of this narrative any idea of the Khasia flora, which is, in extent and number of fine plants, the richest in India, and probably in all Asia. We collected upwards of 2000 flowering plants within ten miles of the station of Churra, besides 150 ferns, and a profusion of mosses, lichens, and fungi. This extraordinary exuberance of species is not so much attributable to the elevation, for the whole Sikkim Himalaya

* This species is very closely allied to, if not identical with P. Martiana of Nepal; which ascends to 8000 feet in the western Himalaya, where it is annually covered with snow: it is not found in Sikkim, but an allied species occurs in Affghanistan, called P. Ritcheana: the dwarf palm of southern Europe is a fourth species.
† See a paper on the geology of the Khasia mountains by Dr. M’Lelland in the “Bengal Asiatic Society’s Journal.”


 

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(three times more elevated) does not contain 500 more flowering plants, and far fewer ferns, etc.; but to the variety of exposures; namely, 1. the Jheels, 2. the tropical jungles, both in deep, hot, and wet valleys, and on drier slopes; 3. the rocks; 4. the bleak table-lands and stony soils; 5. the moor-like uplands, naked and exposed, where many species and genera appear at 5000 to 6000 feet, which are not found on the outer ranges of Sikkim under 10,000.* In fact, strange as it may appear, owing to this last cause, the temperate flora descends fully 4000 feet lower in the latitude of Khasia (25° N.) than in that of Sikkim (27° N.), though the former is two degrees nearer the equator.

The Pandanus alone forms a conspicuous feature in the immediate vicinity of Churra; while the small woods about Mamloo, Moosmai, and the coal-pits, are composed of Symplocos, laurels, brambles, and jasmines, mixed with small oaks and Photinia, and many tropical genera of trees and shrubs.

Orchideæ are, perhaps, the largest natural order in the Khasia, where fully 250 kinds grow, chiefly on trees and rocks, but many are terrestrial, inhabiting damp woods and grassy slopes. I doubt whether in any other part of the globe the species of orchids outnumber those of any other natural order, or form so large a proportion of the flora. Balsams are next in relative abundance (about twenty-five), both tropical and temperate kinds, of great beauty and variety in colour, form, and size of blossom. Palms amount to fourteen, of which the Chamærops and Arenga are the only genera not found in Sikkim. Of bamboos there are also fifteen, and of other grasses 150, which is an immense proportion, considering that the

* As Thalictrum, Anemone, primrose, cowslip, Tofieldia, Yew, Pine, Saxifrage, Delphinium, Pedicularis.


 

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Indian flora (including those of Ceylon, Kashmir, and all the Himalaya), hardly contains 400. Scitamineæ also are abundant, and extremely beautiful; we collected thirty-seven kinds.

No rhododendron grows at Churra, but several species occur a little further north: there is but one pine (P. Khasiana) besides the yew, (and two Podocarpi), and that is only found in the drier interior regions. Singular to say, it is a species not seen in the Himalaya or elsewhere, but very nearly allied to Pinua longifolia,* though more closely resembling the Scotch fir than that tree does.

The natural orders whose rarity is most noticeable, are Cruciferæ, represented by only three kinds, and Caryophylleæ. Of Ranunculaceæ, there are six or seven species of Clematis, two of Anemone, one Delphinium, three of Thalictrum, and two Ranunculi. Compositæ and Leguminosæ are far more numerous than in Sikkim.

The climate of Khasia is remarkable for the excessive rain-fall. Attention was first drawn to this by Mr. Yule, who stated, that in the month of August, 1841, 264 inches fell, or twenty-two feet; and that during five successive days, thirty inches fell in every twenty-four hours! Dr. Thomson and I also recorded thirty inches in one day and night, and during the seven months of our stay, upwards of 500 inches fell, so that the total annual fall perhaps greatly exceeded 600 inches, or fifty feet, which

* Cone-bearing pines with long leaves, like the common Scotch fir, are found in Asia, and as far south as the Equator (in Borneo) and also inhabit Arracan, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and South China. It is a very remarkable fact that no Gymnospermous tree inhabits the Peninsula of India; not even the genus Podocarpus, which includes most of the tropical Gymnosperms, and is technically coniferous, and has glandular woody fibre; though like the yew it bears berries. Two species of this genus are found in the Khasia, and one advances as far west as Nepal. The absence of oaks and of the above genera (Podocarpus and Pinus) is one of the most characteristic differences between the botany of the east and west shores of the Bay of Bengal.


 

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has been registered in succeeding years! From April, 1849, to April, 1850, 502 inches (forty-two feet) fell. This unparalleled amount is attributable to the abruptness of the mountains which face the Bay of Bengal, from which they are separated by 200 miles of Jheels and Sunderbunds.

This fall is very local: at Silhet, not thirty miles further south, it is under 100 inches; at Gowahatty, north of the Khasia in Assam, it is about 80; and even on the hills, twenty miles inland from Churra itself, the fall is reduced to 200. At the Churra station, the distribution of the rain is very local; my gauges, though registering the same amount when placed beside a good one in the station; when removed half a mile, received a widely different quantity, though the different gauges gave nearly the same mean amount at the end of each whole month.

The direct effect of this deluge is to raise the little streams about Churra fourteen feet in as many hours, and to inundate the whole flat; from which, however, the natural drainage is so complete, as to render a tract, which in such a climate and latitude should be clothed with exuberant forest, so sterile, that no tree finds support, and there is no soil for cultivation of any kind whatsoever, not even of rice. Owing, however, to the hardness of the horizontally stratified sandstone, the streams have not cut deep channels, nor have the cataracts worked far back into the cliffs. The limestone alone seems to suffer, and the turbid streams from it prove how rapidly it is becoming denuded. The great mounds of angular gravel on the Churra flat, are perhaps the remains of an extensive deposit, fifty feet thick, elsewhere washed away by these rains; and I have remarked traces of the same over many slopes of the hills around.


 

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The mean temperature of Churra (elev. 4000 feet) is about 66°, or 16° below that of Calcutta; which, allowing for 2·5° of northing, gives 1° of temperature to every 290 to 300 feet of ascent. In summer the thermometer often rises to 88° and 90°; and in the winter, owing to the intense radiation, hoar-frost is frequent. Such a climate is no less inimical to the cultivation of plants, than is the wretched soil: of this we saw marked instances in the gardens of two of the resident officers, Lieutenants Raban and Cave, to whom we were indebted for the greatest kindness and hospitality. These gentlemen are indefatigable horticulturists, and took a zealous interest in our pursuits, accompanying us in our excursions, enriching our collections in many ways, and keeping an eye to them and to our plant-driers during our absence from the station. In their gardens the soil had to be brought from a considerable distance, and dressed copiously with vegetable matter. Bamboo clumps were planted for shelter within walls, and native shrubs, rhododendrons, etc., introduced. Many Orchideæ throve well on the branches of the stunted trees which they had planted, and some superb kinds of Hedychium in the ground; but a very few English garden plants throve in the flower-beds. Even in pots and frames, geraniums, etc., would rot, from the rarity of sunshine, which is as prejudicial as the damp and exposure. Still many wild shrubs of great interest and beauty flourished, and some European ones succeeded with skill and management; as geraniums, Salvia, Petunia, nasturtium, chrysanthemum, Kennedya rubicunda, Maurandya, and Fuchsia. The daisy seed sent from England as double, came up very poor and single. Dahlias do not thrive, nor double balsams. Now they have erected small but airy green-houses, and sunlight is the only desideratum.


 

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At the end of June, we started for the northern or Assam face of the mountains. The road runs between the extensive and populous native village, or poonji, on the left, and a deep valley on the right, and commands a beautiful view of more waterfalls. Beyond this it ascends steeply, and the sandstone on the road itself is curiously divided into parallelograms, like hollow bricks,* enclosing irregularly shaped nodules, while in other places it looks as if it had been run or fused: spherical concretions of sand, coloured concentrically by infiltration, are common in it, which have been regarded as seeds, shells, etc.; it also contained spheres of iron pyrites. The general appearance of much of this rock is as if it had been bored by Teredines (ship worms), but I never detected any trace of fossils. It is often beautifully ripple-marked, and in some places much honeycombed, and full of shales and narrow seams of coal, resting on a white under-clay full of root-fibres, like those of Stigmaria.

At about 5000 feet the country is very open and bare, the ridges being so uniform and flat-topped, that the broad valleys they divide are hidden till their precipitous edges are reached; and the eye wanders far east and west over a desolate level grassy country, unbroken, save by the curious flat-topped hills I have described as belonging to the limestone formation, which lie to the south-west. These features continue for eight miles, when a sudden descent of 600 or 700 feet, leads into the valley of the Kala-panee (Black water) river, where there is a very dark and damp bungalow, which proved a very great accommodation to us.†

* I have seen similar bricks in the sandstones of the coal-districts of Yorkshire; they are very puzzling, and are probably due to some very obscure crystalline action analogous to jointing and cleavage.
† It may be of use to the future botanist in this country to mention a small wood on the right of this road, near the village of Surureem, as an excellent botanical station: the trees are chiefly Rhododendron arboreum, figs, oaks, laurels, magnolias, and chestnuts, on whose limbs are a profusion of Orchideæ, and amongst which a Rattan palm occurs.


 

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Lailang-kot is another village full of iron forges, from a height near which a splendid view is obtained over the Churra flat. A few old and very stunted shrubs of laurel and Symplocos grow on its bleak surface, and these are often sunk from one to three feet in a well in the horizontally stratified sandstone. I could only account for this by supposing it to arise from the drip from the trees, and if so, it is a wonderful instance of the wearing effects of water, and of the great age which small bushes sometimes attain.

The vegetation is more alpine at Kala-panee (elevation, 5,300 feet); Benthamia, Kadsura, Stauntonia, Illicium, Actinidia, Helwingia, Corylopsis, and berberry—all Japan and Chinese, and most of them Dorjiling genera—appear here, with the English yew, two rhododendrons, and Bucklandia. There are no large trees, but a bright green jungle of small ones and bushes, many of which are very rare and curious. Luculia Pinceana makes a gorgeous show here in October.

The sandstone to the east of Kala-panee is capped by some beds, forty feet thick, of conglomerate worn into cliffs; these are the remains of a very extensive horizontally stratified formation, now all but entirely denuded. In the valley itself, the sandstone alternates with alum shales, which rest on a bed of quartz conglomerate, and the latter on black greenstone. In the bed of the river, whose waters are beautifully clear, are hornstone rocks, dipping north-east, and striking north-west. Beyond the Kalapanee the road ascends about 600 feet, and is well quarried in hard greenstone; and passing through a narrow gap of


 

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conglomerate rock,* enters a shallow, wild, and beautiful valley, through which it runs for several miles. The hills on either side are of greenstone capped by tabular sandstone, immense masses of which have been precipitated on the floor of the valley, producing a singularly wild and picturesque scene. In the gloom of the evening it is not difficult for a fertile imagination to fancy castles and cities cresting the heights above.†

There is some cultivation here of potatoes, and of Rhysicosia vestita a beautiful purple-flowered leguminous plant, with small tuberous roots. Beyond this, a high ridge is gained above the valley of the Boga-panee, the largest river in the Khasia; from this the Bhotan Himalaya may be seen in clear weather, at the astonishing distance of from 160 to 200 miles! The vegetation here suddenly assumes a different aspect, from the quantity of stunted fir-trees clothing the north side of the valley, which rises very steeply 1000 feet above the river: quite unaccountably, however, not one grows on the south face. A new oak also appears abundantly; it has leaves like the English, whose gnarled habit it also assumes.

The descent is very steep, and carried down a slope of greenstone;‡ the road then follows a clear affluent of the Boga-panee, and afterwards winds along the margin of that river, which is a rapid turbulent stream, very muddy, and

* Formed of rolled masses of greenstone and sandstone, united by a white and yellow cement.
Hydrangea grows here, with ivy, Mussœnda, Pyrua, willow, Viburnum, Parnassia, Anemone, Leycesteria formosa, Neillia, Rubus, Astilbe, rose, Panax, apple, Bucklandia, Daphne, pepper, Scindapsus, Pierix, holly, Lilium giganteum (“Kalang tatti,” Khas.), Camellia, Elæocarpus, Buddleia, etc. Large bees’ nests hang from the rocks.
‡ This greenstone decomposes into a thick bed of red clay; it is much intersected by fissures or cleavage planes at all angles, whose surfaces are covered with a shining polished superficial layer; like the fissures in the cleavage planes of the gneiss granite of Kinchinjhow, whose adjacent surfaces are coated with a glassy waved layer of hornblende. This polishing of the surfaces is generally attributed to their having been in contact and rubbed together, an explanation which is wholly unsatisfactory to me; no such motion could take place in cleavage planes which often intersect, and were it to occur, it would not produce two polished surfaces of an interposed layer of a softer mineral. It is more probably due to metamorphic action.


 

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hence contrasting remarkably with the Kala-panee. It derives its mud from the decomposition of granite, which is washed by the natives for iron, and in which rock it rises to the eastward. Thick beds of slate crop out by the roadside (strike north-east and dip north-west), and are continued along the bed of the river, passing into conglomerates, chert, purple slates, and crystalline sandstones, with pebbles, and angular masses of schist. Many of these rocks are much crumpled, others quite flat, and they are overlaid by soft, variegated gneiss, which is continued alternately with the slates to the top of the hills on the opposite side.

Small trees of hornbeam grow near the river, with Rhus, Xanthoxylon, Vaccinium, Gualtheria, and Spiræa, while many beautiful ferns, mosses, and orchids cover the rocks. An elegant iron suspension-bridge is thrown across the stream, from a rock matted with tufts of little parasitic Orchideæ. Crossing it, we came on many pine-trees; these had five-years’ old cones on them, as well as those of all succeeding years; they bear male flowers in autumn, which impregnate the cones formed the previous year. Thus, the cones formed in the spring of 1850 are fertilised in the following autumn, and do not ripen their seeds till the second following autumn, that of 1852.

A very steep ascent leads to the bungalow of Moflong, on a broad, bleak hill-top, near the axis of the range (alt. 6,062 feet). Here there is a village, and some cultivation, surrounded by hedges of Erythrina, Pieris, Viburnum,


 

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Pyres, Colquhounia, and Corylopsis, amongst which grew an autumn-flowering lark-spur, with most fœtid flowers.* The rocks are much contorted slates and gneiss (strike north-east and dip south-east). In a deep gulley to the northward, greenstone appears, with black basalt and jasper, the latter apparently altered gneiss: beyond this the rocks strike the opposite way, but are much disturbed.

We passed the end of June here, and experienced the same violent weather, thunder, lightning, gales, and rain, which prevailed during every midsummer I spent in India. A great deal of Coix (Job’s tears) is cultivated about Moflong: it is of a dull greenish purple, and though planted in drills, and carefully hoed and weeded, is a very ragged crop. The shell of the cultivated sort is soft, and the kernel is sweet; whereas the wild Coix is so hard that it cannot be broken by the teeth. Each plant branches two or three times from the base, and from seven to nine plants grow in each square yard of soil: the produce is small, not above thirty or forty fold.

From a hill behind Moflong bungalow, on which are some stone altars, a most superb view is obtained of the Bhotan Himalaya to the northward, their snowy peaks stretching in a broken series from north 17° east to north 35° west; all are below the horizon of the spectator, though from 17,000 to 20,000 feet above his level. The finest view in the Khasia mountains, and perhaps a more extensive one than has ever before been described, is that from

* There is a wood a mile to the west of the bungalow, worth visiting by the botanist: besides yew, oak, Sabia and Camellia, it contains Olea, Euonymus, and Sphærocarya, a small tree that bears a green pear-shaped sweet fruit, with a large stone: it is pleasant, but leaves a disagreeable taste in the mouth. On the grassy flats an Astragalus occurs, and Roscœa purpurea, Tofieldia, and various other fine plants are common.


 

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Chillong hill, the culminant point of the range, about six miles north-east from Moflong bungalow. This hill, 6,660 feet above the sea, rises from an undulating grassy country, covered with scattered trees and occasional clumps of wood; the whole scenery about being park-like, and as little like that of India at so low an elevation as it is possible to be.

I visited Chillong in October with Lieutenant Cave; starting from Churra, and reaching the bungalow, two miles from its top, the same night, with two relays of ponies, which he had kindly provided. We were unfortunate in not obtaining a brilliant view of the snowy mountains, their tops being partially clouded; but the coup d’œil was superb. Northward, beyond the rolling Khasia hills, lay the whole Assam valley, seventy miles broad, with the Burrampooter winding through it, fifty miles distant, reduced to a thread. Beyond this, banks of hazy vapour obscured all but the dark range of the Lower Himalaya, crested by peaks of frosted silver, at the immense distance of from 100 to 220 miles from Chillong. All are below the horizon of the observer; yet so false is perspective, that they seem high in the air. The mountains occupy sixty degrees of the horizon, and stretch over upwards of 250 miles, comprising the greatest extent of snow visible from any point with which I am acquainted.

Westward from Chillong the most distant Garrow hills visible are about forty miles off; and eastward those of Cachar, which are loftier, are about seventy miles. To the south the view is limited by the Tipperah hills, which, where nearest, are 100 miles distant; while to the south-west lies the sea-like Gangetic delta, whose horizon, lifted by refraction, must be fully 120. The extent of this view is


 

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therefore upwards of 340 miles in one direction, and the visible horizon of the observer encircles an area of fully thirty thousand square miles, which is greater than that of Ireland!

Scarlet-flowered rhododendron bushes cover the north side of Chillong,* whilst the south is grassy and quite bare; and except some good Orchideæ on the trees, there is little to reward the botanist. The rocks appeared to be sandstone at the summit, but micaceous gneiss all around.

Continuing northward from Moflong, the road, after five miles, dips into a very broad and shallow flat-floored valley, fully a mile across, which resembles a lake-bed: it is bounded by low hills, and is called “Lanten-tannia,” and is bare of aught but long grass and herbs; amongst these are the large groundsel (Senecio), Dipsacus, Ophelia, and Campanula. On its south flank the micaceous slates strike north-east, and dip north-west, and on the top repose beds, a foot in thickness, of angular water-worn gravel, indicating an ancient water-level, 400 feet above the floor of the valley. Other smaller lake-beds, in the lateral valleys, are equally evident.

A beautiful blue-flowered Clitoria creeps over the path, with the ground-raspberry of Dorjiling. From the top a sudden descent of 400 feet leads to another broad flat valley, called “Syong” (elevation, 5,725 feet), in which is a good bungalow, surrounded by hedges of Prinsepia utilis, a common north-west Himalayan plant, only found at 8000 feet in Sikkim. The valley is grassy, but otherwise bare. Beyond this the road passes over low rocky hills, wooded on their north or sheltered flanks only, dividing flat-floored valleys: a red sandy gneiss is the prevalent rock, but boulders of syenite are scattered about. Extensive

* These skirt a wood of prickly bamboo, in which occur fig, laurel, Aralia, Bœmeria, Smilax, Toddalia, wild cinnamon, and three kinds of oak.


 

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moors (elevation, 6000 feet) succeed, covered with stunted pines, brake, and tufts of harsh grasses.*

Near the Dengship-oong (river), which flows in a narrow valley, is a low dome of gneiss altered by syenite. The prevalent dip is uniformly south-east, and the strike north-east; and detached boulders of syenite become more frequent, resting on a red gneiss, full of black garnets, till the descent to the valley of Myrung, one of the most beautiful spots in the Khasia, and a favourite resort, having an excellent bungalow which commands a superb view of the Himalaya: it is 5,650 feet above the sea, and is placed on the north flank of a very shallow marshy valley, two miles broad, and full of rice cultivation, as are the flat heads of all the little valleys that lead into it. There is a guard here of light infantry, and a little garden, boasting a gardener and some tea-plants, so that we had vegetables during our four visits to the place, on two of which occasions we stayed some days.

From Kala-panee to Myrung, a distance of thirty-two miles, the road does not vary 500 feet above or below the mean level of 5,700 feet, and the physical features are the same throughout, of broad flat-floored, steep-sided valleys, divided by bleak, grassy, tolerably level-topped bills. Beyond Myrung the Khasia mountains slope to the southward in rolling loosely-wooded hills, but the spurs do not dip suddenly till beyond Nunklow, eight miles further north.

On the south side of the Myrung valley is Nungbree wood, a dense jungle, occupying, like all the other woods,

* These are principally Andropogon and Brachypodium, amongst which grow yellow Corydalis, Thalictrum, Anemone, Parnassia, Prunella, strawberry, Eupatorium, Hypericum, willow, a Polygonum like Bistorta, Osmunda regalis and another species Lycopodium alpinum, a Senecio like Jacobæa, thistles, Gnaphalium, Gentians, Iris, Paris, Sanguisorba and Agrimonia.


 

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the steep north exposure of the hill; many good plants grow in it, including some gigantic Balanophoræ, Pyrola, and Monotropa. The bungalow stands on soft, contorted, decomposing gneiss, which is still the prevalent rock, striking north-east. On the hills to the east of it, enormous hard blocks lie fully exposed, and are piled on one another, as if so disposed by glacial action; and it is difficult to account for them by denudation, though their surface scales, and similar blocks are scattered around Myrung exactly similar to the syenite blocks of Nunklow, and the granite ones of Nonkreem, to be described hereafter, and which are undoubtedly due to the process of weathering. A great mass of flesh-coloured crystalline granite rises in the centre of the valley, to the east of the road: it is fissured in various directions, and the surface scales concentrically; it is obscurely stratified in some parts, and appears to be half granite and half gneiss in mineralogical character.

We twice visited a very remarkable hill, called Kollong, which rises as a dome of granite 5,400 feet high, ten or twelve miles south-west of Myrung, and conspicuous from all directions. The path to it turns off from that to Nunklow, and strikes westerly along the shallow valley of Monai, in which is a village, and much rice and other cultivation. Near this there is a large square stockade, formed of tall bamboos placed close together, very like a New Zealand “Pa;” indeed, the whole country hereabouts much recalls the grassy clay hills, marshy valleys, and bushy ridges of the Bay of Islands.

The hills on either side are sometimes dotted with pinewoods, sometimes conical and bare, with small clumps of pines on the summit only; while in other places are broad tracts containing nothing but young trees, resembling


 

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plantations, but which, I am assured, are not planted; on the other hand, however, Mr. Yule states, that the natives do plant fir-trees, especially near the iron forges, which give employment to all the people of Monai.

All the streams rise in flat marshy depressions amongst the hills with which the whole country is covered; and both these features, together with the flat clay marshes into which the rivers expand, are very suggestive of tidal action. Rock is hardly anywhere seen, except in the immediate vicinity of Kollong, where are many scattered boulders of fine-grained gneiss, of which are made the broad stone slabs, placed as seats, and the other erections of this singular people. We repeatedly remarked cones of earth, clay, and pebbles, about twelve feet high, upon the hills, which appeared to be artificial, but of which the natives could give no explanation. Wild apple and birch are common trees, but there is little jungle, except in the hollows, and on the north slopes of the higher hills. Coarse long grass, with bushes of Labiate and Composite plants, are the prevalent features.

Kollong rock is a steep dome of red granite,* accessible from the north and east, but almost perpendicular to the southward, where the slope is 80° for 600 feet. The elevation is 400 feet above the mean level of the surrounding ridges, and 700 above the bottom of the valleys. The south or steepest side is encumbered with enormous detached blocks, while the north is clothed with a dense forest, containing red tree-rhododendrons and oaks; on its skirts grew a white bushy rhododendron, which we found nowhere else. The hard granite of the top was covered with matted mosses, lichens, Lycopodiums, and ferns,

* This granite is highly crystalline, and does not scale or flake, nor is its surface polished.


 

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amongst which were many curious and beautiful airplants.*


 
Kollong rock

The view from the top is very extensive to the northward, but not elsewhere: it commands the Assam valley and the Himalaya, and the billowy range of undulating grassy Khasia mountains. Few houses were visible, but the curling smoke from the valleys betrayed their lurking-places, whilst the tinkling sound of the hammers from the distant

* Eria, Cœlogyne (Wallichii, maculata, and elata), Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Sunipia some of them flowering profusely; and though freely exposed to the sun and wind, dews and frosts, rain and droughts, they were all fresh, bright, green and strong, under very different treatment from that to which they are exposed in the damp, unhealthy, steamy orchid-houses of our English gardens. A wild onion was most abundant all over the top of the hill, with Hymenopogon, Vaccinium, Ophiopogon, Anisadenia, Commelyna, Didymocarpus, Remusatia, Hedychium, grass and small bamboos, and a good many other plants. Many of the lichens were of European kinds; but the mosses (except Bryum argenteum) and ferns were different. A small Staphylinus, which swarmed under the sods, was the only insect I remarked.


 

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forges on all sides was singularly musical and pleasing; they fell on the ear like “bells upon the wind,” each ring being exquisitely melodious, and chiming harmoniously with the others. The solitude and beauty of the scenery, and the emotions excited by the music of chimes, tended to tranquillise our minds, wearied by the fatigues of travel, and the excitement of pursuits that required unremitting attention; and we rested for some time, our imaginations wandering to far-distant scenes, brought vividly to our minds by these familiar sounds.

Next Chapter XXIX