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Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter XXX

 

Chapter XXIX

View of Himalaya from the Khasia — Great masses of snow — Chumulari — Donkia — Grasses — Nunklow — Assam valley and Burrampooter — Tropical forest — Borpanee — Rhododendrons — Wild elephants — Blocks of Syenite — Return to Churra — Coal — August temperature — Leave for Chela — Jasper hill — Birds — Arundina — Habits of leaf-insects — Curious village — Houses — Canoes — Boga-panee river — Jheels — Chattuc — Churra — Leave for Jyntea hills — Trading parties — Dried fish — Cherries — Cinnamon — Fraud — Pea-violet — Nonkreem — Sandstone — Pines — Granite boulders — Iron washing — Forges — Tanks — Siberian Nymphæa — Barren country — Pomrang — Podostemon — Patchouli plant — Mooshye — Enormous stone slabs — Pitcher-plant — Joowye cultivation and vegetation — Hydropeltis — Sulky hostess — Nurtiung — Hamamelis chinensis — Bor-panee river — Sacred grove and gigantic stone structures — Altars — Pyramids, etc. — Origin of names — Vanda cœrulea — Collections — November vegetation — Geology of Khasia — Sandstone — Coal — Lime — Gneiss — Greenstone — Tidal action — Strike of rocks — Comparison with Rajmahal hills and the Himalaya.


 

The snowy Himalaya was not visible during our first stay at Myrung, from the 5th to the 10th of July; but on three subsequent occasions, viz., 27th and 28th of July, 13th to 17th October, and 22nd to 25th October, we saw these magnificent mountains, and repeatedly took angular heights and bearings of the principal peaks. The range, as seen from the Khasia, does not form a continuous line of snowy mountains, but the loftiest eminences are conspicuously grouped into masses, whose position is probably between the great rivers which rise far beyond them and flow through Bhotan. This arrangement indicates that relation of the rivers to the masses of snow, which I have dwelt upon in the Appendix;


 

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and further tends to prove that the snowy mountains, seen from the southward, are not on the axis of a mountain chain, and do not even indicate its position; but that they are lofty meridional spurs which, projecting southward, catch the moist vapours, become more deeply snowed, and protect the dry loftier regions behind.

The most conspicuous group of snows seen from the Khasia bears N.N.E. from Myrung, and consists of three beautiful mountains with wide-spreading snowy shoulders. These are distant (reckoning from west to east) respectively 164, 170, and 172 miles from Myrung, and subtend angles of +0° 4′ 0″, –0° 1′ 30″, and –0° 2′ 28″.* From Nunklow (940 feet lower than Myrung) they appear higher, the western peak rising 14° 35′ above the horizon; whilst from Moflong (32 miles further south, and elevation 6,062 feet) the same is sunk 2° below the horizon. My computations make this western mountain upwards of 24,000 feet high; but according to Col. Wilcox’s angles, taken from the Assam valley, it is only 21,600, the others being respectively 20,720 and 21,475. Captain Thuillier (the Deputy Surveyor General) agrees with me in considering that Colonel Wilcox’s altitudes are probably much

* These angles were taken both at sunrise and sunset, and with an excellent theodolite, and were repeated after two considerable intervals. The telescopes were reversed after each observation, and every precaution used to insure accuracy; nevertheless the mean of one set of observations of angular height often varied 1 degree from that of another set. This is probably much due to atmospheric refraction, whose effect and amount it is impossible to estimate accurately in such cases. Here the objects are not only viewed through 160 miles of atmosphere, but through belts from between 6000 to 20,000 feet of vertical height, varying in humidity and transparency at different parts of the interval. If we divide this column of atmosphere into sections parallel to those of latitude, we have first a belt fifteen miles broad, hanging over the Khasia, 2000 to 4000 feet above the sea; beyond it, a second belt, seventy miles broad, hangs over the Assam valley, which is hardly 300 feet above the level of the sea; and thirdly, the northern part of the column, which reposes on 60 to 100 miles of the Bhotan lower Himalaya: each of these belts has probably a different refractive power.


 

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under-estimated, as those of other Himalayan peaks to the westward were by the old surveyors. It is further evident that these mountains have (as far as can be estimated by angles) fully 6–8000 feet of snow on them, which would not be the case were the loftiest only 21,600 feet high.

It is singular, that to the eastward of this group, no snowy mountains are seen, and the lower Himalaya also dip suddenly. This depression is no doubt partly due to perspective; but as there is no such sudden disappearance of the chain to the westward, where peaks are seen 35° to the west of north, it is far more probable that the valley of the Soobansiri river, which rises in Tibet far behind these peaks, is broad and open; as is that of the Dihong, still farther east, which we have every reason to believe is the Tibetan Yaru or Burrampooter.

Supposing then the eastern group to indicate the mountain mass separating the Soobansiri from the Monass river, no other mountains conspicuous for altitude or dimension rise between N.N.E. and north, where there is another immense group. This, though within 120 miles of Myrung, is below its horizon, and scarcely above that of Nunklow (which is still nearer to it), and cannot therefore attain any great elevation.

Far to the westward again, is a very lofty peaked mountain bearing N.N.W., which subtends an angle of –3′ 30″ from Myrung, and +6′ 0″ from Nunklow. The angles of this seem to indicate its being either Chumulari, or that great peak which I saw due east from Bbomtso top, and which I then estimated at ninety miles off and 23,500 feet high. From the Khasia angles, its latitude and longitude are 28° 6′ and 89° 30′, its elevation 27,000 feet, and its distance from Myrung 200 miles. I need hardly add


 

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that neither the position nor the elevation computed from such data is worthy of confidence. Further still, to the extreme west, is an immense low hog-backed mass of snow, with a small peak on it; this bears north-west, both from Myrung and Nunklow, subtending an angle of –25′ from the former, and –17′ from the latter station. It is in all probability Chumulari, 210 miles distant from Nunklow. Donkia, if seen, would be distant 230 miles from the same spot in the Khasia, and Kinchinjunga 260; possibly they are visible (by refraction) from Chillong, though even further from it.

The distance from Myrung to Nunklow is ten miles, along an excellent road. The descent is at first sudden, beyond which the country is undulating, interspersed with jungle (of low trees, chiefly oaks) and marshes, with much rice cultivation. Grasses are exceedingly numerous; we gathered fifty kinds, besides twenty Cyperaceæ: four were cultivated, namely sugar-cane, rice, Coix, and maize. Most of the others were not so well suited to pasturage as those of higher localities. Dwarf Phœnix palm occurs by the roadside at 5000 feet elevation.

Gneiss (with garnets) highly inclined, was the prevalent rock (striking north-east), and scattered boulders of syenite became very frequent. In one place the latter rock is seen bursting through the gneiss, which is slaty and very crystalline at the junction.


 
The Bhotan Himalaya, Assam Valley, and Burrampooter River, from Nunklow, looking north.

Nunklow is placed at the northern extremity of a broad spur that over-hangs the valley of the Burrampooter river, thirty miles distant. The descent from it is very rapid, and beyond it none of the many spurs thrown out by the Khasia attain more than 1000 feet elevation; hence, though the range does not present so abrupt a


 

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face to the Burrampooter as it does to the Jheels, Nunklow is considered as on the brink of its north slope. The elevation of the bungalow is 4,688 feet, and the climate being hot, it swarms with mosquitos, fleas, and rats. It commands a superb view to the north, of the Himalayan snows, of the Burrampooter, and intervening malarious Terai forest; and to the south, of the undulating Khasia, with Kollong rock bearing south-west. All the hills between this and Myrung look from Nunklow better wooded than they do from Myrung, in consequence of the slopes exposed to the south being bare of forest.

A thousand feet below the bungalow, a tropical forest begins, of figs, birch, horse-chestnut, oak, nutmeg. Cedrela, Engelhardtia, Artocarpeæ, and Elæocarpus, in the gullies, and tall pines on the dry slopes, which are continued down to the very bottom of the valley in which flows the Bor-panee, a broad and rapid river that descends from Chillong, and winds round the base of the Nunklow spur. Many of the pines are eighty feet high, and three or four in diameter, but none form gigantic trees. The quantity of balsams in the wet ravines is very great, and tree-ferns of several kinds are common.

The Bor-panee is about forty yards wide, and is spanned by an elegant iron suspension-bridge, that is clamped to the gneiss rock (strike north-east, dip north-west) on either bank; beneath is a series of cascades, none high, but all of great beauty from the broken masses of rocks and picturesque scenery on either side. We frequently botanised up and down the river with great success: many curious plants grow on its stony and rocky banks; and amongst them Rhododendron formosum at the low elevation of 2000 feet. A most splendid fern, Dipteris Wallichii, is abundant, with the dwarf Phœnix palm and Cycas pectinata.


 

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Wild animals are very abundant here, though extremely rare on the higher part of the Khasia range; tigers, however, and bears, ascend to Nunklow. We saw troops of wild dogs (“Kuleam,” Khas.), deer, and immense quantities of the droppings of the wild elephant; an animal considered in Assam dangerous to meet, whereas in other parts of India it is not dreaded till provoked. There is, however, no quadruped that varies more in its native state than this: the Ceylon kind differs from the Indian in the larger size and short tusks, and an experienced judge at Calcutta will tell at once whether the newly caught elephant is from Assam, Silhet, Cuttack, Nepal, or Chittagong. Some of the differences, in size, roundness of shoulders and back, quantity of hair, length of limb, and shape of head, are very marked; and their dispositions are equally various.

The lowest rocks seen are at a considerable distance down the Bor-panee; they are friable sandstones that strike uniformly with the gneiss. From the bridge upwards the rocks are all gneiss, alternating with chert and quartz. The Nunklow spur is covered with enormous rounded blocks of syenite, reposing on clay or on one another. These do not descend the hill, and are the remains of an extensive formation which we could only find in situ at one spot on the road to Myrung (see earlier), but which must have been of immense thickness.* One block within ten yards of the bungalow door was fifteen feet long, six high, and eight broad; it appeared half buried, and was rapidly decomposing from the action of the rain. Close by, to the westward, in walking amongst the masses we

* The tendency of many volcanic rocks to decompose in spheres is very well known: it is conspicuous in the black basalts north of Edinburgh, but I do not know any instance equal to this of Nunklow, for the extent of decomposition and dimensions of the resulting spheres.


 

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were reminded of a moraine of most gigantic sized blocks; one which I measured was forty feet long and eleven above the ground; its edges were rounded, and its surface flaked off in pieces a foot broad and a quarter of an inch thick. Trees and brushwood often conceal the spaces between these fragments, and afford dens for bears and leopards, into which man cannot follow them.

Sitting in the cool evenings on one of these great blocks, and watching the Himalayan glaciers glowing with the rays of sunset, appearing to change in form and dimensions with the falling shadows, it was impossible to refrain from speculating on the possibility of these great boulders heaped on the Himalayan-ward face of the Khasia range, having been transported hither by ice at some former period; especially as the Mont Blanc granite, in crossing the lake of Geneva to the Jura, must have performed a hardly less wonderful ice journey: but this hypothesis is clearly untenable; and unparalleled in our experience as the results appear, if attributed to denudation and weathering alone, we are yet compelled to refer them to these causes. The further we travel, and the longer we study, the more positive becomes the conviction that the part played by these great agents in sculpturing the surface of our planet, is as yet but half recognised.

We returned on the 7th of August to Churra, where we employed ourselves during the rest of the month in collecting and studying the plants of the neighbourhood. We hired a large and good bungalow, in which three immense coal fires* were kept up for drying plants and

* This coal is excellent for many purposes. We found it generally used by the Assam steamers, and were informed on board that in which we traversed the Sunderbunds, some months afterwards, that her furnaces consumed 729 lbs. per hour; whereas the consumption of English coal was 800 lbs., of Burdwan coal 8401bs., and of Assam 900 lbs.


 

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papers, and fifteen men were always employed, some in changing, and some in collecting, from morning till night. The coal was procured within a mile of our door, and cost about six shillings a month; it was of the finest quality, and gave great heat and few ashes. Torrents of rain descended almost daily, twelve inches in as many hours being frequently registered; and we remarked that it was impossible to judge of the quantity by estimation, an apparent deluge sometimes proving much less in amount than much lighter but steadier falls; hence the greatest fall is probably that in which the drops are moderately large; very close together, and which pass through a saturated atmosphere. The temperature of the rain here and elsewhere in India was always a degree or two below that of the air.

Though the temperature in August rose to 75°, we never felt a fire oppressive, owing to the constant damp, and absence of sun. The latter, when it broke through the clouds, shone powerfully, raising the thermometer 20° and 30° in as many minutes. On such occasions, hot blasts of damp wind ascend the valleys, and impinge suddenly against different houses on the flat, giving rise to extraordinary differences between the mean daily temperatures of places not half a mile apart.

On the 4th of September we started for the village of Chela, which lies west from Churra, at the embouchure of the Boga-panee on the Jheels. The path runs by Mamloo, and down the spur to the Jasper hill (see p. 280): the vegetation all along is very tropical, and pepper, ginger, maize, and Betel palm, are cultivated around small cottages, which are only distinguishable in the forest by their yellow thatch of dry Calamus (Rattan) leaves. From Jasper hill a very steep ridge leads to another, called Lisouplang, which is


 

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hardly so high as Mamloo; the rocks are the same sandstone, with fragments of coal, and remains of the limestone formation capping it.

Hot gusts of wind blow up the valleys, alternating with clouds and mists, and it is curious to watch the effects of the latter in stilling the voices of insects (Cicadas) and birds. Common crows and vultures haunt the villages, but these, and all other large birds, are very rare in the Khasia. A very few hawks are occasionally seen, also sparrows and kingfishers, and I once heard a cuckoo; pheasants are sometimes shot, but we never saw any. Kites become numerous after the rains, and are regarded as a sign of their cessation. More remarkable than the rarity of birds is the absence of all animals except domestic rats, as a more suitable country for hares and rabbits could not be found. Reptiles, and especially Colubridæ, are very common in the Khasia mountains, and I procured sixteen species and many specimens. The natives repeatedly assured us that these were all harmless, and Dr. Gray, who has kindly examined all my snakes, informs me of the remarkable fact (alluded to in a note in p. 25), that whereas none of these are poisonous, four out of the eleven species which I found in Sikkim are so. One of the Khasia blind-worms (a new species) belongs to a truly American genus (Ophisaurus), a fact as important as is that of the Sikkim skink and Agama being also American forms.

Arundina, a beautiful purple grassy-leaved orchid, was abundantly in flower on the hill-top, and the great white swallow-tailed moth (Saturnia Atlas) was extremely common, with tropical butterflies and other insects. The curious leaf-insect (Mantis) was very abundant on the orange trees, on the leaves of which the natives believe


 

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it to feed; nor indeed could we persuade some of our friends that its thin sharp jaws are unsuited for masticating leaves, and that these and its prehensile feet indicate its predacious nature: added to which, its singular resemblance to a leaf is no less a provision against its being discovered by its enemies, than an aid in deceiving its prey.

We descended rapidly for many miles through beautiful rocky woods, with villages nestling amongst groves of banana and trellised climbers; and from the brow of a hill looked down upon a slope covered with vegetation and huts, which formed the mart of Chela, and below which the Boga-panee flowed in a deep gorge. The view was a very striking one: owing to the steepness of the valley below our feet, the roofs alone of the cottages were visible, from which ascended the sounds and smells of a dense native population, and to which there appeared to be no way of descending. The opposite side rose precipitously in lofty table-topped mountains, and the river was studded with canoes.

The descent was fully 800 feet, on a slope averaging 25° to 35°. The cottages were placed close together, each within a little bamboo enclosure, eight to ten yards deep; and no two were on the same level. Each was built against a perpendicular wall which supported a cutting in the bank behind; and a similar wall descended in front of it, forming the back of the compartment in which the cottage next below it was erected. The houses were often raised on platforms, and some had balconies in front, which overhung the cottage below. All were mere hovels of wattle or mud, with very high-pitched roofs: stone tanks resembling fonts, urns, coffins, and sarcophagi, were placed near the better houses, and blocks of stone were scattered everywhere.


 

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We descended from hovel to hovel, alternately along the gravelled flat of each enclosure, and perpendicularly down steps cut in the sandstone or let into the walls. I counted 800 houses from the river, and there must be many more: the inhabitants are Bengalees and Khasias, and perhaps amount to 3000 or 4000; but this is a very vague estimate.


 
Chela village

We lodged in a curious house, consisting of one apartment, twenty feet long, and five high, raised thirty feet upon bamboos: the walls were of platted bamboo matting, fastened to strong wooden beams, and one side opened on a balcony that overhung the river. The entrance was an oval aperture reached by a ladder, and closed by folding-doors that turned on wooden pivots.


 

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The roof was supported by tressels of great thickness, and like the rest of the woodwork, was morticed, no nails being used throughout the building. The floor was of split bamboos laid side by side.

We ascended the Boga-panee in canoes, each formed of a hollowed trunk fifty feet long and four broad; we could not, however, proceed far, on account of the rapids. The rocks in its bed are limestone, but a great bluff cliff of sandy conglomerate (strike east-south-east and dip south-south-west 70°), several hundred feet high, rises on the east bank close above the village, above which occurs amygdaloidal basalt. The pebbles in the river (which was seventy yards broad, and turbid) were of slate, basalt, sandstone, and syenite: on the opposite bank were sandstones over-lain by limestone, both dipping to the southward.

Beautiful palms, especially Caryota urens (by far the handsomest in India), and groves of betel-nut bordered the river, with oranges, lemons, and citrons; intermixed with feathery bamboos, horizontally-branched acacias, oaks, with pale red young leaves, and deep green foliaged figs. Prickly rattans and Plectocomia climbed amongst these, their enormous plumes of foliage upborne by the matted branches of the trees, and their arrowy tops shooting high above the forest.

After staying three days at Chela, we descended the stream in canoes, shooting over pebbly rapids, and amongst rocks of limestone, water-worn into fantastic shapes, till we at last found ourselves gliding gently along the still canals of the Jheels. Many of these rapids are so far artificial, that they are enclosed by gravel banks, six feet high, which, by confining the waters, give them depth; but, Chela being hardly above the level of the sea, their fall is


 

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very trifling. We proceeded across the Jheels* to Chattuc, and then north again to Pundua, and so to Churra.

Having pretty well exhausted the botany of Churra, Dr. Thomson and I started on the 13th of September for the eastern part of the Khasia and Jyntea mountains. On the Kala-panee road,† which we followed, we passed crowds of market people, laden with dried fish in a half-putrid state, which scented the air for many yards: they were chiefly carp, caught and dried at the foot of the hills. Large parties were bringing down baskets of bird-cherries, cinnamon-bark, iron, pine planks, fire-wood, and potatoes. Of these, the bird-cherries (like damsons) are made into an excellent preserve by the English residents, who also make capital cherry-brandy of them: the trade in cinnamon is of recent introduction, and is much encouraged by the Inglis family, to whose exertions these people are so greatly indebted; the cinnamon is the peeled bark of a small species of Cinnamomum allied to that of Ceylon, and though inferior in flavour and mucilaginous (like cassia), finds a ready market at Calcutta. It has been used to adulterate the Ceylon cinnamon; and an extensive fraud was attempted by some Europeans at Calcutta, who sent boxes of this, with a top layer of the genuine, to England. The smell of the cinnamon loads was as fragrant as that of the fish was offensive.

The road from Kala-panee bungalow strikes off north-easterly, and rounds the head of the deep valley to the east of Churra; it then crosses the head-waters of the

* The common water-plants of the Jheels are Vallisneria serrata, Damasonium, 2 Myriophylla, 2 Villarsiæ, Trapa, blue, white, purple and scarlet water-lilies, Hydrilla, Utricularia, Limnophila, Azolla, Salvinia, Ceratopteris, and floating grasses.
† The Pea-violet (Crotalaria occulta) was very common by the road-side, and smelt deliciously of violets: the English name suggests the appearance of the flower, for which and for its fragrance it is well worth cultivation.


 

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Kala-panee river, still a clear stream, the bed of which is comparatively superficial: the rocks consist of a little basalt and much sandstone, striking east by north, and dipping north by west. The Boga-panee is next reached, flowing in a shallow valley, about 200 feet below the general level of the hills, which are grassy and treeless. The river* is thirty yards across, shallow and turbid; its bed is granite, and beyond it scattered stunted pines are met with; a tree which seems to avoid the sandstone. In the evening we arrived at Nonkreem, a large village in a broad marshy valley, where we procured accommodation with some difficulty, the people being by no means civil, and the Rajah, Sing Manuk, holding himself independent of the British Government.

Atmospheric denudation and weathering have produced remarkable effects on the lower part of the Nonkreem valley, which is blocked up by a pine-crested hill, 200 feet high, entirely formed of round blocks of granite, heaped up so as to resemble an old moraine; but like the Nunklow boulders, these are not arranged as if by glacial action. The granite is micaceous, and usually very soft, decomposing into a coarse reddish sand, that colours the Boga-panee. To procure the iron-sand, which is disseminated through it, the natives conduct water over the beds of granite sand, and as the lighter particles are washed away, the remainder is removed to troughs, where the separation of the ore is completed. The smelting is very rudely carried on in charcoal fires, blown by enormous double-action bellows, worked by two persons, who stand on the machine, raising the flaps with their hands, and expanding them with their feet, as shown in the cut at p. 312.

* The fall of this river, between this elevation (which may be considered that of its source) and Chela, is about 5,500 feet.


 

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There is neither furnace nor flux used in the reduction. The fire is kindled on one aide of an upright stone (like the head-stone of a grave), with a small arched hole close to the ground: near this hole the bellows are suspended; and a bamboo tube from each of its compartments, meets in a larger one, by which the draught is directed under the hole in the stone to the fire. The ore is run into lumps as large as two fists, with a rugged surface: these lumps are afterwards cleft nearly in two, to show their purity.


 
Nonkreem village

The scenery about Nonkreem village is extremely picturesque, and we procured many good plants on the rocks, which were covered with the purple-flowered Orchid, Cœlogyne Wallichii. The country is everywhere intersected


 

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with trenches for iron-washing, and some large marshes were dammed up for the same purpose: in these we found some beautiful balsams, Hypericum and Parnassia; also a diminutive water-lily, the flower of which is no larger than a half-crown; it proves to be the Nymphæa pygmæa of China and Siberia—a remarkable fact in the geographical distribution of plants.


 
Bellows

From Nonkreem we proceeded easterly to Pomrang, leaving Chillong hill on the north, and again crossing the Bega-panee, beyond which the sandstone appeared (strike


 

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north-east and dip north-west 60°); the soil was poor in the extreme; not an inhabitant or tree was to be seen throughout the grassy landscape, and hardly a bush, save an occasional rhododendron, dwarf oak, or Pieris, barely a few inches high.

At Pomrang we took up our quarters in an excellent empty bungalow, built by Mr. Stainforth (Judge of Silhet), who kindly allowed us the use of it. Its elevation was 5,143 feet, and it occupied the eastern extremity of a lofty spur that overhangs the deep fir-clad valley of the Oongkot, dividing Khasia from Jyntea. The climate of Pomrang is so much cooler and less rainy than at Churra, that this place is more eligible for a station; but the soil is quite impracticable, there is an occasional scarcity of water, the pasture is wholly unsuited for cattle or sheep, and the distance from the plains is too great.

A beautiful view extends eastwards to the low Jyntea hills, backed by the blue mountains of Cachar, over the deep valley in front; to the northward, a few peaks of the Himalaya are seen, and westward is Chillong. We staid here till the 23rd September, and then proceeded south-eastward to Mooshye. The path descends into the valley of the Oongkot, passing the village of Pomrang, and then through woods of pine, Gordonia, and oak, the latter closely resembling the English, and infested with galls. The slopes are extensively cultivated with black awnless unirrigated rice, and poor crops of Coix, protected from the birds by scarecrows of lines stretched across the fields, bearing tassels and tufts of fern, shaken by boys. This fern proved to be a very curious and interesting genus, which is only known to occur elsewhere at Hong-Kong in China, and has been called Bowringia, after the eminent Dr. Bowring.


 

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We crossed the river* twice, proceeding south-west to Mooshye, a village placed on an isolated, flat-topped, and very steep-sided hill, 4,863 feet above the sea, and perhaps 3,500 above the Oongkot, which winds round its base. A very steep path led up slate rocks to the top (which was of sandstone), where there is a stockaded guard-house, once occupied by British troops, of which we took possession. A Labiate plant (Mesona Wallichiana) grew on the ascent, whose bruised leaves smelt as strongly of patchouli, as do those of the plant producing that perfume, to which it is closely allied. The Pogostemon Patchouli has been said to occur in these parts of India, but we never met with it, and doubt the accuracy of the statement. It is a native of the Malay peninsula, whence the leaves are imported into Bengal, and so to Europe.

The summit commands a fine view northward of some Himalayan peaks, and southwards of the broad valley of the Oongkot, which is level, and bounded by steep and precipitous hills, with flat tops. On the 25th we left Mooshye for Amwee in Jyntea, which lies to the south-east. We descended by steps cut in the sandstone, and fording the Oongkot, climbed the hills on its east side, along the grassy tops of which we continued, at an elevation of 4000 feet. Marshy flats intersect the hills, to which wild elephants sometimes ascend, doing much damage to the rice

* Podostemom grew on the stones at the bottom: it is a remarkable waterplant, resembling a liver-wort in its mode of growth. Several species occur at different elevations in the Khasia, and appear only in autumn, when they often carpet the bottom of the streams with green. In spring and summer no traces of them are seen; and it is difficult to conceive what becomes of the seeds in the interval, and how these, which are well known, and have no apparent provision for the purpose, attach themselves to the smooth rocks at the bottom of the torrents. All the kinds flower and ripen their seeds under water; the stamens and pistil being protected by the closed flower from the wet. This genus does not inhabit the Sikkim rivers, probably owing to the great changes of temperature to which these are subject.


 

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crops. We crossed a stream by a bridge formed of one gigantic block of sandstone, 20 feet long, close to the village, which is a wretched one, and is considered unhealthy: it stands on the high road from Jynteapore (at the foot of the hills to the southward) to Assam: the only road that crosses the mountains east of that from Churra to Nunklow.


 
Old bridge at Amwee

Though so much lower, this country, from the barrenness of the soil, is more thinly inhabited than the Khasia. The pitcher-plant (Nepenthes) grows on stony and grassy hills about Amwee, and crawls along the ground; its pitchers seldom contain insects in the wild state, nor can we suggest any special function for the wonderful organ it possesses.

About eight miles south of the village is a stream, crossed by a bridge, half of which is formed of slabs of stone (of which one is twenty-one feet long, seven broad, and two feet three and a half inches thick), supported on piers, and the rest is a well turned arch, such as I have not


 

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seen elsewhere among the hill tribes of India. It is fast crumbling away, and is covered with tropical plants, and a beautiful white-flowered orchis* grew in the mossy crevices of its stones.

From Amwee our route lay north-east across the Jyntea hills to Joowye, the hill-capital of the district. The path gradually ascended, dipping into valleys scooped out in the horizontal sandstone down to the basalt; and boulders of the same rock were scattered about. Fields of rice occupy the bottoms of these valleys, in which were placed gigantic images of men, dressed in rags, and armed with bows and arrows, to scare away the wild elephants! Slate rocks succeed the sandstone (strike north-east, dip north-west), and with them pines and birch appear, clothing the deep flanks of the Mintadoong valley, which we crossed.

The situation of Joowye is extremely beautiful: it occupies the broken wooded slope of a large open flat valley, dotted with pines; and consists of an immense number of low thatched cottages, scattered amongst groves of bamboo, and fields of plantain, tobacco, yams, sugar-cane, maize, and rice, surrounded by hedges of bamboo, Colquhounia, and Erythrina. Narrow steep lanes lead amongst these, shaded with oak, birch, Podocarpus, Camellia, and Araliaceæ; the larger trees being covered with orchids, climbing palms, Pothos, Scindapsus, pepper, and Gnetum; while masses of beautiful red and violet balsams grew under every hedge and rock. The latter was of sandstone, overlying highly inclined schists, and afforded magnificent blocks for the natives to rear on end, or make seats of. Some erect stones

* Diplomeris; Apostasia also grew in this gulley, with a small Arundina, some beautiful species of Sonerila, and Argostemma. The neighbourhood was very rich in plants.


 

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on a hill at the entrance are immensely large, and surround a clump of fine fig and banyan trees.*

We procured a good house after many delays, for the people were far from obliging; it was a clean, very long cottage, with low thatched eaves almost touching the ground, and was surrounded by a high bamboo paling that enclosed out-houses built on a well-swept floor of beaten earth. Within, the woodwork was carved in curious patterns, and was particularly well fitted. The old lady to whom it belonged got tired of us before two days were over, and first tried to smoke us out by a large fire of green wood at that end of the cottage which she retained; and afterwards by inviting guests to a supper, with whom she kept up a racket all night. Her son, a tall, sulky fellow, came to receive the usual gratuity on our departure, which we made large to show we bore no ill-will: he, however, behaved so scornfully, pretending to despise it, that I had no choice but to pocket it again; a proceeding which was received with shouts of laughter, at his expense, from a large crowd of bystanders.

On the 30th of September we proceeded north-east from Joowye to Nurtiung, crossing the watershed of the Jyntea range, which is granitic, and scarcely raised above the mean level of the hills; it is about 4,500 feet elevation. To the north the descent is at first rather abrupt for 500 feet, to a considerable stream, beyond which is the village of Nurtiung. The country gradually declines hence to the north-east, in grassy hills;

* In some tanks we found Hydropeltis, an American and Australian plant allied to Nymphæa. Mr. Griffith first detected it here, and afterwards in Bhotan, these being the only known habitats for it in the Old World. It grows with Typha, Acorus Calamus (sweet flag), Vallisneria, Potamogeton, Sparganium, and other European water-plants.


 

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which to the east become higher and more wooded: to the west the Khasia are seen, and several Himalayan peaks to the north.

The ascent to the village from the river is by steps cut in a narrow cleft of the schist rocks, to a flat, elevated 4,178 feet above the sea: we here procured a cottage, and found the people remarkably civil. The general appearance is the same as at Joowye, but there are here extensive and very unhealthy marshes, whose evil effects we experienced, in having the misfortune to lose one of our servants by fever. Except pines, there are few large trees; but the quantity of species of perennial woody plants contributing to form the jungles is quite extraordinary: I enumerated 140, of which 60 were trees or large shrubs above twenty feet high. One of these was the Hamamelis chinensis, a plant hitherto only known as a native of China. This, the Bowringia, and the little Nymphæa, are three out of many remarkable instances of our approach to the eastern Asiatic flora.

From Nurtiung we walked to the Bor-panee river, sixteen or twenty miles to the north-east (not the river of that name below Nunklow), returning the same night; a most fatiguing journey in so hot and damp a climate. The path lay for the greatest part of the way over grassy hills of mica-schist, with boulders of granite, and afterwards of syenite, like those of Nunklow. The descent to the river is through noble woods of spreading oaks,* chesnuts, magnolias, and tall pines: the vegetation is very tropical, and with the exception of there being no sal, it resembles that of the dry hills of the Sikkim Terai. The Bor-panee is

* We collected upwards of fifteen kinds of oak and chesnut in these and the Khasia mountains; many are magnificent trees, with excellent wood, while others are inferior as timber.


 

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forty yards broad, and turbid; its bed, which is of basalt, is 2,454 feet above the sea: it is crossed by a raft pulled to and fro by canes.

Nurtiung contains a most remarkable collection of those sepulchral and other monuments, which form so curious a feature in the scenery of these mountains and in the habits of their savage population. They are all placed in a fine grove of trees, occupying a hollow; where several acres are covered with gigantic, generally circular, slabs of stone, from ten to twenty-five feet broad, supported five feet above the ground upon other blocks. For the most part they are buried in brushwood of nettles and shrubs, but in one place there is an open area of fifty yards encircled by them, each with a gigantic headstone behind it. Of the latter the tallest was nearly thirty feet high, six broad, and two feet eight inches in thickness, and must have been sunk at least five feet, and perhaps much more, in the ground. The flat slabs were generally of slate or hornstone; but many of them, and all the larger ones, were of syenitic granite, split by heat and cold water with great art. They are erected by dint of sheer brute strength, the lever being the only aid. Large blocks of syenite were scattered amongst these wonderful erections.

Splendid trees of Bombax, fig and banyan, overshadowed them: the largest banyan had a trunk five feet in diameter, clear of the buttresses, and numerous small trees of Celtic grew out of it, and an immense flowering tuft of Vanda cærulea (the rarest and most beautiful of Indian orchids) flourished on one of its limbs. A small plantain with austere woolly scarlet fruit, bearing ripe seeds, was planted in this sacred grove, where trees of the most tropical genera grew mixed with the pine, birch, Myrica, and Viburnum.


 

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The Nurtiung Stonehenge is no doubt in part religious, as the grove suggests, and also designed for cremation, the bodies being burnt on the altars. In the Khasia these upright stones are generally raised simply as memorials of great events, or of men whose ashes are not necessarily, though frequently, buried or deposited in hollow stone sarcophagi near them, and sometimes in an urn placed inside a sarcophagus, or under horizontal slabs.


 
Stones at Nurtiung

The usual arrangement is a row of five, seven, or more erect oblong blocks with round heads (the highest being placed in the middle), on which are often wooden discs and cones: more rarely pyramids are built. Broad slabs for seats are also common by the wayside. Mr. Yule, who first drew attention to these monuments, mentions one


 

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thirty-two feet by fifteen, and two in thickness; and states that the sarcophagi (which, however, are rare) formed of four slabs, resemble a drawing in Bell’s Circassia, and descriptions in Irby and Mangles’ Travels in Syria. He adds that many villages derive their names from these stones, “mau” signifying “stone:” thus “Mausmai” is “the stone of oath,” because, as his native informant said, “there was war between Churra and Mausmai, and when they made peace, they swore to it, and placed a stone as a witness;” forcibly recalling the stone Jacob set up for a pillar, and other passages in the old Testament: “Mamloo” is “the stone of salt,” eating salt from a sword’s point being the Khasia form of oath: “Mauflong” is “the grassy stone,” etc.* Returning from this grove, we crossed a stream by a single squared block, twenty-eight feet long, five broad, and two thick, of gray syenitic granite with large crystals of felspar.

We left Nurtiung on the 4th of October, and walked to Pomrang, a very long and fatiguing day’s work. The route descends north-west of the village, and turns due east along bare grassy hills of mica-schist and slate (strike east and west, and dip north). Near the village of Lernai oak woods are passed, in which Vanda cœrulea grows in profusion, waving its panicles of azure flowers in the wind. As this beautiful orchid is at present attracting great attention, from its high price, beauty, and difficulty of culture, I shall point out how totally at variance with its native habits, is the cultivation thought necessary for it in England.† The

* Notes on the Khasia mountains and people; by Lieutenant H. Yule, Bengal Engineers. Analogous combinations occur in the south of England and in Brittany, etc., where similar structures are found. Thus mæn, man, or men is the so-called Druidical name for a stony, whence Pen-mæn-mawr, for “the hill of the big stone,” Mæn-hayr, for the standing stones of Brittany, and Dol-men, °the table-stone,” for a cromlech.
† We collected seven men’s loads of this superb plant for the Royal Gardens at Kew; but owing to unavoidable accidents and difficulties, few specimens reached England alive. A gentleman who sent his gardener with us to be shown the locality, was more successful: he sent one man’s load to England on commission, and though it arrived in a very poor state, it sold for 300l, the individual plants fetching prices varying from 3l to 10l. Had all arrived alive, they would have cleared 1000 pounds. An active collector, with the facilities I possessed, might easily clear from 2000l to 3000l, in one season, by the sale of Khasia orchids.


 

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dry grassy hills which it inhabits are elevated 3000 to 4000 feet: the trees are small, gnarled, and very sparingly leafy, so that the Vanda which grows on their limbs is fully exposed to sun, rain, and wind. There is no moss or lichen on the branches with the Vanda, whose roots sprawl over the dry rough bark. The atmosphere is on the whole humid, and extremely so during the rains; but there is no damp heat, or stagnation of the air, and at the flowering season the temperature ranges between 60° and 80°, there is much sunshine, and both air and bark are dry during the day: in July and August, during the rains, the temperature is a little higher than above, but in winter it falls much lower, and hoar-frost forms on the ground. Now this winter’s cold, summer’s heat, and autumn’s drought, and above all, this constant free exposure to fresh air and the winds of heaven, are what of all things we avoid exposing our orchids to in England. It is under these conditions, however, that all the finer Indian Orchideæ, grow, of which we found Dendrobium Farmeri, Dalhousianum, Devonianum, etc., with Vanda cœrulea; whilst the most beautiful species of Cœlogyne, Cymbidium, Bolbophyllum, and Cypripedium, inhabit cool climates at elevations above 4000 feet in Khasia, and as high as 6000 to 7000 in Sikkim.

On the following day we turned out our Vanda to dress the specimens for travelling, and preserve the flowers for botanical purposes. Of the latter we had 360 panicles, each composed of from six to twenty-one broad pale-blue


 

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tesselated flowers, three and a half to four inches across and they formed three piles on the floor of the verandah, each a yard high: what would we not have given to have been able to transport a single panicle to a Chiswick fête!

On the 10th of October we sent twenty-four strong mountaineers to Churra, laden with the collections of the previous month; whilst we returned to Nonkreem, and crossing the shoulder of Chillong, passed through the village of Moleem in a north-west direction to the Syong bungalow. From this we again crossed the range to Nunklow and the Bor-panee, and returned by Moflong and the Kala-panee to Churra during the latter part of the month.

In November the vegetation above 4000 feet turns wintry and brown, the weather becomes chilly, and though the cold is never great, hoar-frost forms at Churra, and water freezes at Moflong. We prepared to leave as these signs of winter advanced: we had collected upwards of 2,500 species, and for the last few weeks all our diligence, and that of our collectors, had failed to be rewarded by a single novelty. We however procured many species in fruit, and made a collection of upwards of 300 kinds of woods, many of very curious structure. As, however, we projected a trip to Cachar before quitting the neighbourhood, we retained our collectors, giving orders for them to meet us at Chattuc, on our way down the Soormah in December, with their collections, which amounted to 200 men’s loads, and for the conveyance of which to Calcutta, Mr. Inglis procured us boats.

Before dismissing the subject of the Khasia mountains, it will be well to give a slight sketch of their prominent geographical features, in connection with their geology. The general geological characters of the chain may be summed up in a few words. The nucleus or axis is of


 

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highly inclined stratified metamorphic rocks, through which the granite has been protruded, and the basalt and syenite afterwards injected. After extensive denudations of these, the sandstone, coal, and limestone were successively deposited. These are altered and displaced along the southern edge of the range, by black amygdaloidal trap, and have in their turn been extensively denuded; and it is this last operation that has sculptured the range, and given the mountains their present aspect; for the same gneisses, slates, and basalts in other countries, present rugged peaks, domes, or cones, and there is nothing in their composition or arrangement here that explains the tabular or rounded outline they assume, or the uniform level of the spurs into which they rise, or the curious steep sides and flat floors of the valleys which drain them.

All these peculiarities of outline are the result of denudation, of the specific action of which agent we are very ignorant. The remarkable difference between the steep cliffs on the south face of the range, and the rounded outline of the hills on the northern slopes, may be explained on the supposition that when the Khasia was partially submerged, the Assam valley was a broad bay or gulf; and that while the Churra cliffs were exposed to the full sweep of the ocean, the Nunklow shore was washed by a more tranquil sea.

The broad flat marshy heads of all the streams in the central and northern parts of the chain, and the rounded hills that separate them, indicate the levelling action of a tidal sea, acting on a low flat shore;* whilst the steep flat-

* Since our return to England, we have been much struck with the similarity in contour of the Essex and Suffolk coasts, and with the fact that the tidal coast sculpturing of this surface is preserved in the very centre of High Suffolk, twenty to thirty miles distant from the sea, in rounded outlines and broad flat marshy valleys.


 

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floored valleys of the southern watershed may be attributed to the scouring action of higher tides on a boisterous rocky coast. These views are confirmed by an examination of the east shores of the Bay of Bengal, and particularly by a comparison of the features of the country about Silhet, now nearly 280 miles distant from the sea, with those of the Chittagong coast, with which they are identical.

The geological features of the Khasia are in many respects so similar to those of the Vindhya, Kymore, Behar, and Rajmahal mountains, that they have been considered by some observers as an eastern prolongation of that great chain, from which they are geographically separated by the delta of the Ganges and Burrampooter. The general contour of the mountains, and of their sandstone cliffs, is the same, and the association of this rock with coal and lime is a marked point of similarity; there is, however, this difference between them, that the coal-shales of Khasia and limestone of Behar are non-fossiliferous, while the lime of Khasia and the coal-shales of Behar contain fossils.

The prevalent north-east strike of the gneiss is the same in both, differing from the Himalaya, where the stratified rocks generally strike north-west. The nummulites of the limestone are the only known means we have of forming an approximate estimate of the age of the Khasia coal, which is the most interesting feature in the geology of the range: these fossils have been examined by MM. Archiac and Jules Haines,* who have pronounced the species collected by Dr. Thomson and myself to be the same as those found in the nummulite rocks of north-west India, Scinde, and Arabia.

* “Description des Animaux Fossiles des Indes Orientales;” p. 178. These species are Nummulites scabra, Lamarck, N. obtusa, Sowerby, N. Lucasana, Deshayes, and N. Beaumonti, d’Arch. and Haines.

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