A Scotsman in the Himalayas, Part 8


'Views in the Himalayas' , 1820

Sep 09, 2017 — CANADA (SUN) — Excerpts from the journal of an artist on expedition to the Himalayas.

Today's coloured aquatint was produced by Robert Havell and Son from plate 19 of Fraser's 'Views in the Himala Mountains'. Now little more than a hamlet, Bhaironghati (Byramghattee) lies about 10 kilometres from Gangotri. It is set in a thickly forested region near the river Jahnavi, a tributary of the Bhagirathi (the Ganges at its point of origin at Gangotri-dhama). Arriving here on July 19, 1815, James wrote in his travel diary:

"A very singular and terrible place. The course of the river has continued foaming through its narrow rocky bed and the hills approach their heads, as though they could meet at a prodigious height above. At this point the Bhagiruttee is divided into two branches; that which preserves the name descends from the eastward, and the other, of a size fully equal, called the Jhannevie, joins it from the north-east. Both these rivers run in chasms, the depth, narrowness and rugged wildness of which it is impossible to describe.

From Byramghattee, the Bhagirathi-ganga runs for twenty miles through an open plain, allowing the streams to widen between the high snowy hills on either side. It then enters a narrow gorge, which confines it for nearly twenty miles before opening out again, being joined by a multitude of small tributaries, zig-zagging first north-west, then west, then south again as it descends…

The bed of the Jhannevie is at least equally savage and picturesque; but I had not equal opportunities of acquaintance with it: the perpendicularity of its rocky sides, and their height above the water, is, perhaps even greater than those of the Bhagiruttee. This river is said to have its origin in a very lofty mountain, called Ree-Kee-Soor-Stan, situated in the territories of China, and which is fifteen days' journey from hence, in a direction nearly that of its apparent course from hence, viz. north-east.

I should incline to think it had a course more from the eastward. Just at the end of the bridge there is an overhanging rock, under which worship is performed to Bhyram [Brahma], and a black stone partly painted red is the image of the god; and here prayers and worship alone were not performed, but every one was obliged to bathe and eat bread baked by the Brahmins, as preparatory to the great and effectual ablutions at the holier Gungotree.

This occupied a considerable time, as the party was numerous; in the meantime I took a very imperfect sketch of the scene, after which I bathed myself at the proper place (which is the junction of the two streams), while the Brahmin p rayed over me. Among the ceremonies performed, he made me hold a tuft of grass while he prayed, which at the conclusion he directed me to throw into the eddy occasioned by the meeting of the two waters.

The spot where we bathe is a mere point of shingle, just under the rock which divides the two streams. It is necessary to be somewhat cautious in proceeding into the water, as it is exceedingly deep close to the shore; and about two yards towards the middle the stream becomes so rapid as to leave no chance of recovering a movement that should carry one into it. It is extremely cold, as may be imagined, the whole being fresh snow water. Near the bridge there is a spring tinctured with iron.

From hence we ascended the rock, at the foot of which the bridge is situated, by a path more curious, dangerous, and difficult, than any we had yet passed. As the rock is too steep and perpendicular to afford a natural path, the chief part is artificially constructed, in the manner before mentioned, of large beams of wood, driven into the fissures, on which other beams and large stones are placed, thus forming a hanging flight of steps over the fearful gulf below: and as this sometimes has suffered from age and weather, while the facilities for attaching it to the rock are rather scanty, or altogether wanting, it is frequently so far from being sufficient, that it strikes dread into any one not much accustomed to this mode of ascent.

Sometimes it is even required to make a leap to reach the next sure footing, with the precipice yawning below; and, at others, with merely the support afforded by a slight projecting ledge, and the help of a bamboo hung from some root above, to cling to the rock, and make a hazardous passage.

By this unpleasant path we reached a step, or level spot on the first stage of the mountain, where, in a thick grove of fir-trees, is placed a small temple to Bhyram, a plain white building, built by order of Ummr Sing Thappa, who gave a sum of money to repair the road, and erect places of worship here, and at Gungotree. Having paid our respects to Bhyramjee, we proceeded along the side of the hill on the right bank (north) of the river, gradually ascending by a path equally difficult and dangerous as the first part of our ascent, but more fearful, as the precipice to the river, which rolls below us increases in height, and exceedingly toilsome from the nature of the ground over which it passes, and which consists wholly of sharp fragments from the cliffs above, with fallen trunks and broken branches of trees.

Three cos of such road brought us opposite to a considerable stream, which tumbles down a deep ravine called Mianee-ke-Gadh, and through which opening is seen the snowy range of Mianee, with the extensive bosom of snow that feeds the stream.

From a point just below this, we had a view of the most singular and lofty peak Roodroo Himala Bah, in a prodigious spire of bare rock, the top of which is enveloped in snow, the loftiest insulated peak I ever saw. Just opposite to Mianee-Ke-Gadh, we obtained bearings of the river, both upwards and downwards, and first came in view of the site of Gungotree, the direction of which, as well as of the source of the river, as pointed out by the Pundit, was nearly east, and that to Bhyramghattee somewhat to the north-west.

The path increases in difficulty from the very irregular nature of the ground, as well as the steepness of the hill face across which it leads ascending and descending as the small, though deep, watercourses furrow the mountain side, in loose soil, formed of the small fragments fallen from above, and which slip down, threatening to carry the traveller to the gulf below. The shapeless blocks of rock now more completely obstructed the way, and for hundreds of yards, at times, the passenger must clamber over these masses, heaped as they are one upon another, in monstrous confusion, and so uncertain and unsteady that, huge though they are, they shake and move even under the burthen of a man's weight. So painful indeed is this track, that it might be conceived as meant to serve as a penance to the unfortunate pilgrims with bare feet, thus to prepare and render them more worthy for the special and conclusive act of piety they have in view, as the object of their journey to these extreme wilds."


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