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SPORTING ADVENTURES AND SCENES IN INDIA. (From the M.S. of a Highlander and Officer lately serving with his
Regiment in that country.)
EDITED BY MOUNTAINEER.
The long and unprofitable hunting season last past had just come to a close, when I hurried to that grand emporium of sale, the City of Oxford, to dispose of a horse less qualified to carry my twelve stone carcass across country than the sons of Alma Mater over the flat surface of Port Meadow or Ballingdon Common. I also wished to purchase in his stead something young and promising, which by due care and attention I might convert into a future hunter. In days of yore, when the famous old Duke of Beaufort hunted the Heythrop country, there were at least six stables of equal calibre in the University, Quatermaine perhaps being the King Pippin of the company. But at the present time, on inquiring for an animal such as I required, the invariable counter-inquiry seemed to be, “ Have you been to Charles Symonds'?” or, “Have you looked over Charles Symonds' six-stall stable; if he can't suit you you will probably not be suited in the university." Accordingly, to Charles Symonds' I wended my way, and confess I was not a little astonished at the superior establishment and high class of hunter which was offered to my notice on reaching the Holywell Stables. Like Buridan's ass between two equal bundles of hay, my attentions were divided between a long, low, bony chesnut, and a black Belzoni colt both of which seemed to possess every requisite material for future work. The attractions of both being equally great, their paces most promising, and the price the same, I could not make up my mind which to choose. At length a judge of no ordinary character, an officer in her Majesty's service, who had lately returned from India, and son-inlaw to a friend of my own, most opportunely came to my assistance, and said, " I know something of that Belzoni colt; if you are in doubt, take him.” I did take him, paid the money, and, although it was rather a round sum for a raw, uneducated animal, as yet I have every reason to be perfectly satisfied with my bargain. Subsequently, that officer very kindly presented me with numerous anecdotes of sporting scenes in which he enacted a prominent part, in India and elsewhere ; and as they are replete with adventure and novelty, I feel quite sure the following portion of them will contribute largely to the amusement of the general reader.
Mount Aboo, to the north of Guzerat, is one of the most interesting spots in the world, and also one of the pleasantest in the great eastern peninsula. It rears its giant form amongst a group of mountains which are surrounded on nearly all sides by the sultry plains peculiar to that part of India. These latter are so perfectly hot, that it has become a proverbial expression that there is only a sheet of brown paper between Deesa and Hell; and really the gently undulating sandy expanse, des
titute during the dry season of everything like vegetation, save a stunted milk or thorn bush here and there, presents no bad resemblance to an uneven sheet of brown paper. Strange is the alteration about the beginning of June ; the rains set in, and after the second day a tinge of green may be observed mingling with the dusky brown; a week elapses, and all is a smiling meadow. Not less extraordinary is the change in the rivers : at one time they are dry sandy channels ; at another, torrents from a hundred yards to half a mile broad, full to the brim, and sweeping buffaloes, deer, sheep, cattle, trees, fragments of houses, and sometimes even human bodies, hurry headlong in their course towards the rhun of Cutch (at that time a gulf), where they and their victims are alike swallowed up in the ocean. A ride of fifty miles through a country principally jungle takes one from Deesa to the foot of Mount Aboo ; but a traveller's bungalow is built at Goondree, as a kind of half-way house for those who do not relish the idea of a fifty mile morning gallop. At Anadra, a mile from the foot of the mountain, is another traveller's bungalow, and a village wherein reside the people whose business it is to transport baggage, and even individuals, to the top; for the path is such that a horse has quite enough to do to scramble up the rugged ascent, while to a wheel carriage of any description it is perfectly impossible. All burdens are therefore carried up by Coolies ; when not too heavy they are borne upon the head, while the more weighty are slung upon poles by two or more men, as the case may be. Individuals, whom laziness or illness debar from using, or rather abusing, the muscles of their legs and backs to a degree necessary to place them on the summit, are carried by four men, on a rude seat swung by ropes between two poles which rest on the bearers' shoulders ; and, as the path leads along the very edge of frightful precipices, it is certainly a position well calculated to test a man's nerves, though I never heard of any accident occurring. The usual complement of bearers to each chair is eight, four being at work and four at rest. But one fat friend of mine they refused to have anything to do with, unless he employed twelve, and after the first trial, unless he took sixteen ; which to his intense disgust he was compelled to do, for he was not fond of parting with his money. Various and very interesting are the views obtained as the traveller is borne along in his ascent. Often after passing through some dense jungle (the whole hill-side being wooded, and infested with tigers and other feræ naturæ ), he finds himself on the verge of some precipitous and dark ravine, or catches a glimpse of the almost boundless jungle and plain which stretches away beyond his ken, far far below him. An active and hardy race are the men that convey one up to the mountain brow; yet their forms, thin and meagre, give no promise to the eye, of their immense indurance. Patiently they toil on, the sweat oozing from every pore, and mingling in streams with cocoa-nut oil adown their dark half-naked bodies, as with an occasional “ Hough! hough !!" when the ascent is steeper than usual, they hump their shoulders and steadily continue their painful task. The flavour of the creatures is nothing sweet; and as I was blessed with a pair of sturdy legs, after the first visit I always made use of them to attain the summit. When once past the gate, as two projecting rocks which narrow the path near the top are termed, a glorious sight, or rather succession of sights, meets the eye. At about five thousand feet above the
plain an irregular and hilly table-land of some six miles in diameter occurs. By a table-land, however, I do not mean to convey the idea of any level space, for there is scarcely five-hundred yards of continuous level to be found in the whole tract, but rather a species of main top to the entire mass, from whence many hills of various heights take their rise, the larger of these forming the different peaks of the mountain as seen from the plains below. Ravines and glens of varied description seam this top or table-land in every direction ; small streams flow through the rugged fissures or grassy glades, and here and there cultivation is carried on with tolerable success. One feels, on arriving at this elevation, a greater freedom of breathing, a more bracing air, and altogether a renewal of that elasticity of the frame, sadly shaken and out of repair from the hot winds and fevered climate of the sultry plains beneath. But one of the chief attractions is the beautiful lake of pure cool water, wbich lies embosomed among these hills. It is abouthalf-amile long, by a third of that distance in breadth, and was formed many hundred years ago, by damming up a marshy hollow with solid masonry and banks of earth (called a Bund in that country). The stream which runs through it escapes, in its downward course, through a small ravine on the main side of the mountain. It is a most lovely spot, surrounded by grassy hills, gently swelling from the water's edge, with here and there a mighty black rock rearing its rugged head in stern and solemn majesty. The hills are covered with fine large trees, or sometimes thickets of wood and jungle, and the white houses of the different European residents, or whiter tents of occasional visitors, give a pleasing and social effect to the park-like scenery. From the foot of some of the hills which descend to the water's edge the earth has crumbled away, leaving here and there a scarped, gravelly, perpendicular fall of twenty or thirty feet into the water, which beneath these small precipices is generally very deep.
It was my good fortune to witness an amusing scene near one of these places. Lying under the shade of a tree one fine morning, and smeking the pipe of meditation as I gazed on the calm lake stretching beneath my feet, I was suddenly startled by a thundering roar not a hundred paces from me. I looked up, and saw that it proceeded from a magnificent Bramahinee bull: he was evidently in a desperate fury, and tore up the turf with head and horn in grand style, making the surrounding hills echo with his hollow bellowing——" Reboant sylveque et magnus Olympus," as old Virgil has it. He was the champion in the lists ; nor was his challenge long unanswered. Soon a roar, as deep and as full of rage as his own, was heard in the distance. Nearer and louder it came ; and out of an adjoining thicket rushed another bull, brotherlike, equal at all points, and a worthy antagonist for such a hero. For a second or so each stood proudly at gaze, surveying each other; then down went their heads, and they met with a shock that seemed to me the very image of a knightly joust. Well matched they were, and it was evident the combat would be a desperate one. Save where a shade of black appeared on the curled forehead and on the tuft of the tail, both were milk white, and both carried of course the large hump --that epicurean dish--peculiar to the breed ; while their ponderous dewlaps, wide-spreading horns, and gallant bearing, produced a grand effect. There I lay regarding this strife with the most intense interest;
but without the least alarm ; for, even supposing they had ventured to resent my intrusion on their tilting ground, my double-barrelled gun, without which I rarely stirred, would soon have taught them good manners. Round and round they drove one another, till the grass was beaten down and the bushes torn up in all directions ; but neither gave way until the fate of war brought one with his back to the lake on the slope of the hill which verged to the water. Here position told : his enemy, equal in strength, and being on the higher ground, began to prevail, and to force him backwards. Bravely he battled, but in vain : still he only yielded to main force ; and with foreheads joined as if soldered to each other, he retreated step by step towards the edge of that treacherous precipice noticed above. I scarcely ventured to breathe as the pair arrived within a foot of the trap, of which they were totally unconscious. Here a more strenuous resistance from the lowermost hero called forth a more vigorous shove from the uppermost, when suddenly (I've no doubt to his utter astonishment) his enemy receded and vanished from his view ; while he, unable to check himself, lunged furiously forward, and following his adversary tumbled headlong into the lake below—“ Præceps fertur in hostem.” With breathless excitement I rushed to the brink, anxious to see this marvellous catastrophe brought to a close. In a few seconds both emerged from the bottom, puffing like grampuses, and at once made the best of their way to the shore, giving vent to many a fearful bellow. It was evident that the surprise and the plunge had banished all warlike thoughts, for on reaching terra firma they started off at full gallop in opposite directions, with their tails streaming in the air, and making the woods and valleys ring with their panic-stricken roarings.
The green and fresh appearance of the grass and foliage at Aboo was remarkably pleasant : even during the hottest weather dews and morning mists were not uncommon ; and though by nine or ten o'clock the sun asserted bis power, and caused all vapour to disperse, yet he shone forth with a benign aspect, and did not inflict that “ knock-me-down" heat experienced in the plains below. Through the glens and over the hill sides I used to wander through the livelong day, and each ramble brought me to new scenes of beauty, and made me more and more regret that the talent of the painter was not mine. How exceedingly lovely are the Dillwarra temples ! Situated on the bank of a small stream which flows through a well-cultivated valley, and bounded on each side by wooded hills, the exterior alone is imposing and beautiful; but the interior is a wonder, the grandeur and magnificence of which are far beyond my powers of description. One enters a large quadrangular court, in the centre of which is the shrine and porch of the deity Parsuatt (I think that is the right name). The shrine and porch are oval in shape, and about one-fourth of the quadrangle is taken up by the former, which is a building admitting no light save from the porch door. A silver key opened this door to us (although unbelievers), and we were honoured with a sight of the deity sitting cross-legged, in white marble, with a lamp or two burning before him, and a great many tawdry ornaments hanging about his domicile. But the porch is the most magnificent work of art. Under the same dome with the shrine, a succession of arches, instead of the walls, is continued round the oval : these arches are of the lightest form imaginable, often serpentine, worked
and carved with every sort of device, and all made of the purest white tarble: the pillars supporting them are light and tall, and also of white marble, with figures of men and women about two feet high, playing and singing and dancing : these are grotesquely carved in compartments, and in such high relief that one can insert the hand between them and the pillars. The roof, too, is wonderful : the most minute flowers, the most delicate tracery, are all carved exquisitely in white marble ; a thousand different objects are also represented, but it would be impossible to enumerate all. Round the quadrangle runs a verandah supported by a double row of white marble pillars placed at equal distances (about eight feet) from each other, and thus dividing the verandah into a number of imaginary squares between each four pillars ; each square has its roof and its cornice round the lower edge of the roof, while the roofs are of every indescribable pattern, and two are seldom found alike ; the cornices are covered with men and animals in all situations, hunting, battling, dancing, the whole executed in white marble; sometimes the roof will ascend gradually, narrowing with most elaborate and deep carving to a height of many feet, then the same carving after the same fashion is continued down again, till it looks like a beavtiful stalactite depending from the centre of the roof. A second court of the same kind is also shown, and I think a third, but my memory will not allow me to be sure of this last point. The description I have given, though imperfect, will do for all. I must not, however, forget to mention the curious room in which a large figure of a royal personage on horseback, and some twenty or thirty figures of elephants, about five feet high, stand fully equipped with howdahs and trappings, the whole of which are carved most beautifully in solid white marble, and so minutely that even the very strands of the ropes are executed with the utmost fidelity. In fact, the whole thing is so wonderfully beautiful that I despair of doing more than conveying a faint idea of it. These temples are said to be some 800 or 900 years old, and are held in great sanctity as a place of pilgrimage. At a certain season of the year, thousands flock thither, and the Brahmins make a pretty decent thing out of the pious but deluded devotees. I have often wished that they were rooted out, and that I were made Governor of Aboo, with the temples for my palace and the top of the mountain for my park.
The Ghau-Muk, pronounced Gyemook, or cow's-mouth, is another sweet spot on the mountain side ; it is a small marble spout, carved in the form of a cow's head, through which a stream of pure cold water flows into a square tank ; it is a sacred spot to Fakeers and Brahmins, who resort there in great numbers ; but its refreshing waters and the cool shade of the magnificent trees that surround it are far better re commendations to the tired wayfarer, and give him fresh courage to ascend the steep staircase of steps leading from it to the mountain top.
One morning rather early, F. and his friend K., while lying in their tent on Mount Aboo, were aroused from sleep by the solemn tones of the Kitmutgar, or butler, announcing news, which, as a matter of course, meant game. Out of bed both sprang simultaneously, and soon discovered from the Shikaree that a panther had been somehow entrapped in a neighbouring village, and that the natives wished the sahibs (Anglicé goutlemen) to come with their guns and kill it. Clothes being thrown on, and guns prepared without loss of time, out they sallied into the raw