1853: A Tourist On Foot

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An unknown Englishman has penned in his peculiar language his long trek from Shimla to Srinagar via Tibet on foot in the summer of 1853, years after the notorious Treaty of Amritsar

A photograph of 1920 shows the Kashmiri professionals taking the tourists to Gulmarg in palkis.

A photograph of 1920 shows the Kashmiri professionals taking the tourists to Gulmarg in palkis.

I started fromSimla on the 7th of May last, to wander in the mountains for six months, and as I wished to travel for the sake of convenience, and to save trouble, I determined to walk all the way, and now I am glad of it, for a pony would have been a source of constant anxiety over the line of country I travelled.

I left Simla and proceeded by regular marches to Chenie. I found it hard work at first, not being used to such severe exercise, but the beautiful scenery and magnificent mountains made one forget the fatigue when viewing such things after the day’s march. I started on my journey with the intention of going into Tibet, Iskardo, and then on to this lovely spot; rather a long journey you may say, but a very delightful one I have found it.

Soon after leaving Chenie you lose all the fine wooded mountains, and enter on a new kind of country, a tree seldom to be seen, some of the passes were very fine. I have now been over ten, but the Parang is the highest; it has an elevation of 18,725 feet, six miles of snow to get over, but I quite enjoyed it all; some of the men suffered from snow blindness for a few days after. From this Parang Pass I proceeded for sixteen days through a country without inhabitants I may say, for I do not think I saw twice that number of people; there are no villages, and only a few Tartars, who bring down their flocks to feed on the young and scanty herbage for a few weeks. The elevation of this line of country ranges between 15,000 and 10,000 feet; to me it was a delightful climate, but many people find a difficulty in breathing.

I was delighted with the Chumerari Lake, sixteen miles by about four; but even at the end of June, when I was there, much ice was floating about it. About this neighbourhood I saw the wild horse, a small animal of a light chestnut colour, and not higher than fourteen hands. The water of the lake is 15,200 feet above the sea, so you may fancy how cold it was. I had to carry all my supplies of course for myself and coolies, but six marches beyond the lake I got into an inhabited country. We had nothing to cook with but a small kind of stinking shrub, called by the natives Dama, and occasionally that failed, when we were obliged to collect the dung of the Yak.

The Tibet mountains have great charms for me, notwithstanding they are quite bare; it enables one to judge more of the mighty work which surrounded me. On the passes, I was struck with the total silence that prevailed, and when thus perched up so many thousands of feet, looking over ranges of mountains, one cannot help being struck with awe at viewing such mighty works, and what an insignificant being man then appears. I never had the thermometer lower than 24, but that was low enough you will say; however, the Tibet climate is so dry, rain seldom falling, that I did not find it too cold; a short walk soon made me warm.

I visited the salt lake on my way to Leh, a dreary-looking spot. I was much pleased with Leh, and remained there four days. I was too early in the season, as the caravans from Yarkund had not arrived, so I got scarcely anything to purchase. A few Chinese reside there; but these Sikhs are the pest of the country. I left Leh on the 3rd of July, and had a pleasant scramble until I got here. The last five marches was down the Scinde valley; a more lovely spot you cannot conceive; seldom in England have I seen such lovely scenery; the first view of this valley disappoints you; the want of wood is the chief cause; but after being here a few days I was quite enchanted with the whole place.

There are upwards of one hundred officers here, and scattered about the valley. We are encamped generally in the fine gardens on the banks of the Jelum. This river runs through part of the city, and canals from it intersect the place in all directions, consequently boats are the order of the day. Every person keeps one, for which you pay monthly Rs 2; for each man. They use paddles, and push along at a great pace. It is rather a lively scene of an evening when all the gentlemen turn out in their boats.

I have of course been to see all the sights here, but I shall not attempt to describe anything; I could not do justice to all I see. You must get hold of Vigne’s book on Cashmere; there you will find a true and faithful account of all; even he has not overdrawn the beauties of this valley.

We ought never to have let Goolab Sing have this country; what a colony it would soon have been of Englishmen! You do not feel as if you were in India, the climate delightful, almost perpetual spring. I am going to start in a day or two for the large lake, some twenty miles down the river, and after seeing the country about Baramula, I return here so as to make a start homewards the first week of next month. I never was in such a cheap place; for one rupee you get eight ducks or chickens, flour and atta 37 seers, eggs 250, fine mutton 12 seers, fish and vegetables for a mere trifle, but there is great temptation among the shawl merchant’s shops, and I fancy our countrymen spend a great deal with them; it is rather pleasant going shopping in a boat, the papiermache’ work is by no means bad here.

There are four ladies here, but I fancy every season now will add to the number; the only drawback to the place is the mosquitoes, but they are only annoying just at this season. No dust, and but little wind, everything looks charming; 1 shall very much regret leaving such a spot.

(The travelogue was lifted from Allen’s Indian Mail, a British publication, dated October 31, 1853.)

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