[Note: for this online edition I have moved the Table of Contents to the beginning of the text and added three asterisks to mark breaks between sections. I have also made the following spelling changes: latitute to latitude and mountain ash berberis to mountain ash berberries]
THE HEART OF NATURE
THE QUEST FOR NATURAL BEAUTY
BY SIR FRANCIS YOUNGHUSBAND K.C.S.I., K.C.I.E. PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY AUTHOR OF "THE HEART OF A CONTINENT"
LONDON JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET 1921
Preface ix-x Introduction xv-xxviii
Chapter I. The Sikkim Himalaya. The sacred Ganges—A beneficent power—Beauty of the plains—First sight of the Himalaya 3-12
Chapter II. The Teesta Valley. Mystery of the forest—The gorges —Sequestered glens 13-19
Chapter III. The Forest. Butterflies—Ferns—Orchids—Flower friends—Rhododendrons—Temperate vegetation—Primulas—Artic vegetation—The range of vegetation 20-37
Chapter IV. The Denizens of the Forest. Butterflies—Moths—Birds —Reptiles—Mammals—Animal beauty—Primitive man—Higher races 38-54
Chapter V. The Sum Impression. Two views of Nature—Variety of life—Intensity of life—The battle of life—Adaptation and selection —Purposiveness—Purposeful structures—Interdependence—Organising Activity—Gradation—Care of offspring—the Activity not mechanical but Spiritual—Nature's end—a Common aspiration 55-85
Chapter VI. Kinchinjunga. The foothills—Darjiling—A vision of the mountain—Full view—Mountain grandeur—Dawn on the mountain —Sunset on the mountain 86-99
Chapter VII. High Solitudes. Kashmir—Barren mountains—Dazzling peaks—Purity of beauty 100-108
Chapter VIII. The Heavens. Desert sunsets—Tibetan sunsets—The stars—The whole universe our home—A Heavenly Presence 109-120
Chapter IX. Home Beauty. One's own country—Woman's beauty —Love and beauty—Their Divine Source—Wedding—Divine union —The Inmost Heart of Nature 121-134
Chapter X. The Nature of Nature. A spiritual background—Purpose in Nature—Higher beings—No confining plan—Immanent Spirit —Collective personality—England a Person—Nature a Person—Moved by an ideal—The ideal in plants—The ideal in animals—The ideal in the world 135-160
Chapter XI. Nature's Ideal. Battling with physical Nature—Battling with man—In tune with Nature—At the heart of the Universe is Love—Divine fellowship is Nature's Ideal 161-171
Chapter XII. The Heart of Nature. Picturing the Ideal—The Ideal Man—Man and woman—Perfecting the Ideal—Discipline necessary —Leadership—Nature's method—Our own responsibility—The lovability of nature—God at the Heart of Nature 172-192
Natural Beauty and Geography
Presidential Address to the Royal Geographical Society 195-216
An Address to the Union Society of University College, London 217-235
The value of Knowledge and Character is duly impressed upon us. Of the value of Freedom we are told so much that we have come to regard it as an end in itself instead of only a means, or necessary condition. But Beauty we are half-inclined to connect with the effeminate. Poetry, Music, and Literature are under suspicion with the average English schoolboy, whose love of manliness he will share with nothing else. Yet love of Beauty persists in spite of all discouragement, and will not be suppressed. Natural Beauty, especially, insists on a place in our affections, derived originally from Love, and essentially and inseparably connected with it, Natural Beauty acknowledges supremacy to Love alone. And it deserves our generous recognition, for it is wholesome and refreshing for our souls.
The acute observation and telling description of Natural Beauty is at least as necessary for the enjoyment of life as the pursuit of Natural Science to which so much attention is paid. For the concern of the former is the character, and of the latter only the cause of natural phenomena; and of the two, character is the more important. It is, indeed, high time that we Englishmen were more awake than we are to the value of Natural Beauty. For we are born lovers of Nature, and no more poetic race than ourselves exists. Our country at its best, on an early summer day, is the loveliest little home in all the world. And we go out from this island home of ours to every land. We have unrivalled opportunities, therefore, of seeing innumerable types of natural objects. By observing Nature in so many different aspects, and by comparing our impressions with one another, we ought to understand Nature better than any other race. And by entering more readily into communion with her we, better than others, should realise the Beauty she possesses.
I am conscious of having myself made most inadequate use of the splendid opportunities my travels afforded me of seeing the Beauty of Nature. So I am all the more anxious that those following after me should not, by like omission, commit the same sin against themselves and against our country. We owe it to ourselves and to mankind to give full rein to our instinctive love of Natural Beauty, and to train and refine every inclination and capacity we have for appreciating it till we are able to see all those finer glories of which we now discern only the first faint glow.
And if any other country excel us in appreciation, then it behoves us to brace ourselves up to emulate and surpass that country, and learn how to understand Nature better and see more Beauty. For in love of Natural Beauty, and in capacity for communicating that love, England ought to be preeminent. She above every other country should come nearest to the Heart of Nature.
F. E. Y. June, 1921.
Town children let loose in a meadow dash with shouts of joy to pluck the nearest flowers. They ravenously pick handfuls and armfuls as if they could never have enough. They are exactly like animals in the desert rushing to water. They are satisfying a great thirst in their souls—the thirst for Beauty. Some of us remember, too, our first sight of snowy mountains in the Alps or in the Himalaya. We recall how our spirits leaped to meet the mountains, how we gasped in wonder and greedily feasted our eyes on the glorious spectacle. In such cases as these there is something in the natural object that appeals to something in us. Something in us rushes out to meet the something in the natural object. A responsive chord is struck. A relationship is established. We and the natural object come into harmony with one another. We have recognised in the flower, the mountain, the landscape, something that is the same as what is in ourselves. We fall in love with the natural object. A marriage takes place. Our soul is wedded to the soul of the natural object. And at the very moment of wedding Beauty is born. It springs from Love, just as Love itself originally sprang from the wedding of primitive man and woman.
In this process all will depend upon the mood. If we are not in the mood for it, we are unreceptive of Nature's impressions, and we are irresponsive. We do not come into touch with Nature. Consequently we see no Beauty. But if we are in a sensitive and receptive mood, if our minds are not preoccupied, and if our soul is open to the impressions which Nature is ever raining on it, then we respond to Nature's appeal. We feel ourselves in tune with her. We come into communion with her, and we see Beauty.
If we are ourselves feeling sad and sorrowful when we look out on Nature, and there all should happen to be bright and gay, we shall feel out of harmony with Nature, we shall not feel in touch with her, and we shall not see Beauty.
On the other hand, when we are in a glad and overflowing mood we shall be extraordinarily responsive to Nature's appeal, and see Beauty in a rugged, leafless oak tree or a poor old woman at the corner of some mean street. And if when we are in such a mood Nature happens to be at her best and brightest, as on some spring morning, the Beauty we shall then see will be overpowering, and we shall scarcely be able to contain ourselves for ecstasy of joy.
We shall have discovered an identity between what is in Nature and what is in us. In looking on Nature, we shall have been introduced into a Presence, greater than ourselves but like ourselves, which stirs in us this which we feel. When we see Beauty in Nature we are discovering that Nature is not merely a body, but has or is a soul. And the joy we feel is produced by the satisfaction our soul feels in coming into touch and harmony with this soul of Nature. Our soul is recognising samenesses between what is in it and what is in the soul of Nature, and feels joy in the recognition.
And the instinct of fellowship with our kind impels us to communicate to others what we ourselves have felt. We want to tell others what we have seen and what we have experienced.
We long, too, to share the joy which others also must have felt in contemplating Nature. We want especially to know and feel what those with far more sensitive souls than our own—the great poets, painters, and musicians—have felt. So we communicate our feelings to others; and we communicate with others, either personally or through their books or pictures or music, so that we may find out from them what more to look for, and may know better how to look for it. By so doing, our souls become more sensitive to the impressions of Nature, and we are better able to express those impressions. Our power of vision increases. Our soul's eye acquires a keener insight and sees deeper into the soul of Nature. We are able to enter more into the spirit of Nature, and the spirit of Nature is able to enter more into us. We arrive at a completer understanding between ourselves and Nature, are more in harmony with her, and consequently see more Beauty.
We see, indeed, what Nature really is. We see the reality behind the appearance—the content within the outward form. We are not for the moment concerned with the cause but with the character of Nature. We see the "I" behind the outward manifestation and representation. And if we have sympathy and understanding enough and are able truly to enter into the soul of Nature, we shall see the real "I" behind the common everyday "I"—just as the few who intimately know some great man see the real man behind the man who appears in the public eye—the real Beaconsfield or Kitchener behind the Beaconsfield or Kitchener of the daily press. And, as we see more of this real "I" in Nature and are better able to get in touch and harmony with her, so shall we see greater Beauty in Nature.
If we have petty, meagre souls we shall find little in common with the great soul of Nature, and consequently see only shallow Beauty. If we have great souls we shall have more in common and see more Beauty. But to arrive at a full understanding of the real Nature we must observe her from every point of view and see her in all her aspects. Only so shall we be able to understand her real self and see her full Beauty. And her aspects and the points of view from which we may observe them change so incessantly that the greatest of us falters. The more we see of Nature, the more we find there is to understand. And the more we understand Nature and commune with her, the more Beauty do we find there is to see. So to arrive at a complete understanding of Nature and see all her Beauty is beyond the capacity of us finite men.
Yet we are impelled to go on striving to see all we can. And in the following pages an attempt is made to show how, more Beauty in Nature may be discovered.
Often in the Himalaya I have watched an eagle circling overhead. I have sat on the mountain-side and watched it sail majestically along in graceful curves and circles, and with perfect ease and poise. Far above the earth it would range, and seemingly without exertion glide easily over tracts that we poor men could only enter by prodigious effort. Captivated by its grace of motion, and jealous of its freedom, I would for hours watch it. And this eagle I knew, from the height and distance from which it would swoop down on its prey, to be possessed of eyesight of unrivalled keenness in addition to its capacity for movement.
So this bird had opportunities such as no human being—not even an airman—has of seeing the earth and what is on it. At will it could glide over the loftiest mountain ranges. At will it could sail above the loveliest valleys. At will it could perch upon any chosen point and observe things at close range. In a single day this one eagle might have seen the finest natural scenery in the world—the highest mountain, the most varied forest, thickly populated plains and bare, open plains, peoples, animals, birds, insects, trees, flowers, all of the most varied description. In one day, and in the ordinary course of its customary circlings and sailings, it might have seen what men come from the ends of the Earth to view, and are content if they see only a hundredth part of what the eagle sees every day.
From its mountain eerie in Upper Sikkim it might have seen the rose of dawn flushing the snowy summits of Kinchinjunga, and far away Mount Everest. And soaring aloft, the eagle might have looked out over the populous plains of India and seen, like silver streaks, the rivers flowing down from the Himalaya to join in the far distance the mighty Mother Ganges. Then its eye might have ranged over the vast forest which clothes in dense green mantle the plain at the foot of the mountains from Nepal to Bhutan and Assam, and from the plain spreads up on the mountain-sides themselves and reaches to the very borders of eternal snow. Over this vast forest with its treasures of tree and plant, animal and insect life, tropical, temperate, and alpine, the eagle might have soared; and then, passing over the Himalayan watershed, have looked down upon the treeless, open, undulating, almost uninhabited plain of Tibet, and in the distance seen the great Brahmaputra River, which, circling round Bhutan, cuts clean through the Himalaya and, turning westward, also joins the Ganges.
In the whole world no more wonderful natural scenery is to be found. And the eagle with no unusual effort could see it all in a single day, and see it with a distinctness of sight no man could equal. But keen though its eyesight was and wide though its range, the eagle in all that beautiful region would see not a single beauty. Neither in the sunrise, nor in the snowy mountains, nor in the luxuriant tropical forest, nor in the flowers, the birds, the butterflies, nor in the people and animals, nor in the cataracts and precipices would it see any beauty whatever. The mountain would be to it a mere outline, the forests a patch of green, the rivers streaks of white, the animals just possible items of food. The eagle would see much, but it would see no beauty.
Perhaps we shall understand why it is that the eagle with these unbounded opportunities sees no beauty if we consider the case of a little midge buzzing round a man's body. The midge is roughly in about the same relation to the body of a man that the eagle is to the body of the Earth. The midge in its hoverings sees vast tracts of the human body; sees the features—the nose, the eye, the mouth; sees the trunk and the limbs and the head. But even in the most beautiful of men it would see no beauty. And it would see no beauty because it would have no soul to understand expression. It might be hovering round the features of a man when the smile on his lips and the exaltation in his eyes were expressive of the highest ecstasy of soul, but the midge would see no beauty in those features because it had not the soul to enter into the soul of the man and understand the expression on his face. All the little shades and gradations and tones and lights in the features of the man would be quite meaningless to the midge because it would know nothing of the man's soul, of which the features and the changes and variations in them were the outward manifestation. The midge would know nothing of the reality of the man which lay hidden behind the appearance.
It is the same with the eagle in respect to natural features as it is with the midge in respect to the features of the man. The eagle sees only the bare outward appearance of Nature, and sees no meaning in her features. It has no soul to enter into the soul of Nature and understand what the natural features are expressing. The delicate lights and shades and changes on the face of Nature have no meaning for it. It sees the bare appearance. It sees nothing of the reality behind the appearance. It has no soul to wed to the soul of Nature. It therefore sees no beauty.
But now supposing that among all the midges that buzz about a man there happened to be an artist-midge with exceeding sensitiveness of soul, one which was able to recognise a fundamental identity of life between it and the man, one which was able to recognise samenesses of feelings and emotions and aspirations, and by recognition of the samenesses between it and the man enter into the very life and soul of the man, then that midge would be able to understand all the varying expressions on the face of the man, and by understanding those expressions see their beauty.
We cannot expect an eagle in a similar way to have that sensitiveness of soul which would enable it to enter into the soul of Nature, understand Nature, and so see its Beauty. But what we cannot expect of the eagle we can expect of man. We can expect an Artist to appear who will be to the Earth what the artist-midge was to the man.
Man does to some extent enter into the soul of Nature. He has some understanding of Nature. He sees Beauty; and whenever he sees Beauty in Nature he is in touch with the soul of Nature. Even ordinary men see some of the Beauty of Nature and have some feeling of kinship with her. They have something in common between their soul and the soul of Nature. They have the sense of more in common between them and Nature than a midge has between it and a man.
And in a delicately sensitive man such as an artist—painter, poet, or musician—this sense of kinship with Nature is highly developed. In regard to his relationship with Nature he is like the finely sensitive and cultured artist-midge would be in regard to a man—the midge who, through understanding the inner soul and character of the man, was able to read the expression on his features and see their beauty.
What we ordinary men have to do, and what we especially want those gifted with unusually sensitive souls to do, is to bear in mind the difficulties which the midge has in understanding us and in seeing any beauty in us, and the way in which it would have to train and cultivate its faculties before it could ever hope to understand the expression on our features—to bear this in mind, and then to take ourselves in hand and develop the soul within us till it is fine enough and great enough to enter into the great soul of Nature.
The sense of Beauty we all possess in some slight degree is in itself a proof that behind the outward appearance of Nature there is a spiritual reality—an "I"—just as behind the outward appearance of the man which the artist-midge sees there is the "I" of the man. And by cultivating this sense—that is, by training and developing our capacity to see deeper into the heart of Nature, see more significance and meaning in each shade and change of her features, and read more understandingly what is going on deep within her soul—we shall enable ourselves to see a fuller and richer Natural Beauty.
So we look forward to the appearance among us of a great Artist who, born with an exceptionally sensitive soul, will deliberately heighten and intensify this sensitiveness, learn what others have experienced, compare notes with them, and train himself to detect the significance of every slightest indication which Nature gives of the workings of the soul within her; and then, recognising the sameness between his own feelings and the feelings of Nature, will fall deeply in love with her, give himself up utterly to her, marry her, and in their marriage give birth to Beauty of surpassing richness and intensity.
What we await, then, is an Artist with a soul worthy of being wedded to Nature. Puny, shallow artists will not be able to see much more of Nature than a midge sees of a man. What we want is a man with the physique, the abounding health and spirits, the fine intellect, the poetic power and imagination, the love of animals and his fellow-men, the skill, fitness, and gay courage of a Julian Grenfell. We want a man with the opportunities he had of mixing from childhood in London and in country houses with every grade and condition of men, with statesmen, soldiers, men of art, hunting men, racing men, schoolboys, undergraduates, literary men, gamekeepers, old family retainers—every kind and sort of human being. We want a man of such qualifications combined with the qualifications of a Darwin—with his love of natural history, his power of close and accurate observation, his genius for drawing right inferences from what he observed, his wide knowledge of Nature in her many manifestations, his sympathetic touch with every plant and animal, and his warm, affectionate nature in all human intercourse.
We want, in fact, a Naturalist-Artist—a combination of Julian Grenfell and Darwin. And this is no outrageously impossible, but a very likely and fitting combination. For Julian Grenfell wrote great poetry even in the trenches in Flanders between the two battles of Ypres. And with his love of country life, shooting, fishing, and hunting, his inclination might very easily have been directed towards natural history. If it had been and the opportunity had offered, we might have had the very type of Naturalist-Artist we are now awaiting. He would have had the physical fitness and capacity to endure hardships which are required for travel in parts of the Earth where the Natural Beauty is finest, and he would have had, too, the sensitiveness of soul to receive impressions and the power of expressing himself so that others might share with him the impressions he had felt. If after passing through the earlier stages of shooting and hunting birds and animals he had come to the more profitable stage of observing them, and had devoted to the observation of their habits and ways of life the same skill and acumen which he had shown in hunting them, he might, with his innate and genuine love of animals, very well have become a great naturalist as well as what he was—a great sportsman and a writer of great poetry.
It is for the advent of such Naturalist-Artist that we wait. But we have to prepare the way for him and do our share in helping to produce him. And this will now be my endeavour, for it so happens that I have been blessed with opportunities—some of my own making, some provided for me—of seeing Nature on a larger scale and under more varied aspects than falls to the lot of most men. I am ashamed when I reflect how little use I have made of those opportunities—how little I was prepared and trained to make the most of them. But this at least I can do: I can point out to the coming Artist those parts of the world where he is likely to see the Beauty of Nature most fully, and in greatest variety.
With this end in view I shall begin with the Sikkim Himalaya, over which the eagle flew, because it contains within a small area a veritable compendium of Nature. Rising directly out of the plains of India, practically within the tropics, these mountains rise far above the limits of perpetual snow. Their base is covered with luxuriant vegetation of a truly tropical character, and this vegetation extends through all the ranges from tropical to temperate and arctic. The animal, bird, and insect life does the same. And here also are to be found representative men of every clime. Similarly does the natural scenery vary from plain to highest mountain. There are roaring torrents and wide, placid rivers. The Sikkim Himalaya, looking down on the plains of India on the one side and the steppes of Tibet on the other, is the most suitable place I know for a study of Natural Beauty.
But there are beauties in Kashmir and in the great Karakoram Mountains behind Kashmir which are not found in Sikkim. And there are beauties in the Desert which are not found in either Sikkim or Kashmir. So I must take the Artist to these regions also.
And I choose Sikkim and Kashmir because these are easily accessible regions to which men with a thirst for Beauty can return again and again, till they are saturated with the atmosphere and have imbibed the true spirit of the region—till they have realised how much these natural features express sentiments which they, too, are wanting to express—their aspirations for the highest and purest, their longing for repose, their delight in warmth and affection, or whatever their sentiment might be. Thousands of Englishmen, cultured Indians, and travellers from all over the world, visit the Himalaya every year—some for sport, some for health, some for social enjoyment. Amongst these may be our Naturalist-Artist who year after year, drawn to Sikkim and Kashmir by his love of Natural Beauty, would learn to know Nature in the wonderfully varied aspects under which she is to be seen in those favoured regions, who would come into ever-deepening communion with her, would yearly see more Beauty in her, and would communicate to us the enjoyment he had felt.
But Natural Beauty includes within its scope a great deal more than only natural scenery. It includes the beauty of all natural objects—men and women as well as mountains, animals, and plants. So these also the Artist will have to keep within his purview. And his love of Nature, and consequently his capacity for seeing Natural Beauty, will be all the surer if he uses his head as well as his heart in forming his final conception of her—that is to say, his final for the moment, as no man ever has or can come to a literally final conception of Nature. So the Artist will pause now and then to test his view of Nature in the light of pure reason. For he will be well enough aware that neither Love nor Beauty can be perfect unless it be irradiated with Truth, and the three he will ever strive to keep together.
THE HEART OF NATURE
THE SIKKIM HIMALAYA
The Sikkim Himalaya is a region first brought prominently into notice by the writings of Sir Joseph Hooker, the great naturalist, who visited it in 1848. It lies immediately to the east of Nepal, and can now be reached by a railway which ascends the outer range to Darjiling. It is drained by the Teesta River, up the main valley of which a railway runs for a short distance. The region is therefore easily accessible. For the purposes of this book it may be taken to include the flat open forest and grass-covered tract known as the Terai, immediately at the base of the mountain. This is only a few hundreds of feet above sea-level, so that from there to the summit of the Himalaya there is a rise of nearly 28,000 feet in about seventy miles. The lower part is in the 26th degree of latitude, so that the heat is tropical. And as the region comes within the sweep of the monsoon from the Bay of Bengal, there is not only great heat in the plains and lower valleys, but great moisture as well. The mountain-sides are in consequence clothed with a luxuriant vegetation.
To enter this wonderful region the traveller has first to cross the Ganges—the sacred river of the Hindus. Great rivers have about them a fascination all their own. They produce in us a sense of everlastingness and irresistibility. The Ganges, more than a mile wide, comes sweeping along in deep majestic flood from the far distance to the far distance, on and on unendingly, from all time to all time, and in such depth and volume that nothing human can withstand it. In the dry season, when it is low and the sun is shining, it is placid and benign with a bright and smiling countenance. Stately temples, set amidst sacred groves and graceful palms, lighten the banks. On the broad steps of the bathing ghats are assembled crowds of pious worshippers in clothes of every brilliant hue. The river has an aspect of kindliness and geniality and life-givingness. Its waters and rich silt have brought plenty to many a barren acre, and the dwellers on its banks know well that it issues from the holy Himalaya.
But the Ganges is not always in this gracious mood, and does not always wear this kindly aspect. In the rainy season it is a thing of terror. Overhead black, thundery clouds sweep on for days and weeks together towards the mountains. There is not a glimpse of sun. The rain descends as a deluge. The river is still further swollen by the melting of the snow on the Himalaya, and now comes swirling along in dark and angry mood, rising higher and higher in its banks, eating into them, and threatening to overtop them and carry death and destruction far and wide. Men no longer go down to meet it. They shrink back from it. They uneasily watch it till the fulness of its strength is spent and it has returned to its normal beneficent aspect.
No wonder such a river is regarded as sacred. To the more primitive people it is literally a living person—and a person who may be propitiated, a person who may do them harm if they annoy him, and do them good if they make themselves agreeable to him and furnish him with what he wants. To the cultured Hindus it is an object of the deepest reverence. If they can bathe in its waters their sins are washed away. If after death their ashes can be cast on its broad bosom, they will be secure of everlasting bliss. From perhaps the earliest days of our race, for some hundreds of thousands of years, men may have lived upon its banks. For it was in the forests beside great rivers, in a warm and even climate, that primitive men must have lived. They would have launched their canoes upon its waters, and used it as their only pathway of communication with one another. And always they would have looked upon it with mingled awe and affection. Besides the sun it would have been the one great natural object which would attract their attention. Insensibly the sight of that ever-rolling flood must have deeply affected them. They must have come to love it as they beheld it through the greater part of the year. The sight of its destructive power may have made them recoil for a time in fear and awe. But this would be forgotten as the flood subsided, and the river was again smooth and smiling and passing peacefully along before them.
So men do not run away from it. They gather to it. They build great cities on its banks, and come from great distances to see it. They perform pilgrimages every year in thousands to the spot where it issues from the Himalaya. And they penetrate even to its source far back and high up in the mountains.
To the most enlightened, also, the Ganges should be an object of reverence for its antiquity, for its future, and for its power. From the surface of the Bay of Bengal the sun's rays have drawn particles of water into the atmosphere. Currents in the air have carried them for hundreds of miles over the sea and over the plains of Bengal, till the chill of the Himalaya Mountains has caused them to condense and fall in snow and rain. But some have been carried farther. They have been transported right over the Himalaya at a height of at least 20,000 feet, till they have finally fallen in Tibet. It is a striking fact that some of the water in the Ganges is from rivers in Tibet which have cut their way clean through the mighty range of the Himalaya. The Arun River, for example, rises in Tibet and cuts through the Himalaya by a deep gorge in the region between Mount Everest and Kinchinjunga. These rivers are, indeed, much older than the mountains. They were running their course before the Himalaya were upheaved, and they kept wearing out a channel for themselves as the mountains rose and slowly over-towered them.
Reverence, therefore, is due to the Ganges on account of its vast antiquity. Reverence also is due because it will flow on like now for hundreds of thousands and perhaps for millions of years to come. Round and round in never-ceasing cycle the water is drawn up from the ocean, is carried along in the clouds, descends upon the mountains, and gathers in the Ganges to flow once more into the sea. The Ganges may gradually change its course as it eats into first one bank and then the other. But it will flow on and on and on for as far into the future as the human eye can ken.
And its power, so terrifying to primitive man—even to us at times —will become more and more a power for good. Already great canals have been taken from its main stream and its tributaries, and millions of acres have been irrigated by its water, thus helping to bring to birth great crops of wheat and rice, cotton, sugar-cane, and oil-seeds. Schemes for utilising the water-power in its fall through the mountains by converting it into electric power are in contemplation, so that railways may be run by it and power for great industries be furnished. Once more, too, the course of the river may become a line of communication as sea-planes are used to fly from town to town and alight upon its surface.
So as we come to know the river in its deepest significance, our impression of its everlastingness and its irresistible power remains. But our sense of fear diminishes. We feel that the river is ready to co-operate with us. That it is capable of being taken in hand and led. That its power is not essentially destructive but beneficent. That there is in it almost inexhaustible capacity for helping plant and beast and man. And that it is a friend and anxious to help us.
The Hindus have been right all along in worshipping it. Their worship, with tropical luxuriance, may have developed to extravagant lengths. But the instinct which promoted this worship was perfectly sound. The river bears within its breast great life-giving properties, and in worshipping the river the Hindus were half-consciously expressing their sense of dependence on these life-giving properties, and of affection and gratitude to the river for the benefits it conferred. Mere fear of its destructive character—fear alone—would not produce the desire for worship. They did and do fear the river, but behind the fear is a feeling that it can be propitiated, that it can be induced to help man and does not want to thwart him. And here they were perfectly right. We are at last learning the way by which this may be done, and now see clearly what the Hindus only vaguely felt, that the heart of the river is right enough—that once it is tamed and trained it can bring untold good to man.
This the Artist will readily discern. He will enter into the spirit of the river. He will read its true character. Refusing to be terrorised by its more tremendous moods, he will exult in its might, and see in it a potent agency for good. In these ways the river will make its appeal to him; and responding to the appeal, the Artist will see great Beauty in the river and describe that Beauty to us.
* * *
Beyond the river, before we reach the mountain, we have to pass over absolutely level cultivated plains, without a single eminence in sight. To most they would appear dull, monotonous, uninteresting. There is no horizon to which the eye can wander and find satisfaction in remote distance. There is no hill to which to raise our eyes and our souls with them. The outlook is confined within the narrowest limits. Palm trees, banyan trees, houses, walled gardens, everywhere restrict it. The fields are small, the trees and houses numerous. Nothing distant is to be seen. To the European the prospect is depressing. But to the Bengali it is his very life. These densely inhabited plains are his home. They have, therefore, all the attraction which familiar scenes in which men have grown up from childhood always have. A Bengali prefers them to high mountains. He loves the sight of the brilliant emerald rice-fields, of the tall feathery palms, of the shady banyan trees, of the flaming poinsettias, the bright marigolds, cannas and bougainvillea, the many-coloured crotons and calladiums, the sweet-scented jasmine, oranges, tuberoses, and gardenia; and the gaudy jays, the swiftly darting parrots, and the playful squirrels. He loves, too, the bathing-pools, and the patient oxen, and the cool, sequestered gardens. And he loves these things for their very nearness. His attention is not distracted to distant horizons and inaccessible heights. All is close to the eye and easily visible. His world may be small, but it is all within reach. He can know well each tree and flower, each bird and animal. It is not a wide and varied life. But it is an intense and very vivid life; and to the Bengali, on that account, more preferable. And if it is confined it is at least confined in the open air, and in a climate of perpetual summer.
* * *
Beyond this highly cultivated and thickly populated part, and still in the plains, we come to a wild jungle country which stretches up to the foothills, and is swampy, pestilential, and swarming with every kind of biting insect. It is a nasty country to travel through. But it has its interests. There grow here remarkable grasses, with tall straight shoots gracefully bending over at the top from the weight of their feathery heads; and so high are these gigantic grasses that they often reach above the head of a man on an elephant. The areas covered by them are practically impenetrable to men on foot, and there is a mysterious feel about this region, for it is the haunt of rhinoceros, tigers, and boars. In passing through it we have an uneasy feeling that almost anything may appear on the instant, and that once we were on foot and away from the path we would be irretrievably lost—drowned in a sea of waving grass.
From this sea of grass rise patches of forest and single trees. The most prevalent is the Sal tree (Shorea robusta), a magnificent gregarious tree with a tall straight stem and thick glossy foliage. But the most conspicuous in March and April is the Dak tree (Butea frondosa), an ungainly tree, but remarkable for its deep rich scarlet flowers, like gigantic sweet-peas but of a thick velvety texture. These flowers blossom before the leaves appear, and when the tree is in full bloom it looks like a veritable flame in the forest.
Another beautiful tree which is found in this lower part is the Acacia catechu, known in Northern India as the Khair tree, and found all about the foothills of the Himalaya. Not tall and stately, but rather contorted and ample like the oak, it has a graceful feathery foliage and a kindly inviting nature.
* * *
Proceeding over these level plains, which as we approach the mountains are covered with dense forest, stagnant morasses, and trim tea-gardens, we one morning awake to find that over the horizon to the north hangs a long cloud-like strip, white suffused with pink—level on its lower edge but with the upper edge irregular in outline. No one who had not seen snow mountains before would suppose for a moment that that strip could be a line of mountain summits. For there is not a trace of any connection with the earth. Between it and the earth is nothing but blue haze. And it is so high above the horizon that it seems incredible that any such connection could exist. Yet no one who had seen snow mountains could doubt for an instant that that rose-flushed strip of white was the Himalaya. For it possesses two unmistakable characteristics which distinguish it from any cloud. Firstly, the lower edge is absolutely straight and horizontal: it is exactly parallel with the horizon. Secondly, the upper edge is jagged, and the outline of the jaggedness cuts clean and perfectly defined against the intense blue of the sky.
No one who knows mountains could doubt that this line was the Himalaya, yet every time we see it afresh we marvel more. We know for certain that those sharp edges are the summits of mountains whose base is on this solid earth. Yet, however sure we may be of that fact, we do not cease to wonder. And as we gaze upon that line of snowy summits no more—indeed, less—intrinsically beautiful than many a cloud, yet unspeakably more significant, we are curiously elated. Something in us leaps to meet the mountains. And we cannot keep our eyes away. We seem lifted up, and feel higher possibilities within ourselves and within the world than we had ever known before. As we travel onward we strain to keep the mountains continually in sight, for we cannot bear to leave them. We feel better men for having seen them, and for the remainder of our days we would keep them in continuing remembrance.
* * *
As we come closer under the mountains the base emerges from the haze and the line of snowy peaks disappears behind the nearer outer ranges. Then we come to these ranges themselves, which rise with considerable abruptness out of the level plains with very little intermediate modulation of form, and we find them densely clothed in forest—true, rich, luxuriant, tropical forest with all the delights of glistening foliage, graceful ferns and palms, glorious orchids, and brilliant butterflies.
THE TEESTA VALLEY
This great forest, which extends for hundreds of miles along the slopes of the Himalaya, reaches up from the plains to the snows. In the lower part it is a truly tropical forest, and about a tropical forest there is something peculiarly mysterious. A strange stillness is over all. Not, indeed, the absolute silence of the desert, where literally not a sound is heard; for here in the forest, even during the hot noonday quiet, there is always the purring of insect life. But that stillness when not a leaf moves and no harsh noise is heard, when an impressive hush is laid upon the scene and we seem to be in some mysterious Presence dominating all about us and rousing our expectancy.
A kind of awe seizes us, and with it also comes a keen exhilaration. We can see at most for a hundred yards in any direction. But we know that the forest extends like this for hundreds of miles. And we realise that if we wandered off the track we might never find it again. It is all very awe-inspiring, and in some ways frightening. Still, we are thrilled by the sight of such a profusion, intensity, and variety of life. In this hot, steamy atmosphere plants and trees grow in luxuriant abundance. Every inch of soil is occupied. And these forests are not like woods in England, which contain only three or four species—oaks, beeches, sycamores, etc. In these Sikkim forests we seldom see two trees of the same kind standing next each other. One tree may be more prevalent than others, but there is always great variety in the forms and colours of the stems, the branches, the leaves, the flowers, the habit of growth. There are trees of immense height with tall, strong, straight stems, and there are shrubs like hydrangeas of every size and description. There are climbers as huge as cables. And there are gentle little plants hardly rising above the ground. There is no end to the variety of plant life, and we have an inner spring of delight as we come across treasure after treasure that hitherto we had only seen reared with infinite care in some expensive hot-house.
And what we see is only, we feel, a stray sample of what there is to be seen. What may there not be in those forest depths which we dare not enter for fear of losing our way! What other towering forest monarchs might we not come across if we plunged into the forest! What other exquisite flowers, what insects, what birds, what animals! What wealth of insect life may there not be at the tops of the trees where the fierce sunshine hidden from us by their leaves is drawing out their flowers! What may there not be going on in the ground beneath us! We know, that in these forests, perhaps near enough to see us, though their forms are hidden by their likeness to their leafy surroundings and the dappled sunlight, are animals as various as elephants, tigers, leopards, foxes, squirrels, and bats; birds as various as hawks, parrots, and finches; and insects from butterflies, bees, and wasps to crickets, beetles, and ants. The forest, we know, in addition to all the wealth of tree and plant life, is teeming with animal and insect life, though of this we are able to see very little, so carefully do animals conceal themselves. In the night they emerge, and in the morning and evening there is a deafening din of insect life. But at noonday there is a soft and solemn hush, and we are tense with curiosity to know all that is going on in those mysterious forest depths and up among the tree-tops, so close but so impossible of access.
The great forest is the very epitome of life. Concentrated here in small compass is every form and variety of living thing, from lowliest plant to forest monarch, from simplest animalcule to elephant, monkey, and man. There is life and abundant life all about us. But it is not the noisy, clamorous, obtrusive life of the city. It is a still, intense life, full of untold possibilities for good or harm. And herein lies its mystery: we see much, but we feel that there is infinitely more behind.
Of this life of the forest in all its richness, intensity, and variety we shall come to know more as we ascend the Teesta Valley till it reaches the snows, and tropical plant and animal life changes first to temperate and then to arctic forms. But first we must note some beauties of the valley itself.
* * *
The valley of the great Teesta River, the valleys of its tributaries, the gorges through which the main river and its tributaries rush, the cascades pouring in succession down the mountain-sides, the sequestered glens and dells—all these have beauties which the terrific rain and the mists in which they are usually enveloped do not hide but augment.
The River Teesta itself, though only a minor contributor to the Brahmaputra, is nevertheless during the rainy season, when it is fed both by the falling rain and by the melting snows and glaciers of the Kinchinjunga region, impressive in its might and energy. With a force and tumult that nothing could withstand it comes swirling down the valley. Before its rushing impetuosity everything would be swept away. For it is no little tossing torrent: it possesses depth and weight and volume, and sweeps majestically along in great waves and cataracts. In comparison with the serene composure of the lofty summits here is life and force and activity to the full—and destructive activity at that, to all appearance. Yet as, from the safety of a bridge by which the genius of man has spanned it, we look upon the turmoil, a strange thrill comes through us. There is such splendid energy in the river. We are fascinated by the power it displays. It is glorious to look upon. Alarming in a way it is. But we know it can only act within certain strictly defined bounds. A foot beyond those bounds it is powerless. And while it is already confined by Nature within these limits, we know the day will come when it will be completely within the control of man and its very power available for our own purposes. So in the end it is with no sense of terror that we watch the raging river in its headlong course. Rather do we enjoy the sight of such exultant energy, which will one day be at man's disposal. We rejoice with the river in a feeling of power, and herein lies its Beauty for us.
* * *
As we look at the tremendous gorges through which the river clears its way we again are filled with awe and wonder. Straight facing us is a clean, sheer cliff of hardest, sternest rock. It cannot be actually perpendicular, but to all appearance it is. And the mere sight of it strengthens our souls. Here is granite solidity, and yet no mere stolid obstinacy. For these cliffs have risen—so the geologists tell us —through their own internal energy to their present proud position. They have, indeed, had to give place to the river to this extent that they have had to acknowledge his previous right of way and to leave a passage for him in their upward effort. The river is careful to exact that much toll from them year by year. But having paid that toll, they have risen by a process of steady, long persistence, and have maintained themselves in their exalted position by sheer firmness and tenacity of character. And as, dripping with warm moisture and carrying with them in any available crevice graceful ferns and trees, they rise above us high up into the clouds, and form the buttresses of those snowy peaks of which we catch occasional glimpses, we are impressed not only with the height of the aspiration those peaks embody, but with the strength and persistency of purpose which was necessary to carry the aspiration into effect.
Overpowered, indeed, we feel at times—shut in and overshadowed by what seems so infinitely greater than ourselves. The roaring river fills the centre of the gorge. The precipitous cliffs rise sheer on either hand. We seem for the moment too minute to cope with such titanic conditions. But sometimes by circumventing the cliffs and after a long tedious detour appearing high above them, sometimes by blasting a passage across their very face, we have proved ourselves able to overcome them. They no longer affright us. And as we return down the valley after a journey to its upmost limit, it is with nothing but sheer delight that we look upon these cliffs. They simply impress us with the strength that must go along with elevation of purpose if that purpose is to be achieved. Unbuttressed by these staunch cliffs the mountains could never have reached their present height. We glory, then, with the cliffs in their solidity and strength as they proudly face the world. And we recognise that in this firmness and consistency of purpose lies their especial Beauty.
* * *
In contrast with the swirling river and hard, rugged cliffs we, quite close to them, and hidden away in a modest tributary of a tributary in the quiet forest depths, will happen upon some deep sequestered pool which imbues us with a sense of the delicacy and reserve of Nature. We here see her in a peculiarly tender aspect. The pool is still and clear. The lulling murmurs of a waterfall show whence it draws its being. A gentle rivulet carries the overbrim away. It is bounded by rocks and boulders green with exquisite ferns and mosses. Overhanging it are weeping palms with long straight leaves. Trees, with erect stems as tall as Nelson's Column, strain upward to the light. Butterflies in numbers flutter noiselessly about. The air is absolutely still and of a feel like satin. Clouds of intangible softness and clean and white as snow float around, appear, dissolve, and reappear. Through the parting in the overhanging trees the intense blue sky is seen in glimpses. The sun here and there pierces through the arching foliage, and the greens of the foliage glisten brighter still. The whole atmosphere of the spot is one of reticence and reserve. Yet quiet though it be and restful though it be, there is no sense of stagnation. The pool, though deep and still, is vividly alive. Its waters are continually being renewed. And the forest, though not a leaf moves, is, we know, straining with all the energy of life for food and light, for air and moisture. So by this jewel of a pool in its verdant setting we have a sense of an activity which is gentle and refined. The glen's is a shy and intimate Beauty, especially congenial to us after the forceful Beauty of the river and the bold, proud Beauty of the cliffs. But it is no insipid Beauty: in its very quietness and confidence is strength.
The Teesta Valley in its lowest part is only 700 feet above sea-level. It is deep and confined and saturated with perpetual moisture. Hardly a breath of wind stirs, and all plant life is forced as in a hothouse. The trees do not, indeed, grow as high as the Big Trees of California or the eucalyptus in Australia, but some of these in the Teesta Valley are 200 feet in height with buttressed trunks between 40 and 50 feet in girth, and give the same impression of stateliness and calm composure. With incredible effort and incessant struggle they have attained their present proud position, and the traveller most willingly accords them the tribute that is their due.
Grand tropical oaks nearly 50 feet in girth also occur, screw-pines 50 feet in height with immense crowns of grassy leaves 4 feet long, palms of many kinds, rattan-canes, bamboos, plantains, and tall grasses such as only grow in dense, hot jungles. Gigantic climbers tackle the loftiest trees. One allied to the gourd bears immense yellowish-white pendulous blossoms; another bears curious pitcher-shaped flowers. Vines, peppers, and pothos interlace with the palms and plantains in impenetrable jungle. Orchids clothe the trees. Everywhere and always we hear the whirr and hum of insect life, sometimes soft and soothing, sometimes harsh and strident. And floating about wherever we look are butterflies innumerable, many dull and unpretentious, but some of a brilliancy of colour that makes us gasp with pleasure.
We may be pouring with perspiration, pestered by flies and mosquitoes, and in constant dread of leeches. But we forget all such annoyances in the joy of these wonders of the tropics, whether they be trees or orchids, ferns or butterflies. And to see one of these gorgeous insects alight in front of us, slowly raise and lower his wings and turn himself about almost as if he were showing himself off for our especial pleasure, compensates us for every worry his fellows in the insect world may cause us.
As might be expected, in the steamy, dripping atmosphere ferns are a predominating feature in the vegetation. Not less than two hundred different kinds are found. The most noticeable are the tree ferns, of which alone there are eight species. Their average height is about 20 feet, but plants of 40 and 50 feet are not uncommon. And with their tall trunks and crown of immense graceful fronds they form a striking feature in the forest, and in the moister valleys where they attain their full luxuriance they may be seen in extensive groves as well as in little groups. Four kinds of maidenhair, always light and graceful and attractive, are found; and of ferns common to Europe, Osmunda regalis, the Royal fern of Europe, and the European moonwort and alder's-tongue ferns. Then there is a fern which attains to gigantic proportions, especially in the cool forests, where its massive fronds grow to more than 5 yards in length and 3 in breadth, with a spread over all, measuring from tip to tip of opposite fronds, of 8 yards. One handsome climbing fern clothes the trunks of tall trees; another which climbs on grasses and the smaller shrubs is common; and another forms almost impenetrable thickets 15 or 20 feet high. Of the kinds which grow on rocks and trees the most delicately beautiful are the filmy ferns, of which there are eight kinds. The Irish filmy is the largest, covering the face of large rocks under dense shade, its fronds growing to over a foot in length. Many polypodiums and aspleniums grow gracefully on the rocks and trees during the rainy season. One especially elegant polypodium growing on the ground has fronds about 6 or 7 feet long, and sometimes as much as 20 feet, and of proportionate width. Another conspicuous fern is the bird's-nest fern with its large, massive fronds growing under shade on rocks and stems of trees.
Unless we are fern experts it is impossible for us to identify each among so many species. But, at any rate, we gather an impression of elegance and grace, often of airy lightness, and of wonderful variety of size and form.
* * *
From the ferns we look to the rest of the forest, and after the first bewilderment at the profusion and variety of vegetation we try to fasten on to a few individuals or types which we can identify as having seen elsewhere in some other part of India or in some palm-house in England. We are in the still, steamy atmosphere of a hot-house, and we are conscious that all round us, growing in luxuriant abundance, are rare and beautiful plants of which a single specimen would be treasured and treated with every fostering care in England. But we sigh to be able to recognise these treasures and make contact between home and this exceptionally favoured region—favoured, that is to say, as regards plant life. From among the giant trees, the bamboos, the palms, the climbers, the shrubs, the flowers, the orchids, we look out anxiously for friends—or at least for acquaintances whom we hope may develop into friends as we meet them again and again on our journeys through the forest.
Of the flowers, the orchids are naturally the first to attract us. They shine out as real gems in the greenery around them. The eye jumps to them at once. Here seems to be something as nearly perfect in colour, form, and texture as it could possibly be. If the orchid is white it is of the purest whiteness, and shines chaste and unsullied amidst its dull surroundings. If it is purple, or pale yellow, or golden-yellow, or rose, or violet, or white, the colour has always a depth and purity which is deeply satisfying. And it seems to be because the waxy texture of these orchids is such a perfect medium for the display of colour that orchids are so exceptionally beautiful. The texture is of the very consistency best adapted for revealing the beauty of colour. And when we pluck a spray of these choice treasures from the forest branch and hold it in the sunlight, we feel we are seeing colour almost in perfection.
The colour and texture are beautiful enough in themselves. But an added attraction in these orchids is their form—the curvature of their sepals and petals, and the wonderful little pitchers and cups and lips and tongues which an orchid exhibits. And the form is no mere geometrical pattern of lines and curves. It is obviously an ingenious contrivance devised for some special purpose. That purpose we now know to be the attraction of insects, who in sucking the orchid's honey will unconsciously carry on their wings or backs the flower's pollen to fertilise another orchid. Though whether the insect in the long centuries by probing at the orchid has forced it to adapt itself to it, or whether the flower has forced the insect to adapt itself to the flower, or whether—as seems most likely—a process of mutual adaptation has been going on century by century, and the flower and insect have been gradually adapting themselves to one another, is still a matter of discussion among naturalists.
We cannot gather an orchid of any kind without marvelling at its intricate construction. And when we are looking at the orchid in its natural surroundings in the forest itself and see the enormous numbers and the immense variety, in size and form and habits, of the insects around the orchid, and think how the orchid has to select its own particular species of insect and cater for that, and the insect among all the flowers has to select the particular species of orchid; and how the insect, whether butterfly or bee or moth or gnat or ant, or any other of the numerous kinds of insect, and the orchid have to adapt themselves to each other—we see how marvellous the mutual adaptation of flower to insect and insect to flower must have been. We see how the particular species of orchid must have chosen the particular species of bee, and the particular species of bee that particular species of orchid, and the bee and orchid set themselves to adapt themselves to one another, the orchid using all the devices of colour, scent, sweetness of honey, to attract the insect, and gradually shaping itself so that the insect can better reach the honey, and the insect lengthening its proboscis and otherwise adapting itself so that it can better secure what it wants. And we see how perfectly—how nearly perfectly—the flower is designed for its purpose.
But what is perhaps most remarkable of all about an orchid is that this marvel of colour and form and of texture of fabric unfolds itself from within a most ungainly, unsightly, unlikely-looking tuber. From shapeless, colourless tubers, which attach themselves to trunks and branches of trees and cling on to rocks, there emerge these peerless aristocrats of the flower-world, finished, polished, immaculate, and reigning supreme through sheer distinction and excellence at every point—and also because theirs is clearly no ephemeral convolvulus-like beauty which will fade and vanish away in a twinkling, but is a beauty intensely matured, strong and deep and firm.
* * *
Of the 450 species of orchids found in the Sikkim Forest, many are very rare. But fortunately the rarest are not the most beautiful in colour and form. Some very beautiful orchids are also very common. The most common are the dendrobiums, of which there are about forty species. The finest and best known is the Dendrobium nobile. It grows in the lower hills and valleys up to 5,000 feet, and also in the plains. The flowers vary both in size and shade of colour; but in Sikkim the sepals and petals are always purple, shading off into white at the base. The tip has a central blotch of very deep purple surrounded by a broad margin of pale yellow or white. This orchid is now very common in English hot-houses, so here is one point of contact with the tropical forest.
The D. densiflorum is equally common and grows in much the same region. It flowers in a dense cluster on a stalk somewhat after the fashion of a hyacinth. The sepals and petals of this beautiful species are of a pale yellow, while the lip is of a rich orange. One of the most charming of the Sikkim dendrobiums has the smell of violets, and the sepals and petals are white-tipped with violet, the stem being sometimes 2 1/2 feet long. Another noteworthy dendrobium is the D. pierardi, whose prevailing colour is a beautiful rose or pale purple.
After the dendrobiums the coelogyne are the most worth noting. The Coelogyne cristata is common at elevations of from 5,000 to 8,000 feet, and flowers during March and April. It has numerous large flowers, which are pure white throughout, with the exception of the lamellae of the lip, which are yellow. It may be seen in flower in March in the orchid-house at Kew. In the forest it grows in such profusion as to make the trunk of a dead tree look as if it were covered with snow.
The C. humilis is known as the Himalayan crocus. It grows like a crocus from a pseudo-bulb at elevations from 7,000 to 8,500 feet, and flowers during February and March. The flowers are white and from 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The lip is speckled with purple towards the edge.
Not so common but larger and handsomer than the dendrobiums are the cymbidiums, of which there are sixteen different species, usually with long grassy leaves and many-flowered drooping racemes with large handsome flowers. A very sweet-scented species is the Cymbidium eburneum, which is common between elevations of 1,000 to 3,000 feet, and flowers during March and April. The prevailing colour of the flowers is an ivory white, but the ridge on the lip is a brilliant yellow. This also may be seen at Kew in March.
These are some of the commonest orchids and all now grow in England, so that we can begin to get a footing in the forest and not feel that it is so completely strange to us. And as we ascend higher we shall find many more friends among the flowers. And to guide us among the trees and flowers we fortunately have Sir Joseph Hooker, who in his "Himalayan Journals" has described this botanist's paradise in loving detail, so we cannot do better than follow him. Amid the many plants he mentions we can only select a few, but these few will at least help to give us some conception of the whole and show the range of variation as we ascend.
As we proceed higher up the valley to an altitude of about 4,000 feet, European trees and plants begin to be intermingled with the tropical vegetation. Hornbeams appear, and birch, willow, alder, and walnut grow side by side with wild plantains, palms, and gigantic bamboos. Brambles, speedwells, forget-me-nots, and nettles grow mixed with figs, balsams, peppers, and huge climbing vines. The wild English strawberry is found on the ground, while above tropical orchids like the dendrobiums cover the trunks of the oaks. The bracken and the club-moss of our British moors grow associated with tree-ferns. And English grow alongside Himalayan mosses.
The valley itself continues of the same character—deep with its steep sides clothed in forest and the path scrambling over spurs, making wide detours up side valleys, or scraping along the sides of cliffs which stand perpendicularly over the raging river below. Only here and there are clearings in the forest where Lepchas or Nepalese have built themselves a few wooden houses and roughly cultivated the land. Otherwise we are under the same green mantle of forest which extends everywhere over the mountains; and though we are now piercing straight through the main axis of the Himalaya, we seldom catch even a glimpse of the snowy heights which must be so near.
But the vegetation is distinctly changing in character as we ascend—the most tropical trees and plants gradually disappearing, and more and more flowers of the temperate zone coming into evidence. And as we pierce farther into the mountains the climate becomes sensibly drier and the forest lighter. There is still a heavy enough rainfall to satisfy any ordinary plant or human being. But there is not the same deluge that descends upon the outer ridges. So the forest is not so dense. Frequently in its place social grasses clothe the mountain-sides; and yellow violets, primulas, anemones, delphiniums, currants, and saxifrages remind us of regions more akin to our own.
Now, too, we have reached the habitat of the rhododendrons, which are so peculiarly a glory of Sikkim, and it is worth while to pause and take special note of them. Out of the thirty species which are found in Sikkim, all the most beautiful have been introduced —chiefly by Sir Joseph Hooker—into England, and are grown in many parks and gardens as well as at Kew. So English people can form some idea of what the flowering trees of the Sikkim Forest are like. But they must multiply by many times the few specimens they see in an English park or hot-house, and must realise that as cowslips are in a grassy meadow, so are these rhododendron trees in the Sikkim Forest. Red, mauve, white, or yellow, they grow as great flowers among the green giants of the forest and brighten it with colour. The separate blossoms of a rhododendron tree cannot compare in beauty with the individual orchid. There is in them neither the deep richness of colour nor wonder of form nor sense of deeply matured excellence. The claim of the rhododendron to favour is rather in the collective quantity and mass of flowers so that by sheer weight of numbers it can produce its effect of colour. In some of the upper valleys the mountain slopes are clothed in a deep green mantle glowing with bells of scarlet, white, or yellow.
Perhaps the most splendid of these rhododendrons is Rhododendron grande or argenteum, which grows to a height of from 30 to 40 feet, and has waxy bell-shaped flowers of a yellowish-white suffused with pink, 2 to 3 inches long and about the same across. The scarlet R. arboreum, so general in the Himalaya, is common in Sikkim and furnishes brilliant patches of colour in the forest. And a magnificent species is R. Auchlandii or Griffithianum, which has large white flowers tinged with pink, of a firm fleshy texture and with a mouth 5 inches across. It has been called the queen of all flowering shrubs. It grows well in Cornwall, and among the hybrids from it is the famous Pink Pearl.
R. Falconeri, a white-flowered species, is eminently characteristic of the genus in habit, place of growth and locality, never occurring below 10,000 feet. In foliage it is incomparably the finest. It throws out one or two trunks clean and smooth, 30 feet or so high, the branches terminated by immense leaves, deep green above edged with yellow and ruby red-brown below. The creamy white flowers are shaded with lilac and are slightly scented. They are produced in tightly-packed clusters 9 to 15 inches across and twenty or more in numbers.
A peculiar (in that it is of all the species the only one that is epiphytal) but much the largest flowered species is the R. Dalhousiae. It grows, like the orchids, among ferns and moss upon the trunks of, large trees, especially oaks and magnolias, and attains a height of 6 to 8 feet. The flowers are three to seven in a head, and are 3 1/2 to 5 inches long and as much across the mouth, white with an occasional tinge of rose and very fragrant. In size, colour, and fragrance of the blossoms this is the noblest of the genus. It grows out-of-doors in Cornwall and in the greenhouse in other parts of England as a scraggy bush 10 to 12 feet high. R. barbatum is a tree from 40 to 60 feet high, producing flowers of a rich scarlet or blood-colour, and sometimes puce or rich pink. It is one of the most beautiful of the Himalayan rhododendrons, and is now very common in England, growing freely out-of-doors. Another truly superb plant is R. Maddeni, with very handsome pure white flowers 3 1/2 to 4 inches long and as much across the mouth. This is now a special favourite in England. It grows in large bushes in the open in Cornwall and is very sweet-scented. R. virgatum is a beautiful delicately white-flowered shrub. And R. campylo-carpum displays masses of exquisite pale yellow bells of rarest delicacy.
Besides rhododendrons, ash, walnut, and maple become more abundant as we ascend, and at 9,000 feet larch appears, and there are woods of a spruce resembling the Norwegian spruce in general appearance. Among the plants are wood-sorrel, bramble, nut, spiraea, and various other South European and North American genera.
The climate is no longer stifling and the leeches have disappeared. We miss many beauties of the tropical forest. But, with the vegetation more and more resembling what we are accustomed to in Europe, we are feeling more at home. The path winds through cool and pleasant woods, following the varying contour of the mountain-sides. We are no longer oppressed by the strangeness of the life around us. At almost every turn we come across something new yet not wholly unfamiliar. And standing out especially in our memory of this region will be the sight of a gigantic lily rearing itself ten feet high in the forest, and as pure in its perfect whiteness as if it had been grown in a garden. It is the Lilium giganteum, and it has fourteen flowers on a single stalk and each 4 1/2 inches long and the same across.
We still love most of all the white violets we have as children picked in an English wood, and even this great white lily will never supplant them in our affections. But the sight of that glorious plant rising proudly from amidst the greenery of its forest setting will be for us more than any picture. And its being "wild" has the same fascination for us that a flower that is "wild," and not garden grown, has for a child. In a florist's shop we may see lilies even more beautiful than this, but the enjoyment we get from seeing the florist's production bears no comparison whatever with the enjoyment we get from seeing this lily in a distant Himalayan forest where not so many white men ever go. We often have experiences which perceptibly age us. But this is one of those experiences which most certainly make us younger. We are once again children finding flowers in a wood.
As we proceed upward the valley opens out, the mountains recede and are less steep. They are also less wooded, their slopes become more covered with grass, and the river, no longer a raging torrent, now meanders in a broad bed. The great peaks are somewhere close by, but we do not see the highest, and for the Himalaya the scenery is somewhat tame. But the number of herbaceous plants is great. A complete record of them would include most of the common genera of Europe and North America. Among them are purple, yellow, pink, and white primulas, golden potentillas, gentians of deepest azure, delicate anemones, speedwells, fritillaries, oxalis, balsams, and ranunculus. One special treasure of this part is a great red rose (Rosa macrophylla), one of the most beautiful of Himalayan plants whose single blossoms are as large as the palm of the hand. With these plants from the temperate zone are mixed the far outliers of the tropical genera—orchids, begonias, and others—whose ascent to these high regions has been favoured by the great summer heat and moisture.
We are now in the region of the primulas for which (besides its orchids and rhododendrons) Sikkim is famous. Sikkim may indeed be called the headquarters of the Indian primroses, and many species are found there which appear to occur nowhere else. There are from thirty to forty species, the majority growing at altitudes from 12,000 to 15,000 feet, two or three only being found below 10,000 feet, and two or three as high as 16,000 to 17,000 feet. The best known is the Primula sikkimensis, which grows well in England and resembles a gigantic cowslip. It thrills us to see it growing in golden masses in the high valleys in wet boggy places—though the precise colour may be better described as lemon-yellow rather than gold.
The prevailing colour of the primulas is purple, but white, yellow, blue, and pink are also found. The P. denticulata has purple to bright sapphire blue flowers, and great stretches of country are almost blue with the lovely heads of this primrose. Miles of country can be seen literally covered with P. obtusifolia, which has purple flowers and a strong metallic smell. P. Kingii is a lovely plant with flowers of such a dark claret colour that they are almost black. And perhaps the most striking primula is P. Elwesiana, with large solitary deflexed purple flowers.
Poppies also are a feature of the Sikkim vegetation. Near the huts the people cultivate a majestic species near Menconopsis simplicifolia, but it grows in dense clusters 2 or 3 feet high. The flowers vary in diameter from 5 to 7 inches, and are an intensely vivid blue on opening, though they change before fading into purple. M. simplicifolia itself is also found at altitudes from 12,000 to 15,000 feet—a clear light blue species of special beauty, growing as a single flower on a single stem, and now to be seen at both Edinburgh and Kew. Another beautiful poppy is the M. nepalensis, which grows in the central dampest regions of Sikkim at elevations of 10,000 to 11,000 feet and resembles a miniature hollyhock, the flowers being of a pale golden or sulphur-yellow, 2 or 3 inches in diameter and several on a stalk.
As Tangu is approached the valley expands into broad grassy flats, and here at about 13,000 feet the vegetation rapidly diminishes in stature and abundance, and the change in species is very great. Larch, maple, cherry, and spiraea disappear, leaving willows, juniper, stunted birch, silver fir, mountain ash berberries, currant, honeysuckle, azalea, and many rhododendrons. The turfy ground is covered with gentians, potentillas, geraniums, and purple and yellow meconopsis, delphiniums, orchids, saxifrage, campanulas, ranunculus, anemones, primulas (including the magnificent Primula Sikkimensis), and three or four species of ferns. The country being now so much more open, the valley bottom and the mountain-sides glow with purples and yellows of various shades. Not even here, nor indeed anywhere in the Himalaya, do we see that mass and glow of colour we find in California, where wide sheets of meadow-land are ablaze with the purple of the lupins and the gold of the Californian poppy. But for the number of varieties of plants these upper valleys of the Teesta River can scarcely be excelled. As we ascend the mountain-sides above Tangu we find them covered with plants of numerous different kinds, and even at about 14,000 feet Hooker gathered over two hundred plants.
But now we are nearing the limit of plant life. At 17,000 feet the vegetation has ceased to be alpine and has become arctic, and the plants nearest the snow-line are minute primulas, saxifrages, gentians, grasses, sedges, some tufted wormwood, and a dwarf rhododendron, the most alpine of wooded plants.
At the summit of the Donkia Pass Hooker found one flowering plant, the Arenaria rupifragia. The fescue (Festuca ovina), a little fern (Woodsia), and a saussurea ascend very near the summit. A pink-coloured woolly saussurea and Delphinium glaciale are two of the most lofty plants, and are commonly found from 17,500 feet to 18,000 feet. Besides some barren mosses several lichens grow on the top, as Cladonia vermicularis, the yellow Lecidea geographica and the orange L. miniata.
At 18,300 feet Hooker found on one stone only a fine Scottish lichen, a species of gyrophora, the "tripe de roche" of Arctic voyagers and the food of the Canadian hunters. It is also abundant in the Scotch Alps.
On the summit of Bhomtso, 18,590 feet, the only plants were the lichens Lecidea miniata (or Parmalia miniata) mentioned above, and borrera. The first-named minute lichen is the most arctic, antarctic, alpine, and universally diffused in the world, and often occurs so abundantly as to colour the rocks an orange red.
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The entire range of plant life, from the truly tropical to the hardiest arctic, is now complete. As we look back from the limit of perpetual snow we see the whole great procession in a glance. We have come across no African, nor South American, nor Australian plants, so we have not seen anything like the whole of plant life. But the range from the tropic to the arctic has been complete and continuous. In no other region could we in so short a space as a hundred miles—the distance from Bath to London—see the entire range so fully represented.
And actually seeing how vast is the range and variety of plant life is a very different thing from knowing that it exists; seeing the flowers in the flesh is altogether different from only reading descriptions of them; and seeing them in masses and in their natural surroundings affects us quite differently from seeing only a few in a garden or in a hot-house. Here on the spot we feel close in touch with Nature's own heart. We see Nature's productions springing up fresh and new straight from the very fountain source. We have the joy of being able to stretch out a hand and pick a flower direct from its own surroundings, and to fondle it, examine it all round, admire its colour, form, and texture, compare its beauty with the beauty of other flowers and settle wherein its special beauty lies. We shall never be able to give to even the most exquisite orchid or the most perfect lily the same affection that we give to the primroses and violets of our native land. But we may be sure that our Naturalist-Artist, when he gathers together in his mind the impressions which have been made upon him by his passage through the tropical forests to the alpine uplands and thence to the limit of perpetual snow, will find that his sense of the variety of beauty to be found in trees and leaves, in ferns and flowers, has immeasurably expanded. He will have acquired a firmer grasp of plant life as a whole. He will have a truer measure of the beauty in it. And irresistibly, but most willingly, he will have been more closely drawn to Nature's heart.
THE DENIZENS OF THE FOREST
So far we have paid attention almost exclusively to the plant life. But all through Sikkim the insect life presses itself just as insistently on our notice. In the tropical portion it is unbelievably abundant and varied. It swarms about us and is ever present. And much of it is as beautiful as the flowers. For sheer attractiveness the butterflies are as compelling as the orchids. Mosquitoes, gnats, flies, leeches, every torment there is. But we forgive everything for the chance of being able to see alive and in the full glory of their colouring these brilliant gems of the insect world which we can in places view in hundreds and thousands at a time—and in extraordinary variety, for in this little country more than six hundred species are found—about ten times as many as are met with in England. Moreover, there is no season when they are wholly absent, for in the hot valleys they may be seen all the year round, though naturally there are more in the summer than in the winter.
If it were not for other attractions we would like to concentrate our attention on these beautiful creatures alone. For they fascinate us by the daring of their colours, by their bold designs, by the way in which they blend the colours with one another, and by the extreme delicacy and chasteness of both colour and design. We are reluctant to take the life of a single one of the thousands we see, but yet we are itching, too, to lay hold of one after another as it sails into sight displaying some fresh beauty. We want to handle it as we would a flower, turn it about and examine it from every point of view till not a shade or aspect of its beauty has escaped us. In the presence of these brilliant butterflies we are children once more. We want to have them in our hands and feel that they are in our possession. It is tantalising merely to view them from a distance. We want to enjoy their beauty to the full.
These butterflies of Sikkim are such complete strangers to us we do not even know their names. From the "Gazetteer," however, we learn that the most beautiful of them are the papilios, of which alone there are no less than forty-two species. And three of these—namely, the Teinophalus imperialis (which occurs on Tiger Hill above Darjiling) and two ornithopteras, or bird-butterflies—are among the most splendid of all butterflies. The former is green on the upper side with yellow spots on the hind-wing, and the long tails are tipped with yellow. The two bird-butterflies are common in the low valleys from May to October. They are truly magnificent insects, measuring from 6 to 8 inches across. Their fore-wings are wholly of a velvety black and the hind-wing golden yellow scolloped with black.
Of the well-known green species of papilio, with longish tails and blue or green spots on the hindwing, there are four species, of which one is European. Some have semi-transparent wings of a lace-like pattern, with long slender tails to the hind-wings, and are of a very elegant shape.
A most gorgeously-coloured butterfly is the Thaumantis diores, black with large spots (which cover a great part of both fore and hind wings) of a brilliant metallic, changeable blue. It measures 4 3/4 inches across the outspread wings. It avoids the direct sunlight and dodges about among the scrub growing under the deep shade of tall trees in the hottest and moistest valleys.
One of the most lovely butterflies in the world is the Stichophthalma camadeva, which is one of the largest of the Sikkim butterflies, being from 5 to 6 1/2 inches in expanse. It is more soberly coloured on the upper side than the last-named, being chiefly white and brown, but the underside is more beautiful, having a row of five red ocelli with black irides on each wing and other pretty markings.
The lyccenides, or "blues," are represented by no less than 154 species, several of them of surpassing beauty. Many are marked with changeable metallic hues on the upper side of the fore-wing: some violet, some with green, and some with golden bronze. The most lovely of all is the Ilerea brahma, of which the colouring of the upper side of the male is unique.
Then there is the curious leaf-butterfly, which has a marvellous resemblance to a dead leaf with its wings folded over the back and showing the underside only, the leaf-stalk veins being excellently mimicked. But when flying about its upper side, which is a deep violet-blue with a conspicuous yellowish bar across the fore-wing, is exposed, and the butterfly is then most beautiful. I have seen many of these lovely butterflies flying about in the Teesta Valley, glistening in the dappled light of the forest, and then settle on a branch; and unless I had actually seen them alight, I should never have known them from leaves.
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The moths, though naturally not as beautiful as the butterflies, are far more numerous, there being something like two thousand species. Several of them are the largest of the insect race. And one of them, the famous atlas moth, is sometimes nearly a foot across. Next in size come several species of the genus Actias, of which selene is the most common. It is of a pale green colour with a pinkish; spot, and has long slender tails. It measures about 8 inches across the fore-wings, and nearly as much from shoulder to the tip of the tail.
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Other insects numerously represented in Sikkim are beetles, bugs, grasshoppers, praying insects, walking-stick insects, dragon-flies, ants, lantern-flies, cicadae, etc.
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Plant life and insect life are abundant enough, but of birds there seem to be comparatively few. As we travel through the forest we do not notice many of them, and we do not hear many. We do not everywhere find great flocks of birds as we see swarms of insects. And we do not find the forest resounding with the songs of birds as it does with the hum and crackle of insects. In this respect we are disappointed.
But the birds of Sikkim, if few in number, are great in variety. Birds feed on fruits, berries, seeds, insects, grubs, caterpillars, small animals, and even little birds. Some birds like a still, hot, damp climate. Other birds like a cold, dry climate. Some birds like the shade and quiet and protection of the forest. Others like the open and the sunshine. Some birds find their food in the water, others on the land. And the Sikkim Himalaya, from the plains to the mountains, provides such a rich variety of plant and insect life, such a variety of climate and of country, and so plentiful a supply of water, that birds of the widest difference of requirements can here be provided with their needs.
Consequently birds of numerous different species make Sikkim their habitat, either permanently or for certain seasons of the year. And Gammie, who has specially studied the natural history of Sikkim, says in the "Sikkim Gazetteer" that in no part of the world of an equal area are birds more profusely represented in species. The birds may not be so numerous as in other parts, but they are more varied. Between five and six hundred species are represented, varying from the great vulture known as the lammergeyer, which is 9 1/2 feet across the outstretched wing, down to the tiny flower-pecker, barely exceeding 3 inches from the end of its beak to the tip of its tail.
Of the birds found in the forest itself, the honey-suckers or sun-birds are perhaps the most beautiful. There are no gorgeous birds of paradise, and even resplendent parrots are not very numerous. But these little sun-birds glitter like jewels among the leafy foliage, and the lustrous metallic hues of different shades with which they are richly coloured on the head and long tail-feathers change and flash in the sunlight with every slightest movement.