THE HIMALAYAS AND THE INVASION OF THIBET
Darjeeling is one of the most favored spots on earth, the loveliest place in India, and the favorite resort and sanitarium of the citizen element as distinguished from military and official circles. It is a hard journey, both going and coming, and a traveler gets impatient when he finds that it takes him from four o'clock in the afternoon of one day until nearly two o'clock of the next to make a journey of 246 miles. He leaves Calcutta with the thinnest clothing he can buy, but when he arrives there he is glad that he brought his overcoat and gloves, and pulls a second blanket over himself at night. At the same time it is not so cold in Darjeeling as one would expect from the altitude of 7,400 feet above the sea, and the latitude, which is about 27 degrees 50 minutes. You travel from four o'clock till seven upon a railway of ordinary gauge, cross the Ganges on a steamboat for an hour, taking your dinner while afloat; change into a three-foot gauge train until half-past four in the morning, when you are routed out, given a cup of coffee and a roll, and transferred to a baby carriage on wheels which crawls up the foothills of the Himalayas at the rate of six miles an hour.
The track is only two feet gauge, with forty-pound rails, which have been laid upon the ancient highway over which the caravans between China and India have passed for thirty centuries. It winds in and out of gorges and defiles and at several points the engineers have had to cut a foothold for it on the edges of tremendous precipices. It doubles on itself repeatedly, describes the letter S and the letter Z and the figure 8, and zigzags about so recklessly that the engineer puts his locomotive first at one end of the train and then at the other. Englishmen who write books on India assert that it is the grandest railway journey in the world, but we can show them several quite as picturesque and attractive in our own beloved Rocky Mountains. The only advantage they have over us there is the superior height of the mountains and the superior size of the trees. But you must remember that our country is young yet, and India is one of the oldest nations in the world.
The first few miles of track lie in a dense jungle, with vegetation of truly tropical luxuriance. Cane stalks grow fifty and sixty feet high, the grass is fifteen feet deep, beautiful bamboo trees, whose foliage is as fine as feathers, and palms which have plumage like a peacock and a bird of paradise, lift their proud and haughty heads above an impenetrable growth which, the guides tell us, is the home of tigers, rhinoceroses, panthers, bears, wild hogs, buffaloes, deer and all sorts of beasts, and snakes as big around as a barrel. Fern trees are lovely, and are found here in their greatest glory, but nevertheless we have foliage at home, and they are no more beautiful than our elms, oaks, and other trees that I might mention.
This is a great tea country, and the mountain sides have been cleared in many places for plantations. A tea planter in India is a heavy swell. He may be no more brilliant or intellectual or virtuous or handsome, but the fact that he grows tea instead of potatoes or wheat or sugar gives him a higher standing in the social scale. I was asking an explanation of this phenomenon from a very wise man the other day, and, although he insisted that his attention had never been called to it before, he was willing to admit that it was so, and he explained it on the theory that so many sons of dukes and earls and lords and the swagger set in England had come to India to engage in tea growing that they had created a caste of their own; so that whenever a man said he was a tea planter the public immediately assumed that his father belonged to the nobility and treated him accordingly. The tea planters usually live in good style. They have beautiful bungalows, gardens, lawns and groves, and although they complain of the depression of the industry, there is no evidence that they suffer for want of the necessities of life. In the Darjeeling district are about two hundred large plantations, employing from one to two thousand laborers each, and producing about 12,000,000 pounds a year. Most of the product is shipped to England.
They carry you up the mountains in tiny little cars seating six persons and open all around so that the passengers can take in all there is to see, and they have plenty of scenery. The trains are not allowed to run faster than six miles an hour as a precaution against accidents, which allows plenty of time to look about, and they twist around so that you can see things from various points of view. And if a passenger gets impatient or is in a hurry he can jump out of the car and walk ahead.
There is little doubt that the views from Darjeeling include the most majestic assemblage of mountains on the earth's surface. For a distance of 200 miles east and west there arise a succession of peaks not less than 22,000 feet high, and several of them more than 25,000. In the immediate vicinity and within sight are the highest mountains in the world. Everest, the king of mountains, which measures 29,200 feet, is only eighty miles distant; Kinchinjunga, which is forty-five miles distant, is 28,156 feet high, and also, in the immediate vicinity, are the following:
Janu 25,304 Kabru 24,015
Chumalari 23,943 Pauhanri 23,186
Donkia 23,176 Baudim 22,017
Narsingh 22,146 Kanhenjhan 22,500