A Fragrant Walk in a Kashmir Valley By Marion Doughty-1902

A Fragrant Walk in a Kashmir Valley By Marion Doughty-1902

It was a day of days. A cool breeze tempered somewhat the fierce heat of the sun, and for several miles the road was shaded by great overhanging mulberry and walnut trees. Spring was in the air; hundreds of birds twittered and chirruped from the bushes by the wayside; thousands of butterflies wrought a flicker of colour. The villages we passed through were almost hidden in a wealth of fruit trees, the vast green canopies of the walnuts and the brimij (Celtis australis) producing a charming coolness. Some six miles beyond my starting-point the road crossed the Sind, here a wide-spreading, brawling mountain torrent, the whole valley widened, the mountains standing back on either side. It was a " world of roses." Maybe people at home think they know what this means. I am sorry for them; they are mistaken. I have seen wild and garden roses in many places, as I thought, in vast quantities, but a land clothed in roses I did not know. They were in millions, the mingling of hues—white, blush pink, deepest blood red—producing a mosaic of colour amazing in richness, in variety. The grey rocks were hidden under the clinging bushes, the air was full of their perfume, they were as much the universal garb of the earth as grass and daisies in less-favoured regions. At intervals a heavier perfume told of the presence of bushes of the great yellow jessamine, with its bunches of handsome, luscious flowers. Impossible to hurry, it was difficult to keep to a progressive pace, when every instant the eye was arrested by some fresh object of interest.

Fifteen miles under such conditions did not seem a long walk, and it was only with a pleasant sense of enjoyment of the quiet restfulness that I reached the pretty camping-ground at Kangan, under a group of walnuts whose branches were plentifully decorated with mistletoe, a parasite that I found exceedingly thriving all up this valley. A long afternoon of reading and writing I spent in a shady nook above the streams, seated in a willow stump that stretched out over the water. The spot was wonderfully remote and solitary, an ideal resting-place for some Hindu ascetic seeking knowledge apart from the world, but desiring a cell where "beauty did abound."

The night was almost as light as the day, so brilliant was the moon, and foaming stream and wooded glade were flooded with a soft, illuminating radiance that touched all things with fain7 wand and added a new charm to what had even, in the more prosaic daylight, seemed all too fascinating. The start in the early dawn while on this expedition was a daily fresh delight, the dew sparkled in the light of the rising sun, a fresh breeze acted like a tonic, bracing one up for the walk, and all nature's colours bore an added brilliance. The march out from Kangan was especially delightful. Gently rising and falling, the path was sometimes on a level with the stream, sometimes high above it, crossing from bank to bank as the mountains closed in on one side or the other, leaving no space for even a goat track; everywhere the sweetness of newly opened flowers, everywhere the brilliance of early spring foliage. In places the Sind, swollen by recent rains, became a mighty mountain torrent, carrying great trees with it in its strong current. At one point it had completely carried away both bank and path, leaving no choice, for the rocks rose precipitously from the waters, to passing through the tide, but retracing one's steps for several miles. That is always an undesirable proceeding when the day's route is already sufficiently long, and I was gazing rather sadly at the waste of waters with but small desire to repeat my wading experiments, when by came an old man with a laden pony, strange knight errant, but his lack of appropriate exterior was no bar to his efficiency.

"Ho! ho!" he laughed, for he was vastly entertained by my dilemma, "will the Sahib let me carry her across, or will she mount my pony?" The pony, I thought, had the steadiest gait, so on to his back I climbed on top of the great bags of salt; it was an uneasy perch, in spite of wedging in my feet under the pack on each side. But the pony was firm in spite of the swift current and the slippery boulders, and in a few minutes I was safely landed on the further side. I had not the wherewithal to reward my Charon, my purse being in charge of the headman, but a pice (about equal to a farthing), found lurking in the corner of my pocket, apparently was satisfying backsheesh. It would buy him a breakfast—two of the native barleymeal rolls being sold for that sum—and with many good wishes to the "Huzur" and more chuckles over the adventure, the old man went on his way. Breakfast under a giant walnut made a pleasant interval, and then I pressed on quickly, for clouds were gathering, a cold wind had sprung up, and occasional claps of thunder warned that the storm was not far off. A few miles of very rough walking on a track that switchbacked with a violence that forced one's knees into the condition of a cab-horse's of several seasons' wear, and Revel was reached, a tiny camping-ground at the mouth of the nullah, with a good reputation for bear. The hills here formed an angular shelter, for which I was very thankful, for the tempest swept down the valley, bringing with it a wild raffle of rain, and tent ropes and poles were strained to their last capacity. The river roared as it rolled along the burden of added waters; wildly shrieked the wind, snatching and tearing at our little canvases, houses, and earth, and they were blurred and blotted out as if with a wall of smoked glass. Inside my tent things were not so bad as they might have been, for the flaps were firmly laced up, a deep trench dug round to carry off the water, and, curled up in all my warm wraps on my bed, I read contentedly, merely wondering if the pole did give way whether it would brain me, or if I should be painlessly smothered in the sodden sides of my dwelling!