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The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ
By Nicolas Notovitch, Virchand R. Gandhi
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.
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Journey to Tibet
During thesojourn of M. Notovitch in India, he enjoyed frequent opportunities of mingling and holding converse with Buddhists, and the many interesting accounts which they gave him of Tibet so enthused him that he decided to take a journey to that still unexplored country.
With this object he chose a route leading through the enchanting valley of Kashmir—a country which he had often desired to visit.
Leaving Lahore October 14th, 1887, he arrived at Rawal Pindi the following day, where he made all preparations for a long and tedious journey over a region where railroads are unknown, and where the only means of conveyance are horses—a journey more or less fraught with dangers from incomplete roads through rugged mountains, and the possible prey of wild animals with which the forests abound.
Often the traveler may journey many weary miles without finding an inn where he may rest, except the isolated bungalows, which have been erected at intervals along the road by the English; these are small houses with one floor, not particularly attractive for their comforts, but to the traveler, exhausted from climbing over the rugged and dangerous mountain-roads, these bungalows where he may find shelter and rest appear even as a luxury.
It is not my intention to relate in detail all the incidents of this journey of M. Notovitch, which are sometimes tedious; nor shall I dwell on the glowing descriptions of the grand and magnificent mountain gorges, and the picturesque landscapes made glorious by the songs of myriads of gay-plumaged birds which one beholds with admiring eyes at every step in the forests; nor shall I attempt a description of the gorgeous sunsets which, renowned travelers concede, cannot be seen so glorious elsewhere in all the world as in the Himalayas; not even Italy with all her immortal fame with which great artists have justly adorned her, can boast of such inexpressible grandeur as is displayed at sunset in these mountains. The perfectly pure atmosphere, the deep blue sky, against which the towering snow-capped peaks resemble huge masses of glittering silver, gold and diamonds, fantastically wrought, are scenes which intoxicate the senses of man with their ravishing beauty, and he is utterly incapable of describing with tongue or pen the magnificence of their splendors or the holy emotions with which the soul is inspired.
I will confine myself to a faithful account of M. Notovitch's journey, giving all the points of interest touched upon by him.
Leaving the valley of the Punjab, M. Notovitch, with his retinue, climbed the steep winding road, penetrating the counter-forts of the Himalayas, descending at sunset to the little town of Marri, which stands at an altitude of 7,457 feet, and is quite a summer resort for English officials and their families. Thence they descended after nightfall, resting a few hours at a bungalow, continuing the journey at dawn, reaching the hamlet Tong at noon, at which place M. Notovitch hired a Hindu cabriolet, which conveyance he failed to enjoy on account of the cramped position in which he was obliged to sit "like a Turk." He managed, however, to reach Hori in this kind of carriage, at which place he changed his mode of travel and secured saddle-horses.
I will here relate an experience which M. Notovitch had at the little hamlet where he halted to rest and lunch, and where provisions and all sorts of merchandise were sold. He approached a Hindu, who was squatted before a kettle of boiling milk and after having examined it somewhat cautiously to be sure that it was milk, he wanted to purchase a glassful of it, whereupon the merchant offered him the kettle and its contents; at this our traveler remonstrated, saying that he only desired one glass of it; it was there that he learned his first lesson in orthodox Brahminism. "According to our laws," said the Hindu, "if a stranger or one not belonging to our caste, touches, gazes or points his finger at our food, by such act it is polluted and we cannot eat it. We must, not only throw it away, but must thoroughly cleanse and purify the utensil." This will, of course, seem perfectly absurd to the people of the West, but there are, I may add, deep metaphysical laws underlying many of these seemingly useless ceremonies, which would not be understood by the reader without a thorough study. I will not, therefore, attempt to explain them here.
M. Notovitch resumed his journey and reached next evening the celebrated valley of Kashmir. This "happy valley" is situated between the ranges of the Himalaya mountains and is about eighty-five miles long and twenty-five wide, through the length of which wind in a serpentine course the sparkling waters of the river Jhelum.
This valley is, no doubt, the most beautiful in the world, with its placid lakes, its sparkling rivers (on which are hundreds of floating houses, in which live as many families the year round), its fairy-like gardens floating on the lakes, its hills and islands covered with antique buildings, and its happy, easy-going, picturesque inhabitants, both male and female, robed in long white gowns with full loose flowing sleeves—the men with snow-white turbans, the women with little caps or bonnets, all of whom spend their time in their numerous devotional exercises or quietly working on their celebrated shawls or working curious designs in gold and silver, for which there is but a dull market these days of rapid machine imitations; and above all, the balmy atmosphere of this 'garden of the gods' conspires to make one forget all his troubles, real or imaginary.
There are legends extant regarding this valley, one of which claims that in very ancient times this valley was a great lake, and that an invading king ordered his men to make a passage between two rocks in a gorge, thereby draining the lake of its waters and ruining the adjacent country, by which he gained victory over the inhabitants. Another legend is, that the waters themselves forced a passage between the rocks of a gorge, leaving nothing of the great lake except a few lagoons and the river Jhelum.
M. Notovitch reached Shrinagar, the capital of Kashmir, on the evening of October 19th, where he remained six days, spending the time in making long excursions into the surrounding country, examining old ruins and studying the peculiar customs of the people.
The history of Kashmir is full of interesting incidents. I will give only a short sketch.
A Mahomedan writer, Noor-ul-deen, who begins the history of Kashmir with the Creation, affirms that the valley was visited by Adam after the fall; that the descendants of Seth reigned over the country for 1,110 years; and that after the deluge it became peopled by a tribe from Turkistan. The Hindu historians add that after the line of Seth became extinct, the Hindus conquered the country and ruled it until the period of the deluge, and that the Kashmirians were afterwards taught the worship of one God by Moses.
It appears from chronicles actually existing that Kashmir has been a regular kingdom for a period far beyond the limits of history in general. From the year 2666 B.C. to 1024 A.C. it had been governed by princes of Hindu and Tartar dynasties, and their names have been duly handed down to posterity. In the reign of Ashoka, about the third century before Christ, Buddhism was introduced, and after remaining there for some time, under Tartar princes, the religion of the country was again succeeded by Hinduism. In the middle of the fourteenth century the Mahomedans appeared on the scene and annexed for a time Tibet to the kingdom of Kashmir. Sikander, one of the Mahomedan monarchs, destroyed the Hindu temples and images by fire and forced the people, at the point of the bayonet, to adopt the Mahomedan faith. At the end of the sixteenth century Akbar conquered this province. He took a fatherly interest in the people, but the loyalty of his children was but short-lived, as certain persons raised an insurrection. In 1752, the country passed from the possession of the Mogul throne and fell under the rule of the Duranis, and for many years was convulsed by a series of wars and rebellions and subject to numerous governors. In 1813, Ranjit Sing, the Lion of the Punjab, became one of the recognized princes of India, and subdued the province of Kashmir. The Sikhs ruled for a time and after the English invasion of the Punjab, it came under the British rule. The English, however, in consideration of $3,750,000, handed over the unfortunate Kashmirians to the tender mercies of Gulab Sing, an attendant and counsellor of Ranjit Sing, "the most thorough ruffian that ever was created—a villain from a kingdom down to a half-penny," and the "Paradise of the Indies" was relinquished by England and forever, as was then supposed. But only a few years ago the present Maharaja was deprived of his powers by the British Government, and the country is now under British protection.
The "happy valley" of Kashmir does not possess the glory and prosperity that it did under the Mogul emperors, whose court enjoyed here the sweetness of pleasure in the midst of the pavilions, still standing on the islands of the lake. This was a great resort for the princes of Hindustan, who formerly came to spend the summer months, and to enjoy the magnificent and unrivaled festivals given by the Moguls. But time has wrought sad changes for this valley and its former glory. I will add, however, that notwithstanding these changes, the Kashmirians have wonderfully preserved their artistic skill and mechanical talent. Kashmir shawls have attained a world-wide reputation. At the Paris Exposition of 1878 was exhibited, with other wonderful Indian products, a shawl worked with a map of the city of Shrinagar, showing its streets and houses, its gardens and temples, with people interspersed here and there, and boats on the calm blue waters of the river, giving a clear life-like picture as in a photograph. Another shawl was one mass of the most delicate embroidery, representing the conventional Persian and Kashmir wilderness of flowers, with birds of the loveliest plumage singing among the bloom, and wonderful animals, and wondering men.
In fact, the embroidery on wool of Kashmir, both loom and hand-wrought, is of historical and universal fame. Elaborately chased goblets, rosewater sprinklers, in ruddy gold and parcel-gilt, testify to the Kashmir goldsmith's skill. The finest gemmed and enamelled jewelry in India is that of Kashmir. The enumeration in Isaiah III. 17–24 of the articles of the mundus muliebris of the daughters of Zion reads like an inventory of the exceedingly classical looking jewelry of Kashmir. The lacquered papier mache of Kashmir is the choicest in India.
Constant invasions and plunders have reduced the Kashmirians to poverty. They still retain much of their proud mien—the men are strongly built, the women the most beautiful in the world with their clear white complexions and haughty bearing.
Shrinagar, the capital, sometimes called Kashmir, is situated on the banks of the Jhelum, along which it extends the distance of about three miles; the houses of two stories in which live a population of 100,000 inhabitants, border the banks of the river, which is spanned by several bridges; the city is a little over a mile in width; steps lead from the houses to the waters of the Jhelum, where all the day people are to be seen performing their sacred ablutions, bathing or cleansing their utensils of copper. One part of the inhabitants are followers of the Mahomedan religion, two-thirds are Hindus, with a few Buddhists interspersed among them.
Manufacturers of shawls, gun-makers, workers in leather and papier mache, jewelers, tailors, shoe-makers, watch-menders, in fact all sorts of artisans, remarkable for their mechanical talent are to be found in this city. A visit to the show-rooms of shawl-merchants is a pleasure to the traveler.
Around the city there are several interesting places. The Tukht-i-Suliman or Solomon's Throne is an old Hindu temple, the oldest in Kashmir, situated upon a hill, 1,000 feet above the plain. Its erection is ascribed to Jaloka, the son of Ashoka, who reigned in the third century before Christ. The fort of Hari Parvat is another interesting sight; built by Akbar in 1597 A. C., at a cost of $5,000,000.
On the morning of October 27th, M. Notovitch left this interesting city to journey towards Tibet, adding to his retinue by purchasing a large dog which had previously made the journey in company with the well-known explorers, Bon Valot, Capus and Pepin.
Upon reaching the chain of mountains which separate the valley of Kashmir from the gorge of Sind, the party were obliged to crawl on all fours almost all the way over a summit of 3,000 feet high; the carriers were quite exhausted from their heavy loads and from the fear of rolling down the deep declivity.
Descending from this point they passed through several villages, Chokodar, Dras, Karghil, etc., halting only at these places for rest or to procure fresh horses. Karghil is the chief town of the district and the scenery is certainly picturesque. It is situated on the confluence of the Suru and Wakha rivers, the view of which on its left side is one of the most striking the traveler can ever behold.
M. Notovitch procured fresh horses here and continued his journey over a route far from being pleasant or safe, sometimes passing over a very dangerous road, at other times being obliged to cross a shaky bridge consisting, as many bridges do in Kashmir, of two long beams or trunks of trees inserted in the crevices of the rocks on either bank and small poles or stones laid across, sometimes fagots being thrown on the poles and the whole covered with earth. The traveler, when crossing this point, might well tremble at the thought of a possible dislodgement of a stone or the oscillation of the beams which would precipitate the whole construction into the yawning chasm beneath.
M. Notovitch entered the boundaries of Ladak or Little Tibet and was much astonished to find a sweet, simple, happy people who did not indulge in or know what quarreling was. Especially was he astonished at this since polyandry flourishes there among the low-class people. Polyandry is a subject on which different writers have risked their opinions without knowing the facts. It is true that among the non-Aryan hill-tribes this custom has existed for centuries and the Hindu rulers did not interfere with them. They relied not on forcing their views upon a people but on educating them to it. The hill tribes who follow the custom of polyandry are isolated communities and socially have no connection with the Hindus. The trans-Himalayan tribes, too, follow this custom which has existed among them for a long time.
In Ladak, among the low-class people, each woman has from three to five husbands and that in the most legitimate manner in the world. It is the custom, when a man marries a woman she becomes the legal wife of all his brothers. If there is but one son in the family he usually marries into a family where there are already two or three husbands, and never but one wife. The days of each husband are fixed in advance and each acquits himself of his duties promptly in the most agreeable manner. The men are not long-lived or so robust as the women.
This practice existed long before Buddhism was introduced into that country, which religion is gradually uprooting the practice which is scarcely sanctioned among the more intelligent or better classes. From the description given by M. Notovitch it is evident that like other foreign travelers he has formed his opinions of the people from those with whom he came in contact. I know full well how difficult it is for a foreigner to get access to the better classes of Oriental society; in very rare instances, where one has influence with a native of high standing, has he the opportunity to see or know the better side.
We will leave polyandry and follow our traveler in his journey. From Karghil he went to the village of Surghol, twenty miles from the former and standing on the banks of the Wakha. Near it are to be seen masses of rocks forming long broad walls, upon which have been thrown, in apparent disorder, flat stones of various colors and sizes, on which are engraved all sorts of prayers in Urdu, Sanskrit and Tibetan characters.
Leaving Surghol with fresh horses, M. Notovitch made the next halt at the village of Wakha. Upon an isolated rock overlooking the village, stands the convent of Moulbek. With his interpreter and the negro servant he proceeded to this convent; they climbed the narrow steps, carved in the solid rock, on which were placed little prayer-wheels, which are little drum-like shapes covered round the sides with leather and fitted vertically in niches cut in the rock. A spindle running through the center enables them to revolve at the slightest touch or breeze; there are usually several of these wheels in a row, larger ones are placed separate, all are decorated on the leather bands with the mystic sentence— "Om mani padme hum," i.e. Om, the jewel in the lotus, amen!
Excerpted from The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ by Nicolas Notovitch, Virchand R. Gandhi. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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