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The Life and Letters of George Alfred Lefroy, D.D.
Bishop of Calcutta, and Metropolitan

By H. H. Montgomery

London, etc.: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Chapter XII. Holidays in the Himalayas

Before I record very important public utterances by the Bishop, when he had fully grasped the moral, spiritual and political conditions of his time, I turn aside to give Lefroy a much desired holiday as it were. I have grouped together in this chapter a selection of letters extending over some eighteen years, from 1888 to 1906, and when he was still in full possession of his fine physical strength. He tells how necessary these mountaineering trips were for him if he was to preserve vitality. I have prefaced the letters by one of his Irish (or rather, in this case, Scotch) stories: others will follow in due time. We shall not understand George Lefroy unless we realise how he bubbled over with fun. Thank God he had an abiding sense of humour.

"Do you know this?--

"Scotch laird meets a minister in a hotel, suggests that they dine together and asks him to say grace. He mumbled something as they sat down. 'A did na hear a wurrd ye said.' 'A was na speakin to you.'"

"Dharamsala: September 23, 1888.

"In my post-card I just mentioned that I had had high fever on Sunday and slighter through Monday night: a not very auspicious commencement of a longish journey. On Tuesday night I joined our old friend Mr. Maconachie in the train at 9 p.m. and started northwards. Our rail destination we reached at 10 p.m. the next night. This part rested me, as railway travelling after the hurry-skurry of Delhi life always does. Then, however, came the pull. We had 18 or 19 hours ahead of what is known as dhoolie dak; i.e. we were to be carried, each by 4 men, into the interior and up the hill in a curious kind of contrivance. I think there is an English word in use to describe it, but can't recollect it. It is, however, very like what one often sees in Japanese or Chinese pictures: 4 longish kind of boxes 6 ft. long by about 3 wide and 3 high, with the roof slightly curved to throw off the rain, and a strong bamboo run through from end to end, just under the roof, and projecting about 4 ft. at each end from which the whole thing is hung, and carried by means of the projecting ends. It has a net bottom and as you can lie full length in it, it is not per se uncomfortable. I had, however, always had a great dislike to the thought of being carried by men, and as a still more practical element perhaps of discomfort, the motion I found (though I have heard others speak very differently of it) as uncomfortable as possible. The men get along certainly at a wonderful pace, doing nearly the 5 miles an hour I should think, when actually in the swing, though the constant reliefs and changes and little stoppages keep the actual average of distance travelled down to little over 3 1/2 miles. Six men form a gang, the two odd men continually changing with the others, and take you about 6 or 8 miles, according to the nature of the ground, and then you find another batch waiting for you. It is their summer harvest and they are delighted to get as much of it as possible. Well, the night went very badly with me, very little sleep, and gradually getting, as you may imagine, very weary. About 7 o'clock we stopped at a wayside resting house for breakfast and a bath. This freshened me up a good deal and I started again at 9.30 in better heart. We worked along up to 1 o'clock in the same fashion; then we suddenly came across ponies which had been kindly sent down to meet us by our host to be, as most people greatly prefer (and naturally, I am sure) to ride the last part of the way. Here, then, was a crux: I was thoroughly sick of the dhoolie and longed to be out of it, and yet I did not know whether I had physical strength for the ride. It was, moreover, threatening rain. I determined, however, to chance it and fortunately, after a great deal of hesitation, threw my great Inverness cape round me before starting. We were vague, too, as to distance, but fancied it was seven or eight miles. We rode along gaily enough for about half an hour and then the rain began, first quietly, then more and more steadily; then we began to come to mountain torrents, dry in summer, but now flushed with recent rains, which we had to ford. It's nasty work; the great slippery round boulders with scarcely an attempt at a track across. Two of them were up to the girths, which meant of course getting soaked up to my knees, and it was just a question whether the ponies would take them; and as with the ever-increasing rain they were running fuller and fuller every moment, we rode along in glorious doubt as to whether at any moment we might come across another quite unmanageable, and then what? It was a good deal too much for my nerves. This evil, however, we escaped, but, missing our road, had a 20 miles' ride all in pouring rain and all, except some of the first four or five miles, at a walking pace. Toward the end it was just a question, Could I sit on the pony anyhow? All things, however, come to an end at last, and we reached our house with as kind friends as any in the Punjaub. I had almost to be carried into the house, but there I got hold of the quinine bottle, and ate as much they would let me, 12 or 15 grains I suppose, then a stiff whiskey and water hot, and into bed with any amount of clothing, and a warm water bag (so delicious) at my feet which really did gradually begin to believe that they were still alive. A bowl of good hot soup, later on a hot bread and milk sop, then about a twelve hours' hard sleep, and I got up, thank God, next morning, pretty slack, as you may imagine, but in no way, so far as I knew (or know now), the worse."

"Kulu Valley: October 10, 1888.

"Somewhat of my goings on you will have learnt I hope from my letter to Fred of last mail. Enough at any rate to satisfy you that things are going not ill with me. In point of fact, I think it is about the very best holidays, as regards a combination of pleasure and health, that I have ever had in my nine years out here. It is curious, perhaps significant too, of a rule that often holds, that it is also the one that I have far the least of all sought or planned, being almost thrust on me as it were at the very last and to my utter surprise. We have had two Sundays and look forward to a third. On each we have full Service, Matins and Celebration, and I give a kind of Meditation. In the evenings we just have the Service, without any address, so it is light work for me. It is not very easy addressing three or four people whom one is travelling with on very intimate terms, and the most we have had of outsiders at any service yet is two, but I feel in such thorough sympathy with them that when once I get started, sitting down and hiding my face in my hand, I have no effort in just uttering what is within. Mr. and Mrs. Young are both musical, so we can have two or three hymns. The weather has been delicious with the exception of one day, when we had a longish march of fourteen miles through teeming rain, but it amply atoned to us during the succeeding days for the rain fell as snow on all the mountains around, many of which at this time would otherwise have been bare, and for the next three or four days the views were of surpassing loveliness.

"I am very bad at description of scenery and the like, so I will scarcely attempt it, but our route lay first through the Kangra valley, where all the tea gardens are. We passed acres of tea-plant, a little low shrub something like myrtle, kept compact and round from constant pruning and plucking of the leaves with a pretty yellowish-white flower. We went over one of the largest establishments and saw how the tea is prepared. It is a very quick business. In twenty-four hours from the time the leaf is picked it is done up into the pound packets, or larger quantities, ready to be distributed over the world. We got some for our own use, and I think it is very good. Then from the Kangra valley we crossed a Pass 10,000 feet high into the Kulu valley. The main town is Sultanpur, which you ought to find marked. After entering the valley, we worked up it almost to its head, and it was there we had the finest view. I shall not for many a day forget the view we got the morning after the rain. We had got in, not to one of the little rest houses which have sheltered us everywhere else, but to the house of the chief English official of the valley, which used to be the palace of the Kulu Rajah before we annexed the valley. I came out in the morning on to a deep verandah and looked out. Immediately underneath lay the valley with acres and acres of rice just ripening, a very pretty crop; somewhat in its evenness and general effect like our flax, though all turning brown. Beautifully mixed in with it were fields of rich deep red, yellow, and pink Amaranth, a kind of millet; while the little villages nestling down the hillside under us were both picturesque in themselves and made much more so by the fact that all the flat roofs were covered with bright red Indian corn put out to dry, and lighting up the country most curiously in little patches of red as the morning sun fell on them. Down the valley runs the Beas, then immediately opposite rose the nearer hills answering to the one we ourselves were on, running up to a height perhaps of 10,000 or 11,000 feet, richly clothed with Deodar, a beautiful fir, a kind of cedar, I believe, with magnificent precipices of dark grey rock coming in at points with the firs just clutching for a hold on every crag. Then coming in at each opening between these hills, and filling up the other end of the valley entirely, great masses of snow running from 15,000 to 20,000 feet, such spotless purity and white, it was very glorious. We spent one Sunday in the most beautiful spot of all we have visited, at the head of the valley; then retracing our steps we came down the valley, passed through Sultanpur again, where we had before cut in sideways from the Kangra valley, and are working on south down the valley towards Simla. We have not very many more days together, I grieve to say. On Tuesday next we hope to reach Dularsh, the last march in Kulu, and then I break off and rush across to Simla with what haste I may, trying to get back to Delhi for the Sunday, while the Youngs turn up through Mandi and Sukt (native hill-states) and so gradually back to Jalandhar,"

Three years afterwards.

"The Himalayas: September, 1891.

"We got benighted. It was about as pitch dark as it could be, and we were on a mountain side with a fair footpath, but precipices continually alongside and no attempt at rail or anything, and no guide. I went along, there were four of us: Maitland, myself, and two servants, feeling the hillside all the way with my stick, not able to see as far as the end of it. To make sure, we were keeping on the inside of it, and away from danger. Happily it didn't last long, for we were near a village. When we got in, we found the only accommodation was a kind of loft over a public room, with no walls at all, just a wooden roof that kept out the rain very imperfectly, and open on all four sides. We were very wet, and when our baggage came up it was most of it moist. This, late at night, and at 7000 feet and a keen air, was pretty trying to a delicate man (Maitland). We had, moreover, to spend two nights there, as the next day was very wet. However, we came out of it as right as a trivet. The delight of the villagers on having some Sahibs on these very familiar terms was great, especially when we stripped to wash--not entirely, but to the waist, the delight was unbounded, and the 'beautiful white legs' were quite appreciated."

"Peshawar: March 3, 1900.

"I wonder whether an English Bishop, or Irish, on tour has anything to do similar to one part of my duties, which take me a sadly long time when other work also presses so thick. In every station record books are kept--one for the mission, where there is such, one by the Chaplain for the English work--and here, as in some other places, books also for the Hospital, etc. And at the close of a visitation a record of what has been done, with any criticisms, or encomiums there may be to make, has to be written up. I suppose it is partly the frequent changes in Indian life, whether in the mission workers or in the Bishops--which necessitates this. It no doubt secures a record of great interest. I have looked through the accounts of their work in this place written by Bishops Cotton and Milman, before the See was divided, then Bishops French and Matthew, as well as Bishop Johnson as Metropolitan. And the individual characters come out in a wonderful way in such reports. But the writing of them is a considerable tax, especially to one like myself who, as you know, has no gift of terseness with his pen, but is apt to let it run on in a somewhat excessive fashion."

"Simla: August 8, 1901.

"On September 9th I hope to discard gaiters and all their works and start for five weeks in the high valleys--and I hope on the glaciers, of Kashmir--with Foss Westcott, of whom, as perhaps you know, I am very fond indeed. He will be a delightful companion. How solemn, and in many ways how happy, the passing of the great Bishop was [the Bishop of Durham], rejoining so soon his son and wife. And what a magnificent tradition and life-work he has left behind him. I suppose no one during the last thirty or forty years has done nearly so much as he to deepen and awaken religious thought, especially on the part of the clergy and students generally."

"Harnaj, Kashmir, St. Michael and All Angels:

"September 29, 1901.

"The holiday is proving, I am thankful to say, a very great success. The weather was not kind at first, but latterly it has cleared up and been quite glorious. We are camped here at over 12,000 feet. At night the cold is very great, the thermometer in the tent having been down one night to 22 degrees. You imagine what this means when one has to turn out into the open air for a wash in the morning! At times, especially in the early hours of the morning, Westcott and I agree that it is an extraordinary thing that we should consider it pleasure to be here. But as the sun rises all this sort of feeling goes off, and it really is glorious. You know that I crave cold at times and enjoy mountain climbing, and certainly I have enough of both. We did our best climb on Friday, getting up to a peak over 15,300 feet, and oh! the panorama! a cloudless sky and a great line of snow giants, several well over 20,000 feet, immediately in front of us. The climbing itself, too, was very good, and at places decidedly exciting. I should have been sorry to do some of it without a rope, but there were three of us, well roped together, and the leader a really expert mountaineer, and most inspiring in his leadership, so the danger was really very small indeed. It is impossible, for me at any rate, to say why, but I do believe one gets a bracing up and an increased strength of nerve and will as well as of body from experiencing what may almost be called these extremes of climate, and from a certain flavour of danger which we cannot get in other ways, and if so, you will agree with me that it is good value. But I don't expect that we shall have any more quite as stiff climbing as that, and my holiday only lasts another ten days. What some of my friends, who delight in writing to the Guardian almost annually to protest against clergymen abandoning clerical dress in Switzerland, would say to my episcopal costume if they met me on some of these expeditions I am unable to imagine. I can only hope that mingled dismay and indignation would keep them dumb. And meantime I know I am very safe from meeting them in these quarters.

"May God give me grace to use indeed for Him and in His service, in the way He would have me use it, the strength I am now laying in."

" On the N.W. Frontier, Samana Range: Jan. 7, 1904. "After lunch I started off for an 11-mile walk to the Cemetery, which I found, though I had not previously realised it, was at that distance from the fort. It was u curious walk, alone, except for the first four miles which the Colonel walked with me, but escorted by four men with loaded rifles, two walking about twenty yards ahead, two more almost treading on my heels. And to complete the effect on your mind, I ought to add that these were not men of the regular army, but a local militia, popularly known by the somewhat suggestive name of 'Catch-'em-alive,' into the etymology of which I had perhaps better not enter. They look the wildest, roughest fellows imaginable. The real fact is that the element of danger is of the slightest possible, but as this is a fanatical Mahommedan part of the country, it is always possible that a man might try to knife a Sahib if he saw one alone, so Englishmen always go about escorted in this way. As I was walking down with the Colonel I said to him,' If you or any of your officers go out into the country about for shooting, etc., do you always take an escort?' I indicated one part of the country as I spoke, and he said, 'We are not allowed to go on that side at all, with escort or without; it is over the Frontier and not safe.' I asked where the Frontier ran, and he said, 'I suppose it is this road we are on:' so one could not be much nearer to it!"

"Sultanpur, Kulu: Oct. 8, 1905.

"I am in the midst of an idolatrous festival of a more naked and blatant character than I think I have ever seen, not in any morally bad or disgusting way, for to our eyes it is sheer childishness, but just in being the most undisguised idolatry possible. We happen to have reached this village, which is the capital of the marvellously beautiful Kulu valley, just at the time of their great annual Fair, when all the village gods from the countryside around are brought in to greet one another; and also, I believe, to answer a sort of government roll-call so as to make sure they are still there, and entitled to a continuance of the remission of taxation (on land) which has come down to our Government as a custom from those who preceded us in the land. The type of idol is to us so extraordinary. A slanting board, perhaps 5 feet by 3, sloping back, like the back of an easy-chair, at perhaps 45 degrees, is covered with red or yellow cloth, and then on it are stuck silver masks of a human (very grotesque) face, from six to a dozen or more on each board. This conglomeration of masks, so far as I can ascertain, constitutes the idol. It is borne aloft on poles on the shoulders of half a dozen men, horns are blown in front of it, fans and fly-flaps are waved just over it, to keep the faces cool and the flies off them, an umbrella is usually carried high over them, etc., etc. The row has been deafening all day, as one after another these things have come in from outlying villages, all congregating on the village green where we are ourselves encamped. Then a few minutes ago the chief of them was put into a kind of Juggernath's car, and dragged, by long ropes and the help of many willing hands, across the ground, all the other idols being borne in procession after and around it with frantic beating of drums, playing of horns, etc., etc. As I say, the sheer childishness of the whole thing is so uppermost that it is hard to feel the moral disgust which I suppose St. Paul would have felt."

"High up in the Khagan Valley: Sunday, Oct. 7, 1906.

"We are nearing the end of our walk, and a splendidly successful one it has been. If Fred ever got my letter, and if you have seen it, you know that we were turned back, by rumoured difficulty, from one pass over a shoulder of Nanga Parbat, and had to retrace some of our steps and try another, reported easier, but also very little-known route. It did to perfection. I don't know that I have ever had a more entirely satisfactory and stimulating walk, while I certainly never have been through so wild and little-known a country, and that always has a charm of its own. In three weeks we have done six passes, one (add oo throughout) of 115 ft., one of 125 ft., two of 135 ft., one of 145 ft, and one of 155 ft, and most of the time we have been on very high ground in between. Sleeping in a little, not very well laced up, tent at 11,000 ft. or 12,000 ft, is--fresh, I can assure you. As regards the novelty of one part of our route, a Colonial, the Head of the A. Intelligence Department, who happened to be exploring in part of the same district and whom we met, has asked me to supply him with notes of our march, as it opens up a route, not of course actually new in itself, but new to his Department, and a better one, between two of these Frontier stations, than they at present have. Health has been improving throughout till I am now as fit as a fiddle, and for three weeks we never saw a postman--what more can I add in the way of bliss!"

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