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A Holiday in the Happy Valley with Pen and Pencil

On Thursday we left Lalpura and marched to Kulgam

Hunger appeased, the beauty of the surrounding scenery becomes intensified when seen through the balmy veil of smoke caused by the consumption of a mild cheroot, and peace and contentment reign while we feed the sprightly crows with chicken bones and bits of cheese rind.

Shall we ever forget--Jane and I--that simple feast on the Nagmarg?

The sloping snow melting into little rills which trickled through the fresh-springing flower-strewn grass; the extraordinary blue of the hillsides overlooking the Lolab Valley seen through the sloping boughs of the pines; the crows hopping audaciously around or croaking on a dried branch just above our heads; and above all, the glorious sense of freedom, of aloofness from all disturbing elements, of utter and irresponsible independence in a lovely land unspoiled by hand of man?

The afternoon sun smote us full in the face as we descended the bare and not too smooth path that led into the valley, and we were right glad to reach the shade of a grove of deodars that covered the lower slopes of the hill. The Lolab Valley, into which we had now penetrated, is a rich and picturesque expanse of level plain, some fifteen miles long by three or four broad, apparently completely surrounded by a densely-wooded curtain of mountains, rising to an elevation of some 3000 feet above the valley on the south and west, but ranging on the other sides up into the lofty summits which bar the route into Gurais and the Tilail. The mountain chain is not really continuous, the river Pohru, which drains the valley, finding outlet to the west e'er it bends sharply to the south and enters the Wular near Sopor.

Perhaps the most noticeable objects in the Lolab are the walnut trees; they are now just coming into full leaf, and their great trunks, hoary with age and softly velveted with dark green moss, form the noble columns of many a lovely camping-ground. We pitched our tents at Lalpura in a grove of giants, the majesty of which formed an exquisite contrast to the white foam of a cluster of apple trees in bloom.

It has been so hot to-day that we have stayed quietly in camp, reading, sketching, and enjoying the _dolce far niente_ of an idle life.

_Sunday, May_ 14.--On Thursday we left Lalpura and marched to Kulgam, a short distance of some eight or ten miles. Mr. Blunt, the forest officer,[1] had most kindly placed the forest bungalows of the Lolab at our disposal; but, as they all lie on the other side of the valley, we are obliged to camp every night. We have been working along the north side of the Lolab, as the shikari is full of bear "khubbar," and as long as the weather remains fair we really do not much care where we go! Skirting the foot of the wooded ridge on our right, and with the flat and populous levels of the valley on our left, we marched along a good path shaded in many places by the magnificent walnuts and snowy fruit-trees for which the Lolab is justly famed, until, crossing the Pohru by a rickety bridge, and toiling up a hot, bare slope, we reached Kulgam, nestling at the foot of the hills.

After tiffin and a short rest we set forth up the nullah behind the village to look for (need I say?) a bear. The gradient was stiff, as usual, and the path none too good. Feeling that our laborious climb deserved to be rewarded by, at any rate, the sight of game, and Ahmed Bot having sent a special message to the Lumbadhar at Kulgam directing him to keep the nullah quiet, we were justly incensed when, having toiled up some couple of thousand weary feet, we met a gay party of the _elite_ of Kulgam prancing down the hill with blankets stuffed with wild leeks, or some such delicacy.

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