I am happy to announce:
Celebration Edition #411:
"The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them: Being a Narrative of Two Years' Residence in the Eastern Himalaya and Two Months' Tour into the Interior, By a Lady Pioneer"
By Nina Elizabeth Mazuchelli, 1832-1914.
New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1876.
Francis Mazuchelli and Elizabeth Sara "Nina" Harris were married in 1853. Francis was an Anglican parish priest, employed as a curate in Wymering near Portsmouth. In 1857, the year of the Indian Mutiny, he joined the British army as a chaplain. The Mazuchellis arrived in the district of Darjeeling, India the following year. Nina was determined to explore, and convinced her husband to agree. Though he put in a token objection, commenting on the irrationality of women, he also "sent in an application for three months' 'leave,' that he might travel with me whither my fancy led. The 'leave' was speedily granted, and everything now favoured my making the long-wished-for journey, across trackless wastes to the snows." Their first journey was a two-week excursion into Bhutan, traveling via Kalimpoong to Dumsong and home again.
Undeterred, they planned a more extensive trip with the support of a district officer of the British Imperial Government, identified in the account simply as "C--", "a mighty potentate in the eyes of the natives of the province". C-- made arrangements with agents of the Rajah of Sikkim for the delivery of food and supplies along their route. The expedition, when underway, included Nina, Francis, C--, and about 70 servants to attend to the needs of the three British travellers by carrying food, supplies and people; cooking, clearing their route; and establishing their camps. For parts of the trip, Nina was carried in a type of sedan chair, on the back of a bearer. There were no detailed maps of the area: they relied on local guides, and travelled about 600 miles in two months. They explored the Singaleeh (Singalila) mountain range along the border between Nepal and Sikkim, travelling towards Mount Kanchenjunga (Kinchinjunga). They reached Junnoo Mountain and the Chunjerma pass before being forced home by inhospitable conditions and shortages of food.
An ardent artist, Mazuchelli's book is lavishly illustrated with sketches of their journey and colorful chromolithographs of her watercolors, including a view of Mount Everest. Nina Mazuchelli was unquestionably a romantic. She rhapsodises that "Truly those who love Nature in her wild and savage aspects should come here; for a grander combination of these qualities cannot be conceived – the snowy peak, the ice-bound rock, the blasted pine, and the deadly precipice." Further, "God's own language is written in stars; but these mountains, no less types of solidity and endurance beyond all Time, impress me with a sense of majesty and divinity above all else. "
Her love of nature and flowing prose are balanced by her sense of humor, and she often combines romantic philosophy with an attendant sting, as in her description of jackals serenading: "whether it arise from idealism, gregariousness, or a real attribute of external nature, it matters little in the present case, for to our ears, not familiarised to these nightingales by habit or fond association, the sound resembled a dismal and unearthly wailing of women, with a strong dash of the hyæna, to which a whole kennel of hounds baying the moon would in comparison have been as loveliest music of the spheres."
Mazuchelli is both fearful and intrepid. She usually makes the trip sound like a happy outing in a particularly beautiful if somewhat exhausting park. But the travellers endured very real dangers: led astray by a guide, they faced not only cold but starvation. There is no question that the expedition came near to ending with the deaths of those involved.
"No food having overtaken us, we have been compelled to alter our route. Rice is diminishing ominously, and there is only a small quantity of bhoota left and four sheep. … getting into deeper snow with the mere hope of food reaching us, would be absolute madness. We have no right to risk the lives of our people, even were we disposed to hazard our own. Once at Yangpoong, should supplies meanwhile not overtake us, we shall not be far from a village, which we must sack in case of need."
Thankfully, though Nina regretted that they could not continue to their original goal, she survived to publish an account of her trip. The Mazuchellis returned to Great Britain in 1875, and Francis served in several parishes in Wales. They had no children. He died in 1901, and Nina in 1914.