Darjeeling, 6 February 1893

Thus on this audacious human-created vehicle we drove up the Himalaya, the highest mountain range on Earth! Created by elementary revolutions, in nearly unreachable peak striving towards heaven, the Himalaya, „the snow helmet“, rises over the colossal mountain wall which separates the Aryans from the Mongols, India from Inner Asia. Never has an enemy crossed it, timidly they passed it by. Stretching over 24 degrees of longitude, from the Hindu Kush to the gap of Brahmaputra, the Himalaya stands on its northern en on the bare plateau of Tibet and on its southern end on the Indian subcontinental plain. It separates the climates, plants, animals, peoples and cultures of Inner Asia and South Asia.

Through the present valley we approached his region. rise to his southern precursors which look down on blooming, green, luxurious wooden mountains fanned by delicious air. We look out towards the peaks of the central mountain range. Beyond the northern precursor range lies wild bare and jagged highland. Across the wood covered mountains that border this valley to the north the railway winds itself up to Darjeeling, up to the foot of the biggest glacier groups of the Earth, up to the region in which tower Dhaulagiri (8176 m), Kangchenjunga (8585 m) and that highest peak on Earth we call Mount Everest (8840 m) or Gaurisankar. Kangchenjunga — „the five white brothers“ — whose giant mountain range covered in eternal snow, criss-crossed by glaciers and rising out of thick woods we have come to see lies in Sikkim, a small protectorate wedged between Nepal and Bhutan. It is linked to the Ganges plain by the audacious mountain railway that ends in Darjeeling.

Driven by the hope to be able to admire the magic of this incredibly beautiful and majestic mountain world in its fullest splendor, I looked out of my window long before sunrise to observe the weather and draw my conclusions whether we would have a clear, fog free day or not. Even though the morning was clear and the sunrise promised to e beautiful, I discovered in the west small, lengthy cloud streaks which are interpreted in our own mountains at home to all experienced weather prophets as a bad sign as they indicated rain or fog most of the times. Unfortunately, these unmistakable signs proved true here too. When we reached the foot of the outer mountains we saw the peaks already covered in fog.

After 7 o’clock we departed from Siliguri. The mountain railway Siliguri—Darjeeling, which is 82 km long and reaches an altitude of 2180 m is probably the most interesting railway in the world. Not so much due to its construction and installations but because of its incredible panorama views it offers. The railway has a track gauge of only 61 cm. To offer a free full view, it has open carriages and can absolutely be called an audacious and unique work. Please consider this: a mountain railway which reaches such heights without a tunnel and has cost in total — according to the chief engineer — only 231.000 fl. in Austrian currency! The puzzle is partially solved by the fact that the railway ha only construct a special railway bed for 24 km, while it could use the existing mountain road bed which winds itself up in the sharpest turns; the railway ascends in such serpentines and bends that, in many spots, one can already see, some meters above, the tracks to be driven over in the minutes to come Where serpentines and bends would not be sufficient to ascend a steep height, this is solved by having the railway continue straight for a time only to turn at a sharp angle into the opposite direction with the machine pushing, to ascend the heights in a zigzag way.

But what are all this technical arts against the splendor and diversity of nature!  Born in green Styria and loving the mountains above all, it has always been my most ardent wish to get to know the king of all mountains, the Himalaya, and to see the tropical mountain world. Even though I have read and heard so much about the extraordinary beauty of the Himalaya, what I now saw surpassed all my expectations and put me into a state of indescribable rapture.  The light clear mountain air alone is extremely refreshing — no wonder that we all by and then started yodeling in the waggon as if we were in the mountains of Upper Austria. Even though the fog unfortunately covered all peaks with an impenetrable veil and also the visibility from afar was lessened, that what we could see close up was sufficient to make the journey unforgettable.

The attractions of the landscape all around are truly amazing: a mountain higher than 8000 m, covered up to an elevation of 3000 m with tropical vegetation, mighty mountain ranges, deeply cut valleys, overhanging rocks, cragged slopes, boundless abysses — all green or becoming blurred in tender purple colors. And what a plant cover girdles the south end of the Himalaya! The vegetation makes one think of that on Ceylon; but even higher and more beautiful as the giant trees on Ceylon the trunks here with their luxurious leaf crowns strive upwards;  even thicker and wilder are the plants entwined around the trunk and branches. The trees are up to the highest branch covered with ferns, orchids and other parasite plants, while thick lianas connect the trunks with each other. And even cragged slopes, the wildest abysses are covered with a green carpet of thickly placed trees. At each turn, at each serpentine a new image captures us. Especially the many abysses many thousand meters deep which one drives alongside at shoulder length add much diversity to the panorama.

Like the character of the county, so the people have changed — we are in Sikkim, at border to Tibet and China. Here in Sikkim live tribes which even though they mixed their blood with Indian blood and have been influenced by Indian culture,  they remain in type and language close to the Tibetans. The Lepcha people which live in Sikkim and also in Darjeeling, are unmistakably part, despite some Aryan elements, of the semi-culture peoples of the Mongolian race.  Inner Asian imprints are also typical for the inhabitants of the small, dispersed mountain villages. Of pure Mongolian type are the Tibetans who have immigrated here from the north as traders of workers. The type of the Lepchas is completely different from all the peoples already seen. At first glance one notices the features of the Mongolian race:  the yellow-brown color of the skin, the broad face, the small slanted eyes, the strong bulging jawbones, the small stature, the coarse hair, the sparse growth of beard. Both men and women are extremely ugly. The latter have the strange custom to grease their faces with ox blood in winter as a protection against the cold which gives them an especially hideous appearance. The most extreme look are created by widows who color their noses black as a sign of mourning.

The men’s dress consists of a long colored kaftan kept in place by a broad belt into which are pushed weapons, plus at the upper end loose and at the lower end narrowing pants and high colored boots cut from a single hide or Cracow shoes. On the head, the lepchas wear felt hats or caps strongly reminding of Chinese caps. The neck is embellished by silver gems, small turqouis amulets or coral bands. Some men wear instead of the Kaftan some sort of shirt and cover it with an open coat made out of thick loden. The women have wide clothes with folds as well as belts and seemed to love jewelry very much as even the poorest adorn themselves with chain-amulets and especially turqouis ear rings. Some wear on their head a straight standing circlet of turqouis and coral. The braids which adorns both genders as well as the fingers are decorated with rings.

During the drive we came past some small villages. Our wagons nearly touched the houses and this offered us the opportunity to glance at the activities of daily life of the Lepchas who still are at a still very primitive level of civilization. A chilling impression during these observations make the ugly dirt which is everywhere. Strange is the common method here to determine somebody’s age. The Lepchas calculate their age according to the number of worn clothes. Thus one gets the answer: „This one or that one is seven clothes old.“

From time to time there is a stop at a station to refill water for the locomotives. These moments are used by the natives to close in to the wagons and offer many beautiful weapons, especially sharply polished knives.

At the elevation of 1525 m is a subsidiary of a Jesuit college of St. Xaver in Calcutta. Then it goes up even more and finally we drive past some patches of snow, the marks of the last strong snowfall.

The higher we were the colder it was and the thicker became the fog so that the view around became more and more limited. One could not see anything of the mountain peaks and also the valleys now began to covered in fog. Thus I had time to look at things at a closer range, to look at the fauna. The mighty giant trees with their aerial roots enchanted me not less than the huge diversity of ferns of which there were many species from the mighty tree fern which grows here in large quantities to the small ferns that resemble female hair.  Up to now I had seen tree ferns only as crippled specimens in our green houses. Now I could see thousands of these splendid plants at an elevation of 2000 m.

„At higher elevations, the beauty of the landscape is impacted by the many tea plantations;  because everywhere, even at the steepest inclines and at the most cragged slopes has the cultivating hand of man seeking profit destroyed the majestic jungle.and replaced by rows of tea plants. Against the ancient trunks of many hundred years is raged barbarically; as wood is of so little value here that one uses a simple method to gain more space for cultivation: The woods are simply burned to the ground on thousands of hectares. The prose of economic life does not feel constrained by the poetry of the enchanting vegetation. It is understandable then that the destruction of the woods ordained to death is proceeding in the cheapest way possible at large scale. But the unplanned destruction may cause grave problems. The wood will revenge itself for the neglect. A hurtful feeling rises in a friend of woods when he sees pillars of smoke grow out of fires that destroy parts of ancient wild nature — only to gain ground for the cultivation of tea. How large the economic interest may be, it can not excuse that tea has been the driving force or excuse to organize countless soirées and afternoon teas.

At 10 o’clock in the morning, we reached Kurseong Station, where Hotel Clarendon was festively decorated, and arrived at 1 o’clock in Darjeeling, in Tibetan „sacred place“. Here we were received by the deputy commissioner Mr. Waller and major Ommaney as well as a large crowd of Europeans and natives.  Darjeeling, founded in 1835, is now the capital of the district of the same name  (3196 km2), which the English have split off from the protectorate of Sikkim, whose raja resides in Tamlung, for an annual rent of around 3750 fl. in Austrian currency.

Due to its high elevation and its gorgeous climate, Darjeeling is a favorite summer retreat in India. Its mild climate, which equals about that of Meran, is given testimony by the fact that in this blessed place tea is planted at up to 2000 m, fruits at an elevation of close to 3000 m and the cultivation of grains is possible at more than 3000 m. The small town consists beyond the small native quarter with a rich bazaar mostly of villas, hotels and public buildings, in particular Sanatoriums and hospitals which overflow in summer with Europeans, mainly from Calcutta. Situated on a flank of the Jalapahar, a ridge of the main Himalaya range, Darjeeling is looking towards the north on to the mountain of Kangchenjunga, while in other parts of the world the eye can see numerous mountain ridges, peaks and green valleys of the mighty mountain. From time to time, the sun made an appearance and peaked for a few moments at the houses of Darjeeling The mountains remained covered in impenetrable clouds.

We first made ourselves comfortable in the Woodlands Hotel and then began to take a walk to a bazaar which turned out to be a rich ethnographic treasure for me. Here were interesting weapons, knives which could cut rupees with a single strike, strange sun dials on a stick, numerous idol figures in bronze, original jewelry, finally a number of musical instruments and drums, among them some made out of human skulls,  as well as pipes from human hip bones. The drums consist of two inverted skulls pushed together whose lower parts have been cut and replaced with hide. A drumstick with a metallic button makes it vibrate to create sound. The skulls are said to be of adulterers who were condemned to death in Tibet and whose heads are then reused for musical purposes. A drastic expression of deterrence theory! At a German trader’s I found a valuable butterfly and bird skin collection which I acquired for my museum. Darjeeling yields the most  in all of India in terms of butterflies and beetles; the diversity and color range of the individual specimens is truly wonderful.

Our hope that we could see the mountains even for an instance was not realized; the fog proved to be merciless.

In the evening, after the dinner which we took freezing in an airy glass saloon of the hotel, we were surprised by Mr. Waller with a Tibetan dance which was performed in an open space even though it was raining heavily. This did not cool the fiery ardor of the dancing artists. The accompanying music resembled Indian music in its monotony, with plentiful use of kettledrums and cymbals. The dance was much more intense, even wild and more adapted to the character of a rebellious mountain tribe. Especially the ladies were in their movements very active and accompanied the dance with a howling song which sounded like a war cry. Men and women did not dance together but separated according to gender. The dance illustrated, among others, the fight against wild animals. Two men who wore grotesque masks similar to our clowns rushed as „wild animals“ at one of the dancers and began to wrestle with him, which then turned into an alternating dance of the wild animals and the dancer. Dragons, lions and giant birds were brought alive drastically by the artists.


  • Location: Darjeeling, India
  • ANNO – on 06.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Neue Freie Presse offers a recap of Franz Ferdinand’s stay in India up to now and an outlook of his trip to Nepal in March.
Franz Ferdinand in India, Neue Freie Presse 6.2.1893, p. 3, part a

Franz Ferdinand in India, Neue Freie Presse 6.2.1893, p. 3, part a

Franz Ferdinand in India, Neue Freie Presse 6.2.1893, p. 3, part b

Franz Ferdinand in India, Neue Freie Presse 6.2.1893, p. 3, part b

  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays a comedy “Der Störefried”, while the k.u.k. Hof-Opermtheater is performing a ballet “Ein Tanzmärchen”.

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