BIRDS’ NESTS. The famous edible nests, formed with mucus, by certain swiftlets, Collocalia nidifica, and C. linchi. Both have long been known on the eastern coasts of the B. of Bengal, in the Malay Islands [and, according to Mr. Skeat in the islands of the Inland Sea (Tale Sap) at Singora]. The former is also now known to visit Darjeeling, the Assam Hills, the Western Ghats, &c., and to breed on the islets off Malabar and the Concan.

BISCOBRA, s. H. biskhopra or biskhapra. The name popularly applied to a large lizard alleged, and commonly believed, to be mortally venomous. It is very doubtful whether there is any real lizard to which this name applies, and it may be taken as certain that there is none in India with the qualities attributed. It is probable that the name does carry to many the terrific character which the ingenious author of Tribes on My Frontier alleges. But the name has nothing to do with either bis in the sense of ‘twice,’ or cobra in that of ‘snake.’ The first element is no doubt bish, (q.v.) ‘poison,’ and the second is probably khopra, ‘a shell or skull.’ [See J. L. Kipling, Beast and Man in India (p. 317), who gives the scientific name as varanus dracaena, and says that the name biscobra is sometimes applied to the lizard generally known as the ghorpad, for which see GUANA.]

1883.—“But of all the things on earth that bite or sting, the palm belongs to the biscobra, a creature whose very name seems to indicate that it is twice as bad as the cobra. Though known by the terror of its name to natives and Europeans alike, it has never been described in the Proceedings of any learned Society, nor has it yet received a scientific name.…The awful deadliness of its bite admits of no question, being supported by countless authentic instances…The points on which evidence is required are—first, whether there is any such animal; second, whether, if it does exist, it is a snake with legs, or a lizard without them.”—Tribes on my Frontier, p. 205.

BISH, BIKH, &c., n. H. from Skt. visha, ‘poison.’ The word has several specific applications, as (a) to the poison of various species of aconite, particularly Aconitum ferox, otherwise more specifically called in Skt. vatsanabha, ‘calf’s navel,’ corrupted into bachnabh or bachnag, &c. But it is also applied (b) in the Himalaya to the effect of the rarefied atmosphere at great heights on the body, an effect which there and over Central Asia is attributed to poisonous emanations from the soil, or from plants; a doctrine somewhat naïvely accepted by Hue in his famous narrative. The Central Asiatic (Turki) expression for this is Esh, ‘smell.’


1554.—“Entre les singularités que le consul de Florentins me monstra, me feist gouster vne racine que les Arabes nomment Bisch: laquelle me causa si grande chaleur en la bouche, qui me dura deux iours, qu’il me sembloit y auoir du feu.…Elle est bien petite comme vn petit naueau: les autres (auteurs ?) l’ont nommée Napellus…”—Pierre Belon, Observations, &c., f. 97.

1624.—Antonio Andrada in his journey across the Himalaya, speaking of the sufferings of travellers from the poisonous emanations.—See Ritter, Asien., iii. 444.

1661-2.—“Est autem Langur mons omnium altissimus, ita ut in summitate ejus viatores vix respirare ob aëris subtilitatim queant: neque is ob virulentas non-nullarum herbarum exhalationes aestivo tempore, sine manifesto vitae periculo transire possit.”—PP. Dorville and Grueber, in Kircher, China Illustrata, 65. It is curious to see these intelligent Jesuits recognise the true cause, but accept the fancy of their guides as an additional one!

(?) “La partie supérieure de cette montagne est remplie d’exhalaisons pestilentielles.”—Chinese Itinerary to Hlassa, in Klaproth, Magasin Asiatique, ii. 112.

1812.—“Here begins the Esh—this is a Turkish word signifying Smell…it implies something the odour of which induces indisposition; far from hence the breathing of horse and man, and especially of the former, becomes affected.”—Mir Izzet Ullah, in J. R. As. Soc. i. 283.

1815.—“Many of the coolies, and several of the Mewattee and Ghoorkha sepoys and chuprasees now lagged, and every one complained of the bis or poisoned wind. I now suspected that the supposed poison was nothing more than the effect of the rarefaction of the atmosphere from our great elevation.”—Fraser, Journal of a Tour, &c., 1820, p. 442.

1819.—“The difficulty of breathing which at an earlier date Andrada, and more recently Moorcroft had experienced in this region, was confirmed by Webb; the Butias themselves felt it, and call it bis ki huwa, i.e. poisonous air; even horses and yaks …suffer from it.”—Webb’s Narrative, quoted in Ritter, Asien., ii. 532, 649.

1845.—“Nous arrivâmes à neuf heures au pied du Bourhan-Bota.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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