Edwin Lester Linden Arnold.

On the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) online

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coolies are apt to scrape the soil in just as it
lies. After the burn, we should be able to
tell the position of each pit by the soil being"
a little higher over it than elsewhere.

Our larder had been replenished in a most

satisfactory way by the generosity of G-. D ,

of Polyampara. One night it happened that he

was seated in the verandah of S 's bungalow,

meditating over an after-dinner cigar, when a
sambour deer came out of the gloom of the
woods by the stream, and, after sniffing the air,
began to graze in the bright moonlight. D T
who is fond of venison and a good shot, stole
into the house, and getting his rifle, reached a
crag above the spot, unobserved ; then, firing at
his leisure at a hundred and fifty yards, the
ball struck the sambour full between the horns,
and it rolled over dead a very creditable per-
formance, as moonlight shooting is much more
difficult than in the daytime. The result of
this shot was that for the next four or five days


the whole district lived on venison, the animal
being as large as a cow. I have tasted the best
haunches of Scottish stags, the wild inouflon of
Corsica, the thick-coated reindeer of Norway,
and now the sambour of the Indian jungles,
and my choice is for the latter ; but I say so
with diffidence, as three months of the strong-
fleshed Indian sheep had doubtless made me
very ready to admire anything a wee bit more

It is astonishing how little one sees of big-
game in these jungles, although their fresh foot-
marks everywhere show they are numerous and
come forth to feed in the open every evening.
I fear a place like " the settlement," low down
and surrounded by dense forest, was the worst
situation that could be for a sportsman, as no

view is obtained, and S on his wood-fringed

grass plateau, or F - on his hill-top, were in
much better positions. Myself and L made a
valiant attempt to climb the green Pardagherry
the " hill of wonder" one day in search of
game with our rifles ; but the jungle was ab-
solutely impenetrable without billmen, and
after reducing our clothes to a fearful con-


dition, which cost us some hours of hard sewing
to put right, we finally came to a standstill
about half a mile from where the grass begins
on top, and had to beat an ignominious re-




WHEN the weather grew warmer in February,
animal life became more varied in our jungles.
Among the insects, curiously enough, the most-
common was a small brown dragon-fly exactly
resembling the English species. This was
abundant everywhere in the openings of the
forest and by every stream, but neither striking-
in colour, nor peculiar to the country. Another
English object was the bracken fern. On
every estate more than two years old it grew
in the greatest profusion. Poothpara, ten
years old 1 , was in parts hidden by it, and as I
often wandered through the dense ferns knee-
deep, it was easy to imagine myself at home
again on an English hillside. The oddest thing-
is, it never grows in the jungle or on the grass
hills. There was not a root of it on our estate,


or on the next youngest, Nillacothy ; but on the
others it was the most vigorous of weeds, and
seemed to have risen by spontaneous generation,
as it is almost impossible it should have been
imported, and equally difficult to think the
seeds or roots had lain dormant since the jungle
first grew up.

Again, the commonest of birds is a small
species exactly resembling in. habits and plumage
the yellow wagtail so well known at home. I
never passed along the stony bed of a nullah
without disturbing two or three of these livelv


little birds, and they twittered as they flew, and
jerked their slender tails in their search for
insects and small beetles, after the fashion so
familiar to any one who has given attention to
country sights and sounds at home.

Amongst the butterflies, Papilio polymnestoi\
which was common during the damp weather
at the close of the wet monsoon, almost dis-
appeared when the dry weather came, and the
very handsome black-and-gold Papilio pompeius
took its place an insect with wings five or
six inches from tip to tip, which looks more
like a good-sized bird when flying than a
simple butterfly. There is another beautiful

VOL. n. o


species, known scientifically as Hestia lynceus,
of even wider expanse of wing, and yielding
in grace of flight and habits to none. I had
left . some specimens behind me amongst my
collections in England, but what a poor idea
they give of the insect in its native home !
Truly from them it is possible to admire their
thin, semi-transparent, pearly white wings,
marked out with numerous black velvet-like
blotches, but "at home" the creature looked
doubly beautiful. They are essentially water-
loving, and the new road by the side of the
Manalora was the best place to watch them.
Here the trees grow up in steep banks on
either side, with the stream beneath and the blue
sky overhead, and the lynceus revelled amongst
the foliage on which their larvee fed. Their
favourite habit is to lazily flap their wide wings
while ascending to the tops of the trees, and
then, keeping their wings spread out to the full
on either side, they let themselves come slowly
sailing down in wide circles, like large white
blossoms, until just at the surface of the water,
when they flutter over their own bright reflec-
tion for a moment, and again rise up to the
tree-tops a happy, lazy sort of way of spend-


ing existence, which I was generally reluctant
to disturb, not being one of those naturalists
so enthusiastic that they deem no creature has
reached the goal of its existence until it -has
found a place in their cabinets.

Of timber in our forests there were several
curious varieties, perhaps the most common
and striking being a fine tree which has a long-
smooth stem, with leaves and branches so high
up in the air that I was quite unable to dis-
tinguish the form of the first, and consequently
to identify the species. The stem is useless as
wood, but at the bottom is strangely shaped.
It is surrounded by a varying number of great
solid buttresses of living wood perhaps four
feet high, five or six feet broad along the sur-
face of the ground, and yet only one or two

inches thick. Perhaps the best idea of this


curious tree will be gained when I say that I
have seen many, round the boll of which six '
horses could have been " stalled " comfortably,
and the horses would have been quite invisible
to each other and to any one unless standing-
just at the entrance to these curious natural

It may be wondered how we obtained pro-


visions and the necessaries of life, but the
mode was very simple. Our ordinary everyday
needs were supplied from Wallenghay, at the
foot of the ghaut, and Palghaut on the railway.
At each of these places we had a native agent,
who received ten or twelve rupees a month by
way of payment, and sent up by estate-tapal
or special coolie everything we ordered. Eggs
were four for the value of an English penny-
cheap, but very small ; butter was also cheap t
but, being made of buffalo milk, was white and
rather tasteless. It came in little pats, wrapped
up in banana leaves, in the tapal-basket from
Wallenghay. Bread in small square loaves,
mutton at twopence a pound, and vegetables,
came from Palghaut. Sometimes, when there
was a considerable demand, the butchers sent
up an unfortunate brown sheep, which was
slaughtered at one of the bungalows, and the
meat distributed to " subscribers." No beef or
pork could be had nearer than Ootocamund or
Bangalore ; and if we wanted any luxuries,
such as cheese, sugar, tea, coffee, etc., we wrote
down to the English stores, the price lists of
which we took care to have by us, at Madras
or Calicut ; and they were sent by train and


coolie, which naturally made the cost heavy.
It was possible to get wines and spirits from the
native shopkeepers in the lowlands, but we sadly
mistrusted them, and bought our beer, wine,
and brandy from the coast. The bottled ale
cost, by the time it reached my bungalow, about
one and fourpence a bottle of the smallest size,
and yet every one in the district drank it very
freely. It is said that if the English left India
to-morrow, all that would remain to mark their
raj would be railways and mountains of empty
bottles ; and, though exaggerated, there is a good
deal of truth in this. Even on our hills in every
court-yard the beer-bottles stood in great heaps,
and nobody utilized them except the wasps,
which made nests in their necks. On the whole,
the household expenses of the chik-doree are
not heavy. If he spends more than usual for
superfluities, he gets the necessities of life very
-cheaply. He pays no house rent, as his bun-
galow almost always belongs to the estate.
There are no taxes or licences ; he dresses as he
likes ; and, as there are no shops, he cannot
fritter away his income. There lay a solitary
rupee at the bottom of my pocket for a month ;
it was of no good to me, and I had forgotten its


existence, and if it had not been for paying-
the coolies on Saturday evenings, I should have
forgotten the very look of money, as all our
transactions with the agents were settled every
month by cheque. Living quite comfortably,
with one servant, wines, beer, food, and every-
thing else cost me between Es. 100 and Es. 12f>
per month ; but one or two other assistants f
who were more abstemious, did not smoke, and
so on, kept their expenses within Es. 100,.
which is less than 10 per month.

As the hot weather advanced and we began
" to hate the sun," the grass hills dried and
withered. Pardagherry especially changed its
emerald livery for one of dusky brown, and we
expected every day the jungle men would set
fire to the grass, and then we should see a
mountain in flames.

Some mention should be made of these
Cardars, or wild jungle men. They seein to be
allied to the Gonds of Central India and the-
Yeddahs of Ceylon, but from what little I know
of the three races, I think they are all slightly
different in form and habits. These tribes are
the wildest of the wild, and it is almost as hard
to learn anything about their ways as to catch


a leopard asleep. My first meeting with one
of them happened when walking slowly down
the new road ; and my footsteps making no
sound on the fresh earth, on turning a corner
I suddenly came in sight of a small brown man
fishing in the river below. He was sitting on
his heels on a rock in the centre of the stream,
with his back towards me, deeply intent upon
watching a shoal of small fish playing about
the line which hung from the long slender
bamboo in his hand. He seemed to be of most
diminutive size, not more than four feet six
inches in height, and of the darkest brown
colour, though well made and comfortably sleek
of flesh ; but the thing which gave him the
most comical appearance was that his entire
raiment consisted of a regular Scotch cap,
which, there could be no doubt, had once hung
in the shop window of a booth in " Auld
Reekie." How he came by it is difficult to
say. It may have been dropped in the jungle,
or found its way to him through some native
bazaar, but there it was on the curly head of
this otherwise entirely unclad savage. For a
minute or so I admired him unobserved ; but
when I moved he caught the sound of my foot-


fall, and, hastily springing up, gave one look
at me ; and, though I called out to him in Tamil
and Hindustani to stop, he sprang lightly from
rock to rock, and disappeared in the jungle on
the far side. On another occasion, walking
down this same road and turning a corner
abruptly, I met three jungle-men face to face.
They were very much frightened ; but, as there
was a steep bank on one side and a drop on the
other, they had to walk by me. The tallest of
them was not five feet high, so I towered over
him by twelve inches. They were all as black
as charcoal, with woolly heads and thick noses
of a negroid type. They bore no weapons with
them, but were carrying some sort of fruit,
wrapped up in banana leaves, on their heads.

In the jungles we sometimes came upon traces
of them, such as holes where they had been dig-
ging up the ginger roots, or their little sheep-
like tracks over the dead leaves and in and out
of the" tree stems the only highways of this
small and shy people. In one spot, under a
wild fig tree, in the hot weather, I found the
remains of one of their villages, consisting of
three huts made by slanting small sticks to-
gether and thatching them with boughs and


grass ; but the poor little structures had been
almost destroyed by wind and rain, and no
other traces of the builders existed except a few
fire-blackened stones. But the relics of their
work which impressed me most, were the
wonderful ladders they make to reach the nests
of the wild bees. Let us suppose a jungle man,
wandering about, finds a nest with a swarm in
it high up, perhaps a hundred feet above the
ground, on the branch of a tall forest tree. He
forthwith sets to work, and out of the stem of
full-grown bamboos cuts himself several hundred
pegs, wedge-shaped at one end and slightly
notched at the other, taking care that the nodes
of the bamboo shall be at the notched end of
the peg, so that they shall be less liable to split
when hammered. Then he waits until night-
fall, when he proceeds, with some clansmen, to
the tree and commences his dangerous climb.
Numerous young saplings, of the thickness of a
man's thumb, are cut down and trimmed from
twigs, and some rattan canes split into thin
fibres, and then the party set to work. "With
-a rude wooden mallet the first bamboo peg is
driven into the tree-trunk, about two feet from
the ground, and the butt of the first sapling is


lashed to it with fibres. Then the "jungle-
wallah " mounts on to this peg, which does not
stick out from the tree more than four inches,
and drives another in at about the height of his
chest, and again fastens the slender sapling to
it. Then, holding pegs, mallet, and fibres in
his mouth or slung on his back, he again steps
upwards in some marvellous manner, and another
peg is driven, until the end of the first sapling-
is reached, when another is passed to him from
below, and the wonderful ladder carried on. It
must be remembered all this is done at the dead
of night, for not even a Cardar could look down
from so great a height and so slender a perch
without becoming giddy ; and darkness is
essential to prevent him seeing below. But it
must also hinder his view of his work, and to
my idea there could scarcely be a more un-
comfortable position than standing on a clothes'-
peg, with one's nose to the smooth trunk of a
tree, a hundred feet or more above the ground
on a dark and perhaps windy night, and, worst
of all, nothing to hold to ! But these little
men do not seem to mind it much, and they
generally reach the first branch in safety. After
that it is comparatively plain sailing, though.


very often the ladders have to be continued
again and again. "When the nest is reached,
the bees are driven out by smoke, and a rich
reward then awaits the adventurer, who slings
the honeycomb on his back and perhaps eats a
little by way of refreshment, of which he must
stand much in need, retracing his steps slowly
downwards, feeling for each peg and holding-
on to the slight sticks lashed to them. Let us
hope the bees permit him to descend in peace,
and that he regains his friends and terra firma
with ample spoil and no bones broken. Truly
a fair booty makes a brave thief!

For some time there was little to speak of
in the way of novelty on the estate. Certain
building operations were carried on, such as
that of the pucka wooden house of the super-
intendent on the top of the Bungalow Hill
every estate, by the way, has a Bungalow
Hill and some new coolie " lines *' put up in
one clearing conveniently near the road and

a stream. My friend L was also making

himself a hut on some land he was opening
to the south of us, which, from its extreme
unhealthiness, we called the " Bitter End."

The other work went on much as usual,


and by the time we got home each evening
we cared to do little but sit still and smoke.
Occasionally, however, we had some shooting,,
for which it was not necessary to go further
than the verandah ; for above our hut grew
a far-spreading fig tree, the fruit of which
seemed to be ripe about March. Then, every
evening, flocks of a beautiful little pigeon, with
claret-coloured back and wings and yellow-
green body, repaired to roost and sup amongst
the figs. So we brought out our guns, and
made as much noise as if we were at a warm
corner of a covert on the 1st of October ; but
the tree was very high, and the birds very
small, so we did little damage. It was wonder-
ful how difficult it became to see the pigeons
when once they had perched. Their under
parts, being pale yellow, matched almost exactly,
with the slender fig-leaves ; and sometimes,
although there were a hundred of them in the
tree, none of us could make out a single bird,
until they began to move and feed, and send
the figs rattling to the ground.

When darkness settled down, and we lay
silent in our armchairs, with our cheroots
gleaming and the guns idle at our sides, the


flying foxes (squirrels they really are) sallied
forth, and skimmed, with widespread limbs, from
tree to tree. We watched for them, and when
one crossed a patch of sky above, some one fired,
and the silent forest re-echoed with the sound.
But that was generally the only result, for the
light in the evening was so misleading, I be-
lieve we often fired at the shadows of the
animals. Yet, though dark at first, when the
moon came out, and the silver light streamed
down through the tree-tops and illuminated
some things and threw others into deep
shadow, the effect was most soft and beautiful.
But, alas ! we could not safely enjoy it, for with
the moon rose the fever mist, a death-cloud ; it
could be seen, a thin white web of transparent
light, down among the rocks that line the bed
of the nullah ; and we knew that behind that
glistening veil hid the face of a fell demon,
the fever and ague. So we retired to the poor
protection of our hut, and lit the lamp and drew
a. red curtain over the doorway, in order, as
well as might be, to shut out foreboding thought
and make the best of the present.

It does not necessarily follow that, because
one is in India, one can always obtain plenty


of good shooting. The truth is, to shoot big
game requires care, time, and expense, and
the average planter gets very little sport until
his estate is all opened and the hard work is
over. Then, in the intervals that come before
or after each crop, he sometimes finds a little

For my part, although I had almost given
up hopes of any really good shooting for a
time, yet, one day when work was slack, I

arranged with L to start at daybreak the

next morning, and explore the far side of the
ridge at the end of which lies the Varlavachen
hill and bungalow. So at dawn he was in my
hut and asking what we were going to look
for. I proposed elephants, and it was agreed,
although only my express rifle was service-
able, as there was no ammunition for the other

guns. However, L , who was a desperate

smoker, took a tin of " bird's-eye " in one
pocket, some sandwiches in the other, his be-
loved meerschaum in his mouth, and a revolver
and hunting-knife in his belt, and declared he
was ready to go anywhere. I was equally ready,
and we started just as the sun was rising.
But the sun gets up very quickly in India,


and by the time we had threaded our way
through the rocky clearing, now green with
the guinea grass we planted two months ago,
it was beginning to be very hot, and we were
glad of the friendly shelter of a belt of jungle,
through _ which we picked our way, noticing
the hoof-prints of sambour and hog-deer every-
where, and the marks of a leopard or young-
tiger who had been out for a constitutional just
before us. We were "considerably startled by
a troop of twenty large black monkeys, who
fled from branch to branch at our approach,
and made the forest resound with their cries.

Just at the margin of this belt, I found a very
beautiful flower, growing low down amongst
the grass. It sprang directly from a simple
bulbous root, the single flower being borne at
the end of the upright stem, in colour a deep
velvety purple, with the base of the petals
bright yellow. There were no leaves, visible,
small white scales taking their place. But the
most interesting part was the arrangement by
which the pollen was dusted on to the bees,
in order that it might be conveyed by them
to the neighbouring flowers. In the throat
of the tube formed by the petals were the


stamens, and each pollen-laden anther rested
along the roof of the flower, but from it
another abortive anther hung down and almost
closed the passage. Thus, when a bee entered
the flower and made for the honey cell, placed
far back, he found the way blocked, and, press-
ing against the slight obstruction, brought the-
pollen brushes down on the top of his thorax
like the strikers of a piano, and so got covered
with the yellow dust.

Then into the sun again ; and we were on
the far side of the ridge, and our view wandered
over the wonderful Poothpara Thund. A most
extensive view ! much the same as that from
the Yarlavachen bungalow, but almost more
comprehensive. It was impossible to look over
this region without a feeling of satisfaction, in
these days of dense populations, that there was
still so much land to spare, and unopened even,
for the myriads of India. For my part, I
do not think we are within measurable distance
of the time when the whole world will be a
parish an idea dreadful to think of. Popula-
tion undoubtedly increases to an alarming extent
in every quarter of the globe, but an indus-
trious calculator tells us the whole human


race could find standing* room on the Isle of
Wight, and while there are such tracts as these
Indian hills to be opened and cultivated, we
cannot call ourselves cramped for room.

Right away from our feet the great valley
stretched as far as we could see, a vast expanse
of undulating* forest, as smooth and close as
velvet, but formed in reality of countless
thousands of mighty trees and labyrinths of
creepers. One small hill which looked so close,
in comparison to the wide expanse, that it
seemed one might walk to it in half an hour
my friend told me, was two days' journey away
on horseback ; so how far must it have been
to the great wall of rocks which rose above
the ocean of green jungle on the horizon to
the south and westward ? Even there our
view did not stop, for those remote cliffs were
crowned with wide fields of waving grass and
darker patches of jungle and trees. I think
I never saw a scene which impressed me more
with its vastness and its silent, deep loneliness ;
for our glance passed over no habitation of
men, except the fastnesses of the jungle- wallahs
and the haunts of elephants.

It was a long time before we could continue

VOL. II. p


our walk, so enchanting was the scene ; and
when we did, it was to talk of what effect
the newly rediscovered gold mines of the Pal-
ghaut river would have on this district, and
to speculate as to whether there was any gold
up here. L feared the gold mining opera-
tions would he very bad for the plantations,
by drawing away all the labour and making
everything too expensive ; and, so chatting, we
made our way along the side of the ridge.

But it was by no means easy progress. The
tall dry grass grew up to our shoulders, and
we looked more as if we were swimming than
walking on dry ground. Nothing was to be
seen of my companion but his face, his helmet,
and his hand occasionally, making desperate
efforts to part the grass stems in front, and

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