Edwin Lester Linden Arnold.

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

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embark for Malta, and consequently Bombay
was even more than usually lively. Here, in
the hotel, Mars was very strongly represented,
and the jingle of spurs and clattering of scab-
bards was heard on the staircase all day long.
Indeed, the house was full of officers, many
very young and fresh from England, but all
now westward-bound in the line of great
convoys which lay in the harbour, each with
her number painted large on her bows. The
wives, in esse and in posse, of the officers also
numbered in strong force, and as each regiment
embarked for an unknown service, many sadly
dimmed eyes were to be seen round the breakfast
table each day. Truly, war is worst for those
who stay at home. I saw nearly every member
of the expedition, as they trooped by under the
balcony where I spent the morning, smoking
and reading, and could only say that I hoped
these Bombay troops would be as trustworthy in
the hour of trial as they were smart on parade.
Much always depends on the officers, for good
officers make good men, and nothing could be
more promising than the examples of the


former to be seen gathered together in the

It was both interesting and pleasant to watch
the troops as they went streaming by, now a
regiment of white helmets and scarlet coats of
the line, and then a troop of cavalry on brown
horses, with grey uniforms and blue turbans,
carrying long lances with small red-and-white
pennons at their points, making them look like
a moving field of poppies. The Apollo Bunder,
or pier, whence the men were conveyed to the
transports, was a lively scene of excitement all
day long.

In fact, I paid, altogether, a most pleasant
flying visit to the beautiful city, favoured by
delicious weather and entire freedom from fever,
and instructed in my wandering by Maclean's
excellent " Guide to Bombay," published at the
Bombay Gazette office, which should be in the
hands of every new arrival, as it is astounding-
how much one can miss in a big city like this
if one wanders about without aim or object.

One morning was devoted to the New Craw-
ford Market. Driving there in a very springy
buggy, or sort of hooded dog-cart, I arrived
just as the morning sales were commencing.


It was a most curious scene the long and lofty
building, with wide avenues of stalls piled up
with strange fruits and flowers, and the motley
crowds of natives from all parts jostling and
crowding about the little counters on which
^ach merchant sat among his goods. Even
English ladies were to be seen making the
household purchases before the best of the fruit
was gone an excellent example to t their less
energetic countrywomen but protected from
the struggling natives by butler-wallahs in
bright uniforms, with crests embroidered on
their tunics. Such a place as this must be a
terrible blow to the observance of strict caste
rules, for it is impossible to prevent contact
of the closest between members of many sorts
of religions and every colour of skin in the
course of five minutes. Not many years ago, an
orthodox Hindoo woman would have thrown
away her dinner, even if only the shadow of a
sahib had fallen on it ; but here the Hindoo
women were buying and selling, pushing and
struggling, with equal indifference, among the
brown-skinned coolies boasting only a pocket-
handkerchief by way of clothing, and the white-
clad British. Of fruit there was a great


variety : oranges from Nagpore, grapes from
Ahmedabad, peaches from Bangalore ; lovely
strawberries, which would repay a voyage to
India on purpose to eat them, from Mahabulesh-
war ; dates from the Persian Gulf. A medlar-
like fruit, the chickoo, seemed very popular, and
there was an abundant supply of fresh vege-
tables, mostly from Poonah and the inland

Then there was the fresh meat market, not
quite so pleasant as the division for fruit and
flowers. One part of this was for mutton,
where the Hindoos were busy ; but beyond was
a partition, on the far side of which was the
beef for base, low-caste natives and cow-eating
sahibs, "abomination of desolation" to all good
Brahmans. Two distinct sets of coolies, differ-
ing widely from each other in religion, were
employed in moving the two kinds of meats.
In the fish market, however, all met again
peacefully, and the stall-keepers shouted out
the prices at the top of their voices, and sold
fish of many colours and sorts to natives and
Europeans equally. One little girl followed
me about with a huge specimen resembling a
codfish, as big as herself, which she wanted me


to buy; but I had to decline it emphatically,
to her manifest surprise and sorrow. Then I
sauntered across a pleasant green garden with
a fountain, to the poultry market, where hun-
dreds of unfortunate fowls, all doomed to die,
were awaiting their fate along with ducks, and
amongst cages of parrots, mynas, love-birds,
etc., and sundry foxes, wild cats, and porcu-
pines, destined, probably, to be exported to
England as curiosities.

On another occasion the silk and cotton
bazaar was visited, but seemed a little dis-
appointing to me on account of the prevalence
of cheap and poor Manchester goods, much of
which it did not require the eye of an expert
to see was half glaze. In fact, if our country-
men are not careful, they will kill the goose
that lays the golden egg, and close this market
to their merchandise. But the street where the
workers in tin were located was much more
interesting, and in the early morning, the
bright sun overhead shining down on a long
double row of open shops, all heaped up with
bright metal ware, was " quite too gay," as the
Americans would say. It struck me as an ex-
cellent arrangement to have all the shops of one


trade together, for when you want a thing you
know exactly where to look for it, and have a
wide choice. Coming out of this neighbour-
hood, I passed the shops of some Parsee tailors,
who, when they saw me, sprang up on their
counters, and waving all sorts of garments
above the heads of the crowd, called out, " Hi !
sahib, stop ! this very good pair of trousers
only two rupee," and so on ; but I did not stop,
and left them still dancing and shouting ex-

Then one charming day was spent in driving
about Malabar Hill and presenting numerous
letters of introduction to the residents on that
pleasant ridge. During this excursion the
Parsee "Towers of Silence" were visited, where
the fire-worshippers place their dead on iron
gratings, and leave them to the beaks and claws
of the kites and vultures. They are like no-
thing so much as whitewashed martello towers,
and the driver of my buggy, an intelligent
native, asked my opinion as to the superiority
of the various modes of disposing of the dead.
" Here, sahib," he said, " the Parsee put his
dead people to feed the birds ; yonder is the
English burying-place, with the sahibs and


inem-sahibs in holes in the ground ; and my
people burn dead men. Which does the sahib
think best ? " I said there was no doubt burn-
ing was by far the best ; and burning the
ugliest and stupidest form of disposing of the
departed that had ever been practised by a
nation which called itself civilized. This same
driver on another occasion gave me his views
on the Eastern question. He said, " I am a
poor man, sahib, but every day I spend two
annas on a newspaper and read about the
Russee. I know all about the fighting, and
-how the good Queen spread out her hands and
said, i Stop,' when the Russees were going to
kill all the Turkees, and that all the soldiers
here are going to help fight for the Sultan."
In fact, it was plain he regarded the Kaiser-i-
Hind as a sort of goddess with a ring in her
nose, whose frown was to be feared by kings,
and whose anger must prove sudden death,
even to the mightiest of earth.

At sunset every night the Parsees are to be
seen standing in a long line on the beach of
the inner bay, repeating prayers out of strange
little books in their hands, and salaaming and
bowing to the great crimson orb, as he slowly


sinks down into the sea and leaves the world
to darkness. The women do not seem to pray,
but stand higher up the beach, behind the men
and boys ; and it is a strange sight to watch
the two rows, the first just where the small
waves are breaking on the sandy margin., all
intent upon the great sun-god, and the second
row, of women and girls in wonderfully coloured
garments of pinks, greens, and yellows, observ-
ing and attending the others. The Parsees are,
in fact, the most interesting race about Bombay.
Their schools are very excellent; their cloth-
ing, all but the hat, highly rational and pictur-
esque ; and their bazaar most curious, though
somewhat dirty many of their houses being
adorned with marvellously carved pillars and
beams. Next to the English, they are the
most prosperous and powerful class ; and this
was curiously instanced to me when, being one
night at a large circus on the maidan, I noticed
that all the eight-anna seats, on one side of the
building, were taken up by the dark-robed
Parsee men, while the cheaper seats, on the
other side, were occupied by white-clad Hin-

In brief, I made the most of my time, and


saw everything that was to be seen at that
season ; but my holiday came all too soon to
an end, and I was forced, very reluctantly, to
pack up for a return to the jungle. All the
pleasures of civilized life had to be left behind
again. No more the early morning plunge,
when there was a regular scramble amongst
the bachelors on the top story for first use of
the bath-rooms, and those who had to wait
stood about in bathing-costume, listening to the
refreshing splashing of the more fortunate !
Xo more the delightful breakfast in the big-
saloon of the hotel, where a couple of hundred
Englishmen were collected together, and half
as many ladies, the smartly dressed servants
rushing about and attending to their masters*
wants and icing their wine all drink wine or
beer for breakfast in Bombay the pomfrets,
the curries, and all the other culinary delights !
No more, after breakfast, the long lounge and
smoke in the verandah, with the gay crowds
below, the tossing sea of white umbrellas at
mid-day even the horses wore a sort of pith
helmet and, beyond, the great blue harbour
and numerous islands and the broad sea, over
which your thoughts might flit homewards.


Not again, if I were thirsty, could I clap my
hands and call out "Boy; " whereupon, almost
as soon as my wish was framed, a " peg "
arrived on a silver tray, with a consoling lump
of ice bobbing about in it ! " Pegs " are bad
morally if taken immoderately, but, physically
and in reason, they are undoubtedly refreshing.
I must forswear the jolly tiffin an informal
meal, during which some of us talked shop, and
discussed the price of yarns and cotton or the
embarking of the last regiment, and some of
us flirted with our neighbours, not seriously
eating, until our horses or buggies stood at
the door, and we started on fresh explorations,
or whatever our business might be. Never
again, for a year, what the Americans call a
" seventy-five cent dinner " at 6.30, and then
the delightful evening spent in the verandah
or strolling about the town, till the day finished
up with a game of billiards. The jungle called
me back to its fever-mists and miserable gangs
of semi-savages. Think sometimes, my country-
men, as you sip your coffee, of the planter who
grows it, and spare a sigh for his lonely lot !

The very last hour of my stay at Bombay
having come, I was once more in the train


and bound southward, with the intention, how-
ever, of breaking the journey by a short stay
and inspection of Poonah.

The flat marshy land was crossed, and a
picturesque ruin noticed standing by a broad
arm of the sea ; and then Kampoolie was
reached and the ascent of the Bhore Ghaut
commenced. I have said something of this
before, but it seems more wonderful every time
it is approached. I was lost in admiration of
the engineering skill which could survey the
course of the line and determine its practica-
bility. Once surveyed, the construction of the
railway became, of course, only a matter of
labour and sufficient money. After passing
along the face of precipices, tunnelling moun-
tains, and crossing rocky chasms by fragile-
seeming bridges, the reversing station is
reached, and, looking out of the carriage-
window, the view becomes truly grand. The
wild, rugged Mahratta hills all around, crowned
here and there with the ruins of old forts, are
so scarped and battlemented, it is difficult to
say whether the masses of ramparts on each
eminence are Nature's or man's handiwork. All
these hills are clothed with a scanty growth of


the jujuba tree the Mahratta name of which,
Bhor, gives its name to the ghaut at this
season withered and dry. The train stops on
a narrow ridge of land, up to which it has
arduously climbed ; and it seems lucky it does
stop, for on hoth sides there are mighty chasms,
with forest-clad sides and foaming torrents at
the bottom, and the engine has pulled up
within a few feet of a flimsy wooden barricade,
beyond which there opens a drop, and appa-
rently nothing exists to prevent any one falling
right over into the Bombay paddy fields, a
thousand or more feet below. But a fresh
engine is put on to what was the rear of the
train, and we start off again. Now our faces
are towards Bombay, and we catch beautiful
glimpses of the blue water and fishing junks,
and the widespread lowland country coming
up to the very foot of the ghauts which we are
climbing, while the track of the line we have
passed over can be just made out below us,
winding threadlike along the mountain-side,
now disappearing and now crossing a tall
viaduct or slender bridge. All this time we
are conscious that the existence of every one in
the train depends on the strength of the coup-


lings of the engine. If they were to break
and the strain on them is fearfully severe we
should begin to run slowly backward ; and
fortunate would be those who jumped out then,
for the pace would increase with every yard,
there would be a wild rush, a few minutes of
desperate suspense, and then the barrier below
would be reached, and, with a crash, the train
would go through it and be hurled down into
the valley with all its living load.

The Deccan was reached at sunset, and by
the time the train had arrived at Poonah Station,
" night's drowsy-flighted steeds" had enveloped
everything in darkness. Entrusting myself
and baggag*e to a very comfortable omnibus,
I was soon at the Napier Hotel about the best
in the town, but, as I found, rather empty at
this time ; so I turned in early, and, to tell the
truth, made the acquaintance of the Poonah
mosquitoes rather too intimately, and learned
to respect the keenness of their lancets.

Up before the sun the next morning, I went
for a long walk through the town ; but though
I was here eighteen years ago at that time a
very small chokra I could remember nothing,
though every now and then, in passing some


strange street or curious sight, a sort of dim
revenant of memory would pass through my
mind ; hut, in truth, everything was new to me,
excepting such similar experience as the sights
of Bomhay had afforded. But Poonah is rather
more classical than Bombay, the latter town
being as much Anglicized as a native city can
be. While up here we are in the heart of the
wide and famous Mahratta country, and when
once the English "lines " are passed, the wanderer
finds himself in truly native quarters. Doubt-
less most of my readers know what they are like,
so I will only say there is the same motley crowd ;
the same double row of open stalls with the
matting shutters propped up in front to keep
some of the sun from the sleepy-looking
merchants who squat cross-legged 011 their
own counters ; the same superabundance of
small brown children rolling over each other in
the hot dust, and quarrelling with the dogs for
playthings and slices of melons ; the usual
swarm of crows black, lawless birds, with only
one idea in the world, to get some breakfast, as
much and as soon as possible and far overhead
the ubiquitous kites and vultures, sailing about
in the bright mid air.


A visit of fraternal affection was paid to the
English cemetery, a strikingly pretty place, cool
and green, between two ridges of the brown
maidan where a brother lay buried ; and some
calls were made in the military " lines," but only
to learn that every one had flown to Mahabulesh-
war and the other hills for Poonah in May is a
name of dread to the old Indian. Indeed, I
found the heat prodigious, worse than anything
I had ever experienced before, and pith helmet
with white umbrella were but a poor fence
against it when the sun stood at its highest and
almost directly overhead.

This first day at Poonah being Sunday, my
departure was put off until the morrow ; and in
the evening, while returning to my hotel from
a long stroll, I saw and entered a handsome
church, where service was just beginning, and
speedily found myself seated in a pew, with a
black-robed nun on either side, who were good
enough to let me look over their books in turn.
Feeling I had not been in such good company
for a long time, I hope my devotions were the
more profound.

If trains on the Madras and Bombay line are
convenient when once you are in them, they are



certainly not numerous, and when I canie to
make inquiries next day, it was to find the first
train southward would start late in the evening ;
so another long hot day had to be spent here,
and then at last I was able to pay my bill and
drive down to the station with pleasant re-
membrances of Poonah, though modified by
the strength of the sun and the ferocity of its

Waking from a comfortable night's sleep,
rolled in a rug, on the seats of the carriage,
which I alone occupied, it was to find we were
again flying through the Deccan, and in the
land of fort-crowned hills, with occasional broad
shallow jheels, or small lakes, where a good
many water-birds were to be seen.

We breakfasted at Shahabad, the junction for
Hyderabad, the Nizam's city, and then I en-
tered a fresh carriage with several other English,
and we were once more whirling southward.

But the exertions and exposures at Poonah
had been too much for me, or perhaps I had
drawn rather heavily on iny diminished physi-
cal strength at Bombay, considering it was the
hot season. About mid-day my head began to
ache frightfully. I knew what that portended,


and five minutes afterwards I was in the cold
stage of a sharp attack of fever. I held out as
long- as might be without letting any one see I
was ill. But at last the shivering which shook
me from head to foot became irrepressible. My
fellow-passengers saw it, and, apparently think-
ing I had some infectious disorder, got out at
the next place of stoppage and told the station-
master. He happened to be a worthy old
Scotchman, and came at once to the carriage ;
Avhen, putting his hand on my shoulder, he
said very kindly, " What's the matter with you,
my boy ? " I told him I was " in for fever,"
and only wanted to be left alone ; so for the
next hundred miles I shivered and grew red-
hot alternately. There was only one English-
man with me, a gentleman whose name is
unknown to me, but to whom I owe a debt of
gratitude ; for when he perceived what was the
matter, he moved into my carriage and took the
greatest care of me. When the hot stasre of


the fever came on, I was able to form some idea
of what the Inferno of Dante was like. My
head ached with the tumultuous anguish which
only fever brings, and there was the ceaseless
rattle and jolting of the train to make it worse,


while the least light offended my eyes, and
there was the glare of the wide sandy plains all
round. My hlood was on its own account at
boiling heat, and overhead the Indian sun was
blistering the paint and making the varnish on
the woodwork bubble, but the finishing touch
seemed furnished by the clouds of hot white
dust which filled the carriage and rendered my
consuming thirst wellnigh unsupportable. This
may be tedious reading ; it certainly was a tedious
experience, but it came to an end at last. The
generous Englishman had left me ; I had fallen
into the stupor which always follows these
attacks, and must have been asleep for a long
time ; for when an unusual noise aroused me, I
started up and staggered to my feet, limp, weak,
and tired, but well again, and, looking out of the
open window, saw we were crossing a river by
a mighty wooden bridge.

It was the sacred Kistnah, which rises in the
Western Grhauts and flows right across India to
the Bay of Bengal. Sometimes a mighty flood,
at this season there was only left of it a wide r
sandy bed, a mile broad, and as smooth as sand
could be ; while in the very centre, at an equal
distance from either bank, all that the dry


season had spared of the current of the great
river was a single meandering thread of silver
water, winding hither and thither under a
bright starlit sky and a young crescent moon
(perhaps the most beautiful object in nature)

Then I snatched some more broken sleep ; took
some tea and biscuits at a wayside station, and
got through a long night's travelling, until,
when another dawn came, we were among the
fan-palms of the southern plains, and a guard,
looking into the carriage, asked if the sahib
would wish to breakfast at Madras, as we should
be there in half an hour.

One's impressions of a place depend to a very
great extent upon the condition of one's diges-
tion and other physical causes. One man will
say he thinks a place very ugly, but confess
that his hotel bill was too heavy ; it is the bill
that is to blame and not the place, for another
traveller, coming the next day, may protest it is
the loveliest place he ever saw. Only in the
multitude of counsellors is there wisdom. So
when I say I stayed at Madras three days, had
fever twice in that short time, and couldn't
sleep for the mosquitoes, so that I thought the


town a most detestable place, built on a vile
sea sand-bank which ought never to have been
inhabited, my gentle readers must take such
petulant evidence for what it is worth. The
fourth day found me once more in the train,
bound westward for Palghaut. There was the
usual dinner at Arconum, in the middle of
which the old commissioner, a well-known
fixture of that place, swung the door open all
too soon, and said, " Gentlemen and ladies, the
train is now ready." We breakfasted at Coim-
batore, and at mid-day I was once more standing
alone on the Palghaut platform, amongst my far-
travelled belongings.

My holiday not having quite come to an end,
and hardly knowing what else to do with my-
self, I determined to get up to the jungles at
once, and spend a few days at F 's bunga-
low, above the fever range ; so, after tiffin at
the " travellers' bungalow " and a good deal of
delay in obtaining a bandy, a start was made
at 6 p.m.

This was not the same bandy in which I
came down, but, from my subsequent experience,
I began to think that bandy travelling is inevi-
tably attended with an uncomfortable adventure
of some sort.


Scarcely had we got so far from the town
as to make it useless to turn back, when the
sky became overcast, and it was obvious we
were in for a monsoon storm, which in another
ten minutes duly began. The sky grew black
as pitch, and the rain descended in torrents
and found its way through the bamboo matting
overhead without any difficulty. It was so
dark, as we plodded slowly along, that I could
only just make out the outlines of the white
bullocks in front, while the dusky form of the
native driver was quite swallowed up, although
he had deserted his usual uncomfortable perch
on the pole and backed into the bandy to try
and get some shelter. In this way we wandered
along all the early part of the night, jolting
fearfully, and getting our wheels first into one
rut and then into another, every now and then

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Online LibraryEdwin Lester Linden ArnoldOn the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 20)