Edwin Lester Linden Arnold.

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

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friends and companions. Whether we went slow
or fast, I have no idea ; but presently the horse
stopped of its own accord, and, looking up, I
saw we were in front of the Comlocoda Bunga-
low, which lies a little off the main road at the
head of the ghaut. A night's lodging was
begged of the owner, a brother of my lively
friend, C. H , and readily granted, and to-
gether we dined and spent the evening, beguil-
ing the time with rival stories of past adventures.

H gave me a history of all his guns and

hunting gear, and the great numbers of animals
he had killed in various wanderings.

I had spent a good many uncomfortable
nights lately, but perhaps that at Comlocoda
was the worst of all. The only " shake-down "
which my host had to offer me was an old
sofa which stood in one corner of the room ;
and belonging to the straight-backed sort which
our forefathers seem to have liked so much,
even in its very remote youth it must have
been uncomfortable. Now nearly all the stuff-
ing was gone, and there were three deep hollows
and three sharp ridges in it. To lie on it
full length was most indescribably miserable,
and it was almost as bad to repose with your


chin between your knees. During the long*
dreary hours of that stormy night, while the
wind howled outside and the rain pelted on
the " shingle " roof, I tried every position I
knew of to get just so much rest as would
let me go to sleep ; but it was quite impossible r
and the last night of my sojourn in the jungles
will never fade from my memory. At last,
racked with rheumatism and dysentery, and
feeble with long-continued fever, I went out
into the verandah, and, sinking into an arm-
chair, felt my sand was nearly run out. It
was a fearful night, the wind howling like
legions of ghosts among the dead and fire-
blackened trees along the margin of the clear-
ings and the white mist sweeping in sheets
over the waving coifee, eddying this way and
that, and twisting like a monstrous serpent
amongst the fallen logs. Once a tall spectral
form was seen hurrying up the pathway, with
the 'dead leaves eddying about it, and in the
darkness of the night came straight towards me,
mounted the steps in so ghostly a way that I
Had half risen from my chair, when a gust of
wind came rattling off the roof and dissolved it
into mist. It was in this very chair and on this


spot that a brother of H 's died, little more

than a year ago. He was a great shikaree and

a friend of F 's, who had told me how he

came out from England and opened this estate
single-handed. But the fever found him out,
and at last he was so ill that he was obliged
to go down to Calicut, where, the doctors told
him he must stay for a long time ; but he
was naturally impatient, started for the jungles
before he was completely recovered, and walked
up the ghaut from Wallenghay one hot day
to his hut. There did not seem to be anything
the matter with him when he arrived ; never-
theless, half an hour afterwards, when the
"boy" brought him the coffee which he had
ordered, he was found sitting in this chair,
with his head sunk forward and quite dead.
All that night the wind howled and the
lightning played about amongst the forest
trees, until a little before dawn the moon
struggled forth and the rain began to fall
more lightly ; and when at last the welcome
day did break, the sun found our part of the
world very misty and dripping with last night's
rain, but otherwise quiet and pleasant.

A light breakfast disposed of, and thanks


made for the night's shelter, I found myself in
the saddle again, and bound down the ghaut.
The only thing of interest, until the bottom was
reached, was a miserable coolie boy that I came
suddenly upon, lying across the path in the hot
sunshine and almost hidden by swarms of flies.
At first he seemed dead, for it looked almost
impossible that such a hideously dirty and
skeleton-like frame could hold any life. He had
been out all night in the pelting rain, and
the mud and sand was heaped up on one side
of him. It would have been best that he were
dead, but as I reined in my horse for a moment,
he slowly opened his eyes and moved one hand,
all he could manage. What could I do? I
had no food with me, nothing but money,
which would have been mockery to him. I
might have taken him on the horse, but the
rivers below were all flooded, and I knew it
was as much as the horse could do to get across
unburdened with anything but myself ; so the
wretched creature was sadly left behind.

The smaller streams, though much swollen,
were crossed without serious difficulty, but
when the broad nullah between the foot of the
hills and Wallenghay was reached, it was a


different matter, and a halt was made on the
brink to consider where the ford lay ; for, though
the stream was a rapid brown flood, scouring
down between its banks, and whirling along-
trunks of trees, dead cattle, and small islands of
rubbish, turning back could not be thought of,
and the river had to be crossed at all hazards.
So I drove the horse in, though he did not like
it much, and kept him as well as I might to
where the ford seemed to be ; but we went
wrong, and getting on the rocks, where the
dhobies wash linen in the fine weather, we went
ahead all right with the water just up to the
stirrups for a few yards, and then the "tat"
missed his footing, staggered forward, and down
we plunged into deep water with a prodigious
splash. Of course, I was drenched through
and up to my waist, while the horse was swim-
ming, and nothing but his head showed. The
swollen river looked wonderfully broad from
the centre, and the stream nearly lifted me out
of the saddle twenty times, while as we neared
the opposite bank the horse began to pant and
blow as though the current was becoming too
much for him. But he held out well, and, after
narrowly missing getting foul of a floating


mass of broken boughs and jungle debris, we
climbed out on the far bank, in a very pulpy
condition, but with the worst part of the journey

There is always something new to be seen on
the Indian plains, and to any one like myself,
coming fresh from the leafy solitudes of the
mountain forests, the life and brightness on
them is doubly notable. Ill and overdone as I
was, I enjoyed the bright fresh life around me,
and felt the new scenery conquering one of the
worst effects of fever the indifference which it
inspires to one's surroundings.

The rest of my journey was finished by native
cart, and as there were no bridges on the direct
line, we made a long detour by little-used roads,
which took us through many strange villages,
where every one stayed their work and stood
in groups, watching the white sahib and
speculating as to who he was a sign that many
Englishmen did not pass that way. In each of
these hamlets there was a venerable old fig tree
in the middle of the principal and only street,
with a square of stones round the base, and a
few little stone images, bedaubed with red and
white paint, sitting round. It was interesting


to see the reverence with which these were
treated, no one seeming to pass without sa-
laaming- to them. Even the little brown


children who chased my cart, stopped for a
moment when they came opposite the shrine,
and, covering their faces with their hands,
bowed low to the village gods, and then set off
again to have another look at the stranger.
All these little villages, with their tiny grass-
covered houses, and women washing at the
tanks, and a hundred signs of life, seemed
capable of such quiet happiness, that the famine
monster who has wasted them appeared doubly
terrible. Even yet the poorer classes were very
hard pressed for food of any sort, and would go
great lengths to obtain it, forgetting even the
strongest impulses of Nature. Thus, before
leaving Wallenghay, a woman and small girl
came into the compound of Yladimir's bungalow,
where I was resting, and, after a deal of salaam-
ing, the woman, who was clearly starving,
asked, in a trembling voice, if the sahib would
buy the little girl and take care of her. She
was rather a nice little girl, about twelve years
old, and very brown, with big black eyes, and
her hair done up in a knot behind ; while to


increase her attractiveness the woman had
spent their last cowries in cocoa-nut oil, with
which she had rubbed her all over, until she
shone like a .little statue cut out of polished
marble. She was clearly much more astonished
at the six-foot sahib, all in white clothes, than
frightened, and held tight to her mother's
saree, while she stared with all her might. I
asked how much money would purchase so
fascinating a young lady, and, after a moment
of hesitation, the woman said I might have her
for four rupees not quite seven and sixpence
in English coinage ! She was certainly not
over-priced ; but I had reluctantly to decline
the bargain, and gave the woman a note to one
of my friends on the hills, begging him to
find work for the unfortunate couple, and take
special care of the little girl, and then sent
them away with enough money to last them
until they reached the hill-tops.

Nothing particular happened for the rest of
the journey down, except the bandy getting
stuck between two rocks in the middle of a
flooded stream, the bridge of which we found
was too much out of repair to be safely crossed.
A considerable time was spent in that absurd


position, until a passing gang of coolies hauled
us out. From Palghaut the train was taken to
Beypore, and a three hours' spin over the fiat
rice lands and bamboo clumps brought me to
the latter place, where the night was passed
in the comfortable hotel over the station.

Perhaps the feeling one experiences most
strongly at Bevpore is a sense of wonderment
that the railway should come to an end there,
when the much more populous town of Calicut
is only a few miles further on. It is a good
arrangement for the native owners of bullock-
carts plying between the two places, but for no
one else, and the idea that Beypore would soon
grow into a seaport has not been justified.
Had the railway gone on to Calicut, it would
have been much more convenient, and the sea-
side town would have been benefited.

About the most numerous residents at this
terminus were still the crows. They swarmed
everywhere all day long, and there was not a
moment's peace from them. If one walked
along the beach to drink in the delightful sea-
breezes, and watch the green waves of the
Indian Ocean come tumbling in, they flew from
tree to tree in noisy crowds ; and if one should

VOL. II. 2 B


be so inexperienced and rash as to stop for a
moment and pick up a shell or stone, down
they came like a black snowstorm, under the
impression you had found something eatable,
and might presently throw the remains of it
away. Their boldness was astonishing. Never
did hill tribes rush forward more impetuously to
plunder a rich caravan toiling across the plains
than these freebooters swooped on anything
which offered them a chance of food. They
seemed to look upon men as very foolish, wing-
less creatures, who were, by some strange
chance, possessed of great stores of provisions,
which they exerted all their ingenuity to share.
All the time I breakfasted on the morning after
my arrival, there was a native standing behind
my chair with a long pole, the use of which
I could not at first understand ; but soon the
crows came rushing in through the open
verandah, and over the tops of the blinds, and
the man with the stick swung it this way and
that to keep them off. Even then one perched
on the back of a chair a few places down the
table and cawed defiance, until I threw an e^re;-

7 Oo

shell at him, which he pounced upon and eat
without the slightest signs of emotion. It was


quite hopeless to try to get rid of them, and as
much as we could do, indeed, to defend the food
on the table. But the most dashing feat was
accomplished by a sooty invader when I was
taken a siesta in the balcony over the garden
after tiffin. I was reading and smoking in one
of the comfortable long armchairs indigenous
to India, with a plate of bananas resting on the
arm at my elbow. It was not a foot away from
my hand, and so might have been considered
safe from the most audacious enemy. But there
was a crow very wide awake on the rafters,
who had noticed my pre-occupation, and waited
until I was busy cutting a page. Then he
dropped down from his watch-tower, and,
shooting by, snatched up the tempting fruit,
and bore it away to the garden, leaving me
with the broken plate, hardly knowing what
had happened. The impudent bird, not content
with thieving, added insult to injury by eating
the bananas where I could plainly see him at
his feast, and cawing at me between each

The next day the " backwater " was crossed,
and then an hour's spin along the interesting
palm-covered coast road brought me to Calicut,


where I availed myself of my old privileges as
an honorary member of the club, and put up
within its pleasant precincts. Amongst my
first duties the next day was the ordering of
a quantity of household effects and provisions
at a large " store " in the centre of the town T
close to the great tank, kept by Germans, who-
originally came out to convert the natives, but
seem to find it more profitable to sell them
cheap European manufactures at fancy prices.

I had then no intention whatever of finally
leaving the jungles, as I could not think myself
seriously ill ; but when the shopping was over,
and the English doctor came to my quarters,
he did not take long to undeceive me, and, in
fact, expressed his opinion that, weakened as
I was by constant fever,' a delay of only a few
days more in the jungle might have been fatal.
He prescribed a long visit to Ootacamund, and
would not hear of my returning to the Anna-
mullies for several months to come. So there-
was nothing to be done but submit.

A -few days were spent in Calicut, partly at
the club, and partly at the comfortable house

of F and his family the great centre of

the local society ; and then once more the train.


was whirling me away from Beypore towards
Central India, and the scenery, which had
become as familiar to me as though it were all
my own back garden, flew rapidly by the
windows of the carriage. It was strange to pass
Palghaut at mid-day, and see the lofty moun-
tains to the southward blue and grey in the
distance, on the summits of which I had been
living so lately, and then to take a last look at
them and be rushing forward over the lower
India plains, which seem to lie flat as the bed
of an ancient sea between the coast on the east
and west.

The night was spent in the waiting-room of
the station of Poothanor, but a bare bench is
a hard mattress, and it is astonishing how
effectually a swarm of mosquitoes can banish
sleep, no matter how heavy one's eyelids may
be, or how tired one may feel. Then half a
dozen fireflies had lost their way, and careered
aimlessly about the ceiling, burning their pale
green lamps all the time, and forcing me to
watch their devious flights. Why should
Nature have put their lanterns under their
bodies ? It would be much more reasonable if
they were at their heads, for then they could


see where they were going, and save them-
selves all that ridiculous colliding with the walls
and rafters. These things might have been
put up with, and sleep, "Nature's sweet restorer,"
wooed successfully, but for the constant rattle
and whistling of trains laden with grain for the
famine crops, which were shunting all night
long just outside. Thus, I got little rest, and
gladly hailed the dawn ; soon after which the
engine lights of the Madras mail train, which
was to take me on to the foot of the Neil-
gherries, loomed out of the dim light down the

The branch railway from Poothanor goes
nearly due northward through Coimbatore, a
pretty, fresh-looking English settlement by the
side of a wide river, to Metapolliam, where it
ends ; and the traveller, getting out and turn-
ing his glance to the northwards, sees the
lowermost tiers of the Neilgherries, rising one
above another in green forest-clad undulations,
and trending back towards some misty grey
hills, which are the topmost peaks of the
southern barrier of the plateau.

The very word Metapolliam is associated in
my mind with roasting dry heat. What the


place must be like in the " hot season " Heaven
only knows, for even in the sotith-west monsoon
it is fearful and almost unbearable. Even the
dogs seemed to have rubbed and scratched oft*
most of their shaggy coats after finding them
too oppressive, and lie about helpless in the
shadows of the station, with their tongues
hanging out of their mouths. To get any food
before the ascent of the hills is commenced, one
must go to the Station Hotel, about half a mile
away ; so thither I bent my steps. Imagine a
ruinous old building in a stony compound,
surrounded by a broken-down wall, and just
one ragged old tree hanging in a dejected
manner over the fragments of a dried-up well.
Such is this, place ; but unless you can also
picture the fierce glare of the sun overhead,
making half the ruins black as ink and half
dazzling white, you will only form a partial idea
of it. Of course, I had an old chicken for
breakfast we always do at " travellers' bunga-
lows" in India and then made arrangements
for the stage to Coonor. " Will the sahib have
a munchiel ? " asked the unclad hotel " boy."
" Yes," the sahib would. He was not going to
ride up four thousand feet of mountain-side in


such heat as this. " And how many old women
does the sahib want ? " At first the sahib did
not think he wanted any old women at all, but
the " boy " explained that they were the usual
luggage-carriers up the ghaut ; so two were
ordered, and a messenger sent off at a slinging
trot to get the bearers and hammock ready at
the commencement of the ascent, which is a
couple of miles or so from the hotel.

The road thither was very bad, and going-
over it in a closed buggy, my experiences were
decidedly painful. Every now and then we
came to a place where a bridge was being-
mended or an embankment repaired, and the
driver turned down into the fields at the side
and urged his cattle over the plough and
among the aloe bushes, while we rolled and
pitched about like a packet boat in the " chops
of the Channel." He seemed to take this as a
matter of course, but it was new to me. Still
the road was interesting. Along the sides
there were rows of short sun-dried trees, under
which the brown sheep struggled for the shady
corners and panted with open mouths, while
the crows on the branches sat with drooping
wings, too hoarse to croak ; and bright butter-


flies sailed about among the great yellow star-
like flowers of the cactus bushes which tinged
the plain far and near. Occasionally we met
bullock-carts blocking up the greater part of
the road, and raising clouds of dust, to the
intense wrath of my driver, who heaped abuse
on the ancestors of the sleepy native driver and
his cattle ; and then at last we reached the
limit of the plain.

I had certainly fancied that everything on
the road to the fashionable " Ooty," the great
holiday place of all the Madras officials, would
be well kept and clean ; but Metapolliam is
utterly ruinous, and this changing place at the
foot of the hills was fearfully dirty, littered up
with old and broken-down conveyances of all
sorts, while coolies, dogs, white children grovel
on all sides in the hot sand. But if man and
his works were rather vile, Nature was un-
doubtedly lovely; and I was soon ascending
in my comfortable munchiel, borne on the
shoulders of a half-dozen Tamils, by a really
beautiful road, winding amongst an astonishing
tangle of tropical vegetation. It was one con-
tinuous thicket of cocoa-palms, plantains, bam-
boos, and Butea frondosa, all matted together


by a wonderful labyrinth of thick or slender
creepers, some with bright flowers, and all
hanging in graceful curves from stem to stem.
These jungles, although very lovely, are very
dangerous at night, on account of the fever

O O *

generated in them, and the numerous wild
animals which wander about the hillsides ;
indeed, before the road was cut and much
traffic disturbed the solitudes, they were the
best place for tigers in the south of India, and
there are still a considerable number of the
striped jungle monarchs in the neighbourhood.
So they should be passed in the daytime when-
ever practicable. As we went ever upward,
now backwards, now forwards, according to the
winding of the road, the scenery was very fine.
At times the path led us along the brow of a
ridge, from which we could look far down into
a deep valley with a foaming torrent at the
bottom, breaking into sheets of silver among
the fresh green foliage, and then up the rugged,
rocky side of the opposite mountain, where,
perhaps, the land was being cleared for a coffee
plantation. There were telegraph wires along
the roadside in places, and strings of birds sat
on them, so that at a distance they seemed to-


be suspended in the sky by some invisible
power. Gradually the air grew cooler as we
rose above the plains most refreshing- after
the scorching heat in which I had breakfasted.
"We saw various coffee plantations, until the low-
land vegetation gave place to more European-
looking trees the first I had seen for a very
long time ; and at last we were six thousand
feet above the sea-level, and entered the out-
skirts of the upland town of Coonor, having
done the nine or ten miles from the plains in
three hours, which was not bad considering the
precipitous nature of the ascent.

The next morning, when 'I rose early and
threw open my bedroom window, the fresh air
was so enchantingly soft and cool, that it was
difficult to think it was India, and not England
in May. Truly, amongst all those things which
most of us enjoy every day and are rarely
thankful for at home, stands fresh air. To me,
newly from the Annamullies, where the stuff
we breathed was a nauseous compound of de-
cayed vegetation and carbonic acid gas, it was
indescribably refreshing. Then, too, every-
thing looked neat and English, the pretty
villas rising one above another up the side of


the church-crowned hill, the road with willow-
like Eucalyptus globulus on either side, and
horses not humped cattle munching the
short grass of the banks. Even the flowers
were English, and as I drank in their sweet
scent the picture was made complete by a
bright little English girl coming down the
road with her father, her arms full of flowers
and convolvuli, the spoils of an early morning
walk, and her yellow hair floating on the wind,
while she laughed and talked and looked so
beautiful I felt proud to be her countryman.

Then came a hasty breakfast, and a delightful
ride over an undulating road for twelve miles
into Ootacamund. It was so pleasant, in fact,
that my " tat " was allowed to walk the whole
way, and the fresh air entered my fever-shrunk
veins and exhilarated me in a wonderful
manner. Certainly it is a beautiful region.
The road winds along the side of steep hills,
now grass-covered and swelling with as smooth
and even undulations as the Marlborough
Downs, and like them carpeted with close
green grass, and then, perhaps, changing for
a time to high rocky hills and richly coloured
precipices, nourishing a scanty growth of low


bushes and tufts of the common bracken, with
numerous subalpine flowers and bright lichens
clinging amongst the rough disjointed stones.
For the greater part of the way the road over-
hangs a wide valley, where one rubs one's eyes
and wonders to see waving fields of yellow
barley in real hedge-enclosed English fields.
Perhaps the crops were not very heavy, but
they delighted me considerably ; and so unlike
the usual Indian scenery was it, that with
astonishment I saw brown-skinned children
frightening away the birds from the ripe corn,

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