Edwin Lester Linden Arnold.

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

. (page 20 of 20)
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commencement, ran the pole into a high earth


bank before we had gone many yards. Freeing
ourselves, we dasbed down the hill at a gallop,
the driver occasionally blowing lively blasts on
his trumpet, which brought every one out to
stare at us, until we had threaded the winding-
roads of the outskirts of the town, by some
wonderful chance without knocking down any of
the old men and women, who would keep in the
centre of the road in spite of all the warning
we gave them. Here we were free of the town,
and began to descend rapidly. Soon a toll-bar
came in sight, and a loud blast on the horn
brought out the man, who flew to the gate and
opened it just as we charged down, but it
certainly seemed that there were not six inches
between our wheel and the gatepost as we
passed. However, the driver was expert and
experienced ; he kept both horses carefully in
hand, and by his side was a powerful brake, to
be used on the steeper declines, and an arrange-
ment of screws and levers by which the pole
could be raised or lowered at will, according to
whether we were going up or down hill. So,
feeling an able pilot was at the helm, I was free
to enjoy the really beautiful scenery and the
fresh morning air. In . places the view was


like the wildest parts of the Scotch moorlands,
with green swampy valleys and small burns
trickling down the hillsides ; in others, pre-
cipitous rocks towered above the road, like the
Norwegian fjelds ; and elsewhere were wide-
spreading hollows, with fields of barley and
little wayside huts amongst the geraniums and

At one of these little changing-houses we
pulled up and got fresh horses, and then con-
tinued the rapid descent again. Many times
it seemed that we must inevitably come into
collision with some of the numerous country
carts which were toiling up to Ootacamund
with lowland produce in charge of sleepy
drivers, who would only wake up just as we
were upon them, and then shout to us to stop,
or pull the tails of their cattle, who were at
least as sleepy as their masters. Of course, we
did not stop, but shot by as best we could. On
one of these occasions a bandy was passed, out
of which a long pole was projecting. We
cleared the cart, but the stick caught in the
sheet of canvas placed across the side of the
dak, scarcely more than a foot from my head,
and tore it from side* to side. But we never


slackened speed for a moment, except to change
horses again and for the last time, and then
did the remaining stage into Coonor, sweeping
round the sharp curves of the road, and close
to the very hrink of deep nullahs, sometimes
passing a few sons of the Celestial Empire
boring holes in the rocks with an iron jumper
for blasting purposes, and by some very beauti-
ful nooks of tropical vegetation, with bright
birds and butterflies on the wing amongst the
trees and shrubs. Finally, we pulled up oppo-
site the post-office of the ghaut town.

The two best hotels are both on top of a
high ridge, which necessitates a long climb to
reach them ; but the exertion is repaid by the
freshness of the air and the beauty of the
scenery. The native town and bazaars are seen
down below in the hollow, and a long suc-
cession of undulating ridges beyond. The
" Camel's Hump " mountain, in the distance,
rises some ten thousand feet above the sea,
and occasional glimpses open of the flat Madras
plains far away to the southward.

In fact, I think this neighbourhood is much
superior to Ootacamund, especially in botanical
riches, as being just at the head of the ghaut,


and more than a thousand feet lower than that
town, the vegetation includes many tropical
forms of great beauty, besides European plants
and trees. There are some really noble oak
trees, which would be a credit to any English
wood, growing side by side with the Australian
Eucalyptus globulus, which, during the few
years since they were first planted, have
attained great height and proportions. The
roses bloom as plentiful as ever, and the helio-
trope forms great hedges and envelops small
buildings in clouds of its palebmof sweet-
scented flowers and leaves. There are also
lovely orange gardens on the hillsides, remind-
ing one of the south of France and the islands
of the Mediterranean ; while, besides all these
natural charms, there is plenty of agreeable
society, and the arrangements of Grey's Hotel,
where I stayed, were everything that could be
desired in the way of comfort and convenience.
Two or three days' rest at this pleasant town
somewhat accustomed me to a heat greater than
that of " Ooty ; " and, though a rather heavy
recurrence of fever threw me back, I was able
to pay my bill early on the morning of the
15th, and, hurrying down the hill, to secure a


seat in the mail cart when it arrived from

The descent was made by the new road,
not the bridle-track by which I had come up,
though the scenery was much the same ; the
most striking thing being the wide views we
occasionally obtained of the far-spreading plains
below, seeming as even as a billiard table, with
a few little mound-like eminences scattered here
and there, looking so out of place amid the
surrounding levels that it was difficult to think
they were not human works.

We passed many English soldiers with nets
and boxes, reaping a rich harvest amongst the
bright butterflies and bees of the wayside
jungles, which grew hotter and hotter at every
turn of the road.

At last the heat again grew wellnigh in-
tolerable, for mid-day found us only half-way
down the ghauts, and the blazing sun over-
head, and the clouds of choking white dust
raised by the native carts which we passed,
made my eyes and throat smart till I could
hardly draw my breath. The guide-books say
the road is an excellent one, and so it is as
far as concerns the engineering skill which


made it ; but the surface in the dry weather is
verv shifting, and the natives in charge of the


upward-bound bandies are constantly stopping
and placing stones under the wheels of their
carts while they rest. These they never think
of removing when they go on, and consequently
we were continually going over these obstruc-
tions with an amount of jolting which, with
the thermometer at 100, was more painful than
amusing. The driver, a tall, white-clad Mus-
sulman, was continually saying to me, "Now,
sahib, hold tight ; " and then we would ' give
a fearful plunge, which would send the mail-
bags all down into one corner, and would have
undoubtedly " unshipped " us had we riot been

However, the longest road must come to an
end, and by 2 p.m. we reached the lowlands,
where everything looked terribly dry and
withered under the fierce sun. Half an hour's
gallop over the blinding white road brought us
to Metapolliam, hot, tired, and dusty, but just in
time to catch the mail train to Madras, which
was standing with steam up, impatiently waiting
for the letter-bags.

There is nothing to record of interest for


the remainder of the journey, but nearly ray
whole night was spent at the open carriage
window, watching the moonlit country as we
flew along, and the bright white reflections and
deep shadows of the little villages and temples
dotted over the land. Never shall I forget,
amid all my memories in India, the endless
novelty and beauty of the open country under
the lovely moonbeams, and the splendid day-

At 'G a.m. we rattled into the station of
Madras just twenty-four hours after leaving
Coonor, on the summit of the Xeilgherries and
I immediately took a fly and hurried to the
office of the British India Steam Navigation
Company, as one of their ships was advertised
to sail on the 16th at midday. But I might
have spared myself so much haste, for it was
only to learn that the steamer had been detained
in the Hooghly, and was expected " to-morrow."
By a curious coincidence, when I came to in-
quire what ship was expected, it turned out
to be the Almora, my old sea friend ; so, secur-
ing a berth in her, I took my way to an
hotel facing the beach, and spent a decidedly
hot and close night in the open verandah,
tormented by mosquitoes.


There is little more to be said. I watched
the horizon of the sea all the morning hours
of the following day, and at last my patience
was rewarded by a thin line of smoke to the
northward. It grew and grew rapidly ; at first
the funnels and masts, and then the hull, of
the big ship coming into sight, and in an
hour more the Almora lay at anchor off the
pier. That night we were off the Coromandel
coast ; the next day, in the pearl and coral
waters of Ceylon ; and a month afterwards our
anchor rattled down off G-ravesend Pier.

Hie longce finis chartceque viceque.



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