The heat is intense, being at the end of the heated term at the commencement of the earliest monsoons. It is certainly not less than 130 deg. Fahr., in the sun, when at 3 p.m. I mount and shape my course toward Amritza, some thirty-five miles down the Grand Trunk Road.
In such a temperature and beneath such a sun it behooves the discreet Caucasian to dress as carefully for protection against the heat as he would against the frost of an Arctic winter. The United States army helmet which I have constantly worn since obtaining it at Fort Sydney, Neb., has now to be discarded in favor of a huge pith solar topee an inch thick and but little smaller than an umbrella. This overshadowing head-dress imparts a cheerful, mushroom-like aspect to my person, and casts a shadow on the smooth whitish surface of the road, as I ride along, that well-nigh obliterates the shadow of the wheel and its rider.
Thus sheltered from the rays of the Indian sun, I wheel through the beautifully shaded suburban streets of Lahore, past dense thickets of fruitful plantains, across the broad switch-yard of the Scinde, Delhi & Punjab Railway, and out on to the smooth, level surface of the Grand Trunk Road. This road is, beyond a doubt, the finest highway in the whole world. It extends for nearly sixteen hundred miles, an unbroken highway of marvellous perfection, from Peshawur on the Afghan frontier to Calcutta. It is metalled for much of its length with a substance peculiar to the country, known as kunkah. Kunkah is obtained almost anywhere throughout the Land of the Five Rivers, underlying the surface soil. It is a sort of loose nodular limestone, which when wetted and rolled cements together and forms a road-surface smooth and compact as an asphaltum pavement, and of excellent wearing quality. It is a magnificent road to bicycle over; not only is it broad, level, and smooth, but for much of the way it is converted into a veritable avenue by spreading shade-trees on either side. Far and near the rich Indian vegetation, stimulated to wear its loveliest garb by the early monsoon rains, is intensely green and luxuriant; and through the richly verdant landscape stretches the wide, straight belt of the road, far as eye can reach, a whitish streak, glaring and quivering with reflected heat.
The natives of the Punjab, the most loyal, perhaps, of the Indian races, are beginning to regard the Christian Sabbath as a holiday, and happy crowds of people in holiday attire are gathered at the Shalamar Mango Gardens, a few miles out of Lahore. Beyond the gardens, I meet a native in a big red turban and white clothes, en route to Lahore on a bone-shaker. He is pedalling ambitiously along, with his umbrella under his left arm. As we approach each other his swarthy countenance lights up with a "glad, fraternal smile," and his hand touches his turban in recognition of the mystic brotherhood of the wheel. There is a mysterious bond of sympathy recognizable even between the old native-made bone-shaker and its Punjabi rider and the pale-faced Ferenghi Sahib mounted on his graceful triumph of Western ingenuity and mechanical skill. The free display of ivories as we approach, the expectation of fraternal recognition so plainly evident in his face, and the friendly and respectful, rather than obsequious, manner of saluting, tell something of that levelling tendency of the wheel we sometimes hear spoken of.
The park-like expanse of country on either hand continues as mile after mile is reeled off; the shady trees, the ruins, the villages, and the roadside kos-minars, with the perfect highway leading through it all--what more could wheelman ask than this. A wayside police-chowkee is now seen ahead, a snug little edifice of brick beneath the sacred branches of a spreading peepul. A six-foot Sikh, in the red-and-blue turban and neat blue uniform of the Punjab soldier-police, stands at the door and executes a stiff military salute as I wheel past. A row of conical white pillars and a grass-grown plot of ground containing a few bungalows and camping space for a regiment indicate a military reservation. These spaces are reserved at intervals of ten or twelve miles all down the Grand Trunk Road; the distance from each represents a day's march for Indian troops in time of peace.
A bend in the road, and the bicycle sweeps over a substantial brick bridge, spanning an irrigating canal large enough to float a three-masted schooner. The bridge and the ditch convey early evidence of English enterprise no less conspicuous than the road itself. Neatly trimmed banks and a tropical luxuriance of overhanging vegetation give the long straight reach of water the charming appearance of flowing through a leafy tunnel. Under the stimulus of the monsoon rains and the more than tropical heat, the soil seems bursting with fatness, and earth, air, and water are teeming with life. The roadway itself is swarming with pedestrians, trudging along in both directions; some there are with the inevitable umbrellas held above their heads, but more are carrying them under their arms, as though in lofty contempt of 130 deg. Fahr.
Vehicles jingle past by the hundred, filled with villagers who have been visiting or shopping at Lahore or Amritza. Their light bamboo carts are provided with numbers of little brass cymbals that clash together musically in response to the motion of the vehicle; the occupants are fairly loaded down with silver jewellery, and for color and picturesqueness generally it is safe to assume that "not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these." The women particularly seem to literally revel in the exuberance of bright coloring adorning their dusky proportions, the profusion of jewellery, the merry jingle-jangle of the cymbals, the more than generous heat, and the seeming bountifulness of everything. These Sikh and Jatni merry-makers early impress me as being particularly happy and light-hearted people.
Splendid wheeling though it be, it soon becomes distressingly apparent that propelling a bicycle has now to be considered in connection with the overpowering heat. Half the distance to Amritza is hardly covered, and the riding time scarcely two hours, yet it finds me reclining beneath the shade of a roadside tree more used up than five times the distance would warrant in a less enervating climate. The greensward around me as I recline in the shade is teeming with busy insects, and the trees are swarming with the beautiful winged life of the tropical air. Flocks of paroquets with most gorgeous plumage--blue, red, green, gold, and every conceivable hue--flit hither and thither, or sweep past in whirring flight.
Some of the native pedestrians pause for a moment and cast a wondering look at the unaccustomed spectacle of a Sahib and a bicycle reclining alone beneath a wayside tree. All salaam deferentially as they pass by, but there is a refreshing absence of the spirit of obtrusion that sometimes made life a burden among the Turks and Persians. In his disgust at the aggressive curiosity of the Persians, Captain E, my companion from Meshed to Constantinople, had told me, "You'll find, when you get to India, that a Sahib there is a Sahib," and the strikingly deferential demeanor of the natives I have encountered on the road to-day forcibly reminds me of his remarks.
The myriads of soldier-ants crossing the road in solid phalanx or climbing the trees, the winged jewels of the air flitting silently here and there, the picturesque natives and their deferential salaams--all these only serve to wean one's thoughts from the oppressive heat for a moment. At times one fairly gasps for breath and looks involuntarily about in forlorn search of some place of escape, if only for a moment, from the stifling atmosphere. A feeling of utter lassitude and loss of ambition comes over one; the importance of accomplishing one's object diminishes, and the necessity of yielding to the pressure of the fearful heat and taking things easy becomes the all-absorbing theme of the imagination. A supreme and heroic effort of the will is necessary to arouse one from the inclination to remain in the shade indefinitely, regardless of everything else.
No sort of accommodation is to be obtained this side of Amritza, however, so, waiting until the dreadful power of the sun is tempered somewhat by his retirement beneath the trees, I resume my journey, making several brief halts in deference to an overwhelming sense of lassitude ere completing the thirty-five miles. Owing to these frequent halts, it is after dark when I arrive at Amritza--a thoroughly wilted individual, and suffering agonies from the prickly heat aggravated by the feverish temperature superinduced by the exertion of the afternoon ride. My karki suit and underclothes hold almost as much moisture as though I had just been fished out of the river, and my dry-drained corporeal system is clamorous for the wherewithal to quench the fires of its feverish heat as I alight in the suburbs of Amritza and inquire for the dak bungalow.
A willing native guides me to a hotel where a smooth-mannered Parsee Boniface accommodates Sahibs with supper, charpoy, and chota-hazari for the small sum of Rs4; punkah-wallahs, pahnee-wallahs, sweepers, etc., extra. A cooling douche with water kept at a low temperature in the celebrated porous bottles, a change of underclothing, and a punkah-wallah vigorously engaged in creating an artificial breeze, soon change things for the better. All these refreshing and renovating appliances, however, barely suffice to stimulate one's energy up to the duty of jotting down in one's diary a brief summary of the day's happenings.
The punkah of India is a long, narrow fan, suspended by cords from the ceiling; attached to it is another cord which finds its way outside through a convenient hole in the wall or window-frame. For the magnificent sum of three annas (six cents) the hopeful punkah-wallah sits outside and fills the room with soothing, sleep-inducing breezes for the space of a day or night, by a constant seesawing motion of the string. Few Europeans are able to sleep at night or exist during the day without the punkah-wallah's services, for at least nine months in the year. The slightest negligence on his part at night is sufficient to summon the sleeper instantly from the land of dreams to the stern reality that the dusky imp outside has himself dropped off to sleep. A pardonable imprecation, delivered in loud, threatening tones; or, in the case of a person vengefully inclined, or once too often made a victim, a stealthy visit to the open door, a well-aimed boot, and the pendulous punkah again swings to and fro, banishing the newly awakened prickly heat, and fanning the recumbent figure on the charpoy with grateful breezes that quickly send him off to sleep again.
A slight fall of rain during the night tempers somewhat the oppressive heat, and the zephyrs of the prevailing monsoons blow stiffly against me as I pedal southward in the early morning. The rain has improved rather than injured the kunkah road, and it is, moreover, something of a toss-up as to whether the adverse wind is advantageous or otherwise. On the one hand it exacts increased muscular effort to ride against it, but on the other, its beneficent services as a cooler are measurably apparent.
One needs only to traverse the Grand Trunk Road for a few days in order to obtain a comprehensive idea of India's teeming population. Vehicles and pedestrians throng the road again this morning, pouring into Amritza as though to attend some great festival. The impression of some festive occasion obtains additional color from parties of musicians who keep up a perpetual tom-tom-ing on their drums as they trudge along; the object of their noisiness is apparently to gratify their own love of the sounding rattle of the drums.
At the police-chowkee of Ghundeala, ten miles from Amritza, a halt is made for rest and a drink of water. To avoid trampling on the caste prejudices, or the sanctimonious religious feelings of the natives, everybody drinks from his hands, or from a cheap earthenware dish that may afterward be smashed. The Sikhs and Mohammedans of the Punjab are far more reasonable in this matter than are the Brahmans and other ultra-holy idolaters of the country farther south. Among the Hindoos, where caste prejudices exist throughout all the strata of society, to avoid the awful consequences of touching their lips to a vessel out of which some unworthy wretch a shade less holy has previously drunk, the fastidious worshipper of Krishna, Vishnu, or Kamadeva always drinks from his hands, unless possessed of a private drinking vessel of his own. The hands are held in position to form a trough leading to the mouth; while an assistant pours water in at one end, the recipient receives it at the other. No little skill and care is required to prevent the water running down one's sleeve: the average native seems to think the human throat a gutter down which the water will flow as fast as he can pour it into the hands.
The flowing yellow flood of Beas River, now at flood, and spreading itself over the width of a mile, makes an impassable break in my road soon after mid-day. A ferryboat usually plies across the stream, but by reason of the broad area of overflow, and the consequent difficulty of working it, it is moored up for the time being. Fortunately, the Scinde, Punjab & Delhi Railroad crosses the river on a fine bridge near by, with a regular ferry-train service in operation. Repairing thither, I find, in charge of the ferry-train, an old Anglo-Indian engineer, who prevails upon me to accept his hospitality for the night.
Hundreds of natives pass the night round about the railway-station, waiting to cross the bridge on the first morning train. Nowhere else in the world does a gathering of people present so picturesque and interesting a sight as in sunny Hindostan. These people gathered about the Beas River station look more like a company rigged out for the spectacular stage than ordinary, everyday mortals attending to the prosaic business of life. The nose-rings worn by many of the women are so massive and heavy that silken cords are attached and carried to some support on the head to relieve the nostril of the weight. The rims of the ears are likewise grievously overburdened with ornaments. These unoffending appendages are pierced with a number of holes all round the rim from lobe to top; each hole contains a massive ring almost large and heavy enough for a bracelet, the weight of which pulls the ear all out of shape. Simple yet gaudy costumes prevail-garments of red, yellow, blue, green, olive, and white, with gold tinsel, drape the graceful forms of the dusky Sikh or Jatni belles; and not a whit less picturesque and parti-colored are the costumes of their husbands, brothers, and fathers-fine fellows mostly, tall, straight, military-looking men, with handsome faces and fierce mustashios. Not a few thoroughbred Jats are mingled in the crowd--the "stout-built, thick-limbed Jats," the warlike race with the steel or silver discus surmounting their queer pyramidal headdress. Under the independent government of their people by the Gurus, or ruler-priests, of the last century, and particularly under the regulations of the celebrated Guru Govind, every Sikh was considered a warrior from his birth, and was always required to wear steel iri some form or other about his person. The Jats, being the most enterprising and warlike tribe of the territory acknowledging the rule of the Gurus and the religious teachings of the Adi Granth as their faith, take especial pride in commemorating the bravery and warlike qualities of their ancestors by still wearing the distinguishing steel quoits on their heads.
Seesum or banyan trees, shading twenty yards' width of luxuriant greensward on either side of the road, and each and every tree sheltering groups of natives, resting, idling, washing their clothes in some silent pool, or tending a few grazing buffaloes, form a truly Arcadian scene for mile after mile next day. These buffaloes are huge, unwieldy animals with black, hairless hides, strong and heavy almost as rhinoceroses. In striking contrast to them are the aristocratic little cream-colored Brahmani cows, with the curious big "camel-hump" on their withers. These latter animals are pampered and revered and made much of among the Brahmans; mythology has it that Brahma created cows and Brahmans at the same time, and the cow is therefore an object of worship and veneration.
Taken all in all, the worship of the Hindoos has something eminently rational about it; their worship is frequently bestowed upon some tangible object that contributes directly to their material enjoyment. It is very much like going back to the first principles of gratitude for direct blessings received to worship "Mother Ganga," the noble stream that brings down the moisture from the Himalayas to water their plains and quicken into life their needy crops, or to worship the gentle bovine that provides them daily with milk and cheese and ghee. Wonderful legends are told of the cow in Hindoo mythology. The Ramayana tells of a certain marvellous cow owned by a renowned hermit. The hermit being honored by a visit from the king, who had with him a numerous retinue, was sorely puzzled how to provide refreshments for his princely guests. The cow, however, proved herself equal to the emergency, and--"Obedient to her saintly lord, Viands to suit each taste outpoured. Honey she gave, and roasted grain, Mead, sweet with flowers, and sugar-cane. Each beverage of flavor rare, And food of every sort, were there. Hills of hot rice, and sweetened cakes, And curdled milk, and soup in lakes. Vast beakers flowing to the brim, With sugared drink prepared for him; And dainty sweetmeats, deftly made, Before the hermit's guest were laid."
In all Brahman communities are sacred bulls, allowed to roam at their own sweet will among the crops and help themselves.
Chowel and dood (rice-and-milk) is obtained at noon from a village eating-stall; the rice is dished up to all customers in basins improvised from a broad banyan-leaf, so that nobody's caste may be jeopardized by handling spoons or dishes that others have touched. Most of the natives manage to eat with their fingers, but they bring for the Sahib a stiff green leaf which is bent into the form of a scoop and made to answer the purpose of a spoon. The milk is served in valueless earthenware basins that are tossed into the street and broken after being once used. There is a regular caste of artisans in India whose hereditary profession is the manufacture of this cheap pottery; almost every village has its family of pottery-makers, who manufacture them for the use of the community. The people are curious about the bicycle, and the Sahib's peculiar manner of travelling without the usual native servant and eating rice at an ordinary village stall. They are, however, far from being in the least obtrusive or annoying; on the contrary, their respectfulness and conservatism is something to admire; although they gather about the bicycle in a compact ring, not a hand in all the company is meddlesome enough to touch it.
Through the smooth kunkah-laid bazaars of Jullundar, so different from the unridable bazaars we have heretofore been made familiar with, and I wheel past the Queen's Gardens and into the cantonment along lovely avenues and perfect roads. The detachment of Royal Artillery, whose quarters my road leads directly past, is composed largely of the gallant sons of Erin, and as I wheel into the cantonment, an artilleryman seated on a eharpoy beneath a spreading neem-tree, sings out to his comrades, "Be jabbers, bhoys; here's the Yankee phat's travellin' around the worruld wid a bicycle."
I have with me a letter of introduction to an officer stationed at Jullundar. Upon inquiry, however, I find that he is absent at Simla on leave. Desirous of seeing something of Tommy Atkins in his Indian quarters, I therefore accept an invitation to remain at the barracks of the Royal Artillery until ready to resume my journey in the morning. At this season of the year, an Indian cantonment presents the appearance of a magnificent park. The barracks are large, commodious structures, built with a view to securing the best results for the health and comfort of the troops.
No soldiers in the world are so well fed, housed, and clothed as the British soldiers in India, and none receive as much pay, except the soldiers of the United States army. That they are justly entitled to everything that can contribute to their happiness and welfare, goes without saying. For actual service rendered, and the importance of the responsibilities resting on their shoulders, it is little enough to say that the British soldiers in India are entitled to a greater measure of consideration than the soldiers of any other army in existence. This little army of fifty or sixty thousand men is practically responsible for the good behavior of one-sixth of the world's population, saying nothing of affairs without. And in addition to this is the wearisome round of existence in an Indian barrack, the enervating climate and the ennui, so poisonous to the active Anglo-Saxon temperament.
After all that is said for or against the Anglo-Indian army, the unprejudiced critic cannot fail to admit that they are the finest body of fighting men in existence, a force against which it would be impossible for an equal number of the soldiers of any other country to contend. That the old dominant spirit of the British soldier is yet rampant as ever may be seen, perhaps, plainer in the cantonments of India than anywhere else. The manifest superiority of Tommy Atkins as a fighter stands out in bold relief against the gentle populations of India, who regard him as the very incarnation of war and warlike attributes. His own confidence in his ability to whip all the multitudinous enemies of England put together, is as great to-day as it ever was, and nothing would suit him better than a campaign against the military colossus of the North in defence of the British interests in India he now so faithfully guards.
The interest in my appearance is deepened by my recent adventures in Afghanistan and letters partly descriptive of the same that have appeared in late issues of the Indian press. A mile or so from the Artillery barracks are the quarters of a detachment of the Connaught Rangers. A couple of non-commissioned officers in the Rangers, I am happy to discover, are wheelmen, and when the tidings of the Around the World rider's arrival reaches them, they wheel over and endeavor to have me become their guest. The Royal Artillery boys refuse to give their protege up, however, and the rivalry is compromised by my paying the Rangers a visit and then coming back to my first entertainers' quarters for the night.
The evening is spent pleasantly in telling stories of camp-life in India and Afghanistan. Some of the soldiers present have been recently stationed at Peshawur and other points near the northern frontier, and tell of the extraordinary precautions that had to be adopted to prevent their rifles being stolen at night from the very racks within the barrack-rooms where they were sleeping.
An officer at the cantonment claims to have cured himself of enlarged spleen, the bane of so many Anglo-Indian officers, by daily riding on a tricycle. He then disposed of it to advantage to a native gentleman who had noted the marvellous improvement it had wrought in his health, and who was also affected with the same disease. The native also cured himself, and now firmly believes the tricycle possessed of some magic properties.
Reliefs of punkah-wallahs are provided for the barracks, a number of punkahs being connected so that one coolie fans the occupants of a dozen or more charpoys. In talking about these useful and very necessary servants, some of the comments indulged in by the gentleman who first invited me into the barracks are well worth repeating: "Be jabbers, an' yeez have to kape wide awake all night to swear at the lazy divils, in orther to git a wink av shlape"--and--"The moment yeez dhrap ashlape, yeez are awake," are choice specimens, heard in reference to the punkah-wallahs' confirmed habit of dozing off in the silent watches of the night.
The two wheelmen of the Connaught Rangers, accompany me five miles to the Bane River ferry, in the cool of early morning. They would have escorted me as far as Umballa, they say, had they known of my coming in time to arrange leave' of absence. Twenty-five miles of continuously smooth and level kunkah, bring me to Phillour, a Mohammedan town of several thousand inhabitants. The fort of Phillour is a conspicuous object on the left of the road; it was formerly an important depot of military supplies, and in the time of Sikh independence was regarded by them as the key to the Punjab. Since the mutiny it has dwindled in importance as a military stronghold, but is held by a detachment of native infantry.
A mile or so from Phillour is a splendid girder railway bridge crossing the River Sutlej. The overflow of the river extends for miles, converting the depressions into lakes and the dry ditches into sloughs and creeks. Resting under the shade of a peepul-tree, I while away a passing hour watching native fishermen endeavoring to beguile the finny denizens of the overflow into their custody. Their tactics are to stir up the water and make it muddy for a space around, so that the fish cannot see them; they then toss a flat disk of wood so that it falls with an audible splash a few yards away. This manoeuvre is intended to deceive the fish into thinking something eatable has fallen into the water. Woe betide the guileless fish, however, whose innocent, confiding nature is thus imposed upon, for "swish" goes a circular drop-net over the spot, from the meshes of which the luckless captive tries in vain to struggle.
The River Sutlej has its source in the holy lake of Manas Saro-vara, in Thibet's most mountainous regions, and for several hundred miles its course leads through mighty canons, grand and rugged as the canons of the Colorado and the Gunnison. It is on the upper reaches of the Sutlej that the celebrated swing bridges called karorus are in operation. A karorus consists of a bagar-grass or yak-hair rope, stretched from bank to bank, across which passengers are pulled, suspended in a swinging chair or basket. The karorus is also largely patronized by the swarms of monkeys inhabitating the foot-hill jungles of the Himalayas; nothing could well be more congenial to these festive animals than the Blondin-like performance of crossing over some deep, roaring gorge along the swaying rope of a karorus.
Like other rivers of the level Punjab plains, the Sutlej has at various times meandered from its legitimate channel; eight miles south of its present bed the large and flourishing city of Ludhiana once stood on its bank. Ludhiana and its dak bungalow, provides refreshments and a three hours' siesta beneath the cooling and seductive punkah, besides an interesting and instructive tete-a-tete with a Eurasian civil officer spending the day here. Among other startling confidences, this olive-tinted gentleman declares that to him the punkah is unbearable, its pendulous, swinging motion invariably making him "sea-sick."
Through a country of alternate sandy downs and grazing areas my road leads at length through the territory of the Rajah of Sir-hind. Picturesque and impressive fortresses, and high, crenellated stone walls around the villages give the rajah's little dominion here a most decided mediaeval appearance, and dark, dense patches of sugar-cane attest the marvellous richness of the sandy soil, wherever water can be applied. Moreover, as if to complete the interesting picture of a native prince's rule, on the road is encountered a gayly dressed party in charge of some youthful big-wig on a monster elephant. A thick, striped mattress makes a soft platform on the elephant's broad back, and here the young voluptuary squats as naturally as on the floor of his room. Some of the attendants are dancing along before him, noisily knuckling tambourines and drums, while others trudge alongside or behind. The elephant regards the bicycle with symptoms of mild apprehension, and swerves slightly to one side.
The police-officer of Kermandalah chowkee, just off the Rajah of Sirhind's territory, voluntarily tenders me the shelter of his quarters, just as the sun is finishing his race for the day by painting the sky with fanciful tints and streaks. The long, straight avenue which I have wheeled down, for miles hereabout runs east and west. The sun, rotund and fiery, sets immediately in the perspective of the avenue; and at his disappearance there shoot from the same point iridescent javelins that spread, fan-like, over the whole heavens. A sight never to be forgotten is the long white road and the ribs of the glorious celestial fan meeting together in the vista-like distance; and--oh, for the brush and palette and genius of a Turner!--one of the rainbow-tinted javelins spits the crescent moon and holds it to toast before the glowing sunset fires, like a piece of green cheese.
The heat of the night is ominously suggestive of shed's popularly conceived temperature, and, in the absence of the customary punkah and nodding, see-sawing wallah, a villager is employed to sit beside my charpoy and agitate the air immediately about my head with a big palm-leaf fan. But sleep is next to impossible; the morning finds me feeling but little refreshed and with a decided yearning to remain all day long in the shade instead of taking to the road. Not a moment's respite is possible from the oppressive heat; an hour in the saddle develops a sensation of grogginess and an amphibian inclination for wallowing in some road-side tank.
South of Sirhind the country develops into low, flat jungle, with much of it partly overflowed. The road through these semi-submerged lowlands is an embankment, rising many feet above the general level, and provided with numerous culverts and bridges to prevent the damming of the waters and the danger of washing away the road. The jungle is full of busy life. The air is thick with the low, murmuring hum of busy insect-life, birds shriek, whistle, call, hoot, peep, chirp, and sing among the intertwining branches, and frogs croak hoarsely in the watery shallows beneath. Noises, too, are heard, that would puzzle, I venture to say, many a scholarly, book-wise and specimen-wise naturalist to define as coming from the articulatory organs of bird, beast, or fish. The slow, measured sweep of giant wings beating the air is heard above, and the next moment a huge bustard floats down through the trees and alights in a moist footing of jungle-grass and water.
A little Brahman village at the railway station of Rajpaira is reached in the middle of the afternoon; but it provides little or nothing in the way of accommodation for a European. The chow-keedar of the dak bungalow blandly declares his inability to provide anything eatable for a Sahib, and the Eurasian employes at the railway station are unaccommodating and indifferent, owing to the travel-stained and ordinary appearance of my apparel. The Eurasians, by the by, impress me far less favorably as a race than do the better-class full-blood natives. It seems to be the unfortunate fate of most mixed races to inherit the more undesirable qualities of both progenitors, and the better characteristics of neither. No less than the mongrel populations of certain West Indian islands, the Spanish-speaking republics, and the mulattoes of the Southern States, do the Eurasians of India present in their character eloquent argumentation against the error of miscegenation.
A little Brahman village is anything but, an encouraging place for a traveller to penetrate in search of eatables. A thin, yellow-skinned Brahman, with a calico fig-leaf suspended from a cocoa-nut-fibre waist-string, and the white-and-red tattooing of his holy caste on his forehead, presides over a big lump of goodakoo (a preparation of tobacco, rose-leaves, jaggeree, bananas, opium, and cardamom seed, used for hookah-smoking), and his double performs the same office for sickly, warm goats' milk and doughy, unleavened chup-patties. Uninviting as is the prospect, one is compelled, by the total absence of any alternative, to patronize the proprietor of the latter articles.
As I step inside his little shed-like establishment to see what he has, he holds up his hands in holy trepidation at the unhallowed intrusion, and begs me to be seated outside. My entrance causes as much consternation as the traditional bull in the china shop, the explanation of which is to be found in the fact that anything I might happen to touch becomes at once defiled beyond redemption for the consumption of native customers. With the weather wilting hot, doughy chuppaties and lukewarm, unstrained, strong-tasting goats' milk can scarcely be called an appetizing meal, and the latter is served in the usual cheap, earthenware platter, which is at once tossed out and broken.
The natives of India are probably less concerned about their stomachs than the people of any other country in the world. They seem to delight in fasting, and growing thin and emaciated; their ordinary meal is a handful of parched grain and a few swallows of milk or water. Among the aesthetic Brahmans are many specimens reduced by habitual fasting and general meagreness of diet to the condition of living skeletons; yet they seem to enjoy splendid health, and live to a shrivelled old age. The Brahman shop-keeper squats contentedly among his wares, passing the hours in dreamy meditation and in consoling pipes of goodakoo. Nothing seems to disturb his calm serenity, any more than the reposeful expression on the countenance of a marble Buddha could be affected--nothing but the approach of a Sahib toward his shop. It is interesting to observe the mingled play of politeness, apprehension, and alarm in the actions of a Brahman shopkeeper at the appearance of a blundering, but withal well-meaning Sahib, among his wares. Knowing, from long experience, that the Englishman would on no account wilfully injure his property or trample wantonly on his caste prejudices, he is at his wits' end to comport himself deferentially and at the same time prevent anything from being handled. Money has to be placed where the Brahman can pick it up without incurring the awful danger of personal contact with an unhallowed kaffir.
The fifty miles, that from the splendid condition of the roads I have thought little enough for the average day's run, is duly reeled off as I ride into the splendid civil lines and cantonment of Um-balla at dusk. But my few days' experience on the roads of India have sufficed to convince me that fifty miles is entirely beyond the bounds of discretion. It is, in fact, beyond the bounds of discretion to be riding any distance in the present season here; fifty miles is overcome to-day only by the exercise of almost superhuman will-power.
The average native, when asked for the dak bungalow, is quite as likely to direct one to the post-office, the kutcherry, or any other government building, from a seeming inability to discriminate between them. At the entrance to Umballa one of these hopeful participants in the blessings of enlightened government informs me, with sundry obsequious salaams, that the dak bungalow is four miles farther. So thoroughly has my fifty-mile ride used up my energy that even this four miles, on a most perfect road, seems utterly impossible of accomplishment; besides which, experience has taught that following the directions given would very likely bring me to the post-office and farther away from the dak bungalow than ever.
Above the trees, not far away, is observed the weathercock of a chapel-spire, plainly indicating the location of the European quarter. Taking a branch road leading in that direction, I discover a party of English and native gentlemen playing a game of lawn-tennis. Arriving on the scene just as the game is breaking up, I am cordially invited to "come in and take a peg." To the uninitiated a "peg" is a rather ambiguous term, but to the Anglo-Indian its interpretation takes the seductive form of a big tumbler of brandy and soda, a "long drink," than which nothing could be more acceptable in my present fagged-out condition. No hesitation is therefore made in accepting; and, under the stimulating influence of the generous brandy and soda, exhausted nature is quickly recuperated. While not an advocate of indiscriminate indulgence in alcoholic stimulants, after an enervating ride through the wilting heat of an Indian day I am convinced that nothing is more beneficial than what Anglo-Indians laconically describe as a "peg."
This very opportune meeting results, naturally enough, in a pressing invitation to stay over and recruit up for a day, a programme to which I offer no objections, feeling rather overdone and in need of rest and recuperation. Mine hosts are police-commissioners, having supervision over the police-district of Uniballa. One of their number is on the eve of departure for his summer vacation in the Himalayas and, in honor of the event, several guests call round to partake of a champagne dinner, the sparkling Pommery Sec being quaffed ad libitum from pint tumblers. At the present time, no surer does water seek its level than the after-dinner conversation of Anglo-Indian officials turns into the discussion of the great depreciation of the silver rupee and its relation to the exchange at home. As the rate of exchange goes lower and lower, and no corresponding increase of salary takes place, the natural result is a great deal of hardship and dissatisfaction among those who, from various causes, have to send money to England. From the Anglo-Indians' daily association with Orientals and their peculiarly subtle understandings, it is perhaps not so surprising to find an occasional flight of fancy brought to bear upon the subject that would do credit to a professional romancer. One ingenious young civil officer present evolves a deep, deep scheme to get even with the government for present injustice that for far-reaching and persistent revenge speaks volumes for the young gentleman's determination to carry his point. His brilliant scheme is to retire on a pension at the proper time, live to the age of eighty years, and then marry a healthy girl of sixteen. As the pension of an Anglo-Indian government officer descends to his surviving widow, the ingenuity and depth of this person's reasoning powers becomes at once apparent. He proposes to take revenge for the present shortcomings of the government by saddling it with a pension for a hundred years or more after his retirement from active service.
Tusked and antlered trophies of the chase adorning the walls, and panther and tiger skins scattered about the floor, attest the police-commissioners' prowess with the rifle in the surrounding jungle. The height of every young Englishman's ambition when he comes to India is to kill a tiger; not until with his own rifle he has laid low a genuine Tigris Indicus, and handed its striped pelt over to the taxidermist, does he feel entitled to hold his chin at a becoming elevation and to indulge in the luxury of talking about the big game of the jungle on an equality with his fellows. Among the pets of the establishment are a youthful black bear that spends much of its time in climbing up and down a post on the lawn, a recently captured monkey that utters cries of alarm and looks badly frightened when approached by a white person, and a pair of spotted deer. These, together with several hunting dogs that delight in taking wanton liberties with the bear and deer, form quite a happy, though not altogether trustful family party in the grounds.
The day's rest does me a world of good, and upon resuming my journey the voice of my own experience is augmented by the advice of my entertainers, in warning me against overexertion and fatigue in so trying a climate as India. It has rained during the night, and the early morning is signalled by cooler weather than has yet been experienced from Lahore. Companies of tall Sikhs, magnificent-looking fellows, in their trim karki uniforms and monster turbans, are drilling within the native-infantry lines as I wheel through the broad avenues of one of the finest cantonments in all India, and English officers and their wives are taking the morning air on horseback.
This splendid cantonment contains no less than seven thousand two hundred and twenty acres and might well be termed a magnificent park throughout.
It is in the hilly tracts of the Umballa district that the curious custom prevails of placing infants beneath little cascades of water so that the stream of water shall steadily descend on the head. The cool water of some mountain-rivulet is converted into a number of streams appropriate for the purpose, by means of bamboo ducts or spouts. The infants are brought thither in the morning by their mothers and placed in proper position on beds of grass; the trickling water, pouring on their heads, keeps the brain cool and is popularly supposed to be efficacious in the prevention of many infantile diseases peculiar to the country. Children not subjected to this curious hydropathic treatment are said to generally die young, or grow up weaklings in comparison with the others.
A sudden freshet in the ordinarily shallow and partially dry bed of the Donglee River tells of the heaviness of last night's rainstorm among the hills, and compels a halt of a couple of hours until the rapidly subsiding water gets low enough to admit of fording it with a native bullock gharri. A branch of the same stream is crossed in a similar manner, and yet a third river, a few miles farther, has to be crossed on a curious raft made of a number of buoyant earthenware jars fixed in a bamboo frame. A splendid bridge spans the swollen torrent of the more formidable Markunda, and the well-metalled highway now cuts a wide straight swath through inundated jungle. A big wild monkey, the first of his species thus far encountered on the road, utters a shrill squeak of apprehension at seeing the bicycle come bowling down the road, and in his fright he leaps from the branches of a road-side tree into the shallow water and escapes into the jungle with frantic leaps and bounds.
Travelling leisurely, and resting often, for thirty miles, the afternoon brings me to the small town of Peepli, where a dak bungalow provides food and shelter of a certain kind. The sleeping-accommodation of the dak bungalow may hardly be described as luxurious; ants and other insects swarm in myriads, and lizards drag their slimy length about the timber of the walls and ceiling. The wild jungle encroaches on the village, and the dak bungalow occupies an isolated position at one end. The jungle resounds with the strange noises of animals and birds, and a friendly native, who speaks a little English, confides the joyful information that the deadly cobra everywhere abounds.
For the first time it is cool enough to sleep without the services of the punkah-wallah, and not a soul remains about the dak bungalow after nightfall. The night is dark and cloudy, but not by any means silent, for the "noises of the night" are multitudinous and varied, ranging from the tuneful croaking of innumerable frogs to the yelping chorus of the jackals-the weird nocturnal concert of the Indian jungle, a musical melange far easier to imagine than describe. About ten o'clock, out from the gloomy depths of the jungle near by is suddenly heard the unmistakable caterwauling of a panther, followed by that cunning arch-dissembler's inimitable imitation of a child in distress. As though awed and paralyzed by this revelation of the panther's dread presence, the chirping and juggling and p-r-r-r-ring and yelping of inferior creatures cease as if by mutual impulse moved, and the pitter-patter of little feet are heard on the clay floor of my bungalow. The cry of the forest prowler is repeated, nearer than before to my quarters, and presently something hops up on the foot of the charpoy on which my recumbent form is stretched; and still continues the pattering of feet on the floor. It is pitchy dark within the bungalow, and, uncertain of the nature of my strange visitant, I kick and "qu-e-e-k" at him and scare him off; but, evidently terrorized by the appearance of the panther, the next minute he again invades my couch.
To have one's room turned nolens volens into a place of refuge for timid animals, hiding from a prowling panther which is not unlikely to follow them inside, is anything but a desirable experience in the dark. Should his panthership come nosing inside the bungalow, in his eagerness to secure something for supper he might not pause to discriminate between brute and human; and as his awe-inspiring voice is heard again, apparently quite near by, I deem it expedient to warn him off. So reaching my Smith & Wesson from under the pillow, I fire a shot up into the thatched roof. The little intruders, whatever they may be, scamper out of the bungalow, nor wait upon the order of their going, and a loud scream some distance away a moment later tells of the panther's rapid retreat into the depths of the jungle.
Soon a courageous bull-frog gives utterance to a subdued, hesitative croak; his excellent example is quickly followed by others; answering noises spring up in every direction, and ere long the midnight concert of the jungle is again in full melody.
A comparatively cooling breeze blows across flooded jungle and rice-field in the morning. The country around resembles a shallow lake from out of which the rank vegetation of the jungle rears its multiform foliage; much of the water is merely the temporary overflow of the Markunda, silently moving through the shady forest, but over the more permanently submerged areas is gathered a thick green scum. Not unlike a broad expanse of level meadow-land do some of these open spaces seem, and the yellow, fallen blossoms of the gum arabic trees, scattered thickly about, are the buttercups spangling and beautifying the meadows.
Forty-eight miles from Umballa the Grand Trunk road leads through the civil lines and past the towering walls of ancient Kurnaul. Formerly on the banks of the river Jumna, Kurnaul is now removed several miles from that stream, owing to the wayward trick of Indian rivers carving out for themselves new channels during seasons of extraordinary flood. The city is old beyond the records of history, its name and fame glimmering faintly in the dim and distant perspective of ancient Hindostani legend and mythical tales. Within the last few hundred years, Kurnaul has been taken and retaken, plundered and destroyed, by Sikh, Rajput, Mogul, and Mahratta freebooters, and was occupied in 1795 by the celebrated adventurer George Thomas, who figured so largely in the military history of India during the latter part of the last century. Here also was fought the great battle between Nadir Shah and Mohammed Shah, the Emperor of Delhi, that resulted in the defeat of the latter, the subsequent looting of Delhi, and the carrying off to Persia of the famous peacock throne. Splendid water-tanks, spreading banyans, feathery date-palms, and toddy-palms render the suburbs of Kurnaul particularly attractive, these days; but the place is unhealthy, being very low and the surrounding country subject to the overflow that induces fever.
A letter of introduction from Umballa to Mr. D, deputy commissioner at Kurnaul, insures me hospitable recognition and creature comforts upon reaching the latter place at 9 a.m. Spending the heat of mid-day in Mr. D 's congenial society, recounting the incidents of my journey and learning in return much valuable information in regard to India, I continue on my journey again when the fiercest heat of the sun has subsided in favor of the slightly more tolerable evening. The country grows more and more interesting from various standpoints as my progression carries me southward. Not only does it become intensely interesting by reason of its historical associations in connection with the old Mogul Empire, but in its peculiar aspect of Indian life to-day. Monkeys are hopping about all over the place, moving leisurely about the roofs and walls of the villages, or complacently examining one another's phrenological peculiarities beneath the trees. About the streets, shops, and houses these mischievous anthropoids are seen in droves, moving hither and thither at their own sweet will, as much at home as the human occupants and owners of the houses themselves.
Monkeys, being held sacred by the Hindoos, are allowed to remain in the towns and villages unmolested, doing pretty much as they please. Sometimes they swarm in such numbers that eternal vigilance alone keeps them from devouring the fruit, grain, and other eatables displayed for sale in front of the shops. When they get to be an insufferable nuisance, although the pious Hindoos would suffer from their depredations even to ruin rather than do them injury, they offer no objections to being relieved of their charges by the government officials, so long as the measures taken are not of a sanguinary nature. Sometimes the monkeys are caught and shipped off in car-loads to some point miles away and turned loose in the jungle. The appearance of a car-load of these exiles, however, always excites the sympathies of the pious Hindoo, and instances have been known when they have been stealthily liberated while the train was waiting at some other town.
An effectual remedy has been recently discovered in cleaning out colonies of the smaller varieties of monkeys and inducing them to remove somewhere else, by introducing into their midst a certain warlike and aggressive variety from somewhere in the Himalaya foot-hills. This particular race of monkey, being a veritable anthropoidal Don Juan among his fellows, when turned loose in a village commences making violent love to the wives and sweethearts of the resident monkeys. The faithless fair, ever ready for coquetry and flirtation, flattered beyond measure by the attentions of the gallant stranger, forsake their first loves by the wholesale, and bask shamelessly in the sunshine of his favor. The result is that the outraged males, afraid to attack the warlike libertine so rudely introduced into their peaceful community, gather up their erring spouses, giddy daughters, and small children and betake themselves off forever.
Not far from Kurnaul I overtake an interesting party of gypsies, moving with their bag and baggage piled on the backs of diminutive cows led by strings. Numbers of the smaller children also bestride the gentle little bovines, but the rest of the party are afoot. The ruling passion of the Romany, the wide world over, asserts itself at my approach; brown-bodied youngsters with sparkling, coal-black eyes race after the bicycle, holding out their hands and begging, "pice, sahib, pice, pice."
Facsimile in cry and gesture almost, and in appearance, are these Hindostani gypsies of their relatives in distant Hungary, who, fifteen months before, raced alongside the bicycle, and begged for "kreuzer, kreuzer." Many ethnologists believe India to have been the original abiding place of the now widely scattered Romanies; certain it is that no country and no clime would be so well adapted to their shiftless habits and wandering tent-life as India. Their language, subjected to analysis, has been traced in a measure to Sanscrit roots, and although spread pretty much all over the surface of the globe, this strange, romantic people are said to recognize one another by a common language, even should the one hail from India and the other from the frozen North. Certain professors claim to have discovered a connecting link between the gypsies of the Occident and the Jats of the Punjab.
A boy tending a sacred cow undertakes to drive that worshipful animal out of my way as he sees me come bowling briskly down the road. The bovine, pampered and treated with the greatest deference and consideration from her earliest calfhood, resents this treatment by making a short but determined spurt after me as I sweep past. Whether the sacred cows of India are spoiled by generations of overindulgence, or whether the variety is constitutionally evil-tempered does not appear, but they one and all take pugnacious exception to the bicycle. Spurting away from a chasing Brahmani cow is an every-day experience.
Mr. D has kindly telegraphed from Kurnaul to Nawab Ali Ahmed Khan, a hospitable Mohammedan gentleman at Paniput, apprising him of my coming. More ancient even than Kurnaul, Paniput's vast antiquity is reputed to extend back to the period of the great Pandava War described in the Mahabharat, and supposed to have been fought nearly four thousand years ago. The city occupies a commanding position to the left of the road, and is rendered conspicuous by several white marble domes and minarets.
The nawab and another native gentleman, physician to the Paniput Hospital, are seated in a dog-cart watching for my appearance, at a fork in the road near one of the city gates. The nawab's place is a mile and a half off the main road, but the smooth, level kunkah leads right up to the fine, commodious bungalow, in which I am duly installed. A tepid bath, prepared in deference to the nawab's anticipation of my preference, is awaiting my pleasure, and from the moment of arrival I am the recipient of unstinted attention. A large reclining chair is placed immediately beneath the punkah, and a punkah-wallah, ambitious to please, causes the frilled hangings of this desirable and necessary piece of furniture to wave vigorously to and fro but a foot or eighteen inches above my head. A smiling servant kneels at my feet and proceeds to knead and "groom" the muscles of the legs. Judging from the attentions lavished upon my pedal extremities, one might well imagine me to be a race-horse that had just endeared himself to his groom and owner by winning the Derby.
An ample supper is followed by a most refreshing sleep, and in the morning, when ready to depart, my watchful attendants present themselves with broad smiles and sheets of paper. Each one wants a certificate showing that he has contributed to my comfort and entertainment, and lastly comes the nawab himself and his bosom friend, the hospital doctor, to bid me farewell and request the same favor. This certificate-foible is one of the greatest bores in India; almost every native who performs any service for a Sahib, whether in the capacity of a mere waiter at a native hotel, or as retainer of some wealthy nabob--and not infrequently the nabob himself, if a government official--wants a testimonial expressing one's approval of his services. An old servitor who has mingled much among Europeans must have whole reams of these useless articles stowed away. What in the world they want with them is something of a puzzler; though the idea is, probably, that they might come in useful to obtain a situation some time or other.
South of Paniput the trees alongside the road are literally swarming with monkeys; they file in long strings across the road, looking anxiously behind, evidently frightened at the strange appearance of the bicycle. Shinnying up the toddy-palms, they ensconce themselves among the foliage and peer curiously down at me as I wheel past, giving vent to their perturbation in excited cries. Twenty-five miles down the road, an hour is spent beneath a grove of shady peepuls, watching the amusing antics of a troop of monkeys in the branches. Their marvellous activity among the trees is here displayed to perfection, as they quarrel and chase one another from tree to tree. The old ones seem passively irritable and decidedly averse to being bothered by the antics and mischievous activity of the youngsters. Taking possession of some particular branch, they warn away all would-be intruders with threatening grimaces and feints. The youthful members of the party are skillful of pranks and didoes, carried on to the great annoyance of their more aged and sedate relatives, who, in revenge, put in no small portion of their time punishing or pursuing them with angry cries for their deeds of wanton annoyance. One monkey, that has very evidently been there many and many a time before on the same thievish errand, with an air of amusing secrecy and roguishness, slips quickly along a horizontal bough and thrusts its arm into a hole. Its eyes wander guiltily around, as though expectant of detection and attack--an apprehension that quickly justifies itself in the shape of a blue-plumaged bird that flutters angrily about the robber's head, causing it to beat a hasty retreat. Birds' eggs are the booty it expected to find, and, me-thinks, as I note the number and activity of the freebooters to whom birds' eggs would be most toothsome morsels, watchful indeed must be the parent-bird whose maternal ambition bears its legitimate fruit in this monkey-infested grove. In me the monkeys seem to recognize a possible enemy, and at my first appearance hasten to hide themselves among the thickest foliage; peering; cautiously down, they yield themselves up to excited chattering and broad grimaces.
Peacocks, too, are strutting majestically about the greensward beneath the trees, their gorgeous tails expanded, or, perched on some horizontal branch, they awake the screaming echoes in reply to others of their kindred calling in the jungle. In the same way that monkeys are regarded and worshipped as the representatives of the great mythological monkey-king Hanumiin, who assisted Kama, in his war with Havana for the possession of Sita, so is the peacock revered and held sacred as the bird upon which rode Kartikeya the god of war and commander-in-chief of the armies of the Puranic gods. Thus do both these denizens of the jungle obtain immunity from harm at the hands of the natives, by reason of mythological association. English sportsmen shoot them, however, except in certain specified districts where the government has made their killing prohibitory, in deference to the religious prejudices of the Hindoos. The Rajput warriors of Ulwar used to march to battle with a peacock's feather in their turbans; they believe that the reason why this fine-plumaged bird screams so loudly when it thunders is because it mistakes the noise for the roll of war-drums. Large, two-storied passenger-vans, drawn sometimes by one camel and sometimes two, are now frequently encountered; they are regular two-storied cages, with iron bars, like the animal-vans in a menagerie. The passengers squat on the floors, and when travelling at night, or through wild districts, are locked in between stages to guard against surprise and robbery.
Text, code and images © Ray Schumacher 2005