India Impressions (1907)

"India Impressions, with some notes of Ceylon during a winter tour, 1906-7", by W. Crane, Mutheun, London, 1907.

Made available by the Internet Archive.
Source: Selected and edited with comments by R Sivaramakrishnan. Posted to IRFCA on: November 6, 2008.

Written 101 years ago, when most of the trunk lines in India had been laid, this is a very readable book and highly informative. Unfortunately the author and his wife did not reach many parts of India, especially in the central and southwestern regions. Nevertheless, it faithfully portrays the travelling conditions a century ago, the landscape and the people. The extracts, pertaining to the rail travels, that I present below will read like a trip report, as I have deleted descriptions of the various cities and tourist places they visited. The book is worth reading in its entirety. There are numerous sketches by the author.

Bombay and Ellora caves

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" ...... We had planned an excursion to the caves of Ellora from Bombay ...... Having mapped out our route we started on our expedition on December the

10th. Leaving Victoria Station, Bombay, at noon, we travelled by the G. I. P. (Great Indian Peninsular Railway), making our first train journey in India. The line crossed a cultivated plain at first, getting clear of Bombay; groups of date palms here and there were suggestive of Egypt. We passed native villages of different types, some with thatched roofs and some with tile - brown ridge tiles not unlike what one sees in Italy, and even corrugated iron was visible (alas !) here and there. The low huts built of sun-dried bricks or mud with flat roofs were the strangest and most eastern-looking. One could get glimpses, too, of the inhabitants, the Hindu women in saris, often of red or purple or blue, bearing on their heads water jars or bright brass or copper vessels, with much natural grace, some also carrying little brown babies supported by one arm on their hip.

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Leaving the plains we entered a very interesting hill country covered with jungle and forests where we saw many teak trees and banyans, besides many varieties of acacia. Mountains of striking form came into view, suggestive of castled crags. We soon afterwards passed the Thull Ghat, where the line rises as much as 1050 feet in a distance of about ten miles - which means a steep gradient. We passed rice fields, also sugar canes, and a kind of Indian corn, but not maize, and castor-oil plants which are cultivated extensively. There were interesting and picturesque groups of natives at all the stations. Finally Munmad was reached towards six o'clock in the evening. This was our first stage, and the junction for Daulatabad our next, in the territory of the Nizam of Hyderabad. We, however, decided to stay the night at Munmad and go on the next fact, if I remember right, it was a case of necessity, as there was no train on that evening. So we were conducted to the Dak Bungalow, some little walk from the station, through a native village, with our baggage carried on the heads of women coolies. We found the bungalow a most inhospitable place of incredible bareness, and nothing to sleep on but narrow wooden framed couches, having a sort of stringy webbing full of holes. The gaunt draughty rooms were almost destitute of other furniture and had no conveniences of any kind. The native keeper of the place seemed helpless. There was no food to be had, and he

could not have cooked it if there had been, so we had to make shift as best we could with what we had in our tea baskets. I should not advise any

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one to travel in India, at least at all off the track of hotels, without provisions and bedding. There was not much sleep to be had that night. The beds were frightfully uncomfortable and the room was cold. An Anglo- Indian official on the forest service occupied the best room, we afterwards discovered, but he, as is usual, travelled with his horses and several servants, including a cook, and a supply of necessaries of all sorts. We left the inhospitable bungalow early the next morning, processing through the village in the same way as that in which we had come, with our baggage on the heads of the coolie women......

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...... We took train to Daulatabad and entered the Nizam's territory. A police officer in his service was in the train, and was very intelligent and gave us much useful information. We now passed through a more arid-looking country than before, where cactuses and low trees grew sparsely on burnt yellow slopes and rocky hills, often of strange form, the country showing signs of a great upheaval from the sea.

At Daulatabad, a small road station, a tonga was waiting for us, drawn by two poor broken-down ponies and a rather ragged red-turbaned driver. Our destination was the town of Rozah, a drive of some ten miles and mostly uphill, on a loose, rough road......

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....The road to Rozah is an almost continuous ascent, and in some places very steep, which made it very hard work for the wretched ponies which dragged our tonga, though, of course, we relieved it of our weight by walking up the worst hills......

We made our way along a straggling street, and...... found our quarters for the night...the Travellers' Bungalow...but this, the Nizam's bungalow, was a great contrast to the one at Munmad, being clean and comfortable, with good beds and sufficient furniture and rugs, and a

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bath-room. The native in charge was able to provide food, too, and to cook a dinner, which, if not exactly Parisian, was, at all events, a vast improvement upon our last one......

After breakfast the next morning (December 12) we started to walk to the caves at Ellora, which we found were only a short distance down the hill......

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We reached Daulatabad station about the middle of the day...... and were fortunate enough ......

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to get quite an excellently cooked and nicely served tiffin in the waiting-room.......We got a train about 5.30 back to Munmad arriving there soon after 9 at night...... Our train from Bombay did not leave until 3 a.m., but sleep was impossible owing to the noise, although we had a waiting-room to ourselves. It was only the usual conversazione which is carried on at every Indian station by the natives who throng the platforms, often waiting all night for a train, squatting in groups and keeping up a continual stream of talk. We were relieved when a faithful coolie announced the arrival of our train and carried in our bags. We had a compartment to ourselves for the most part until nearing Bombay, our only fellow-passengers being at different times a very quiet Hindu, and a British officer of the Royal Scots who did not travel far. But, before we got in, the carriage became crowded with every variety of costume, Parsee and Hindu merchants getting in for Bombay, until we were quite full up and...oh ! so hot. Glad we were to get in at last, but not till noon - the hottest

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time of day - feeling rather fagged after our long journey. The heat in Bombay is very oppressive even in the so-called cool season......


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We left Bombay for Ahmedabad on December the 15th. Finding that the best train was a night one, and as it was a journey of some three hundred miles or more, and time was an object, we made up our minds, though not given to night travelling, to make an exception to our usual practice, although we should lose the sight of the country by the way. Railway travelling in India is quite as comfortable as one might expect. The carriages, it is true, vary on different lines and according to age, but, as a rule, the trains have separate carriages for Europeans and for different classes of natives, and it is often quite possible to have an entire compartment even for a long distance. On some lines the first-class carriages are scarcely better than the second, but the fare is double. The best carriages have compartments containing two long leather-covered seats, each side under the windows, which can be turned into "sleeping" couches at night. There is a good space between them and also at the end between the doors, and a lavatory is always attached. Above the seats are slung two upper berths, so that the compartment could be arranged for four sleepers. Any amount of light luggage can be taken into the

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compartments by passengers, but the heavy must be registered. The windows are protected from the sun by Venetian shutters, which can be let up or down, as well as glass, clear or toned, and sometimes fine wire screens. Outside there is a sort of hood, between which and the tops of the windows is a space for air, so that the fierce heat of the sun is tempered, and the carriage shielded to a certain extent from its rays.

We found very well-appointed sleeping-cars to Ahmedabad, but divided into ladies' and gentlemen's compartments. As it happened, another couple were the only others travelling by the first-class sleeping-car besides ourselves, so that we were able to arrange between ourselves that husbands and wives were not divided, each pair having a compartment to themselves.

Ahmedabad was reached about half-past seven in the morning. A crowd of coolies usually rush to seize your baggage on the arrival of a train, and our bearer was useful in keeping them at bay a bit. There was a Dak bungalow at Ahmedabad, but we did not feel any decided leaning towards it, and, finding there were quite decent bedrooms to be had at the station and that we could feed in the refreshment-room, we decided to stay there.

Ahmedabad to Ajmir

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The railway station at Ahmedabad has the unusual distinction of two striking minarets of brick-work, richly cut and moulded in successive circular tiers, which rise to a considerable height from amid the palms and plantains of a small well-watered Eastern garden, with many straight-cut paths between the thickly planted trees. These are the remains of a Mohammedan mosque which once stood there. It is an unusually interesting and pleasant place to wander in while waiting- for a train.

Our bearer secured a comfortable coupe for our journey to Ajmir, which was to be our next halting place. We had originally intended to visit Mount Abu to see the wonderful Jain temples of Delwara, but before we reached the Abu road heavy rain came on, and as it would have meant a pony ride of sixteen miles from the station to Mount Abu, we decided to go on to Ajmir without a break.

Leaving Ahmedabad at 8.15 we breakfasted in the train, there being a restaurant car put on. The trains not being corridor trains it is necessary to get out at the stopping stations and find one's way to the car and back to one's carriage again.

The country at first was very flat and generally

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cultivated, but with occasional belts of jungle, where monkeys and peacocks were seen. Fine banyan and acacia trees here and there. Ploughing with oxen was going on, and the yoke of oxen drawing at the irrigation wells was a frequent sight.

About the middle of the day dark clouds rolled up and we had a heavy shower with promise of more to come. Mountains came into view at the same time as the change in the weather, and it was not long before we reached Abu Road Station.

The fine mountain range on the left of the line amid which Mount Abu was situated was veiled in cloud and rain, but as we left the mountains the sky cleared again, and we entered a flat, desert-like region covered with stunted trees or dry scrub bush, stretching for miles. A strange-looking country was afterwards traversed, where huge granite boulders lay on the earth like mounds and partly overgrown, others might have been imagined to be the shells of gigantic tortoises. At a station called Mori this characteristic was the most striking.

The stations on this line through Rajpootana were built after the Moslem fashion and had a superficial resemblance to mosques, being domed, the smaller buildings and wayside signal huts being treated in the same manner. After a rainy sunset of orange and grey, darkness soon fell, and it was not long before we reached Ajmir after about twelve hours' travel - a distance of over three hundred miles. We found fairly comfortable quarters at the station refreshment- rooms, the bedrooms being above and opening on to spacious terraces from which

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interesting views of the town and country could be had. The only drawbacks were the noises. What with the shrieks of the engines, and the perpetual conversazione carried on on the platforms, which were generally thronged with most picturesque crowds of natives, sleep was very broken......

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...... From our terrace over the railway station we could observe the varied groups of natives which continually thronged the platforms and the yards outside. Certainly the native in India makes constant use of the railways, although the railways

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do not take any trouble to make them comfortable. The native carriages seem always in an overcrowded state, and many of them are rather suggestive of cattle trucks with rough wooden partitions. Troops of natives will come to a railway station and camp all night waiting for some train in the morning. On inquiring what classes or manner of people these poor travellers mostly were, I was told that they comprised chiefly pilgrims to various shrines and festivals in different parts of the country, and small traders. The Ryot, or agri-

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culturist, did not travel much, as might be supposed. The people usually bore great bundles with them, bedding presumably, and other necessaries for long journeys. These the women carried upon their heads. In the evenings groups of natives would be seen gathered round fires made on the ground. These were often mere flares of straw, and did not last very long, though they may have served to mitigate the chill of the nightfall, which is always so sudden in India.

Chitorgarh and Udaipur

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From Ajmir there is a branch line to Chitorgarh and Udaipur, and no traveller in India should miss the opportunity of visiting both these highly interesting places. Leaving Ajmir, the railway runs south through a rather flat country, passing Naisirabad, an important British military station. The English "Tommy" in khaki, and white helmet and putties, or the sun-burned, brownbooted and spurred British cavalry officer, were in evidence at the railway station. Among the native crowd here we saw a turbaned man in pink carrying a very thin, aged woman, probably his mother, pick-a-back fashion.

A very dry and almost desert tract of country is traversed after this, though occasionally varied by irrigated fields and green crops. The irrigation wells, worked by oxen as before, and the native ploughing, were the chief incidents in the landscape. The plough is a very primitive-looking implement with a single shaft, with a cross handle fixed at right angles to the shaft, which consists of a sharpened piece of wood, tipped with iron. The plough is drawn by a pair of zebus, and is light enough for the man to lift up and turn at the end of the furrow, or even to be carried home on his

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shoulder at the end of the day. There were thick hedges of spikey sort of cactus, branching out from a main stem, something like candelabra, the fronds growing in a longitudinal, rigid form. These hedges fenced the railway line from the fields on the desert. Another plant of common occurrence, both here and all over India, was a broad-leaved shrub of symmetric order, having small, pale, lilac flowers, the stems rather a yellow, and the leaves a lightish blue green. We noted also a sort of wild laburnam. The prickly pear was common, and a sort of prickly acacia-like shrub much liked by camels. The trees were mostly various acacias, the banyan tree (Ficus), and the teak. In places we saw both date and cocoa palms.

At one station (Mandal) the level plains, with pyramidal hills in the distance and a grove of palms and camels in the foreground, again recalled Egypt.

The cultivated crops we passed were cotton, tobacco, rice, wheat, and sugar cane.

At every station may be seen the water filter, a wooden tripod stand, holding three red earthen water-jars, one above the other. The natives drink quantities of water, and always carry a small drinking-vessel of bright brass, which they take every opportunity of filling. The water-bearer is a characteristic figure everywhere, and comes up to the train with his cry, " Panee ! panee !" which (with an Italian prepossessed ear) is more suggestive of another, and solid, necessary of life. Bread, however, in Hindustanee, happens to be "roti."

Having left Ajmir by the 9.20 a.m. train, we arrived at Chitorgarh about five in the evening and

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put up at the station rooms for the night. There was a considerable crowd on the long, open, gravelled platform, mainly natives, with a small contingent of English and American tourists. European tourists in India, however, were generally few and far between, the United States being much more numerously represented. A picturesque group was formed by a native resident from Udaipur, with his retinue, waiting for their train on. The chief was a venerable and a kindly-looking man, with white hair and beard, reminding one rather of the late G. F. Watts. He was gaily dressed in a pink turban and a lilac silk coat, and was seated on a chair on the platform, surrounded by his attendants in scarlet ; among these was his trumpeter, with a bugle slung around him, and a quad of four soldiers in khaki and turbans.

We found the Traveller's Bungalow was about three-quarters of a mile or so away from the station. The bedrooms were all taken by the English and American parties, but we could feed there, so, retaining our quarters at the station, we walked to the Bungalow for our dinner. It was a lovely moonlight night, with bright stars, but there was a cold north wind as we were guided by our bearer with a lantern along a rather rough track, and crossed the railway to the Bungalow, a new stone building, bare and cheerless as they make them, standing all by itself in a stoney yard without a tree near it. The dinner, or supper, was not very rewarding, and we trudged back again to the station in the cold moonlight. The station we found quieter than usual. The servants of the

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resident had encamped upon the platform, and formed picturesque groups around fires, cooking and gossiping ; their master sleeping in the train, which was drawn up ready to start for Udaipur early the next morning.

It seems highly necessary for travellers in India anywhere off the track of hotels to provide themselves with bedding of some sort, at least quilts, rugs, sheets, and pillows. The nights at this time of year in Rajpootana are quite cold, and warm wraps are welcome. ......

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...... Returning the way we had come to our quarters at the station, after taking tiffin at the bungalow we arranged to go on to Udaipur in the morning, and were advised to sleep in the train, which waited in the station all night, and left at 6.20 a.m. for Udaipur. So we packed up and went on board and took our berths, which were on the whole more comfortable than the station beds.

In the morning our compartment was invaded by a young Indian who wanted a seat, but we had kept it to ourselves during the night, which was cold enough, and we were glad of all our wraps. The young Indian was a pleasant, bright, and intelligent young fellow who spoke English well, well clad in the style of a native gentleman, with plenty of wraps and overcoats. He was obviously curious about us, and wanted to know all we would tell him. He seemed to have a great wish to see London, and asked us about the cost of living there, and whether a Hindu could live there according- to his religion without meat. He described India as "a poor country," and wondered that we should journey so far to see it. He was bound for some town where his father lived, sixty miles by tonga from Udaipur, being under orders not to stop at the

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latter place, as his father had told him there was plague there, and wished him to come on.

The train passed through a very flat and rather cheerless country, exceedingly dry, and for the most part covered with long jungle grass, but varied here and there by green crops under irrigation. Camels were occasionally seen, generally ridden by two men ; also there were many herds of oxen and buffaloes. As usual, there were many interesting types and groups to be observed at the stations.

Approaching Udaipur, the country broke into hills and became more interesting. We reached Udaipur Station about 1 1.30, and bidding good-bye and exchanging cards with the young Hindu, we parted with our baggage into a little open cart called a " tum-tum," and were driven some distance, along a dusty road, to the Udaipur Hotel, which looked like an expanded bungalow with a second storey added on. Here we found pleasant quarters and decent bed......

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We departed, on Christmas Day in the morning, from Chitor and Ajmir again, returning by the way we came. Udaipur is at the end of the branch line from Ajmir which has not I believe been in existence many years.

On the way to the station I noticed some very primitive huts clustered in a group on a rising ground above the road. They almost exactly resembled the huts of the early Britons and Gauls as they appear on Trajan's column, being circular in form, built of mud or sunbaked bricks and roofed with a sort of rude thatch laid over a bamboo trellis. In this land of wonders and contrasts truly, one sees everything both in customs and dwellings from the most primitive to the most elaborate and luxurious, from the most ancient to the most modern forms of life. It is sad to note, however, that at least as far as the outward aspects of life are concerned, all that Western contact seems to have done for the people of India is to introduce corrugated iron, Manchester cotton, and the kerosene can - with petrol and its smell!

At Udaipur station there was a great native crowd of every variety of type, wonderful in colour and costume. Many of the men carried sabres as well as walking-sticks which seem to be the marks

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of superior caste in Rajputana. There were, too, the usual crowd of poorer travellers with their extraordinary bundles and brown babies. A native woman stood on the platform with a huge sheaf of sugar-cane which she sold in pieces to the travellers, and, of course, there were the sweet stuff sellers, and the inevitable betel-nut.

Reaching- Chitorgarh in the late afternoon the old fort with its zigzag walled road looked quite familiar, and at the station our elephant was in waiting again. We could not get on to Ajmir until night, and so did not arrive there until about 5.30 in the morning. Coming from a plague-stricken district passengers were not allowed to leave the train until a medical inspection had taken place. An English doctor with a native attendant bearing a lantern came round and went through the farce of feeling everybody's pulse before anybody was allowed to leave the station. We only stopped, however, to get some tea and await a train for Jaipur, our next destination.


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...... The country traversed between Ajmir and Jaipur is mostly plain, and very desert-like in places, with distant mountain ranges beyond, not unlike Arizona in general character. Green crops under irrigation are, however, occasionally seen, and among them not unfrequently may be noticed a pair of large, grey-plumaged cranes, feeding in the young corn, which do not take to flight at the approach of the train. We reached Jaipur about noon and put up at Rustom's Hotel, a comparatively short drive from the station. ......


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We left Jaipur for Agra on the 29th of December, finding the usual excited crowd at the station. The train passed through a rather dry, plain country, though varied by crops under irrigation. We changed at a junction named Bandakni [...], the train we were in going on to Delhi. It was a refreshment station. Here a good tiffin was procurable. Going on about 4.30 in the afternoon, we entered a more fertile and interesting country, the crops being more abundant, and the wells also. There were some fine groves of trees, and distant ranges of hills to be seen. Curious mounds and tumbled boulders varied the plains here and there in places. Peacocks were plentiful, and they even occasionally strayed on to the railway metals at the stations. Antelopes were also to be seen, and once an animal resembling a wolf was seen in the jungle. A jungle, by the way, is not necessarily a slice of tropical forest, full of long grass, tangled creepers, and tigers, but may be any bit of uncultivated country.

We reached Agra about 9 p.m. after a comfortable journey. We put up at the Metropole Hotel - a kind of extended bungalow, with a two-storied centre and two lone, low wings of rooms under the usual arcaded

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arrangement, with a garden in the middle. The rooms were spacious and lofty, but bare, cheerless and cold. ......


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After a stay of about a week Gwalior we took the road again, or rather the railroad, Delhi being the next place on our itinerary. We thought, however, to break the journey for a few hours at Agra, and get a view of the entry of the Amir [of Afghanistan], which was fixed for the 9th of January. It was a lowering, cloudy morning when we left our quarters and made for the railway station, where we had a long wait in the darkness. An enormous throng of natives filled the platform, squatting on the ground or standing about in groups, talking or "sleeping" under covers which hid them from head to foot. Most were closely wrapped up about the shoulders, cloths being wound over the turban, even so that they had generally a top-heavy look with bare legs. Their wraps were only of cotton though, as a rule, and did not seem adequate against the chill of the morning. One little swarthy man was busy writing, making entries on sheets of paper or perhaps bills of lading. He squatted on the platform against one of the piers of the arcade, writing by the aid of a lantern's light. I noticed only one European besides ourselves in the throng, and he appeared to be an English official and wore a pith helmet.

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At last up came the train from Jhansi, and we got in, a slumbering English officer occupying one of the berths. The sky, which was the only gloomy and threatening one we had experienced in India, and certainly looked leaden and hopeless enough, soon turned to rain, and under such an aspect the country looked desolate in the extreme. The tawny earth and fuzzy, dry grass, sparse trees of prickly acacia and scrub bushes, the broken hillocks and mounds of clay, looked more fruitless and forlorn under the steady, soaking rain ; groups of poor country folk in their thin cotton clothing huddled together, waiting at the stations we passed, or could be seen splashing through the muddy pools to catch the train.

Nearing Agra, we saw heavy artillery trains with field guns trailing along the wet roads. Troops had been pouring into Agra for some time, and while at Gwalior a native regiment of cavalry (lancers) rode by the Guest House, preceded by their baggage on mules and camels.

At Agra Road Station the rain was pouring in torrents. There is an immense, long, exposed platform, along which we made our way to cover under the station shed, which was already crammed with people, mostly English and American visitors, army officers, and officials. The weather being quite hopeless, we gave up the idea of seeing anything of the procession, which of course was a military one, and then finding there was a dining-car in waiting, we had a scamper through the rain again down the platform to reach it.

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After tiffin we were just in time to catch a train on to Delhi - in fact it had actually started, but the courteous station-master sent an official to stop.

[Drawing: "A dash for the dining car at Agra Road"]

for us, and to see us safely in with our baggage. It was now nearly noon, but our train, a slow passenger one, was not due at Delhi until 5.30. The rain continued steadily, and damp groups of natives were gathered at the different stopping

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stations in various stages of discomfort. They did not, however, appear to mind the wet so much as one would have expected, but swathed themselves in all sorts of curious wraps up to the eyes, leaving the legs and feet bare, and some even squatted on the wet ground.

The country was again a plain for the most part, and extensively cultivated under irrigation, several irrigation canals being crossed by the railway. Green crops of young corn seemed almost hidden by charlock, the yellow fields having almost the effect of our buttercup meadows in May. Flocks of black and white cranes were seen, as well as a large, blue, grey-plumaged kind, which are usually seen in pairs in the green corn. Three superior caste Hindus got into our compartment and occupied the cross-bench at one end. One had a bad cough, but they kept their windows open and did not seem to mind draughts. Coughs and throat troubles seemed, indeed, too common in India, and we often heard distressing coughs in the hotels at night. The sky towards evening began to clear in the west, the whole solid field of rain cloud gradually lilting like a curtain, and the sun shining out while the rain continued, a brilliant rainbow appeared as if painted on the black wall of cloud to the eastward.

The line passes through a part of old Delhi, a vast region of broken tombs and ruined walls lying outside the walls of the present city, and afar off we could see the domes and minarets of the Great Jama Musjid Mosque. We got in in good time, and collecting our heavy

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baggage sent on from Gwalior, drove to Maiden's Hotel, through streets dark with rain and standing in pools of water, a stormy orange sunset casting a warm glow over everything. The hotel was on the usual Indian plan, with a centre and two arcaded wines enclosing a court, alone which a series of ground-floor, bungalow-like bed- and bath-rooms extended, chilly enough at this time of year in the mornings and evenings, especially in wet weather. The hotel itself was under English management, and there were large open fires in the dining-room and salon, which looked comfortable, and the cookery was superior to most of the others we had experienced. Letters from England awaited us, and added to our satisfaction. No doubt the mails are delivered with wonderful regularity, and so lone as the traveller can arrange his tour in order that his letters shall meet him at certain places, and does not leave before the mail arrives, no complications occur. It is only when letters follow one about instead of preceding one that delay and difficulties occur. ......

Amritzar and Lahore

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We left Delhi by a night train... the Punjab Mail - for Amritzar, but we had a long wait at the station, as the train was two hours late. The station was thronged with natives bound for some religious festival connected with the approaching eclipse of the sun. There was a seething mass of dark humanity at the entrance, through which we had almost to fight our way to the platform. Our route was by way of Umballa, which we reached in the early morning. The country was wrapped in a thick white mist before the sun rose, when it gradually cleared. Beyond Umballa the country was very Mat, the dry lands varied with green crops and yellow with charlock, as before, and dotted with acacia trees. Occasionally we crossed wide rivers, or river beds, and the usual flocks of white cranes and brown kites were seen. Jullumpore was another junction where our train stopped. It looked an interesting place from the railway, a walled town with towers and ancient mosques. After leaving Pillour (the refreshment station) a very broad river was crossed, and on the wide sands of the dry part of its bed, almost like a desert, we saw a train of thirty camels moving slowly in single file.

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We did not reach Amritzar until about 1 p.m., more than three hours after time! On emerging from the station, despite our bearer, we were nearly torn to pieces by hotel touts......

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...... We left Amritzar for Lahore on January the 15th, having another long wait for the Punjab mail, this time three hours behind time. However, about noon another train came up and we were advised by the stationmaster to go on by that in preference to waiting longer for the mail. This train, he said, would take us to Lahore more quickly than the quick train, which sounds like a contradiction in terms. It is only about an hour's journey. The country between Amritzar and Lahore is, again, flat and has no striking features. Fields under irrigation green with young crops of corn, often smothered in charlock, alternated with dry fields or the standing canes of ripe crops, and stubbles of some newly reaped. The wells were plentiful......

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front of the wheel, which communicates with another trough connected with the irrigating trenches, which are thus supplied with water.

The station at Lahore was comparatively quiet and was a pleasing contrast to the turbulent crowd at Amritzar. The Charing Cross hotel received us, but anything less suggestive of the associations its name recalled it would be difficult to imagine. It was of the usual extended bungalow type, with long arcades in front of ranges of ground floor rooms, spacious......

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... ...We left Lahore by the mid-day Lucknow Mail, after a long wait, the platform covered with picturesque groups of squatting natives. We

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eventually shared a compartment, as far as Umballa, with an English official, his German wife and a little girl. As far as Umballa on this line, coming north, we had already journeyed. The chief incident after leaving Lahore was the catching- fire of one of the boxes of one of the carriages of our train, which caused the passengers hastily to leave it, and crowd into other parts of the train, when it was stopped and the burning carriage taken off at a small station just before Amritzar.

At Umballa, the dining station, which we reached when it was dark, some said we had to change, others said not. This was puzzling. One official with more authority than the others said emphatically "no," at last. So, having just time, we scurried across the bridge to the refreshment room with light hearts and sharp appetites, snatched a hasty meal and hurried back to find Moonsawmy, who acted as courier and took charge of the tickets, in some difficulty with the officials about the tickets. One official (the stationmaster) came up, and then said we ought to have changed into the train which was just at that moment steaming out of the station, excusing his mistake by saying that he had not till then seen our tickets, fussily ordering a humble Hindu clerk to take the numbers. After this we got into our compartment again and settled ourselves for a sleep, as we were not due at Lucknow until next morning. During the night we were constantly disturbed by people opening the carriage door and peering in - no doubt in search of lower berths, which we occupied. At one place a Eurasian got in with a quantity of baggage, and got out again only a few stations off. On leaving, perceiving he had disturbed us he said he was "sorry for the trouble."

At Barielly another man (English) got in with his traps and rugs and settled himself to sleep on the middle berth - which in some carriages economises space between the two side ones - though he was at first a little taken aback at seeing that one of us was a lady. However, he turned out to be a very agreeable companion afterwards, and we got quite friendly as the train the next morning approached Lucknow, we having previously decided not to stop at Cawnpore.


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Our next destination was Benares...... and on the 21st of January took the early morning train from Lucknow to the great focus of Hindu worship on the sacred Ganges. The kind commissioner's native servant, in scarlet, awaited us at the station with a parting gift and a note of introduction to the Maharajah of Benares.

The train passed through a richer and more fruitful country than usual, but level, plain all the way, reaching Benares Cantonment about two o'clock. We drove to Clark's hotel, which has a pretty portico full of palms, and a splendid orange creeper, then in full flower, hung over the usual bungalow annexe......

Calcutta and Darjeeling

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...... we left Benares for Calcutta on January 26th, departing by a mid-day train, belated as usual. This took us to Mogul Serai, where we changed into the Calcutta mail. At the station it was difficult to find a place for the soles of our feet, as the whole of the platform was occupied by native infantry, in khaki, who were camping down with their arms piled and their baggage around them.

The Calcutta mail was preceded by the limited mail, consisting chiefly of post-office vans, but having room for a few passengers. One of our friends ...... who were going on by it very kindly tried to get us places also, but there was no room left. However, the other mail followed very quickly, in which we found plenty of room, our only fellow-traveller being an American. We had, before reaching Mogul Serai, obtained a farewell glimpse of Benares as we crossed the iron bridge over the Ganges, below the city, and saw the slender minarets of the Aurangzer Mosque, and the smoke of the Burning Ghat. The country

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for some distance was richer and more fruitful thanusual, and well clad with trees, among which were many fine cocoa palms, their smooth, slender stems having a steely blue effect against the deep green foliage of mangoes and acacias.

The scenery grew tamer afterwards, and generally flat, with occasional mud-walled and thatch-roofed villages huddled together.

After passing as bad a night as might be expected in the train, we got into Calcutta about six in the morning at the Howrah station......

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...... but it was so oppressive [in Calcutta] that we were anxious to get away to Darjeeling, and so took our departure on January 28th by an afternoon train from the Sealdah station. For about an hour or so after leaving Calcutta, the train runs through beautiful groves of palms and mangoes, plantains and bamboos, intersected by tanks of water, vegetable gardens, and thatched villages among the trees. Later we crossed the great open plains of Bengal, cultivated and fertile under irrigation, with but few trees, stretching as far as the eye could see under the full moon.

At Sara we changed, having to leave the train to cross the river Ganges. The scene was a strange one. The waiting steamer lying ready, had to be approached over the wide shallows by two long narrow gangways, constructed out of a few planks, suspended from bamboo sticks stuck upright in the shallow water, with lights at intervals. A troop of European and American travelers wending their way from the train along one of the gangways to the white steamer, and a procession of natives with their bundles crowding along the other to the same vessel.

Arrived on board we found a table spread ready on the quarter-deck and we had an excellent dinner - very superior to those provided by most of the hotels. After this meal was over the steamer started on its voyage across the wide river, having a strong electric search-light at the bows which threw a great shaft of white light to the opposite shore, along which it seemed to travel as if finding its

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way. Moths and flying insects fluttering into the beam of light flashed like sparks or fire-flies.

We found another train waiting for us at a station on the other bank. Here we got into sleeping compartments. I had an American bishop and his friend, a young man, as travelling companions. About 6 a.m. the next morning we reached the foot of the hills, where another change was necessary and where breakfast was to be had at the station, after which we packed ourselves and our belongings into the tiny carriages of the little narrow gauge, toy-like train which makes the ascent of 7000 feet to Darjeeling.

Starting about level, the ascent was quite gradual at first, the line winding through bamboo groves and tea plantations, and as it grows steeper the track twists up in S curves and loops, threading, like a steel snake, through umbrageous woodlands, sometimes following the road, sometimes crossing it. Among the many beautiful trees there was one of frequent occurrence which was new to us.

It had something the manner of growth of an ash, but having a silvery bark like a birch, and clusters of large scarlet buds and flowers, without leaves. Some called it the "Forest Flame." Many of the trees were hung with climbing plants, forming lovely tangles and festoons, and through the openings in the woods, here and there, we had glimpses of the plains veiled in the morning haze. Higher and higher the little train carried us, curving so sharply, sometimes, that one could see the little purling engine in front, which had almost the effect, when rounding the sudden curves and loops, of some

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grotesque creature trying- to catch its own tail, like a playful kitten or puppy !

At intervals the various attitudes attained were

[Drawing: "The Darjeeling toy-railway trying to catch its own tail!"]

painted on tablets at the side of the rail, or at the little stations. At Siliguri a halt was made for tiffin. Here the Mongolian and Bhutian peasants came up to the railway carriages and offered us interesting things in the way of silver rings, and silver ornaments set with turquoise, and large turquoise earrings of a fine bold design. The women all wore relic or charm-boxes with lids worked in delicate filigree and set with turquoise, and these were suspended by bead necklaces. Silver chatelaines and other charming" ornaments were shown us, the women carrying the stock-in-trade of jewellery upon their persons. The high cheekbones and narrow eyes, black hair and long pig-tails of the Mongolian were very marked, the men having quite a Chinese look, with their soft felt, turned-up inverted cup-and-saucer-shaped hats and pig-tails. The women had broad, smiling faces, the effect of which was heightened by a kind of bright brown varnish which made their faces, look as if they had been French polished...perhaps to suit somebody's furniture... - their hair was intensely black, and they wore two long plaits or pig-tails.

The huts of the villages were of wood, and the original native roofing was of thin wooden shingles, which harmonised perfectly with the scenery; but unfortunately corrugated iron was being extensively substituted for roofing purposes, and the old thatch or wooden shingles were frequently patched with it. At Darjeeling it was almost universal, and in consequence the buildings might be described as tin and temporary. Here and there was a fantastic, but generally not tasteful, touch of Germany, or the Swiss border, in the modern villa. Little toy-like dwellings are scattered along the mountain-sides in an accidental sort of way, as if they had been upset out of a box, and had stuck here and there among the trees in their fall. English suburban names catch the Darjeeling...such as "Daisy Bank" and "Rose Cottage." The Europeans come out from Calcutta

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in the hot season to dwell here. The huts of the native people look very frail, almost like cardhouses, leaning up against each other on the edges of cliffs, their roofs of ragged matting, straw thatch, or thin wooden shingles, or the corrugated iron aforesaid. Tall, tapering bamboo canes are frequently stuck up outside, bearing vertical strips of white cotton or linen cloth, like standards, with light tags of the same fluttering at intervals from their outer edges. These are said to represent prayers, and are supposed to ward off evil influences

We put up at "Woodlands" hotel, which has a pretty walk up from the station, lined with fine old trees of the pine kind, very thick and dark, and having a slender cone-like form, reminding one of cypresses......

Madras and the South

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...... we reposed during the day intending to leave Calcutta again by the night train (Madras Mail) for Madras, our next destination. This was a considerable journey as a glance at the map will show ; in fact it was our longest in India, occupying two nights and two days. After some anxious moments in Carnac Street, through our tickorgary not turning up ......we eventually got conveyed to Howrah Station. Luckily the train did not start so soon as stated - it never does in India - and we were saved. The train proved, however, to be very crowded, and we could only secure a berth each in separate compartments, though there was a small sliding door between the ladies' and the gentlemen's sleeping compartment, through which communication could be made. Four ladies, a baby, and a parrot, and the green pigeons made up the complement in the ladies' part. I had two travelling companions only, a river-steamer captain or engineer on sick leave, going south with his family, and an English officer ......

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[Drawing: "Calcutta to Howrah ... Section of Sleeper or something like it"]

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...... Leaving Calcutta in the darkness of night, of course nothing could be seen of the country till next morning when we were approaching Cuttack, when we took " Chota Hazri " - or early light breakfast. A little south of this hills appeared inland reminding one in character and apparent height of our lake country. We passed Poori, the junction for Juggernath, where crowds of pilgrims go, especially at the time of the great festival of Krishna in March, when the image of the god is borne through the town on the famous car, out to a temple in the country. The old story we were told in childhood of the dreadful heathen custom of the natives on such occasions throwing themselves under the wheels of the car of Juggernath has been discredited. Krishna, being a god of love and life, not a destroyer, would not be pleased with human sacrifices, and they would be quite inappropriate. It might be possible, however, that the car, drawn as it is by men with great cables, through the press of pilgrims, might accidentally crush some one fallen in the crowd, and European missionaries may have misunderstood what had really happened, and had misrepresented and exaggerated it.

There were many new and different types of natives at the stations. We were now on the Bengal- Nagpur Railway, and the native crowds, and groups entering or leaving the train all down

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the line, were most interesting in character and colour. Pilgrims from Juggernaut bearing small canes back with them as signs of their pilgrimage, Brahmans with red marks like seals on their foreheads, and others with the triple pronged forklike mark of Siva in white and red. The men wore their hair long like women, sometimes done up in ample knots at the back of the head, and sometimes hanging- down the back. All wore a sort of tight cotton skirt or piece of drapery checquered or patterned in colour wrapped round the loins, and depending from the waist to the feet; a white loose jacket frequently, surmounted this, so that judging only from the back view, the stranger with European prepossessions as to dress distinctions between the sexes, might have some difficulty in saying which was which, or who was who, especially as the native women frequently wore similar skirts, white bodices, and their hair in knots. It was chiefly the beards that betrayed the gentlemen; otherwise the equality of the sexes was fairly well established, as to outward appearance at least, in the way that might astonish some of our Western reformers. It is true some of the men, like the ancient Egyptians, wore nothing above the skirt, except perhaps a white scarf on the shoulders, and the field-workers and coolies all down the Coromandel coast wore nothing but white turbans and waist cloths.

We passed the Silver Lake, really an inlet of the sea nearly surrounded by hills, the train startling large flocks of brown geese from the margin as it passed. Our old friends the white cranes we saw

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again lower down the line among the marshy pools. Paddy fields in various stages, often under water, irrigation wells drawn by oxen, as well as another pattern - like the Hungarian or Egyptian, a walking beam weighted at one end, the other having a rope attached to the bucket. The Southern Indian

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ones are, however, worked by the natives, generally two, working up and down from the centre, from which the beam swings, making it dip and rise again with bucket, the men steadying themselves by upright bamboos fixed each side, sometimes chanting a song to mark the time and enable them to move together.

Groves of palms were passed and pyramidal hills, bringing the same suggestion of Egypt we had had before, on the way to Chitorgarh. There was no doubt about getting further south as the temperature was much higher, the thermometer registering 758 to 808 and this was February 4, whereas only two days before we had been shivering over a fire at Darjeeling! In the burning sun we could see the dark figures in white turbans and waist cloths, coolies on the railway line, and ploughmen in the fields toiling in the heat. We stopped for breakfast at Berhampore. In the district from here to Vizianagram there was formerly a flourishing silk weaving industry among the natives. "All gone now," said a bright-looking European official in white drill and topi who entered our compartment. From what he told us further, it seems that this industry declined for very obvious causes - because the raw silk, the very material upon which it subsisted, was exported and consequently the occupation of the native handloom weavers was gone.

At Waltair, one passenger left, but our compartment was kept full as another immediately succeeded him and all four berths were occupied on the second night. One got more or less

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broken sleep, but perhaps more than might be expected. At Bapatla next morning- there was chota hazri, or early tea, ready, and it was very welcome. At Bitragunta there was a halt for breakfast. As we approached Madras, late in the afternoon, we came by lovely groves of palms, quite dark thick forests of them, with pools of water among them in which water lilies bloomed. Green parroquets decorated the telegraph wires, sitting in rows much as the swallows do in England in the autumn. The telegraph wires all over India are however a favourite resting perch with a variety of birds, and quick an observer may get a good notion of the variety of species in Indian Ornithology by noticing the many kinds of birds which may be seen in such positions, clearly silhouetted against the sky.

We arrived at the Beach Station, Madras, about five o'clock on February 4, relieved to have reached the end of our long journey. Hotel touts here may be described as active and strong on the wing. We eventually squeezed ourselves into a tickagary with our light baggage, and in spite of the presence of Moonsawmy - or perhaps in collusion with him - an officious native guide mounted the box and offered us information as to the public buildings we passed on the way to the hotel. The Prince of Wales's was full, but the proprietor advised us of another not far off, known as the Castle, which had formerly been the pavilion or palace of a native prince, and was a large two-storied yellow washed building with colonnades on the ground Moor, and

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extensive terraces on to which the rooms opened out, on the first floor. These terraces were protected by a parapet which took the form of low battlements, whence possibly the hotel derived its name. There was a pleasant garden shaded by trees around the building, walled in from the road, and having entrance gates. Here we found agreeable rooms and plenty of space, without oppressive luxury or comfort, and as cool as might be expected, if it is ever cool anywhere in Madras.........

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...... Madras we found too oppressive and inervating to stay long, and so on February 8th we departed for Tanjore, rising at 4.30 a.m. to catch an early

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train, and were only able to snatch a hasty hazri, and get into a belated carriage and drive through the gloom of the early morning...or rather by the dim light of the waning moon to the station for the 5.45 train South.

Our compartment was shared at different stages of the journey by British officers. A Babu with a quantity of baggage, and three German Mission people - a gentleman and two ladies with still more baggage, who filled it pretty well up to Tanjore.

The country seemed very productive, and on each side of the line most of the way were large crops of paddy, much of it under water. In many places, too, the natives were ploughing in the water. The crops in some of the fields (or rather pastures separated by low banks of earth) were a brilliant light green, in others the grain was ripe, and was being reaped with hooks by the natives, while further on they would be threshing and stacking the straw. The method of threshing out the grain was primitive. A man would hold a loose sheaf in his hand and beat it hard, several times in succession, on the ground; this shook out the grain, and then he would cast the straw that remained to the men who were stacking it near by. They made low wide stacks straight on to the bare earth. The women gathered up the paddy as it was reaped.

We passed more fine groves of cocoa palms, distant hills were visible inland here and there, and there were generally large sheets of water each side of the line, but the rivers which we frequently crossed were almost dry.

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...... Light cakes, bananas, and painted toys and other trifles were hawked about at the stations, the sellers uttering curious cries and chants. Every station had its tap of water, and always a thirsty throng of natives from their crowded compartments would be seen clustering around it filling their bright brass drinking cups, which they

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invariably carry, quenching their thirst and washing themselves.

Apropos of the refreshment stations, I find a note in my journal as to what appears to have been a particularly unsatisfactory Tiffin at Villuparam, for which we were induced to pay 1 rupee 8 annas in advance, but of which "only a little currie was really eatable. "How much more sensible (perchance not so profitable) it would be to give travellers the chance of ordering from the carte, and paying according to a fixed tariff. Travellers are by no means always able to eat the provided meal, and need milk and easily digestible foods, and simple cookery. The hard meat, stringy fowl, and messed up dishes usually offered are very inappropriate, if not positively injurious food. Simply cooked sound fresh food is a great want at hotels and railway stations all over India.

We arrived at Tanjore between 6 and 7 in the evening. There were sleeping and refreshment rooms at the station. The station-master met us and said that a room would be vacant at 9 o'clock, as Lord and Lady ... who then occupied them were leaving by the 9 p.m. mail. In the meantime we had a ladies' waiting-room to ourselves and could dine during the interval. The sleeping rooms were across a bridge on the other side of the line in a new terraced building, with an English housekeeper sort of woman to receive us and our rupees. There was quite an up-to-date porcelain bath, but, on examination, one tap was cut off, and there was no water in the other! There were spring beds and mosquito curtains, and it was a fairly cool room.

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The system here was to charge 1 rupee 8 annas for a room for the first twelve hours, and if occupied for longer then the rate was higher.

Hearing there was a good Dak bungalow near by, we decided to take up our quarters there the next morning and found it quite nice, cool, quiet, old-fashioned and unpretentious, and their being no other travellers we had it all to ourselves. From what the native in charge said it appeared that the new station rooms rather injured his custom, as travellers now mostly stayed there. ......


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[From Trichinopoly] Madura was our next destination, and we were not sorry to get away from our stifling little barn of a room at the bungalow, leaving in the early morning about daybreak for the 5.45 Madras mail.

The country was flat at first, with, again, large sheets of water along the sides of the line, but as we passed from the Trichinopoly district to the Madura district we entered a mountainous region, thickly wooded. I noted many cedar trees, and a kind of cactus growing high with tall tree-like stem. It was an interesting and varied country the rest of the way. The crops were chiefly paddy and castor oil plant.

One station had the extraordinary name of Ammayanayakanur, and we were soon in the tobacco-growing district, passing Dindigul with a rock and an old fort upon it, not unlike Trichinopoly in character. Cigars of the district were offered at the station, but we saw no tobacco crops near the line.

We reached Madura about noon, in time for tiffin, and engaged a room at the station, which was a great improvement as to beds and general appointments on our recent bungalow experiences. The sleeping-rooms were built out on a separate wing which appeared to be new. They opened on to a corridor which led to a large open terrace, and were in charge of a Eurasian woman. There was also a good dining-room at the station. ......

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We left Madura on the 15th of February for Tuticorin. The country traversed was flat and plain for the most part, with cultivated crops of castor oil plants, paddy, and corn, alternating with jungle of brushwood, but no fine trees. Hills were seen in the distance on the right, and we made

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several stoppages at short places with very long names.

Arriving" at Tuticorin about four in the afternoon, we went on to the beach station, and got on board a small steam launch or tug in waiting at the jetty, then we saw the last quarter, as it were, of our Moonsawmy, and took our leave of him, after he had had his usual fierce dispute with the coolies, who certainly never received trade union wages from him. On the whole we were not sorry to get away from the rupee-hunting throng which usually hang about stations and wharves - the kites and crows in pursuit of the traveller, their prey, who for the time being, at least, now escaped their clutches.

Tuticorin presented no obvious attractions except the sea, which we were quite glad to meet again. The launch seemed just large enough to hold the train-load of passengers - Americans, Germans, and English with their baggage, and after about half-an-hour's steam across the harbour we reached the steamer (the "Pandua" of Glasgow) and climbed up the gangway to the saloon deck. We secured a rather small but well-appointed berth opening off the saloon, and were able to enjoy a well-served dinner... food seems generally better on ship-board than on land - at least Indian land. Cargo boats were clinging to the steamer's side, and, at sunset, one by one cast off and hoisted their lateen sails (like those of an Arab dhow) each boat having one about the length of the vessel. The sailors in hoisting up the sail climbed and clung to the rope, to bring it up with their weight.

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Chanting a curious sort of song the while, our steamer weighed anchor and started, and we looked astern and saw the last of India fading from view behind the shining wake of the steamer, and lost in the glow of an orange sunset."

The original source material used on this page is believed to be out of copyright, and/or these extracts are believed to be fall within the scope of fair use under copyright law. Material selection and editing by R Sivaramakrishnan, 2008.