Impressions of Indian Travel (1903)

Oscar Browning, "Impressions of Indian Travel", Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1903

Made available by the Internet Archive.
Source: Libraries of the University of California system Edited by R Sivaramakrishnan. Posted to IRFCA on: January 8, 2008.

Ch. II, "An Indian Train", p. 13 et seq. describes the 46 hour journey by the first class in a train from Bombay to Calcutta. The compartment had floor space of 12 feet by 10, four berths and six seats. A convenient washing room was attached where one could have a bath. Much better to purchase new bedding, consisting of a mattress with two soft coverlets, sheets, blankets and a pillow. The carriage was not well lighted and reading would be impossible for the jolting, as the track as not a model of perfection, and the dust was very trying.

"The best thing one could do was to sleep all night and doze all day, gazing out from time to time at the strange sights which presented themselves as one moved the jungle was not a tangled forest, but any odd piece of waste ground .."

This, to my mind, reads that even as of 1903, considerable deforestation had taken place; the railway companies themselves had indulged on a large scale, partly for the sleepers required for the tracks where quality wood was available.

" tigers might abound in districts which seemed little calculated to offer them shelter; the natives always walked in a single file and were continually washing themselves, even in the dirtiest water ."

"The refreshment arrangements [in the train] were admirable .."

"No sooner have you passed your handover your stubby beard than a barber appears to shave you in the carriage . Indeed, your wishes are no sooner conceived than they are satisfied as if by magic . In this manner day succeeds night and night day, till you reach your destination, dizzy, but unfatigued. During the journey you have been rarely excited, but never dull."

Calcutta, p. 25 et seq.

Ch. IV Darjeeling, p. 35 et seq.

From Calcutta by train; crossed the mighty Ganges by a ferry boat and took another train on the other side; the climb of 7,000 feet on the two foot gauge took seven hours

Ch. IX Benares; Ch. X Sarnath; Ch. XI Secundra (Agra) Akbar's tomb.

Ch. XX Conclusions (p. 223 et seq.): While westerners who have travelled in India held that the two obstacles to India's progress were the purdah and the caste system, very strangely, the author himself defends them both:

"Purdah, or the seclusion of women, is of course repugnant to our feelings and; contrary to our habits, but I have sometimes wished that we had just a little of, it in our own country, .."

He defends the caste system even more strongly and expresses his admiration for it!

Browning was certainly no railfan I only wish that he had recorded his many train journeys in greater detail; however, this work exemplifies how differently India could be looked at by outsiders.

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.