Travels in Central India, Bombay, and Bengal

India and its Native Princes. Travels in Central India and in the Presidencies of Bombay and Bengal" by L. Rousselet, Bickers, London, 1882

Made available by the Internet Archive.
Source: Library of the University of Toronto Edited by R Sivaramakrishnan. Posted to IRFCA on: October 14, 2008.

This is as fine a narrative of travels in the India of the 1880's as could be written by anyone. Certainly longish, but nowhere insipid. The railways are there, treated with some admiration, as the following extract on travel by the sleeper coach of those days shows:

p. 587:

We took our tickets at Bhagulpore for Azimgange, the station for Moorshedabad. As the train left at two in the morning, we were placed in one of the comfortable sleeping-carriages which the East Indian Railway has recently introduced on its lines. These carriages contain only two compartments, in each of which there is but a single seat, the movable back of which takes off, and, being fastened by straps, forms a sort of couch of the same description as the beds used in ships' cabins. On the opposite side of the carriage are two closets one for the toilet, the other for convenience. By paying a slight addition to the price of the ordinary places, you may thus travel surrounded by all the comforts so essential in this country. I had, however, already experienced the utility of this invention in a previous journey I made on the East Indian line; but anxiety not to interrupt the course of my narrative forbade reference to it earlier.

During my first stay in Agra, in 1866, I had written to Calcutta to have the chemical materials and plates necessary in photography sent on to me from that city. My letter not having reached its destination, I waited for the packet some days; when, seeing nothing arrive, I determined to go myself to Calcutta to fetch those articles, without which it was impossible for me to continue my journey. Leaving Agra one morning at six, I arrived at Calcutta three days afterwards, during the night; and, after a stay of twenty-four hours in the town, I returned to Agra, thus accomplishing the entire distance in seven days and a half. Thanks to the sleeping-carriages, I had been able to travel over this immense distance with comparatively little fatigue sleeping at night on a comfortable little bed, and walking up and down in my carriage during the day; and, at stations unprovided with buffets, I found a servant who, when he had taken the orders for my meal, telegraphed on to the next station, where my breakfast or dinner awaited my arrival.

The Anglo-Indian Companies are making praiseworthy efforts to succeed in rendering long journeys by rail possible even in summer. Thus travellers proceeding from Bombay to Calcutta by the express trains now are accommodated

p. 588:

with carriages with cuscas swathed in mattings, which are kept moist by reservoirs specially provided for the purpose. This moisture, enveloping the carriage, preserves the temperature at a degree of coolness sufficient almost to extinguish the risk of incurring sun-stroke or apoplexy, at one time so frequent on these journeys.

But to return to our journey from Bhagulpore to Moorshedabad. After a good night's rest, passed on the seat of the carriage, I awoke to see the sun already flooding with its rays the beautiful green plains which extend along a

p. 589:

picturesque little chain of hills, notched out like sharp pyramids. We were entering into Bengal Proper, and these hills were the extreme points of the group of the Rajmahals. From this point the line, which from Agra pursues an easterly direction, following the course of the .Jumna and the Ganges, turns off abruptly and runs towards the south, parallel with the Hooghly, the extreme western branch of the great network of the Lower Ganges.

We soon reached the station of Teen Puhar (the Three Mountains), so called from the vicinity of three curious volcanic craters, one, of which, it is said, shows every now and again signs of activity; and somewhat farther to the east is Rajmahal, the ancient capital of Western Bengal.

... At ten o'clock we stopped at the station of Nulhattee, whence a short line branches off to Moorshedabad.

There is a fine drawing of the inside of the sleeper coach, with the attendants on their tasks, in p. 588.

As one who has lived mostly in Pondicherry, a former French possession in India, I have always been wanting to know why the little French enclave of Chandernagore near Calcutta sank into near-oblivion even after Pondicherry and the other three enclaves flourished to a degree after the British had established their hegemony over India. And here I found the answer to that riddle:

p. 593:

Re-entering our railway carriage, within an hour we came to a pause again; but this time on French ground, at Chandernagore. A few steps from the station we perceived with emotion the tricolour flag proudly waving above the trees: soon we were in the midst of fellow-countrymen and friends, and, for the first time in the course of four years, heard the sound of the French tongue pronounced by French lips. And yet, after this first emotion, which is always felt on setting foot on ground sheltered by the national flag, we could not here avoid feeling a heaviness at heart on casting a glance around. What! does this spot of earth of a few square miles this heap of low, dirty huts, invaded by water and vegetation represent all our Indian empire in the north? Dull streets without life, bazaars without trade, a harbour without vessels, such at the present day is Chandernagore, which, in 1740, eclipsed Calcutta and governed Bengal. Why France persist in retaining this insignificant spot of ground? Is it to remind us what we might have been in India, and of what we are? Is it for the military importance of a place where treaties forbid us to keep more than fifteen soldiers. Would it not be better to efface all these melancholy souvenirs, and to withdraw our flag from a locality in which it only receives humiliations? Unless, indeed, the tribute of three hundred cases of opium, representing from 200,000 to 300,000 francs, which England pays us on the condition that we shall not interfere with her monopoly, be deemed a sufficient compensation for these humiliations.

p. 594:

Still, Chandernagore must be admitted to possess certain advantages; such as a very picturesque position on the right bank of the Hooghly, fine sites, and a comparatively salubrious climate. If, therefore, it was resolved that we should maintain this possession, at the very least these natural advantages should have been utilised. An unexpected opportunity occurred about fifteen years ago, when the railway going up to Delhi was being laid out, and Chandernagore was proposed to be crossed by the line. A company was formed at Calcutta to convert our colony into a sort of St. Cloud of the Indian capital: villas, a theatre, and other places of amusement were to be built there; in a word, Europeans were to be attracted to the spot, and bring life into it; and, by way of compensation, the company asked of the French Government of the cession of the ground necessary for the establishment of the line and of a station. The project was sent to Paris to be submitted to the superior authorities, whence it returned after a long delay. The Govennment consented to make the concession, but on the condition that all the men employed by the company on the line and at the station situated on French territory should be French. This was most ingenious! And what was the result? The English company abandoned its project, and made the line pass outside our territory; so that the railroad now carefully avoids our colony, and the station, instead of being in the town, miles away from it.

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.