Our Life and Travels in India (1898)

"Our life and travels in India", W. Wakefield, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, London, 1898

Made available by the Internet Archive.
Link: http://www.archive.org/details/ourlifetravelsin00wake
Source: Wilbur L. Cross Library, University of Connecticut Selected and edited with comments by R Sivaramakrishnan. Posted to IRFCA on: October 24, 2008.

I had a sense of deja vu when I read some pages. The sense was so strong that I felt that I might have read them before and posted them already: I had to check up that I had not indeed done so. For, there have been similar descriptions of the routes in other books published around the same period. But I realized that the accounts in this book are more detailed and vivid. Two excerpts:

p. 115:

We proceeded early the next morning to the Boree Bunder Station, the terminus in Bombay of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, by which line our journey was continued as far as Jubbulpur. During the last few years the railways have made rapid progress in India; and the three presidency towns are already connected. These large main lines have branches to every city of importance en route, and the line to Peshawur is approaching completion ; so that in a short time complete communication will exist with every part of the empire by means of the iron road, undoubtedly the greatest pioneer of civilization ever introduced into India. The number of miles of railway at present open approaches six thousand, representing an expenditure of ninety

eight millions of pounds ; while the average yearly receipts are


between three and four millions. The electric telegraph runs along every line of railway, and connects all the important places in India, and a message of six words can be sent to any part of the country for one rupee. The charge between England and India is two pounds for every ten words, including the address, and four shillings for every word beyond that number.

On the Indian railways all the situations of trust and responsibility are filled by Englishmen, who also act as engine-drivers and guards. The work of the subordinate officials is performed by natives; and at the smaller and less important stations educated natives, or ' baboos,' as they are termed, fulfil the duties of station-master. The carriages are constructed with special reference to their adaptability to a hot climate, and also to afford sleeping accommodation to the traveller when on a long journey. These two ends are attained by the addition of Venetian blinds to the windows, and the provision of other ventilating appliances ; and by the slinging up to hooks, when required, of the stuffed backs of the seats which are hung on hinges, and afford, when suspended, two hanging couches, thus giving, with the seats below, four berths to each carriage, similar to those on board ship.

Although the carriages and officials, and even the buildings of the larger stations, are very similar to what one has been accustomed to see at home, the scene presented by the platform at the departure of a train is very different, and needs the talent of a Frith to do it justice ; for it is a bewildering jumble of crowd, noise, and confusion. Railway travelling is very popular among the natives, on account of its cheapness.

p. 117

Hence every train is full of third-class passengers, for, with very few exceptions, they never take first-class places, and in this respect their innate love of saving has levelled all distinctions of caste and position. The rich man, or Brahman, to whom at other times personal contact with his inferiors is pollution, is content to be huddled up with people of the lowest grades of society, in a bare covered shed on wheels, rather than, to secure better accommodation, he will part with

a fraction more of his beloved coin, which is dearer to him than wife, family, or even life itself. Curiosity, the besetting sin of the inhabitants of India, undoubtedly attracts considerable numbers of the crowds who throng the platforms; but the majority are composed of the intending passengers and their relatives and friends, who accompany them to witness their departure. This appears to be a necessary preliminary to travel ; and as it is not uncommon for one passenger to have an escort of thirty to forty followers, all of whom have a last word to say, and say that in their usual shrill treble, some idea may be formed of the noise that prevails. To this, however, must be added the shrieks and imprecations issuing from the various ticket offices, where the native clerks are dispensing the tickets; for it is the invariable practice of their customers to attempt to cheapen the fare, or, failing in that, to put down a lesser amount, and strive to escape in the confusion. Wild and aimless runnings up and down of natives struggling under the weight of enormous bundles of personal property, which they attempt to cram into the carriages, leading to personal conflicts with the officials, who wish to place the luggage in the van, also add to the universal din.

p. 118

The native police, too, the so-called guardians of order, are considerable elements of confusion, rushing from place to place to enforce a passage through the crowd for some distinguished female, who is being transported to her carriage in a covered palanquin, or for some European sahib. As their usual method of procedure to secure their ends is the unsparing use of a light, supple cane on the naked legs of their compatriots, cries of rage and pain from the victims lend a rich variety to a hubbub, which is only to be compared to Babel in its palmy days, and which is simply appalling to a nervous person, or one unaccustomed to Eastern travel. Another noticeable feature in connection with Indian railway stations, is the immense crowd always to be seen collected on the outside of the building, during the intervals of arrival and departure. This arises from the curious indifference as to time or method common to the native mind. Never do natives take the trouble to ascertain at what period the train departs for their destination; but they proceed, accompanied with troops of friends, to the station, at any hour convenient to themselves. It often occurs that they arrive a few minutes late, and have to wait until the following morning to commence their journey; this to them is a matter of pure indifference. Without any thought of leaving the vicinity of the station, they proceed to establish themselves as comfortably as circumstances admit, and eat and sleep until the doors are opened, when they rouse up into undue activity, and assist in the scene already described.

We were fortunate enough to secure a carriage entirely to ourselves. In a few minutes the train glided out of the station, and the town of Bombay was soon miles behind us.

p. 119

The scenery at first was very pretty, the country being broken up into small hills, covered with cocoa-nut palms, and other trees ; while the cultivated portions were fenced in with very large plants of the prickly pear, which in these parts do duty as hedges, and make a very stiff and formidable barrier for the better protection of the crops. In about six hours we reached a wilder region, one of mountains, rocks, and forests; for we were now at the foot of the Ghaut mountains, and it was necessary to ascend their precipitous sides to reach the table-land of the Deccan, along which our course lay. The Deccan is certainly the most remarkable geographical feature of Southern India. It is a central table-land a vast plateau enclosed on all sides by lofty mountains between which and the sea, on the east and west, are narrow strips of low, flat country, divided into several districts. From the low country on the coast to this great table-land the mountains rise abruptly in a succession of gigantic terraces or steps. Hence the name of the Ghauts, a Hindu word for steps or landing places.

The Eastern and Western Ghauts consist chiefly of metamorphic rocks, which are continued across the country to the north of the Godavery. Between this transverse band of altered strata and the diluvial deposits of the north, a large tract of country is occupied with palaeozoic rocks. Here are the principal coal-fields of India. The most important is the Ranigunj, a belt of coal-bearing strata, consisting of coal and iron beds, as well as limestone suitable for flux, and hard sandstone fitted for building purposes. The carboniferous strata lie in a basin of metamorphic rock, and cover an area of five hundred square miles, at a distance of from one

p. 120

hundred and twenty to one hundred and sixty miles northwest of Calcutta. The iron ores consist of 'black band' yielding thirty-nine per cent of metal, and magnetic ironstone yielding from sixty to seventy per cent. A certain amount of coal is yearly raised ; but the development of the mineral wealth of the country is yet in its infancy. Much, however, may be expected from the Geological Survey, now some years in progress. The minerals of India are abundant and varied, including, beside the coal and iron already mentioned, gold, silver, tin, copper, plumbago, lead; and in precious stones, diamonds, rubies, beryls, and many others. Gold has been found from time immemorial.

When the idea was first mooted of carrying the rail over the Ghauts, it was deemed impossible; but engineering talent has overcome the difficulty. The ascent and descent have been made practicable, by cutting out from the face of the hills zigzag tracks, wide enough to allow of the passage of a train, and each with a considerable gradient. At each of the various angles of the road a station is erected, with what is called a reversing platform, built out from the precipitous hillside. On this the train is run, after completing the passage of one of the zigzags, and the engine is removed from its former position and attached to the other end of the line of carriages. The train then proceeds again on its upward way, each extremity thus becoming alternately first and last. In descending the Ghauts, the same process is observed; while, to prevent accidents, powerful brake-vans are attached to each train.

There are numerous tunnels on the line here, and this, joined to the fact that on looking out of the window one sees below him a sheer precipitous fall of a thousand feet or more, is apt

p. 121

to cause alarm to nervous folk, particularly as the wheels of the carriages approach most unpleasantly near to the edge, with nothing to save their occupants from destruction in case of a mishap but a small parapet, barely three feet high. Accidents are rare, great caution being observed by all the officials ; but a few years ago one entire train went over a precipice, owing to the inability of the engine-driver to stop his engine on arrival at a reversing station.

The scenery throughout the passage of the Ghauts is very grand, and amply repays one for any alarm caused by the novelty of this mode of railway travelling. The landscape is a series of rugged mountains cleft by chasms, in which, in the rainy season, torrents rage and foam. At some points dense masses of forest and long wavy grass clothe the mountains nearly to their highest ridges ; while at others, solitary hills stand out bare and cheerless, some flat-topped or peaked, some even of most fantastic outline ; for the chief peculiarity of these Ghauts lies in their great irregularity, the ranges of hills following no regular order, but presenting a wild eccentricity of appearance, as if scattered by an earthquake.

We reached Deolali, the militany depot for all troops proceeding from or to England, at four o'clock, and from some of the officers we saw at the station learnt that as yet the regiment had proceeded no further, but that a portion was expected to start the following morning. Three hours later we halted for dinner ; and soon after resuming our journey the approach of night warned us to prepare our couches for our needed repose. Neither during the day nor night did we pass any places of great importance, with the exception of Burhanpur, an old Indian city, close to which is the

p. 122

celebrated hill fortress of Asseeghur, a Mahratta stronghold of vast antiquity. Deemed impregnable, it fell to our arms some years ago, but only after an obstinate siege, followed by the treachery of some of its defenders. In this part of the country there are also very extensive forests, celebrated alike for their trees and the wild beasts who obtain a shelter in their depths. The majority of the forests of Hindustan contain an immense number of large trees little known in Europe, but capable of yielding valuable timber, and distinguished by their fragrance, luxuriant growth, or adaptation for manufactures. Teak grows in many places; and other trees characteristic of Indian scenery are the banian, saul, sissoo, sappan, &c.; while in the more northern parts the oak, cypress, and poplar flourish. Bamboos also abound, and so rapidly does their growth proceed that some of these reeds have been reported to attain a height of sixty feet in six months. We had a very comfortable night in the train, and soon after daybreak were all wide awake, and ready for breakfast, which was obtained at a small station about seven o'clock. Resuming our way, we passed through very pretty scenery, the country being fairly level, and for the most part under cultivation, with here and there small ranges of hills, which assisted to vary the usual dreary monotony of Indian scenery in the plains. Jubbulpur, our destination, was reached at noon; and we drove straight to the hotel, where a copious bath and a complete change had the effect of greatly improving our personal appearance, which a day and a night's travelling over a road covered, as is always the case in India during the dry season, with a fine white dust, had by no means improved.


p. 178: Removal to Faizabad.

We left the hotel [at Lucknow] at an early hour, and drove to the railway station to catch the morning train to take us to our destination, a journey of seven hours, Faizabad being distant about eighty-nine miles from Lucknow. It was a very trying morning; and the hot wind, blowing with great force, added greatly to our discomfort, as we were obliged to close every window and aperture in the carriage to prevent its ingress. Many methods have been tried to cool the carriages, and lower the temperature experienced by the traveller by rail, during the prevalence of these winds, but nothing as yet has been devised of a perfectly satisfactory nature, and one has to be content to endure, throughout a journey in the daytime, a period of close confinement in a dark and shut-up box, in which the thermometer stands at anything between ninety and one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. This condition of things is very injurious to Europeans, and often attended with fatal results, passengers being attacked with heat apoplexy, and dying before assistance or means to relieve them can be obtained. Even if no untoward results occur, the intense unalleviated heat affects more or less the healthiest constitution, and towards the end of the journey one usually feels an excessive fulness in the head, joined to a general sense of weariness and exhaustion. Hence very few people travel by rail during the hot weather, or if obliged to do so they usually select the hours of night for their journey; but it occurs sometimes that there is only one train to the desired station in the twenty-four hours, and that leaving during the most trying part of the day. In these cases there is no choice, and one

p. 179

must endure in the best manner possible that which cannot be obviated, trusting to good fortune that there will be no worse result than great bodily discomfort. Unfortunately for ourselves the only train to Faizabad left at nine a.m., and from that hour until the time of our arrival, five p.m., our misery was intense. We were in a half comatose condition when we arrived at our destination, and were released from our darkened chamber of horror.

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.