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- Diary of a Pedestrian in Cashmere and Thibet - 2/42 -
With the highest admiration for England, and a respect for the Englishman, which extended to the very lining of their pockets, Mr. Rajoo possessed, together with many of the faults of his race, a certain humour, and an amount of energy most unusual among the family of the mild Hindoo. He had, moreover, travelled much with various masters, in what are, in his own country, deemed "far lands;" and having been wounded before Delhi, he had become among the rest of his people an authority, and to the Englishman in India an invaluable medium for their coercion and general management.
To us he proved a most efficient incumbent of the several offices we selected him to fill. His administration no doubt did display an occasional weakness; and his conduct as paymaster to the forces was decidedly open to animadversion; for, in this capacity, he seemed to be under the impression that payments, like charity, began at home, and he also laboured under a constitutional and hereditary infirmity, which prevented him in small matters from discerning any difference between MEUM and TUUM.
Having been employed collectively, however, it would be unfair to judge of his performances in detail; and from his satisfactory management of the expedition, occasionally under such trying circumstances as a break-down in the land transport, or an utter failure in his tobacco supply, we had every reason to be satisfied with our choice. The latter misfortune was the only one which really interfered at any time with his efficiency, or upset his equanimity, and it unfortunately occurred always at the most inopportune seasons, and at a time when he was undergoing his greatest hardships.
As long as the supply lasted, the mysterious gurglings of his "Hubble Bubble," or cocoa-nut water-pipe, might be heard at almost any hour of the day or night. "Hubble bubble, toil and trouble," was the natural order of his existence; and when in some peculiarly uncivilised region of our wanderings, the compound of dirt, sugar, and tobacco, in which his soul delighted, was not forthcoming, he and his pipe seemed at once to lose their vitality, and to become useless together. The temporary separation which ensued, being in its way a MENSA ET THORO, was a source of trouble and inconvenience to all concerned, and we had, more than once, cause to regret not having given the tobacco question that forethought and consideration to which it would be well entitled by any one undertaking a similar expedition.
Overlooking these weaknesses, Mr. Rajoo's character was beyond reproach, and for the particular work he had to perform, his combination of efficiency, portability, and rascality, rendered him in every respect "the right man in the right place."
Such was our "head of affairs," and such the small force he had at first to provide for. As we passed out of India, and got further from regions of comparative civilisation, his cares increased: cellar, kitchen, larder, farm-yard, tents, &c. had then to accompany our wandering steps, and the expedition gradually increased in size, until it attained its maximum of nearly forty. From this it again as gradually decreased, and as one by one our retainers disappeared, it dwindled in dimensions until it finally reached its original limited proportions, and then "we three met again," once more upon the plains of India.
All our necessary preparations having been completed, and a sacrifice of three precious weeks having been duly offered to the inexorable genius who presides over public correspondence, we reduced our impedimenta to the smallest possible compass, and with about a hundred pounds to commence life with, all in two shilling pieces, that being the only available coin of the realm in this our second century of British administration, we took our departure by railway for Cawnpore. Here we found ourselves located and hospitably entertained in the house in which our unfortunate fellow-countrywomen were confined on their recapture from the river by the Nana Sahib, one of the few mementos of the mutiny still left standing at Cawnpore.
Next day we laid our dak for Simla, and about six o'clock in the evening, with the Q.M.G. on the roof, and ourselves and our possessions stowed away in the innumerable holes and corners of the rude wooden construction called a "Dak garee," or post coach, we took our departure. After a few mishaps with our steed, involving the necessity of getting out to shove behind, we entered upon the Grand Trunk Road, and with a refreshing sense of freedom and relief, soon left Cawnpore in all its native dust and dreariness behind us.
The Pleasures of the Plains.
MAY 21, 1860. -- Being fairly under weigh, our first attention was directed towards the machine which was to be, in a great measure, our home for many days to come. Not overburdened with springs, and not much to look at, though decidedly an extraordinary one to go, our conveyance was by no means uncomfortable; and, stretched upon a mattress extending its entire length, F. and I chatted over our plans and projects, and star-gazed, and soon fell asleep, in spite of the ruts on the road and the wild discordant bugling of our ragged coachman, who seemed to consider that, however inferior in other respects, in a matter of music we were not to be outdone, not even by Her Majesty's own royal mail. At first sight, the necessity of trying to clear such lonely roads as we were travelling was not altogether apparent; but a slight acquaintance with the general principles and laws of progression of the national Indian institution called a bullock-cart, or "beil-garee," soon clears up the difficulty. Built entirely of wood, and held together by scraps of ropes and cord, a more hopeless-looking machine cannot exist; and drivers and bullocks alike share in the general woodenness and impassibility of the structure. The animals, too, having probably lost all the better feelings of their nature in such a service, are appealed to entirely through the medium of their tails, and the operation occasionally results in the whole creaking mass being safely deposited in some capacious rut, there to remain until "the Fates" -- assuming, perhaps, the appearance of three additional bullocks -- arrive to draw it out again. Occasionally, too, the institution comes to a halt for the night, comfortably drawn up in the centre of the line of traffic, with a delightful disregard for aught but the present, and an air of supreme contempt for the most eloquent music of all the ragged coachmen on the Grand Trunk Road.
Every five miles we stopped to change our horse, and miserable indeed was the raw-boned little animal that made his appearance on every occasion. Still the pace was kept up in spite of appearances, and at seven A.M. we reached "Ghoorsahagunge" -- more generally known as GOOSEYGUNGE -- sixty miles from Cawnpore, and 197 from Delhi.
Here we slept in peace until eleven o'clock, and awoke from dreams of Cashmere to the unpleasant realities of a violent dust-storm. The usual "Khus-khus tatties," or screens of fragrant grass, which are kept in a continual state of moisture at door and window, and convert the dust-charged scorching blast into a comparative coolness, were not forthcoming, and our halt was not a pleasant one by any means: still our faces were towards the mountains, and the pleasures of hope enabled us to take our misfortunes with entire philosophy. We started again about five P.M., when the power of the sun was somewhat abated, and encountered the usual difficulties with refractory horses at every change. A start was in no case effected without much management and exertion. A half-naked black generally attaches himself to each wheel; the driver, from a post of vantage, belabours the miserable horse with all his might and main; the Q.M.G. takes a firm hold of the rails on the roof; and all shouting, grunting, and using bad language together, away we go at full gallop, if we are in unusual luck, for about 300 yards. Then comes a dead stop: the same operation commences again, and so on, until the animal is sufficiently far from his last stable to be able to look forward with some confidence to the one ahead, and resigns himself to circumstances accordingly. One peculiarity in this peculiar country we found to be, that in putting our steed-to, the English custom is reversed. The cart is "put-to," not the horse; and the latter being left standing anywhere on the road, the lumbering "garee" is dragged up to his tail, and fastened up with a combination of straps and ropes, marvellous to behold.
MAY 23. -- To-day we arrived at "Etawah," where we found a very comfortable little staging bungalow, but no supplies of either beer or butter procurable. On the road in the early morning there were herds of deer and antelope in sight, but time being precious we left them unmolested.
As yet very little change makes its appearance in the character of the country. Level plains, with patches of trees, mango and palm, as far as the eye can reach, and everywhere dust, dust, dust! The palm-trees, however, with toddy parties scattered about among them, serve to make the scene look cheerful, and, for an eastern one, comparatively lively. In the evening we again took the road, with a hot wind blowing strongly and steadily, and before long we were overtaken by a dust-storm, which completely enveloped us in its murky folds, and interfered with our happiness a good deal. Got through the night much as usual, with the addition of a midnight vocal entertainment, which some hundreds of wolves and jackals treated us to, while the "authorities" were looking to our welfare, by taking off and greasing our wheels. Of travellers we meet but few, generally bullock-train parties, with soldiers, &c., return daks, and an occasional old Mussulman, or other native, taking advantage of the early morning for his journey, and wrapped and swaddled up as if afraid of being congealed by the coolness of the morning air.
Every day's journey leaves one more and more at a loss to discover the sources of the wealth of this enormous country. The soil, for miles and miles a dead flat, is now barren as a desert, and we meet hardly a sign of active traffic. During the night we certainly did encounter a long train of heavily-laden bullock-waggons; but the merchandize was gunpowder, and its destination was up, instead of down the road.
MAY 24. -- Arrived at "Kurga," where we found neither bread nor butter forthcoming -- nothing but -- "plenty fowl, Sahib!" In the evening we again encountered a heavy dust-storm, the worst of the season; the whole night it continued to blow in our teeth; and between the fierce dryness of the wind and the searching particles of dust, which visited us without ceremony, we spent anything but an agreeable night. At three A.M. we reached the "Hingus Nuddee," or river; and changing our solitary horse for two fat bullocks, we crossed its sandy bed, and over a bridge of boats -- not so genteelly, perhaps, but much more securely, than we could have otherwise done. There were the remains here of a handsome suspension bridge; but the chains had been cut by the rebel Sepoys, and nothing but the pillars now remained.
MAY 25. -- At four A.M. we crossed the bridge of boats over the Jumna, and found ourselves under the gloomy battlements of the Fort of Delhi.
Entering by the Calcutta Gate, we drove through large suburbs, lighted up with rows of oil lamps, reminding one, in the dim light, a good deal of Cairo. Arriving at the dak bungalow, we found it such a dirty looking deserted building, and the interior so much of a piece with the exterior, that we mounted again, and set off to try the Hotel, or "Pahunch Ghur," -- a name originally intended to convey the meaning
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