Chapter XIV. The Land Journey.

Being desirous of seeing as much as possible of the country we preferred the route which winds along the sea-shore to Poonanee, and then striking westward ascends the Blue Hills, to the short mountain-cut up the Koondah Range. Our curiosity, however, more than doubled the length of the march. (133)

No detailed account of the ten stages (134) will be inflicted upon the peruser of these pages. The journey as far as Poonancee was a most uninteresting one: we have literally nothing to record, except the ever-recurring annoyances of being ferried over backwaters, riding through hot sand fetlock deep, enduring an amount of glare enough to blind anything but a Muewa or a wild beast; and at the end of our long rides almost invariably missing the halting place. Arrived at the head-quarter village of Paulghaut, the victims of its deceptive nomenclature, (135) we instituted a diligent inquiry for any objects of curiosity the neighbourhood might offer; and having courted deceit we were deceived accordingly. A "native gentleman" informed us that the Yemoor Malay Hills, a long range lying about ten miles to the north of town, contains a variety of splendid points de vue, and a magnificent cataract, which every traveller is in duty bound to visit. Moreover, said the Hindoo, all those peaks are sacred to Parwati, the mountain deity, who visited them in person, and directed a number of small shrines to be erected there in honour of her goddesship.

So after engaging a nancheel we set out in quest of the sublime and beautiful. After winding for about three quarters of the total distance through a parched-up plain, the road reaches the foot of a steep and rugged hill overgrown with bamboos, and studded with lofty trees, whose names and natures are--

                    ----------To ancient song unknown,
          The noble sons of potent heat and floods.

As we advanced, the jungle became denser and denser: there were evident signs of hog and deer in the earths of those animals which strewed the ground. Tigers and elephants, bisons and leopards, are said to haunt the remoter depths, and the dry grass smouldering on our path proved the presence of charcoal burners--beings quite as wild as the other denizens of the forest.

The difficulty of the ascent being duly overcome we arrived at the cascade, and stood for a while gazing with astonishment at the prospect of-----a diminutive stream of water, trickling gently down the sloping surface of a dwarf rock. Remembering Terni and Tivoli, we turned our bearers' heads homewards, not however forgetting solemnly to enjoin them never to let a tourist pass by that way without introducing him to the Prince of all the Cataracts.

We were curious to see the fort of Paulghaut, once the key of Malabar, the scene of so many bloody conflicts between the power of Mysore and British India in the olden time. (136) A square building, with straight curtains, and a round tower at each angle, with the usual intricate gateway, the uselessly deep fosse, and the perniciously high glacis that characterize native fortifications--such was the artless form that met our sight. In the present day it would be untenable for an hour before a battery of half-a-dozen mortars.

Passing through the magnificent and most unhealthy Wulliyar jungle, (137) celebrated at all times for teak and sport, and during the monsoon for fever and ague, and dangerous torrents even more dangerously bridged, we arrived by a rough and rugged road at Coimbatore, a place which every cotton student and constant reader of the Indian Mail familiarly knows. A most unpromising looking locality it is--a straggling line of scattered houses, long bazaars, and bungalows, separated from each other by wide and desert "compounds." The country around presented a most unfavourable contrast to the fertile region we had just quitted, and the high fierce wind raising clouds of gravelly dust from the sun-parched plain, reminded us forcibly of similar horrors experienced in Scinde and Bhawalpore.

A ride of twenty miles along a dry and hard highway, skirted with numerous and, generally speaking, ruinous villages, led us to Matypollian at the foot of the Neilgherry Hills--our destination. And now as we are likely to be detained here for some time by that old offender the Bhawany River, who has again chosen to assault and batter down part of her bridge, we will deliberately digress a little and attempt a short description of land travelling in the "land of the sun."

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For the conveyance of your person, India supplies you with three several contrivances. You may, if an invalid, or if you wish to be expeditious, engage a palanquin, station bearers on the road, and travel either with or without halts, at the rate of three or four miles an hour: we cannot promise you much pleasure in the enjoyment of this celebrated Oriental luxury. Between your head and the blowing sun, there is scarcely half an inch of plank, covered with a thin mat, which ought to be, but never is, watered. After a day or two you will hesitate which to hate the most, your bearers monotonous, melancholy, grunting, groaning chaunt, when fresh, or their jolting, jerking, shambling, staggering gait, when tired. In a perpetual state of low fever you cannot eat, drink, or sleep; your mouth burns, your head throbs, your back aches, and your temper borders upon the ferocious. At night, when sinking into a temporary oblivion of your ills, the wretches are sure to awaken you for the purpose of begging a few pice, to swear that they dare not proceed because there is no oil for the torch, or to let you and your vehicle fall heavily upon the ground, because the foremost bearer very nearly trod upon a snake. Of course you scramble as well as you can out of your cage, and administer discipline to the offenders. And what is the result? They all run away and leave you to pass the night, not in solitude, for probably a hungry tiger circumambulates your box, and is only prevented by a somewhat superstitious awe of its general appearance, from pulling you out of it with claw and jaw, and all the action of a cat preparing to break her fast upon some trapped mouse.

All we have said of the palanquin is applicable to its humble modification. The mancheel in this part of the world consists merely of a pole, a canvas sheet hung like a hammock beneath it, and above it a square moveable curtain, which you may draw down on the sunny or windy side. In this conveyance you will progress somewhat more rapidly than you did in the heavy wooden chest, but your miseries will be augmented in undue proportion. As it requires a little practice to balance oneself in these machines, you will infallibly be precipitated to the ground when you venture upon your maiden attempt. After that a sense of security, acquired by dint of many falls, leaves your mind free to exercise its powers of observation, you will remark how admirably you are situated for combining the enjoyments of ophthalmic glare, febrile reflected heat, a wind like a Sirocco, and dews chilling as the hand of the Destroyer. You feel that your back is bent at the most inconvenient angle, and that the pillows which should support your head invariably find their way down between your shoulders, that you have no spare place, as in the palanquin, for carrying about a variety of small comforts, no, not even the room to shift your position--in a word, that you are a miserable being.

If in good health, your best plan of all is to mount one of your horses, and to canter him from stage to stage, that is to say, between twelve and fifteen miles a day. In the core of the nineteenth century you may think this style of locomotion resembles a trifle too closely that of the ninth, but, trust to our experience, you have no better. We will suppose, then, that you have followed our advice, engaged bandies (138) for your luggage, and started them off overnight, accompanied by your herd of domestics on foot. The latter are all armed with sticks, swords, and knives, for the country is not a safe one, and if it were, your people are endowed with a considerable development of cautiousness. At day-break, your horse-keeper brings up your nag saddled, and neighing his impatience to set out: you mount the beast, and leave the man to follow with a coolie or two, bearing on their shoulders the little camp-bed, on which you are wont to pass your nights. There is no danger of missing the road; you have only to observe the wheel-ruts, which will certainly lead you to the nearest and largest, perhaps the only town within a day's march. As you canter along, you remark with wonder the demeanour of the peasantry, and the sensation your appearance creates. The women veil their faces, and dash into the nearest place of refuge, the children scamper away as if your countenance, like Mokanna's, were capable of annihilating a gazer, the very donkeys and bullocks halt, start, and shy, as you pass them. (139) In some places the men will muster courage enough to stand and gaze upon you, but they do so with an expression of countenance, half-startled, half-scowling, which by no means impresses you with a sense of your individual popularity.

Between nine and ten A.M. you draw in sight of some large village, which instinct suggests is to be the terminus of that day's wandering. You had better inquire where the travellers' bungalow is. Sign-posts are unknown in these barbarous regions, and if you trust overmuch to your own sagacity, your perspiring self and panting steed may wander about for half an hour before you find the caravanserai.

At length you dismount. A horse-keeper rising grumbling from his morning slumbers, comes forward to hold your nag, and, whilst you are discussing a cup of tea in the verandah, parades the animal slowly up and down before you, as a precautionary measure previous to tethering him in the open air. Presently the "butler" informs you that your breakfast, a spatchoock, or a curry with eggs, and a plateful of unleavened wafers, called aps--bread being unprocurable hereabouts--is awaiting you. You find a few guavas or plantains, intended to act as butter, and when you demand the reason, your domestic replies at once, that he searched every house in the village, but could procure none. You might as well adopt some line of conduct likely to discourage him from further attempts upon your credulity, otherwise you will starve before the journey's end. The fact is, he was too lazy to take the trouble of even inquiring for that same butter.

We must call upon you to admire the appearance of the travellers' bungalows in this part of the country. You will see in them much to appreciate if you are well acquainted with Bombay India. Here they are cleanly looking, substantially built, tiled or thatched tenements, with accommodation sufficient for two families, good furniture, at least as far as a table, a couch, and a chair, go, outhouses for your servants, and an excellent verandah for yourself. There you may remember, with a touch of the true meminisse juvat feeling, certain dirty ill-built ruinous roadside erections, tenanted by wasps and hornets, with broken seats, tottering tables, and populous bedsteads, for the use of which, moreover, you were mulcted at the rate of a rupee a day. The result of the comparison will be that the "Benighted Land," (140) in this point at least, rises prodigiously in your estimation.

A siesta after breakfast, and a book, or any such passe-temps, when you awake, bring you on towards sunset. You may now, if so inclined, start for an hour's constitutional, followed by a servant carrying your gun, and keep your hand in by knocking down a few of the old kites that are fighting with the Pariah dogs for their scanty meal off offals, or you may try to bag one or two of the jungle cocks, whose crowing resounds from the neighbouring brakes.

Dinner! lovely word in English ears, unlovely thing--hereabouts--for English palate. The beer is sure to be lukewarm, your vegetables deficient, and your meat tough, in consequence of its having lost vitality so very lately.

You must take the trouble, if you please, of personally superintending the departure of your domestics. And this you will find no easy task. The men who have charge of the carts never return with their cattle at the hour appointed, and, when at last they do, there is not a box packed, and probably half your people are wandering about the bazaar. At length, with much labour, you manage to get things somewhat in order, witness with heartfelt satisfaction the first movement of the unwieldy train, and retire to the bungalow for the purpose of getting through the evening, with the assistance of tea, and any other little "distractions" your imagination may suggest.

Before retiring to rest you might as well look to the priming and position of your pistols. Otherwise you may chance to be visited by certain animals, even more troublesome than sand-flies and white ants. A little accident of the kind happened to us at Waniacollum, a village belonging to some Nair Rajah, whose subjects are celebrated for their thievish propensities. About midnight, the soundness of our slumbers was disturbed by the uninvited presence of some half-a-dozen black gentry, who were gliding about the room with the stealthy tread of so many wild cats in purissimis naturalibus, with the exception of an outside coating of cocoanut oil. One individual had taken up a position close to our bedside, with so very long a knife so very near our jugular region, that we judged it inexpedient in the extreme to excite him by any display of activity; so, closing our eyes, we slept heavily till our visitors thought proper to depart.

Our only loss was the glass shade of a candlestick, which the thieves, supposing to be silver, had carried into the verandah, where, we presume, after discovering that it was only plated, they had thrown it upon the ground and abandoned it as a useless article. We had, it is true, pistols in the room, but as the least movement might have produced uncomfortable results; and, moreover, we felt uncommonly like Juvenal's poor traveller, quite reckless of consequences as regarded goods and chattels, we resolved not to be bloody-thirsty. At the same time we confess that such conduct was by no means heroic. But an officer of our own corps, only a few weeks before, was severely wounded, and narrowly escaped being murdered, not fifty miles from the scene of our night's adventure, and we had little desire to figure among the list of casualties recorded in the bimonthly summaries of Indian news.

You would scarcely believe the extent of benefit in a sanitary point of view, derived from riding about the country in the way we have described. Every discomfort seems to do one good; an amount of broiling and wetting, which, in a cantonment, would lead directly to the cemetery, on the road seems only to add to one's ever-increasing stock of health. The greatest annoyance, perhaps, is the way in which the servants and effects suffer; a long journey almost invariably knocks up the former for an unconscionable time, and permanently ruins the latter.

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We are still at Matypolliam, but our stay will be short, as the bridge is now nearly repaired. By weighty and influential arguments we must persuade the Kotwal (141)--a powerful native functionary--to collect a dozen baggage-bullocks and a score of naked savages, destined to act as beasts of burden; no moderate inducement will make the proprietors of the carts drive their jaded cattle up the steep acclivities of the hills. A ridiculous sight it is--the lading of bullocks untrained to carry weight; each animal requires at least half-a-dozen men to keep him quiet; he kicks, he butts, he prances, he shies; he is sure to break from them at the critical moment, and, by an opportune plunge, to dash your unhappy boxes on the ground, scattering their contents in all directions. What a scene of human and bestial viciousness, of plunging and bellowing, of goading of sides, punching of stomachs, and twisting of tails! We must, however, patiently sit by and witness it; otherwise the fellows will not start till late in the afternoon.

You would scarcely believe that the inmates of that little bungalow which just peeps over the brow of the mountain, are enjoying the Alpine and almost European climate, whilst we are still in all the discomforts of the tropics. The distance between us is about three miles, as the crow flies--eleven along the winding road. We must prepare for the change by strapping thick coats to our saddlebows, and see that our servants are properly clothed in cloths and flannels. Otherwise, we render ourselves liable to the peine forte et dure of a catarrh of three months' probable duration, and our domestics will certainly be floored by fever and ague, cholera or rheumatism.

It is just nine o'clock A.M., rather an unusual time for a start in these latitudes. But the eddying and roaring of Bhawany's muddy stream warns us that there has been rain amongst the hills. The torrents are passable now; they may not be so a few hours later. So we will mount our nags, and gallop over the five miles of level country, partially cleared of the thick jungle which once invested it, to the foot of the Neilgherry hills.

We now enter the ravine which separates the Oolacul from the Coonoor range. A vast chasm it is, looking as if Nature, by a terrible effort, had split the giant mountain in twain, and left its two halves standing separated opposite each other. A rapid and angry little torrent brawls down the centre of the gap towards the Bhawany river, and the sides are clothed with thick underwood, dotted with tall wide-spreading trees. After the dusty flats of Mysore, and even the green undulations of Malabar, you admire the view with a sensation somewhat resembling that with which you first gazed upon the "castled crag of Drachenfels," when you visited it en route from monotonous France, uninteresting Holland, or unpicturesque Belgium. Probably, like certain enthusiastic individuals who have indited high-flown eulogies of Neilgherry beauty, you will mentally compare the scenery with that of the Alps, Apennines, or Pyrenees. We cannot, however, go quite so far with you; with a few exceptions the views generally--and this particularly--want grandeur and a certain nescio quid to make them really imposing.

Slowly our panting nags toil along the narrow parapetless road up the steep ascent of the Coonoor Pass. The consequence of the storm is that our pathway appears plentifully besprinkled with earth, stones, and trunks of trees, which have slipped from the inner side. In some places it has been worn by the rain down to the bare rock, and the gutters or channels of rough stone, built at an average distance of fifty yards apart to carry off the water, are slippery for horses, and must be uncommonly troublesome to wheeled conveyances. That cart which on the plains requires a single team, will not move here without eight pair of oxen; and yonder carriage demands the united energies of three dozen coolies, at the very least. As, however, its too-confiding owner has left it to a careless servant's charge, it will most probably reach its destination in a state picturesque, if not useful--its springs and light gear hanging in graceful festoons about the wheels.

And now, after crossing certain torrents and things intended for bridges--during which, to confess the truth, we did feel a little nervous--our nags stand snorting at the side of the stream which forms the Coonoor Falls. It bottom is a mass of sheet rock, agreeably diversified with occasional jagged points and narrow clefts; moreover, the water is rushing by with uncomfortable rapidity, and there is no visible obstacle to your being swept down a most unpleasant slope. In fact it is the kind of place usually described as growing uglier the more you look at it, so you had better try your luck as soon as possible. Wheel the nag round, "cram" him at the place, and just when he is meditating at sudden halt, apply your spurs to his sides and your heavy horsewhip to his flanks, trusting to Providence for his and your reaching the other side undamaged.

The Burleyar bungalow--a kind of half-way house, or rather an unfinished shed, built on an eminence to the right of the road,--informs us that we are now within six miles of our journey's end. The air becomes sensibly cooler, and we begin to look down upon the sultry steaming plain below with a sensation of acute enjoyment.

We might as well spend a day or two at Coonoor. Ootacamund is at least ten miles off, and it is perfectly useless to hurry on, as our baggage will certainly not arrive before the week is half over, even if it does then. Not, however, at the government bungalow--that long rambling thing perched on the hill above the little bazaar, and renowned for broken windows, fireless rooms, and dirty comfortless meals, prepared by a native of "heathen caste." We will partonize the hotel kept, in true English style, by Mr. Davidson, where we may enjoy the luxuries of an excellent dinner, a comfortable sitting-room, and a clean bed.

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A survey of the scenery in this part of the Neilgherries takes in an extensive range of swelling waving hill, looking at a distance as if a green gulf had suddenly become fixed for ever. On the horizon are lofty steeps, crowned with remnants of forests, studded with patches of cultivation, and seamed with paths, tracks, and narrow roads. There is little or no table-land; the only level road in the vicinity is scarcely a mile long. At the bottom of the hollow lies the bazaar and upon the rising knolls around are the nine or ten houses which compose the first European settlement you have seen on the Blue Hills.

Coonoor occupies the summit of the Matypolliam Pass, about five thousand eight hundred and eighty feet above the level of the sea. The climate is warmer than that of the other stations, and the attractions of an occasional fine day even during the three odious months of June, July, and August, fill it with invalids flying from the horrors of Ootacamund. The situation, however, is not considered a good one; its proximity to the edge of the hills, renders it liable to mists, fogs, and a suspicion of the malaria which haunts the jungly forests belting the foot of the hills. Those who have suffered from the obstinate fevers of the plains do well to avoid Coonoor.

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The day is fine and bright--a sine quâ non in Neilgherry excursions,--if the least cloud or mist be observed hanging about the mountain tops, avoid trips!--so we will start off towards that scarcely-distinguishable object, half peak, half castle, that ends the rocky wall which lay on our left when we rode up the Pass.

You look at Oolacul (142) Droog, as the fort is called, and wonder what could have been the use of it. And you are justified in your amazement. But native powers delight in cooping up soldiery where they may be as useless as possible; they naturally connect the idea of a strong place with isolated and almost inaccessible positions, and cannot, for the life of them conceive, what Europeans mean by building their fortifications on level ground. Hyder Ali and his crafty son well knew that the unruly chieftains of the plains would never behave themselves, unless overawed and overlooked by some military post which might serve equally well for a watch-tower and a dungeon. We think and act otherwise, so such erections go to ruin.

Starting, we pursue a road that runs by the travellers' bungalow, descends a steep, rough, and tedious hill--where we should prefer a mule to a horse--crosses two or three detestable watercourses, and then skirting the western end of the Oolacul chasm shows us a sudden ascent. Here we dismount for convenience as well as exercise. The path narrows; it becomes precipitous and slippery, owing to the decomposed vegetation that covers it, and presently plunges into a mass of noble trees. You cannot see a vestige of underwood; the leaves are crisp under your feet; the tall trunks rise singly in all their sylvan glory, and the murmurs of the wind over the leafy dome above, inform you that

                    This is the forest primæval--

as opposed to a rank bushy jungle. You enjoy the walk amazingly. The foot-track is bounded on both sides by dizzy steeps; through the intervals between the trees you can see the light mist-clouds and white vapours sailing on the zephyr far beneath your feet. After about an hour's hard work, we suddenly come upon the Droog, and clambering over the ruined parapet of stone--the only part of it that remains--stand up to catch a glimpse of scenery which even a jaded lionizer would admire.

The rock upon which we tread falls with an almost perpendicular drop of four thousand feet into the plains. From this eyrie we descry the houses of Coimbatore, the windings of the Bhawany, and the straight lines of road stretching like ribbons over the glaring yellow surface of the low land. A bluish mist clothes the distant hills of Malabar, dimly seen upon the horizon in front. Behind, on the far side of the mighty chasm, the white bungalows of Coonoor glitter through the green trees, or disappear behind the veil of fleecy vapour which floats along the sunny mountain tops. However hypercritically disposed, you can find no fault with this view; it has beauty, variety, and sublimity to recommend it.

If an inveterate sight-seer, you will be persuaded by the usual arguments to visit Castle Hill, an eminence about three miles to the east of Coonoor, for the purpose of enjoying a very second rate prospect. Perhaps you will also be curious to inspect a village inhabited by a villanous specimen of the Toda race, close to Mr. Davidson's hotel. We shall not accompany you.