Speaking seriously, the dearth of diversion or even occupation at Ootacamund, considerably diminishes its value as a sanitary station. It is generally remarked, that a man who in other places drinks a little too freely, here seldom fails to bring on an attack of delirium tremens. After the first excitement passes away, it is apt to be succeeded by a sense of dreariness and ennui more debilitating to the system than even the perpetual perspirations of the plains.
The chief occupations for a visitor outside of Ooty are curiosity-hunting, field-sports, and excursionizing.
Of late years, the Neilgherries have been so exposed to the pickaxes of indefatigable archaeologists, that their huge store of curiosities has been almost exhausted. Little now remains but the fixtures. In many parts almost every hill is crowned by single and double cairns, enclosing open areas, which, when opened, were found to contain numerous pottery (163) figures of men and animals. There are some remarkable remains which remind us of the Cromlechs (164) and Kistvaens (165) of Druidism; all, however, have been rifled of the funeral urns and the other relics which they contained. Vases holding burnt bones and charcoal, brass vessels, spear heads, clay images of female warriors on horseback, stone pestles, pots and covers ornamented with human figures and curious animals, have been taken from the barrows that abound in different parts of the Neilgherries. The ruins of forts and pagodas, traces of building and manual labour, may be discovered in the darkest recesses of ancient forests. Long and deep fosses, the use of which cannot be explained, and diminutive labyrinths still remain the monuments of ancient civilization. At St. Catherine's Falls, near Kotagherry, the natives show marks in the rock which they attribute to a certain hill Rajah who urged his horse over the precipice to escape the pursuit of his foes. The land is rich in such traditions. There is a name for every hill; (166) to every remarkable one is attached some cherished legend. Here we are shown the favourite seats of the Rishi, or saintly race, who, in hoary old, honoured the green tops of the Blue Mountains with their holy presence. There, we are told, abode the foul Rakhshasa (demon) tribe, that loved to work man's mortal woe; and there, dwarfish beings, somewhat like our fairies, long since passed away, lived in the dancing and singing style of existence usually attributed by barbarians to those pretty creatures of their imaginations.
The Toda family--the grand depository of Neilgherry tradition--has supplied our curiosity-hunters with many a marvel. But, let the young beginner beware how he trusts to their information. The fellows can enjoy a hoax. Moreover, with the instinctive cunning of the wild man, they are inveterate liars, concealing truth because they perceive that their betters attach some importance to extracting it, and yet cannot understand the reason why they should take the trouble to do so. For instance--we heard of a gentleman who, when walking near one of the villages, saw some roughly-rounded stones lying upon the ground, and asked a Toda what their use might be. The savage replied extempore, that the biggest piece was, according to his creed, the grandfather of the gods; another was the grand mother, and so on to a great length. He received a rupee for the intelligence given; and well he won it. The stones were those used by the young men of the hamlet for "putting" in their leisure hours--a slender foundation, indeed, to support so grand a superstructure of traditional lore!
Antiquarians are everywhere a simple race; in India, "con tutto rispetto parlando," we are almost tempted to describe them as simpletons. Who does not recollect the Athenaeum sauce-jar which some way buried in the ruins of a fort, said to have been founded by Alexander the Great at Schwan in Scinde, and the strange theories which the Etruscan images upon that article elicited from grave and learned heads?
Game is still plentiful in the Neilgherries. The little woods about Ootacamund abound in woodcock, leopard, (167) and ibex. Near Coonoor, elk and wild hog are to be met with, and to the east of Kotagherry there is excellent bison-shooting. Elephants occasionally ascend the Koondah hills to escape the fiery heat of the luxuriant jungles below the mountains. Tigers are rare in these parts, and no one takes the trouble to attack them; the cold climate ruins them for sport by diminishing their ferocity and the chance of one's being clawed. The wold is not an aboriginal of the hills: he sometimes, however, favours us with a visit, in packs, gaunt with hunger and sufficiently fierce, for the purpose of dining on the dogs. The small black bear, or rather ant-eater of the plains, affords tolerable sport; but this Alpine region does not produce the large and powerful brown animal of the Pyrenees and Central Asia.
The peculiarity of Neilgherry hunting is, that nothing can be done by means of beaters only--the plan adopted in India generally. Cocks cannot be flushed without spaniels, and foxhounds are necessary for tracking large game. The canine species thrives prodigiously on the hills, and seems to derive even more benefit from the climate than the human dogs. The crack sportsman from the plains must here abandon his favourite pig-sticking, or exchange it for what he always considered the illicit practice of hog-shooting. En revanche, he has the elk, the bison, and the ibex.
The Neilgherry Sambur, or elk, (168) is the giant of the cervine race--often fourteen hands high, with antlers upwards of three feet long, spanning thirty-two or thirty-three inches between the extremities. In spite of this beast's size and unwieldiness--some of them weigh seven hundred pounds--they are sufficiently speedy to distance any but a good horse. They divide their time between the mountain-woods and the lower jungles, resorting to the former for the sake of the water, and descending to the latter to get at the "salt-licks," in which they abound. Elk are usually met with in pairs, or in greater numbers, and when once sighted are easily shot. The neck and the hollow behind the shoulder are the parts aimed at, for these animals are extraordinarily tenacious of life, and will carry off a most unreasonable number of balls, unless hit in a vital region. The flesh is coarse, but makes excellent mulligatawny, the shin-bones afford good marrow, the hoofs are convertible into jelly, the tongue is eatable, and the skin useful for saddle-covers, gaiters, and hunting boots. The head, stuffed with straw and provided with eyes, skilfully made out of the bottom of a black bottle, is a favourite ornament for the verandah or the mantlepiece. Samburs are easily tames: several of them may be seen about Ootacamund, grazing with halters round their necks, almost as tame as cows. There are several ways of hunting elk. On the hills skirting the Pykarry river, where there is little swamp or bog, attempts have been made to run and spear them. Some sportsmen stalk them; but the usual mode is to post the guns, and then to make the beast break cover. Dogs are preferred to beaters for this purpose, as their giving tongue warns one when the game is coming, and the animal will almost always fly from his fourfooted, whereas it often succeeds in charging and breaking through the line of biped foes. Samburs, when wounded and closely pursued, will sometimes stand and defend themselves desperately with tooth and antler; the "game thing" then is to "walk into them" with a hunting-knife.
Bison-hunting upon the hills is a most exciting sport, requiring thews and sinews, a cool head and a steady hand. A charge of one of these animals is quite the reverse of a joke: Venator had better make sure of his nerve before he goes forth to stand before such a rush. The bison is a noble animal. We have seen heads (169) which a strong man was scarcely able to lift, and horns that measured twenty inches in circumference. They are usually shot with ounce or two ounce iron or brass balls, and plugs made by the hill-people, who cut a bar of metal and file it down to the size required with the rudest tools and remarkable neatness. The Hindoos, however, do not patronise bison-hunting, as they consider the beast a wild species of their sacred animal.
The word "ibex," like the "jungle sheep" (170) of the Neilgherries, is a misnomer; the denominated being the Capra Caucasica, not the Capra ibex of Cuvier. It is to these hills what the chamois is to the Alps, and the izzard to the Pyrenees. If you are sportsman enough to like difficulty and danger, incurred for nothing's sake, you will think well of ibex-hunting. In the first place you have to find your game, and to find it also in some place where it can be approached when alive, and secured when dead. The senses of these wild goats are extraordinarily acute, and often, after many hours of toil, the disappointed pursuer is informed by the peculiar whistling noise which they make when alarmed, that, warned of his proximity--probably by the wind--they have moved off to safer quarters. Secondly, you must hit them--hard, too; otherwise you will never bring about a dead stop. And, lastly, as they are addicted to scrambling down and rolling over tremendous precipices--especially after they have felt lead--you must either lose the beast or risk you neck to bag the body. Not for the pot. The flesh is never eaten, but the stuffed head is preserved as a trophy of venatic prowess.
The hill people, when not employed in spearing and netting game on their own account, will generally act as lookers-out and beaters. We are apt, however, to be too generous with our money; the effect of the liberality proving it to be ill-advised. Often it will happen to you--especially during your first month's sporting--that some black scoundrel rushes up in a frantic hurry to report game trove, in the hope that you will, upon the spur of the moment, present him with a rupee. And suppose you do so, what is the result? It is sad weather; the clouds rain cats and dogs--to use an old phrase--the wind is raw as a south-easter off the Cape; the ground one mass of slippery mud. Do you look out of the window, roll your head, dismiss the "nigger," return to your fire, the "Demented," and your cigar. No! emphatically no!! You rush into your room, pull on shoes and gaiters, don your hunting-garb with astonishing rapidity, catch up your guns, roar for the favourite servant that carries them, and start in the middle of the howling storm. Your eagerness to "get a slap at a bison" incites you to cruelty; you think nothing of dashing into the first village, and compelling a troop of half-naked wretches to accompany you. Now mark the consequence of giving away that rupee in a hurry. The head beater leads you up and down the steepest, the most rugged, stony, and slippery hills he can hit upon, with the benevolent view of preventing your making a fool of yourself to any greater extent. But when your stout English legs have completely "taken the shine" out of those baboon-like shanks which support his body, then he conducts you to some Shola, (171) places you and your servant upon the top of an elevated rock commanding a thorough enjoyment of the weather, and an extensive view of the ravine through which the beast is to break cover, and retires with his comrades to the snug cavern, which he held all along in mental view. There he sits before a cosy bit of fire, occasionally indulging you with a view-halloo, proving how actively the gang is engaged in discovering the game. Half an hour has passed; you are wet through, "jusqu'aux os," and the chill blasts feel as if they were cutting their way into your vitals: still your ardour endures. Another twenty minutes--your fingers refuse to uphold the cocked rifle.
"We really must go if they can't find this beast in another quarter of an hour, Baloo!"
"Han, Sahib!--yes, sir,"--quavers forth your unhappy domestic, in a frozen treble--"if the Sahib were to--to go, just now--would it not be good? It is very cold--and--perhaps--they have been telling the Sahib lies."
Baloo is right. The head beater appears, followed by his attendant train. He swears that it is a case of "stone away."
You feel that there is something wrong about that bison, by the way in which the man's eye avoided you. But probably a sense of justice prevents your having recourse to the baculine discipline which, on any other occasion, we should have advised you to administer with no niggardly hand.
Sounders of hog are commonly found at certain seasons about Coonoor especially. They are often shot, and more often missed, as their gaunt forms boring through the high grass afford a very uncertain mark. If Diana favour you, you may have the luck to come upon that beautiful variety of the leopard tribe, the black cheeta, and wreak upon him the revenge which his brethern's ravages amongst your "bobbery-pack" (172) has roused in your bosom. If you are proud of your poultry yard you will never allow a jungle cat to pass without rolling her over: the large fierce beasts are so uncommonly fond of ducks and fowls. The jackals (173) on the hills are even more daring and impudent than they are in the plains. Hares are so numerous and voracious that they will destroy any garden, flower or kitchen, unless it is defended by a dwarf-fencing of split bamboos. Your careful Malee (174) takes, moreover, the precaution of surrounding your cabbages with a deep ditch in order to keep out the huge porcupines that abound here. En passant we advise every one who has not tasted a ròti of one of those animals to do so sine morâ not, however, forgetting to roll up the flesh in a layer of mutton fat, and thus to remedy its only defect--dryness. Martins, polecats, mongooses, and the little grey gilahri (175) of Hindostan, flourish on the hills; there is also a large dark brown squirrel, with a huge bushy tail, but the flying species, so common on the western coast, is not an inhabitant of the Neilgherries. The woods are tenanted by several kinds of monkeys, black and red, large and small: the otter is occasionally met with in the fords of the Pykary river.
There are two varieties of the wild dog, one a large nondescript, with a canine head, the body of a wolf, and a brush instead of a tail: the other is a smaller beast of similar appearance. They generally hunt in large packs, and the skill with which they follow up the game is admirable. When pressed by hunger they are very ferocious. It is at no time a pleasant sight to see fifty or a hundred of their ill-omened faces glaring at you and your horse as you ride by them: especially after you have heard certain well-authenticated anecdotes of their cannibal propensities. When such rencontre does occur, the best way is to put a bold face upon the matter, ride up to the, and use your heavy horsewhip as well as you can; if you endeavour to get away they will generally feel inclined to follow you, and as for escaping from them on horse back, it is morally impossible.
Another animal though not a wild one--of which we bid you beware, is the Neilgherry buffalo, especially the fine fawn-coloured beasts, belonging to the Todas. Occasionally, as you are passing along the base of some remote hill, you will be unpleasantly surprised by a sudden and impetuous charge of a whole herd. Unless you have a gun with you, you must ride for it. And how you must ride will probably surprise you. We well recollect a kind of adventure which once occurred to ourselves, when quietly excursionizing in the vicinity of Ooty. Excited by the appearance of our nag's red saddle-cloth, some twenty huge beasts resolved to dispute with us the right of passage through one of the long smooth lawns, which run down the centre of the woodlands. At first they looked up curiously, then fiercely. Presently they advanced, snorting rabidly, in a rude line, a huge black bull the leader of the movement. The walk soon broke into a trot, the trot became a gallop, the intention of the gallop, was clearly a charge, and the consequences of a charge might have been serious. We found little difficulty in escaping the general rush of our assailants, by means of a sharp touch with the spur: one by one they tailed off, stood looking at our decreasing form in angry disgust, and returned to their normal occupation. But Taurus, the ringleader, seemed determined upon mischief. He pursued us with the dogged determination of a lyme hound: he had speed as well as bottom. Whenever we attempted to breathe the pony, the rapidity with which our friend gained ground upon us, was a warning not to try that trick too long. Close upon our quarters followed the big beast with his curved horns duly prepared: his eyes flashing fire, and his grunting snorts indicative of extreme rage. We could scarcely help laughing at the agility with which the monstrous body, on its four little legs, bowled away over the level turf, or at the same time wishing that our holsters contained the means of chastising his impudence.
How long the recreation might have lasted, or how it might have ended had not a long mud wall bot between Taurus and ourselves, we cannot say. He followed us for at least a mile, and seemed by no means tired of the occupation. We were beginning to anticipate the pleasure of entering Ootacamund at the top of our nag's speed, with a huge buffalo at his heels, and though we might have enjoyed seeing a friend in such novel predicament, the thing lost all its charms when we ourselves expected to afford such spectacle to our friends.
We should strongly advise all public spirited individuals immediately after suffering from such a nuisance to find out the herdsman, and persuade him by a judicious application of the cravache, to teach his cattle better manners. He will be much more careful the next time he sees a stranger ride by.
Among the feathered tribes, the woodcock, probably on account of its comparative rarity, is the favourite sport. Three or four brace are considered an excellent bag, even with the assistance of good dogs, and a through knowledge of their covers. Cock shooting lasts from November to March. Partridges are rare, not being natives of the hills. Snipe, and solitary snipe, abound in the swamps. Quails of both species, red and grey,--the former especially--are found in the warmer localities, and when properly tamed and trained, they are as game birds as those of the low country. Our list concludes with peacocks, jungle (176) and spur fowl.
After perusing our brief sketch of Neilgherry sport, you will easily understand that to some ardent minds it offers irresistible attractions. Officers have been know to quit the service, or to invalid solely with the view of devoting themselves wholly to the pleasures of the chase. They separate themselves from their kind, inhabit the jungles for weeks together, and never enter a station except for the purpose of laying in a fresh store of powder and shot, calomel and quinine. Attended by a servant or two, they wander about, rifle in hand, shooting their meals--some curried bird--sleeping away the rabid hours of noontide heat under some thick brake, and starting with renewed vigour as soon as the slanting rays of the sun diffuse a little activity throughout the animal creation. Sometimes breakfast is rudely interrupted by an angry old tusker, who, in spite of his race's proverbial purblindness, detects the presence of an enemy, and rushes on trumpeting to do a deed of violence. A "striped skin" will occasionally invite himself to partake of the dinner, and when not treated with all possible ceremony walks off with a raw joint in the shape of some unhappy black. There is little to be gained by such a life. Government gives, it is true, a reward of 7l (177) for every slaughtered elephant, and tiger skins, as well as ivory, find a ready sale: but no one can become a Crœsus by the favour of Diana. Not much, however, do our adventurous sportsmen think of lucre: they go on shooting through existence, only pausing at times when the bites of the tree-leeches, (178) scorpions, centipedes, and musquitoes, or a low fever, which they have vainly endeavoured to master by means of quinine administered in doses sufficient to turn an average head, imperiously compel them to lay up, till assailed by a Foe against whom the dose and the rifle are equally unefficacious. Many are almost blinded by the terrible glare and damp heat of the jungles: the fetid swamps breed brain fevers as well as snipe, bisons have horns, and cheetahs claws: so that such a career, though bright enough in its own way, is generally speaking at least as brief as it is brilliant.
Before the monsoon sets in, we will "get through," as our Irish cousin expressed himself at the Vatican, "the sight-seeing" in the neighbourhood of Ooty.
Maleemund, or, as other write it, Meyni, a favourite spot for pic-nics, is a Toda village lying about three miles north of the grand station: it affords you a pleasant ride through pretty woodlands, and a very inferior view. Beyond it is Billicul, a little Berger settlement surrounded by cultivation: here a resident on the hills has built a bungalow, and the locality is often visited for the pleasure of contemplating the reeking flats of Mysore. Striking across country into the Seegoor Pass, you may, if you have any curiosity, inspect the Kulhutty Fallys, certain cataracts upon a very diminutive scale indeed. You must see the Pykarry river, a deep and irregular stream flowing down a winding bed full of rocks, rapids, and sand-banks: it supplies your curries with a shrunken specimen of the finny tribe--alas! how different from certain fishes which you may connect in memory with certain mountain streams in the old country. The surrounding hills are celebrated for containing abundance of game. An indefatigable excursionist would ride seven miles further on the Goodalore road for the sake of the coups-d'ail, and to be able to say that he has seen Neddiwuttun. All the pleasure he derives from this extra stage along a vile path, is a sense of intense satisfaction that he is not compelled to pass a night in the damp, dreary, moss-clad bungalow, where unhappy travellers must at times perforce abide. Three miles from Ooty, in the direction of the Koondah hills, you pass Fair Lawn, the bit of turf which Terpsichore loves. Finally, after a long and dreary stretch over a tiresome series of little eminences, after fording the Porthy river, and crossing its sister stream, the Avalanche, by an unsafe bridge, you arrive at the Wooden House, (179) whence sportsmen issue to disturb the innocent enjoyments of elk and ibex, bison and elephant.