What a detestable place is Ootacamund is during the rains!
From morning to night, and from night to morning, gigantic piles of heavy wet clouds, which look as if the aerial sprites were amusing themselves by heaping misty black Pelions upon thundering purple Ossas, rise up slowly from the direction of the much-vexed Koondahs; each, as it impinges against the west flank of the giant Dodatetta, drenching us with one of those outpourings that resemble nothing but a vast aggregation of the biggest and highest Douche baths. In the interim, a gentle drizzle, now deepening into a shower, now driven into sleet, descends with vexatious perseverance. When there is no drizzle there is a Scotch mist: when the mist clears away, it is succeeded by a London fog. The sun, "shorn of his rays," spitefully diffuses throughout the atmosphere a muggy warmth, the very reverse of genial. Conceive the effects of such weather upon the land in general, and the mind of man in particular! The surface of the mountains, for the most part, is a rich and reddish mould, easily and yet permanently affected by the least possible quantity of water. Thus the country becomes impassable, the cantonment dirty, every place wretched, every one miserable.
All the visitors have returned to the plains, all the invalids that can afford themselves the luxury, have escaped to Coonoor or Kotagherry. You feel that if you remain at Ootacamund--the affectionate "Ooty" somehow or other now sticks in your throat--you must be contented to sit between the horns of a fierce dilemma. If you stay at home you lose all the pleasure of life: if you do not, still you lose all the pleasure of life. In the former case your eyes (202) will suffer, you digestion become impaired, your imagination fall into a hypochondriacal state, and thus you expose yourself to that earthly pandemonium, the Anglo-Indian sick bed. But should you on the contrary, quit the house, what is the result? The roads and paths not being covered with gravel, are as slippery as a mat de coeague at a French fair; at every one hundred yards your nag kneels down, or diverts himself by reclining upon his side, with your leg between him and the mud. If you walk you are equally miserable. When you cannot find a companion you sigh for one; when you can, you probably discover that he is haunted by a legion of blue devils even more furious than those that have assailed you.
It is impossible! Let us make up a party--a bachelor party--and hire a bungalow for a month or two at Kotagherry. We do not belong to the tribe of "delicate invalids," nor are our "complaints liable to be aggravated by internal congestions:" therefore we will go there as visitors, not valetudinarians.
Kotagherry, or more correctly, Kothurgherry, (203) stands about six thousand six hundred feet above the level of the sea, on the top of the Sreemoorga Pass, upon a range of hills which may be called the commencement of the Neilgherries. The station contains twelve houses, most of them occupied by the proprietors; at this season of the year lodgings cannot always be found.
The air of Kotagherry is moister than that of Ootacamund, and the nights and mornings are not so cool. We see it to great advantage during the prevalence of the south-west monsoon. The atmosphere feels soft and balmy, teeming with a pleasant warmth, which reminds you of a Neapolitan spring, or an autumn at amene Sorrento. The roads are clean, the country is comparatively dry, and the people look comfortable. For the first few days you enjoy yourself much: now watching the heavy rain-clouds that veil the summit of Dodabetta, and thinking with pleasure of what is going on behind the mountain: now sitting in the cool verandah, with spy-glass directed towards Coimbatore, and thanking your good star that you are not one of the little body of unhappy perspirers, its inhabitants.
But is not man born with a love of change--an Englishman to be discontented--an Anglo-Indian to grumble? After a week spent at Kotagherry you find out that it has literally nothing but climate to recommend it. The bazaar is small and bad, provisions of all kinds, except beef and mutton, must come from Ootacamund. Rich, you complain that you cannot spend your money; poor, you declaim against the ruinous rate of house-rent and living. You observe that, excepting about half a mile of level road, there is no table-land whatever in the place, and that the hill-paths are cruelly precipitous. The houses are built at considerable distances from one another--a circumstance which you testily remark, is anything but conducive to general sociability. You have neglected to call upon old Mrs. A-----, who supplies the station with milk and butter from her own dairy, consequently that milk and butter are cut off, and therefore the Kotagherryites conclude and pronounce that you are a very bad young man. Finally, you are sans books, sans club, sans balls, sans everything,--except the will and the way, of getting away from Kotagherry, which you do without delay.
The determined economist, nothing daunted by the miseries of solitude and fleas, finds Dimhutty (204) afford him ample opportunities for exercising his craft. The little cluster of huts, from which the place derives its name, lies in a deep hollow about a mile north of Kotagherry; it is sheltered from the cold southerly winds by a steep hill, and consequently the climate is at least three degrees warmer than that of its neighbour. Originally it was a small station, consisting of five or six thatched cottages belonging to a missionary society: they were afterwards bought by Mr. Lushington, then Governor of Madras. That gentleman also built a large substantial house, with an upper floor, and spared no expense to make it comfortable, as the rafters which once belonged to Tippoo Sultan's palace testify. When he left the hills, he generously placed all these tenements at the disposal of government, for the use of "persons who really stand in need of lodging on their first arrival." The climate of Dimhutty has been pronounced highly beneficial to hepatie patients and those who suffer from mercurial rheumatism. Dr. Baikie, a great authority, recommends it for the purpose of a "Subordinate sanitarium for European soldiers." The unhappy cottages, however, after having been made the subject of many a lengthy Rule and Regulation, have at last been suffered to sink into artistic masses of broken wall and torn thatch, and the large bungalow now belongs to some Parsee firm established at Ootacamund.
Three miles beyond and below Dimhutty stretches a long wide ravine, called the Orange Valley, from the wild trees which formerly flourished there. The climate is a mixture between the cold of the hills and the heat of the plains: and the staple produce of the place appears to be white ants.
St. Katherine's Falls, the market village of Jackanary, Kodanad or the Seven Mile tope, (205) and beyond it the sacred Neilgherry Hill are the only spots near Kotagherry, with whose nomenclature Fame is at all acquainted. But as one and all of them are equally uninteresting, we are disposed to be merciful and to waive discription.
The present appears as good as any other time and place for a few remarks upon the climate of the Neilgherries, and a list of the travellers whose footsteps and pens preceded ours.
The mean annual temperature of Ootacamund is 58 degrees 68', about 30 degrees lower than that of the low country on the Coimbatore and Mysore sides. The average fall of water is forty-five inches in the year; there are nineteen days of heavy rain; of showers with fair intervals, eighty-seven; cloudy, twenty-one; and two hundred and thirty-eight perfectly fair and bright. (206) Frost generally appears about the beginning of November, and ends with February; in the higher ranges of the hills ice an inch and a-half thick is commonly seen.
The first and most obvious effect of the Neilgherry climate on invalids is to repel the blood from the surface, and to throw it on the internal organs, by constricting the vessels of the skin and decidedly checking perspiration and transpiration. The liver, viscera, head and lungs are affected by this unequal distribution of the circulation, the effect being increased in the case of the respiratory organs by the rarefaction of the mountain air. The digestive powers seldom keep pace with the increase of appetite which generally manifests itself, and unless the laws of diet are obeyed to the very letter, dyspepsia, colic, and other more obstinate complaints, will be the retributive punishment for the infraction. Strangers frequently suffer from sleeplessness, cold feet, and violent headaches.
When no actual organic disease exists and when the constitutional powers are not permanently debilitated, Nature soon restores the balance by means of slight reaction. Invalids are strongly advised on first arrival to be particularly cautious about their hours, their diet, their clothing, and their exercise. They should avoid exposure to the night air, and never, indeed, be out after sunset; the reduction of temperature which follows the disappearance of the sun must be felt to be understood, and no one residing here for the sake of health would expose himself to the risk of catching an obstinate cold by quitting a crowded room to return home through the nocturnal chills. Medical men advise the very delicate to wait till the sun has driven away the cold and moisture of the dawn before they venture out, and to return from their morning walks or drives in time to avoid the effects of the direct rays, which are most powerful about 9 A.M. But in regulating hours regard must of course be had to previous modes of life, and the obstinate early riser of the plains should gradually, not suddenly, alter his Indian for English habits. The diet of valetudinarians on the first ascent ought in a great degree to be regulated by circumstances depending on the nature of each individual's complaint. In general, they are told to prefer light animal and farinaceous food, eschewing pastry, vegetables, and cheese, and to diminish the quantity of such stimulants as wine, spirits, and beer, till the constitution has become acclimatized. In all cases, of whatever description they may be, warm clothing is a sine quâ non: every valetudinarian should, as he values his life, be provided with a stock of good flannels, worsted socks, stout shoes, and thick, solid boots. Exercise is another essential part of regimen at the Sanitarium. riding is considered more wholesome than walking, especially on first arrival, as less liable to accelerate the circulation, to produce a feeling of constriction in the chest, and to expose the body to chills. The quantum of exercise should be increased by slow degrees, and when convalescence has fairly set in, the invalid is advised to pass as much of his time in the open air, during daylight, as his strength will permit him to do.
To conclude the subject of climate. It cannot be too strongly impressed upon the minds of our fellow-countrymen in Southern and Western India, that in cases of actual organic disease, or when the debility of the constitution is very great, serious and permanent mischief is to be dreaded from the climate of these mountains. Many an officer has lost his life by preferring the half measure of a medical certificate to the Meilgherries to a home furlough on sick leave. The true use of the Sanitarium is to recruit a constitution that has been weakened to some extent by a long residence in the plains, or to afford a change of air and scene when the mind, as frequently happens in morbitie India, requires some stimulus to restore its normal vigour.
The Rev. Mr. Hough was, as we said before, the first pen that called the serious attention of the Anglo-Indian community to the value of the Neilgherry Hills. His letters to the Hurkaru newspaper were published in a collected form in 1829. Five years afterwards Captain Mignan, of the Bombay army, sent forth a little volume, entitled "Notes extracted from a Private Journal written during a Tour through a part of Malabar and among the Neilgherries." the style appears to be slightly tinged with bile, as if the perusal of Mr. Hough's flowery descriptions of the mountain scenery had formed splendid anticipations which were by no means realised. The brochure is now quite out of date; the bazaar, rates, roads, postage, rent, and number of houses---all are changed, only remain the wretched state of the police therein chronicled, and the "fatal facility" of finding bad servants. In the same year (1834) Dr. Baikie's well known book, (207) entitled "Observations on the Neilgherries, including an Account of their Topography, Climate, Soil, and Productions," issued from the Calcutta press. The original edition consisted, we believe, of only five hundred copies, and we cannot but wonder that the book has not yet enjoyed the honour of a reprint. Lieut. H. Jervis, of H. M. 62nd regiment, published by subscription, also in 1834, and dedicated to Mr. Lushington, the governor, a "Narrative of a Journey to the Falls of Cavery, with an Historical and Descriptive Account of the Neilgherry Hills." (208) The book contains a curious letter from Mr. Bannister, who states that, after a careful analysis of the Neilgherry water, he was surprised to find no trace whatever of saline, earthy, or metallic substance in it.
In 1844-5, Captain H. Congreve, an officer in the Madras Artillery, wrote in the "Madras Spectator," the Letters upon the subject of the Hills and their inhabitants, to which we alluded in our last chapter. His pages are, in our humble opinion, disfigured by a richness of theory which palls upon the practical palate, but the amount of observation and curious lore which they contain makes us regret that the talented author has left his labours to lie perdus in the columns of a newspaper. Also, in 1844, a valuable Report on the Medical topography and Statistics of the Neilgherry Hills, with notices of the geology, botany, climate and population, tables of diseases amongst officers, ladies, children, native convicts, etc., and maps of the country compiled from the records of the Medical Board Office, were published, by order of government at Madras.
In 1847, when we left the Hills, a Mr. Lowey, who had charge of the Ootacamund English Free School, was preparing to print a "Guide to, and Handbook or, the Neilgherries, containing brief and succinct accounts of the same, with statements of the accommodations there to be found, rents of houses, expense of living, and other particulars useful to visitors and residents." We were favoured with a sight of the MS., and found that it did what it professed to do--no small feat for a Handbook, by the bye.
There is a great variety of papers and reports upon particular topics connected with the Neilgherries, published in the different literary journals and transactions of learned societies. The principal works which elucidate minor details, are those of the Rev. Mr. Schmidt, upon the Botany of the Hills, and the language of its inhabitants; the "Description (209) of a singular aboriginal race, inhabiting the summit of the Neilgherries, or the Blue Mountains of Coimbatore," by Captain Henry Harkness, of the Madras Army; and Notices upon the Ornithology of this interesting region, by T. C. Jerdon, Esq., of the Madras medical establishment.
And now for our valediction.
We found little difficulty in persuading the officer to whose care and skill the charge of our precious health was committed, to report that we were fit for duty long before the expiration of the term of leave granted at Bombay; so we prepared at once for a return-trip per steamer--it would require as tripler indeed about the cardiac region to dare the dangers and endure the discomforts of a coasting voyage, in a sailing vessel, northwards, in the month of September--"over the water to Charley," as the hero of Scinde was familiarly designated by those serving under him.
We started our luggage yesterday on bullock and coolie back. The morning is muggy, damp, and showery; as we put our foot in stirrup, a huge wet cloud obscures the light of day, and hastens to oblige us with a farewell deluging. Irritated by the pertinacious viciousness of Pluvian Jove, we ride slowly along the slippery road which bounds the east confines of the lake, and strike off to the right hand, just in time to meet, face to face, the drift of rain which sails on the wings of the wind along the skirt of that--Dodabetta. Gradually we lose sight of the bazaar, the church, the Windermere, the mass of bungalows. Turning round upon the saddle, we cast one last scowl upon the Ootacamund, not, however, without a grim smile of joy at the prospect of escaping from it.
Adieu....! Farewell.... land of....! May every.......! May......! And when....., so may.... as thou hast ..... ourselves!
To the industry of an imaginative reader we leave the doubtlessly agreeable task of filling up the hiatus in whatever manner the perusal of our modest pages may suggest to his acuteness and discernment. As some clue to the mazy wanderings of our own ideas, we may mention that we were, during the solemn moment of valediction, exposed to such weather as has rarely been the fate of man, with the exception of Deucalion and other diluvian celebrities, to experience in this stormy world.