Calcutta, the capital not only of Bengal but of all India,
being the seat of government and residence of the governor-general and council,
has been so much talked of, and so often described, that nothing new or
interesting concerning it can be offered to the reader. A traveller, therefore,
who visits Bengal from curiosity and a desire to explore its grander and wilder
beauties, will not long tarry in its metropolis, but, deciding on the mode in
which he will travel, make his preparations accordingly.
These occupy but a short time, the natives being extremely handy and intelligent in all the various conveniences, or rather luxuries, requisite in moving with facility and comfort through this highly interesting country. There are two modes of travelling used in India from the lower to the upper provinces; the one by land, the other by water. The latter is seldom chosen, except in the rainy season, when the winds are from the south-east, and blow sufficiently strong and steady to enable vessels to stem the very rapid currents encountered in many parts of the Ganges.
The most usual vessels for this purpose are the pinnace and the budjerow. The former is generally preferred by Europeans, as being of a more roomy and stouter build, and as sailing better, when the wind is not quite free, than the other. The pinnace has two masts, the larger or main-mast forward, and a small mizzen: some have a top-mast and top-gallant. It is nearly flat-bottomed, and has a shallow keel. Its crew consists of a mangee, or master, and from twelve to twenty dandies, or boatmen, who tow the vessel by a long line when the wind fails, or trim the sails when it is favourable. These are a hardy race of beings, wear but little clothing, and though exposed in towing the boat for the whole day to a burning sun, and frequently up to the middle in water, their heads are not only without any turban or covering, but literally shaven quite bare.
The budjerow is a native-built vessel, round-bottomed, and much lighter than the pinnace; it has but one mast and a large lug-sail: it is by far the safest vessel of the two in the hands of the natives, as they better understand its management. Besides these two vessels, there are others appropriated solely for the servants; others as cooking-boats, for stores, &c.; and one for horses, which is fitted up as a complete stable. This ﬂeet, when not favoured by wind, travels usually at the rate of about two miles per hour, so that twenty-ﬁve or thirty miles on the average are gained daily.
The season of the year, however, at which we were to move, was not favourable for a water excursion, the river being too low. To my great delight therefore a march by land was decided on, and all the requisite preparations for such an undertaking were set on foot with the greatest dispatch. Hands are so plentiful, and servants so numerous, in India, that what appears difficult and likely to occupy much time is performed with inconceivable expedition.
It may not be uninteresting to such of my readers as have not
been in this country to give a slight sketch in this place of the retinue of
servants, baggage-elephants, camels, horses, which, with a hundred etceteras,
are indispensable on a journey by land.
The best mode in which I can convey some idea of this is, by an enumeration of our party and its train, which, although it may appear large to some of my readers, contained not one individual more than comfort required. None accompanied us for mere state.
Our party consisted of seven persons. We had three howdah-elephants, that is, animals trained for riding, hunting, and shooting, well broke, and with able mahauts, or leaders. Four others carried the camp-equipage, which consisted of two large marquees, each a sufficient load for an elephant, being about eighteen or twenty hundred weight.
There were two smaller tents, besides others for the servants and guard of Sepoys; a light gig and horse, several saddle-horses, four palanquins, a cart, and hackery, or common cart, with two bullocks to each. About two hundred servants and followers, and a guard of Sepoys, or native infantry, of forty men and a native ofiicer, attended us.
We left Calcutta the evening of the 2d Dec. 1807, and our first day’s march was to Barrackpore, where is the country-seat of the governor-general: it is sixteen miles north of Calcutta, and most beautifully situated on the left bank of the river Hoogly, the principal navigable branch of the Ganges, and on which Calcutta is seated.
The house is not remarkable either for size or accommodations, but it commands a ﬁne and extensive view of the river, here about a quarter of a mile wide, having the old Danish settlement of Serampore on the opposite bank.
A short distance below Barrackpore, towards Calcutta, some very beautiful and picturesquely situated pagodas furnish the subject of the First Plate.
They are built with the cutcha, or unburnt brick of the country, and covered with a coating of chunam (a fine stucco), as purely white as marble, and bearing as high a polish.
These buildings are backed by a luxuriant growth of every variety of the palm tribe, united with the pliant bamboo, from the dark contrasting masses of which they relieve admirably; and the scene, viewed from the opposite bank of the river, is much enlivened by the quickly gliding boats, of every varied size and model, which are seen passing to and fro in great numbers on the expansive bosom of the Ganges.
On the 3d December, having sent off our heavy baggage to await our arrival at Hoogly, we crossed the river at Pulta Ghaut. The current was so rapid, that to get the baggage, horses, &c. into the boats, crossing them, and swimming the elephants over, occupied three hours.
Moved on again, and passing through Ghyretti, the French settlement of Chandenagurh, and also Chiusura, belonging to the Dutch, each containing the remains of a fort, we reached our tents at ﬁve o’clock in the evening.
On the following morning at sunrise we again moved on through a ﬁnely cultivated line of country, crossing several nullabs or channels, worn by the torrents in the rainy season, now nearly dry. Some of these exceed one hundred yards in breadth, and their beds being very deep, a large body of water must sometimes rush down them.
We encamped near the small village of Nia Serai. The early part of this morning was so sharp and cold, that I found a fur pelisse very agreeable. The thermometer stood at noon in the shade at 76°F, at night 50°F.
e crossed the Hoogly river by a ferry at Chandenagurh, where the stream is about 200 yards wide: it is the westernmost branch of the Delta of the Ganges. We now succeeded in getting our encampment regularly pitched, and more compact than at our ﬁrst starting. We had some difficulty to prevail upon the natives to come into our plan, but by persevering they did so; and we found it much easier to guard at night from the expert thieves, who are always on the look-out for plunder, especially when Europeans pass their villages.
On the l0th we encamped, and passed the night on the celebrated field of Plassy, where a decisive and obstinately contested battle took place between the Company’s troops under Colonel, afterwards Lord Clive, and the Nuwab of Moorshedabad, in which the latter was totally defeated.
I once had occasion to proceed on duty from Calcutta to Berhampore on the Cossimbazar river, a branch of the Ganges, which, uniting with another, the Jellinghy, at Nuddea, forms the Hoogly river, which descends to Calcutta and is the only free and uninterrupted communication by water between that capital and the Upper Ganges.
I left Calcutta in the month of August, and in the height of the rainy season, it having poured incessantly for six weeks. Our pinnace ascended the Hoogly, and passing Barrackpore, soon after entered a perfect sea, for the expanse of Waters had no visible bounds. We continued to run thus over the country through patches of wood, and every now and then passed villages, perched either on the summit of mounds, artiﬁcially constructed, or on small natural hills; some of these rearing their spiral pagodas, white as alabaster, with their straw-thatched bamboo cabins, backed by a rich group of wood, in which the palmyra reared its towering height and fan-like leaves, the bamboo waved its graceful and feathery branches, and the plantain threw around its immense leaves of the most vivid green in every fantastic form: these, and the groups of the admiring natives, eagerly gazing on.
This apparently destructive ﬂood, an epithet with which it would assuredly be coupled in most regions of the world, is here the greatest blessing heaven can bestow: it spreads fertility and plenty over the tract it seems to devastate, and renders Bengal one of the richest and most ﬂourishing provinces of the earth.
The upper part of the Cossimbazar branch of the Ganges is exposed sometimes to more danger: there, when the river has a very sudden rise, it pours so great a mass of its waters into the numerous channels extending from the mouth of the Jellinghy to that of the Cossimbazar that the bed of the latter stream is unable to contain the congregated ﬂood pouring into it from every direction; the waters are arrested, and consequently rise far higher than they can do below this obstacle.
To guard against this pressure of the waters, bunds or banks, of great height and immense solidity, have, by the direction of the East India Company, been constructed, and are kept up at a vast expense: still, the art of man is not equal to cope with the efforts of Nature.
have passed through some of these branches of the Cossimbazar river: the velocity with which the stream hurried us onwards, and the wonderful effects evident at every turn on the soft yielding matter of which its banks were composed, produced an indescribable sensation of admiration mingled with terror, as we contemplated the foaming and furious torrent, lashing in the most angry manner all obstacles which it encountered in its course, hurrying banks and rocks and large trees before it like straws, while our boat most rapidly glided over its turbulent bosom in perfect safety.
The skill and judgement of the crew of our vessel were wonderful where the river took a sudden turn: the helm was useless, and here the greatest presence of mind was requisite in the one at the head, who, with surprising force and agility, darting his long bamboo pole against the opposing bank, turned the vessel in an instant into the new direction. Never can the impression made by this scene be effaced; never have I seen it equalled, save in the rapids of the mighty rivers of the Canadas.
Being anxious to see the ancient capital of the soubah of Bengal, always esteemed the finest, most important, and richest province of the empire, I this morning rode in that direction, though our party took a shorter route by the direct road, when I soon reached and entered Moorshedabad by a large and massive gateway of brick, covered with a coating of stucco; the parapet was pierced with embrasures for cannon, but there were none mounted.
The city itself is wretched in the extreme, a mass of poor and mean sheds, some having the walls built of mud, others of the bamboo split and interwoven there were as few brick square-built houses of - one story, with ﬂat roofs. The streets were narrow and ﬁlthily dirty, and I found the ride through the city sickening and tiresome in the highest degree. Its length is full seven miles.
On the following day, the Nuwab of Bengal came in state to pay a visit of ceremony to the general officer commanding the station. He was received with a royal salute from the guns of the garrison of Berhampore. His train of attendants were attired in very gaudy, though at the same time shabby, apparel.
n the following day we came upon the main body of the Ganges, which we had not yet seen: it is here an immense and grand expanse of water, rather resembling an inland sea than a river. The opposite shore, being very low and ﬂat, was scarcely to be distinguished; and looking up the stream, it had apparently no bounds.
After marching mostly by the bank of the Ganges for four more days, we began to lose traces of cultivation, and to encounter occasional tracts of jungle. On one occasion we came to a nullah, 40 or 50 yards wide, which for a time puzzled us to cross.
There was a wooden bridge over it, and all the horses, carts, and persons on foot passed in safety, although its construction did not appear very strong: but no inducements, no urging, could prevail upon the loaded baggage-elephants to attempt it; when brought up to it they expressed the greatest alarm, striking the ﬂooring of the bridge with their trunks, which seemed to convince them at once of its insufficiency to bear their ponderous bulk.
The bed of the nullah was too shallow in water for them to swim, and too deep in mud to ford. No resource remained but to try the experiment of unloading the elephants, pass them over the bridge light, and carry their loads after them. This was accordingly done, and perfectly comprehended by these sagacious animals, who now walked over cheerfully and confidently.
In expectation of some sport, being now in the vicinity of the Rajmahal hills, a group of mountains, which in this part separates the provinces of Bengal and Bahar, we halted one entire day at the village of Futhipore, and having procured from thence a shekarri, or in plain English, a poacher, acquainted with the haunts of the different species of game with which these hills abound, we mounted our elephants, for it is thus that Indian sportsmen take the ﬁeld, and formed a party of eight or nine persons.
Several baggage-elephants with our servants accompanied us to beat the jungles, and a great many persons from the village with long bamboo poles volunteered for the same, with a tribe of their common pariah or village dogs.
We saw, on entering the jungle, a great quantity of game of various sorts, as the wild buffaloes, hog-deer, wild hog, deer of different kinds, partridges, and chuckores (a large species of the partridge); florikens, a small species of the bustard, and the common domestic barn-door fowl of England in great numbers, called here the jungle fowl; and when we found open spots with partial cultivated fields, quail in great quantities, and very tame.
We had a very pleasant day’s sport, but our reward was only some of the partridges and quail. We got several shots at the buffaloes, and several we could hear distinctly hit; but the common leaden ounce-ball has no effect on these tough-skinned animals, unless it chances to hit a vital part, behind the ear, or fore-leg. The two-ounce rifle, with pewter balls, to be certain of your shot, the tiger and buffalo both require.
n the course of the day we came upon the tracks of a rhinoceros, several of which are found on these hills; we followed them some time, in hopes of coming up with him: in some parts he appeared to have very recently passed, since the water was still muddy where he had trodden. Our pursuit was, however, in vain.
I had never entered so deeply into the jungles as I did this day, and I felt much delighted with the extremely curious scene they in several parts presented. The height of the grass struck me as particularly wonderful. I was mounted on a very ﬁne elephant, not less than eleven feet high; the howdah, or seat fastened on the animal's back, must have been full two feet higher, it being strapped on a very thick pad: this would give thirteen feet.
Now when standing upright, the attitude usually adopted by sportsmen when beating the jungle in order to see better around them, my head must have been near nineteen feet above the ground; but the grass was generally three, and in some places six, feet higher than my head. The stalks were full an inch and a half in diameter, and it would be almost impossible, certainly very fatiguing, to attempt to force a passage on foot through such a thicket, independent of the chance of meeting with a tiger on a sudden—by no means a pleasant rencontre.
Having satisfied ourselves with sporting, at the first open spot-we found, which I perfectly recollect was a beautiful small natural meadow, surrounded on all sides by high jungles, and having a sweet clear stream trickling through its centre, we alighted from our elephants, sending them to get some forage for themselves, and then sat down very sociably to examine the contents of our provision-basket: we found it very well supplied, and our long ramble through the jungles made us do full justice to its contents.
We were in fact enjoying ourselves much; our elephants had gone out of sight, and we were occupied with an ice-cold bottle of most excellent madeira, cooled in our spring, when a sudden and angry snort, not far from us, made us jump up in a hurry on our feet. We saw an immensely large and ﬁerce male buffalo, wild and savage, who was glaring upon our party with his eyes of living fire and his scowling angry front. The male wild buffalo, when met in this solitary state, is supposed to have been driven from the herd of favourite females by more powerful rivals: he is therefore always inclined to mischief, and is said to be more bold and ferocious than the tiger himself. Whether our present visitor was in this state or not, we were uncertain; the number of our party perhaps awed him.
We called out lustily, however, for our elephants: they were, fortunately, within call. The ﬁrst that came up were mounted by some of our party, who made for the buffalo with their guns all ready: he, however, turned tail, and entered the low jungle, declining battle. They got two shots at him, but whether they took effect or not, he disappeared, and we saw no more of him.
he Rajmahal hills were now very close to us, and presented a beautiful sight. Their forms are varied, but all swelling in gentle undulations. They are clothed with wood apparently throughout almost their whole extent: nevertheless there are cleared spots within their retired valleys, and some of the mountains even are deprived of their wood.
It is singular that the race of people inhabiting these mountains, by no means inaccessible, should totally differ in stature, feature, language, manners, customs, and religion, from the Hindoos all around them.
I walked one evening into the country for some three or four miles, and met a few of these people: one of them talked a little in the common Hindoostannee. They were all nearly naked; the hair tied in a knot at the top of the head. They were well made, but rather low in stature, and carried bows made of bamboo, and arrows. They appeared mild and friendly, and their manner was prepossessing.
A corps was formed from among the natives of the Rajmahal group of mountains, and called the Hill-Rangers: they behaved well, and were far from indifferent soldiers.
Having now reached the northern conﬁnes of the province of
Bengal Proper, and being about to enter that of Bahar, a few observations and
remarks on the ancient and modern state, productions and general features of
the surface of the province we have just traversed, may not be here inappropriate.
The rich and beautiful valley of the Ganges, from the bay of Bengal on the south, along both banks of that river, to the point whence it issues from the mountainous chain which bounds Hindoostan on the north, a distance of nearly fourteen hundred miles, is at present in possession of Great Britain.
There is not perhaps in any part of the world a tract of country which can compare with it in fertility, if we except Egypt, which in this respect it very nearly resembles.
It is watered by the vast and majestic Ganges, which glides through its centre, and which, on the subsiding of the waters of its periodical ﬂoods, spreads a rich deposit to a considerable extent from its banks, and joined by several smaller streams running at right angles nearly with this their great channel, descends to the ocean.
Numerous canals formed by the industry of man, intersecting in all directions the vast plain of its valley, diffuse a most luxuriant verdure and abundant harvests throughout its whole extent.
The climate of Bengal is comparatively temperate when contrasted with that of the upper provinces: it is not subject to the hot and parching winds of the latter, which prevail for three months in the year, from March to June; and from its situation south of the tropical line, the sun twice passes it within a short space of time, producing a long rainy season, and consequently much cloudy weather. The rains on an average are computed to continue for nearly six months. The violent and frequent storms of thunder also tend, no doubt, to refresh the atmosphere and reduce its temperature. These rains sometimes commence so early as April, but more commonly in the beginning of June.
The Ganges itself has been held in such repute from the earliest times, that the Hindoos entertain a sacred and religious veneration for its waters. One of their most solemn oaths is on its holy stream; and the wealthy Hindoos, who reside many of them at the distance of several days’ journey from its banks, have a daily supply of its waters for the purposes of religious ablution.
The rice is the species of grain most cultivated in Bengal, as it delights in a moist soil, and ﬂourishes particularly within reach of the periodical floods. This plant is sometimes so luxuriant and proliﬁc, that the produce of one single grain has been known to yield a measure equal to four pounds weight. The rice possesses another remarkable quality, which deserves notice in this place: in proportion as the inundations of the Ganges rise, the rice extends its stalk even to the length of ﬁfteen or twenty feet, and never permits its head to be immersed in the water.
These periodical inundations of the Ganges are usually at their height in August and September; they sometimes continue until October, but this is unusual. I cannot precisely state their perpendicular rise, having had no opportunity of ascertaining it by actual experiment; but I am confident I am much within the mark when I place it at fifteen feet.
Proceeding on from the Terrial-Gully Pass, we found the
country more open as we entered the province of Bahar. We obtained two
beautiful glimpses of the Rajmahal hills: the ﬁrst soon after rounding the
point of land where this ridge of mountain falls abruptly into the river; the
other a few miles further on, where, in a profound ravine of the thickly wooded
mountains, may be discerned, from near the river’s brink, a beautiful cataract
of water, which, apparently bursting from a deep chasm, descends in a sheet of
silver for some distance, and then breaking into showers of sparkling spray,
has received the appropriate and beautiful appellation of the Zllootee Girna,
or the Fall of Pearls.
On the following morning we took the field on our elephants at an early hour, in hopes of some sport: we met with vast numbers of peacocks, but they were very wild, and we only brought home a few brace of the chuckore-partridge. We afterwards continued along through the jungle, and parallel with the road, getting an occasional shot, till we reached Colgong, about twelve miles from Pialapore, well situated on the main Ganges.
This place is remarkable for three singular masses of rock, which stand in the body of the river, and about two hundred yards from the right bank. The principal of these has a perpendicular height of about eighty feet, and all are composed of irregular rolled masses, as far as I could judge, of different sorts of granite. Their summit is overspread with a luxuriant growth of trees and shrubs.
Procuring a dinghy, the smallest kind of boat, I passed over to the largest rock, and with a little scrambling attained-its summit. The Ganges is here a noble river, and has a breadth, when at the highest, of nearly two miles. But the most singular circumstance connected with these rocks is, the change which has occurred in their situation with respect to the Ganges. Some forty or ﬁfty years ago they were not only on terra firma, but considerably inland and remote from the river.
he chief rivers of Bahar are the Ganges and the Soane. The Soane, the Nerbudda, and the Chelun, all take their rise near Kurrah. The first runs in a southern direction as far as Mouneah, where it joins the Ganges. The Gunduck river comes from the foot of the hills to the north, and falls into the Ganges near Hajipore. The summers are very hot, the winters temperate, and the rains continue nearly six months. The whole province is covered with the richest verdure, and the soil being hard and compact, little dust is raised by the storms of wind.
Agriculture is in high perfection, and rice flourishes particularly. Many houses throughout Bahar are roofed with tiles, and the inhabitants are famous for building boats and the manufacture of gilded glass. Horses and camels are not numerous, but the elephants are ﬁne, and in great numbers. The hawk, parrot, and fighting-cocks celebrated for giving great sport, abound.
The air, water, and climate of Tyroot are much spoken of: it has large and delightful groves of orange-trees extending for thirty koss.
The fort of Rhotasgurh is another singular feature of Bahar. It is situated on a lofty mountain, of difficult approach, and twenty-eight miles in circumference; the inclosed land is cultivated, and watered by a variety of springs. The only access to it is by a very narrow road up a steep ascent of two miles from the base of the hill to the gates, which are three in number, one above another, defended by guns and rolling stones.
The square contents of the fortified table-land on the summit is ten miles: in this space are included towns and villages, corn-fields, &c.; and water is found a few feet from the surface. On one side, at the foot of a tremendous precipice, runs the river Soane, and on the opposite another river; both meeting after passing the fort, form the hill into a triangular peninsula. A deep valley, full of impervious woods, closes the approach to the third side; and these spreading all over the mountains, render access in that direction next to impossible.
We stopped for the night at a small village called Mojumpore, where we encamped in a most extensive and beautiful tape of mango-trees. In the neighbourhood of this place we observed a number of those mounds of earth, daubed over with red paint, which designate the spots where women have sacrificed themselves, according to the barbarous law misconstrued, but not less rigorously enforced to the present day, by the ignorant and bigoted Brahmins, or priests of the Hindoos.
This usage has, from the number of these monuments, been too prevalent in the vicinity of this place; for several of the outskirts of the neighbouring villages have their memorials of the same description and import. It is deeply to be lamented that a custom should be tolerated so contrary to reason, so disgusting to humanity, and which no Brahminic law authorises; it being decidedly condemned by many of the better informed natives, who permit its use only in cases where the self-sacrifice on the part of the woman is perfectly voluntary.
It is an omission on the part of the authorities who rule this country to permit its occurrence; the mass of the Hindoos must abhor and dread its enforcement: the Brahmins no doubt are eager for its continuance from motives entirely selfish and sordid, they inheriting the bulk of the property of the wretched family thus cut off. It is sincerely to be hoped that this disgraceful and cruel custom will be speedily and effectually put a stop to wherever British power and controul extend through this vast empire.