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Himalayan Journals or Notes of A Naturalist Index      Next Chapter IV

 

Chapter III

Ek-powa Ghat — Sandstones — Shahgunj — Table-land, elevation, etc. — Gum-arabic — Mango — Fair — Aquatic plants — Rujubbund — Storm — False sunset and sunrise — Bind hills — Mirzapore — Manufactures, imports, etc. — Climate of — Thuggee — Chunar — Benares — Mosque — Observatory — Sar-nath — Ghazeepore — Rose-gardens — Manufactory of Attar — Lord Cornwallis’ tomb — Ganges, scenery and natural history of — Pelicans — Vegetation — Insects — Dinapore — Patna — Opium godowns and manufacture — Mudar, white and purple — Monghyr islets — Hot Springs of Setakoond — Alluvium of Ganges — Rocks of Sultun-gunj — Bhaugulpore — Temples of Mt. Manden — Coles and native tribes — Bhaugulpore rangers — Horticultural gardens.


 

On the 3rd of March I bade farewell to Mr. Williams and his kind party, and rode over a plain to the village of Markunda, at the foot of the Ghat. There the country becomes very rocky and wooded, and a stream is crossed, which runs over a flat bed of limestone, cracked into the appearance of a tesselated pavement. For many miles there is no pass over the Kymore range, except this, significantly called “Ek-powa-Ghat” (one-foot Ghat). It is evidently a fault, or shifting of the rocks, producing so broken a cliff as to admit of a path winding over the shattered crags. On either side, the precipices are extremely steep, of horizontally stratified rocks, continued in an unbroken line, and the views across the plain and Soane valley, over which the sun was now setting, were superb. At the summit we entered on a dead flat plain or table-land, with no hills, except along the brim of the broad valley we had left, where are some curious broad pyramids,


 

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formed of slabs of sandstone arranged in steps. By dark we reached the village of Roump (alt. 1,090 feet), beyond the top of the pass.

On the next day I proceeded on a small, fast, and wofully high-trotting elephant, to Shahgunj, where I enjoyed Mr. Felle’s hospitality for a few days. The country here, though elevated, is, from the nature of the soil and formation, much more fertile than what I had left. Water is abundant, both in tanks and wells, and rice-fields, broad and productive, cover the ground; while groves of tamarinds and mangos, now loaded with blossoms, occur at every village.

It is very singular that the elevation of this table-land (1,100 feet at Shahgunj) should coincide with that of the granite range of Upper Bengal, where crossed by the grand trunk road, though they have no feature but the presence of alluvium in common. Scarce a hillock varies the surface here, and the agricultural produce of the two is widely different. Here the flat ledges of sandstone retain the moisture, and give rise to none of those impetuous torrents which sweep it off the inclined beds of gneiss, or splintered quartz. Nor is there here any of the effloresced salts so forbidding to vegetation where they occur. Wherever the alluvium is deep on these hills, neither Catechu, Olibanum, Butea, Terminalia, Diospyros, dwarf-palm, or any of those plants are to be met with, which abound wherever the rock is superficial, and irrespectively of its mineral characters.

The gum-arabic Acacia is abundant here, though not seen below, and very rare to the eastward of this meridian, for I saw but little of it in Behar. It is a plant partial to a dry climate, and rather prefers a good soil. In its distribution it in some degree follows the range of the


 

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camel, which is its constant companion over thousands of leagues. In the valley of the Ganges I was told that neither the animal nor plant flourish east of the Soane, where I experienced a marked change in the humidity of the atmosphere on my passage down the Ganges. It was a circumstance I was interested in, having first met with the camel at Teneriffe and the Cape Verd Islands, the westernmost limit of its distribution; imported thither, however, as it now is into Australia, where, though there is no Acacia Arabica, four hundred other species of the genus are known.

The mango, which is certainly the fruit of India, (as the pine-apple is of the Eastern Islands, and the orange of the West,) was now blossoming, and a superb sight. The young leaves are purplish-green, and form a curious contrast to the deep lurid hue of the older foliage; especially when the tree is (which often occurs) dimidiate, one half the green, and the other the red shades of colours; when in full blossom, all forms a mass of yellow, diffusing a fragrance rather too strong and peculiar to be pleasant.

We passed a village where a large fair was being held, and singularly familiar its arrangements were to my early associations. The women and children are the prime customers; for the latter whirl-you-go-rounds, toys, and sweetmeats were destined; to tempt the former, little booths of gay ornaments, patches for the forehead, ear-rings of quaint shapes, bugles and beads. Here as at home, I remarked that the vendors of these superfluities occupy the approaches to this Vanity-Fair. As, throughout the East, the trades are congregated into particular quarters of the cities, so here the itinerants grouped themselves into little bazaars for each class of commodity. Whilst I was


 

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engaged in purchasing a few articles of native workmanship, my elephant made an attack on a sweetmeat stall, demolishing a magnificent erection of barley-sugar, before his proceedings could be put a stop to.

Mr. Felle’s bungalow (whose garden smiled with roses in this wilderness) was surrounded by a moat (fed by a spring), which was full of aquatic plants, Nymphća, Damasonium, Villarsia cristata, Aponogeton, three species of Potamogeton, two of Naias, Chara and Zannichellia (the two latter indifferently, and often together, used in the refinement of sugar). In a large tank hard by, wholly fed by rain water, I observed only the Villarsia Indica, no Aponogeton, Nymphća, or Dammonium, nor did these occur in any of the other tanks I examined, which were otherwise well peopled with plants. This may not be owing to the quality of the water so much as to its varying quantity in the tank.

All around here, as at Roump, is a dead flat, except towards the crest of the ghats which overhang the valley of the Soane, and there the sandstone rock rises by steps into low hills. During a ride to a natural tank amongst these rocky elevations, I passed from the alluvium to the sandstone, and at once met with all the prevailing plants of the granite, gneiss, limestone and hornstone rocks previously examined, and which I have enumerated too often to require recapitulation; a convincing proof that the mechanical properties and not the chemical constitution of the rocks regulate the distribution of these plants.

Rujubbund (the pleasant spot), is a small tarn, or more properly the expanded bed of a stream, art having aided nature in its formation: it is edged by rocks and cliffs fringed with the usual trees of the neighbourhood; it is a wild and pretty spot, not unlike some


 

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birch-bordered pool in the mountains of Wales or Scotland, sequestered and picturesque. It was dark before I got back, with heavy clouds and vivid lightning approaching from the south-west. The day had been very hot (3 p.m., 90°), and the evening the same; but the barometer did not foretell the coming tempest, which broke with fury at 7 p.m., blowing open the doors, and accompanied with vivid lightning and heavy thunder, close by and all round, though no rain fell.

In the clear dry mornings of these regions, a curious optical phenomena may be observed, of a sunrise in the west, and sunset in the east. In either case, bright and well-defined beams rise to the zenith, often crossing to the opposite horizon. It is a beautiful feature in the firmament, and equally visible whether the horizon be cloudy or clear, the white beams being projected indifferently against a dark vapour or the blue serene. The zodiacal light shines from an hour or two after sunset till midnight, with singular brightness, almost equalling the milky way.

March 7.—Left Shahgunj for Mirzapore, following the road to Goorawal, over a dead alluvial flat without a feature to remark. Turning north from that village, the country undulates, exposing the rocky nucleus, and presenting the usual concomitant vegetation. Occasionally park-like views occurred, which, where diversified by the rocky valleys, resemble much the noble scenery of the Forest of Dean on the borders of Wales; the Mahowa especially representing the oak, with its spreading and often gnarled branches. Many of the exposed slabs of sandstone are beautifully waved on the surface with the ripple-mark impression.

Amowee, where I arrived at 9 p.m., is on an open grassy flat, about fifteen miles from the Ganges, which is


 

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seen from the neighbourhood, flowing among trees, with the white houses, domes, and temples of Mirzapore scattered around, and high above which the dust-clouds were coursing along the horizon.

Mr. Money, the magistrate of Mirzapore, kindly sent a mounted messenger to meet me here, who had vast trouble in getting bearers for my palkee. In it I proceeded the next day to Mirzapore, descending a steep ghat of the Bind hills by an excellent road, to the level plains of the Ganges. Unlike the Dunwah pass, this is wholly barren. At the foot the sun was intensely hot, the roads alternately rocky and dusty, the villages thronged with a widely different looking race from those of the hills, and the whole air of the outskirts, on a sultry afternoon, far from agreeable.

Mirzapore is a straggling town, said to contain 100,000 inhabitants. It flanks the river, and is built on an undulating alluvial bank, full of kunker, elevated 360 feet above the sea, and from 50 to 80 above the present level of the river. The vicinity of the Ganges and its green bank, and the numbers of fine trees around, render it a pleasing, though not a fine town. It presents the usual Asiatic contrast of squalor and gaudiness; consisting of large squares and broad streets, interspersed with acres of low huts and groves of trees. It is celebrated for its manufactory of carpets, which are admirable in appearance, and, save in durability, equal to the English. Indigo seed from Bundelkund is also a most extensive article of commerce, the best coming from the Doab. For cotton, lac, sugar, and saltpetre, it is one of the greatest marts in India. The articles of native manufacture are brass washing and cooking utensils, and stone deities worked out of the sandstone.


 

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There is little native vegetation, the country being covered with cultivation and extensive groves of mango, and occasionally of guava. English vegetables are abundant and excellent, and the strawberries, which ripen in March, rival the European fruit in size, but hardly in flavour.

During the few days spent at Mirzapore with my kind friend, Mr. C. Hamilton, I was surprised to find the temperature of the day cooler by nearly 4° than that of the hills above, or of the upper part of the Soane valley; while on the other hand the nights were decidedly warmer. The dewpoint again was even lower in proportion, (7·5°) and the climate consequently drier. The atmosphere was extremely dry and electrical, the hair constantly crackling when combed. Further west, where the climate becomes still drier, the electricity of the air is even greater. Mr. Griffith mentions in his journal that in filling barometer tubes in Affghanistan, he constantly experienced a shock.

Here I had the pleasure of meeting Lieutenant Ward, one of the suppressors of Thuggee (Thuggee, in Hindostan, signifies a deceiver; fraud, not open force, being employed). This gentleman kindly showed me the approvers or king’s evidence of his establishment, belonging to those three classes of human scourges, the Thug, Dakoit, and Poisoner. Of these the first was the Thug, a mild-looking man, who had been born and bred to the profession: he had committed many murders, saw no harm in them, and felt neither shame nor remorse. His organs of observation and destructiveness were large, and the cerebellum small. He explained to me how the gang waylay the unwary traveller, enter into conversation with him, and have him suddenly seized, when the superior throws his own linen girdle round the victim’s neck and strangles him, pressing the knuckles against the spine.


 

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Taking off his own, he passed it round my arm, and showed me the turn as coolly as a sailor once taught me the hangman’s knot. The Thug is of any caste, and from any part of India. The profession have particular stations, which they generally select for murder, throwing the body of their victim into a well.

The Dakoit (dakhee, a robber) belongs to a class who rob in gangs, but never commit murder—arson and housebreaking also forming part of their profession. These are all high-class Rajpoots, originally from Guzerat; who, on being conquered, vowed vengeance on mankind. They speak both Hindostanee and the otherwise extinct Guzerat language; this is guttural in the extreme, and very singular in sound. They are a very remarkable people, found throughout India, and called by various names; their women dress peculiarly, and are utterly devoid of modesty. The man I examined was a short, square, but far from powerful Nepalese, with high arched eyebrows, and no organs of observation. These people are great cowards.

The Poisoners all belong to one caste, of Pasie, or dealers in toddy: they go singly or in gangs, haunting the travellers’ resting-places, where they drop half a rupee weight of pounded or whole Datura seeds into his food, producing a twenty-hours’ intoxication, during which he is robbed, and left to recover or sink under the stupifying effects of the narcotic. He told me that the Datura seed is gathered without ceremony, and at any time, place, or age of the plant. He was a dirty, ill-conditioned looking fellow, with no bumps behind his ears, or prominence of eyebrow region, but a remarkable cerebellum.

Though now all but extinct (except in Cuttack), through ten or fifteen years of unceasing vigilance on the part of


 

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Government, and incredible activity and acuteness in the officers employed, the Thugs were formerly a wonderfully numerous body, who abstained from their vocation solely in the immediate neighbourhood of their own villages; which, however, were not exempt from the visits of other Thugs; so that, as Major Sleeman says,—“The annually returning tide of murder swept unsparingly over the whole face of India, from the Sutlej to the sea-coast, and from the Himalaya to Cape Comorin. One narrow district alone was free, the Concan, beyond the ghats, whither they never penetrated.” In Bengal, river Thugs replace the travelling practitioner. Candeish and Rohilkund alone harboured no Thugs as residents, but they were nevertheless haunted by the gangs.

Their origin is uncertain, but supposed to be very ancient, soon after the Mahommedan conquest. They now claim a divine original, and are supposed to have supernatural powers, and to be the emissaries of the divinity, like the wolf, the tiger, and the bear. It is only lately that they have swarmed so prodigiously,—seven original gangs having migrated from Delhi to the Gangetic provinces about 200 years ago, and from these all the rest have sprung. Many belong to the most amiable, intelligent, and respectable classes of the lower and even middle ranks: they love their profession, regard murder as sport, and are never haunted with dreams, or troubled with pangs of conscience during hours of solitude, or in the last moments of life. The victim is an acceptable sacrifice to the goddess Davee, who by some classes is supposed to eat the lifeless body, and thus save her votaries the necessity of concealing it.

They are extremely superstitious, always consulting omens, such as the direction in which a hare or jackall


 

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crosses the road; and even far more trivial circumstances will determine the fate of a dozen of people, and perhaps of an immense treasure. All worship the pickaxe, which is symbolical of their profession, and an oath sworn on it binds closer than on the Koran. The consecration of this weapon is a most elaborate ceremony, and takes place only under certain trees. They rise through various grades: the lowest are scouts; the second, sextons; the third are holders of the victims’ hands; the highest, stranglers.

Though all agree in never practising cruelty, or robbing previous to murder,—never allowing any but infants to escape (and these are trained to Thuggee), and never leaving a trace of such goods as may be identified,—there are several variations in their mode of conducting operations; some tribes spare certain castes, others none: murder of woman is against all rules; but the practice crept into certain gangs, and this it is which led to their discountenance by the goddess Davee, and the consequent downfall of the system. Davee, they say, allowed the British to punish them, because a certain gang had murdered the mothers to obtain their daughters to be sold to prostitution.

Major Sleeman has constructed a map demonstrating the number of “Bails,” or regular stations for committing murder, in the kingdom of Oude alone, which is 170 miles long by 100 broad, and in which are 274, which are regarded by the Thug with as much satisfaction and interest as a game preserve is in England: nor are these “bails” less numerous in other parts of India. Of twenty assassins who were examined, one frankly confessed to having been engaged in 931 murders, and the least guilty of the number to 24. Sometimes 150 persons collected into one gang, and their profits have often been immense,


 

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the murder of six persons on one occasion yielding 82,000 rupees; upwards of 8000 pounds.

Of the various facilities for keeping up the system, the most prominent are, the practice amongst the natives of travelling before dawn, of travellers mixing freely together, and taking their meals by the way-side instead of in villages; in the very Bails, in fact, to which they are inveigled by the Thug in the shape of a fellow-traveller; money remittances are also usually made by disguised travellers, whose treasure is exposed at the custom-houses, and, worst of all, the bankers will never own to the losses they sustain, which, as a visitation of God, would, if avenged, lead, they think, to future, and perhaps heavier punishment. Had the Thugs destroyed Englishmen, they would quickly have been put down; but the system being invariably practised on a class of people acknowledging the finger of the Deity in its execution, its glaring enormities were long in rousing the attention of the Indian Government.

A few examples of the activity exercised by the suppressors may be interesting. They act wholly through the information given by approvers, who are simply king’s evidences. Of 600 Thugs engaged in the murder of 64 people, and the plunder of nearly 20,000 pounds, all except seventy were captured in ten years, though separated into six gangs, and their operations continued from 1,826 to 1830: the last party was taken in 1836. And again, between the years 1826 and 1835, 1,562 Thugs were seized, of whom 382 were hanged, and 909 transported; so that now it is but seldom these wretches are ever heard of.

To show the extent of their operations I shall quote an anecdote from Sleeman’s Reports (to which I am indebted for most of the above information). He states that he was


 

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for three years in charge of a district on the Nerbudda, and considered himself acquainted with every circumstance that occurred in the neighbourhood; yet, during that time, 100 people were murdered and buried within less than a quarter of a mile of his own residence!

Two hundred and fifty boats full of river Thugs, in crews of fifteen, infested the Ganges between Benares and Calcutta, during five months of every year, under pretence of conveying pilgrims. Travellers along the banks were tracked, and offered a passage, which if refused in the first boat was probably accepted in some other. At a given signal the crews rushed in, doubled up the decoyed victim, broke his back, and threw him into the river, where floating corpses are too numerous to elicit even an exclamation.

At Mirzapore I engaged a boat to carry me down the river to Bhagulpore, whence I was to proceed to the Sikkim-Himalaya. The sketch at p.88 will give some idea of this vessel, which, though slow and very shabby, had the advantage of being cooler and more commodious than the handsomer craft. Its appearance was not unlike that of a floating haystack, or thatched cottage: its length was forty feet, and breadth fifteen, and it drew a foot and a half of water: the deck, on which a kind of house, neatly framed of matting, was erected, was but a little above the water’s edge. My portion of this floating residence was lined with a kind of reed-work formed of long culms of Saccharum. The crew and captain consisted of six naked Hindoos, one of whom steered by the huge rudder, sitting on a bamboo-stage astern; the others pulled four oars in the very bows opposite my door, or tracked the boat along the riverbank.

In my room (for cabin I cannot call it) stood my palkee,


 

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fitted as a bed, with mosquito curtains; a chair and table. On one side were placed all my papers and plants, under arrangement to go home; on the other, my provisions, rice, sugar, curry-powder, a preserved ham, and cheese, etc. Around hung telescope, botanical box, dark lantern, barometer, and thermometer, etc., etc. Our position was often ashore, and, Hindoo-like, on the lee-shore, going bump, bump, bump, so that I could hardly write. I considered myself fortunate in having to take this slow conveyance down, it enabling me to write and arrange all day long.

I left on the 15th of March, and in the afternoon of the same day passed Chunar.* This is a tabular mass of sandstone, projecting into the river, and the eastern termination of the Kymore range. There is not a rock between this and the Himalaya, and barely a stone all the way down the Ganges, till the granite and gneiss rocks of the Behar range are again met with. The current of the Ganges is here very strong, and its breadth much lessened: the river runs between high banks of alluvium, containing much kunker. At Benares it expands into a broad stream, with a current which during the rains is said to flow eight miles an hour, when the waters rise 43 feet. The fall hence is 300 feet to its junction with the Hooghly, viz., one foot to every mile. My observations made that from Mirzapore to Benares considerably greater.

Benares is the Athens of India. The variety of buildings along the bank is incredible. There are temples of every shape in all stages of completion and dilapidation, and at all angles of inclination; for the banks give way so much that many of these edifices are fearfully out of the perpendicular.

* The first station at which Henry Martyn laboured in India.


 

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The famed mosque, built by Aurungzebe on the site of a Hindoo temple, is remarkable for its two octagonal minarets, 232 feet above the Ganges. The view from it over the town, especially of the European Resident’s quarter, is fine; but the building itself is deficient in beauty or ornament: it commands the muddy river with its thousands of boats, its waters peopled with swimmers and bathers, who spring in from the many temples, water-terraces, and ghats on the city side: opposite is a great sandy plain. The town below looks a mass of poor, square, flat-roofed houses, of which 12,000 are brick, and 16,000 mud and thatch, through the crowd of which, and of small temples, the eye wanders in vain for some attractive feature or evidence of the wealth, the devotion, the science, or the grandeur of a city celebrated throughout the East for all these attributes. Green parrots and pigeons people the air.

The general appearance of an oriental town is always more or less ruinous; and here the eye is fatigued with bricks and crumbling edifices, and the ear with prayer-bells. The bright meadows and green trees which adorn the European Resident’s dwelling, some four miles back from the river, alone relieve the monotony of the scene. The streets are so narrow that it is difficult to ride a horse through them; and the houses are often six stories high, with galleries crossing above from house to house. These tall, gaunt edifices sometimes give place to clumps of cottages, and a mass of dusty ruins, the unsavoury retreats of vermin and filth, where the Calotropis arborea generally spreads its white branches and glaucous leaves—a dusty plant. Here, too, enormous spiders’ webs hang from the crumbling walls, choked also with dust, and resembling curtains of coarse muslin, being often some yards across,


 

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and not arranged in radii and arcs, but spun like weaver’s woofs. Paintings, remarkable only for their hideous proportions and want of perspective, are daubed in vermilion, ochre, and indigo. The elephant, camel, and porpoise of the Ganges, dog, shepherd, peacock, and horse, are especially frequent, and so is a running pattern of a hand spread open, with a blood-red spot on the palm. A still less elegant but frequent object is the fuel, which is composed of the manure collected on the roads of the city, moulded into flat cakes, and stuck by the women on the walls to dry, retaining the sign-manual of the artist in the impressed form of her outspread hand. The cognizance of the Rajah, two fish chained together, appears over the gates of public buildings.

The hundreds of temples and shrines throughout the city are its most remarkable feature: sacred bulls, and lingams of all sizes, strewed with flowers and grains of rice meet the eye at every turn; and the city’s boast is the possession of one million idols, which, of one kind and another, I can well believe. The great Hindoo festival of the Holi was now celebrating, and the city more than ordinarily crowded; throwing red powder (lac and flour), with rose-water, is the great diversion at a festival more childish by far than a carnival.

Through the kindness of Mr. Reade (the Commissioner), I obtained admission to the Bishishar-Kumardil, the “holiest of holies.” It was a small, low, stone building, daubed with red inside, and swarming with stone images of Brahminee bulls, and various disgusting emblems. A fat old Brahmin, naked to the waist, took me in, but allowed no followers; and what with my ignorance of his phraseology, the clang of bells and din of voices, I gained but little information. Some fine bells from Nepal were


 

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evidently the lion of the temple. I emerged, adorned with a chaplet of magnolia flowers, and with my hands full of Calotropis and Nyctanthes blossoms. It was a horrid place for noise, smell, and sights. Thence I went to a holy well, rendered sacred because Siva, when stepping from the Himalaya to Ceylon, accidentally let a medicine chest fall into it. The natives frequent it with little basins or baskets of rice, sugar, etc., dropping in a little of each while they mutter prayers.


 
Equatorial Sun-dial

The observatory at Benares, and those at Delhi, Matra on the Jumna, and Oujein, were built by Jey-Sing, Rajah of Jayanagar, upwards of 200 years ago; his skill in


 

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mathematical science was so well known, that the Emperor Mahommed Shah employed him to reform the calendar. Mr. Hunter, in the “Asiatic Researches,” gives a translation of the lucubrations of this really enlightened man, as contained in the introduction to his own almanac.


 
Equinoctiall Sun-dial

Of the more important instruments I took sketches; No. 1, is the Naree-wila, or Equatorial dial; No. 2, the Semrat-yunta, or Equinoctial dial; No. 3, an Equatorial,


 

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probably a Kranti-urit, or Azimuth circle.* Jey-Sing’s genius and love of science seem, according to Hunter, to have descended to some of his family, who died early in this century, when “Urania fled before the brazen-fronted Mars, and the best of the observatories, that of Oujein, was turned into an arsenal and cannon foundry.”


 
Brass Azimuth circle

The observatory is still the most interesting object in

* Hunter, in As Soc. Researches, 177 (Calcutta); Sir R. Barker in Phil. Trans., lxvii. 608 (1777); J. L. Williams, Phil. Trans., lxxxiii. 45 (1793).


 

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Benares, though it is now dirty and ruinous, and the great stone instruments are rapidly crumbling away. The building is square, with a central court and flat roof, round which the astrolabes, etc. are arranged. A half naked Astronomer-Royal, with a large sore on his stomach, took me round—he was a pitiful object, and told me he was very hungry. The observatory is nominally supported by the Rajah of Jeypore, who doles out a too scanty pittance to his scientific corps.

In the afternoon Mr. Reade drove me to the Sar-nath, a singular Boodhist temple, a cylindrical mass of brickwork, faced with stone, the scrolls on which were very beautiful, and as sharp as if freshly cut: it is surmounted by a tall dome, and is altogether about seventy or a hundred feet high. Of the Boodh figures only one remains, the others having been used by a recent magistrate of Benares in repairing a bridge over the Goomtee! From this place the Boodhist monuments, Hindoo temple, Mussulman mosque, and English church, were all embraced in one coup d’śil. On our return, we drove past many enormous mounds of earth and brick-work, the vestiges of Old Benares, but whether once continued to the present city or not is unknown. Remains are abundant, eighteen feet below the site of the present city.

Benares is the Mecca of the Hindoos, and the number of pilgrims who visit it is incalculable. Casi (its ancient name, signifying splendid), is alleged to be no part of this world, which rests on eternity, whereas Benares is perched on a prong of Siva’s trident, and is hence beyond the reach of earthquakes.* Originally built of gold, the

* Probably an allusion to the infrequency of these phenomena in this meridian; they being common both in Eastern Bengal, and in Western India beyond the Ganges.


 

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sins of the inhabitants were punished by its transmutation into stone, and latterly into mud and thatch: whoever enters it, and especially visits its principal idol (Siva fossilised) is secure of heaven.

On the 18th I left Benares for Ghazepore, a pretty town situated on the north bank of the river, celebrated for its manufacture of rose-water, the tomb of Lord Cornwallis, and a site of the Company’s stud. The Rose gardens surround the town: they are fields, with low bushes of the plant grown in rows, red with blossoms in the morning, all of which are, however, plucked long before midday. The petals are put into clay stills, with twice their weight of water, and the produce exposed to the fresh air, for a night, in open vessels. The unskimmed water affords the best, and it is often twice and even oftener distilled; but the fluid deteriorates by too much distillation. The Attar is skimmed from the exposed pans, and sells at 10 pounds the rupee weight, to make which 20,000 flowers are required. It is frequently adulterated with sandal-wood oil.

Lord Cornwallis’ mausoleum is a handsome building, modelled by Flaxman after the Sybil’s Temple. The allegorical designs of Hindoos and sorrowing soldiers with reversed arms, which decorate two sides of the enclosed tomb, though perhaps as good as can be, are under any treatment unclassical and uncouth. The simple laurel and oak-leaf chaplets on the alternating faces are far more suitable and suggestive. March 21.—I left Ghazepore and dropped down the Ganges; the general features of which are soon described. A strong current four or five miles broad, of muddy water, flows between a precipitous bank of alluvium or sand on one side, and a flat shelving one of sand or more rarely mud, on the other. Sand-banks are frequent in the river,


 

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especially where the great affluents debouche; and there generally are formed vast expanses of sand, small “Saharas,” studded with stalking pillars of sand, raised seventy or eighty feet high by gusts of wind, erect, stately, grave-looking columns, all shaft, with neither basement nor capital, the genii of the “Arabian Nights.” The river is always dotted with boats of all shapes, mine being perhaps of the most common description; the great square, Yankee-like steamers, towing their accommodation-boats (as the passengers’ floating hotels are called), are the rarest. Trees are few on the banks, except near villages, and there is hardly a palm to be seen above Patna. Towns are unfrequent, such as there are being mere collections of huts, with the ghat and boats at the bottom of the bank; and at a respectful distance from the bazaar, stand the neat bungalows of the European residents, with their smiling gardens, hedgings and fencings, and loitering servants at the door. A rotting charpoy (or bedstead) on the banks is a common sight, the “sola reliquia” of some poor Hindoo, who departs this life by the side of the stream, to which his body is afterwards committed.

Shoals of small goggled-eyed fish are seen, that spring clear out of the water; and are preyed upon by terns and other birds; a few insects skim the surface; turtle and porpoises tumble along, all forming a very busy contrast to the lazy alligator, sunning his green and scaly back near the shore, with his ichthyosaurian snout raised high above the water. Birds are numerous, especially early and late in the day. Along the silent shore the hungry Pariah dog may be seen tearing his meal from some stranded corpse, whilst the adjutant-bird, with his head sunk on his body and one leg tucked up, patiently awaits his turn. At night the beautiful Brahminee geese alight, one by one, and


 

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seek total solitude; ever since having disturbed a god in his slumbers, these birds are fated to pass the night in single blessedness. The gulls and terns, again, roost in flocks, as do the wild geese and pelicans,—the latter, however, not till after making a hearty and very noisy supper. These birds congregate by the sides of pools, and beat the water with violence, so as to scare the fish, which thus become an easy prey; a fact which was, I believe, first indicated by Pallas, during his residence on the banks of the Caspian Sea. Shells are scarce, and consist of a few small bivalves; their comparative absence is probably due to the paucity of limestone in the mountains whence the many feeders flow. The sand is pure white and small-grained, with fragments of hornblende and mica, the latter varying in abundance as a feeder is near or far away. Pink sand* of garnets is very common, and deposited in layers interstratified with the white quartz sand. Worm-marks, ripple-marks, and the footsteps of alligators, birds and beasts, abound in the wet sand. The vegetation of the banks consists of annuals which find no permanent resting-place. Along the sandy shores the ever-present plants are mostly English, as Dock, a Nasturtium, Ranunculus sceleratus, Fumitory, Juncus bufonius,, Common Vervain, Gnaphalium luteo-album, and very frequently Veronica Anagallise. On the alluvium grow the same, mixed with Tamarisk, Acacia Arabica, and a few other bushes.

Withered grass abounds; and wheat, dhal (Cajanus) and gram (Cicer arietinum), Carthamus, vetches, and rice are the staple products of the country. Bushes are few, except the universally prevalent Adhatoda and Calotropis.

* I have seen the same garnet sand covering the bottom of the Himalayan torrents, where it is the produce of disintegrated gneiss, and whence it is transported to the Ganges.


 

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Trees, also, are rare, and of stunted growth; Figs, the Artocarpus and some Leguminosa prevail most. I saw but two kinds of palm, the fan-palm, and Phśnix: the latter is characteristic of the driest locality. Then, for the animal creation, men, women, and children abound, both on the banks, and plying up and down the Ganges. The humped cow (of which the ox is used for draught) is common. Camels I occasionally observed, and more rarely the elephant; poneys, goats, and dogs muster strong. Porpoises and alligators infest the river, even above Benares. Flies and mosquitos are terrible pests; and so are the odious flying-bugs,* which insinuate themselves between one’s skin and clothes, diffusing a dreadful odour, which is increased by any attempt to touch or remove them. In the evening it was impossible to keep insects out of the boat, or to hinder their putting the lights out; and of these the most intolerable was the abovementioned flying-bug. Saucy crickets, too, swarm, and spring up at one’s face, whilst mosquitos maintain a constant guerilla warfare, trying to the patience no less than to the nerves. Thick webs of the gossamer spider float across the river during the heat of the day, as coarse as fine thread, and being inhaled keep tickling the nose and lips.

On the 18th, the morning commenced with a dust-storm, the horizon was about 20 yards off, and ashy white with clouds of sand; the trees were scarcely visible, and everything in my boat was covered with a fine coat of impalpable powder, collected from the boundless alluvial plains through which the Ganges flows. Trees were scarcely discernible, and so dry was the wind that drops of water vanished like magic. Neither ferns, mosses, nor lichens grow along the banks of the Ganges, they cannot survive the

* Large Hemipterous insects, of the genus Derecteryx.


 

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transition from parching like this to the three months’ floods at midsummer, when the country is for miles under water.

March 23.—Passed the mouth of the Soane, a vast expanse of sand dotted with droves of camels; and soon after, the wide-spread spits of sand along the north bank announced the mouth of the Gogra, one of the vastest of the many Himalayan affluents of the Ganges.

On the 25th of March I reached Dinapore, a large military station, sufficiently insalubrious, particularly for European troops, the barracks being so misplaced that the inmates are suffocated: the buildings run east and west instead of north and south, and therefore lose all the breeze in the hottest weather. From this place I sent the boat down to Patna, and proceeded thither by land to the house of Dr. Irvine, an old acquaintance and botanist, from whom I received a most kind welcome. On the road, Bengal forms of vegetation, to which I had been for three months a stranger, reappeared; likewise groves of fan and toddy palms, which are both very rare higher up the river; clumps of large bamboo, orange, Acacia Sissoo, Melia, Guatteria lonjpgolia, Spondias manjpgera, Odina, Euphorbia pentagona, neriifolia and trigona, were common road-side plants. In the gardens, Papaw, Croton, Jatropha, Buddleia, Cookia, Loquat, Litchi, Longan, all kinds of the orange tribe, and the cocoa-nut, some from their presence, and many from their profusion, indicated a decided change of climate, a receding from the desert north-west of India, and its dry winds, and an approach to the damper regions of the many-mouthed Ganges.

My main object at Patna being to see the opium Godowns (stores), I waited on Dr. Corbett, the Assistant-Agent, who kindly explained everything to me, and to whose obliging attentions I am much indebted.


 

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The E.I. Company grant licences for the cultivation of the poppy, and contract for all the produce at certain rates, varying with the quality. No opium can be grown without this licence, and an advance equal to about two-thirds of the value of the produce is made to the grower. This produce is made over to district collectors, who approximately fix the worth of the contents of each jar, and forward it to Patna, where rewards are given for the best samples, and the worst are condemned without payment; but all is turned to some account in the reduction of the drug to a state fit for market.

The poppy flowers in the end of January and beginning of February, and the capsules are sliced in February and March with a little instrument like a saw, made of three iron plates with jagged edges, tied together. The cultivation is very carefully conducted, nor are there any very apparent means of improving this branch of commerce and revenue. During the N.W., or dry winds, the best opium is procured, the worst during the moist, or E. and N.E., when the drug imbibes moisture, and a watery bad solution of opium collects in cavities of its substance, and is called Passewa, according to the absence of which the opium is generally prized.

At the end of March the opium jars arrive at the stores by water and by land, and continue accumulating for some weeks. Every jar is labelled and stowed in a proper place, separately tested with extreme accuracy, and valued. When the whole quantity has been received, the contents of all the jars are thrown into great vats, occupying a very large building, whence the mass is distributed, to be made up into balls for the markets. This operation is carried on in a long paved room, where every man is ticketed, and many overseers are stationed to see that the work is properly


 

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conducted. Each workman sits on a stool, with a double stage and a tray before him. On the top stage is a tin basin, containing opium sufficient for three balls; in the lower another basin, holding water: in the tray stands a brass hemispherical cup, in which the ball is worked. To the man’s right hand is another tray, with two compartments, one containing thin pancakes of poppy petals pressed together, the other a cupful of sticky opium-water, made from refuse opium. The man takes the brass cup, and places a pancake at the bottom, smears it with opium-water, and with many plies of the pancakes makes a coat for the opium. Of this he takes about one-third of the mass before him, puts it inside the petals, and agglutinates many other coats over it: the balls are then again weighed, and reduced or increased to a certain weight if necessary. At the day’s end, each man takes his work to a rack with numbered compartments, and deposits it in that which answers to his own number, thence the balls (each being put in a clay cup) are carried to an enormous drying-room, where they are exposed in tiers, and constantly examined and turned, to prevent their being attacked by weevils, which are very prevalent during moist winds, little boys creeping along the racks all day long for this purpose. When dry, the balls are packed in two layers of six each in chests, with the stalks, dried leaves, and capsules of the plant, and sent down to Calcutta. A little opium is prepared of very fine quality for the Government Hospitals, and some for general sale in India; but the proportion is trifling, and such is made up into square cakes. A good workman will prepare from thirty to fifty balls a day, the total produce being 10,000 to 12,000 a day; during one working season 1,353,000 balls are manufactured for the Chinese market alone.


 

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The poppy-petal pancakes, each about a foot radius, are made in the fields by women, by the simple operation of pressing the fresh petals together. They are brought in large baskets, and purchased at the commencement of the season. The liquor with which the pancakes are agglutinated together by the ball-maker, and worked into the ball, is merely inspissated opium-water, the opium for which is derived from the condemned opium, (Passewa,) the washing of the utensils, and of the workmen, every one of whom is nightly laved before he leaves the establishment, and the water is inspissated. Thus not a particle of opium is lost. To encourage the farmers, the refuse stalks, leaves, and heads are bought up, to pack the balls with; but this is far from an economical plan, for it is difficult to keep the refuse from damp and insects.

A powerful smell of opium pervaded these vast buildings, which Dr. Corbett* assured me did not affect himself or the assistants. The men work ten hours a day, becoming sleepy in the afternoon; but this is only natural in the hot season: they are rather liable to eruptive diseases, possibly engendered by the nature of their occupation.

Even the best East Indian opium is inferior to the Turkish, and owing to peculiarities of climate, will probably always be so. It never yields more than five per cent. of morphia, whence its inferiority, but is as good in other respects, and even richer in narcotine.

The care and attention devoted to every department of collecting, testing, manipulating, and packing, is quite extraordinary; and the result has been an impulse to the trade, beyond what was anticipated. The natives have

* I am greatly indebted to Mr. Oldfield, the Opium Agent, and to Dr. Corbett, for a complete set of specimens, implements, and drawings, illustrating the cultivation and manufacture of Opium. They are exhibited in the Kew Museum of Economic Botany.


 

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been quick at apprehending and supplying the wants of the market, and now there are more demands for licences to grow opium than can be granted. All the opium eaten in India is given out with a permit to licensed dealers, and the drug is so adulterated before it reaches the retailers in the bazaars, that it does not contain one-thirtieth part of the intoxicating power that it did when pure.

Patna is the stronghold of Mahommedanism, and from its central position, its command of the Ganges, and its proximity to Nepal (which latter has been aptly compared to a drawn dagger, pointed at the heart of India), it is an important place. For this reason there are always a European and several Native Regiments stationed there. In the neighbourbood there is little to be seen, and the highly cultivated flat country is unfavourable to native vegetation.

The mudar plant (Calotropis) was abundant here, but I found that its properties and nomenclature were far from settled points. On the banks of the Ganges, the larger, white-flowered, sub-arboreous species prevailed; in the interior, and along my whole previous route, the smaller purple-flowered kind only was seen. Mr. Davis, of Rotas, was in the habit of using the medicine copiously, and vouched for the cure of eighty cases, chiefly of leprosy, by the white mudar, gathered on the Ganges, whilst the purple of Rotas and the neighbourhood was quite inert: Dr. Irvine, again, used the purple only, and found the white inert. The European and native doctors, who knew the two plants, all gave the preference to the white; except Dr. Irvine, whose experience over various parts of India is entitled to great weight.

March 29.—Dropped down the river, experiencing a succession of east and north-east winds during the whole


 

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remainder of the voyage. These winds are very prevalent throughout the month of March, and they rendered the passage in my sluggish boat sufficiently tedious. In other respects I had but little bad weather to complain of: only one shower of rain occurred, and but few storms of thunder and lightning. The stream is very strong, and its action on the sand-banks conspicuous. All night I used to hear the falling cliffs precipitated with a dull heavy splash into the water,—a pretty spectacle in the day-time, when the whirling current is seen to carry a cloud of white dust, like smoke, along its course.

The Curruckpore hills, the northern boundary of the gneiss and granite range of Paras-nath, are seen first in the distance, and then throwing out low loosely timbered spurs towards the river; but no rock or hill comes close to the banks till near Monghyr, where two islets of rock rise out of the bed of the river. They are of stratified quartz, dipping, at a high angle, to the south-east; and, as far as I could observe, quite barren, each crowned with a little temple. The swarm of boats from below Patna to this place was quite incredible.

April 1.—Arrived at Monghyr, by far the prettiest town I had seen on the river, backed by a long range of wooded hills,—detached outliers of which rise in the very town. The banks are steep, and they appear more so owing to the fortifications, which are extensive. A number of large, white, two-storied houses, some very imposing, and perched on rounded or conical hills, give a European aspect to the place.

Monghyr is celebrated for its iron manufactures, especially of muskets, in which respect it is the Birmingham of Bengal. Generally speaking, these weapons are poor, though stamped with the first English names. A native workman will, however, if time and sufficient reward


 

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be given, turn out a first rate fowling-piece. The inhabitants are reported to be sad drunkards, and the abundance of toddy-palms was quite remarkable. The latter, (here the Phśnix sylvestris,) I never saw wild, but it is considered to be so in N.W. India; it is still a doubtful point whether it is the same as the African species. In the morning of the following day I went to the hot springs of Seeta-koond (wells of Seeta), a few miles south of the town.


 
Monghyr on the Ganges, with the Curruckpore Hills in the distance.

The hills are hornstone and quartz, stratified and dipping southerly with a very high angle; they are very barren, and evidently identical with those on the south bank of the Soane; skirting, in both cases, the granite and gneiss range of Paras-nath. The alluvium on the banks of the Ganges is obviously an aqueous deposit subsequent to the elevation of these hills, and is perfectly plane up to their


 

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bases. The river has its course through the alluvium, like the Soane. The depth of the former is in many places upwards of 100 feet, and the kunker pebbles it contains are often disposed in parallel undulating bands. It nowhere contains sand pebbles or fossils; concretions of lime (kunker) alone interrupting its uniform consistence. It attains its greatest thickness in the valleys of the Ganges and the Soane, gradually sloping up to the Himalaya and Curruckpore hills on either flank. It is, however, well developed on the Kymore and Paras-nath hills, 1,200 to 1 500 feet above the Ganges valley, and I have no doubt was deposited in very deep water, when the relative positions of these mountains to the Ganges and Soane valleys were the same that they are now. Like every other part of the surface of India, it has suffered much from denudation, especially on the above-named mountains, and around their bases, where various rocks protrude through it. Along the Ganges again, its surface is an unbroken level between Chunar and the rocks of Monghyr. The origin of its component mineral matter must be sought in the denudation of the Himalayas within a very recent geological period. The contrast between the fertility of the alluvium and the sterility of the protruded quartzy rocks is very striking, cultivation running up to these fields of stones, and suddenly stopping.

Unlike the Soorujkoond hot-springs, those of Seetakoond rise in a plain, and were once covered by a handsome temple. All the water is collected in a tank, some yards square, with steps leading down to it. The water, which is clear and tasteless (temp. 104°), is so pure as to be exported copiously, and the Monghyr manufactory of soda-water presents the anomaly of owing its purity to Seeta’s ablutions.


 

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On my passage down the river I passed the picturesque rocks of Sultangunj; they are similar to those of Monghyr, but very much larger and loftier. One, a round-headed mass, stands on the bank, capped with a triple-domed Mahommedan tomb, palms, and figs. The other, which is far more striking, rises isolated in the bed of the river, and is crowned with a Hindoo temple, its pyramidal cone surmounted with a curious pile of weathercocks, and two little banners. The current of the Ganges is here very strong, and runs in deep black eddies between the rocks.

Though now perhaps eighty or a hundred yards from the shore, the islet must have been recently a peninsula, for it retains a portion of the once connecting bank of alluvium, in the form of a short flat-topped cliff, about thirty feet above the water. Some curious looking sculptures on the rocks are said to represent Naragur (or Vishnu), Suree and Sirooj; but to me they were quite unintelligible. The temple is dedicated to Naragur, and inhabited by Fakirs; it is the most holy on the Ganges.

April 5.—I arrived at Bhagulpore, and took up my quarters with my friend Dr. Grant, till he should arrange my dawk for Sikkim.

The town has been supposed to be the much-sought Palibothra, and a dirty stream hard by (the Chundum), the Eranoboas; but Mr. Ravenshaw has now brought all existing proofs to bear on Patna and the Soane. It is, like most hilly places in India, S. of the Himalaya, the seat of much Jain worship; and the temples on Mount Manden,* a few miles off, are said to have been 540 in number. At the assumed summer-palaces of the kings of Palibothra the ground is covered with agates, brought from the

* For the following information about Bhagulpore and its neighbourhood, I am indebted chiefly to Col. Francklin’s essay in the Asiatic Researches; and the late Major Napleton and Mr. Pontet.


 

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neighbouring hills, which were, in a rough state, let into the walls of the buildings. These agates perfectly resemble the Soane pebbles, and they assist in the identification of these flanking hills with those of the latter river.

Again, near the hills, the features of interest are very numerous. The neighbouring mountains of Curruckpore, which are a portion of the Rajmahal and Paras-nath range, are peopled by tribes representing the earliest races of India, prior to the invasion of young Rama, prince of Oude, who, according to the legend, spread Brahminism with his conquests, and won the hand of King Jannuk’s daughter, Seeta, by bending her father’s bow. These people are called Coles, a middle-sized, strong, very dark, and black-haired race, with thick lips: they have no vocation but collecting iron from the soil, which occurs abundantly in nodules. They eat flesh, whether that of animals killed by themselves, or of those which have died a natural death, and mix with Hindoos, but not with Mussulmen. There are other tribes, vestiges of the Tamulian race, differing somewhat in their rites from these, and approaching, in their habits, more to Hindoos; but all are timorous and retiring.

The hill-rangers, or Bhagulpore-rangers, are all natives of the Rajmahal hills, and form a local corps maintained by the Company for the protection of the district. For many years these people were engaged in predatory excursions, which, owing to the nature of the country, were checked with great difficulty. The plan was therefore conceived, by an active magistrate in the district, of embodying a portion into a military force, for the protection of the country from invasions of their own tribes; and this scheme has answered perfectly.

To me the most interesting object in Bhagulpore was the Horticultural Gardens, whose origin and flourishing


 

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condition are due to the activity and enterprise of the late Major Napleton, commander of the hill-rangers. The site is good, consisting of fifteen acres, that were, four years ago, an indigo field, but form now a smiling garden. About fifty men are employed; and the number of seeds and vegetables annually distributed is very great. Of trees the most conspicuous are the tamarind, Tecoma jasminoides, Erythrina, Adansonia, Bombax, teak, banyan, peepul, Sissoo, Casuarina, Terminalia, Melia, Bauhinia. Of introduced species English and Chinese flat peaches (pruned to the centre to let the sun in), Mangos of various sorts, Eugenia Jambos, various Anonas, Litchi, Loquat and Longan, oranges, Sapodilla; apple, pear, both succeeding tolerably; various Cabool and Persian varieties of fruit-trees; figs, grapes, guava, apricots, and jujube. The grapes looked extremely well, but they require great skill and care in the management. They form a long covered walk, with a row of plantains on the W. side, to diminish the effects of the hot winds, but even with this screen, the fruit on that side are inferior to that on the opposite trellis. Easterly winds, again, being moist, blight these and other plants, by favouring the abundant increase of insects, and causing the leaves to curl and fall off; and against this evil there is no remedy. With a clear sky the mischief is not great; under a cloudy one the prevalence of such winds is fatal to the crop. The white ant sometimes attacks the stems, and is best checked by washing the roots with limewater, yellow arsenic, or tobacco-water. Numerous Cerealia, and the varieties of cotton, sugar-cane, etc. all thrive extremely well; so do many of our English vegetables. Cabbages, peas, and beans are much injured by the caterpillars of a Pontia, like our English “White;” raspberries, currants, and gooseberries will not grow at all.


 

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The seeds were all deposited in bottles, and hung round the walls of a large airy apartment; and for cleanliness and excellence of kind they would bear comparison with the best seedsman’s collection in London. Of English garden vegetables, and varieties of the Indian Cerealia, and leguminous plants, Indian corn, millets, rice, etc., the collections for distribution were extensive.

The manufacture of economic products is not neglected. Excellent coffee is grown; and arrow-root, equal to the best West Indian, is prepared, at 18s. 6d. per bottle of twenty-four ounces, about a fourth of the price of that article in Calcutta.

In most respects the establishment is a model of what such institutions ought to be in India; not only of real practical value, in affording a good and cheap supply of the best culinary and other vegetables that the climate can produce, but as showing to what departments efforts are best directed. Such gardens diffuse a taste for the most healthy employments, and offer an elegant resource for the many unoccupied hours which the Englishman in India finds upon his hands. They are also schools of gardening; and a simple inspection of what has been done at Bhagulpore is a valuable lesson to any person about to establish a private garden of his own.

I often heard complaints made of the seeds distributed from these gardens not vegetating freely in other parts of India, and it is not to be expected that they should retain their vitality unimpaired through an Indian rainy season; but on the other hand I almost invariably found that the planting and tending had been left to the uncontrolled management of native gardeners, who with a certain amount of skill in handicraft are, from habits and prejudices, singularly unfit for the superintendence of a garden.

Next Chapter IV