Advice to Officers in India/Chapter 13

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1. NEILGHERRY HILLS.— These hills, the principal Sanatarium of the Madras presidency, stand in N. lat. 11° 30' E. long. 77° 30'; they are isolated all round with the exception of one neck that connects them with the western ghauts, and rise from the surrounding country in bold precipices, clothed in dense forests, or cleft by waterfalls into deep ravines. Their summits form an extensive table land, thirty or forty miles in length, by fifteen or twenty in breadth, diversified by innumerable hills and undulations, generally bare, with narrow valleys between, marshy and mossy, or filled with umbrageous trees.

2. 00TACAMUND.—In the centre of this table-land stands the principal station, Ootacamund, in an extensive valley, with numerous minor hills and valleys scattered over it, affording most convenient sites for houses,and every facility for the construction of roads. The houses, about 150 in all, are generally good, some with flat roofs, some thatched, and some tiled; for the most part furnished with a profusion of trees and shrubbery, and flowers planted round them, and vary in rent from 40 to 80, or 100 rupees per month. There is a handsome church here, where the bishop in general presides;a resident chaplain, and two medical officers, and a commandant, who is empowered with magisterial authority. There are excellent schools for both boys and girls; a first-rate hotel, and a comfortable club, and numerous shops well furnished with every article of European supplies, so that the visitor need incumber himself with nothing more than his personal baggage.

The roads are excellent, and fit for wheeled carriages all the way up, whilst numerous beautiful rides are cut along the hills that overlook it in every direction.

The vegetation of the Neilgherries is very different from that of northern India. There are no pine trees, no oaks, no walnuts, no chesnuts; but the rhododendron is abundant, growing to a diameter of two or three feet. The woods (the shoalas as they are called,) upon the table-land, are composed of low, stunted, crooked, gnarled trees,always in leaf, prettily tinted with all shades of green, so continuous and solid-looking, that one feels inclined to walk along upon their tops; but useless as timber, and without variety. Along the brows of the mountains the trees attain to a much larger growth, and afford the finest timber. Fruit trees of all sorts, both tropical and temperate, grow well at Ooty, but the fruit is very indifferent, the rapid change of seasons, and the double spring ripening it before it is matured. Even European vegetables, though they grow well, are indifferent in flavor, with the exception of pulse and potatoes, which latter are very good, and are imported in large quantities to the plains. European flowers, however, thrive very well, and the parterres are rich in variety and luxuriant. Coffee is found to grow admirably at the height of 5,000 feet, and there are many extensive in these hills; and I have no doubt that tea also would be a successful speculation, for this plant thrives very well at Ooty.

Amongst the inhabitants of these mountains there is a very remarkable race called Todars, which is worthy of a few remarks. They are a very primitive, and a very fine people,entirely pastoral in their habits, and move about with their large herds of buffaloes from one locality and elevation to another, according to the season, living on the produce of their herds, and cultivating nothing. They do not intermarry with other tribes, and consequently their type is well preserved, but polyandryism is their system of matrimony; one woman being the joint wife of the sons of the same family, which custom is so unfavourable to progenitiveness, that their numbers are fast decreasing, and the very race seems threatened with extermination, unless Government take some means to suppress the unnatural custom.

3. THE LAKE.—The chief feature in the landscape is the lake, a serpentine sheet of water several miles in circumference, formed by throwing a high dam across the principal ravine, around which is the public drive. It is a very extraordinary fact that the authorities of Ootacamund are taking the most active measures to ruin the lake, the greatest ornament of these hills, which preceding authorities have gone to so much labour and expense to construct. A cutting at Kaitee, on a gigantic scale, for a new road to Coonoor is being made across a spur of the elk hill, and to save the expense of cooly hire in removing the earth, a stream of water is brought down from Dodabeth, by which thousands of tons of soil are washed away, a great part of which finds its way into the lake. Indeed, a great part of the head of the lake is already in a state of marsh. This is very much to be regretted, for the lake is being silted up, in order to save a trifle in excavating a road that I feel confident will not remain open two monsoons before it be closed by landslips. It appears to me that the very opposite policy ought to be adopted with reference to this beautiful lake—that the three upper bunds should be raised about six feet, the present arch-ways through them should be contracted or closed, with a safety sluice at one end, as in the lowest bund, and thus admit of a sheet of water as high as the Botanic Gardens. It is a subject of universal regret that the banks of the lake should to this late day be as bare as a mill-pond,instead of being, as they might be, ornamented with trees. The trees of Australia grow splendidly in these hills, and require only two or three years protection from cattle to become independent. The scenery around Ooty, though tame and wanting in sublimity, is pretty, and the approach to it by the Segoor Ghaut, with its numerous white houses glistening in the sun, and the highest mountain, Dodabetta, forming the background,makes a very pleasing landscape.

4. ROUTES TO OOTY.— The best route from Madras to Ootacamund is via Arcot, Pulmanair, Bangalore, Seringapatam, Goondlepet, Segoor, and Kulhutty; distance about 300 miles. From Madras to Bangalore, the distance 208 miles, is performed by horse-transit in a comfortable spring carriage in three nights, resting during the day at Arcot and Pulmanair, where there are staging bungalows and the means of getting rice and a curry. At Bangalore there is a good hotel.

From Bangalore to Ootacamund the journey is made by relays of bullocks in three nights, halting during the day at Mundium and Goondlepet, where there are good bungalows, especially at the latter. Leaving Goondlepet about midnight, the traveller reaches Segoor, at the foot of the Ghaut, about nine, a.m.; and reaches Ooty in the afternoon, the carriage going up without impediment all the way. However,as the carriage is both tedious and tiresome, it will be well to have a pony in readiness at Segoor, to ride up to Kulhutty to breakfast, where there is a good bungalow, and on to Ooty in the afternoon. Heavy baggage may be booked at Madras, and landed at Ooty with every facility and at a very moderate charge. By the above route there are only two hot stages, for on reaching the high table land of Mysore at Pulmanair, 3,000 feet above the sea, the temperature becomes quite agreeable.

Visitors from the West coast and from Bombay generally approach by the Khoondah Ghaut. They land at Calicut, embark in a boat at Baypore, not far from it, and proceed up the river in one tide to Ariacode, where there is a bungalow; there are other bungalows at Yeddemuttum, Woondoor, Sholakul, the last at the foot of the hid, 26 miles distant from Ariacode; thence to Sispara at the top of the Ghaut, 11 miles; to the Avalanche, 18 miles; and thence to Ooty, 13 miles. At Sispara and the Avalanche there are very good bungalows, but supplies doubtful. Should the commissariat department admit of it, the traveller will do well to halt a few days at Sispara, for the scenery around it is exceedingly grand. This route is not practicable for carriages, but well adapted for riding.

5. CLIMATE.—The elevation of Dodabetta, the highest point of the Neilgherries,is 8,730 feet above the sea, and of the lake at Ootacamund, 7,361 feet; and few of the houses stand more than 500 feet above the level of the lake. The average height of the barometer is 23 inches; average fall of annual rain, 50 inches; average temperature, 58°; the extremes of heat being 32° and 77°. Hoar frost lies white in the morning during November, December, January and February; and people ride and walk about at all hours during the day, in the hottest weather without apprehension from the sun;warm clothing is worn at all seasons, a turf and wood fire after dark, and a couple of English blankets at night are at all times welcome; mosquito-curtains are unknown, and other domestic insects give no annoyance. Few climates in the world are more equable throughout the year,than the Neilgherries, equally removed from the winter and rough weather of our northern Sanataria, and the scorching heat of the plains. Indeed, there is a buoyancy and exhilaration in the air which is quite delightful, and the spirits of the invalid rise, and the elasticity of his step increases with the elevation, and,in the great majority of cases, rapidly conduct him to robust health and strength.

The monsoons seem to influence the seasons more than the declination of the sun. The sun is vertical twice a year, and consequently there are two springs, but these by the residents are little noticed, for vegetation is at no time suspended; the setting-in of the South-west monsoon is the most important day of the year. It generally sets in early in June, and continues till the middle of November; some years the rains and fogs are very continuous and disagreeable, and during others there are many intermissions of pleasant weather. The winter months are the most congenial, and this is the season when the Neilgherries are most frequented. Many visitors leave them during the South-west monsoon, averse to the rain and the fog.

6. COONOOR.— Yet the Neilgherries have an advantage peculiarly their own, and afford a transition of climate calculated to please and to benefit almost any invalid. If Ootacamund is found too rainy, foggy, and damp, one has only to cross over to Coonor, which is comparatively exempt from the above inconveniences and is considerably milder. It is only ten miles distant; is 12 or 1500 feet lower than Ooty, and 3° or 4° warmer. There is a very good hotel there, a good public bungalow, if it were only kept in repair, and houses may be got to hire at moderate rent. An assistant-surgeon is stationed here, and the bazar is tolerably well supplied.

7. KOTAGHERRY.— Kotagherry has a climate in some respects similar to Coonoor, but there is no public accommodation there; many of the houses are in ruins and very few to be had for rent. There is no medical officer stationed there, supplies must be got either from Coonoor, which is thirteen miles distant, or from Ooty, which is seventeen miles distant. It is a bleak,bare, barren, blasted place, and affords very little induce- ment for invalids to live there.

8. JACKATALLA.— It is very remarkable, that the advantges of the Neilgherries should have been well known, and appreciated for more than thirty years, and that only very recently they have been thought of as a station for European troops. A wing of a European regiment is now quartered at Jackatalla, about three miles from Coonoor. At present they are living in temporary huts of wattel and daub, but substantial barracks in every way excellent are being built for their better accommodation. The health of the troops here is very good, the proportion of sick to well only 3 or 4 per cent., equal to that of England. It is much to be regretted, that no sanatarium for the reception of the sick of European regiments generally, throughout the Madras presidency, similar to Landour and Darjeling, should be established in these hills, and I feel assured that government would be amply compensated for any expense incurred in its construction, by the saving annually of hundreds of valuable lives. Such an asylum offered to the sick soldier,dragging out a mere existence in the plains, would be hailed as a boon, and a blessing conferred upon the rank and file.

By a census given me by Dr. Cuirie, senior medical officer in 1853, the following officers visited the Neilgherries on medical certificate:

From the Madras Presidency . . 52
Bombay . . . . . 13
Bengal . . . . . . 5
Hill-Service . . . . . 5
Total . . . 75

Dr. Currie reports in most favourable terms as to the climate of these hills. The only cases not likely to benefit by a residence there, are asthma, consumption, diarrhœa, dysentery, and affections of the liver.

9. MAHABLESHWUR HILLS.—This is the principal sanatarium of the Bombay Presidency. It stands on the ridge of the western ghauts, a range of mountains running parallel to the coast, and at this point separated from the sea by the district of Concan. The latitude of Mahableshwur is 17° 56' north, longitude 73° 30' east, elevation 4700 feet above the sea. Its distance from the coast is only twenty-five miles, and from Bombay seventy miles. The range of the thermometer runs from 61 to 72.

The Mahableshwur hills differ from most other sanataria in India,inasmuch, as all invalids leave them in the hot season. The rains are so excessive, as to render a residence there intolerable.

10. DEFECTS OF HILL CLIMATES.—I have now concluded a sketch of the Sanataria in India, resorted to by invalids in search of health. Would I could say to every sick officer, go to one, or other and you will get well but since I cannot, I may at least say, go there in hope, and get as well as you can, but be prepared for the rainy season. Infinite as are the advantages of all, over the plains, their climate is still imperfect, and the rainy season neutralizes a considerable portion of the benefits that would otherwise be derived from them. Some will be disappointed, and after one or two seasons spent amongst the hills, without the desired restoration to health, will be under the necessity of proceeding to sea.