Advice to Officers in India/Chapter 15

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CHAPTER XV.

1. CEYLON AND MAURITIUS.—These form another tour for six months. By leaving Calcutta by the bi-monthly Mail Steamers Ceylon may be reached in seven days. Galle, the port of landing, is not the place for an invalid to linger at, longer than is necessary to get out of it. It is at all sea: sons hot, steamy and oppressive, with frequent deluges of rain; and Colombo is very little better. A stage coach runs every alternate day from Galle to Colombo, distance from seventy to eighty miles, and thence to Kandy and Newr-Ellia; and private conveyances are also readily found.

Kandy is 1500 feet above the sea and a cantonment for European troops. Newr-Ellia is 6200 feet on an extensive plain, with an annual range of temperature from 35 to 75. It is a Convalescent Station for European troops, and is frequented by sick officers generally over the island. There is a good hotel there, and some houses for rent, and a short residence in fine weather and amidst the fine scenery is very pleasant; but the severity of the rains is a great drawback to all enjoyment, and few parties who have spent one season there, would willingly spend another. It is therefore very little frequented by officers from India, however much it may be prized by residents of the island.

2. MAURITIUS.— This has long been a favourite spot and the grand advantage is, that when the weather is hottest in India it is coolest there, its winter prevailing when it is summer in India. I believe no change during six months' leave could be better than a voyage to it and back; with the intermediate time spent on the island. Each voyage requires about a month to accomplish it. Invalids should take a couple of servants, four months' supplies, and their usual camp equipage, and engage a small house in the environs of Port Louis; a horse or a buggy is not much required where every one walks on foot and at all hours of the day. There are good hotels here,but enormously expensive and beyond the means of a subaltern. The island abounds in the most picturesque scenery, where the forest, the waterfall, the cane-covered slope and the craggy mist-shrouded mountain mingle in happiest combination. The temperature, especially during winter,is most congenial, constantly ventilated by the S.E. trade wind and varied by sunshine and shower. In the hot season many residents ascend to Plain Williams, where even in summer the temperature is as cool as could be desired. All who know it by experience speak in high terms of the climate of the Isle of France.

3. CAPE OF GOOD HOPE—Of all the places frequented by invalids from India,none is so much resorted to as the Cape; and few have experienced it who have not spoken in its praise. Great facilities are offered by the numerous fine passenger ships of getting there, and the voyage of two months contributes materially to convalescence.

4. CLIMATE AND SEASONS.— The seasons are of course reversed, compared with those of the northern hemisphere. The sun is north at noon. August, September and October are its spring; November, December, and January its summer, February, March and April its autumn; May, June, and July its winter. Upon the whole, its climate may be called a warm one. In winter the thermometer seldom falls lower than 40°. Ice is unknown; and even hoar frost is to be seen only on its mountain tops; the orange, the citron, and the lime ripen their fruit in the open air in winter; and the vineyards bring forth the finest grapes in summer. It is dry rather than moist, and several months together often pass without a shower. The soil is upon the whole dry and arid; fertile spots form the exception, not the generality; a great proportion of the country is covered with bush; a tree higher than one's head is a rarity; the channels of its rivers are wide, but often dry, and when filled by the annual rains, destitute of fish. Animal life in all its tribes is scanty, and that of man is not an exception. In the interior one may travel a hundred miles, and not seemore than two moderate sized villages; twenty or thirty miles and not see more than two or three farm-houses, nor meet with more traffic than a chance waggon or a post-boy. Agriculture is little attended to; wool of very fine staple is the chief product of the farm; yet the sod is so poor that it requires a thousand acres to feed a thousand merinos. Withal, the climate of the Cape is a very fine one, and well calculated to restore the constitution of most people, broken by along residence in India; the fresh clear complexions, the firmness and elasticity in the gait of the fair maids of the Cape, and the bone and muscle and stalwart frames of the men prove that no degeneration has taken place amongst them.

The population of the Cape is principally Dutch, but they have been a good deal Anglicised, and the English language is the chief means of communication. The aborigines, the Hottentots, are in many parts extinct,or are so crossed with other tribes as to have lost their identity. The Mozambique race (emancipated slaves or their descendants,) perform most agricultural and domestic labour, while a large and thriving colony of Malay extraction exercise the mechanical arts. Want of hands and labour is the universal complaint; wages are very high, and all articles of colonial produce very expensive. The voyage from Calcutta to the Cape is usually made in six or eight weeks; December, January, or February are the best months in which to sail for it; then the best ships are available,and a passage in a poop cabin may be got for eight hundred rupees; and if a servant be taken, for a hundred more on his account.

There is little inducement to take any conveyance on board ship, as such things may be got at a reasonable rate at the Cape in the event of their being wanted.

Soon after leaving India the weather will be come unpleasantly hot, and continue so, almost to the end of the voyage, so as to render the lower cabins most uncomfortably hot and unpleasant.

5. CAPE TOWN.—On arriving at Cape Town, the stranger will do wisely to leave it as soon as possible. He will find the heat great, the glare of the sun dazzling, the wind and dust most annoying, the mosquitoes tormenting, the hotels most uncomfortable; indeed,he will think he has made but a bad exchange of climate, and fancy he might as well have remained in India.

Let him at once go out to Rondebush or Wynberg, and there look out for quarters, and settle down at once. Furnished houses and boarding-houses are there to be got in abundance. A good furnished house, fit for a small family, may be got for ten pounds per month, and board and lodging for a bachelor for about the same sum. Rondebush is four miles from Cape Town, and Wynberg eight; the road is excellent, and ominbuses run out and in every hour of the day, charging a shilling the trip.

6. WYNBERG.—Wynberg is the principal residence of visitors from India, who, of themselves, form a large society, and the new comer will soon find himself at home among them. It is also the residence of most of the officers holding Government employment, who live on friendly terms with their visitors. Wynberg may be called the Auburn of the Cape. Every house is hid in a boundless "contiguity of shade" of oaks and pines, and poplars and willows, perfumed with a profusion of flowers; and festooned with luxuriant vines loaded with delicious grapes. The orchards are well stocked with apple and pear trees, peaches, and figs; while the plantain, the aloe and the prickly pear, will remind him of India. Butcher's meat, and fish of the best quality, and European stores of all kinds, may be got at moderate prices. The most picturesque walks wind in every direction, over flowery flats, through densest forests, on upland heaths, even to the summit of Table Mountain.

The houses are for the most part of one storey, built of brick, plastered outside in imitation of stone, with papered walls and planked floors, and ceilings. The roofs are thatched with rushes, and raised, so as to afford a high space for garrets, the store rooms of the establishment.

The invalid will find the summer hot,but not oppressive, yet too hot to make a walk in the noonday sun agreeable; but indoors, and with open doors and windows, the temperature is most congenial. A delicious sea breeze, fresh from the southern ocean, will most probably soon set him upon his legs, put flesh on his bones, and a colour on his cheek, strengthen his sinews, raise the dejected spirits, and give a couleur de rose to his whole economy.

Some visitors complain of the dulness of Wynberg, and feel time hang heavy upon their hands, so one must be prepared to draw largely upon his own resources; but I should think that the consciousness of returning health and strength, the luxury of exercising one's limbs unfettered by debility, and of one's mind free from care, sufficient to reconcile most people to the absence of the bustle of the gay world.

Wynberg gets the credit of being a damp place in winter, and many visitors leave it at that season, and live in Cape Town. During a winter that I spent there, I saw no reason for thinking it damp, or for shutting oneself up in a noisy town.

7. GREEN POINT.—A few visitors frequent Green Point, about three miles from Cape Town, and on looking at it from a ship's poop, the stranger is apt to become prepossessed in its favour. It is, however, not a desirable summer residence, from being sheltered from the south east wind; it is then uncomfortably hot, and in the afternoon the glare of the sea is very annoying. Even as a sea-bathing place it is defective, there is no sandy beach near, the shore is a continuous reef of rugged rocks, and the heavy surf breaking upon them, renders it dangerous to bathe there. In winter it is free from some of the above objections.

Camp's Bay, about two miles from Green Point,is equally objectionable, on account of the heat and the glare from the sea; but it has a nice little sandy bay, fit for bathing, and a boarding-house.

8. KALK BAY.—This is the principal watering place at the Cape, and is much frequented in summer; yet the shore near it is rough and rocky,with but one little sandy bay, and it is the harbour for boats. Should the visitor tire of these, he may make a visit to Stillenbosch, or the Parle, or to the hot and chalybeate springs of Caledon, or if health and strength restored,he may make a shooting excursion to Cape L'Agullas, or northwards, towards the Orange River.

9. AUSTRALIA.— Public opinion is pretty nearly balanced as to the comparative advantages of the climate of the Cape, and the Colonies of Australia. Both are perhaps equally good and bear a strong resemblance, and the choice of the invalid must be determined more by private circumstances than by any decided preference to be given to the one or the other. The length of the voyage and the rate of passage-money are much the same, but opportunities of getting to the Colonies are rare, and must in general be made in ship's of a very inferior description, and not at all congenial to an Indian officer.

However, he will find the Colonies full of interest and enterprise, and be able to trace the elements of society rapidly advancing to maturity; individual exertions steadily attaining to affluence; shielings rising into hamlets, hamlets into villages, and villages into towns and cities. One may walk the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, and fancy himself in a second rate city in England, such as Portsmouth or Southampton; all intense bustle and activity, and fierce encounter in the pursuit of gold. Since the discovery of the diggings, property,provisions and wages of every description have all risen to double, treble, or quadruple, what they were a few years before it. Gold,like everything else in the world has become depreciated by its very abundance; and what was enough to support an establishment five years ago, is now only one-fifth enough. A ditcher or a breaker of stones on the roads, earns his fifteen or twenty shillings a day; a carpenter, a mason, or a blacksmith, twenty-five to thirty shillings. A boatman will not row a passenger and his light kit of baggage from ship to shore under half a sovereign, a porter will not trundle it to his hotel under five shillings, nor can he exist at a respectable hotel under a pound a day, nor yet a hackney-coach to drive a mile to a friend's to dine under a sovereign. Everybody has his head turned with gold; they eat their gold, drink their gold,and dream over their gold;their inns and omnibuses, and steamboats, are called after the golden fleece, the golden fly, and the golden age—but they have no golden mean. The fable of the goose and the golden eggs, and the tree with the golden apples,are no fables here,for every egg and every apple is worth a nugget of gold. Extortion without moderation, and accommodation without comfort, meet the stranger wherever he goes; enormous wages become necessary to meet such enormous demands, and though the Colonists in possession of these do not feel it, officers on moderate fixed allowances very soon feel that they made a great financial mistake in coming to Australia. No captain, a stranger, can live as he would wish to live upon his pay, and unless he can turn his hands to work, and double his income by breaking stones on the road, he will require great self-denial to keep out of debt.

Nevertheless the climate of Australia is a very excellent one, and not to be surpassed; and no region of the globe affords more variety from the Tropics to the Antartic circle.

10. SYRIA is resorted to as a sanitarium chiefly by officers from Bombay;by comparative few from Madras, and still fewer from Bengal. There is no difficulty whatever in getting to any port in Syria by the P. and O. Steamers to Suez, by comfortable vans across the desert to Cairo; by a railroad on to Alexandria; and by excellent French or Austrian steamers twice a week to any port in the Levant. The invalid may spend a month pleasantly at Cairo, and see more of the Oriental than he can see in any one city in Hindustan. He will there see Asiatic manners, customs and costumes,merging into the European; the Arab and the Nubian, the Abyssinian, the Copt and the Turk mingling with the Greek and the Italian;the German, French, and English in most picturesque variety, all full of activity and energy, eager in the pursuit of gain. The climate of Cairo is cool compared with its latitude,and the temperature even of March, sharp and bracing, with a cloudless sky.

The atmosphere is parched and dry, with intense glare, and intolerable dust and sand, irritating the eyes, the nostrils, and the lungs, and keeping up all the feelings of catarrh, therefore, to those suffering from any affection of the air passages or ayes, it is most unfavourable. It does not appear to me that a voyage up the Nile has any commensurate advantages; the progress is slow and difficult: the scenery, with a very few exceptions, such as Thebes and Phyle uninteresting: the desert is seen on either hand, always near enough to annoy with its sand. Indeed Egypt is merely a green streak in a boundless desert—the bed of the Nile.

A visit to the Pyramids is a sight never to be forgotten; for with all the war of elements, the tear and wear of time, and the covetousness and destruction of man, they will live while the world lives, the loftiest and the most stupendous monuments of man's creation. The valley of the Nile will remind one of the valley of the Ganges; abounding with the most luxurious crops of wheat, and barley, and oats, studded with numberless villages, and teeming with population and animal life of every description. Alexandria, the traveller will find comparatively a modern town, with but little remaining of the Oriental; no city, so ancient,has so little air of antiquity about it, and with the exception of Pompey's Pillar, Cleopatra's Needle, and a few half buried blocks of Egyptian granite, it looks as modern a town as if it was erected not above fifty years ago. Nevertheless, Alexandria, like a Phœnix,has risen probably a dozen times from the ashes of a preceding city; the very soil seems made up of bricks and mortar; the dust of forgotten ages forms a component part of the atmosphere, and renders a residence there anything but pleasant.

The only desirable port in Syria for an invalid to land at, is Beyrout. There he will find good hotels, and every convenience he could wish for, with an extensive mercantile society of all nations. Beyrout is a large Turkish town, situated on a gently sloping ascent, overlooking the darkly, deeply, beautifully blue waters of the Mediterranean, with Mount Lebanon covered with snow in the back ground. The vegetation of the tropics and of the temperate zone, seem to mingle here on equal terms. Though the palm and the pine are scanty and stunted in growth, the aloe and the cactus grow luxuriantly; and the orange, the lime, the pomegranate,the olive and the vine, the mulberry and the fig, ripen their fruit in the open air.

During the greater part of the year the climate of Beyrout is delightful, but in summer it is too hot for an invalid whose chief object is to escape from heat. Many of the residents desert the city in summer, and betake themselves to the spurs of the Lebanon; where any choice of climate may be enjoyed; but there is no adequate accommodation to be got on the Lebanon, and visitors are obliged to content themselves with the rude houses of the peasantry. Nevertheless, the most delightful sites could be found for any number of houses on the ridges of Beth-Marie and Marhanna, only three hours ride from Beyrout.

The inducements to travel in Syria are by no means encouraging. Caravanseries there are none; the pilgrims must trust to the extortions of dragomans, who provide tents, carriages, and , and moreover, compound for the safety of their persons and property by paying black mail to the numerous petty Arab chiefs through whose districts they pass. The country is nothing but the skeleton of the land once flowing with milk andhoney; ruined cities,naked rocks, or drifting sand; without population, without wood, and without water—desolation everywhere—of the works of man, as well as the works of Providence. Its principal thoroughfare from Jaffa to Jerusalem is impracticable to anything but a horse or a mule; the road no better than the dry bed of a mountain torrent, filled with stones, from the size of one's head to the size of one's horse.

The curse entailded upon the country is also entailed upon the government; there is no healthy vigour existing in the body politic, the Turkish constitution is undermined, and consumption is rapidly reducing it to a skeleton. Bribery and corruption have supplanted honour and integrity; brigandism prevails up to the gates of its walled towns; her laws and institutions are mere dead letters; her officials have lost all amour propre, all the esprit de corps of patriots; and, provided they can have their pipe, their coffee, their Buck- shees and their hareem, they are indifferent about the welfare of their nation. Syria, under the above circumstances, is not a desirable resort for invalids from India.