Advice to Officers in India/Chapter 6

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1. MODE OF TRAVELLING.— Before the Assistant-surgeon has been two months in Calcutta,he will be glad to leave it, and most probably will be ordered to some of the large stations of the upper provinces, Benares, Cawnpore, Merut, Umballa, Lahore, or Peshawur, to do duty under the Superintending-surgeon. This is the best thing that could happen to him, his pay will be increased to 256 a month, and he will be granted boat allowance, or have a free passage provided in one of the river steamers.

2.BOATING ON THE GANGES.—The best sort of boat for the river is a small beauleah or budjerow, with eight or ten oars; this contains two comfortable cabins, and a flat planked roof, where one can take exercise. A larger boat is generally unwieldy and too heavy for the crew allowed it. Up-countrymen are always preferred to Bengalese, and Hindoos to Mussulmen. Before engaging a boat, examine if she is sound, well found in cables sails, ropes, and a good iron anchor. Boats are engaged by the month or by the trip, the latter is the best way. A written agreement should be made, and not more than one-third paid in advance, the rest by instalments at different parts of the voyage. Those not experienced in boating ought to allow the boatmen to have all their own way; for though the stranger may be convinced of their doing many things wrong, yet he will be a loser in time and temper by attempting to introduce improvement. The most important thing to be attended to is the place of spending the night. They should always, if possible, be made fast in a creek, where shelter may be got in the event of a storm; for a boat made fast on a leashore, with a great extent of water to windward, especially if the wind be against the current, is sure to be swamped. The means in use for ascending the river are sailing and tracking. When the wind is fair and strong enough, sail is set, and thirty or forty miles are sometimes made good in one day. When there is no wind, the crew walk along the shore, and drag the boat on by a long rope made fast to the top of the mast. In this last way ten or twelve miles a day is good work. When neither sail nor tracking can be had recourse to, the boatmen take to their oars, or push along with bamboos at the rate of only one mile an hour.

To one not acquainted with the navigation of large rivers, a voyage up the Ganges in country boats may possibly be considered a mere pleasure-trip; but much experience convinces me that it is full of risk both to person and property. The rate of insurance for a four month's voyage on the Ganges is about the same as that from Calcutta to London. Indeed, the management of a boat dining such a voyage, and with the appliances in use, is more precarious than that of a fine ship to England. One might imagine that nothing more was necessary than to continue to ascend and descend the stream,and he cannot go wrong; but the whole country is for three or four months of the year covered in a great measure with water and is more like an inland sea than a river without current or permanent landmark, where old channels are filled up every year, and new ones are formed; where the banks that resist the sapping of the river appear under so many different shapes; where at one time a large thriving town is created, and a month thereafter not a stick of it remains; in two or three months more an extensive tract is found covered with slime and alluvial deposit, and a month thereafter the villagers return and reconstruct their city of fresh reeds and bamboos as before. Even in the dry season, the Ganges is divided into so many channels and islands that it resembles a net, and renders it very difficult to determine the navigable channel. Then the voyager meets with rapids, where all the strength of his crew is insufficient to drag the boat up stream, and often in such rapids the tracking rope breaks, when there are only two or three persons on board; the boat descends the stream like an arrow at the mercy of the current; perhaps it strikes upon a bank and upsets, or it may be that a mass, large as an elephant, tumbles from the high bank and swamps it. Then there are storms and lea-shores, and dashing waves equally formidable to the crazy craft and the primitive crew, as to a ship well manned at sea, and, what is worse, the boatmen on any emergency become panic-struck and desert the boat and the voyager at his utmost need, and worse still, the inhabitants on shore will render him no assistance. In the event of his boat's going to the bottom they will not allow him to enter their huts, no, not even their cow-houses, and he is driven to the shift of taking up his quarters in some uninhabited ruin. The natives of India with all their gentleness and inoffensiveness are probably the most inhospitable race on the face of the globe to all but those of their own caste. When wrecked, the stranger will run no risk of being injured in person or robbed of his property, but he must calculate on no fellow-feeling for his destitute condition.

But travelling by country boats, especially up stream, is now very rarely practised; and I shall introduce the stranger to the river steamers.

3. RIVER STEAMERS.—There are many steamers regularly running up the Ganges from Calcutta to Allahabad, but neither the Jumna nor the Ganges admits of their going beyond it. Government first took the lead in internal steam navigation, but now the greater number of their vessels have been withdrawn to Pegu, and the river is in a great measure left open to private speculation. The voyage from Calcutta to Adahabad is made in from fifteen to twenty days, and no better opportunity can be found of seeing Indian life and scenery than in such a trip. The stranger not pressed for time, cannot do better than engage a passage in one of the steamers. He will have a comfortable cabin to himself, as much tonnage as he requires, he will have a good table, plenty of society, a spacious deck to exercise upon: every evening the steamers anchor; and at most stations they halt a few hours, admitting of a run on shore, and an inspection of what is best worth seeing in the neighbourhood.

4. DAWKING.—There are no mail coaches in Bengal, but there are several transit companies, where one can take his passage along the grand trunk road almost to the banks of the Sutlej. The carriages are compact oblong ones, made to carry two passengers, one in front and one behind, with an intermediate frame to fit in between the seats, so as to admit of the recumbent position. Most people prefer paying extra, and having a carriage to one's-self. Enough baggage is allowed to supply one's wants on the journey. Travellers may either run along night and day, at the rate of seven or eight miles an hour; or they may halt a few hours at the numerous staging bungalows upon the route, paying a charge of one rupee for the accommodation. These bungalows are placed at from ten to fifteen miles distant along the whole trunk road. They all contain two or four suites of apartments, with an establishment of servants, and the means of getting comfortable meals at moderate rates. The first eighty miles are now performed by railway, which is open as far as Raneegunge.

Journeys off the line of the trunk road are performed by palanquin dawk; arrangements can be made with the postmaster at every station. The traveller provides his own palanquin, and Government the bearers, at the rate of eight annas a mile. He is allowed two men to carry his baggage, and can either move along continuously, at the rate of three or four miles an hour, or halt at staying bungalows, as may be convenient; for there are bungalows at convenient distances on the route to every station, even off the trunk line. This is the easiest mode of conveyance, and best adapted for an invalid, and admits of his having a comfortable bed, and a nap all the way".

Travelling, throughout Bengal,is attended with as little risk, either to person or property, as in any country in Europe; and ladies and children travel from Calcutta to the Indus without escort, and without apprehension, either from robbers or from wild beasts; and even the accidents from native horses or breaking down of carriages are not greater than the average on all roads.

5. MARCHING.— On ordinary occasions, when there is no hurry, long journeys are made by marching ten or twelve miles a day, either from bungalow to bungalow or by means of tents. One tent is sent on in the evening to the new ground, where it is found ready to receive its owner next morning. The sleeping tent and the heavy baggage follow their master at daylight, and generally arrive about noon. Of all modes of carriage, camels are the best, and carts or hackeries the worst: the latter are constantly liable to accidents; and it is no unusual thing for one to come up late in the afternoon, having been detained by an axle-tree breaking and the cutting down a tree to make a new one.

6. HOTELS are rarely to be met within India,and only at larger stations, such as Allahabad, Cawnpoor, Agra, Meerut.

7. POSTAGE.— The rate of postage is as rapid in Bengal as in most countries where it is not conveyed by rail. The pace along the trunk road is nine and ten miles an hour; and a letter travels from Calcutta to Peshawur in about twelve days. The boon of cheap postage is now extended to all India;and one may send a letter from Simlah to Cape Comorin for half an anna, which a few years ago would have cost eighteen or twenty annas.

8. ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH.—The electric telegraph is now open all over India. The events at any one presidency are known at any other presidency an hour or two after they have taken place; and messages can be transmitted by the public at large at the rate of one rupee for sixteen words.