Tour Of India - From Calcutta To Khyber
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Benares—The Ghats—Sarnath—Agra and Delhi again—Amritsar—Lahore—Jehangir's tomb ii The plains in March—Wazir Khan's mosque, Lahore—lndo-Greek sculptures—iii Benares v. Madura—The Brahmo Somaj—The Arya Somaj—Peer Mohammed on King George—A democratic paradox—The jubilee of the Mutiny in Delhi—Education—iv From Lahore to Peshawar—A violet-crowned city—Through the Khyber—Passing a caravan—A valley of desolation—A ride and a view.
March 18, AGRA.-I left Calcutta on Wednesday and got to Benares on Thursday morning, two days later than I had intended (owing to my " indisposition "), and so had only two days there instead of four.
I stayed with a friend in the Government School. In the evening he took me into the city, which is quite the most picturesque I have seen. The reason of this lies in the fact that the nearer you die to the banks (only the west bank, if you die the other side you become a donkey) of the Ganges, the better your chance of a rise " in the next life.
Consequently the competition for sites near the river is like that for City sites in London ; it has forced the houses up to double their usual height, and has squeezed the streets to half their normal breadth. Moreover, people rich enough to pay Benares rents can afford fine balconies and door-ways so the result is a city of extremely narrow, irregular streets between fine, tall, purely oriental houses (a religious centre instinctively avoids foreign adaptations) which almost meet above, a in old London. All the streets are crowded with pilgrims in their best clothes, and lined with shops full of brass-work and stuffs.
We went into some of the innumerable temples, none of them specially fine, but did not see the river. The most amusing temple was Durga's, where there are scores of monkeys that will come quite close if you call and feed them.
On Friday morning we went on the river. Benares apparently owes its sanctity to three things : (1) that the Ganges here flows towards its source, i.e., north ; (2) that the city is on a steep bank facing the sunrise and (3) that Rama sacrificed ten horses there and so made it equal in sanctity to Allahabad (where the point of junction between the Jamna and the Ganges is reckoned the most sacred spot in India).
The city is about three miles long, built along the top of the high river-bank, and from it all along a series of terraces and steps lead down to the river. These steps are called the Ghats (ghat meaning a flight of steps and so applied either to mountains or to real steps, etc.). There are more than forty of them, making a continuous alternation of embankment and steps. Along the embankment runs a road, along whichever terrace is nearest the water, connecting ghat with ghat, and this road is lined with booths and beggars on both sides. The water near the embankment is crowded with native boats and barges of all sorts and sizes, and the ,eater opposite each ghat, where the steps lead right down, is full of bathers. Along the top of the bank are the temples, a continuous line of them; and flanking the broad flights . of steps are innumerable shrines and other picturesque buildings.
The whole length swarms with humanity like a bee-hive, and it was a fascinating sight as we rowed slowly along, seeing the crowds walking, standing, sitting, bathing, boating, praying, juggling, dancing, buying, selling, eating, drinking, burning corpses, all in a cinematographic profusion.
We stayed on the river till about nine, when it began to get warm, and then came home.
A lot of people told me I should find the plains intolerably hot in March, but after Calcutta Benares was delightfully cool. I enclose the weather report of the Allahabad paper, which shows how there is a difference of over a hundred degrees between the extremes of temperature in a day.
In, the afternoon we drove to Sarnath, which is the site of old Benares. It was here that Gautama began to teach after attaining Buddhahood, and the place is full of Buddhist ruins going back to Asoka's time, 250 B.C. It was too much ruined to be beautiful, but I saw a tope (vide Fergusson) for the first time, and the Museum was very interesting.
I left Benares on Saturday morning and travelled all day, passing through Allahabad and Cawnpore, and reached Agra late at night.
My excuse for coming back to Agra was to speak in a debate at St. John's College à la Union ; but the debate had to be cancelled because of an epidemic of smallpox. Smallpox is not often fatal here, but spreads rapidly, since the patient's friends generally accompany him to hospital in a closed carriage.
But I'm very glad to be back here, both to see the place and the people again. As for the place, it is as wonderful after twenty-six other cities as it was when I came to it fresh : it is in a class all by itself.- I am more than ever struck by the ineffable superiority of simplicity in white marble to the most elaborate effects in coloured stone, paint, gold, or even pietra dura.
Wednesday, LAHORE. -I only stopped in Delhi one night en passant. On revisiting the fort there I found it bore comparison with Agra better than I thought before. The Private Audience Hall is much lovelier in solitude than I realized amid Durbar crowds. It is of cream-coloured marble, profusely ornamented with flower designs in gold paint, like the richest embroidery. But Agra is best.
The new capital cannot after all be built on the site of the Camps ; it will probably be about six miles south of the present city, near the fourteenth-century Delhi.
I left Delhi last night for Lahore, stopping for three hours this morning at' Amritsar, to see the Golden Temple. The city is the religious capital of the Sikhs and the temple their greatest. It is most picturesque, in fact lovely, though not big. But it stands in the middle of a large square tank, and can only be reached by a marble causeway, with handsome gold lamp-posts along it, and crowds of pilgrims and beggars. The whole of the temple, except the bottom ten feet, is plated with gilt copper, and the effect is very rich and fine. The style is peculiar. Fergusson's picture will show you what it is like, and the chasing on the gold is very good. It was full of worshippers, who made offerings at a tomb and then sat about, listening to a priest reading.
I drove to Jehangir's tomb this afternoon : it has some lovely tile-work and marble lattices. I have now seen the tombs of all the five Great Moghuls who are buried in India—Humayan, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb. Babar is buried at Kabul. The fort here is second-rate, with one or two exquisite bits in it. Kim's gun awakens joyful memories.
March 21st, LAHORE. -I have been travelling almost continually this week, as I wish to get into Kashmir as soon as possible.
Besides, every one told me I should find Benares to Lahore uncomfortably hot by March 15th : but they were quite wrong.
Coming after Calcutta, the plains are deliciously cool. The shade temperature has never touched 900, and at night goes down to 500. Of the four places—Benares, Agra, Delhi, and Lahore Delhi is decidedly the coolest, and its climate to me, with fresh memories of Calcutta at 92° and 97° humidity, was a convincing argument for the change of capital. In fact, except for the need of mosquito-curtains, I found it nicer in March than in December. I stayed out till 11.30 a.m. without any discomfort, and went out again on a bicycle at 4 p. m.
Of course when the hot weather does come it is a regular bake, but it doesn't begin till the middle of April, whereas Calcutta's begins early in March.
I rode this morning before breakfast to a mosque in the city (Wazir Khan's) which is profusely deco-rated with the most beautiful coloured tilework I have ever seen, brilliant colours and great wealth and grace of design, in flowers and trees. I have seen nothing like it till I got here. I think the art belongs properly to Turkestan. The city is very picturesque and dirty.
After breakfast I went to the Museum and saw Kim's gun outside it, with half a dozen Kims playing on it. The great thing in the Museum is the room full of Buddhist reliefs from Peshawar and Rawalpindi neighbourhoods. They date from 300 B.C. to A.D. 400, and most of them you would never know were Indian at all, especially the earlier ones. They are obviously Hellenistic Greek in style—straight noses, Greek mouths, realistic figures, and above all Greek dress, chlamys and chiton, quite unmistakable.- Only the attitudes are Indian (squatting, etc.), and, excepting the earliest, the eyes are artificial, and get more and more so, till they melt into the typical Indian sculptured eye. In the late types the nose, too, begins to flatten and the mouth to be blubber-lipped : but for over three hundred years the Greek influence is predominant, and the result is a far more artistic and lifelike series of reliefs than I have seen anywhere in India. Far the best single thing is a fasting Buddha, which is ghastly without being horrible, a most extra-ordinarily arresting piece of realism. Every fibre is individually represented. I only doubt whether such emaciation is possible during life.
They have also found one regular Ionic column and several Corinthian acanthus capitals or fragments thereof. There was one Athene, helmet and spear complete and. a whole collection of coins of Indo-Bactrian kings, with Greek inscriptions on the obverse and vernacular on the reverse.
I start for Peshawar tomorrow.
March 21st, LAHORE.-It has been a sad rush this week ; two days in each place where I should have liked to put in ten.
I was as much impressed with Benares as I was disgusted by Madura. It seems to me to be the best manifestation of Hinduism I have seen. The pilgrims really meant business there was genuine devotion about their ablutions and processions and multitudinous observances. It was all a jumble, but a reverent jumble. The very smells had an odour of sanctity that made them fitting and almost desirable.
I went on for the weekend to Agra. I talked a great deal to my friends there, and especially I heard about the Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj. Raju told me about them, and being an Indian, his account of them is more interesting and authentic than an Englishman's would have been. He said the Brahmo Samaj (Society of God) is a purely religious sect of reformed Hindus, who discard idolatry, polytheism, mythology, etc., and wish to abolish caste, child-marriage, and perpetual widow-hood. They are practically Unitarians. They were founded in the thirties, but are now being reabsorbed by orthodox Hinduism. Their influence is confined to Bengal and is not likely to last long.
The Arya Samaj (Society of Aryans) is much more important. It is a political-religious society. Its fundamental thesis is that all knowledge can be found in the Vedas ; so its cry is " Back to the Vedas." It is anti-foreign, anti-Christian, and especially anti-Mohammedan. Its aim is to restore the India of the Vedas, an India for the Indians, governed by Hindus, and aiming at the Vedic ideals. It also discards caste, child-marriage, mythology, and idolatry ; and therefore it has no chance of taking root south of the Vindhya mountains. But in the Punjab it is powerful among the student class, and its numbers are increasing. He put them at a hundred thousand. It is anti-British, and its numbers quadrupled during the years of unrest, 1904-7 ; but for the moment it has no handle against the Government. Its distortions of history and interpretations of the Vedas are incredibly crude and false, but they go down. For instance, the founder, in his book, " The Light of Truth," asserts that railways and all modern science can be found in the Vedas.
On Monday I went on to Delhi for a day. I spent Tuesday morning in the fort. While we were there, memories of the Durbar surged up in Peer Mohammed, and the following conversation took place.
P. M.—I think King Gearge much better man than his father.
SELF. Yes, King George is very good; he loves all his people.
P. M. What I liking very much was, whin he driving in oping carridge, he salaam to the poor man also as to the rich, that please God very much, I think.
SELF. Yes, I think so. . . Are you glad he moved the capital to Delhi?
P. M.—Yes, I very pleased. Delhi great Mohammedan city. Calcutta good place for business, but Delhi the city for the Raj. And Bengalis bad man, giving lot of trouble so when King Gearge coming, he punish them and taking away capital. Bifore, all government was Bengalis, now other people will have too. Bengalis very sorry, but it be their fault.
He evidently thought it quite a natural thing that a king should change his capital if its people were troublesome.
I dined with a most kind missionary who has been out here a long time. He is a strong Liberal, but he said that on democratic principles, i.e., if we conformed to the popular will, we ought undoubtedly to diminish natives' powers of self-government instead of increasing_ them. The Municipal Council at Delhi, he added, was largely a failure. He had often asked the people in the bazaar whether they would like its powers increased, and they always answered, " For Heaven's sake, if you want to do anything, diminish them." Its vice-president had had an open cesspool outside his door for years, and won't take the trouble to have it covered.
Which indirectly confirms what I learnt in the South, that the Nationalist party have (at present) no right to speak for the man in the street ; they have given no proof that they want what he wants or that they would govern in his interests. If they were really keen for his welfare, there are surely many branches of social reform they could undertake independently of government.
Five years ago there was a good deal of unrest in Delhi; and in May, 1907, when the jubilee of the Mutiny approached, the Europeans in the Civil Lines heard rumours of their intended massacre on the night of the 10th. When the night came, a Eurasian ran round their bungalows announcing that the massacre had begun in the city. So all the intrepid residents in the Civil Lines collected in the club, and sat up all night with loaded rifles. Fortunately, no natives came along or there might have been the most awful trouble. Meanwhile, the slim Eurasian burgled the deserted bungalows and departed.
Another missionary here, who is a strong sympathizer with the Nationalists, told me he thought that Indians had got quite as many posts in the administration as they could efficiently fill for the present, in the Punjab at any rate. What he chiefly wanted was compulsory free education ; he feared the Government were going to make it free but not compulsory, and that, he said, would be little advance on the present position. I know nothing about this.
March 24, PESHAWAR. This is the last letter I shall be able to post on the railway before starting on the two-hundred-mile drive to Kash-mir so any subsequent ones may be irregular, as you can never be sure of catching the mail from Srinagar, since the mail-carts may be stopped by landslides or broken harness.
I was quite glad to get away from Lahore, though Wazir Khan's mosque was one of the most beautiful things I have seen since I came out, and semi-Greek sculptures in the Museum were very interesting.
I left on Friday morning and travelled all day, through just the same flat, green, well-wooded country as before. The Ravi and the Chenab were unimpressive rivers, shallow and with no determinate bed. The bridges showed they must be enormously wide in the rains. Later on, the mountains rose in the distance on the right, and as we got nearer I could see a long line of snow along their tops, but they were too far off to be very exciting. We got nearest to them about where we crossed the Jhelum (which was a regular big river) : the particular group we saw was the Pir Panjal.
After Jhelum we passed through most curious country. The whole surface was honeycombed much like Amundsen's description of the Devil's Dancing Room, but wherever there was a flat spot, even a few feet square, at either level, it was growing young corn.
We crossed the Indus after dark at Attock, and reached Peshawar at 1 p.m.
I have to stop here four days, though there is not much to do, because the Khyber is only picketed on Tuesdays and Fridays. However, I'm quite glad of a rest, as I've been continuously on the move for a fortnight, and this is an exceedingly pretty place. It really has got a violet crown, more complete and more violet than Athens's, of which it reminds me. The place itself is on a flat plain, or at most a low rise in that plain, and the abundance of trees prevents one seeing much unless one climbs to the top of one of the few high buildings. When one does one sees at a glance what means.
The hills almost completely encircle the plain at a distance of from ten to twenty miles from the city ; and behind the innermost violet ring rise others and others as far as the eye can reach through the marvellously clear air, each ridge a shade paler than the, last, till in three places the snow mountains form the horizon, throwing the ridges immediately in front of them into dark relief. It is a wonderful panorama of thrilling places, another reminder of the view from the Acropolis. You can see the Khyber and the hills of Afghanistan to the west, south of them the mountains of the Zakkar Khels and other Afridis of the borderland ; to the north-west the Mohmand, Dir and Swat country, with the Malakand Pass leading from Dargai to Chitral the hills towards Chitral and the snows of the Mountains of Solomon can be seen quite plainly.
The bazaars here are very crowded with grim-looking people, who look as if they enjoyed life less than death, hook-nosed and bearded, some of them giants, wholly different from the worm-like Hindu, but hardly more pleasant. The young ones are very nice-looking.
There is a Museum here too, full of the same very early Buddhist sculptures as at Lahore—the old Gandhara province was in this district. The sculptures here are not so good as those at Lahore, and are more Indian, but they are still quite different from and superior to anything later.
Tuesday. —1 went through the Khyber to-day. It was glorious, flooding the imagination like Thermopylae. The pass is only open on Tuesdays and Fridays, because it has to be picketed all the way along, and all wagons and pack-animals require an armed escort, so a big caravan goes up twice a week. The pass is twenty-three miles long from Jamrud to the Afghan border ; visitors are only allowed as far as Ali Masjid, a fort about half-way up ; but, armed with a letter to the authorities, I got special permission to go right through to Landi Kotal, which is at the highest point, after which it slopes steeply down to Afghanistan. I had good luck all the way. I had to start at eight, and it rained from seven to eight—it has been showery all this week—which had the double effect of laying the dust and clearing the air. It stopped raining about five minutes after I started, so the ten miles' flat driving due west to Jamrud was cool and dust-less, while the mountains looked lovely under the grey sky.
We passed through Jamrud at a quarter-past nine, and soon came to the entrance of the pass. From this point we were out of British territory, since the frontier strip is independent, only we guard the road. But between Jamrud and the pass we had to pass the caravan, which had just got under way. It was enormous, over a mile long and blocking up the whole road an extraordinary conglomeration of men and beasts, big camels with incredible burdens, just lacking the last straw, minute donkeys with packs a great deal bigger than themselves; ponies and cows and bullocks and buffaloes, all carrying burdens ; flocks of sheep and goats bearded men, long-haired youths, very good-looking women, muffled and unmuffled, children of every size, either perched on the bundles or walking. Every creature appeared to be touching all its neighbours. How we got through I can't conceive ; it was a process of shouting and lashing and bumping, hairbreadth escapes of donkeys, goats, and women, who never noticed us till the ponies' noses touched them ; imminent peril to ourselves from mountainously supercilious camels, waving huge packing-cases as they swung about. I was thankful for the rain, but wished that the road hadn't been flanked by deep ditches. Fortunately when we were half-way through the road forked and we got clear.
Leaving the imperturbable caravan behind, guarded by riflemen in front and behind, we entered the pass. For the first seven miles the road winds up a bare valley, not very steep nor very narrow, but the very valley of Desolation not a blade of grass, only hard, brown, slate-like rock and a dry, slate-grey river-bed. The grey sky was in keeping with it, and the entire absence of life and sound. It was empty, silent, and still, yet it seemed to be rustling with innumerable ghosts of the successive hordes of barbarous invaders who passed that way.
When we got near to Ali Masjid there were a few villages, each with a kind of subterranean fort attached, like a rabbit-burrow, and little patches of green crops.
Beyond Ali Masjid the pass narrowed to a' real gorge for about a mile, being some sixty yards from rock to rock. The walls of it were never sheer, but steep enough to be impassable. The scenery re-minded me of Delphi.
- After that it widened out again to a broadish valley, with green crops for three hundred yards on either side of the road, and frequent villages, each one a little fort of mud ; in fact, I mistook them for forts at first. This lasted the rest of the way.
About half-past eleven the sun broke through and showed how the sloping rocks could magnify its heat. What with the green corn and the sun, this top end of the pass looked happy and prosperous, and nothing suggested its grim associations except the loopholed village walls and the silhouetted pickets on the hilltops.
I reached Landi Kotal about noon. It is just a square mud fort covering some two acres, standing on the road in the open valley, about half a mile short of the actual point where it begins to dip again. So from the fort there is no view forwards, only down the road I had come up. But the officer in charge lent me a horse to ride up a neighbouring hill, from which he said I should get a fine view. He gave me two troopers as escort, and sent three riflemen to reconnoitre the hill in advance.
The first thing my horse, or rather his, did was to bolt, as per usual, and I spent the first quarter of an hour careering over the Tirah at fifty miles an hour, far away from the road and offering a free pot-shot to any Afridi who might have practised on the local lightning because, except within twenty yards of the road, any one may shoot any one else (except soldiers on duty) to his heart's content. I also observed that the ground was of a peculiarly stony character, so I thought it wiser to concentrate on keeping my equilibrium rather than on trying to stop the animal, since when they are in that mood interference is apt to make them buck or kick and thus unseat one. As it was, though it jumped several small ditches, I never looked like coming off, though my helmet got a little out of position, which I considered a rather creditable piece of horsemanship.
However, in due time the silly creature stopped, and my escort recovered me and we rode up the hill, which was fortunately very steep and took the remaining aggravating tricks out of the horse, such as ambling and pulling.
When we reached the top, all of a sudden was disclosed a tremendous view : the dramatic surprise of it quite took my breath away, and reminded me of the Third Temptation. On the side we came up the hill was about eight hundred feet high, but on the other it went down about two thousand five hundred feet, and from its foot stretched, it seemed, the whole of Afghanistan, line upon line of low rugged hills and broken plains through which the Kabul River wound—hills of every size and shape, great snow mountains massed on the right, the reverse slope of the Khyber hills on the left, and in the dimmest dim distance a long line of snow mountains. The sun was now shining brilliantly, but half the sky was covered with detached rolling white clouds, which gave lovely light and shade effects, as did the blue shadows of the golden-brown hills ; only near the river were spots of green. The distant snow mountains were half-hidden by luminous white clouds, and I can't tell how long their line was : I judged they must be fully fifty miles away. The place I was on is appropriately called Pisgah.