Page images
PDF
EPUB

Her shrine is on the brow of a solitary hill, where murders were very conveniently committed without transpiring to the public. It is said, that 250 boats of river thugs, in crews of fifteen, used to ply between Benares and Calcutta, five months every year, under the pretence of conveying pilgrims—their victims' back was broken, and the corpse was thrown into the river.'

From Mirzapore to Allahabad, for an account of which the reader is referred to following pages.

CHAPTER III.

Our party

The tale of our journey opens with all the pomp and circumstance of an Eastern romance. was composed of four,—dear reader. But, instead of the prince, the minister, the commander, and the merchant, you must be content with the less conspicuous characters of the doctor, the lawyer, the scholar, and the tradesman. All the charm of a resemblance lies only in the beginning. The story then professes to be something more serious than the tale of an Indian nursery, which induces the very opposite of what is aimed at here to help the reader to keep awake to the interest of the scenes and sights about him.

Friday, the 19th of October, 1860, was the day appointed for our departure. Crossing over to Howrah, we engaged passage for Burdwan. The train started at 10 A.m., and we fairly proceeded on our journey. Surely, our ancient Bhagiruth, who brought the Ganges from heaven, is not more entitled to the grateful remembrance of posterity, than is the author of the Rail

.

way in India

[ocr errors]

Travelling by the Rail very much resembles migrating in one vast colony, or setting out together in a whole moving town or caravan. Nothing under this enormous load is ever tagged to the back of a locomotive, and yet we were no sooner in motion than Calcutta, and the Hooghly, and Howrah, all began to recede away like the scenes in a Dissolving View.

The first sight of a steamer no less amazed than alarmed the Burmese, who had a tradition that the capital of their empire would be safe, until a vessel should advance up the Irrawady without oars and sails ! Similarly does the Hindoo look upon the Railway as a marvel and miracle-a novel incarnation for the regeneration of Bharat-versh.

The fondness of the Bengalee for an in-door life is proverbial. He out-Johnsons Johnson in cockneyism. The Calcutta Baboo sees in the Chitpoor Road the same 'best highway in the world,' as did the great English Lexicographer in the Strand of London. But the long vista, that is opening from one end of the empire to the other, will, in a few years, tempt him outof-doors to move in a more extended orbit, to enlarge the circle of his terrene acquaintance, to see variety in human nature, and to divert his attention from the species Calcutta-wallah to the genus man. The fact has become patent, that which was achieved in months and days is now accomplished in hours and minutes, and celerity is as much the order of the day as security and saving

The iron-horse of the 19th century may be said to

[blocks in formation]

have realized the Pegasus of the Greeks, or the Pukaraj of the Hindoos. It has given tangibility and a type to an airy nothing, and has reduced fancy to a matter-offact. The introduction of this great novelty has silenced Burke's reproach, that if the English were to quit India, they would leave behind them no memorial of art or science worthy of a great and enlightened nation.'

From Howrah to Bally the journey now-a-days is one of five minutes. In twice that time one reaches to Serampore. The next station is Chandernagore—thence to Chinsurah, and then on to Hooghly and Muggra. The Danes, the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese, and the English, all settling at these places in each other's neighbourhood, once presented the microcosm of Europe on the banks of the Hooghly.

All along the road the villages still turn out to see the progress of the train, and gaze in ignorant admiration at the little world borne upon its back.

Nothing so tedious as a twice-told tale-nothing so insipid as a repeated dish. The story of our journey is, therefore, commenced from Pundooa. Once the seat of a Hindoo Rajah, when it was fortified by a wall and trench, five miles in circumference, Pundooa is now a rural town of half its former size. From the train it is seen to peep from amidst groves, orchards, and gardens, surrounding it on all sides, and imparting to it a pleasing sylvan character. Traces of its ancient fortification are yet discernible at places. The tower, 120 feet high, arrests the eye from a long way off. This is

the oldest of all buildings in the plains of Lower Bengal, which has defied the storms and rains of a tropical climate through 500 years. It is striking that mere brick-work can resist the elements for such a long period. Thus standing untouched by time, and uninjured by the weather, the tower is a hoary witness of the events of several ages. It has seen the rise and fall of Dacca, Rajmahal, and Moorshedabad, and still exists. To this day the building is in a very good condition, and promises to outlive many more generations. Outward the surface of the tower has been overlaid with a thick crust of the hoar of ages.

Pundooa is famous for the Battle of the Cow, fought in 1340, A.D. The birth of a long-denied heir to its Rajah had given occasion for a great public fête. There was a Persian translator attached to the Hindoo Court, who too wanted to partake in the jubilee. But the killing of a cow is indispensable to the making of a Mahomedan holiday. Living in a Hindoo town, the Moonshee hesitated between the choice of beef steaks and the wrath of alien townsmen. In an evil moment, his temptation getting the better of his prudence, he decided to slay a cow. Care was taken privately to bury the entrails and bones in an obscure part of the town. But

very often does a trifle turn out to blow up a wrong-doer from the fancied security of his precautions. The slaughter of a cow was an extraordinary occurrence in a community of vegetarians and icthyophagists. It did not escape the powerful olfactory of the jackals. Nothing was ever likely to be so little antici

« PreviousContinue »