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this is the plant which produces the deadly opium. It is for this fatal drug, however, that these vast fields are cultivated.
Several times a day long lines of natives may be seen slowly traversing these fields of poppies. The first man carries a sharp knife with which he makes several cuts along the sides of the poppy pods. By the time the second man comes along a little drop of creamy white
sap has run out from each cut, and this he carefully scrapes off into a cup. This seems an extremely slow way of obtaining the poppy juice, and yet the quantity secured in this very way is so great that thousands of pounds of opium are sent out from India every year. The larger part is sold to the Chinese, and is, as we shall see, a great curse to that people. The manufacture and sale of opium are under the control of the government, and permission must be obtained from it even to raise the plant.
A few of the almost numberless crops of India are wheat, barley, rice, cotton, indigo, various kinds of spices, dyestuffs, and jute. In the northern region, near the mountains, the tea plant is successfully cultivated, and is adding to the wealth of this part of the country every year.
The animal life of no country in the world is more interesting than that of India. Every boy and girl has read stories of jungle life, and is familiar with the names and characteristics of the principal animals of the Indian Empire.
Although the elephant and the tiger are more im
portant in our estimation, we find, by a little study of the animal life of India, that we must give to the monkey the first place in our list. This is because monkeys are held in great reverence by the Hindus, and are very numerous in all parts of India.
There are many different kinds of monkeys, and, as we shall see a little later, they are worshiped in temples by the ignorant and superstitious Hindus.
In some parts of India great troops of monkeys come bounding along with an air of interest and curiosity to see the railway trains pass. Their agility is most wonderful. The long-armed apes will swing themselves from branch to branch with such amazing rapidity that they seem almost to fly through the forest. They feed on fruit, leaves, insects, birds' eggs, and young birds. From daybreak till noon, and again towards sunset, they give forth their powerful cries.
Many very interesting stories are told of the habits of these animals.
In some towns, especially where Hindus are numerous, the shopkeepers suffer great losses because of thievish monkeys always on the alert to seize anything left unprotected.
“ A stout grocer nodding among his baskets, — while a monkey, intently watching the sleeper's face, rapidly stuffs his cheek-pouches with grain, — is a common sight, as well as a comical one.”
Of late years the tradesmen in cities have felt that there are too many sacred monkeys abroad, and have ventured on proceedings that would not have been tolerated in former days. Numbers of the marauders
have been caught, caged, and sent on bullock carts to places many miles distant. There they have been let loose; but, as the empty carts returned, the monkeys, quick to perceive and defeat the plan of their enemies, bounded gayly alongside, and trooped in through the city gates with the air of a holiday party returning from a picnic!
The most noticeable wild animals, after monkeys, are the beasts of prey.
In former times the fierce lion was common in the jungles of India, but in these later years “ the king of the forest” is becoming rare in this land.
Tigers, however, are still abundant in many parts. In the forests, at the base of the Himalayas, tigers are common. They have entirely disappeared throughout a large area of central India and from many parts of Bengal.
Tigers roam the forests at night, and rest during the day. They swim well and will frequently cross rivers. The ordinary game-eating tiger lives mainly on deer and pigs, and avoids the neighborhood of villages. The dreaded man-eater, or fierce tiger, will, when forced by hunger, attack a man in the fields. The destruction of human life by tigers is still considerable in India.
Leopards, which are generally distributed throughout India and Ceylon, are even a greater scourge than tigers owing to their superior courage.
The chetah, or hunting leopard, roams throughout a great portion of the peninsula. This animal can be tamed, and is then as gentle as a dog. When taken to hunt, the chetah is blindfolded, and fastened by a leather belt to the bullock cart on which it is driven out to the neighborhood of the antelopes it is to catch. When loosed, the chetah springs toward his prey, and holds it till the keepers come up.
Other fierce animals are striped hyenas, wolves, and jackals.
Bears are quite common in the forests throughout India. The black bears found in the region of the Himalayas are very fierce, and they are feared by the natives even more than the tiger.
The sloth bear roams the forests from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, and is one of the most remarkable animals in India. It feeds on white ants, and searches far and wide for the high ant-hills made by these busy insects. It lays bare, with its long, curved claws, the large cells at the bottom of each nest, and quickly devours the tiny inhabitants.
The noblest, the largest, and the most characteristic animal of India is the elephant. In the jungles at the base of the Himalayas, in the forests further south, and in Ceylon, this wonderful animal is still found wild. We will not describe the elephant more fully here as we shall learn of the many and valued services of “ My Lord Elephant” (as the Hindus call him) in our travels through Asia.
One cannot travel far in India without hearing the cry of the jackal, that animal which “ the wolves despise because he runs about making mischief and telling tales, and eating rags and pieces of leather from the village heaps.” This we are told in “ The Jungle Book,” that thrilling story of animal life in India.