« PreviousContinue »
balls of St. James's and of Versailles ; and in the bazaars the muslins of Bengal and the sabers of Oude were mingled with the jewels of Golconda and the shawls of Cashmere."
Though this was written to picture Benares as it was a century ago, much of the description continues to be true, and the flights of steps are still worn by the feet of innumerable worshipers.
We entered India at Bombay, which is really the commercial capital, and we now find ourselves in Calcutta, the political capital of India.
Here the viceroy, or governor general, makes his official home, and the government offices are established.
Calcutta is situated on the Hoogly River, the most important branch in the delta of the Ganges. It is nearly one hundred miles from the ocean, yet the largest ships can come to its wharves.
Although the river is so deep, navigation is seriously obstructed by numerous sandbars. The vast amount of earth brought down by the river from the mountains is deposited along its whole course, thus making the land very fertile ; immense crops of rice are produced, and the cocoa palm is abundant. Nearer the ocean, where the current becomes slower, this earthy deposit settles to the river bed and forms sandbars which, in time, change the course of the river.
Thus the great delta has been formed.
Calcutta is often called “ The City of Palaces.” The first view of the city is sure to give this impression, and it might be lasting did we visit only the European quarter.
In the harbor one sees a perfect forest of masts and the flags of all nations. In the heart of the city are magnificent buildings, broad streets, beautiful parks, and fine residences, which give the imposing appearance suggested by its popular name.
A wide esplanade, called “ Garden Reach," extends along the river front, and back of this is the famous Maidan, or park of Calcutta. The Maidan is one of the most beautiful parks in the world, and is the pride of all Calcutta. On the east side of the Maidan is the Chowinghi Road. Here for a distance of two miles are the homes of the wealthy residents of Calcutta. Many of these bungalows are like little palaces.
To see fashionable Calcutta one need only come to the Maidan toward the close of any day, as this is the time when the wealthy people and the families of government officials take their drives. The beautiful streets are thronged with the costliest equipages. The gay dresses of the ladies, the costumes of the rich natives, decorated with gold lace, the horses adorned with gold-mounted harnesses, and the barefooted attendants running beside the carriages, make a scene hardly to be equaled elsewhere in the world. As darkness comes on, the whole place is made brilliant with electric lights, while music by the military band completes the charming day.
Government House, the winter home of the viceroy, would not be out of place in any European capital. It is a handsome building standing in a beautiful park.
As Calcutta is the seat of the central government and of the superior courts, as well as a great commer
cial center, a large number of pleasant people must make their homes here. This makes the social life attractive, and there are dinner parties, receptions, and balls to while away the time, and to remind the selfexiled English people of their homes in Merry England. There are several theaters and gentlemen's clubs, as well as European hotels, a large English cathedral and other churches, all of which give the city an English appearance not equaled by any other place in India.
There are a number of daily English newspapers filled with the news of the world, and especially with the daily events in all parts of India, since the headquarters of the Indian Telegraph Department is at Calcutta. These are all very attractive features, and make Englishmen choose Calcutta as a home, if possible, while in India. The climate is more desirable than that of any other large city in this country.
Fine buildings, beautiful drives, and all the modern improvements in Calcutta, however, do not make up the real life of the vast majority of its inhabitants.
If we would see the natives in their homes and learn more of their customs, we shall not have far to go; for, lying close upon the magnificent Chowinghi Road is the native quarter of Calcutta. Here the people live huddled together in mud or straw huts. The streets are narrow and very dirty, and the whole appearance is one of poverty. These mud hovels are crowded in little groups, or villages, around an open water tank in which the natives wash themselves and their clothing. As we go further out of the city, the houses are less
crowded, and small gardens and groves of cocoa palms begin to appear.
The native bazaars are like those of Bombay and other Indian cities. In the narrow streets each house is a shop where the native trader sits smoking his curiously shaped tobacco pipe, with his wares surrounding him.
Many important municipal improvements have been made within a few years. Among these we note the system by which water is brought from a distance beyond the city, furnishing an abundant supply to all the people.
This is, in large measure, the reason why Calcutta is the healthiest city in India.
The extensive introduction of tramways makes it very easy to travel about the city.
The many railroads connecting Calcutta with the different sections of India afford an easy highway for its extensive commerce, and make it a close rival of Bombay for being the commercial center of India.
When the hot weather comes on, every Englishman in Calcutta thinks of the cool climate of the Himalayas. For many years it has been the custom of the governor general and his officials, with their families, to leave Calcutta during the hot months and to reside in Simla, a beautiful town in the northwestern part of India, among the foothills of the Himalayas. Simla is, indeed, the summer capital of India.
There are many other “hill stations,” as they are called, to which the people of the plains who can afford it are glad to flee for the summer. One of