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(34)  Palkeen, naulkeen, dooly, mahannah-palanquin, boc,ha, taum-jaung, bangy [[173-179]]

[[173]] In describing the various kinds of palanquins in use [[174]], it should be observed that probably the greatest improvements which ever took place in any vehicle, have been made in the construction of this sine qua non of Indian luxury. The naulkeen, or naulkee, is the first in rank among the contrivances of this description. This immense carriage is only used by crowned heads, and may be compared to a portable throne, on which the prince sits with his feet crossed and tucked up under his hams (according to the custom of Asiatics); having at his back a very large pillow, and under him a suitable bedding, both sumptuously ornamented. Many smaller pillows lie scattered about, to be applied as may be found agreeable.

The frame of the naulkeen is about five feet long by four broad, well secured at the corners, and very closely taped at the bottom, both lengthwise and breadthwise, so as to leave no interstices. The sides are raised with richly carved wood-work, generally gilded in a showy style. The naulkeen is carried like a litter, by eight men, who support two poles, one running under each side-bar, and projecting before and behind; two bearers being at each extremity, as with a palanquin. This vehicle, though it appear extremely ponderous, is said by the bearers to be far lighter than one of the mahannah palanquins.

The dooly, or covered litter, certainly the parent of all the palanquin kind, is yet in common use among the less opulent classes, and especially for the conveyance of women. In our armies this little vehicle affords excellent means of transporting sick and wounded men, either to hospitals, or on a march.

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((315)) Its usual construction is extremely simple; consisting of a smail carpoy, or bedstead, perhaps five feet by two and a half; having four stump feet, about nine or ten inches from the ground, into which the sides, and end pieces, are tenoned. A very slight frame of bamboo work, equal in size to the frame of the litter, is placed over it horizontally; serving as a roof for the support of a double cover (generally of red karwah, or of blue, or white calico) which lies over the roof, and falls all around; so as to enclose the whole space between the roof and the bedstead.

There is seldom any bedding but what is provided by the party carried in the dooly; unless it be one appertaining to some family, whereby it is frequently used: in such case, the interior is made very comfortable, and the cover ornamented with borders, fringes, &c. This last kind, being almost exclusively appropriated to the zenanah, is on a very small scale; rarely exceeding three feet, by little more than two: of cuch, thousands are to be hired at Calcutta, and most of the provincal towns.

They carry very easy; often, indeed, having only two bearers under the bamboo, with one carrying a bangy, or a bundle, who relieves the others occasionally; but, for the most part, four bearers are employed. The closeness of the interior, added to the very trifling elevation (whereby the dust ((316)) cannot fail to be offensive) and the very insufficient guard against rain, combine to render this vehicle by no means pre-eminent for comfort; especially to delicate females.

It should seem that, in the course of time, an improvement was made in the construction of litters, by giving the bamboo, or pole, a considerable arch in that part which went over the interior. Thus the frame was raised considerably; while the rider was enabled to sit upright rather more conveniently than when the bamboo was straight: this, however, could only be done towards the centre; the legs being crossed under the hams, according to the usual sitting position of the natives. To them such a posture, being confirmed by long habit, in use from their infancy, is a relaxation; whereas, to a person not so accustomed, nothing can be more irksome and fatiguing.

Gradually, the sides of the vehicle were ornamented, and changed from the simple parallelogram to an oblongated hexagon; which is now very common: the bamboo was also yet more arched, and its anterior projection carried out in an upward curve to the length of full twelve feet or more: it was also covered with broad-cloth throughout; that part above the seat being ornamented with silk fringes, and the fore-end furnished with a brass ornament; either a tiger's, or an alligator's head, or ((317)) perhaps some imaginary non-descript, placed at the end of a brass ferule, enclosing the bamboo for half a yard at least.

Still there was abundant room for amelioration; but the natives could brook no encroachment on the publicity thus given to their persons, while seated in a vehicle which, owing to the weight being nearly on a level with the bearers' shoulders (a great portion, namely, the head and shoulders, being far above it), added to the awkward arch above which operated as a lever, was peculiarly unsteady; ever threatening to upset with the least inattention to equipoise. The danger of adding to the superincumbent weight, of which the mischief was sensibly felt, caused a slight reduction of the lever, by lengthening the suspending laths a few inches, so as to lower the centre of gravity.

But, by way of recompence, perhaps, for the supposed degradation, a rich covering of broad-cloth was thrown over the arch; having in it several bamboo-laths running at right angles with the bamboo; and forming a canopy, corresponding in form with the curve, about four and a half feet in width; of which the corners were tied down to those of the palanquin frame, and the edges were trimmed with an open quadrated, or reticulated fringe, full six inches in depth. As it would be a sin to spoil so costly an ((318)) awning, it was taken off in bad weather, and put into a bag made of wax-cloth, to be carried on one of the bearers' shoulders; in the mean while, a large sheet, of the same material, was thrown over the bamboo, to keep the inhabitant from being washed away.

It is not above twenty-five years back, that this kind of palanquin was in use among the European residents of India, and especially among the military. Probably in consequence of a painted canvas awning being used, curving down gradually at the sides, not unlike a testudo, this machine was called a 'fly -palanquin'. It was, however, made full six feet in length, and of a comfortable breadth, being also furnished with a good pillow or two, and a neat bedding, stuffed with that kind of cotton known by the name of see-mul. The bamboo frame, on which the canvas was stretched, and of which a ruffle about six inches in depth remained pendant, was lined with colored silk, chintz, &c., giving the interior rather a finished appearance.

I have no doubt but the form of this kind of palanquin, as in use among the natives, gave rise to the use of punkahs in preference to chattahs; it must be obvious that the former, being flat, and furnished with a flounce full half a yard in depth, was more conformable to the lateral apertures than an umbrella could be; while, at the same ((319)) moment, it was far more portable in passing through those narrow streets and gullies, characterizing every great city in India.

Time, however, at length produced the mahannah palanquin. So general has been its adoption, that not only all Europeans, but also many of the natives, in every part, now either ride in mahannahs, or have their doolies constructed [[175]] like them. The mahannah resembles an immense chest, standing on four feet, nearly a foot from the ground. Except about two-fifths of each side left open for a door; it is usually closed with very thin panels, or canvas, leather, &c. The doors are sometimes made to close by means of two Venetian frames that, when brought from their recesses, meet in the centre; but at other times run back, on small metal wheels, in grooves behind the panels respectively.

The roof is made of very thin panelling board, laid longitudinally over slight battens a little cambered; though some are quite flat. Over the boards a stout but thin canvass is well stretched, and beaded down at the edges: this is usually painted white. The fore and back parts are in general closed, with the exception of two small Venetian, or perhaps glass, windows near the top, to allow a draught of air. The exterior is painted according to the fancy of the proprietor, often very handsomely, and well varnished. The front and hind poles attach at about three-fifths up the body of the vehicle; being riveted to iron ribs, firmly screwed by means of diverging claws to the main pieces. They are further steadied by iron stays, proceeding from the top and bottom corners of each end respectively to the pole; to which they are bolted at about eighteen inches from the body. The poles are always covered with leather.

The body of a mahannah is generally about six feet, or six feet two inches, long, and from twenty-six to thirty inches in width; the height is sufficient to allow a tall person's sitting upright without a hat. The beddings of most are covered with chintz of neat patterns; while, to prevent its being soiled, a small piece of carpet, tiger's-skin, morocco-leather, or some such article, is spread at the feet.

[[176]] In most mahannahs there are racks serving to support the back; others are provided with two small, or one large, pillow, also covered with chintz. Above the doors it is common to screw in flat brass knobs, whereon to button either canvas or leather curtains, that will roll up occasionally, and buckle like the aprons of gigs, &c. There are also studs of the same description, fixed at the sides of the doors, to fasten the edges of the curtains; though their principal use is to affix cheeks made of kuss-kuss, to be watered during a journey of any distance.

The mahannah is unquestionably a very heavy vehicle, and, being totally devoid of elasticity, far more oppressive to the bearers than any machine on a slighter construction. Yet the average rate of travelling may be computed at from three miles and a half to three quarters, within the hour, in going great distances; such as from Chunar to Calcutta, at the proper season, when the waters are not out, and the heat not too oppressive. That estimate includes all delays for exchanging the bearers, which, in travelling dawk (that is, post), will take place at certain stages, from ten to fifteen miles apart.

Thus a journey of four hundred miles may be made with great ease in about five days; the night being often most favourable to expedition [=speed], especially from March to the middle of June. During that period, the roads are everywhere good, the grass jungles in most places burnt away, and fewer tigers lurk near the highways. It is often necessary to lie by for a few hours during the mid-day, when the ground is so hot as absolutely to scorch the bearers' feet. At such times, the kuss-kuss tatties are peculiarly serviceable; but, in case none are affixed, the guttah-tope, or palanquin-cover, must be kept wet, as already observed in describing the occupations of the bheesty, or water-carrier.

Ladies are usually conveyed about Calcutta, or anywhere [[177]] for short distances, in a kind of palanquin called a boc,hah. This has poles fixed much in the same manner as in the mahannah, but its body is a compound of our sedan chair, with the body of a chariot. Its deep shape, and its seat, much resemble the former; but having two doors, one on each side, with one window in front, as well as a small one behind, all furnished with Venetians and glasses, in those respects, some claim an alliance with the latter.

Most of the gentlemen residing at Calcutta ride in boc,hahs, which afford a better look-out, are more portable, and can turn about in narrow places, where a mahannah could not; besides, they are far lighter. The boc,hah made expressly for a lady is fitted up with some elegance, and has always four large tassels, commonly of white silk, hanging at the four upper corners. There are usually pockets in front, and to the doors, the same as in chariots, &c.

About Dacca, Chittagong, Tipperah, and other mountainous parts, a very light kind of conveyance is in use, called a taum-jaung, i.e. "a support to the feet." This consists of an arm-chair with a low back, at the sides of which two poles are affixed, even with the seat. From the two forelegs of the chair, iron stays project forward, supporting a foot-board, placed diagonally, so as to meet the natural position of the soles when the feet are thrown forward, much the same as the foot-boards of coachboxes, only on a very light construction.

In some instances, the taum-jaungs (vulgarly called tom-johns) are carried the same as the naulkeen; that is, by the four ends of the poles resting on the shoulders of as many bearers, all independent of each other. Experience has, however, proved such to be a very dangerous practice; for if one of the bearers stumbles, the machine must inevitably be overset; and the fall from such a height, especially if proceeding [[178]] at a quick pace, is hazardous.

To remedy this, it has become a custom to suspend two stout batons, by means of strong doubled cords, between the ends of the poles, before and behind; making such an allowance in respect to the length of cord, or sling, as may bring the poles about as low as the bearers' hips. The batons are slung by their middles, one bearer supporting the fore, the other the hind part of each ; all moving between the two side poles, but nearly in a line one behind the other. This does not altogether obviate the possibility of falling by means of a stumble; but it lessens that danger considerably, and the seat being much lowered, renders the accident less severe.

In this respect, the boc,hah is also safer than the mahannah; the former being so much nearer the ground, and the erect position of the rider rendering him less liable to injury. When the hind bearers of a mahannah fall, not only the legs of the vehicle, but the head of its inhabitant, may be injured; but such accidents are rarely so serious. If the fall take place when a bearer is pushing behind, resting the palm of his hand against the butt end of the hinder pole, as is very common, there will be an additional impetus, by no means favourable to the machine, especially if the foremost bearers give way. Most of the mahannah palanquins have a box under the feet, and perhaps one under the head also, made water-tight, and furnished with a lock. This, when travelling, is extremely convenient, as articles trusted to a bangy might not arrive in due time.

The bangy is a slip of bamboo, about five feet long, in the middle four inches wide, and about an inch thick. Towards the ends it tapers a little, and has shoulders left, whereby to secure the nets, wherein are two baskets, made either of rattans or reeds, very closely worked, and [[179]] covered with painted canvas or leather. The bangy-wollah, or bearer who carries the bangy, supports the bamboo on his shoulder, so as to equipoise the baskets suspended at each end. If not overladen, the bangy will generally keep pace with the palanquin; the bearer shifting the bamboo from one to the other shoulder as he proceeds.


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