by Lady Isabel Burton (1831-1896)
[Bombay -- Elephanta -- Muharram -- Bandora -- Matheran -- Lanauli -- Karla caves -- Poonah -- Hyderabad -- Sir Salar Jung's palace -- Secunderabad -- Golconda -- Bombay -- Towers of Silence -- a burning-ground -- an animal hospital -- Bombay social types -- Mahabaleshwar -- Goa -- Old Goa]
Where'er I roam, whatever realms to see,
My heart, untravelled, fondly turns to thee.
On arriving at Bombay, we housed ourselves at Watson's Esplanade Hotel, a very large building.We went to see the sights of the town, and I was very much interested in all that I saw, though the populace struck me as being stupid and uninteresting, not like the Arabs at all. As I was new to India I was much struck by the cows with humps; by brown men with patches of mud on their foreheads, a stamp showing their Brahmin caste; by children, and big children too, with no garments except a string of silver bells; and by men lying in their palanquins, so like our hospital litter that I said, "Dear me! The small-pox must be very bad, for I see some one being carried to the hospital every minute." The picturesque trees, the coloured temples, and the Parsee palaces, garnished for weddings, also impressed themselves upon my mind.
The next day we made an excursion to see the Caves of Elephanta. These caves are on an island about an hour's steaming from Bombay. They are very wonderful, and are natural temples, or chapels, to Shiva in his triune form, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and other gods, and are carved or hewn out of the solid rock. The entrance to the caves is clothed with luxuriant verdure.
The day following a friend drove us with his own team out to Bandora, about twelve miles from Bombay, where he had a charming bungalow in a wild spot close to the sea. We drove through the Mahim Woods -- a grand, wild, straggling forest of palms of all kinds, acacias, and banyan trees. The bungalow was rural, solitary, and refreshing, something after the fashion of the Eagle's Nest we had made for ourselves at Bludan in the old days in Syria. Towards sunset the Duke of Sutherland (who, then Lord Stafford, had visited us at Damascus) and other friends arrived, and we had a very jolly dinner and evening. It was the eve of a great feast, and young boys dressed like tigers came and performed some native dancing, with gestures of fighting and clawing one another, which was exceedingly graceful.
The feast was the Tabut, or Muharram, a Moslem miracle play; and on our return to Bombay I went to see it. I had to go alone, because Richard had seen it before, and none of the other Europeans apparently cared to see it at all. The crowd was so great I had to get a policeman's help. They let me into the playhouse at last. The whole place was a blaze of lamps and mirrors. A brazier filled with wood was flaring up, and there was a large white tank of water. It was an extraordinary sight. The fanaticism, frenzy, and the shrieks of the crowd made a great impression on me. The play was a tragedy, a passion play; and the religious emotion was so intense and so contagious that, although I could not understand a word, I found myself weeping with the rest.
Among other things, during our stay at Bombay, we went to the races at Byculla, a very pretty sight, though not in the least like an English racecourse. The Eastern swells were on the ground and in carriages, and the Europeans in the club stand. There was only one good jockey, and whatever horse he rode won, even when the others were more likely. There was an Arab horse which ought to have beaten everything, but the clumsy black rider sat like a sack and ruined his chances. I saw that at once, and won nine bets one after another.
We went to a great many festivities during our stay at Bombay. Among other things we breakfasted with a Persian Mirza, who knew Richard when he was at Bombay in 1848. After breakfast -- quite a Persian feast -- I visited his harim, where we women smoked a narghileh and discussed religious topics, and they tried to convert me to El Islam. I also went to the wedding feast of the daughter of one of the most charming Hindu gentlemen, whose name is so long that I do not quote it, a most brilliant entertainment. I also went to some steeplechases and a garden party at Parell (Government House). There was a large attendance, and much dressing; it was something like a mild Chiswick party. I amused myself with talking to the Bishop. I also went to the Byculla ball, which was very well done. While at Bombay I saw the mango trick for the first time. It is apt to astonish one at first to see a tree planted and grow before one's eyes without any apparent means to accomplish it. The Indian jugglers are clever, but I have seen better at Cairo. We were tired of the child being killed in the basket, and the mango trick soon became stale.
On February 21 we left Bombay for Matheran, up in the mountains. We went by train to Narel; but the last stage of the journey, after Narel, had to be performed on horseback, or rather pony-back. We rode through seven miles of splendid mountain scenery, an ascent of two thousand seven hundred feet. Carriages would not come here unless they were carried upon the head like the philanthropist's wheelbarrows by the Africans of Sierra Leone. Our road was very rough, and our ponies stumbled and shied at the dogs. I was badly dressed for the occasion. My small hired saddle cut me; it was loose, and had too long a stirrup; and although we were only two hours ascending, and six hours out, I was tired by the time we arrived at Matheran.
The next day we were up betimes. I was delighted with the wooded lanes and the wild flowers, the pure atmosphere, and the lights and shadows playing on the big foliage. We looked down on magnificent ravines among buttressed-shaped mountains. The fantastic Ghats rose up out of the plain before us. On clear days there was a lovely view of Bombay and the sea with the bright sun shining upon it. The scenery everywhere was grand and bold. We made several excursions in the neighbourhood, and I found the natives, or jungle people, very interesting.
On the 23rd we left Matheran. We started early in the morning for Narel, walked down the steep descent from Matheran, then rode. We arrived hot and a little tired at Narel station, and the train came in at 10 a.m. We mounted the break, and much enjoyed the ascent of the Highlands, arriving in about three hours at Lanauli on the Bhor Ghat. At Lanauli we found a fairly comfortable hotel, though it was terribly hot. What made the heat worse was that most of the houses at Lanauli were covered with corrugated-iron roofs which were bad for clothes, as they sweated rusty drops all over the room, which left long stains on one's linen and dresses. I came away with everything ruined. The air was delicious, like that of Sao Paulo or Damascus in the spring.
The next morning we were up and off at dawn to the Karla Caves. There was brought to the door at dawn for Richard a jibbing, backing pony, with vicious eyes, and for me a mangy horse like a knifeboard, spavined, with weak legs, and very aged, but nevertheless showing signs of "blood." On top of this poor beast was a saddle big enough for a girl of ten, and I, being eleven stone, felt ashamed to mount. However, there was nothing else to be done. We rode four miles along the road, and then crossed a river valley of the mountains. Here we descended, and had to climb a goatlike path until we came to what looked like a gash or ridge in the mountain-side, with a belt of trees. When we got to the top, we sat on the stones, facing one of the most wonderful Buddhist temples in India. It was shaped just like our cathedrals, with a horseshoe roof of teak-wood, which has defied the ravages of time. The Brahmins keep this temple. On either side of the entrances are splendid carved lions, larger than life. A little temple outside is consecrated by the Brahmins to Devi. We were not allowed to go nearer to this goddess than past a triangular ornament covered with big bells; but they lit it for us and let us peep in, and it disclosed a woman's face and figure so horribly ugly as to give one a nightmare -- a large, round, red face, with squinting eyes, open mouth, hideous teeth, and a gash on her cheek and forehead. She is the Goddess of Destruction, and is purposely made frightful.
It was very hot returning. My poor horse suddenly faltered, giving a wrench to my back, and bringing my heart into my mouth when it almost sat down behind. We passed troops of Brinjari, whose procession lasted for about two miles. This is a very strong, wild race, which only marries among its own tribe. The women were very picturesquely dressed, and glared at me defiantly when I laughed and spoke to them. They carried their babies in baskets on their heads. We got home about 11 a.m., so that we had made our excursion betimes.
After breakfast and bath we went to the station. Soon our train came up, and after a two and a half hours' journey through the Indrauni river valley we arrived at Poonah. The next day we drove all about Poonah, and went to see the Palace of the Peshwas, in the Indian bazar. It is now used as a library below and a native law courts above. Then we went to Parbat, the Maharatta chief's palace. There are three pagodas in this building, and one small temple particularly struck me. As it was sunset the wild yet mournful sound of tom-tom and kettle and cymbal and reed suddenly struck up. I could have shut my eyes and fancied myself in camp again in the desert, with the wild sword-dances being performed by the Arabs.
The following day at evening we left Poonah for Hyderabad. We travelled all night and next day, and arrived towards evening. Hyderabad lies eighteen hundred feet above sea-level. As most people know, it is by far the largest and most important native city in India, and is ruled over by our faithful ally the Nizam. Richard and I were to be the guests of Major and Mrs. Nevill; and our kind friends met us cordially at the station. In those days Major Nevill was the English officer who commanded the Nizam's troops; and though he ranked as Major, he was really Commander-in-chief, having no one over him except Sir Salar Jung. Mrs. Nevill was the eldest daughter of our talented predecessor in the Consulate at Trieste, Charles Lever, the novelist. She was most charming, and a perfect horsewoman. We had delightful quarters in Major Nevill's "compound." The rooms were divided into sleeping- and bath- rooms, and tents were thrown out from either entrance. The front opened into the garden. Two servants, a man and a woman, were placed at our disposal. In short, nothing was wanting to our comfort. That night we went to a dinner-party and ball at Government House -- Sir Richard and Lady Meade's.
Next morning we were up betimes, and out on elephants to see the town. It was my first mount on an elephant, and my sensations were decidedly new. The beasts look very imposing with their gaudy trappings; and as we rode through Hyderabad we were most cordially greeted by all. The houses were flat, something like those of Damascus; and the streets were broad and spanned by high arches, whose bold simplicity was very striking. The Nizam's palace, at least a mile long, was covered with delicate tracery; and many a mosque, like lacework, rose here and there. But the cachet of all in Hyderabad was size, boldness, and simplicity.
After inspecting the town we proceeded to the palace of Sir Salar Jung. We found him a noble, chivalrous, large-hearted Arab gentleman, of the very best stamp; and throughout our stay at Hyderabad he was most kind to us. His palace contained about seven courts with fountains, and was perfectly magnificent; but unfortunately, instead of being furnished with oriental luxury, which is so grand and rich, it was full of European things -- glass, porcelain, and bad pictures. One room, however, was quite unique: the ceiling and walls were thickly studded with china -- cups, saucers, plates, and so forth -- which would have aroused the envy of any china-maniac in London. Sir Salar entertained us to a most luxurious breakfast, and when that was over showed us a splendid collection of weapons, consisting of swords, sheaths, and daggers, studded with gorgeous jewels. After that we inspected the stables, which reminded me somewhat of the Burlington Arcade, for they were open at both ends, and the loose boxes, where the shops would be, opened into a passage running down the centre. There were about a hundred thorough-bred Arab and Persian horses. When we left Sir Salar, he presented me with four bottles of attar of roses.
The next few days formed a round of festivity. There were breakfasts, dinner-parties at the Residency and elsewhere, with a little music to follow, and many excursions. Sir Salar Jung lent me a beautiful grey Arab, large, powerful and showy. He had never before had a side-saddle on, but he did not seem to mind it a bit. Among other places we visited the palace of the Wikar Shums Ool Umara, one of the three great dignitaries of the Nizam's country, where we were received with great honour by a guard of soldiers and a band of music. The Wikar was a thin, small, well-bred old gentleman, with a yellow silk robe and a necklace of large emeralds. He was attended by a fat, jolly son in a green velvet dressing-gown, and one tall, thin, sallow-faced youth, who looked like a bird with the pip. We had a capital breakfast. The hall was full of retainers and servants, who pressed me to eat as they served the dishes, and "Take mutton cutlet, 'im very good" was whispered in my ear with an excellent English accent. We then visited the jewellery of the palace, a most beautiful collection; and the sacred armour, which surpasses description. At last we saw something unique -- an ostrich race. The man mounts, sits back, puts his legs under the wings, and locks his feet under the breast. The birds go at a tremendous pace, and kick like a horse.
The next day we witnessed an assault-of-arms. There were about two hundred performers, and three hundred to look on. There were some very good gymnastics, sword exercises, single-stick, and so on. They also showed us some cock-fighting, and indeed all sorts of fighting. They fight every kind of animal, goats, birds, even quails and larks, which are very plucky, and want to fight; but they pull them off if they want to ill-use one another too much. I did not care to see this, and went away.
The next day we drove to the country palace of the Amir el Kebir. He was the third of the three great men in Hyderabad, who jointly managed the Nizam's affairs. The other two were Sir Salar Jung, Regent and Prime Minister, and the Wikar Shums Ool Umara. They were all relations of the Nizam. Here again was a beautiful palace in gardens, full of storks, pigeons, and other birds. Besides birds, there were flowers; and all the gardens and terraces were covered with honeysuckle. We inspected the town also, each riding on a separate elephant. And when that was over every one went back to breakfast with the Amir; and a charming breakfast it was, with delicious mangoes. Our host wore a lovely cashmere robe, like a dressing-gown, and gorgeous jewels.
Our last recollections of Hyderabad were brilliant, for Sir Salar Jung gave a magnificent evening fête. One of the large courts of the palace was illuminated: the starlight was above us, the blaze of wax lights and chandeliers lit up every hall around the court, and coloured lamps and flowers were everywhere. There was a nautch, which I thought very stupid, for the girls did nothing but eat sweetmeats, and occasionally ran forward and twirled round for a moment with a half-bold, semi-conscious look; and only one was barely good-looking. Perhaps that is the nautch to dance before ladies; but in Syria, I remember, they danced much better without being "shocking." We had a most delicious dinner afterwards, at which we were waited on by retainers in wild, picturesque costumes. When that was over, the band played. We walked about and conversed, were presented with attar of roses, and went home.
In the morning we struck out for Secunderabad. It was a prosperous European station, with three regiments, but nothing interesting. We proceeded on elephants to Golconda, a most interesting place; but as no European has ever been permitted to enter it, I can only describe what we were allowed to see without. We viewed the town from outside, and saw a hill covered with buildings. The throne-hall, with arched windows, they say is a mere shell. The King's palace and defences occupy the mound which is in the midst of the town. The town proper is on the flat ground. It is surrounded by walls, battlements and towers, and reminded me of old Damascus and Jerusalem. In it dwells many an old feudal chief. Past these walls no European or Christian has ever been allowed. The Tombs of the Kings are very ancient, and are situated outside the town. We were admitted to these, and they reminded me of the Tower Tombs of Palmyra. They were enormous domes, set on a square, broad base, the upper section beautifully carved, or covered with Persian tiles, which bore Arabic and Hindustani inscriptions. Abdullah's tomb and that of his mother are the best. The prevailing style in both is a dome standing on an oblong or square, both of grey granite. The predominant colour is white, and in some cases picked out with green. There was also a beautiful garden of palm trees and a labyrinth of arches. We wandered about this romantic spot, of which we had heard so much, and thought of all the mines and riches of Golconda. It was a balmy night when we were there; fireflies spangled the domed tombs in the palm gardens, lit by a crescent moon. I could not forget that I was in the birthplace of the famed Koh-i-noor.
We returned to Hyderabad, and next morning we rose at four o'clock, and took the train at seven to return to Bombay. Our kind host and hostess, the Nevills, and Sir Richard Meade, the Governor, came to see us off. We had a comfortable carriage, and the railway officials were most kind and civil; but the heat was so great that they were walking up and down periodically to arouse the passengers, as they have occasionally been found dead, owing to the heat; and two or three cases happened about that time.
When we got down to Bombay, we found it all en fete for the departure of the Prince of Wales, who was then doing his celebrated Indian tour. I shall never forget the enthusiasm on that occasion. The Prince was looking strong and well, brown, handsome, and happy, and every inch a Royal Imperial Prince and future Emperor. He went away taking with him the hearts of all his subjects and the golden opinions of all true men and women.
We stayed at Bombay some little time, and among other things we visited the Towers of Silence, or Parsee charnel-house, the burying-place of the "Fire Worshippers," which are situated on a hill-summit outside Bombay. We ascended by a giant staircase, half a mile long, overhung by palms and tropical vegetation. We obtained a splendid view of Bombay from this eminence, which we should have enjoyed had it not been that the palms immediately around us were thick with myriads of large black vultures, gorged with corpses of the small-pox and cholera epidemic, which was then raging in Bombay. The air was so heavy with their breath that (though people say it was impossible) I felt my head affected as long as we remained there. These myriads of birds feed only on corpses, and of necessity they must breathe and exhale what they feed upon. They fattened upon what bare contact would kill us; they clustered in thousands. This burying-place, or garden, was full of public and private family towers. The great public tower is divided into three circles, with a well in the middle. It has an entrance and four outlets for water. First, there is a place for clothes, and a tank, like a huge metal barrel lying on its side. Here the priests, who are the operators, leave their garments. A large procession of Parsees, having accompanied the body as far as this spot, turn and wait outside the tower. The priests then place the body, if a man, in the first circle; if a woman, in the second circle; if a child, in the third: in the centre there is the door, well covered with a grating. The priests then stay and watch. The vultures descend; they fly round the moment they see a procession coming, and have to be kept at bay until the right moment. The body is picked clean in an hour by these vultures. It is considered very lucky if they pick out the right eye first instead of the left, and the fact is reported by the priests to the sorrowing relatives. When the bones are perfectly clean, a Parsee priest pushes them into the well. When rain comes, it carries off the ashes and bones; and the water runs through these four outlets, with charcoal at the mouths to purify it, before entering and defiling the earth, which would become putrid and cause fever. The Parsees will not defile the earth by being buried in it, and consider it is an honour to have a living sepulchre. The vultures have on an average, when there is no epidemic, about three bodies a day, so that they can never be said to starve. The whole thing struck me as being revolting and disgusting in the extreme, and I was glad to descend from this melancholy height to Bombay.
We had a good deal of gaiety during our stay in Bombay, and every one was most kind. We saw many interesting people, and made many pleasant excursions which were too numerous to be mentioned in detail here. I have given a description of the Parsee burial-ground, and I think at the risk of being thought morbid that I must also describe our visit to the Hindu Smashan, or burning-ground, in the Sonapur quarter, where we saw a funeral, or rather a cremation. The corpse was covered with flowers, the forehead reddened with sandalwood, and the mouth blackened. The bier was carried by several men, and one bore sacred fire in an earthenware pot. The body was then laid upon the pyre; every one walked up and put a little water in the mouth of the corpse, just as we throw dust on the coffin; they then piled more layers of wood on the body, leaving it in the middle of the pile. Then the relatives, beginning with the nearest, took burning brands to apply to the wood, and the corpse was burned. The ashes and bones are thrown into the sea. It was unpleasant, but not nearly so revolting to me as the vultures in the Parsee burying-ground. All the mourners were Hindu except ourselves, and they stayed and watched the corpse burning. Shortly the clothes caught fire, and then the feet. After that we saw no more except a great blaze, and smelt a smell of roasted flesh, which mingles with the sandalwood perfume of Bombay. The Smashan, or burning-ground, is dotted with these burning-places.
A very interesting visit for me was to the Pinjarpole, or hospital for animals sick, maimed, and incurable. It was in the centre of the native quarter of Bombay, and was founded forty years ago by Sir Jamsetji Jijibhoy, who also left money for its support. I was told that the animals here were neglected and starved; but we took them quite unawares, and were delighted to find the contrary the case. There were old bullocks here that had been tortured and had their tails wrung off, which is the popular way in Bombay of making them go faster. There were orphan goats and calves, starving kittens and dogs. The blind, the maimed, the wounded of the animal creation, here found a home. I confess that I admire the religion that believes in animals having a kind of soul and a future, and permits their having a refuge where at least no one can hurt them, and where they can get food and shelter. God is too just to create things, without any fault of their own, only for slow and constant torture, for death, and utter annihilation.
Turning now to society at Bombay, and indeed Indian society generally, I must say that it is not to be outdone for hospitality. There is a certain amount of formality about precedence in all English stations, and if one could only dispense with it society would be twice as charming and attractive. I do not mean of course the formality of etiquette and good-breeding, but of all those silly little conventions and rules which arise for the most part from unimportant people trying to make themselves of importance. Of course they make a great point about what is called "official rank" in India, and the women squabble terribly over their warrants of precedence: the gradations thereof would puzzle even the chamberlain of some petty German court. The Anglo-Indian ladies of Bombay struck me for the most part as spiritless. They had a faded, washed-out look; and I do not wonder at it, considering the life they lead. They get up about nine, breakfast and pay or receive visits, then tiffen, siesta, a drive to the Apollo Bunder, to hear the band, or to meet their husbands at the Fort, dine and bed -- that is the programme of the day. The men are better because they have cricket and polo. I found nobody stiff individually, but society very much so in the mass. The order of precedence seemed to be uppermost in every mind, and as an outsider I thought how tedious "ye manners and customs of the Anglo-Indians" would be all the year round.
I found the native populace much more interesting. The great mass consists of Konkani Moslems, with dark features and scraggy beards. They were clad in chintz turbans, resembling the Parsee headgear, and in long cotton coats, with shoes turned up at the toes, and short drawers or pyjamas. There were also Persians, with a totally different type of face, and clothed in quite a different way, mainly in white with white turbans. There were Arabs from the Persian Gulf, sitting and lolling in the coffee-houses. There were athletic Afghans, and many other strange tribes. There were conjurers and snake-charmers, vendors of pipes and mangoes, and Hindu women in colours that pale those of Egypt and Syria. There were two sorts of Parsees, one white-turbaned, and the other whose headgear was black, spotted with red. I was much struck with the immense variety of turban on the men, and the choli and headgear on the women. Some of the turbans were of the size of a moderate round tea-table.Others fit the head tight. Some are worn straight, and some are cocked sideways. Some are red and horned. The choli is a bodice which is put on the female child, who never knows what stays are. It always supports the bosom and she is never without it day or night, unless after marriage, and whilst she is growing it is of course changed to her size from time to time. They are of all colours and shapes, according to the race. No Englishwoman could wear one, unless it were made on purpose for her; but I cannot explain why.
Bombay servants are dull and stupid. They always do the wrong thing for preference. They break everything they touch, and then burst into a "Yah, yah, yah!" like a monkey. If you leave half a bottle of sherry, they will fill it up with hock, and say, "Are they not both white wines, Sa'b?" If you call for your tea, the servant will bring you a saucer, and stare at you. If you ask why your tea is not ready, he will run downstairs and bring you a spoon, and so on. As he walks about barefoot you never hear him approach. You think you are alone in the room, when suddenly you are made to jump by seeing a black face close to you, star-gazing. If you have a visitor, you will see the door slowly open, and a black face protruded at least six times in a quarter of an hour. They are intensely curious, but otherwise as stolid as owls.
On April 16 we started for Mahabaleshwar, the favourite of all the sanatoria in India, save the Neilgherries, which are so far off as to be a very expensive journey from Bombay. Mahabaleshwar, in the Western Ghats, is therefore largely visited by Europeans from Bombay. We left Bombay by the 1.15 express train, reaching Poonah in seven hours. The air was like blasts out of a heated furnace. We dined at Poonah at a very comfortable inn. The distance from Poonah to Mahabaleshwar was seventy five miles by road; so as we were going on the same evening we ordered a trap, and after dinner we set forth.
I cannot say it was a comfortable journey, for the springs of the trap were broken, and projections were sticking through the hard, narrow cushions in all directions into our unhappy bodies. Nevertheless we enjoyed the drive very much. It was a charming night, the moon late, being in first quarter. We saw a great Moslem fete coming out of Poonah at night. The hills were illuminated in patterns and letters. We slept when it was dark, and I remember we drank a great deal of water, for it was a most thirsty night. At 6 a.m. we passed a wayside bungalow at Soorool, where we brought out our basket and tea, and had milk from the cow belonging to the old soldier who kept the bungalow. At the foot of the third steep mountain, Pasarni, we passed through Wye (Wahi), one of the prettiest and most interesting places, with the prettiest women in Western India, besides being a village of temples and holy tanks. The general effect of the temples, which were strewn about in all sizes and shapes, was that of a series of blancmange moulds.
At Wahi we alighted from the trap, and our ascent up the steep Pasarni Ghat was performed for us by sixteen coolies. It occupied us about two hours, and was very hot and dusty, and cruelly hard work; but the coolies did it much better than horses could have done. Once we came to a travelling bungalow, and stopped a few minutes to tie up some of our broken springs. After this we were very tired, and the last thirteen miles seemed almost insupportable. At last we entered the verdure of Mahabaleshwar at the summit, 4,780 feet above sea-level but the inaccessibility of the place is compensated for by its interest when you arrive there, just as Palmyra is more precious than Ba'albak.
When at last we arrived we were thoroughly tired out. We dined, and went to bed. We had been out twenty-five hours, and had had no sleep for forty-one hours. I did not even remember the end of my dinner, and I have no recollection of how I got into bed for very sleepiness. We lodged at the Mahabaleshwar Hotel, which was very cheap, clean, and comfortable.
The next morning we were up at 5 a.m., and drove in a tonga, a sort of tea-cart, with small tattoo ponies, to Elphinstone Point, and to see the temples. It was a most enjoyable excursion; but it was quite spoiled for me by the brutal way in which the driver beat the poor little "tats" with his thick cowhide whip. It was misery to me. I got quite nervous; I bullied the driver, took his whip away, promised bakshish if he would not do it, and finally tried to drive myself. Then the foolish ponies stood stock-still directly I took the reins, and would not budge without the whip. At this point Richard cut in, and swore at the driver for being so cruel, and scolded me for spoiling an excursion by my ridiculous sensibilities. Then my fox-terrier put in her oar, and tried to bite the coachman for beating the ponies; and not being allowed, she laid her head on my shoulder and went into hysterics -- the tears actually ran down her cheeks. We had a grand view from Elphinstone Point, and the temples also were interesting. We were glad to get back again at 9 a.m., for the sun was very trying. We made several pleasant excursions during our stay, and people were very kind. All the same, I did not greatly care for Mahabaleshwar. There was too much society; one could not ruralize enough. "Sets" are the rule, and priggishness is rampant, even in the primeval forest. Our visit was a brief one, and then we returned to Bombay.
After two days at Bombay Richard and I set sail in the British Indian Steamship Company's Rajpootna for distant and deserted Goa, a thirty-six hours' passage. It was a calm, fine evening when we started, but intensely hot. The next day there was a heavy swell, and many were ill. I went to bed thoroughly tired out, expecting to land the next morning. About five o'clock, as the captain told me overnight not to hurry myself, I got up leisurely. Presently a black steward came down, and said:
"Please, ma'am, the agent's here with your boat to convey you ashore. The captain desired me to say that he's going to steam on directly."
I was just at the stage of my toilet which rendered it impossible for me to open the door or come out, so I called through the keyhole:
"Please go with my compliments to the captain, and beg him to give me ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, and tell my husband what is the matter."
"I will go, ma'am," he answered; "but I am afraid the captain can't wait. It is his duty to go on."
"Go!" I shouted; and he went.
In two minutes down came the negro again.
"Captain says it's impossible; in fact the ship's moving now."
Well, as we were tied to time and many other things, and could not afford to miss our landing, I threw on a shawl and a petticoat, as one might in a shipwreck, and rushed out with my hair down, crying to the steward:
"Bundle all my things into the boat as well as you can; and if anything is left, take it back to the hotel at Bombay."
I hurried on deck, and to my surprise found that the steamer was not moving at all. Richard and the captain were quietly chatting together, and when they saw me all excited and dishevelled they asked me the cause of my undress and agitation. When I told them, the captain said:
"I never sent any message of the kind. I told you last night I should steam on at seven, and it is now only five."
I was intensely angry at the idea of a negro servant playing such a practical joke. I was paying 10 pounds sterling for a thirty-six hour's passage; and as I always treated everybody courteously, it was quite uncalled for and unprovoked. I thought it exceedingly impertinent, and told the captain so. Nevertheless he did not trouble to inquire into the matter. The Bishop of Ascalon, Vicar-Apostolic at Bombay, was on board, and I told him about it, and he said that he had been treated just in the same way a year before on the same spot. The idea that such things should be allowed is a little too outrageous. Suppose that I had been a delicate and nervous passenger with heart complaint, it might have done me a great deal of harm.
A large boat arrived to take us and our baggage ashore. We were cast adrift in the open sea on account of a doubtful shoal. We had eight miles to row before we could reach Goa. Fortunately there was no storm. We rowed a mile and a half of open sea, five miles of bay, and one and a half of winding river, and at last landed on a little stone pier jutting a few yards into the water. We found a total absence of anything at Goa but the barest necessaries of life. There was no inn and no tent. We had either to sleep in our filthy open boat, or take our tents and everything with us. Goa is not healthy enough to sleep out al fresco. Fortunately a kind-hearted man, who was the agent of the steamers, and his wife, seeing the plight we were in, conceded us a small room in their house with their only spare bed. Luckily we had one of those large straw Pondicherry reclining-chairs, which I just bought from the captain of the steamer, and a rug; so Richard and I took the bed in turns night about, the other in the chair. We did not mind much, for we had come to see Goa, and were used to roughing it better out of doors than inside. There was little to be bought in Goa; but all that the residents had to give they offered with alacrity. It is the worst climate I ever was in, and I have experienced many bad ones. The thermometer was not nearly so high as I have known it in other places, but the depression was fearful. There was not a breath of air in Goa even at night, and the thirst was agonizing; even the water was hot, and the more one drank the more one wanted: it was a sort of purgatory. I cannot think how the people manage to live there: the place was simply dead; there is no other word for it. Of all the places I have ever been to, in sandy deserts and primeval forests, Goa was the worst. However, Richard wanted to revisit it, and I wanted to see it also with a particular object, which was to pay my respects to the shrine of the Apostle of India, St. Francis Xavier, which is situated in Old Goa.
We hired the only horse in the country, a poor old screw of a pony, broken down by mange and starvation and sores; and we harnessed him to the only vehicle we could find, a small open thing of wood made in the year 1 B.C., with room for two persons only. The wheels were nearly off, and the spring of one side was broken. The harness was made of old rusty chains and bits of string tied together. Our coachman and footman were two boys in little dirty shirts, with something round the loins kept together with bits of twine, and bare legs peeping out underneath like two sticks of chocolate.
Our first drive was to Cazalem, a place which reminded me of the Barra at Santos, in Brazil. Here several Europeans lived, I mean native Portuguese, mainly officials of the Government. As Richard wrote a book about Goa when he was there some thirty years before, there is not much that I can add to his description of the place.
Our next drive was to Old Goa, where is the tomb of St. Francis Xavier. Nothing is left of Old Goa but churches and monasteries. In the distance, with its glittering steeples and domes, it looks a grand place; but when we entered it, I found it to be a city of the dead -- indeed it was the very abomination of desolation. The Bom Jesus is the church dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, my favourite saint, on account of his conversion of so many unbelievers. It is after the same pattern as all other Portuguese churches, a long, whitewashed, barn-shaped building. The object of my devotion, the tomb, is contained in a recess on a side of the altar dedicated to Xavier, and consists of a magnificently carved silver sarcophagus, enriched with alto relievi, representing different acts of the Saint's life. Inside is a gold box containing the remains of the Saint, shown to people with a great feast once in a century.
We made many excursions around and about Goa. In consequence of the dreadful climate they had of course to be either very early or very late. I shall never forget the moonlight scenery of the distant bay. The dull grey piles of ruined, desolate habitations, the dark hills clothed with a semi-transparent mist, the little streams glistening like lines of silver over the plain, and the purple surface of the creek -- such was our night picture of Goa. We made two boat expeditions together -- one to see a coffee plantation, in which is a petrified forest. Each expedition occupied two or three days. We embarked for the first in a filthy boat, full of unmentionable vermin, and started down the river in the evening, with storms of thunder and lightning and wind preluding the monsoon. On arrival we toiled up two miles of steep, rocky paths through cocoa groves. At the bottom of the hill was a little rivulet, and pieces of petrified wood were sticking to the bank. As we ascended the hill again we found the petrification scattered all over the ground; they were composed chiefly of palms and pines; and most interesting they were. We returned from this expedition with our skins in a state of eruption from the bites of the lice and the stings of the mosquitoes.
Our last day at Goa was a very pleasant one. We had received a telegram saying the steamer would pass outside Goa at midnight, and would pick us up for the return journey to Bombay. These steamers are due once in a fortnight, and this one was long past her time. Everybody was sorry that we were leaving, and we had great hospitality. In the morning we were entertained at breakfast by a gentleman who owned the largest and the best house in Goa. We had every variety of native food and fruit in abundance, good cool air and water -- the latter produced by hanging the earthen water-bottles in the window, clothed with wet hay or grass. We were, in all, ten at table, native and European. Then the heat came on, and we had to retire. In the evening we were taken for an excursion in a boat to Cazalem. We coasted along for an hour, and sang glees under a fine moon, accompanied by a heavy swell. We were carried ashore on the shoulders of the natives, and were heralded first by the watch-dogs and then by the European inmates, who did not expect us. They were assembled in the verandah playing cards by the light of torches. We passed a merry evening and returned to Goa by carriage. The seat gave way, and we had to sit on the edges.
On our return the night was dark, but we at once started in a large open boat, with four men to row and one to steer, to reach our steamer bound for Bombay, which, as I have already explained, did not pass nearer Goa than eight miles. We rowed down the river, and then across the bay for three hours, against wind and tide, bow on to heavy rollers, and at last reached the mouth of the bay, where is the Fort. We remained bobbing about in the open sea in the trough of the great waves for a considerable time, and a violent storm of rain, thunder, and lightning came on, so we put back to the Fort to find shelter under some arches. Then we went to sleep, leaving the boat wala to watch for the steamer.
At 1.30 I was awakened by the sound of a gun booming across the water. I sprang up and aroused the others; but we could not see the lights of the steamer, and turned to sleep. An officer passed out of the Fort, and I fancied he said to another man that the ship was in; but he only looked at us and passed on. Presently I felt more fidgety, and making a trumpet of my hands I called out to the Secretary, who answered back that the ship had been laying to three-quarters of an hour, and that we should have gone off when the gun fired. People are so lazy and indolent in this climate that he did not trouble to let us know it before, though he was left there for that purpose. If we had not happened to have the mails and the agent with us in the boat, the ship would have gone on without us, which would have been an appalling disaster. So I stirred them up, and we were soon under way again and out to sea. By-and-by I saw the lights of the steamer, which looked about three miles off. Knowing the independence of these captains and the futility of complaints, I trembled lest the steamer should put farther to sea, and determined that no effort of mine should be spared to prevent it.
Richard slept or pretended to sleep, and so did some of the others; but I managed adroitly to be awkward with the boat-hook, and occasionally to prick their shins. I urged the boat walas on with perpetual promises of bakshish. Everybody except myself was behaving with oriental calm, and leaving it to Kismet. It was of no use doing anything to Richard, so I pitched into the Secretary, who really had been most kind.
"Can't you shout 'Mails?'" I cried to him, as we got nearer. "They might hear you. You can shout loud enough when nobody wants to hear you."
At last, after an hour of anxiety, we reached the ship; but heavy seas kept washing us away from the ladder. No one had the energy to hold on to the rope, or hold the boat-hook to keep us close to her, so at last I did it myself, Richard laughing all the while at their supineness, and at my making myself so officious and energetic. But it was absolutely necessary. An English sailor threw me the rope. "Thanks," I cried, as I took advantage of an enormous wave to spring on to the ladder; "I am the only man in the boat to-night." All came on board with us, and we had a parting stirrup-cup, in which they drank my health as "the only man in the boat." We then said farewell to our friends and to Goa.
We stayed at Bombay no longer than was absolutely necessary, and we embarked on our return journey to Trieste in the Austrian Lloyd's Minerva. It was an uneventful voyage, take it altogether. There were a good many passengers on board, who grumbled greatly at the food, as the manner is, and it was certainly a very hot and uncomfortable voyage. We stopped at Aden again, and passed Jeddah. Thence we steamed to Suez, where we anchored.
Here Richard and myself and six others left the ship to have a little run through Egypt, and we were soon surrounded by a number of Richard's old friends of the Mecca days. It was a lovely evening when we landed, familiar to all who know Suez, with its blue sea, yellow sands, azure sky, and pink-and-purple mountains. Our visit was to Moses' Wells, about three miles in the Arabian Desert-- a most picturesque spot, surrounded by tropical verdure, intermingled with fellah huts. The most romantic spot was a single tiny spring under an isolated palm tree, all alone on a little hillock of sand in the desert, far from all else. I said to Richard, "That tree and that spring have been created for each other, like you and I." We took our kayf for some hours with the Arabs, and we had some delicious Arab coffee and narghileh with them.
We remained a fortnight in Egypt, or rather more; and after then we embarked in another Lloyd's, the Apollo, for Trieste, where we arrived very quickly. I was glad to get back to the beautiful little city again, to receive the ever-warm greetings of our friends.