We have at least reached India-and what extremes are here ! Southern India penetrates the Indian Ocean and is so near the Equator that the inhabitants swelter under the heat of a perpetual summer, while the rocky sentinels that guard the northern frontier are clad in the ice of an eternal winter: As might be expected in a land which has every altitude from sea level to nearly thirty thousand feet, one finds all varieties of vegetation, from the delicate fern of the tropics to the sturdy edelweiss that blossoms in the snow-from the grain and orchards of Agra, Oudh and the Punjab to the cotton, rice and fruits of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. The extremes are as noticeable among the people as in nature’s realm. In learning there is a great gulf between the Hindu pundit and the ignorant ryot; there is a wide sea between the wealth of the native prince and the poverty of the masses ; and there is a boundless ocean between the government and the people.
Eastern India is entered through Calcutta, a city of more than a million inhabitants which has been built up under British occupancy. It is the capital of the province of Bengal and the winter capital of British India. I say winter capital because the higher English officials have their headquarters at Simla, eight thousand feet up in the Himalayas, during eight months of the year. Calcutta is on the Hooghly river, one of the numerous mouths of the Ganges; and the Ganges, it may be added, is a little disappointing to one who has read about it from youth. Instead of being a large river, flowing down from the Himalayas directly to the sea, it is neither of great length nor of great width. It runs for hundreds of miles along the foot of the range ,and joins the Brahmaputra, which comes from an opposite direction and apparently is much longer. The mouths of the joint stream form a delta like that of the Nile, which at the coast is something like two hundred miles wide.
Lacking the antiquity of the cities of the interior, Calcutta does not possess many things of interest to the tourist, no elaborate tombs, no massive mosques and few temples of importance, although all shades of religion are represented here. There is a very pretty Jain temple in the suburbs, and in the city there is a Hindu temple where goats are offered as a sacrifice, but the center of Hinduism is at Benares, while Agra, Delhi and Lucknow furnish the finest specimens of the taste of the Mohammedan rulers. There are at Calcutta some fine public buildings and less pretentious private blocks, some beautiful parks and a very extensive museum.
In this museum one can learn more of the various races of India, of their dress, implements and weapons, more of the animal and insect life, more of India’s mineral wealth, more of her woods, stones and marbles, more of her agricultural products and manufactures than he can in weeks of travel. He sees here mounted specimens of bug and butterfly, bird, fish and beast. It is the very Mecca of the student and we saw a number of groups thus engaged. Among the insects there are several which. illustrate the mimicry of nature to a marvelous degree. Some are like dried grass, some like moss and some like leaves. The most remarkable of these is the leaf insect which can scarcely be detected from a leaf even after it has been pointed out. There is a mountain grouse which turns white in the winter, and in some countries a hare which undergoes the same change. In Ceylon there are crabs with legs like pieces of coral and a color closely resembling the sand upon which they crawl, but the leaf insect surpasses them all. Not only is its color identical with the leaf, but its body and wings are veined and ribbed like a leaf ; even rust spots could be found on some of them. We could hardly have believed our own eyes had we not seen some of these insects alive and some of the young just hatched.
The botanical garden, while not equal in variety or beauty to the gardens at Buitenzorg and handy, has one object of growing interest, viz., a gigantic banyan tree. This tree is nearly a century and a half old and shades a spot of ground almost a thousand feet in circumference. Great arms run out from the parent trunk and these are sup-ported by four hundred and sixty-four ærial roots or minor trunks, some of which are several feet in diameter. Seen from a distance the tree presents a very symmetrical appearance, and, as it is still growing, it is likely to become, if it is not already, the largest tree in the world.
The zoological garden contains some excellent specimens. We were especially interested in the Bengal tigers, in a red-nosed African mandrill (which looks like a cross between a hog and an ape), and in the monkeys. Three of the latter belong to the shouting variety at least, they do shout. When the attendant gives the cue, they set up such a chorus of ear-splitting yells, as one seldom hears. The echoing and re-echoing makes a din before which the noise of a football game seems tame. While not a football enthusiast, I venture the suggestion that an American team would do well to secure the assistance of these rooters, for they could work up the necessary enthusiasm on short notice and with a great saving to the throats of the students.
On the streets of Calcutta one sees Indian life in all its forms, The coolies wear the lightest possible clothing and carry enormous burdens on their heads. I saw eight of them hurrying down the street at a fast walk bearing a grand. piano on their heads: In another place one man carried a large Saratoga trunk on his head down the hotel stairs. He had to have assistance in lifting and lowering it, but when it was once balanced on his head he marched off with it with apparent ease. The coolie women also carry burdens upon their heads, water jars being their specialty. Two and even three of these, one on top of another, are sometimes carried in this way. The brass water pot is, by the way, never out of sight in India; it is to be seen everywhere, and the scouring of these pots seems to give employment for leisure moments.
While much carrying is done on the head and on the pole, carts of all kinds are numerous. The water buffalo is to be found in India, but he divides the honors with the Indian bullock as a beast of burden. The Indian bullock is a mild-eyed beast, usually white or light in color, and has a hump on the shoulders which seems to be made expressly for the yoke. There is a small variety of the bullock, which is used for drawing passenger carts, and some of these are so fast that they are entered in trotting races.
The merchants of India are a shrewd and persistent class. They press their wares upon one at the hotels and in their shops, and the purchaser never knows whether he is buying at a bargain or paying two or three prices. It is not at all uncommon for the dealer to begin negotiations with the assertion that he has but one price and that his conscience will not allow him to ask more than a fair price, and conclude by selling at a twenty-five or fifty per cent discount. It may be that natives are treated differently, but the foreigner is likely to be charged “what the traffic will bear.”
You can not judge of the value of a merchant’s stock by the size or appearance of his store. He may have a little booth open in front, with no show windows, but when he begins to bring out his trunks and bundles, he may exhibit jewelry worth a hundred thousand dollars, or rich embroideries worth their weight in gold. The merchant sits cross-legged on the floor and spreads out the wares which his attendants bring, beguiling you the while with stories of Lord So and So’s purchase, or Lady What’s Her Name’s order, or of a check for thousands handed him by an American millionaire.
The native buildings are. as a rule, neither beautiful nor cleanly.
The little shops that open on the street exhibit food and vegetables arranged in heaps, the vendor apparently indifferent to dust and flies. The houses are generally of adobe, plastered with mud and without floors. In the warmer sections of the country they are built of matting and bamboo. The rich Indians live in substantial homes with high ceilings, tile floors and spacious verandas, but these are very few compared with the mass of the poor.
The Indian women of the higher classes are in seclusion all the time. They seldom leave their homes and when they do venture out they travel in covered chairs or closed carriages. This custom was brought into India by the Mohammedan conquerors, but it has been generally adopted by Hindu society. There is a growing sentiment among the educated Hindus against this practice, so burdensome to woman, but custom yields slowly to new ideas. At Calcutta we met several Indian ladies of high social rank who, in their home life, have felt the influence of western ideas and who have to some extent lessened the rigors of the zenana (seclusion). Two of these ladies, one a princesswere daughters of the famous Keshub Chunder Son, the great Hindu reformer, whose writing made a profound impression on the religious thought of the world. In the group was also a daughter-in-law of Mr. Sen’s, a brilliant woman who was left the widow of a native prince at the age of thirteen and who recently shocked the orthodox Hindus by a second marriage. I mention these ladies because they represent the highest type of Indian womanhood, and it would be difficult to find in any country, in a group of the same size, more beauty, culture and refinement.
The principal article of feminine dress is the sarai, a long strip of cotton or silk, part of which is wrapped about the body to form a skirt, while the rest is draped over the head and shoulders in graceful folds. This garment lends itself to ornamentation and is usually embroidered along the edges, sometimes with silver and gold. We have not found in our travels a more becoming and attractive costume.
The dress of the men is so varied that description is impossible. One form of dress resembles the Roman toga. Many wear trousers made by mysterious windings and foldings of a long strip of cloth, others wear loose pantaloons. The coats are as multiform, a long, close-fitting one being the most popular. But the hat is the article to which most care is given. While the fez is popular, it is not so conspicuous as the turban. The latter is to be seen in all colors, shapes and styles. Some of the educated Indians have adopted the European dress, but the change in costume has not been rapid.
Calcutta is one of the educational centers of India, and one finds in the city many of the leaders of thought, educational and political. The University of Calcutta grants degrees and affiliates to itself the colleges whose students are preparing for the university examinations. Besides the university there are medical, law and technical schools which draw young men from the entire country. The position taken by Lord Curzon in the matter of higher education aroused so much opposition among the native population that an association was formed two years ago for the purpose of raising money to defray the expenses of students desiring to study abroad. Last year fourteen students were selected and sent to different countries. This year forty-four are going, and I had the pleasure of meeting these at a public reception given them at the town hall.
This meeting interested me very much. It was opened with a prayer by Editor Sen, of the Indian Mirror, a liberal Hindu, and it was such a prayer as might have been offered in any American church. It was so brief that I quote it in full:
“We thank Thee, 0 God, that by Thy blessing those young men whom we sent abroad for study last year are doing their work well and have by Thy grace been kept in the right path. We are- now met to bid farewell to a much larger number of our youths, who are shortly leaving these shores for study in distant foreign lands. We ask Thy abundant blessing on them, and we humbly beseech Thee to protect them in their travels by sea and land and to bring them all safely to their respective destinations. May they be diligent in. their studies, obedient to their teachers, grateful to those by whose help they are being sent abroad, and blameless in their conduct. May the love and fear of God rule their hearts, and may they return to us and to those nearest and dearest to them in due course crowned with full success and filled with an earnest desire to labor for the good of their country and their poorer brethren. We commend them to Thy gracious keeping as we now bid them a hearty farewell, and beseech Thee to help us all to live and work for the glory of Thy name and the good of our fellow men now and always.”
Most of the students were going to Japanone of the many indications of that country’s increasing influence in the Orientsome were going to England and a few to America. Those bound for America called upon me later at the hotel, and I found them an earnest and ambitious group. They had, as all the Indians whom we met seemed to have, a high opinion of our country and spoke with enthusiasm of the benefits which they hoped to derive from. their stay in the United States. These, and other students with whom I came in contact, impressed me as exceedingly patriotic and anxious to turn their information and their ability to the advantage of their country.
In Calcutta there are a number of Indians, who have, won prominence in various spheres of activity. Editor Sen, to whom I have already referred, is one of the most influential of the native editors and writers; Editor Banerjee, of the Bengalee, is both a writer and an orator, and the editor of the Patrika has made his paper an exponent of advanced political thought. The Tagore family has furnished several men prominent in religious, literary and official life; education has found a patron in the Roy family, and Dr. Bose has won more than a national reputation in science.
Those who visit Calcutta can not afford to miss the side trip to Darjeeling, a summer resort perched upon the foothills of the Himalayas. The journey is rather fatiguingthree hours to the Ganges, then an all night ride to the foot of the range and then an eight hour climb on a two-foot gauge up the mountain side, but it amply repays the effort. We count this experience among the richest that we have enjoyed. The city of Darjeeling is about seven thousand feet above the sea, and the sides of the Himalayas are so steep at this point that it is only fifty miles down the zig-zag little railroad to the plain where the elevation is but two or three hundred feet. I do not know where one can find more of the grand and picturesque in the same distance than on this narrow gauge that threads its way up the rocky sides of this most stupendous of mountain ranges.
Darjeeling is so near Thibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan that one finds here a motley variety of types and sees something of the native life of the forbidden land that stretches along the northern border of India. The mountain tribes are sturdier in build, coarser in feature and lighter in color than the people of the lowlands, and we saw some types that strongly resembled the American Indian.
But to return to the mountains themselves; the view from Darjeeling is unsurpassed. The Kinchinjunga Peaks rise to a height of 28,156 feet above the sea, or nearly twice as high as Pike’s Peak, and though forty-five miles distant, are clear and distinct. The summits, seen above the clouds, seem to have no terrestrial base, but hang as if suspended in mid air. The best view is obtained from Tiger Hill, six miles from Darjeeling and two thousand feet higher. We made this trip one morning, rising at three o’clock, and reaching the observation point a little before sunrise. I wish I were able to convey to the reader the impression made upon us.
While all about us was yet in darkness, the snowy robe which clothes the upper twelve thousand feet of the range, caught a tint of pearl from the first rays of the sun, and, as we watched, the orb of day, rising like a ruby globe from a lake of dark blue mist, gilded peak after peak until at last we saw Mt. Everest, earth’s loftiest point, one hundred and twenty miles away and nearly a thousand feet higher than Kinchinjunga. We saw the shadows fleeing from the light like hunted culprits and hiding in the deep ravines, and we marked the triumph of the dawn as it swept down the valleys.
How puny seem the works of man when brought into comparison with majestic nature! His groves, what pigmies when measured against the virgin forest ! His noblest temples, how insignificant when contrasted with the masonry of the hills ! What canvas can imitate the dawn and sunset ! What inlaid work can match the mosaics of the mountains !
Is it blind chance that gives these glimpses of the sublime? And was it blind chance that clustered vast reservoirs about inaccessible summits and, stored water to refresh the thirsty plains through hidden veins and surface streams?
No wonder man from the beginning of history has turned to the heights for inspiration, for here is the spirit awed by the infinite and here one sees both the mystery of creation and the manifestations of the Father’s loving kindness. Here man finds a witness, unimpeachable though silent, to the omnipotence, the omniscience and the goodness of God.