Travel: Sights In Colombo And Madras

Inside the temple we find a corridor extending around the inner wall, on both sides of which are figures of Buddha in a sitting and pensive posture. Each of these is a shrine at which small lamps of cocoa oil are kept burning, the walls are adorned with frescoes of historical events. Upon one side is a recumbent image of Buddha over twenty feet long, in which he is represented lying upon his right side. The figure is covered with gilt, and inclosed in a glass case. It was expected at this place, as at every similar one, that the officiating priest would receive a small present of money. As we were about to leave, the principal portion of the worshipers were transformed at once into a pack of beggars, whose importunities passed far into the realm of impudence. One girl, of perhaps fourteen years, more advanced in the art than most children, had in her hand a beautiful nosegay which she continually urged me to accept. Finally, seeing that I did not care for it, she placed it in my hand, and after waiting for a response of coppers, which was not forthcoming, she demanded pay for her flowers. But I stepped into the carriage and drove away, retaining the flowers. She ran alongside the carriage, insisting upon pay, but when she did not get it, she watched her opportunity and, springing up, caught the flowers from my hand before I was aware of her movements. But they would hardly serve for another trick without being repaired!

Tobacco-chewing, one of the foulest practices of modern Christendom, finds a rival in Ceylon and India in the disgusting habit of chewing the betel leaf. Men, women, and children seem to chew this substance almost constantly. It is chewed in a green state, and is therefore juicy. The dark red color of the juice is allowed to discolor teeth, lips, and the adjacent external territory, with a reckless disregard for personal appearance. The taste of the green leaf is of a spicy flavor and not so pungent as that of tobacco, but its deep and copious coloring matter renders its use about as disgusting as that of its civilized (?) congener.

The inhabitants of Ceylon are of various origin and shades of color, from the white British officer to the coal-black Ethiopian. Besides the Cingalese, or native dwellers, the prevail ing element is the Tamil from the adjoining shores of Southern India, next are the Arabs, then the Malays, the Abyssinians, and others. The Europeans number about five thousand. Ceylon is a dependency of the British empire. The administration is in the hands of a governor appointed by Great Britain, and assisted by a council of five. Ceylon was formerly noted for the coffee which it exported, but its culture having been almost wholly discontinued on account of diseases of the plant, tea has taken its place. In 1879 coffee was exported to the value of over fifteen million dollars, in ten years it had fallen to one tenth of that amount, and during that time the production of tea increased in the same proportion. Other articles of export are cinchona, cocoa-nut oil, and cinnamon. The money of Ceylon is the rupee divided into one hundred cents, instead of the pice and pies of India.

The fruit and vegetable market, situated in the center of the city, is a most interesting sight to visitors. The strange varieties of vegetables, fruits, and flowers constitute a museum to the stranger, and afford him a large amount of pleasurable study. The city is nearly divided by a large fresh-water lake formed by water from the mountains. The principal park is called the Cinnamon Garden. This is not, as one might be led to suppose from the name, a garden where cinnamon is cultivated, but a public park in which all sorts of trees, shrubs, and flowers grow. In the midst of the park stands the Government Museum, a place of exceeding interest on account of the strange specimens it contains. But the entire city partakes so much of the nature of a park that one does not appreciate the really beautiful garden so much as he would if it graced some other city. For on all sides the stately palm, loaded at this time with ripening clusters of nuts, the spreading mango and rubber trees, the much-heard-of banyan, with cinnamon trees and luxuriant banana plants growing everywhere, form a continual scene of loveliness. In the European portion of the city many of the residences are very beautiful, the attractiveness being greatly heightened by the lavish display of foliage and flowers. A walk out on the breakwater, as far as the dashing seas would permit, in company with a Christian English policeman, formed an agreeable feature of the day, which was pleasantly finished by a drive along the Galle Face, a seaside promenade, ornamented with boulevards, walks, and beds of choice flowers. Upon the sandy beach the rolling breakers are constantly displaying their graceful and majestic forms. Our vessel from Colombo to Calcutta was the ” Chusan,” from London. And as it was at the beginning of the cool season, it was full of passengers returning to India after their summer vacation. Among the passengers was a goodly number of missionaries, some of whom were going out for the first time. The strait between Ceylon and the mainland of India is not of sufficient depth for large vessels, so the trip to Calcutta has to be made by sailing around the southern and eastern sides of the island. It being fine weather, we enjoyed a delightful ride, nearly all the way in sight of the lovely mountains and ragged cliffs of the land where ” every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.”

Leaving Colombo at half past five on Friday evening, we neared the harbor of Madras late on the afternoon of Sunday. The shores are so low that at a distance of ten miles or more the city appears to be sitting upon the water, for the buildings are in sight some time before the land can be seen.

The city being built upon the open beach or roadstead, the harbor is an artificial one, formed by two arms of a breakwater built of immense blocks of concrete tumbled into the sea:, in stead of being laid in symmetrical shape as at Colombo. The two arms do not quite meet at their extremities, thus leaving an opening through which vessels pass. Ships are not able to come to the shore, but loading and unloading must be done by means of lighters and small boats.

Madras is the third city in India. It is located on the Bay of Bengal, about midway between the southern point of the country and the mouth of the Ganges. Its population is four hundred and thirty thousand, composed mainly of Tamils and Telugus, the two principal nationalities of Southern India. The city stands upon, or very near, the line that divides their territories. The natives of this part of India are much darker than those farther north. Here England gained her first foot hold in India. Madras was established by the British, repre sented by Francis Day, in 1639. Long-continued missionary work has been bestowed here, and it is claimed that there are forty-five thousand Christians in the city. There are about thirty Christian church edifices, some of which are of large size and comfortable appearance.

Arriving in the harbor late in the evening, no attempt was made to go ashore except by those who had now reached their destination. Among these were two young ladies who had come to meet their going-to-be husbands, whom they had never seen before that evening, when they came on board to meet them. The ladies had come in answer to advertisements, and appeared to be persons of culture and gentility. The exciting interest with which they met their future companions was shared by all the passengers who had formed their acquaintance. So far as an onlooker could observe, there was no shadow of disappointment in the meeting to mar the prospect of a happy future.

The following morning we were notified that the vessel would remain but a short time in port, therefore no time was to be lost. There was no difficulty in finding a conveyance ashore, for the moment one appeared to be contemplating such a move, the natives would eagerly scramble over each other to get him to go in their boats. After quite a scrimmage of this kind, I made an agreement with a party who was to take me to shore and return for a stipulated sum. The boats in this harbor are great lumbering craft built for cargo, of rude planks sewed together. They are propelled by from six to ten coolies with paddles consisting of round paddle-blades fastened to the end of long, slender poles. Our boat, on account of its size and weight, could not come very near the shore, therefore I was loaded upon the shoulders of three men, who took me to dry land. For this service each demanded a fee, having paid which, I was told that the price agreed upon for the trip would answer for only one way, and I would have to pay the same for my return. I did not argue the case then, but concluded that I would see about it later.

It turned out that one of the men in the boat was a professional guide, who attached himself to my service with a devotion that was really interesting. Shake him off I could not, so, making a virtue of necessity, I bargained for his services, with a carriage. He proved to be competent, and was worth all he asked in defending me from a worse crowd of beggars than I had ever dreamed of. I was traveling entirely alone, and often found it a great disadvantage to have to cope single-handed with a multitude who regard the traveler as their legitimate prey, from whom they must wrest the very last cent by begging, swindling, or cajolery. In a country where a very few cents is an ordinary wage for a day’s work, an hour or so vigorously spent upon a stranger’s sympathy or gullibility will sometimes permit them to take two or three holidays. On this particular occasion, an attempt was made to take advantage of my apparent greenness, but in the main it proved a bootless pursuit, for it does not require very much acuteness of vision to perceive their knavish tricks.

The People’s Park, the burning-field, where the dead are cremated, the central market, and a general drive through the city comprised my visit to Madras. The first-mentioned point is not worthy of special attention when compared with the botanical and zoological gardens to be seen in many other places. The sight of some strange animals was of interest, though of these the alligators, who possess two pairs of eyes, one upon the upper and another on the under side of the head, only were remarkable. This is a very convenient arrangement for creatures that have to look both up and down for their food. The keeper would roll them over for inspection, and stir them up with a pole for their exercise and our amusement.

The very crowded condition of the cities impresses the stranger in all these Eastern countries. The people live in swarms. Even the villages are compact, hence one who is ac customed to the liberal room of Western towns would get but an inadequate idea of the population of a city from its apparent or comparative size.

A boy for the first time in a menagerie does not gaze with greater wonder and interest upon the strange sights than does a man from Northern civilization look upon the continually shifting panorama of strange scenes that is passing before his eyes, as he visits the ” other side ” of the world for the first time. Everything he beholds is different from what he is ac customed to see. The color and manners of the people, their strange dress, strange buildings, bazaars and shops, modes of conveyance, in fact, every feature upon which the eye rests, -all are new and strange. At the close of the first day one could write almost a volume on the remarkable things he has seen. But in a very short time he will again be surprised,this time at himself, for he is becoming so accustomed to these things that they no longer attract attention. When asked to tell what he has seen, he has forgotten his first impressions, and can recall but little that is worthy of remark. Thus rapidly does the mind accommodate itself to its surroundings!

As soon as I was seated in the boat for the return, and we had fairly pushed off the shore, pay,- double pay,- was demanded, which was promptly refused. I was told that they would not row me to the ship unless I paid them. I signified my willingness to stay where we were, and so we lay quiet for some time, but fearing that the vessel might leave, I ordered the crew to take me on board. Verbally refusing, yet practically yielding, by slow degrees we reached the ship, but then they carefully kept clear of the gangway, and insisted upon having their pay. My answer was that they would get nothing till I was on the ship. I was near the middle of the boat, and apparently indifferent about getting off, as I saw that the vessel was not going for same time. Seeing me so comfortable, they too became careless, and let the boat bump against another which was tied to the ship’s companion-way. Before they realized it, their passenger was skipping across the other boat and up the ladder. They quickly followed, angrily demanding their money. Reaching the deck, they received the sum agreed upon for the round trip, and for their further trouble were unceremoniously tumbled off the steamer by the boatswain and his men.

The man who acted as guide was not at all satisfied with the liberal price agreed upon for his services, and the driver of the carriage insisted that he had not received his pay. In short, every man of them who had volunteered any trifling service or advice wanted pay. The guide assured me in starting out that he was a good, honest Christian, that he gave all his money to God, and did not use it for himself, or his mother, or his wife, or his sister, but gave all to the Lord. Yet he showed his bringing up in making change by trying to cheat me every time an opportunity offered itself.

Considering the character of my experience, it was with no particular regrets upon my part that we sailed out upon the broad Bay of Bengal. The chief officer asking me what I thought of Madras, I could but reply that it was the best place to get out of that I had ever seen. Let us stop here to look at this matter in the sober light of a better experience and wider observation. People from our civilization usually obtain and carry away from India the opinion that the natives are a race of unmitigated liars and thieves, and they attach to the character of the people all the opprobrium which such a reputation carries in countries of Christian education. This is, however, a wrong estimate of their real character, for a person’s character depends upon at least two things : first, the standard by which he has been educated, second, the faithfulness with which he lives up to that standard – not his fidelity in living up to what has been taught us, but to what has been taught him. It is unreasonable for us to hold people in unenlightened countries amenable to our own moral code, when these principles have not been taught them.