Wanderings in India, and Other Sketches of Life in Hindostan

Wanderings in India, and Other Sketches of Life in Hindostan

John Lang
John Lang

Author: Lang, John, 1816-1864
India — Description and travel
India — Social life and customs — 19th century
India — History — 19th century
1816-1864 — Travel — India
Wanderings in India, and Other Sketches of Life in Hindostan


And other Sketches




[The Author reserves the right of Translation.]


The greater part of the Papers which form this Volume have appeared in “Household Words;” and the Author has to acknowledge his thanks to Mr. Dickens for sanctioning a reprint of them.
London, July 15th, 1859.





It is some eighteen years since this institution was founded, at Mussoorie, one of the chief sanataria in the Himalaya mountains. Here all those who can obtain leave, and who can afford the additional expense, repair to escape the hot weather of the plains. The season begins about the end of April, and ends about the first week in October. The club is open to the members of the civil and military services, to the members of the bar, the clergy, and to such other private gentlemen as are on the Government House list, which signifies, “in society.” The club-house is neither an expensive nor an elegant edifice, but it answers the purposes required of it. It has two large rooms, one on the ground-floor, and the other on the upper story. The lower room, which is some sixty feet long by twenty-five wide, is the dining-room, breakfast-room, and reception-room. The upper room is the reading and the ball-room. The club has also its billiard-room, which is built on the ledge of a precipice; and its stables, which would astonish most persons in Europe. No horses except those educated in India, would crawl into these holes cut out of the earth and rock.
Facing the side-door is a platform about forty yards long by fifteen feet wide; and from it, on a clear day, the eye commands one of the grandest scenes in the known world. In the distance are plainly visible the eternal snows; at your feet are a number of hills, covered with trees of luxuriant foliage. Amongst them is the rhododendron, which grows to an immense height and size, and is, when in bloom, literally covered with flowers. On every hill, on a level with the club, and within a mile of it, a house is to be seen, to which access would seem impossible. These houses are, for the most part, whitened without as well as within; and nothing can exceed in prettiness their aspect as they shine in the sun.
From the back of the club-house, from your bed-room windows (there are twenty-three sets of apartments) you have a view of Deyrah Dhoon. It appears about a mile off. It is seven miles distant. The plains that lie outstretched below the Simplon bear, in point of extent and beauty, to the Indian scene, nothing like the proportion which the comparatively pigmy Mont Blanc bears to the Dewalgiri. From an elevation of about seven thousand feet the eye embraces a plain containing millions of acres, intersected by broad streams to the left, and inclosed by a low belt of hills, called the Pass. The Dhoon, in various parts, is dotted with clumps of jungle, abounding with tigers, pheasants, and every species of game. In the broad tributaries to the Ganges and the Jumna, may be caught (with a fly) the mâhseer, the leviathan salmon. Beyond the Pass of which I have spoken, you see the plains of Hindoostan. While you are wrapped in a great coat, and are shivering with the cold, you may see the heat, and the steam it occasions. With us on the hills, the thermometer is at forty-five; with those poor fellows over there, it is at ninety-two degrees. We can scarcely keep ourselves warm, for the wind comes from the snowy range; they cannot breathe, except beneath a punkah. That steam is, as the crow flies, not more than forty miles from us.
We are all idlers at Mussoorie. We are all sick, or supposed to be so; or we have leave on private affairs. Some of us are up here for a month between musters. We are in the good graces of our colonel and our general—the general of our division, a very good old gentleman.
Let us go into the public room, and have breakfast; for it is half-past nine o’clock, and the bell has rung. There are not more than half a dozen at the table. These are the early risers who walk or ride round the Camel’s Back every morning: the Camel’s Back being a huge mountain, encircled about its middle by a good road. The majority of the club’s members are asleep, and will defer breakfast until tiffin time—half-past two. At that hour the gathering will be great. How these early risers eat, to be sure! There is the major, who, if you believe him, has every complaint mentioned in “Graham’s Domestic Medicine,” has just devoured two thighs (grilled) of a turkey, and is now asking Captain Blossom’s opinion of the Irish stew, while he is cutting into a pigeon-pie.
Let us now while away the morning. Let us call on some of the grass widows. There are lots of them here, civil and military. Let us go first to Mrs. Merrydale, the wife of our old friend Charley, of the two hundredth and tenth regiment. Poor fellow! He could not get leave, and the doctors said another hot summer in the plains would be the death of his wife. They are seven hundred pounds in debt to the Agra bank, and are hard put to it to live and pay the monthly instalments of interest. Charley is only a lieutenant. What terrible infants are these little Merrydales! There is Lieutenant Maxwell’s pony under the trees, and if these children had not shouted out, “Mamma! Mamma! here is Captain Wall, Sahib!” I should have been informed that Mrs. Merrydale was not at home, or was poorly, which I should have believed implicitly. (Maxwell, when a young ensign, was once engaged to be married to Julia Dacey, now Mrs. Merrydale, but her parents would not hear of it, for some reason or other.) As it is, we must be admitted. We will not stay long. Mrs. Merrydale is writing to her husband. Grass widows in the hills are always writing to their husbands, when you drop in upon them, and your presence is not actually delighted in. How beautiful she looks! now that the mountain breezes have chased from her cheeks the pallor which lately clung to them in the plains; and the fresh air has imparted to her spirits an elasticity, in lieu of that languor by which she was oppressed a fortnight ago.
Let us now go to Mrs. Hastings. She is the wife of a civilian, who has a salary of fifteen hundred rupees (one hundred and fifty pounds) per mensem, and who is a man of fortune independent of his pay. Mrs. Hastings has the best house in Mussoorie. She is surrounded by servants. She has no less than three Arab horses to ride. She is a great prude, is Mrs. Hastings. She has no patience with married women who flirt. She thinks that the dogma—
When lovely women go astray,
Their stars are more in fault than they—
is all nonsense. Mrs. Hastings has been a remarkably fine woman; she is now five-and-thirty, and still good looking, though disposed to embonpoint. She wearies one with her discourses on the duties of a wife. That simpering cornet, Stammersleigh, is announced, and we may bid her good morning.
The average rent for a furnished house is about five hundred rupees (fifty pounds) for the six months. Every house has its name. Yonder are Cocky Hall, Belvidere, Phœnix Lodge, the Cliffs, the Crags, the Vale, the Eagle’s Nest, &c. The value of these properties ranges from five hundred to fifteen hundred pounds. The furniture is of the very plainest description, with one or two exceptions, and is manufactured chiefly at Bareilly, and carried here on men’s shoulders the entire distance—ninety miles.
Where shall we go now, for it wants an hour to tiffin time? Oh! here comes a janpan! (a sort of sedan-chair carried by four hill men, dressed in loose black clothes, turned up with red, yellow, blue, green, or whatever colour the proprietor likes best). And in the janpan sits a lady—Mrs. Apsley, a very pretty, good-tempered, and well-bred little woman. She is the grand-daughter of an English peer, and is very fond of quoting her aunts and her uncles. “My aunt Lady Mary Culnerson,” “my aunt the Countess of Tweedleford,” “my uncle, Lord Charles Banbury Cross,” &c. But that is her only weakness, I believe; and, perhaps, it is ungenerous to allude to it. Her husband is in the Dragoons.
“Well, Mrs. Apsley, whither art thou going? To pay visits?”
“No. I am going to Mrs. Ludlam’s to buy a new bonnet, and not before I want one, you will say.”
“May I accompany you?”
“Yes, and assist me in making a choice.”
There is not a cloud to be seen. The air is soft and balmy. The wild flowers are in full bloom, and the butterfly is on the wing. The grasshopper is singing his ceaseless song, and the bees are humming a chorus thereto.
We are now at Mrs. Ludlam’s. The janpan is placed upon the ground, and I assist Mrs. Apsley to step from it.
Mrs. Ludlam is the milliner and dressmaker of Upper India, and imports all her wares direct from London and Paris. Everybody in this part of the world knows Mrs. Ludlam, and everybody likes her. She has by industry, honesty of purpose, and economy, amassed a little fortune; and has brought up a large family in the most respectable and unpretending style. Some people say that she sometimes can afford to sell a poor ensign’s wife a bonnet, or a silk dress, at a price which hardly pays. What I have always admired in Mrs. Ludlam is that she never importunes her customers to buy her goods; nor does she puff their quality.
The bonnet is bought; likewise a neck-scarf for Jack. And we are now returning: Mrs. Apsley to her home, and I to the club. Mrs. Apsley invites me to dine with them; but that is impossible. It is public night, and I have two guests. One of them is Jack, who does not belong to the club, because Mary does not wish it.
Mrs. Apsley says she wants some pickles, and we must go into Ford’s shop to purchase them. Ford sells everything; and he is a wine, beer, and spirit merchant. You may get anything at Ford’s—guns, pistols, swords, whips, hats, clothes, tea, sugar, tobacco. What is this which Ford puts into my hand? A raffle paper! “To be raffled for, a single-barrelled rifle, by Purdey. The property of a gentleman hard-up for money, and in great difficulties. Twenty-five chances at one gold mohur (one pound twelve shillings) each.”
“Yes, put my name down for a chance, Ford.”
“And Captain Apsley’s, please,” says the lady.
After promising Mrs. Apsley most faithfully that I will not keep Jack later than half-past twelve, and taking another look into those sweet eyes of hers, I gallop away as fast as the pony can carry me. I am late; there is scarcely a vacant place at the long table. We have no private tables. The same board shelters the nether limbs of all of us. We are all intimate friends, and know exactly each other’s circumstances. What a clatter of knives and forks! And what a lively conversation! It alludes chiefly to the doings of the past night. Almost every other man has a nickname. To account for many of them would indeed be a difficult, if not a hopeless task.
“Dickey Brown! Glass of beer?”
“I am your man,” responds Major George, N. I. Fencibles.
At the other end of the table you hear the word “Shiney” shouted out, and responded to by Lieutenant Fenwick of the Horse Artillery.
“Billy! Sherry?”

Adolphus Bruce of the Lancers lifts his glass with immense alacrity.
It is a curious characteristic of Indian society that very little outward respect is in private shown to seniority. I once heard an ensign of twenty years of age address a civilian of sixty in the following terms: “Now then, old moonsiff, pass that claret, please.”
The tiffin over, a gool, or lighted ball of charcoal, is passed round the table in a silver augdan (fire-holder). Every man present lights a cigar, and in a few minutes there is a general move. Some retire to the billiard-room, others cluster round the fireplace; others pace the platform; and two sets go up-stairs into the reading-room to have a quiet rubber—from three till five. Those four men seated at the table near the window have the reputation of being the best players in India. The four at the other table know very little of the game of whist. Mark the difference! The one set never speak, except when the cards are being dealt. The other set are finding fault with one another during the progress of the hand. The good players are playing high. Gold mohur points—five gold mohurs on the rub—give and take five to two after the first game. And sometimes, at game and game, they bet an extra five. Tellwell and Long, who are playing against Bean and Fickle, have just lost a bumper—twenty-seven gold mohurs—a matter of forty-three pounds four shillings.
In the billiard-room, there is a match going on between four officers who are famed for their skill, judgment, and execution. Heavy bets are pending. How cautiously and how well they play! No wonder, when we consider the number of hours they practise, and that they play every day of their lives. That tall man, now about to strike, makes a revenue out of billiards. I shall be greatly mistaken if that man does not come to grief some day. He preys upon every youngster in every station he goes to with his regiment. He is a captain in the Native Infantry. His name is Tom Locke. He has scored forty-seven off the red ball. His confederate, Bunyan, knows full well that luck has little to do with his success. He, too, will come to grief before long. Your clever villains are invariably tripped up sooner or later, and ignominiously stripped of their commissions and positions in society.
It is five o’clock. Some thirty horses and as many ponies are saddled and bridled, and led up and down in the vicinity of the club. Everybody will be on the mall presently. The mall is a part of the road round the Camel’s Back. It is a level of about half a mile long and twelve feet broad. A slight fence stands between the riders and a deep khud (precipice). To gallop along this road is nothing when you are accustomed to it; but at first it makes one very nervous even to witness it. Serious and fatal accidents have happened; but, considering all things, they have been far fewer than might have been expected.

The mall is crowded. Ladies and gentlemen on horseback, and ladies in janpans—the janpanees dressed in every variety of livery. Men in the French grey coats, trimmed with white serge, are carrying Mrs. Hastings. Men in the brown clothes, trimmed with yellow serge, are carrying Mrs. Merrydale. Jack Apsley’s wife is mounted on her husband’s second charger. “Come along, Captain Wall,” she calls out to me, and goes off at a canter, which soon becomes a hard gallop. I follow her of course. Jack remains behind, to have a quiet chat with Mrs. Flower, of his regiment; who thinks—and Jack agrees with her—that hard riding on the mall is a nuisance, and ought to be put a stop to. But, as we come back, we meet the hypocrite galloping with a Miss Pinkerton, a new importation, with whom—much to the amusement of his wife—he affects to be desperately in love. The mall, by the way, is a great place for flirtations.
Most steady-going people, like Mrs. Flower, not only think hard riding on the mall a nuisance, but make it the theme of letters to the editors of the papers; and sometimes the editors will take the matter up, and write leading articles thereon, and pointedly allude to the fact—as did the late Sir C. J. Napier in a general order—that beggars on horseback usually ride in the opposite direction to heaven. But these letters and leaders rarely have the desired effect; for what can a man do when a pretty woman like Mrs. Apsley says, “Come along; let us have a gallop.”
Why are there so very many people on the mall this evening? A few evenings ago it was proposed at the club that a band should play twice a week. A paper was sent round at once, and every one subscribed a sum in accordance with his means. Next morning the required number of musicians was hunted up and engaged. Two cornets, two flutes, two violins, a clarionet, a fife, and several drums. It is the twenty-ninth of May—a day always celebrated in “this great military camp,” as Lord Ellenborough described British India. At a given signal, the band strikes up “God save the Queen.” We all flock round the band, which has taken up a position on a rock beetling over the road. The male portion of us raise our hats, and remain uncovered while the anthem is played. We are thousands of miles distant from our fatherland and our Queen, but our hearts are as true and as loyal as though she were in the midst of us.
This is the first time that the Himalaya mountains have listened to the joyous sound of music. We have danced to music within doors; but never, until this day, have we heard a band in the open air in the Himalaya mountains. How wonderful is the effect! From valley to valley echo carries the sound, until at last it seems as though
Every mountain now had found a band.
Long after the strain has ceased with us, we can hear it penetrating into and reverberating amidst regions which the foot of man has never yet trodden, and probably will never tread. The sun has gone down, but his light is still with us.
Back to the club! Dinner is served. We sit down, seventy-five of us. The fare is excellent, and the champagne has been iced in the hail which fell the other night, during a storm. Jack Apsley is on my right, and I have thrice begged of him to remember that he must not stay later than half-past twelve; and he has thrice responded that Mary has given him an extension of leave until daylight. Jack and I were midshipmen together, some years ago, in a line-of-battle ship that went by the name of the House of Correction. And there is Wywell sitting opposite to us—Wywell who was in the frigate which belonged to our squadron—the squadron that went round the world, and buried the commodore, poor old Sir James! in Sydney churchyard. Fancy we three meeting again in the Himalaya mountains!
The cloth is removed, for the dinner is over. The president of the club—the gentleman who founded it—rises. He is a very little man of seventy years of age—fifty-three of which have been spent in India. He is far from feeble, and is in full possession of all his faculties. His voice is not loud, but it is very distinct, and pierces the ear.
They do not sit long after dinner at the club. It is only nine, and the me

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