Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
THE COMPLETE GLOBE-TROTTER
WITHIN the hour of your landing India begins playing its jokes upon you. You drive through piles of palace and masses of palm to a hotel whose name is known throughout the world. A Goanese porter receives you, and requests you to inhabit a sort of scullery on the roof. I do not exaggerate a jot. I have seen the European cell in a remote district jail, and it was very appreciably larger, lighter, cleaner, cooler, and more eligibly situated than the first room I was offered in an Indian hotel.
As the first, so was the second, and the third, and all of them. By the time I left the country I had been in almost all the best hotels of India. Four, throughout the 1,800,000 square miles, might indulgently be called second-class; all the rest were unredeemedly vile. When they were new they may have had the same pretension to elegance and comfort as a London public wash-house has; but by now they are all very old, and suggest anything rather than washing. There can hardly have been a depreciated rupee spent upon the herd of them. The walls are dirty, the carpets shabby, the furniture rickety, the food uneatable, the management non-existent. The only things barely tolerable in an Indian hotel are the personal service and the bedding, both of which you bring with you of your own.
The apartment in which I originally recorded these opinions was furnished as follows. A table with a deep crack across it; a bedstead with a mattress covered with dirty ticking; a wardrobe papered inside with advertisements from the "Pioneer," now black and peeling off in strips; two chairs, both of which had holes in their cane seats, and creaked and rocked on their joints when you sat on them; two occasional tables, both broken-legged and sloping perilously; and a decayed hat-and-coat rack with one peg missing and two loose. There was a sort of sackcloth carpet, stained, creased, and littered with bits of straw. All the French windows were warped and refused to shut; over one hung two wisps of torn and coffee-coloured lace curtain. The walls were of green distemper, blotchy and coming off; in the ceiling was a cobwebbed hole, which once held a chandelier, and now held vermin. Many squirrels and mice were running up and down the floor. This was a shade worse than usual, but only a shade. All these things you expect in an Indian hotel; and at the touring season of the year you are lucky if the swollen babu in the office will let you in at all.
And after all, what do you expect? Why should there be good hotels in India? In Bombay, it is true, a really good hotel is wanted, and would pay: they say that one is on the point of arriving. Everybody that comes to India comes to Bombay, and nearly everybody can afford to pay to be comfortable, or at least clean. There are always people, more or fewer, passing through; also many bachelors will be found to live in a good hotel, for the Parsis have cornered all the possible bungalows. If you get custom enough to pay a good European proprietor to own, and a good European manager to manage, there is no reason on earth why a hotel should not be as good in India as in Egypt.
But for the rest of the country, what can you expect? If a hotel is in the plains, it will be empty in the hot weather; if in the hills, it will be empty in the cold. The European population of India is sparse and scattered, and of measureless hospitality. The white man sees less of hotels than of tents, of dak bungalows on lonely, half-made roads, or rest-houses by lonely, half-empty canals. His work is always hanging on his back, and will not let him travel at large; if he goes for a day or two into a town, it is to a friend or to the club. So the hotel languishes. Presently the European owner sells it cheap to a native, and he puts in first a Eurasian manager and then a babu; and the owner will not spend a pie to renew the furniture or new-stain the walls, and the manager will not spend an hour to see that they are clean. Presently the place comes to look like a haunted house crossed upon a byre, and the Indian hotel is complete.
So that the tourist wallows in discomfort. He and she are, like tourists in most other lands, dazed by the unfamiliar into all-accepting meekness. Most of them did not know where India was till they arrived there. They carry in their pocket-books a piece of paper, whereon Mr. Cook, pitying the lost sheep, has written down the names of the places they are to go to, with the times of the trains by which they are to arrive and leave. They bring native servants — or is it that native masters bring them? — who show them such sights as can be compassed without walking, and then smoke and doze under the back verandah of the hotel, while their wards smoke and doze under the front. As a rule the tourist is too broken-spirited even to dress for dinner; how, then, should he complain of a hotel? He would sleep with his feet on the pillow if that were more convenient to his servant, and remark on it next morning at breakfast as a new peculiarity of Indian life. At intervals of days an observation will strike a spark on the petrifaction of his mind: he will flicker with intelligence and remark, "What a number of tombs and mosques and temples there seem to be in this country!" If you counter with the suggestion that there are a good many gravestones and churches and chapels at home, he agrees; but then that is a civilised and highly-populated country. As for India, he opines that the population must have been much greater in those days — "those days" stretch, roughly, from 0 to 1700 A. D. — for that in these days the country parts seem quite deserted. There are, as a matter of fact, only 240,000,000 people "in the country parts" — and the Anglo-Indian is disappointed because the tourist does not appreciate his work!
India, to put it summarily, does not exist for the casual stranger, nor yet for the European at all, but for the native. You may say, broadly, that everything which only the European wants is bad, while everything the native wants is good. The native has taken up with enthusiasm the recreation of railway travelling, and the Indian railways are accordingly admirable. They lack only one point of excellence, and that is exactly what the European wants and the native does not — speed. The white man is often in a hurry, the native never: the Indian train strolls accordingly at a decorous twenty miles an hour. The sahib may get impatient, but it is lightning to people whose national conveyance is a bullock-cart. The native troubles himself nothing about time-tables: he goes to the station before sunrise and sits down till the train comes; and the amount of native traffic is astonishing — astonishing even though it costs him about a farthing a mile. The station-yard and the road beyond are a fair by day and a doss-house by night; at the opening of the gates the roaring, jabbering platform recalls the breaking of the crowd when the Lord Mayor's Show has gone by. The third-class carriages are even as crates of fowls: some stand on the seats, some lie on the floor. You see only a jungle of heads and legs and arms projected vaguely out of nowhere. At night the compartment is a heap of sack-coloured bundles that might indifferently be men or mail-bags. Your own Indian railway carriage is not unlike the Indian house. It has space and all indispensables for existing in a bad climate, but little of finish or embellishment. In Europe the sleeping-car mimics the drawing-room; in India, where often the very drawing-room is but a halting-place in a perpetual journey, a sleeping-car is merely a car you can very well sleep in. To it, as everywhere in India, you bring your own bedding and your own servant to lay it out. You take your meals at stations by the way; if there is no refreshment-room at the right time and place, you bring your food with you. The European train is like a hotel; the Indian like a camp. Your servant piles in your canvas bundle of bedding, your battered dressing-case, your hat-box, your despatch-box, your topi, your stick, your flask, your tiffin-basket, your overcoat, your cricket-bat, your racquet, your hunting-crop, your gun, and your dog; you insert yourself among them and away you go.
The Indian train may not be sumptuously caparisoned, but it is workmanlike to the uttermost hat-peg. On the metre-gauge lines you are a little cramped at night, inevitably; on the broad-gauge there is far more dressing, washing, and shaving space than on any line in Europe or America. Against the hot weather screens of boarding hang from the carriage roof to midway down the window; these stall off some of the dust, while most of the windows are smoked to cool the glare. Ice can be had at important stations during the hot months. In the more civilised parts a boy with ice and mineral waters actually travels in the train with you. As a rule there is a servants' compartment contiguous to your own; on the South Indian Railway they have a sort of ticket-window through which you can bid him minister to you. Another vast convenience is the railway waiting-room. You arrive, let us say, at six, and take a cup of tea; while you drink that a shave and a hot bath are preparing in the waiting-room; while you take those, breakfast is cooking in the kitchen. You go forth and do what you came for. Then, having an hour to spare, you can sit down and minister to the public mind from a better chair and table and room altogether than, I doubt, you will find in any hotel in India.
In short, your Briton is not at all the conservative creature that at home he would make himself out. Put him down where he has more or less of a clear field, and he will adapt and invent and contrive and tolerate the usefully ugly with the best of them. The small convenience, for example, of carriages coloured according to their class, now timidly nibbled at in England, has long been familiar to India: first-class is white, second dark green, third native-colour. Only one fault can I think of in the regulations for Indian travel — there are no carriages reserved for men. Consequently ladies enter in with their husbands, which at bedtime brings embarrassments. Once I have actually had to ask the stationmaster to put on an extra carriage solely for me to hide my blushes in.
For the rest you may look forward to your Indian travel with much confidence. Besides the train there are other delights, — the ferry-boat in the aching cold of dawn, the row-boat on the racing canal, the ekka over dust-ruts, the tonga and trotting bullocks On a metalled road, the tonga and hill-pony over precipices, the double-saddled camel over sand-drifts, the elephant over everything that comes in the way. The tonga is a low, two-wheeled dachsund of a cart, with the build of a gun-carriage, wherein you wedge yourself between back seat and tail-board and travel among the hills, with good ponies and luck, at an average of eight miles or so an hour. It is better sport than an automobile, as the ponies are seldom broken, and sometimes have to be hauled into the desired course with a whip-thong twisted round the car and then prevented from flinging the whole thing over a cliff if Allah so wills. The ekka — which is for natives only — is a painted ice-cream barrow with an awning above it and a pony before. The elephant — well, you may have seen him, and though for my own part
I never considered him as a serious beast till I knew him personally in India, you have already heard the little I know on that subject.
As I was saying, you will enjoy your travelling in India, if you have so many friends there that you never need put foot in a hotel. If you have not, you had much better go somewhere else, and leave India to worry through by itself.