SAUGOR, GREAT PENINSULAR RAILWAY, February 19.
We are now en route to Bombay from Delhi, a distance of about thirteen hundred miles. We have been two nights in our sleeping-car, and shall spend the night on the line and reach Bombay in the morning. General Grant just passed us going toward Calcutta, but there was no chance for us to get at him to shake hands in India. This is the Pacific Railway of India, connecting Calcutta and all the eastern portion with the western coast, upon which Bombay is situated. The time between Calcutta and England has been shortened almost a whole week by its construction. The railways of India, of which there are at present about nine thousand miles in operation, were principally constructed under a guarantee of five per cent, by the Indian Government, and some of them yield more than that already. In a short time there will be none that will remain a charge upon the revenues. The government retained the right, at intervals of twenty or twenty-five years, to acquire possession and ownership of these lines upon certain terms, and at no distant day will enjoy large revenues from its railway property. If the days of guarantees and subsidies be not hopelessly gone with us, here is an idea worth considering by our government. Fancy what the ownership of the Union and Central Pacific lines would mean as recompense for the amounts advanced.
The government has established several model farms in different provinces, for the purpose of testing articles thought suitable for cultivation in India, and of diffusing among the natives improved methods of agriculture. Such farms under able scientific management must eventually bring to the country what it is best calculated to produce. The success attendant upon the growth of a substitute for cinchona is significant. India must have quinine in large quantities as a preventive of malaria. Experiments prove that while the genuine article does not thrive here, a kindred species, possessing nearly the same properties, although to a less degree, will grow well. This has been cultivated in large quantities, and I notice that the medical chief orders it to be used in all dispensaries where quinine has hitherto been required, although the medical officers are permitted in extreme cases to order the dearer drug.
We are now traversing a level plain, and as this region was blessed with rain in season, it seems much more fertile than some other portions of the country; but the poorest harvests I ever saw in any part of America would be rated as abundant here. We have seen everywhere herds of buffaloes, bullocks, and sheep grazing in fields which seemed to us entirely destitute of everything; not a green leaf of any kind to be seen, and we could not understand how animals could even get a mouthful of food in the brown parched lands. But I am told they do nibble away at the short stalks and roots of corn or sugar-cane left in the ground when the crop was cut, and in this way manage to eke out a scanty existence. They are at best little but skin and bone. When it is merely a question of keeping life in the body, man and beast alike prove that but little is required.
While everything about us partakes of a dusty clayey hue, we must not forget that we see the plains of India in the winter. Let the blessed Monsoon burst, and these fields, now so parched and dead, are covered at once "as if the earth had given a subterranean birth to heaven." As Roderick Dhu's host rose up at the blast of his bugle, vegetation springs forth, and the land we now wonder at is no longer barren, but teems with tropical luxuriance. Then come the snakes and insects to poison and annoy. Last year, sixteen thousand seven hundred and seventy human beings were reported killed by snakes, while eight hundred and nineteen only were killed by tigers.
One has difficulty in imagining such a change in any land as is implied by these startling figures, for to-day as we travel not a fly nor insect of any kind is to be seen. If it were not for the intense heat, which I know I could not endure, I should like to spend a summer in India, snakes notwithstanding, just to see so complete a reversal of conditions, for no matter what reflection may do to tell, as we see India only under winter conditions, we shall always have a bias to rate it as the miserable, barren land it appears to us. Travellers should be on their guard against this tendency, for it leads to many false conclusions. If both sides of a question need to be considered, all seasons of a country must be experienced before a true judgment can be passed upon it. This is especially true of India, where the change is, as it were, from life to death.