CHAPTER XII. BENARES.
DEPARTURE FROM CALCUTTA - ENTRANCE INTO THE GANGES - RAJMAHAL - GUR - JUNGHERA - MONGHYR - PATNA - DEINAPOOR - GESIPOOR - BENARES - RELIGION OF THE HINDOOS - DESCRIPTION OF THE TOWN - PALACES AND TEMPLES - THE HOLY PLACES - THE HOLY APES - THE RUINS OF SARANTH - AN INDIGO PLANTATION - A VISIT TO THE RAJAH OF BENARES - MARTYRS AND FAKIRS - THE INDIAN PEASANT - THE MISSIONARY ESTABLISHMENT.
On the 10th of December, after a stay of more than five weeks, I left Calcutta for Benares. The journey may be performed either by land, or else by water, on the Ganges. By land, the distance is 470 miles; by water, 800 miles during the rainy season, and 465 miles more during the dry months, as the boats are compelled to take very circuitous routes to pass from the Hoogly, through the Sonderbunds, into the Ganges.
The land journey is performed in post-palanquins, carried by men, who, like horses, are changed every four or six miles. The traveller proceeds by night as well as day, and at each station finds people ready to receive him, as a circular from the post- office is always sent a day or two before, to prepare them for his arrival. At night the train is increased by the addition of a torch-bearer, to scare off the wild beasts by the glare of his torch. The travelling expenses for one person are about 200 rupees (20 pounds), independent of the luggage, which is reckoned separately.
The journey by water can be accomplished in steamers, one of which leaves almost every week for Allahabad (135 miles beyond Benares). The journey occupies from fourteen to twenty days, as, on account of the numerous sand-banks, it is impossible for the vessel to proceed on her course except in the day-time, and even then it is by no means unusual for her to run aground, especially when the water is low.
The fares to Benares are: first cabin, 257 rupees (25 pounds 14s.); second cabin, 216 rupees (21 pounds 12s.). Provisions, without wine or spirits, three rupees (6s.) a day.
As I had heard so much of the magnificent banks of the Ganges, and of the important towns situated on them, I determined to go by water.
On the 8th of December, according to the advertisement, the steamer "General Macleod," 140 horse-power, commanded by Captain Kellar, was to leave her moorings; but on going on board, I received the gratifying intelligence that we should have to wait twenty-four hours, which twenty-four hours were extended to as much again, so that we did not actually set off before 11 o'clock on the morning of the 10th. We first proceeded down the stream to the sea as far as Katcherie, and on the following day we rounded Mud Point, and entered the Sonderbunds, where we beat about as far as Culna. From there we proceeded up the Gury, a large tributary stream flowing into the Ganges below Rumpurbolea. During the first few days, the scenery was monotonous to the highest degree; there were neither towns nor villages to be seen; the banks were flat, and the prospect everywhere bounded by tall, thick bushes, which the English term jungles, that is to say, "virgin forests." For my own part, I could see no "virgin forests," as by this term I understand a forest of mighty trees. During the night, we heard, from time to time, the roaring of tigers. These animals are pretty abundant in these parts, and frequently attack the natives if they happen to remain out late wooding. I was shown the tattered fragment of a man's dress, hung upon a bush, to commemorate the fact of a native having been torn to pieces there by one of these beasts. But they are not the only foes that man has to dread here; the Ganges contains quite as deadly ones, namely - the ravenous crocodiles. These may be seen in groups of six or eight, sunning themselves on the slimy banks of the river or on the numerous sandbanks. They vary in length from six to fifteen feet. On the approach of the steamer, several started up, affrighted by the noise, and glided hastily into the dirty yellow stream.
The different branches of the Sonderbunds and the Gury are often so narrow that there is hardly room for two vessels to pass each other; while, on the other hand, they frequently expand into lakes that are miles across. In spite, too, of the precaution of only proceeding by day, on account of the numerous sandbanks and shallows, accidents are of frequent occurrence. We ourselves did not come off scot free. In one of the narrow branches I have alluded to, while our vessel was stopped to allow another to pass, one of the two ships that we had in tow came with such violence against the steamer, that the sides of a cabin were driven in: luckily, however, no one was injured.
In another arm of the river, two native vessels were lying at anchor. The crews were somewhat slow in perceiving us, and had not time to raise their anchors before we came puffing up to them. The captain did not stop, as he thought there was room to pass, but turned the steamer's head so far in shore, that he ran into the bushes, and left some of the blinds of the cabin-windows suspended as trophies behind him, whereat he was so enraged, that he immediately dispatched two boats to cut the poor creatures' hawsers, thereby causing them to lose their anchors. This was another action worthy of a European!
Near Culna (358 miles from the sea), we entered the Gury, a considerable tributary of the Ganges, which it flows into below Rumpurbolea. The jungles here recede, and their place is occupied by beautiful plantations of rice, and other vegetables. There was, too, no scarcity of villages, only the huts, which were mostly built of straw and palm-leaves, were small and wretched. The appearance of the steamer soon collected all the inhabitants, who left their fields and huts and greeted it with loud huzzas.