CHAPTER XIV. JOURNEY FROM DELHI TO BOMBAY.

THE THUGS OR STRANGLERS - DEPARTURE - CATTLE-MARKET - BARATPOOR - BIANA - WELLS AND PONDS - GOOD-NATURE OF THE INDIANS - POPPY PLANTATIONS - THE SUTTIS - NOTARA - KOTTAH - DESCRIPTION OF THE TOWN - THE ROYAL PALACE OF ARMORNEVAS - AMUSEMENTS AND DANCES - THE HOLY VILLAGE OF KESHO-RAE-PATUM.

In order to reach Bombay, I had two routes before me; the one leads past Simla to the foot of the Himalayas, the other to the famous rock temples of Adjunta and Elora. I would gladly have chosen the former, and have penetrated as far as the principal chain of the Himalayas - Lahore and the Indus; but my friends advised me not to make the attempt, for the simple reason, that these mountains were covered with deep snow, in which case I must have postponed my journey for at least three months. As I was unable to wait so long, I decided upon taking the latter road. In Calcutta, I had been recommended not to continue my journey beyond Delhi at all. They said the country was not under the control of the English government, and the people were far less civilized. People endeavoured more especially to excite my apprehension by terrible accounts of the Thugs or stranglers.

These Thugs form a singular sect, whose object is robbery and murder, and who, like the Italian banditti, are prepared to undertake any atrocity for which they are paid. They must not, however, in any case shed blood, and dare only make away with their victim by strangling. The act is not considered as very criminal, and the murderer absolves himself by a small present, which he gives to his priest; but, if he sheds only one drop of blood, he falls into the deepest disgrace, is expelled from his caste, and abandoned even by his own associates.

Many travellers affirm that the Thugs are a religious sect, and that they do not murder for the sake of plunder or of revenge, but in order, according to their belief, to ensure a meritorious action. I made many inquiries about this, and learnt from every one that it was no religious compulsion, but hatred, revenge, or desire of gain, which led to these acts. These stranglers are represented as possessing a most extraordinary dexterity in their abominable trade, united with the most untiring patience and perseverance; they frequently follow the victims they have selected for months, and strangle them either while sleeping, or by stealing behind them and throwing a twisted cloth or a cord round their necks, which they draw tight with such rapidity and force that death ensues instantaneously.

In Delhi, I gained more information. I was assured that all these dangers were exaggerated; that travellers were very rarely attacked in India, and that the Thugs were much reduced in numbers. Moreover, they did not make any attempt upon Europeans, as the English government instituted the strictest search for the culprits. With regard, therefore, to the danger, I was tolerably at ease, but I had still to anticipate privation and fatigue.

The first part of the journey was to Kottah, distant 290 miles. I had the choice of three modes of conveyance - palanquins, camels, or oxen bailis. None of them are expeditious; there are no highroads, and no organized accommodation for travelling; you must retain the same men and animals to the end of the journey, and, at the utmost, cannot go more than from twenty to twenty-two miles in one day. For a palanquin, it is necessary to engage eight bearers, besides several for the luggage. Although each does not receive more than eight rupees a-month, out of which he pays his own expenses; still the expense is heavy, because so many are required, and their return journey must be paid for. Travelling on camels is also expensive, and is the most inconvenient. I decided, therefore, on adopting the less costly mode of conveyance by oxen. As I travelled alone, Dr. Sprenger very kindly made all the necessary preparations; he drew up a written contract with the tschandrie (waggoner) in Hindostanee to the effect that I was to pay him the half of the fare, fifteen rupees (1 pounds 10s.), immediately, and the other half when we arrived at Kottah, to which place he was to bring me in fourteen days; for every day over that time I had the right to deduct three rupees (6s.) Dr. Sprenger also sent one of his most trusty cheprasses {193} to accompany me, and his good wife furnished me with an excellent warm wrapper, and every kind of provision, so that my waggon would hardly hold all that I had.

With a sorrowful heart I parted from my good country people. God grant that I may see them yet again during my life!

On the morning of 30th of January, 1848, I left Delhi. The first day, we made very little progress, only eighteen miles, which brought us to Faridabad; the heavy awkward animals required to be first used to the draught. The first twelve miles of the journey afforded me some gratification, as along both sides of the road lay innumerable ruins, which I had visited with my friends only a few days previously.

This, as well as the following nights, were passed in caravansaries. I had no tent - no palanquins, and on this road there were no bungalows. Unfortunately, the caravansaries in the smaller villages are not to be compared with those in the larger towns; the cells are rudely constructed of clay, their length is scarcely seven feet, and the small opening, only four feet high, is without a door; but, to my astonishment, I found them always very cleanly swept, and I was also furnished with a low wooden stool, covered with network, upon which I threw my wrapper, and which served me for an excellent couch. The cheprasse laid himself, like Napoleon's Mameluke, before the entrance of my cell; but he slept much more soundly, for, even on the first night, he did not hear the least of a very sharp encounter which I had with an enormous dog that had been attracted by my well-filled provision basket.