"There was a sort of excitement and a fascination. India was chock
full of character, and it had this extraordinary characteristic that
around every corner you could get a bit of magic. And around a corner,
for no reason, in some dirty, filthy slum, which a lot of it was, you
would suddenly come across this magic that would just hit you in the face."
- Margery Hall
Quite Improbable Places: Indian Travel
Trains were great fun in India. They seemed to go through quite improbable places.
So those were those wonderful years, wonderful travelling. Crowded railway stations which I can remember so well. Everybody trying to get on board the train; people sleeping on the platform. Always jumping over them. Hawkers selling their wares of various kinds and the train would probably pull out with people hanging all over the place, on the buffers, clinging on the roof.
One of the other impressions that I have of India generally is travel, train travel -- the distances were enormous. And any considerable journey was done by train, which was quite an undertaking. You never got anywhere in one day. The trains were very slow, and they were all organized so that you would sleep in them. Even a journey from Bombay to Nasirabad, we had to spend the night in the train. And one used to reckon journeys instead of saying, as in this country, "How long does it take to get to London?" "Oh, it's three and a half hours on the train," there you'd say, "It's two nights." That was the way you reckoned it.
And so far as we were concerned, there were three classes of travel in India -- there was first class travel, second class travel, and then third. Well, we, as British officers, were not allowed to travel any way other than first class, because when we were travelling on duty, our fares were paid for us, but if we were travelling otherwise, the officers had to go first class because the British soldiers went second class. And under no circumstances could one go third class, which was one hundred percent Indian, and very hard sort of seats and probably more or less open wagons, people hanging on all over.
It was quite a performance. We had these bedding rolls, sort of valises or bedding rolls, in which you had your blankets, and such other things as you needed for the night -- separate from the rest of your luggage, which was generally very considerable, bulky. You always had your own bearer, your personal servant, who went with you, and it was his job to put your bedding roll in the compartment, and when the time came to go to bed in the evening, he would come in. He travelled in a little separate compartment at the end of the carriage, with other bearers. That was their hidey hole. And he would come in at a convenient stop, about, say, eight o'clock in the evening, and he would put down the bed, which was folded up against the wall. He would put the bed down, undo the bedding roll, make it all ready for the sahib to get into bed. And the same thing would happen in reverse in the morning. You would never do it for yourself, of course, this would be quite unthinkable.
And your method of keeping cool, in those days, was by buckets of ice, which you started off with, had them put into your carriage at the beginning, where you started from, and then renewed, probably every day. And this did keep the temperature reasonable. Then we didn't have restaurant cars on the trains. They stopped so often that you got out and you telegraphed or telephoned ahead for a meal to be prepared for you at the restaurant on the station, and you got out of the train and went into the thing and ate it. And then you got back into the train and went on. And I suppose this was partly why it took so long! But it was quite a sort of ritual.
And the stations were the most extraordinary places. It seemed as though the whole world and his wife was camping on the station, sleeping on it. You tripped over bodies -- any station, particularly a big one like Delhi, the terminus -- everybody shouting, a large number of vendors, of sweets and all sorts of things to eat, and drinks, cold drinks. And one got used to the sort of station cries: "Hindu pani! Musselman pani!" meaning that if you were a Hindu, you could only drink water from the water carrier who was the Hindu man -- it would be sacrilege if you drank it from the other man, and vice versa.
When we first went out there was no air conditioning on the trains, and the dust was absolutely fantastic. The filth -- you were completely covered. You had three windows on the trains -- a blue glass one (for when the weather was very hot and the glare was terrific), you had an ordinary glass one, and then you had a sort of wire mesh one. They were all sandwiched up and you could choose which one you would have. The mesh was really for when it was so hot you couldn't breathe. The blue glass was for when it was very sunny, which it usually was, except at night. And the dirt was just indescribable. You ate dust and grit from the moment you left till the moment you got there.
You were travelling through desert most of the way, except where it was irrigated. It was all arid plains. The carriages were wide and no corridors of course, from a safety point of view, so nobody could get in to you. You never had an Indian travelling in your carriage. You reserved your carriage entirely for yourself, or for your family or whatever you were. And your servant would come every time you stopped at a station. He'd come around and say "Are you OK? Do you want anything?" or get you some more ice, or generally look after you. There was a servants' compartment at the end of your coach, but he had to get out and come to your window to communicate with you.
Richard Gardiner: I think when you first go to Bombay -- in the old days you would get off the ship and find people sleeping on the pavement. Not just an odd man but whole rows. Rows and rows. Quite happy about it, they didn't seem to mind. Oh, the station was the ritz. Sleeping on the platforms.
Catherine Gardiner: You'd just walk over them. They're there for weeks.
Richard Gardiner: They get there, you see, if travelling, even upcountry. They didn't know what trains there were or what time they were. They'd arrive hours before anything would be likely to come along. Just plant themselves down, cook their own meals, you see, take all their cooking pots with them.
Catherine Gardiner: I've never seen any people crowd on to trains like they did. They hang on to the roof. They wait until the last minute. They're absolutely crammed into the carriages. They seem to survive.
Richard Gardiner: They like it. The trains were very popular, very popular.
This is about the time when I was ADC and when my wife's father had a railway coach. It was for the GOC in C, Eastern Command. When he was travelling by himself I was allowed to travel in this sort of little cabin on the end near the servants. It was a very comfortable arrangement altogether. Anyhow, we were going down from Bareilly to Delhi for the Army commanders' conference, and of course the general and his wife, some others, the military secretary, and I travelled in a train to which the coach was attached. We left Bareilly some time in the evening and we were supposed to catch another train which would take us into Delhi and we got to a junction and the coach was disconnected and we said, "Yes, that's all right, now we want to go to Delhi." "Oh, it's gone, there are no more trains. That's it." Well, the secretary and I said, "How now, what to do? The general's got to be there first thing in the morning -- conference." And we scratched our heads and went to see the stationmaster.
Well, there was nothing at all, nothing. He said, "The only thing you can do is to hire an engine but you must have a goods wagon as well." Well, you know, it's a bit rich to be told you want to hire an engine at midnight. So we went in the restaurant and had a couple of double whiskies. Then we came out and signed a warrant for the engine and I spent a very uncomfortable night in the luggage van.
Very uncomfortable, indeed. However, we arrived at Delhi in the early dawn and we went out and got water and washed and cleaned ourselves and then in due course at about half past nine the general came out and said, "Did you have a good night?" And we said, "Oh, yes, sir." And he got in his car and off he went. However, the story got out and he was twitted, and they wanted to know if he had his command flag flying from the engine.
The Cool of the HillsMuriel Hatch-Barnwell:
Going up into the hill stations in rather like a sedan chair: coolies would carry you up -- the adults -- and we children used to have little baskets strapped to a coolie's back, your legs dangling down. And we'd go trotting up, trotting up, and the speed with which they'd go up to the hill stations was amazing.
I spent a lovely summer in Kashmir, and I think if I was asked the most beautiful place in the world I've ever been to, I'd say Kashmir.
A houseboat first in Srinagar and then up to Gulmarg, where you're up in the hills in almost like a Swiss chalet, and of course the British had made a marvelous golf course.
In 1936 I took two months leave and I went up to Kashmir. I shared a houseboat on Nagin Bagh with two other officers, who were different units, in fact. And although the cost of the houseboat was only about a pound a day, with all food, et cetera, the three of us, being bachelors, tended to run an open house and a lot of people around Nagin Bagh found it was very easy to come and (a) take meals off us, and (b) take drinks off us. Unfortunately, these other two were only there for a month and I was left for a further month to maintain the high standards which these people had set. And as a result of that my two months in Kashmir cost more than my three months [leave] to England. I said I'd never go back to Kashmir again unless I took a wife or mistress with me, and I took a wife with me the second time.
It was fascinating. I got very friendly with C., the Maharajah of C., who was terribly keen on tennis. He used to travel around with his own tennis coach, and when he discovered that I was quite good at tennis, he and I used to play tennis. In Srinagar, in Kashmir. He used to drive a Bentley. In those days Kashmir had a Muslim population but a Hindu maharajah, and the cow was sacred. I used to live at Nagin Bagh, which was miles away from the Srinagar Club, where we used to play tennis. You could go in by shikara, the little gondola-type boats, but he used to take me in by his car, his Bentley, occasionally. He was a very fast driver. I wasn't in the car, luckily, but on one of these excursions he hit one of these cows and killed it. He had to pretend that he wasn't driving, that his driver was driving. The driver had to leave Kashmir forthwith, before he was locked up for killing a cow.
Our house in Simla had this wooden verandah all the way round it and it had a zinc/tin roof, corrugated iron roof, and the monkeys used to scamper about on this roof making a terrific noise. And we had a swing on the corner of the verandah and I always remember going around the corner and finding a monkey sitting in the swing. And you had to have the windows wired because otherwise the monkeys came in and threw everything around and opened all the drawers.
Simla was the summer station for the Government. The whole of Delhi -- it's unbelievable almost, but I saw it happen in the reverse direction. The whole of Delhi used to pack up from Delhi and go to Simla. There were another lot of offices up in Simla and the whole of the Government with very few exceptions simply opened up there in April or May, and came down again in October. When I went up to Simla they were already there. I'd come back from Eritrea with this unit I'd had at Bangalore, and I was pulled off the unit at Bombay and sent straight up to Army headquarters, which instead of being in Delhi was at that time in Simla because it was June. Then in October, about the 15th of October, we moved down into Delhi. It was quite unbelievable, because really in effect the office shut for a week because all the typewriters and all the office machinery and everything else was all shifted down, and all the babus, all the clerks, had to come down. It was all done by contract, and it wasn't done overnight, it was done pretty leisurely.
I remember coming down to Delhi and wanting to get on because in fact we were very busy in the particular department I was starting up, the transportation side, and we were very busy indeed. We were absolutely furious about this. None of us knew this system before, we were all people who had never been in Army headquarters before. I remember going up from my house in Delhi to the office. I found where our office was going to be, I got the number right and everything, went into it. There wasn't a soul, just a bare, open space. Eventually I found somebody around and I said, "Look here, when is something going to happen about this?" He said, "Well, your typewriters are due to be down here on some convoy next Tuesday. You should be all right by Thursday." It worked in peacetime, but that was the last time it happened. We never went back to Simla after that.
"A Nice Little Country Estate"Major Christopher York:
Very often you could get leave for the weekend and go off shooting and you'd probably leave late on Friday night and go to what were called rest houses, which were dotted all over India. They were kept clean by the state, properly looked after. I think you had to take your own food. You certainly took your own bedding and your own mosquito net -- -you never went without a mosquito net. You get up before dawn and shoot all morning. You couldn't shoot in the afternoon, it was too hot. You'd probably do a dawn flight of duck and then you'd shoot snipe during the day. There were reservoirs known as tanks -- they could be fifty acres or more. You used to walk round the edge in line shooting snipe and every now and then you used to fall into an elephant hoofmark and you know they're rather deep, and it could upset you very seriously. You fell straight head forwards into the water, gun and all! A bit annoying. Your cartridges got wet.
I was very keen on pigsticking and became, perhaps, an expert on it. The organization of it was great fun. We used to have a holiday on Thursdays -- Queen Victoria had allegedly given it, I don't know why -- and perhaps once a fortnight you went out from Thursday till Sunday. Otherwise you probably went out on Thursday and Saturday and Sunday. This is between about March and the end of June. In the winter there were a certain amount of social things -- polo and dances and gymkhanas and horse shows and things like that -- and the jungle was jolly thick. It still had all the vegetation from the end of the rains. The winter season in that part of India was absolutely lovely, like a perfect June day in England. Jolly cold in the mornings. Just the thinnest skin of ice in the early morning, then a lovely, lovely day with the most wonderful sunshine all day. It couldn't have been more lovely in that part of India, but things like the jungle were very thick; you couldn't go hunting much. It wasn't until it began to dry out, scorch out, about March that it was much good. So an awful lot of this outside business in the country was in the hot weather. The rains were impossible. Everything was a jelly, you couldn't get across the ground at all.
Pigsticking is prehistoric now. We used to usually try and meet pretty early in the morning so as to be able to knock off about midday, when it really got frightfully hot, rest up a bit in the afternoon, then perhaps go and shoot something for the pot early in the evening. You're lucky if you had elephants. They did help in beating. The one or two competitions there were, one used to have elephants as a grandstand and also as beaters, because they'll beat through anything. You divided up, you teamed yourself off in parties of three or four and then you'd pick up a pig. You sometimes used to go out absolutely at dawn, just before dawn, having studied where the pigs were inclined to feed and the jungle they came into after. You tried to trap them between those two places absolutely first light. He'd only be there if he was late, he ought to have been back home by first light. Chances were that he wasn't quite.
To take on a pig by yourself like that was the absolute art of the thing. Normally you hunted in threes. There are very few people who have ever done it, because they weren't really skilled enough. You probably didn't have very far before the chap was into the jungle and you had to go very fast indeed. What's more, you had to get between him and the jungle and ride him off, so to speak, so that he charged. Then he came into you and then if you made a mistake, you'd had it. He's a tough customer. He can go as fast as a horse for a quarter of a mile. He may or may not get angry. He may be rather handy and jink and get away. But if you could ride him off so that he charged on your right side, the side you had your spear, and not the other side -- otherwise you were in a pickle. And you could catch him as he came at you when it was man to man, so to speak, or whatever you like to call it, man to pig.
We used to take some terrible chances. I've spent a lot of time in hospital. It was dangerous. There was usually a chap or so killed every year, and sometimes a pig got in and damaged a horse. I shot a number of horses pigsticking because they were badly damaged. I once put twenty-seven stitches into a dog and thirty six into a horse. He caught the horse along the flank. They have two underneath tusks and they have an upper tusk and the underneath one grinds on the other one so it's always razor sharp. The other ones in a way look rather more picturesque, but they're in fact nothing more than the sharpening thing. It's the underneath ones that do it.
One of the attractions of the U.P. -- the United Provinces -- [was that] it was good pigsticking country; it was probably the best; I'm sure it was the best, and the two great competitions were there. Not that that was any great attraction except you met an awful lot of friends and it was very exciting.
There was an awful lot of organization if you wanted to go out pigsticking. You might want to go thirty miles, forty miles. You had to send the horses out two days in advance. You had to organize getting food for the horses. You had to get your grooms out there and make a camp for them of sorts. You had to arrange to get there yourself and make a camp of sorts. There was quite a lot of organization in it. I used to organize pigsticking as soon as I learnt the ropes and did so in several places. The organization was great fun but it was jolly complicated. You couldn't afford to make a mistake, otherwise everyone would starve, that sort of thing. And if you managed to borrow elephants -- we had fourteen or fifteen elephants for one competition -- you'd got to feed them as well and that's a difficult problem. This all meant sending them out perhaps at the beginning of the week and you were going out at the end of the week and then you'd got to get them back after that and then you want to start again the next week. I used to pigstick one way or another, I reckon, throughout the hot weather every weekend and sometimes from Thursday onwards.
Then in the winter I used to spend at least a day or two in the jungle going round studying the jungle and showing that we were still interested. We had -- call them gamekeepers -- these chowkidars in every area who kept a watch that people weren't burning the jungle or doing some damage. And the great thing was to go round in the winter. I used to go on a camel. You get much better height on a camel. You can look down. I used to send a camel out to the village and go out in my little old car. They all knew me. Our chowkidars used to wear a strap with a badge on it. I used to mount the badge of the Muttra Tent Club on my car. A pigsticking club was always called a tent club. I wore that on the front of my car. I used to arrive in the village in the car and in the back of the car I had a medicine box, a tremendous box, and I used to get on the camel and go around with the chowkidar for an hour or two. Then I used to come back and, lined up outside the car, was anyone who was sick in the village and you doctored them to the best of your ability. Perhaps in a primitive way, but you got pretty experienced at doing this if you did it every week of the year for several years; you got pretty good. You could leave anything in the car, a little open car, a camera, anything like that; they'd never think of touching it. They knew that you'd doctor them when you came back.
That place Muttra is not a small town; it's a kind of big town; I daresay it's got a hundred thousand, but it had a very small garrison. A few years before I got there, around about 1925, there was a terrible famine. You know, the failure of the rains. Money was dished out by the government for famine relief. The way it was done was to employ people on relief works. It might be making a dam or raising the height of a road so that it wouldn't flood again. That sort of thing. Diverting a canal. Because the Tent Club was better known in the country than the government, the money was handed over to the Tent Club. Two years running the Tent Club administered the famine relief for the area. It was quite incredible.
The result of it all was that one spent, literally, at least five hours a day in the saddle, every single day of the year. You had nothing else you could afford to do, you had these horses. And so you were pretty fit. All your parade of course was in the saddle. And all your fun and sport was in the saddle, too.
There was big game shooting, and some people went absolutely mad about this. By and large I suppose the cream of it was the tiger, but there were bears and up in the mountains there was this extremely difficult stalking of these animals with great horns.
The United Provinces was much cultivated, so that we hadn't got tiger there. There were any amount of deer and one could shoot those. They were all wild. There's a lot of ground which isn't cultivated because it's rather rocky. But our pigsticking -- by and large we hunted in the rivers.
In Sind you had the most marvelous shooting when I was ADC to the Governor -- some of the best shooting I ever had in my life. Ducks, sand grouse, partridge.
You see, the Indus would come down in a spate, despite the Sukkur Barrage, and then, of course it would overflow its banks in places and flood the areas. Gradually it would go down, leaving these swamps into which would come the duck and the snipe. It would stay moist throughout the cold weather months. They were the most marvelous places for duck and snipe shooting and partridges.
What I did was I took a pilot's license when I was in Karachi and I used to fly a Gypsy Moth. We hired these planes from the aero club. Four of us would go out. I had what was called my shikari -- he was really one's sort of gamekeeper almost who'd be out all the week and see where the birds were and then he'd come in, usually on Wednesday or Tuesday and tell you where the game was. I'd made five landing grounds within a radius of a hundred miles of Karachi and we called them number one place, number two, number three, number four, and the old shikari would come in and say, "The place to go this weekend, sahib, is panch number jagah -- number five place." And he'd go there and have a couple of camels. When we arrived and he saw the plane circling overhead, he'd light a bonfire. That would give me the direction of the wind, so I'd know which way to put the plane down. I'd bring the plane down and you'd have to tether it because in the midday the wind got up across the desert and you had to be careful. It was like putting down anchors on either side. Then you pay usually the oldest chap in the village one rupee to do chowkidar, which meant that he'd take his blanket and he'd go to sleep on the shady side and then when the sun came round he'd move his bed and get on to the other side. Then we'd get out, put all the guns and cartridges on one camel, and the old shikari would get up on that and I'd get up on to the other one with my guest and off we'd go, maybe about four miles, that's all. He'd have it all mapped out for you. Then you'd dismount, leave the camels, and have your morning shoot. Then in due course come back to the plane, put the game into the back cockpit, and off you go. Oh, it was great.
I shot an elephant once but that was through no desire of my own. I had some elephants carrying my luggage around, female elephants. A large male rogue elephant came by just to frighten my elephants away. We knew he was around and we lighted fires all round but he came right in. We had our elephant tied to a tree with a great coil of chain and this male elephant came and put his foot right on the chain. The female elephant didn't like this at all and we had terrible row but off they went. After a few days my female elephant turned up back at camp. Then in the middle of the night the wild elephant came in after her. I was fast asleep. I had a loaded rifle with me. I was awakened by my servants who said, "Sahib, you must go and shoot the elephant." I didn't like to.
What a lot of English people used to do, at Christmas time in particular, would be go away with their families and take a block of jungle from the Forest Department. There was a rest house and it was a lovely holiday. Completely different from either the military cantonment or the garrison town. We spent all day out walking or looking at things in the jungle, and the flowers and the trees. And perhaps if one got information -- you had an shikari, a professional hunter, to advise you -- and if he brought in information that there were tiger or panther in the area, you would then make a plan to go and sit up late at night in what was called a machan, which was an elevated platform in a tree, camouflaged. And underneath the tree and a little way away from it would be tied up some unfortunate goat which you bought from the local village and, sure enough, at one o'clock in the morning, along came the tiger. And it would either kill the goat, or be just about to kill the goat, when you would shoot it. Even if you didn't get a shot, it was very exciting, sitting up there, waiting, and being absolutely still. The slightest movement, of course, would have betrayed your presence and he would never have come.
Of course my husband's great thrill was to show his bride a tiger. That was actually the usual thing for a forest officer for Christmas, to have a Christmas camp, and on Christmas day there was always a tiger shoot. There were always tiger about in the jungle, you see, and the villagers would come along and say "Sahib there's a tiger here." The villagers would take a young calf, a bullock calf or buffalo calf, and tie it up overnight so the tiger would come along and take it and they'd get to know where the tiger was. Of course being new from a little tiny part of London, my first experience going out in the jungle with my husband, I was looking around every tree to see if there was a tiger coming around it. But I soon got used to that.
The first Christmas we'd arranged for this tiger shoot. They used to build a sort of platform in a tree, the branches of a tree. You climbed up an ever so rough sort of ladder. You'd sit there and you had to sit still and unmoving because if you made a noise you'd frighten the tiger off. I remember the first time I did it. Of course I was really terrified. Just imagine going from a London suburb to that sort of thing. He used to do his work in the morning. In the afternoon he'd do his office work. In the evening sometimes he'd go out to do an inspection, other times he'd just go out with a gun and shoot a pigeon or something of that sort for the pot. The first Christmas he'd arranged this shoot and we sat up in this machan, just a little sort of platform made [like] a native bed, those string things. You sat there just still, you didn't dare to breathe hardly. You'd hear a rattle or you'd hear a noise and think here's the tiger and it was a peacock or a monkey. Do you know, a tiger came round and he shot it, a tigress with three cubs. They all came out in front of us. The beater knew where the tiger was and they'd surround the district and as they came on they knocked on the trees and shouted and so the tiger gradually came under the machan and that was when you got the chance to shoot him. And it was very exciting the first time.
During the hot period of the year we had a sort of rest camp in a hill station and one squadron at a time would go up to this place. It was called Wellington in the Ootacamund Hills. In addition to that, higher up the hill was Ooty itself where the Governor of Madras spent the summer, so it was Government House and all the excitement of Government House and there was an officers' club where officers on leave would stay. I was very lucky. For two years I was put in charge of the regimental stables at Ooty, which was there for hunting. The Ootacamund Hounds hunted jackal over these rolling hills, all grazing grass which was grazed by bullocks on the principle of the commons. But unfortunately between the hills there were bogs. Water drained down, there were no proper streams or anything, and so the consequence was, you found a jack -- jackal -- in one of the woods which had been specially planted. Off the hounds would go, straight across a valley, and unless you knew your country well, knew where the crossings had been made, when they'd been bridged, so to speak, with hard material, and you tried to get across -- you always got bogged. Climbing down the hill, terrific pace, and of course the horse stopped very suddenly in a bog and you fell! We had a lot of fun there.
We had a pack of drag hounds out there which were looked after by one of the regiments. Instead of running after a live animal, they run after a scent which is laid on ahead, by somebody with a -- aniseed it usually is -- who goes on a route which is defined beforehand, dragging the smelly bag along. They usually go on a horse ahead, and then the hounds pick up the scent and run after it. And then we used to go over to Peshawar occasionally to hunt there, where they hunted jackal. They didn't hunt drag, they hunted proper -- a live animal -- which was more fun. But you got up very, very early, where you'd meet perhaps at six, just as the sun was rising. Extremely cold, really, icy cold in the winter. And gradually the sun would get up and it would be reasonably warm.
When I was at Saugor we used to go out shooting a lot, big game shooting. It's in the middle of the Central Indian jungles, which are not jungles like one generally imagines, like the Amazon, hacking your way through. They're like rather thick parkland with quite noticeable tracks through them. The trees are mostly teak trees, more like thick woods, and they stretch for eight hundred miles or so. Our favorite occupation was to go out for Christmas and the New Year and there might be a party of twelve or fifteen of you. You'd sit around the campfire at night. In a place like Saugor we younger ones would nip out of an evening. You could shoot a panther within five miles. And frequently go out for just Saturday and Sunday. It was no distance at all. I used to go out with the assistant police officer and the assistant district officer. I'd go and join them. They would be touring round the district and might stop in some village for a week or so and they would hear there was some good shooting. So I'd go out. Plenty of tiger. There was a lot of duck and geese and sand grouse, partridge shooting as well. We used to go out of an evening. Around our mess we could walk out, walk two or three miles and shoot a couple of partridges for dinner. It was a nice little country estate.
1. The Passage to India | interviews
2. Running Your Empire | interviews
3. Life in the Bungalows | interviews
4. Imperial Diversions | interviews
5. Never the Twain? | interviews
6. No More India to Go to | interviews