A few words as a preface
Recently, a leading London newspaper made sarcastic remarks
that the Russian scientists, and the Russian public all the more, have very vague notions about India in general and about its peoples in particular.
To this new British «insinuation» every Russian could, on occasion, ask
the first Anglo-Indian he meets the following question:
«Could you answer me: how much and what exactly do you yourself know about the peoples of India subject to you? How, for example, did your best ethnologists, your most famous anthropologists, philologists and statisticians settle the half-century dispute on the mysterious, as if fallen from the sky, the Nilgirian Toda people tribe? What is known to your «Royal Society» — although its members already for about half a century they have been trying their hardest to find out about the mysterious tribes of the Blue Mountains; about horror-inspiring dwarfs, called the Mulu-Kurumba; about the Yannadi, Kota, Irula, Badaga: that is, about the five Nilgiri tribes and dozens of others, less mysterious, but just as few made known large and small tribes living on other mountains?»
In response to all these questions, if, contrary to expectations, the Briton in
the fit of honest frankness (manifestation in him is very rare) can unexpectedly confess to a Russian scientist and traveler:
«Alas! We know absolutely nothing about them. We know about their existence only because we meet them, often beat and pound, and sometimes we hang them, but, on the other hand, we have no the slightest idea of either the origin or the language of most of these savages, least of the Nilgirians. Both our Anglo-Indian and domestic scientists almost went crazy about the Toda. Truly this tribe is a riddle of ethnologists of our century and, as it seems, an insoluble one. And not only for us Europeans, but also for the Indians themselves, the past of this tiny tribe is covered with an impenetrable veil of age-old secrets … Everything in it is
extraordinary, peculiar, incomprehensible, inexplicable! Everything is as it was from the first day when we unexpectedly encountered it; it remains to this day a riddle of the sphinx!»
That is how any honest Anglo-Indian would answer a Russian. This is how answered me an English general — whom we will mention more than once further — to my inquiries about the Toda and the Kurumba.
«The Toda, the Kurumba!» — he almost shouted, getting excited. — The Toda almost drove me once mad, and the Mulu-kurumba drove me to delirium tremens more than once! And why, you will find out later. But listen. If any of our government dunces will tell you that he knows well and even studied the Toda, then tell him from me that he is bragging and lying. Nobody knows these tribes. Their origin, religion, language, rituals, traditions, all this is terra incognita for the scientist, as well as for the profane … And who can we explain their amazing «psychic power», as Carpenter calls it, their so-called witchcraft and devilish spells? What is it, their incomprehensible, inexplicable influence on people and animals, with the Toda — for good, with the Kurumba –for evil? Who can guess what kind of power it is that they use at their own discretion? At home, we, of course, laugh at it and their claims. We do not believe in magic and call the faith of the natives in it a superstition, nonsense. We won’t dare believe in it. In the name of our racial superiority and an all-denying civilization, we must turn away from such nonsense. Yet our law recognizes in fact, this force, if not in principle, then in its manifestations, punishing accused of it under various disguised pretexts and using many loopholes of our jurisprudence … This law recognized the sorcerers themselves, by hanging together with their victims and some of them, not only for the bloody, but also for those bloodless, mysterious murders of them that have never been legally proved, in those dramas that are so often played out here between sorcerers of the Nilgiri Hills, on the one hand, and the natives of the valleys, on the other…»
«Yes, you are right; you have reason to laugh at us and our futile efforts, — continued he, — because, despite all our efforts, from the day of opening these
dirty magicians and sorcerers in the slums of the Nilgiri Mountains («Blue Mountains»), we have not advanced an inch in resolving questions about them. What annoys us most is this truly magical power in them, to refute the manifestations of which we are not able, since for this we would have to fight daily against irrefutable evidence … By rejecting the natives’ explanations of these facts, we only get confused in the hypotheses of our own product. Rejecting reality of so called witchcraft and enchantment, and, at the same time, by hanging sorcerers, we simply in our contradiction are rude executioners of people whose crimes have not only yet been proven, but the very possibility of which is also denied by us… the same we can also say about the Toda. We laugh at them and yet deeply respect this mysterious tribe … Who are they, what are they? Are they people or geniuses of these mountains, gods under the greasy rags of humanity? Every assumption about them bounce off like a rubber ball from a granite rock… Just know ahead, neither the Anglo-Indians nor the natives themselves will tell you anything true about the Toda or the Kurumba, and will not tell because they themselves know absolutely nothing about them; and will never know …»
This is what the Nilgirian planter, a retired major general, and a judge at
«Blue Mountains» answered my questions about the Toda and the Kurumba who was of interest to me for a long time. We were standing by the rocks of the «Lake», and when he fell silent, we heard for a long time, like a mountain echo, awakened by his loud voice, repeated mockingly: «never know … never know!»
But it would be really interesting to know! Such a discovery regarding the Toda
would, perhaps, be more curious even than a new discovery about ten lost
tribes of Israel, which the «Identification Society» — by accident and unexpectedly found now in the British.
Thus let’s give what we know. At first we must say a few words.
Having chosen the Toda and the Mulu-Kurumba as the main characters in these notes, we feel that we are entering on the ground that is dangerous for ourselves, the ground unwanted and unloved neither by European scientists nor by uneducated Europeans, and most of all by the press. We all know how stubbornly it avoids everything that more or less reminds readers of «spirits» and spiritualism. But speaking of the Blue Mountains and their strange tribes, it is absolutely impossible for us to keep silent about their main and most outstanding characteristic.
It is impossible, describing a completely peculiar corner of the globe, and most importantly – its mysterious, unlike any other tribes, to throw out from the story the basis of their entire everyday and religious life. To do it in the relation of the Toda and the Kurumba is as unthinkable, as to stage «Hamlet», throwing out of the play the role of the Prince of Denmark. The Toda and the Kurumba are born, grow, live and die in an atmosphere of witchcraft. Believing the stories of natives and even European old-timers on these mountains, these savages are in constant communication with invisible world. Therefore, if in this chain of geographical, ethnological, climatic and many other anomalies of nature, our story will like wheat with tare mix with all kinds of things, I apologize for the expression, devilry, or with anomalies of human nature in the field of transcendental physics, then the fault is, really, not ours. Knowing how this sphere is not favored by Messrs. Natural Scientists, we would be sincerely glad to ridicule, as they do, all places as distant, and «not so distant» of this unloved country: but we can’t go against our conscience. You can not undertake to describe completely new tribes, little known race, without telling, for the sake of skeptics, of the most characteristic, vivid features of their daily life.
The facts are available. Whether they are simple consequences of abnormal and purely physiological phenomena, according to the favorite theory of physicians or the results of manifestations (probably equally natural) forces of nature that seem to science (in its present ignorance) impossible and non-existent and therefore rejected, it doesn’t make the slightest difference for you. We present, as already said, facts alone. So much the worse for science if it has not yet learned anything about them; and knowing about them nothing, it still continues to call them «wild absurd», «gross superstition» and «woman’s tales». Besides, pretending to be unbeliever and laugh at others’ faith which you yourself recognize as proven real phenomena that do not allow the slightest doubt, is neither the case of an honest person, nor that of a careful narrator.
How much we personally believe in so-called witchcraft and «enchantments» will be shown on the following pages. There are large groups of phenomena in nature that science is not able to reasonably explain, pointing to them, as something arising from actions of some chemical and physical world forces. In matter and force our scientists believe; and they do not want to believe in the principle of life, separated from matter, although, when we politely ask them to explain to us what this matter is and what the force that has now replaced it is, then our greatest enlighteners reach a deadlock and tell us: «We do not know.»
So, while they still know as little about these three subjects as the Anglo-Indians do about the Toda, we ask the reader to come back with us first for more
than half a century ago. We invite him to listen to our fairy tale about how we first discovered the existence of the Nilgiri Mountains («Blue Mountains»), now
El Dorado of the Madras Presidency; how we found there unknown giants and
dwarfs, in whom the Russian public can see a similarity with domestic witches and healers, and maybe something even worse.
In addition to all this, from this fairy tale, the reader can learn about the existence of a wonderful land under the Indian skies, where, at an altitude of 8000 feet in January, people wear only muslin clothes, and in July they often muffle up in warm fur coats, although this country is only 11 degrees from the equator. The author had to do so, while 8000 feet below it was constantly 118 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the cool shade of the thickest trees.
in which two Nimrods go on a hunt for «gods», and encounter instead of them a boa constrictor and the Brobdingnagians and Lilliputians.
On seashore far a green oak towers,
And to it with a gold chain bound,
A learned cat whiles away the hours
By walking slowly round and round.
To right he walks, and sings a ditty;
To left he walks, and tells a tale…
Exactly sixty-four years ago toward the end of the year 1818, in the month of September, a discovery was made quite fortuitously, of a most extraordinary character. This took place near the coast of Malabar, only fifty miles from the fiery ground of the Dravidians, called Madras. The discovery appeared strange to such a degree, incredible even, that nobody believed it at first. Vague rumors altogether fantastical, stories similar to legends, began to spread, first among the people, then higher. When these rumors and stories penetrated into the local newspapers and became transformed into official reality, the fever of expectation changed into a perfect delirium.
In the heads of the Anglo-Madrassians, who are of slow movement and almost atrophied by laziness (due to the canicule), an actual molecular perturbation took place, to use an expression of the famous physiologists. With the exception of the lymph «medullary sinuses,» who unite the temperament of a frog with that of a salamander, everybody was flurried and agitated and started raving wildly about a marvelous paradise in the interior of the «Blue Mountains»*, apparently discovered by two skillful hunters. According to their reports, it was an earthly paradise: perfumed zephyrs and freshness all the year around; a country situated above the eternal fogs of the Coimbatore ** where imposing cascades rush downward with clamor and where an eternal European spring lasts from January to December. Wild roses, over two yards high, and heliotrope are blooming there; lilies as big as a large amphora*** fill the atmosphere with fragrance. Antediluvian buffaloes, to judge by their appearance, walk about freely, and the country is inhabited by the Brobdingnagians and the Liliputians of Gulliver. Every valley, every gorge of the admirable Hindu Switzerland, represents a small corner of an earthly paradise closed off from the rest of the world.
* Nilgiri is composed of two Sanskrit words, Neelam («blue») and Giri («Mountains» or «hills»). These mountains owe their name to the dazzling light in which they appear to the inhabitants of the valleys of Mysore and Malabar.
**It is supposed that this fog, which is found three to four thousand feet above the sea level, and which spreads over the entire chain of the Coimbatore Mountains, comes from the intense heat and the vapors that arise from the marshes. It is always blue and of a dazzling color. During the monsoon it changes into rain clouds.
***This is the non-exaggerated description of a flora, which, perhaps, is the most marvelous in the world. Rose bushes of all colorings grow as high as the houses and cover the roofs; the heliotrope is as high as twenty feet. But the most beautiful flowers are the white lilies, with a fragrance so strong as to make one’s stomach rise. They are as large as an amphora and grow on isolated bushes in the fissures of the naked rocks, as high as one and one-half to over two yards with approximately twelve blossoms at a time. These lilies do not appear on summits less than seven thousand feet high. It is only at a still higher elevation that they are to be found. The higher one ascends the more magnificent they are; on the peak of Doddabetta (nearly 9,000 feet) they bloom during ten months of the year.
While listening to these stories, the livers of these «very respectable» fathers of the «East India Company,» as much atrophied and somnolent as their brains, came to life again, and the saliva dropped from their lips. In the beginning nobody knew in exactly which region these marvels had been discovered and nobody could say how and where to search for this freshness, so attractive in the month of September. The «fathers» decided finally that the discovery had to be sanctioned officially, and that, before all else, a recognition had to take place of what had just been discovered. The two hunters were invited to the Central Bureau of the Presidency, and it was then learned that near Coimbatore the following events had taken place —
But first of all, what is Coimbatore?
Coimbatore is the principal city of the district which carries its name and this district is situated about three hundred miles from Madras, capital of Southern India. Coimbatore is famous for many reasons. First, it is an ideal country for the tiger and elephant hunters, as well as for smaller game hunting; apart from its other charms, this district remains famous for its swamps and its jungles. With the presentiment of death, the elephants (one does not know why) leave the jungle for the swamps. There they plunge into the depths of the marshes and prepare tranquilly for «Nirvana.» Thanks to this curious habit, these marshes abound in tusks, and ivory is (or rather was formerly) easily procurable.
I say «were procurable» in the past. Alas, things have since changed completely in unhappy India. Today nothing can be acquired in this country, and nobody obtains anything except the viceroy; the vice-kingdom gives him, indeed, royal honors and furnishes him enormous sums of money, accompanied sometimes by foul eggs, which the Anglo-Hindus offer him in their anger. Between «formerly» and «today» has opened the abyss of the imperial «prestige» over which rises the spectre of Lord Beaconsfield.
Formerly, the «fathers of the Company» procured, bought, discovered and preserved. Today, the Council of the Vice-royalty receives, levies, dispossesses, but preserves nothing. Formerly, the «fathers» were the moving power of India’s blood, which now coagulates, and which surely they sucked, but which they also rejuvenated, infusing new blood into these very old veins. Today, the viceroy and his council infuse only gall into it. The viceroy is the central point of an immense empire, which he does not love at all, and with which he has nothing in common. The «fathers» if they were in the same sense weeds of the homeland of the sacred cow, they were also a juicy burdock that fed millions of meek donkeys. And the Viceroy is the current artificially flower grafted to a plant called the Indian Empire, which, draining its strength, slowly kills the plant itself. To use the poetical expression of Sir Richard Temple, «The viceroy is the strong axle on which the wheel of the Empire turns.» This may be so, but, for some time, this wheel has been moving with such mad rapidity that it risks being shattered at any moment.
However, as of old, so today, Coimbatore is known not only for its jungles and swamps. Leprosy, fevers and elephantiasis are endemic there.*
Coimbatore or the district which carries this
*This terrible disease, which is very frequent, is almost incurable and may last for years, leaving the individual organically in good health. One leg begins to swell from the sole to the ankle; then the other leg swells until both are entirely deformed and become so thick that they look like the legs of an elephant.
name, can be considered only as a gorge. Situated between Malabar and Karnataka, the district of Coimbatore penetrates, in a sharp angle towards the south, to the Anaimalai or Elephant Mountains,* then mounts gradually to the heights of Mysore in the north, where it is seemingly crushed by the Western Ghats,** with their thick and almost virgin forests. Here it turns sharply and disappears in the less important jungles inhabited by sylvan tribes.
There is the tropical habitat of the elephant. The country is always verdant, owing to the vapors that arise from the marshes. There the boa constrictor lives, though its race is dying. Seen from Madras this mass of mountains resembles, at a distance, a rectangular triangle hooked to another triangular chain, still larger; with the plains of mountainous Dekkan leaning with its northern extremity towards the Vindya Mountains in the Presidency of Bombay, and with its western and eastern points towards the Sahyadri «hills» in the Presidency of Madras. These two mountain chains, which the English treat as hills, constitute a link between the Eastern and Western
*Ane means elephant. These animals abound in these mountains and have abounded here since time immemorial.
**Ghat, mountain, and Giri, hill.
Ghats of India. The more the elevations of the east approach the Ghats of the west, the more they lose their volcanic character. Uniting themselves at last with the picturesque and undulating summits of western Mysore, and seemingly blending with these, they cease definitely to be considered Ghats, and become just hills.
The two extremities of this apparent triangle, in the Presidency of Madras, stand erect on both sides of the City of Coimbatore, to the left and to the right, looking like two exclamation points. They resemble two giant sentinels placed there by nature to guard the entrance of the gorge. These two peaks, sharply pointed, are crowned by jagged rocks, covered with verdant forests at their feet, and higher by an eternal belt of clouds and bluish mists. These mountains with their pointed summits are called the «Tenerifes» of India, the Nilgiri and Mukurthibetta. The former that is Doddabetta has an elevation of 8,760 feet, the latter of 8,380 feet above sea level.
For centuries these two peaks especially from Rangaswami,the most formidable elevation from a distance, were considered by the people as heights inaccessible to ordinary mortals. This reputation has, since a long time, taken the form of local legends and the entire country was considered by the superstitious populace as a holy and, consequently, enchanted region. Trespassing its borders, even involuntarily, was a sacrilege for which death was the punishment. It was the habitat of the gods and the superior devas. The swarga (paradise) was there, and naraka (hell) of «assuras» and «pishachis».* Thus under the defense of a religious park the Nilgiri and Doddabetta remained for long centuries entirely unknown by the rest of India. How, then, at a time so distant from the «Right-Honorable East India Company,» in the 20’s of our XIXth century could the thought get into the mind of an insignificant European to penetrate into the interior region of a mountain closed on all sides? It was not because he believed in the chanting spirits, but on account of the inaccessibility of these heights; nobody was capable of presuming the existence in these mountains of such beautiful landscapes. Still less could one suppose the presence of living creatures other than wild beasts and serpents. It was rare that an English sportsman or a hunter from Eurasia, when arrived at the foot of one of the enchanted mounts, insisted upon being led by a «shikari» (hunter) some hundred feet higher. The native guides in accord with the shikaris, very naturally refused to do it, under one pretext or another. Mostly they affirmed to the Sahib** that it was impossible to go higher; that there were no woods, no game, and one saw nothing but gulfs, rocks, clouds and caverns inhabited by mischievous Sylvans — the honor guard of the devas. No shikari consented, however considerable the sum offered might be, to mount higher than a line of demarcation known in the mountains.
*Assuras (spirits) — singers gladdening the ears of the gods with their chants, as the Gandharvas diverted them with their music.
**This nickname is given by the natives to the officials, to the English hunters, as well as to tigers. For the innocent Hindu, there exists, indeed, no difference between these two races of beings, except that the musket of the unfortunate native at each national insurrection, missed the English by a fortune which they did not deserve.
Who is the «shikari»? The modern representative of this type remains similar to the one of the fabulous times of King Rama. Each profession becomes hereditary in India, and then changes into a caste. What the father was, that the son will be. Entire generations crystallize and seem to curdle into one and the same form. The shikari is clad in a costume composed of hunting knives, powder flasks made of buffalo horns, of the ancient silicic musket, which misses nine shots out of ten, and all this provision is carried on a naked body. He often looks like a decrepit old man, and if a stranger with «a tender heart» encounters him (neither a native nor an Englishman), he will feel induced to offer him Hoffman’s drops: so drawn-in remains his stomach and as if wrought with pain. But the reason why the shikari walks with effort, bent, broken in two, is not the foregoing; it is a habit contracted by his occupation. As soon as a sahib-sportsman sends for him, shows him or gives him some rupees, the shikari will straightway stand up and will bargain for any animal.
After the conclusion of the deal, he will bend again, glide prudently into the woods, covering his body and his feet with odorous herbs in order not to be discovered by the wild beasts and so that these may not scent the «spirit of man.»
The shikari will thus remain for several consecutive nights, hidden like a bird of prey, in the thick foliage of a tree, in the midst of «vampires» less sanguinary than himself. Without betraying his presence even by a little sigh, the decrepit Nimrod prepares to follow cold-bloodedly the agony of an unfortunate roebuck or a young buffalo, tied by him to a tree to allure the tiger. Then, opening his mouth to the ears, at the sight of the flesh-eater, he will listen, without moving one muscle, to the plaintive bleating, and will inhale with pleasure the odor of fresh blood mixed with the specific sharp scent of the striped executioner of the forests. Removing the branches, with prudence and without noise, he will watch the animal for a long time, with his piercing look, and, when the satiated beast heavily approaches, with its blood-covered paws on the dried-up ground, licking his lips and yawning, then returning and, like all striped felines, looking back to the remains of his victim — then the shikari will fire with his silicic musket and, at first shot, will surely mow down the animal. «The weapon of the shikari never fails when drawn on the tiger» is an ancient saying which has become an axiom among hunters. And if the sahib wishes to divert himself by hunting the «bar sahib » (the great lord of the forests), then the shikari, with the first sun-rays, keeping in mind the location of the tree where the tiger went to rest, will jump from his retreat, fly to the village, gather a crowd, prepare a battue, run all day, under the torrid and murderous flames of the sun, from one group to the other, shouting, gesticulating, organizing, giving orders, until the moment where the sahib No. 1, in security on an elephant’s back, will have wounded sahib No. 2 and where the shikari will have to intervene just the same in order to finish the beast with his ancient musket. Then only, and if nothing extraordinary happens, the shikari will direct his steps to the first thicket, and will, at one sitting, breakfast, lunch and dine luxuriously with a handful of bad rice and a drop of water from the swamps.
It thus happened in September, 1818, towards the end of the summer vacations, that, with three of these skillful shikaris, two English land-surveyors, officials of the «Company,» who had gone on a hunting trip to Coimbatore, lost their way, and had reached the dangerous limit of the mountains, the gorge of Coonoor, quite near the famous cascade of Kolakambe.*
*This waterfall is 680 feet high. Today, the road leading to Ootacamund passes quite near by.
High above their heads, just beneath the clouds, piercing in isolated spots the fine blue mist, the rocky needles of the Nilgiri and Mukurthibetta were visible. It was terra incognito, the enchanted world.
Habitat of the unknown Devas,
(as it is sung in an antique chant, in the tender idiom of Malayalam). «Azure » indeed. View these mountains from any point of the horizon and from any distance, from the summit or at the foot, from the valley or from other peaks, even when the weather is foggy, until the hour where they cease to be visible, these mountains scintillate, like a precious sapphire, with an internal fire; they seem to breathe softly, and blend, like, waves, their bluish forests, which, in the distance shade into turquoise and gold and startle the beholder by their extraordinary colorings.
The land-surveyors, anxious to try their luck, gave the order to the shikaris to lead them further. But, as was to be expected, the brave shikaris refused point blank. Then, according to the story of the two Englishmen, these old hunters, experienced and courageous, exterminators of tigers and elephants, fled behind the cascade as soon as they were asked to mount higher. Caught again and brought back as far as the waterfall, all three prostrated themselves before the roaring torrent and, according to the naive words of one of the English engineers, Kindersley, «the combined efforts of our two whips could not force them to rise again, before they had finished their loud invocations to the Devas of these mountains, imploring the gods not to chastise nor to destroy them for such a crime, being innocent shikaris. They trembled like aspen-leaves, contorting their bodies on the damp ground of the river as if seized by an epileptic attack. ‘Nobody has ever trespassed the confines of the cascade of Kolakambe,’ they said, ‘and those who enter these caverns will never leave them alive.’ »
That time, or rather that day, the Englishmen did not even succeed in getting beyond the water-fall. In spite of all, they had to come back to the village which they had left in the morning, after having spent the night there. The Englishmen were afraid to lose their way without a guide or a shikari and, for that reason, yielded. But in their hearts they swore to force the shikaris to go further the next time. Back to the village for a second night, they assembled almost all the inhabitants and held council with the elders. What they heard further incited their curiosity.
The most extraordinary rumors about the enchanted mountains were spread among the people. Numerous small zamindars (landowners) referred to the authority of the local planters and to officials of Eurasia, men who «knew the truth» concerning the Holy Places, and they perfectly realized the impossibility of penetrating there.
A touching story is told of a certain indigo planter who possessed all virtues except faith in the gods of India. One day — so said the important Brahmans — Mr. D., who was hunting some animal and who paid no attention to our constant warnings, disappeared behind the cascade; he was never seen again. One week later the authorities were able to express suppositions on the subject of his probable destiny, owing to an old «sacred» monkey of the adjacent pagoda. At the hours which were free of all religious obligations, the revered animal had the habit of visiting the neighboring plantations, where the coolies, full of pity, fed and regaled it. One day the monkey returned with a boot on his head. The boot arrived alone, deprived of the leg of the planter, and its owner was lost forever: undoubtedly the insolent one had been torn to pieces by the pishachis. Thus the story was closed. Surely, the «Company» suspected the Brahmans of the pagoda who, for a long time, had had litigation with the lost man concerning a lot of which he was the proprietor. But the sahibs always, and in everything, suspect these holy men, particularly in the South of India.
The conjectures showed no result. The unfortunate planter left decidedly no trace. He passed away entirely and for eternity, into a far-off world, still less studied at that period by the authorities and savants than the Blue Mountains — the world of formless thought. On earth he became a dream, the perpetual memory of which lives unto this day in the form of a boot placed behind the glass door of a closet in the office of the district policeman.
It was told. What else was not told? Well, on this side of the «rainy clouds» the mountains are habitable, naturally, as far as ordinary mortals are concerned, visible to everybody. But beyond the «furious waters» of the cascade — that is to say, on the heights of the sacred peaks of Doddabetta, Mukurthibetta and Rangaswami — there lived a non-terrestrial tribe, a tribe of sorcerers and demi-gods.
In that region reigned an eternal spring-neither rain nor dryness, neither heat nor cold. The magicians of this tribe never marry; they never die and are never born; their children fall from the heavens all made and «just grow» according to the characteristic expression of Topsy in «Uncle Tom’s Cabin.» No mortal ever succeeded in reaching these summits; nobody will succeed in reaching them except, perhaps, after death. «Then this will be in the limits of the possible, for, as is known by the Brahmans — and who could know better? — out of respect for the God Brahma the inhabitants of the heaven of the Blue Mountains have yielded to him one part of their mountain below the Swarga (paradise).» It is, therefore, to be presumed that at that period this intermediate stretch was still under repair.
Once a certain shikari from their village, got drunk in the collector’s kitchen, went to look for a tiger at night and accidentally wandered behind the waterfall. The next morning he was also found dead under the mountain, etc.
This was the verbal tradition which is still conserved in writing in the «Collection of Local Legends and Traditions,» translated by missionaries from Tamil into English, the edition of 1807, which I recommend to the reader.
Stimulated by the tales and still more by the visible difficulties and all the obstacles they encountered on their expedition, our two Englishmen decided to prove once more to the natives that for the «superior» race which governed them, the word «impossibility» did not exist. At all periods of history the British «prestige» had to proclaim aloud its presence, otherwise it might possibly be forgotten.
Is it known here, in kindly Russia, what exactly this magic word «British prestige» is? Of course, the reader more or less know that in India everyone from an overweight European shopkeeper, Eurasia planter, beating the coolies’backs with a hard whip, from an arrogant official with a gray topee, 28 inches in diameter and looking like a deep overturned gravy boat, up to a red English soldier with slicked hair, wearing long-skirted uniforms, reeking of vodka at the distance of ten steps — everyone is looking for to declare and establish with a fist their own, as well as national prestige. But do they know exactly how political prestige is expressed in India? You can find out only comparatively. In the distant and happier times of Warren Hastings and his daring comrades, the British prestige was to smile at the generous eastern man and, accepting gifts from him both in kind and in gold, nevertheless when opportunity offered to cheat him, rob and take the heritage of his fathers. Now the decoration slightly changed, but only in the foreground, and the background and in general the whole ground remained the same. “Prestige” found useful for maintaining a brilliant phantasmagoria, called Imperial politics, in the expression of the Anglo-Indian satirists, to present annually to Mammon millions of starving poor people. The ryot (tiller) is a scapegoat in India for British sins. The ryot is a wretched creature who lives, from birth to death, with his always huge family on a small plot of a withered field. Obliged to pay for everything from the Viceroy hunting, arranged in honor of bored theists of the royal house, up to the gifts of the Empress to the Kings of India; the ill-stares ryot best of all perceives the force and meaning of this terrible word: «political prestige». This «prestige» succeeded to Ba’al-Pe’or, into whose insatiable mouth thousands of slaves and captives were thrown. The English, however, outdid even the Assyrians themselves. They are throwing millions of human lives into the jaws of «political prestige». Since the foundation day of this prestige, the ryot has been proving the great discovery of Darwin’s «struggle for life». Dying of starvation in a land of untold wealth and extravagance to maintain the «prestige» of the strongest, the ryot became alive a symbol and together a protest against the theory of survival of the fittest.
May my jealous and suspicious Anglo-Indian friends not feel indignant! May they rather remember the pages written on India and the English by Ali-Baba,* one of their wittiest writers who, with every movement of his pen, offered a cruel and profoundly true satire on the actual situation of India. With what strong and vibrant colors has he described this martyr country! Contemplate his panorama of India, meditate on the presence, necessary today, of these legions of
*Alberight Mackay who died two years ago.
soldiers in poppy-colored uniforms, and on the gold-embroidered saiss and chuprassy of the viceroy! The saiss are the grooms and footmen of the officials, the chuprassy represent the official agents of the Government, wearing the livery of the «Empire,» and serving all civil officials high or low. If all the gold on their liveries were sold according to weight, enough money could be realized, one-half of which would suffice to feed hundreds of families during a whole year. Add the expenses of the members, always crimson with drunkenness, of the Council and the various Commissions habitually formed at the end of a widespread famine, and I will have demonstrated how the British «prestige» kills annually more natives, than cholera, tigers and all the serpents, and Hindu spleens* which burst so easily (and always so opportunely).
*This organ, «the spleen,» plays an important role in India. The spleen of the natives is the best friend and defender of the English heads, which, without it, would inevitably be menaced by the cord. This spleen is so delicate and sensitive, in the opinion of the Anglo-Indian judges, that a snap of the finger on the stomach of the aborigines, a delicate touch of a European finger, will suffice for the man to drop down and die! The Hindu press has made much ado of this frailty of the spleen, a fact unknown before the arrival of the British. The spleen of the rajahs is particularly sensitive, which saddens the English considerably. They say it is impossible for an official to touch a rajah without his spleen bursting immediately, and as if on purpose. The tortuous footpaths followed by the English Government in India are full of thorns.
It is true that the losses called forth by this prestige in the ranks of the populace are compensated by the constant growth of the Eurasian Tribe. This rather ugly race of «Creoles» represents one of the most objective and most appropriate symbols of the ethics taught by the civilized to the Hindus, their half-savage slaves. The Eurasians have come into existence through the English, with the assistance of the Dutch, the French, and the Portuguese. They form the crown and imperishable monument of the activity of the placid «fathers» of the «East India Company.»
These «fathers» often entered into legitimate or illegitimate relations with the native women (the difference between these legal or illegal unions is very small in India; it is based on the faith of the husband and wife in the degree of the sanctity of cow tails), but this latter link of friendly relationship between the high and the low races broke of itself; today, to the great joy of the Hindus, the English look only with disgust at their wives and daughters. This repulsion, it is true, is only surpassed by the profound aversion of the natives at the sight of the more or less «decollete» English women. Two-thirds of India believe naively in the rumors spread by the Brahmans that the «white» people owe their color to leprosy. But this is not the question we discuss in the «prestige.»
This monster was born after the tragedy of 1857; making, with its reforms, a clean sweep of all traces of Commercial English India. Official Anglo-India created an abyss between herself and the natives, an abyss so profound that millenniums cannot bridge it. In spite of the menacing spectre of the British prestige, this gulf widens every day, and the hour will come when one of the races — either the black or the white — will be engulfed. In the meantime, the «prestige» becomes nothing but an intended measure of self-defense…
…and now I can come back to the situation of the inhabitants of Coimbatore in 1818. Placed between two fires; the «prestige» of the earthly masters and the superstitious terror of the masters of Hell and of their vengeance, the unfortunate Dravidians saw themselves crushed by the impact of an atrocious dilemma. One week had passed, when the English sahibs, after having left the inhabitants of the village in the sweet hope that the storm had subsided, came back to Metopolam, at the foot of the Nilgiri, and this time the Englishmen sounded the thundering note of the following declaration: The soldiers of the garrison and other land surveyors were arriving within three days, and the entire detachment would undertake the ascension of the sacred peaks of the Blue Mountains.
After having heard this terrible news, several agriculturists condemned themselves to a dharna (death by hunger) before the doors of the sahibs, ready to continue this strife until the day when the more comprehending Englishmen would promise to desist from their intention. The «munsifs» of the village, after having torn their garments, a gesture which did not cost them great effort, shaved the heads of their wives and obliged them, as an augury of social disaster and general mourning, to scrape their faces until the blood flowed. Naturally, this sacrifice applied only to the women. The Brahmans read aloud conjurations and mantrams, mentally sending the English with their blasphemous intentions, to the Narak, to be put into Hell.
During three days, Metopolam reverberated with cries and lamentations in vain; things were done as they had been said! After having equipped a troop of braves chosen from among the members of the «Company,» the new Christopher Columbuses decided to set out on their journey without guides. The village became as empty as after an earthquake, the terrified natives fled, and the land surveyors who guided the detachment were compelled themselves to search for the road to the Cascade. They went astray and came back. However, the explorers did not become disconcerted. They got hold of two emaciated Malabarites and declared them prisoners. «Lead us, and here is gold; or refuse and you will go just the same, for you will be dragged by force, and instead of gold, there will be prison for you.»
And in those blessed days when the good-natured fathers of the «Company» reigned, the term of «prison,» at Madras and in other Presidencies, was synonymous with torture. This kind of corporal punishment takes place even today — we have quite recent proofs of it — but at that time, the complaint of the lowest scribe belonging to the superior race was sufficient to condemn the native to torture. The menace was effective. The unfortunate Malabarites, with heads bent, more dead than alive, guided the Europeans as far as Kolakambe.
The facts which happened then are not void of strangeness, if they are true; however, this verity cannot be called in question, after the official report of the two English land surveyors. Before the English reached the Cascade, a tiger jumped from a slope, and carried away one of the Malabarites, in spite of his extreme and hardly tempting leanness, and that before one of the number had the time to see the beast. The cries of the unfortunate attracted their attention too late.» Either the bullets missed their goal or they killed the victim who disappeared with the ravisher as if both had been swallowed by the earth.» We read in the report that the second native who had reached the other side of the rapid current, the «prohibited» edge, at about one mile from the Cascade, died suddenly, without apparent cause. It was the same place where the land surveyors had passed the night on that first ascension.
Surely, terror killed him. It is curious to read the opinion of an eye witness on the subject of this terrible coincidence. In the «Courier of Madras» of November 3, 1818, one of the officials, Kindersley, writes:
«After having determined the actual death of the ‘nigger’ our soldiers, especially the superstitious Irish, were considerably troubled. But Whish [name of the second land surveyor] and myself realized at once that to go back would have meant to dishonor ourselves for no purpose, to become the perpetual laughing stock of our comrades and to close for centuries to other Englishmen the entrance into the mountains of the Nilgiri, and of its marvels (if they really existed). We decided to continue our way without a guide, all the more as the two dead Malabarites and their living compatriots knew no more than we the road beyond the cascade.»
Then came the detailed description of the difficult ascent of the mountains, of the scaling of the entirely perpendicular rocks, until the moment when they found themselves above the clouds, that is to say, beyond the limit of the «eternal fog»; and perceived at their feet its moving blue waves. As I am going to tell later of all that the Englishmen found on the heights, and since D. Sullivan, collector of the district of Coimbatore, relates the facts in his letters to the Government, who thereafter charged him with a formal investigation, I shall limit myself here, in order to avoid repetition, to a superficial and brief account of the principal adventure of the two land surveyors.
The Englishmen mounted higher, far beyond the frontier of the clouds. Here they ran up against an enormous boa constrictor. One of them, in the semi-darkness, fell suddenly on «something» flabby and slimy. This «something» moved, rose with the noise of rustling leaves and showed what it really was — a fairly disagreeable interlocutor. As a welcome, the boa wound itself around one of the superstitious Irishmen, and before receiving into its widely-open mouth several bullets, succeeded in pressing Patrick so strongly in its cold embrace that the unfortunate man died several minutes later. After having killed this monster, not without difficulty, and having measured its peeled-off skin, the travelers, astonished and frightened, found that the serpent had a length of 26 feet. Then it was necessary to dig a tomb for the poor Irishman. This work was all the more difficult, as the Englishmen had hardly time to tear away his body from the kites which were flying above him, arriving from all sides. The tomb is shown until this day; it is to be found in a rock, a little higher than Coonoor .
The first British colonists got up a subscription and decorated this place with a befitting monument in memory «of the first pioneer who found his death during the expedition into the mountain.»
Nothing perpetuates the memory of the two «niggers» who rightly had been the first «victims» of the ascent, and the first pioneers, although involuntarily.
After having lost two black pawns and one white man the Englishmen continued to climb the heights, and they encountered a herd of elephants which fought against each other in a regular battle. Fortunately, the animals did not notice at all the arrival of the strangers, and they did not touch them. In return, their apparition resulted in the immediate breaking of the ranks of the «terrified» detachment. When the British troop was going to reassemble again, they found themselves only in small groups of two or three men. They were wandering about in the forest all night. The next day, at different hours, seven soldiers came back into the village which all had left the foregoing evening with so much presumption. Three Europeans disappeared without leaving any trace.
For several days Kindersley and Whish, who bad thus been left alone, wandered around the slopes of the mountains, mounting to the peaks or descending again to the gorges. They lived on mushrooms and berries which they found in great number. Every evening the roaring of the tigers and the elephants forced them to seek refuge in high trees, and to pass the night without sleep, keeping watch alternately and awaiting death from minute to minute. The devas and other mysterious inhabitants, guardians of these «enchanted» caverns, thus manifested themselves from the beginning. The unfortunate explorers were more than once ready to redescend to the village; but in spite of all their efforts and though descending straight down, they came across such obstacles that they were compelled to change their direction. And when trying to turn around the heights or rocks, they fell into caverns without outlet. Their instruments and all their arms except the musket and pistols which they themselves carried had remained in the hands of their soldiers. Impossible, consequently, to ascertain where they were, or to find the way of return, all they could do was to mount, always higher. If we remember that from the side of Coimbatore the Nilgiri rises in a scale of perpendicular rocks as high as 5,000 to 7,000 feet above the Valley of Ootakamund, that the numerous rocks constitute terrible gulfs, and that the land surveyors had chosen precisely this road, one can easily picture all the difficulties which they had to surmount. And while they were climbing the mountain, nature seemed to cut them off every path of return. It often happened that they climbed to the top of a tree to jump from there across a ravine to the next rock.
At last, upon the ninth day of their expedition, and after having lost all hope of encountering anything but death in these mountains, they decided to attempt the descent a last time, following a straight path, and avoiding as far as possible every detour which might remove them from the direct road. They, therefore, resolved first to reach the summit which was before them, in order to examine the surrounding country and to recognize better the way they were to follow. At that moment, they found themselves in a glade, not far from an elevation which appeared to them a gently sloping hill, the summit of which was covered with rocks. There being apparently no obstacles in the way, it seemed the summit could be reached by an easy walk. To the great astonishment of the land surveyors, the ascent took them two hours, which taxed their strength to the utmost. Covered with a thick growth of herb, known here as «satiny,» the ground of the easy slope proved to be so slippery that from the very beginning the two Englishmen had to crawl on all fours, and cling to the shrubs and bushes to keep from falling. Climbing such a hill seemed to them like scaling a glass mountain. At last, after indescribable efforts, they arrived, and dropped down exhausted, awaiting «the worst,» as Kindersley writes.
This was the famous «Hill of the Sepulchres,» known today in the whole country of Ootakamund, where it is called «Cairn.» This druidic name is more appropriate to the character of these monuments which belong to an unknown and very remote antiquity, and which the land surveyors believed to be rocks. Numerous heights of the Nilgiri chain are thus covered with similar graves. It is useless to discuss this subject much; their origin and history, like the origin and history of the entire world which peoples these mysterious mountains, are lost in an impenetrable mist. However, while our heroes rest, let us speak of these monuments — the story will be short.
When, twenty years after these first events, the first excavations were made, the Europeans found in each sepulchre a great quantity of tools made of iron, bronze or clay, figures of extraordinary form and metallic ornaments, of coarse workmanship. These figures — apparently idols — these decorations and instruments, in no way recall analogous objects employed in other parts of India, and by other nations. The objects made of clay are particularly beautiful to look at; one seems to gaze at prototypes of reptiles (described by Berose) that crawled through chaos at the time of the creation of the world. As far as the tombs themselves are concerned, the period at which they were constructed, the laborers who made them and the race whom they served as a last refuge on earth, nothing can be said; it is impossible to presume anything, as all hypotheses can be destroyed immediately by this or that irrefutable argument. What is the meaning of these strange geometrical forms, made of stone, bone or clay? What do these very regular decahedrons, triangles, pentagons, hexagons and octagons indicate? And do these clay images with bodies of birds and heads of sheep and donkeys? The sepulchres, that is to say the walls which surround these tombs, are always oval in form, and one and a half to two meters high. They have been made of large unhewn stones and without any cement, each and every tomb being surrounded by a wall 4 to 6 meters deep and covered by a vault constructed of polished stones and fairly well designed. Centuries having filled them with earth and gravel, it was difficult to distinguish them. However, the forms of the coffins, on the exterior resembling the very ancient sepulchres of other parts of the world, reveal nothing that might enlighten us on the subject of their origin. Similar monuments can be found in Brittany and other parts of France, in the country of Gaul and in England, as well as in the Caucasian Mountains. In their explanations the English savants could of course not do without the Scythians and the Parthians, who evidently possess the gift of ubiquity. However, there is nothing Scythian in the archeological relics which are found there; moreover, so far no skeletons have been discovered, nor objects resembling arms. Nor any inscription, though stone-plates with vague traces have been exhumed — which, in the corners, recall the hieroglyphics of the obelisks of Palenque and other Mexican ruins.
Among all the five tribes of the Nilgiri Mountains and the beings belonging to five races* totally differing one from the other, nobody could furnish any information whatsoever concerning the sepulchres which are entirely unknown. Nor do the Toda — most ancient of the five tribes — know anything about them. «These coffins are not ours, and we do not know to whom they belong. Our fathers and our first generations found them here — nobody constructed them during our epoch.» This is invariably the answer given to the archeologists by the Toda. If we evoke the antiquity which the Toda claim we could come to the conclusion that the ancestors of Adam and Eve were buried in these tombs. The rites of the five tribes differ totally from each other. The Toda incinerate their dead, together with their favorite buffaloes; the Mulu Kurumba bury them under the water; the Irulas fasten them to the top of a tree.
*The description of the five tribes will be given in the third chapter.
Had the straying hunters gained new strength and examined the surrounding country which extended on both sides for many, many miles, they certainly would have preceded me in the description of one of the most marvelous panoramas of India. For, at that moment, they found themselves — without knowing it — on the highest summit of these mountains, excepting the Doddabetta Peak.. It is difficult to imagine, still more difficult to describe, the emotions which then overcame the two sons of Albion whose eyes beheld this imposing view. One might assume that nothing similar to the enthusiasm of an artist or of a member of the «Alpine Club» found room in their exhausted bodies. They were hungry, they were half dead with fatigue, and, in similar circumstances, such a physical condition will always prevail over the spiritual element of our unhappy humanity. If — as it often happens today — sixty years later, with their descendants, they had arrived on this peak on horseback, or riding in a spring wagon, surrounded by a dozen baskets filled with food for a joyous picnic, they would certainly have felt the ecstasy which we all feel in the presence of this new world which seems to appear before the beholder on this height. A critical moment arrived for the Presidency of Madras, for the two Englishmen, and also for us — for, had the two surveyors perished in the mountains, hundreds of lives would not be saved annually, and our story would not have been written. As this summit is closely connected with the events which follow, I ask permission to give expression to my own sentiment for want of a better description. Anyone who has ever mounted the «Hill of the Sepulchres» will never forget it. And the one who writes these pages has more than once realized this Herculean task — the ascent of the mountain on this slippery road. However, I hasten to express a reservation and a confession: I always accomplished this heroic undertaking seated comfortably in a palanquin that rested on the heads of twelve thirsty coolies, who — in India — are always ready to risk their spleen for a handful of copper money. In English-India we easily accustom ourselves to everything, even to becoming incorrigible murderers of our unfortunate inferior brothers, the emaciated coolies, of the color and thinness of gingerbread. However, in the case of the «Hill of the Sepulchres» we desire and demand mitigating circumstances, for we feel guilty in our conscience. The magic of the whole world, the enchantments of nature which await the traveler on the summit, paralyze all consideration — not only in regard to the spleens of others, but also in regard to one’s own spleen.
Try to visualize this picture. Climb this peak, reach 9,000 feet above sea level. Behold this delicately sapphire-colored space extending over an area of forty miles around the summit, with the Malabarian River on the horizon line, and at your feet a vastness with a length and width of two hundred miles. Whether you look to the right or the left, to the north or the south, before you is an undulating shoreless ocean of blue and vermilion heights, rocky peaks, needle-pointed, jagged or rounded-off in capricious and fantastical forms; like an angry sea where sapphire and emerald blend in the intense radiance of the tropical sun during a terrific cyclone, when all the liquid mass is covered with masts of ships that are sinking or have already been drawn into the vortex. Thus the ocean-phantom appears to us as in a dream.
Look to the north. The crest of the Nilgiri chain which rises 3,500 feet above the mountainous plains of Mysore, throws itself into space as a gigantic bridge fifteen miles wide and forty-nine miles long; as if thrown out from the pyramidical Anaimalai of the Western Ghats — flying with head distraught, dazzling gulfs on either side, as far as the round hills of Mysore merged in the velvety azure mist. There, striking the needle-pointed peaks, this stupendous bridge falls abruptly, leaving a very narrow mountainous link which connects one chain with the other, breaks into little rocks, and changes into a roaring, howling torrent, whose waves roll furiously as if to catch up with a placid river issuing from the powerful caverns of the mountain.
Then, again — view the southern side of the «Hill of the Sepulchres.» Within a space of a hundred miles, comprising the entire southwestern region of the «Blue Mountains,» sombre forests sleep majestically in their unapproachable and original beauty, close to the impassable morasses of Coimbatore, encircled by the brick-red Kundah hills . Farther away, at the left, towards the south, the crest of the Ghats enrolls itself like a stony serpent, between two ranges of steep volcanic rocks. These immense amphitheatres, crowned with pine forests, dishevelled and curved in all directions by the winds, offer, with their solitary and jagged peaks, a very curious view. It seems as if the volcanic force which cast them up wanted to create some rocky prototype of the future man; for these rocks have a human form. Through the moving transparent mists these grand arenas also seem to move, running one after the other, and an image forms itself of ancient rocks, covered with secular moss, jumping and galloping in space. They mingle, jostle, outrun each other and hasten on like school children who fight for supremacy in order to gain the open spaces and become free.
And all around, very high above, at the very feet of the tourist who finds himself on the «Hill of the Sepulchres,» a very different image is conveyed and forms the very foreground; serenity, harmonious nature, divine beatitude.
Truly, this is a spring idyll of Virgil framed by the menacing pictures of Dante’s «Inferno.» Flower-covered emerald slopes alternate with lofty and silky lawns of the mountain valleys. But instead of snow-white sheep, shepherd boys and girls, a flock of enormous buffaloes, black as tar, and — in the distance, like a motionless statue seemingly made of bronze — the athletic silhouette of a young Toda-Tiralli (priest), with long, curly hair.
Eternal spring reigns on this peak; and even the freezing nights of December and January are powerless and are conquered by the rising sun. All is freshness here, all is verdant, and flowers of every kind exhale their fragrance all the year round. And the «Blue Mountains» on this summit, have all the charm of a youth who, smiling through his tears, is all the more beautiful for it; so indeed, are the «Blue Mountains» during the rainy season.* Everything on these summits seems to be born for the very first time. The furious mountain torrent is here only in its infancy. It breaks forth from its natal stone as a very fine thread and continues as a bubbling brook whose transparent bottom shows those atoms which later form the tremendous rocks of the future. This hard aspect of nature is indeed a full symbol of human life; pure and clear on the summit, like youth; then, lower, severe and tormented like life itself in its fatal struggles. However, in the valley as well as on the mountains the flowers bloom during the entire year, showing all the iridescent colors of India’s magic palette. To one who mounts from the depths to the top of the «Blue Mountains» everything seems extraordinary, strange and wild. The emaciated gingerbread-colored coolie, majestically draped in a toga of white linen worn by no one else in India, becomes transmuted into a Toda of high stature and pale countenance, appearing like an apparition from ancient Greece or Rome, of haughty profile, and looking at a Hindu with condescending defiance like a bull who fixes his pensive look on a black toad. Here the striped crow of the low grounds, with its yellow feet, becomes the mighty eagle of the mounts; here the dried out stripes and the scorched burdocks, the cacti of the fields of Madras, develop into gigantic herbs and bamboo forests where the elephants boldly play hide-and-seek without fearing the eye of man. The Russian nightingale sings on these heights, and the cuckoo lays its eggs in the nest of the yellow-beaked myna of the south, instead of laying them in the nest of its northern friend, the silly crow, that metamorphoses itself, in these woods, into a cruel coal-black raven. Contrasts are seen everywhere, anomalies appear wherever the eye turns. During the hours of light, melodious sounds and warbling songs of birds unknown in the valleys of India come forth from the luxuriant foliage of the wild-apple trees, while in the sombre pine forests the cruel roar of the tiger and the chita and the bellowing of the wild buffalo may be heard. Often the solemn silence which reigns on these summits is interrupted by mysterious and gentle murmurings, by tremblings, and, suddenly, by some hoarse cry — then everything is silent again, obliterated in the fragrant waves of the pure air of the peaks, and for a long time there is an unbroken silence.
*During the rainy season when torrential rains deluge the plains at the foot of the mountains, only a few drops of rain fall on the heights, and that for a few hours during the day, at intervals.
In these hours of profound quiet, an attentive ear, if it loves Nature, might hear the beatings of her robust and powerful pulse and might intuitively feel the subtlety of this perpetual movement in the silent manifestation of joyous life as expressed by these myriads of visible and invisible forms. It is impossible for one who has dwelt in the Blue Nilgiri ever to forget it. In this marvelous climate Mother Nature gathered all her disseminated forces and concentrated them into an unique power in order to give birth to all the prototypes of her great creations. It seems that she alternates in the production, now choosing the northern, then the southern zones of the terrestrial globe. That is why she, awakening to activity, revives — then falls asleep again, tired and lazy. You see her half somnolent in the radiant beauty of the sun-rays, lulled by the harmonious melodies of all her kingdoms. Then again you see her proud and wild, and you are reminded of her power by the colossal flora of her tropical forests and the roaring of her grand felines. One step in the opposite direction, and Nature sinks down again as if exhausted by an extreme effort and falls into a delightful sleep on the carpet of forget-me-nots, May lilies and the violets of the north. Our great and powerful Mother lies there stretched out, silent and motionless, under the caresses of the zephyrs and the tender wings of butterflies and other lepidoptera, rare and of an enchanting beauty.
Today the foot of this hill is covered with a threefold belt of eucalyptus groves. These groves owe their existence to the first European planters.* Those who do not know the stately «eucalyptus globules» of Australian origin — which grow in three or four years much stronger than another tree in twenty years — ignore the essential charm of a garden. This forest growth, serving as an incomparable means of purifying the air from all miasmas, makes the climate of the Nilgiri more healthful. All natives, as well as foreigners living in the Presidency of Madras, who become enervated by the monotony of the burning Indian sun, have but one craving — to seek health and rest in the retreat of the Blue Mountains — and never are they disappointed in their expectations. The tired traveler who climbs the Nilgiri — the Blue Mountains — receives the gift of all the treasures which the genius of the mountains, in the name of his Queen, offers him: an immense bouquet in which are thrown together all climates, all flora, and the animal and bird life from the five parts of the world. The «Blue Mountains» represent Nature’s visiting card, full of titles and merits, which she — cruel stepmother of the European in India — gives to her slaves as a token of complete reconciliation.
*Forty years ago General Morgan, having received three pounds of eucalyptus seed, sent from Australia, scattered them broadcast over all the empty tracts and the surrounding valleys of Ootakamund.
At last the hour of this reconciliation arrived for our poor heroes. They had weakened and broken down and could scarcely stand on their legs. Kindersley, the stronger of the two, had suffered less than Whish. After a short rest, he started to make a trip around the summit; whilst trying — through the chaos of woods and rocks — to discover the easiest road for descending, it seemed to him as if he saw smoke in the near distance. Kindersley hastened back to his friend to announce this news. But how great was his surprise! Before him stood his friend Whish, stooped, pale as death, and trembling feverishly. In a convulsive gesture, Whish pointed with out-stretched arm to a place nearby. Following the direction of this finger, Kindersley — at a distance of some hundred feet — saw first, a habitation, then some men. This view, which would have been a source of delight at any other time, aroused in them — they did not know why — an unspeakable terror. The house was strange — of a form perfectly unknown to them. It had neither windows nor doors; it was as round as a tower and tapered in a pyramidal roof, rounded at the top. And as far as the humans there were concerned — the two Englishmen hesitated at first to take them for men. Instinctively both hid behind a bush, and pushing aside the branches they stared at the strange silhouettes that moved before them.
Kindersley speaks of a «band of giants, surrounded by several groups of repugnantly ugly dwarfs.» Forgetting their former temerity and the way in which they had derided the shikaris, the Englishmen already believed these to be the giants and gnomes of these mountains. But soon they knew that they saw the great Toda, the Badaga, their vassals and worshipers and the little servants of these vassals — the ugliest savages of the whole world — the Mulu-Kurumba.
The Englishmen had no more cartridges, they had lost their muskets, and they were too weak even to resist an attack of the dwarfs. They were ready to flee this hill by rolling, like balls, on the ground, when suddenly they perceived another enemy who surprised them from the side. Some monkeys had crept up to the Englishmen. Sitting in a tree, a little higher than the two travelers, they opened fire with a rather disagreeable projectile-mud. Their chattering and their battle-cry very soon attracted the attention of a herd of enormous buffaloes passing nearby. Now these buffaloes began to bellow, raising their heads towards the summit of the hill. At last the Toda themselves noticed our heroes, for a few minutes later the repulsive dwarfs appeared and, without assistance, seized the two exhausted Englishmen. Kindersley — so he writes himself — «fainted only on account of the vile odor which emanated from these monstrosities.» To the great surprise of the two friends, the dwarfs did not devour them; they did not even harm them. «They were jumping around all the time, dancing before us and laughing aloud,» says Kindersley. «The giants — that is to say, the Toda, behaved entirely like gentlemen (sic) !» The Toda, after having satisfied their apparently natural curiosity at the sight of the first white men they had ever encountered (as was known later), gave them excellent buffalo milk to drink, served them cheese and mushrooms; then put them to bed in the pyramidal house, «where it was dark, but dry and warm, and where we slept heavily till the next morning.»
Later our friends learned that the Toda had passed the whole night in solemn consultation. Several years afterwards the Toda told a Mr. Sullivan all that they had experienced during those memorable hours. (They still call Mr. Sullivan, who gained their confidence and love, their paternal brother,» * which term, after that of «father,» expresses their highest veneration.) The Toda told him that for a long time they had been awaiting «the men who inhabit the lands of the setting sun. Sullivan asked them how they could foresee this arrival; and all Todas invariably made the same reply: «For a long time the buffaloes have told us so; they always know everything.» That night the Toda had decided upon the fate of the Englishmen, and at the same time turned over a new leaf in their own history.
*For reasons which I shall expound later, the Toda did not recognize any relatives except the father, and that mostly just in a nominal way. The Toda’s father is the man who adopts him.
The next morning, when the Toda saw the Englishmen walking with great difficulty, they gave orders to their vassals to make litters on which they were carried by the Badagas. That very morning the surveyors had seen the dwarfs sent away by the Toda. «Since then, until the day of our return to the Nilgiri, we never saw them again and never encountered them anywhere’ — tells Kindersley. As was learned later, especially by the reports of the missionary, Mr. Metz, it was not without reason that the Toda feared for their guests the hostile presence of the Mulu-Kurumba dwarfs; they had ordered them to return to their caverns in the woods, strictly forbidding them to look at the white travelers. This defense, strange indeed, was explained to the missionary by the fact that «the gaze of the Kurumba kills the man who fears him and is not accustomed to him.» With the arrival of the two hunters whose terror and repulsion at the sight of these dwarfs were noticed by the Toda, the giants immediately forbade the dwarfs to look at the white men. The poor Toda — who were such noble souls! Who knows how much these old men later regretted not having left these surveyors to the evil eye of the Mulu-Kurumba, as the fate of the entire Nilgiri depended upon their return to Madras and their report. But the «buffaloes had decided upon it ……and they knew!»
The Englishmen, surprised and of course happy over their unexpected rescue, where carried slowly and gently on litters by the Badaga and had an opportunity, this time, to study the road and get a better impression of the surrounding country. They marveled at the varieties of the flora, comprising tropical species together with those of northern climates. They saw old giant pine trees whose trunks and roots were completely covered with aloes and cacti. Violets grew at the foot of palm trees; quivering aspen and white-barked birch trees reflected their beauty in the sombre and silent waters of a pond on whose surface the lotus, the sacred flower of Egypt and India, bloomed. On their way they encountered the fruit trees of all countries, chestnuts of every kind, bananas, apples and pineapples, strawberries and raspberries. Country of abundance, blessed ground! Apparently the «Blue Mountains» were a region selected by Nature for her world-wide varieties of vegetation.
On their way down the travelers heard the constant bubbling of hundreds of brooklets; crystal-clear and wholesome water broke forth from the fissures of the rocks; vapors rose from mineral springs, and everything exhaled a freshness long forgotten by the two travelers in torrid India.
During the first night of this expedition, our heroes met with a strange experience. The Badaga, after short deliberation, suddenly seized them, and undressing them completely, in spite of their desperate resistance, plunged them into the lukewarm water of a pool and washed their wounds. Then they held them in the hot steam above the water on their crossed arms, singing a chant which sounded like an incantation. They made such grimaces and uttered such wild cries, as Kindersley writes, that «at one moment we actually believed that we were going to be sacrificed to the gods of the woods.»
The surveyors were mistaken! But it was not until the following morning that they could convince themselves of their unjust suspicions. After having rubbed their sore feet with a certain ointment made of soft clay and juicy herbs, the Badaga wrapped the two hunters into blankets» and literally put them to sleep above the lukewarm vapors of the spring.» The next morning, upon awakening, the two Englishmen experienced a wonderful exhilaration throughout their entire bodies and felt an unusual strength in their muscles. All pain in their legs and joints had disappeared as if by magic. Strengthened and in good health, they arose.» Really, we were ashamed of ourselves for having suspected these savages so unjustly,» Whish states in a letter to a friend.
In the afternoon they had descended to such a low level again that they felt the effects of the heat; then they became aware that they had traversed the region of the mists and that they were in the country of Coimbatore.
Whish writes how much the following fact surprised them: when ascending the mountain they perceived at every step traces of the presence of wild animals; they had to be on their guard constantly, taking every possible precaution not to fall into the lairs of tigers, to run up against an elephant or a herd of chitas. Whilst returning, the forest seemed dead; «the birds never flew near us, although we could hear their warblings in the distance . . . nor did we see a single red hare running across the road.» The Badaga, following a scarcely visible winding trail, carried them, where seemingly they did not meet with any obstacles.
Just at sunset they left the woods, and soon encountered the people of Coimbatore coming from the scattered villages at the foot of the mountain. It was not necessary for the surveyors to introduce their guides to them. As soon as the Badaga noticed the coolies in the distance, coming home in big crowds from their work, they disappeared, jumping from rock to rock like a herd of terrified monkeys. The miraculously saved hunters were alone once more. They found themselves at the edge of the woods; all danger had passed. They questioned the villagers and were informed that they had made the descent with the Badaga very near to Malabar, at Windi, a district directly opposite to
Coimbatore. An entire chain of mountains separated them from the cascade of Kolakambe and from the village which they had left. The Malabarites led them to the main road, and the hospitable head of the town invited the two Englishmen to dinner. The next day, having provided themselves with horses, they finally arrived towards evening in the village which they had left just twelve days before on their expedition into the enchanted mountains.
The news of the safe return of the sacrilegious sahibs from the habitat of the gods, spread throughout the village and the surrounding country with lightning rapidity.
The Devas had not punished the insolent men, had not even touched the «ferings» who had so audaciously violated their heaven which had been closed for centuries to the rest of the world. What did it mean? Were they the chosen of the Saddhu? These were the sentiments uttered and communicated from one village to the next until they had spread everywhere and become the most extraordinary event of the day. The Brahmans maintained an ominous silence. The old men said: «It has been the will of the blessed Devas; but what does the future hold in store? The gods only know.» The excitement extended far beyond the boundaries of the district. Crowds of Dravidians arrived in order to prostrate themselves before the Englishmen and to bow in reverence before the chosen of the gods.
The English surveyors were triumphant. «British Prestige» took a firm foothold and for many years held complete sway at the foot of the «Blue Mountains.»