Travels in Southern and Western India

The following are extracts, pertaining to rail travel, from

T. H. Croxall, “Travels in Southern and Western India”, The Mission Press, Allahabad, 1932,

uploaded from Delhi University Library in DSpace/Manakin Repository:

The text was captured, and is repeated here, with permission from  R. Sivaramakrishnan.

p. 2
About mid-day [on Tuesday, August 18th, 1931], a friend from Delhi by name Falkner, met me, and we proceeded on a twenty-hour journey to Hyderabad in the Deccan. It was certainly a fascinating journey. We crossed the Vindhya Range, and I remember remarking on one occasion when the train ran on high ground overlooking dense jungle, that I now understood what it would mean to get lost in such a jungle, stocked (as we knew it was) with wild beasts. Next we crossed the Narbuda River, one of the five or six large rivers of India. It was in flood, and the swirling torrential mass of water formed a fine sight. The railway bridge was under repair, so the train had to crawl over and the passengers could only hope that nothing would give way! Beyond Itarsi, you cross Mahadeo Hills, where again the jungle is very dense, and the country wild and mountainous. The train, though called by the high-sounding name of “Grand Trunk Express” [1], puffed its way leisurely and stopped at frequently stations to rest. On one occasion I dropped a cushion out of the window, and, in the truly casual way of India, the guard at the next station sent a man running back a mile to pick it up while the train waited. In the night we passed Nagpur, the capital of the Central Provinces, a populous city, whose chief attraction to me was the superb curry provided at the Mohammedan refreshment room. In the night we crossed another great river, the Godaveri, which bounds the Native State of Hyderabad. I became drowsily aware that we had passed into Hyderablad by the frequent stopping of the train for there is one thing “not done” on the Nizam’s State Railway, and that is to hurry.

p. 15.

We left Trichinopoly early next morning (Friday, August 28th) for our delightful twenty-six hour journey to Ceylon. The south Indian Railway from Madras to Ceylon is narrow-gauge but the carriages so overlap the metals that they were surprisingly large. As the train drew further south, it ran closer to the surf-beaten shore and sand gave place to soil [*sic.*] This part of the journey really fascinated me because a good deal of it was close by the sea. We were on tenter-hooks lest the Ceylon authorities should require a certificate health before admitting us into Ceylon (as they sometimes do). If one hasn’t got one, they may reserve to themselves the right of medically examining one at Mandapam Health Camp! Fortunately for us, when the medical officer came round, he let us through. Another poor passenger in our compartment was detained a day, possibly two, for an examination. The reason, I think, for this is that swarms of Tamil-speaking coolies go to Ceylon for work in the tea gardens, and a dreadful crew they are – dirty, dishevelled, and disease-carrying. They look about as depraved a species of humanity as could be [2].

Off the mainland of India is a small island called Rameswaram, on to which the trains go. It is all sand and the train has to proceed frightfully slowly because the sands shift so. There was a very stiff breeze blowing (as is usual in the monsoon.) I believe that gangs of coolies do nothing but dig out sand which gets constantly blown on to the line. A low railway embankment and a causeway cross the “Pamban Channel” over the sea to this island. You then cross the island itself (it is 18 miles long) to the furthest point on the southern side, 456 miles from Madras. There the ship is waiting at Dhanushkodi Pier. The steamer journey is pleasant to a degree, but very slow, and there is an awful lot of time wasted with customs, etc., and a good deal of mere standing about. You do not hurry in South India. The crossing takes two hours from Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar in Ceylon. It was just getting dark when we landed in Ceylon. Again the train is on the pier waiting, but does not start for an hour and a half after the arrival of the boat. As there is nothing there except sea and sea, what is there but go into the dining-car of the train and dine?

After dinner we settled ourselves for the night in the train. When we woke, it was pouring torrential rain such as only the tropics can know. We arrived at Colombo at 8 a.m. on Saturday, August 29th.

p. 29.

Our journey from Pondicherry to Goa took us, via Madras, right from the east to the west coast of India, a distance from Madras to Marmugao, of some 578 miles. We went right across the great table-land of Deccan. Omitting the very fast night journey from Madras to Guntakal, I begin to describe the journey from the latter place, a journey which began in the early morning of Wenesday, September 9th. It was a narrow-gauge railway, and very slow, for the train passes through extremely sparsely populated country [3] where nobody hurries! We did not mind the slowness, however, as it gave us time to take in the landscape.

Geologically, I notice from the map that the Deccan is described as “Archaean.” Its average height is between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea-level. The height was placarded up in all stations. The rolling, “down”-like views reminded me of the Berkshire downs, especially as there was a great deal of corn standing ripe, which gave the landscape a great touch of colour such as one gets in Berkshire. And colour is rare in India – colour of landscape, I mean.

The considerable towns we passed were few. Bellary, which we passed at about 10 a.m., was formerly an important military station, but now is garrisoned, I believe, by a single company of Indian infantry. It lies beneath a fortified spur of the Sandur range, the height of which is 1, 800 feet above the plain and 3,285 feet above the sea.

About 12-30 p.m. we reached a place called Hospet, whence 8 ½  miles away from the station, on the banks of the River Tungabhadra, lies the famous ruined city of Hampi, the former capital of the Vijayanagar kings, who dominated South India from 1336 to 1565. The ruins, I believe, are *very*fine indeed, though we could not stop to see them. Next we crossed the Tungabhadra by a very fine bridge, and then we proceeded, via Gadag Junction, to Hubli where we arrived at 17-50 p.m. [*sic.*] We had made on the average the wonderful speed of less than 18 miles per hour all day, but the scenery was so attractive that we were glad, rather than sorry, that the journey was leisurely.  At Hubli we had two hours to wait so we got a bath and some food, and then at 19-50 we got into the remarkably cramped and dilapidated train to take us to Goa. The train had to climb the Western Ghats amidst scenery which, I believe, is very wonderful, though we missed what is said to be the best of it, in the dark.

Castle Rock is the British frontier station of the Portuguese Territory, whence in the first ten miles, the line passes through a dozen tunnels cut almost entirely out of solid rock. Between Castle Rock and Collem (see below) the line drops nearly 3,000 feet in 33 miles. We wasted at least three-quarters of an hour at CastleRock, though there seemed nothing being done. I made friends with the British Customs Officer, and got him to relieve me of one of my boxes and lock it up. This long wait over, we next moved on at about 3-30 a.m. to Dudh Sagar (which means “Sea of Milk”) so called from the very fine waterfall there. Then 18 miles from Dudh Sagar is Collem, where is the Portuguese Customs. Here at Collem we were amused, if not annoyed, to be awakened at 5-30 a.m. in the dark, turned out of our carriage to have all our luggage fumigated, while the train was backed out of the station and disinfected. They added insult to injury by charging us an anna for this remarkable process.

But we were, so to speak, in Portugal already. Groups of khaki clad officers in military peaked caps stood about the platform in a particularly Continental fashion, for on the Continent it always takes two or three soldiers to do what *one* policeman would do in England. There was an air of swagger and importance about these Portuguese or half-Portuguese officers which savoured very much of the South European manner [4].

I suppose that, as there are only two trains a day, and those “mixed” (that is, half goods train), the authorities feel it necessary to allow a lot of time over examining them. The examination over, and all being duly fumigated, we got back in the train, and slept until sunrise next morning. I was agreeably struck, on waking, by the greenness of the countryside, as well as by the mountainous nature of the country. But what astonished me most was to find a woman opposite me smoking a cigar with an air of complete non-chalance. It tickled me to death. Later I saw lots of them doing it.”


[1] The Grand Trunk Express by that time was running between Delhi and Madras; the writer should have travelled in a through coach in it to Hyderabad.

[2] Indentured labourers in very large numbers, mostly from the southernmost districts of Madras Presidency, were first introduced in the 1830’s to work in the coffee estates and then the tea estates and rubber plantations; after the 1860’s they were also used to lay the railway lines. By the mid-1930’s, Indian labourers constituted nearly one-fifth of the total population (4.7 million) of Ceylon. The daily flow warranted the introduction of an Indo-Ceylon Express (“The Boat Mail”) with a ferry across the Palk Straits, though in the earlier years the ferry plied between Tuticorin and Colombo.

[3] By no stretch of imagination could the Bellary – Hospet – Hubli region that the writer was traversing be termed “extremely sparsely populated.” The population density map in the Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1931,
shows it as ranging from 135 to 390 persons per square mile, a fairly high count for those days.

[4] These lines, written by a chaplain, reflect the relative lack of esteem that the British generally had for the South Europeans, or at least their forces.

– R. Sivaramakrishnan.

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