Saturday, March 28, 2009

A 180-mile journey on a 'palankeen'.

In my new role of amateur historian, with special interest in the era of British rule, I have spent quite some time engrossed in Google Books. The British traveler of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a compulsive recorder of events and took copious notes. John Keay notes in his book, “The Honourable Company” (which is a history of the East India Company) that voluminous records were available for the chronicler and the only difficulty was in sifting the relevant from the irrelevant.

The early missionaries also recorded their observations on the customs, the rituals, the festivals and the long journeys that they undertook.

Here is an extract from Personal Narrative of a Mission to the South of India, from 1820 to 1828 : By Elijah Hoole, (pages 32 to 34)where he describes a 180-mile journey from Madras to Negapatam on a palankeen. It took him 8 days to reach his destination.

On Tuesday, 24th of October, 1820, at 4 P. M., I set out on my journey; having ten bearers to my palankeen, and six men to carry my baggage, cooking utensils, etc. The palankeen with which I was provided, differed from those commonly used in India, being a double tonjon, admitting two persons to sit face to face, and being sufficiently long, for one person to recline in. The possibility of thus changing the position, on a journey, is a great advantage; the common palankeen does not admit of it, but requires a position like that of sitting up in bed, supported by pillows; easy at the first, but when long continued, very tiresome to persons unaccustomed to it.

In the first stage, I sat or reclined about two hours and a half, the poles of the palankeen supported on the shoulders of four men, who were relieved about every ten minutes, by four others; those who were not actually carrying, running before or behind; the whole party talking, laughing, and singing, and moving at the rate of about five miles an hour.

When I first saw this mode of conveyance, I heartily pitied the men employed in bearing the palankeen; and could not dismiss a strong sense of self-disapprobation, for allowing myself to be carried by them. But this method of travelling, is often indispensable to an European, in a torrid clime like India: and in a country so extensive, where the roads are commonly little more than tracks, through swamp and jungle; where bridges are comparatively rare, and the passes of the mountains not unfrequently impracticable to any beast of burden, without extreme difficulty nnd danger; experience has fully established its necessity. Travelling on horseback, is the only alternative; nnd with this mode, tents are required; the stages, too, must bo short, unless the traveller can bear exposure to the dews ivf the night, and the heat of the day.

Observation has convinced me, also, that there is no description of men in India, better satisfied with their employment, than palan- bearers; they are cheerful in the performance of the journeys they undertake; and though they run thirty or even forty miles at one stretch, in the course of a night, they are prepared to recommence their task on the succeeding evening. Six men once carried me thirty-two miles, between sunset and sunrise; and on another occasion, six men took up my palankeen, at the Mission-house door in Madras, with the intention of performing a journey of six hundred miles; and said, they were ready to travel with me even to Kasi, or Benares, (the most distant place a southern Hindoo thinks of visiting,) if I desired it.

As their caste does not allow them to eat promiscuously with others, one of the party is usually occupied in carrying their pots for preparing food, and in cooking their meals, which consist chiefly of rice. Whilst at rest during the day, if they do not sleep, some amuse themselves with cards, or a sort of backgammon; the more thrifty employ themselves in spinning cord, of which their fishing nets are made; or in weaving the nets, with which, in passing through the country, they almost every day provide a plentiful fish curry to their rice.

The accompanying sketch represents a palankeen of the common construction; the bearers at rest; one employed in spinning, and another in weaving a net


KeepingItSimple said...

Please correct that. Your Link Does not Work "Personal Narrative of a Mission to the South of India, from 1820 to 1828 : By Elijah Hoole,"

Raj said...

keeping it simple. thanks. have provided the link.