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Travellers’ India

Item Code: NAL621
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: H.K Kaul
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9780195639261
Pages: 596
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 590 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This entertaining and instructive anthology contains nearly 400 extracts from over 170 accounts of India left by visitors to the country from ancient times to the early twentieth century. Most of the extracts are from literature in English, but the book also includes the observations of travellers from Africa, west and central Asia, China, the USA and several European countries.

Arranged subject-wise, the volume vividly captures the uniqueness and flavour of a civilization about which Mark Twain observed in 1896, 'So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or Nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his round. This book combines a range of topics that all interested in India and its culture, and in travel writing in general, will value.

About the Author

H. K. Kaul, is Director, Delhi Library Network, and Chief Librarian, India International Centre, New Delhi. He has written several volumes of poetry, and has edited Historic Delhi: An Anthology (OUP, 1985).


This anthology deals with published travel accounts from ancient times to the early twentieth-century. Much travel literature has been produced during the last 2500 years in almost all the major languages of the world. Much has also been published, but a great deal still remains inaccessible to an English-reading public, thanks to the lack of translations. As a result, considerable material ill still stacked in manuscript form in various archives and libraries in different parts of the world. However, no doubt because of their special association with India, the accounts of English writers and travellers far outnumber those from any other area and are comparatively easily available to readers of the language.

This volume is based on the compiler's judgement of the importance and liveliness-of passages, and, in some cases, on the criticisms a traveller made of India in his travel account. Within the limitations of space, an effort has also been made to give a comprehensive and detailed picture of India from as many travellers as possible. As a result, some very worthwhile recounts have had to be left out of this selection. However, the compiler hopes to fill such a gap in separate volumes which will deal more specifically with themes contained in each chapter of this book.

I am grateful to the librarians of the National Archives of India, Central Secretariat Library, Archaeological Survey of India and Hardinge Public Library for providing access to travel collections in their libraries. The British Council's ‘India-Collection' housed at the India International Centre has been a great source of help. I should like to thank my friend J. L. Ferreira, whose suggestions were of great help. My thanks are due to Ellen Vollebaek, S.A.I. Tirmizi, Hira Kapasi, Premilla Dixit, J. C. Reignier, Nadia Bogoslovskay and G. Manica for their useful suggestions. Lastly, I should thank my wife, Kamal, and my daughter, Manu, for allowing me to devote evenings and holidays over a number of years to the preparation of this book.


The home of an ancient civilization, India has been much written of until recently as the land of luxury and exotic beauty, of pearls and jewels, of the banian and the palm, of mystic religions and the centre of the choicest condiments. It has had a flourishing image overseas from times immemorial, even with the remotest nations of the world. This image did not grow out of deliberate self-promotion, nor has India usually wished to expand her frontiers beyond the lofty Himalayas or beyond its coastal boundaries. Although splintered and welded from time to time by political upheavals, the subcontinent's overall geographical dimensions have remained mostly unchanged in historical times.

India's classical image was established by travellers from outside-those remarkable people who ventured to remote lands in the garb of merchants, ambassadors, conquerors, rulers, chaplains, pioneers, administrators, soldiers, artists, writers, poets, seekers of philosophical or religious teachings, or missionaries-many conveyed back impressions to their countrymen through lively tales, anecdotes and travel journals. These travellers came from far and near. They were from China, Russia, Persia, the Arab countries, Turkey, the Slavic countries, Italy, Tibet, Germany, Holland, France, Portugal, England, America, and many other lands.

Ancient travellers

Apart from the prehistoric movements of tribes, the earliest documented accounts of travel concerning India are traced back to 975 B.C. when the Phoenicians imported Indian products. In order to decorate the palaces and the temples of King Solomon, Hiram, the king of Tyre, sent his fleet from Ezion Geber, at the head of the Gulf of Akaba in the Red Sea, to obtain 'ivory, apes and peacocks' from the port of Ophir; these are considered to have been Indian products. Besides Indian products, Indian philosophy and religion have been of interest to travellers throughout the ages. There appears to have been close contact between Indian and Greek philosophers, and through their respective centres, the philosophies and the religions of the East spread in all directions. The credit for the outflow must go to travellers. It is said that Pythagoras (c. 580 B.C.) and Histaspis, the father of Darius the Persian king, visited India and studied Indian philosophy. The Greek historian Herodotus (489-425 B.C.) wrote about the dress of Indians, their implements of warfare and the various products of the area. Another Greek chronicler, Ctesias (c. 416-398 B.C.), was a physician at the court of the Perian emperor Darius I and was therefore well placed to collect all the known facts about India. He wrote Persica, a history of Persia from Persian sources, and his account confirms and reinforces Herodotus' record of Indian merchandise, merchants and envoys, thus indicating a regular movement of travellers on land and by sea routes.

The first actual account by a traveller is that by Scylax of Caryanda, the Greek historian and geographer of the sixth century B.C. who was sent by Darius I, the King of Persia, to explore the course of the Indus. He sailed down it to the sea and westward through the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. Next, Nearchus, the Macedonian officer who accompanied Alexander in 326 B.C., recorded events when Alexander invaded India. Nearchus commanded the fleet in his journey from the mouth of the Indus to the Persian Gulf. The' accounts of his voyage from the Indus to the Euphrates were collected by Arrian, the Greek historian of the second century A.D. The second book of the journal deals with the geography of the Punjab, the wealth and population of the area, besides other details of the journey to the delta of the Indus.

Alexander travelled along the Kabul River through the Kuner and Swat valleys. Besides Nearchus, Onesicritus, the master pilot of Nearchus, Aristobulus, a geographer, and Kleitarchus accompanied Alexander. Onesicritus' account contained much exaggeration, but that of Aristobulus was used by Arrian. Arrian probably found the account of Kleitarchus unreliable, perhaps because it was written when he was over eighty years of age.

In 302 B.C. arrived Megasthenese, the Greek ambassador sent by Seleucus to the court of Chandragupta Maurya at Pataliputra. He wrote after travelling from north India to Pataliputra and his is the first dated account of the times. During that period India had a brisk sea-trade with the Persian Gulf ports of Mesopotamia and the Red Sea ports of Egypt. One of the main trade routes was the caravan route from Taxila to Balkh. Slightly later, Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, dispatched missionaries to Greece and Egypt to spread Buddhism. Sponsored by Ashoka, monks also carried Buddhism to Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia, resulting in an increased exchange of travellers with those countries, so much so that later rulers had to keep special watch on the movements of foreigners. But Megasthenese had a special status and managed to investigate the customs of the day closely.

From 302 B.C. to AD. 535 no important travel account appeared, although secondary historical accounts did. The Greek ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.) sent Dionysius to the court of the Maurya King, Bindusara, as his envoy. As a result of the frequent visits of Greeks from Egypt in the third century B.C., Greek names for certain items of common use are found to resemble their equivalents in Tamil. We have already mentioned that Arrian, Alexander's historian, based his accounts on the travels of Nearchus and provided useful information. Claudius Ptolemaeus, an Alexandrian astronomer, mathematician and geographer, produced a map of India, which was later published in 1475.

By the beginning of the Christian era, Jews and Christians had started landing on the Indian shores. Some scholars believe that the influx of Christians might have begun around A.D. 47 when Hip-palus, a sea captain discovered the south-west monsoon. St. Thomas is reputed to have preached Christianity in India from AD. 21-52. around AD. 68 a number of Jews, apparently under the threat of Roman persecution, seem to have reached the South and settled in Malabar. After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD. 70 Jewish merchants sailed towards the Indian Ocean and settled along the Malabar Coast. Pliny (AD. 23-79) has observed that the demand in Rome for pepper and ginger from India was such that they were bought by weight, like gold and silver. Large sums were spent by the Roman Empire for the purchase of oriental products.

Some eight centuries after Megasthanese an important travel account was that of Indicopleustes a merchant who later became a Christian monk. He was in western India and Sri Lanka from A.D. 535 to A.D. 547 and wrote Topographia Christiana. This contains valuable information on India's trade relations with Sri Lanka and countries in touch with its southern coasts. The Tamils were famous for their trade in pepper, pearls and beryls, which attracted travellers from east and west. From the first century B.C., the Kushans, a section of the Yueh-chi tribe who had settled in Bactria, started making raids into India, and later established a vast empire in the country. They were followed by the Huns from Central Asia who invaded India a number of times in the fifth century A.D. until A.D. 500 when Toramana, their leader, established himself as an independent ruler in Malwa.

It was during Kushan times that Indian missionaries developed ties with China, but the maritime contacts of China with India date from about 680 B.C., when sea traders of the Indian Ocean, mainly Hindus, moved eastward selling Indian products such as rubies, pearls, sugar, etc. They were pushed back by the gradual advance of the Chinese, which made many Indians settle in Cambodia and other eastern countries and islands. This resulted in the establishing of Indian colonies in Pegu, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra and Borneo and trading settlements in southern China and the Malayan peninsula.

The first important Chinese traveller was the Buddhist priest Fah-Hien. He started his journey by land to India in A.D. 399 via the south of the Gobi Desert and Yarkand. Entering India through the Indus valley he spent about ten years (A.D. 401?-412?) in the area during the reign of Chandragupta H. He travelled all over northern India and was in Pataliputra for about three years. Fa-Hien's main interest was the study of Buddhism, which he fulfilled at Pataliputra, but he described many cities and rulers and other details in his account. In ancient times maritime traders faced difficulties in landing on Indian shores, as the eastern coast was harbourless from Cape Comorin to Balasore and dangerous serf had to be contended with The western coasts were cut off from the interior by the forest-clad barriers of the Western Ghats. With the rapid development of shipping and India's increasing maritime relations with the east and the west, the coastlines were greatly imprcved for trade.

Land routes

Land routes to India covered the north-eastern and north-western boundaries of the subcontinent. Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Tibet, China and Burma were the areas through which travellers passed before arriving. To the north-east, travellers coming from China could take numerous routes. Starting from Burma, they could cross northern Burma and reach Assam. To do so three routes could be used. From upper Burma through the Patkoi range and its passes they would cross into the Brahmaputra valley and Assam; from the Chindwin valley they could reach Manipur; and through the Irrawadi valley they could reach the Arrakans. From Tibet they could cross into Sikkim through passes such as the Chorten Nyima La, Kangra La, and Gora La, or they could cross into western Nepal via the Kagmara Pass. The Jesuit Fathers, Johann Grueber and Albert d' Orville journeyed from Lhasa to Kathmandu on their way from China: leaving Peking in April 1661, they reached Kathmandu in March 1662. Again, travellers coming through Tibet could cross the Lipu Lekh Pass and reach the Kumaon and Garhwal areas; via the Nela Pass they could reach Gangotri and via the Mana and Niti Passes they could reach Badrinath. Also from Tibet, the Lahul and Spiti area could be reached through the Baralacha Pass, and Manali and Kulu through the Kanzan, Rohtang and Pin Parbati Passes. In the extreme north, travellers from Tibet could reach Leh through the Khardunga La and Karakoram Passes. These north-eastern routes were frequently used to diffuse Buddhism and Buddhist art from India into Central Asia, China and the eastern lands, and are historic trade-routes.

The routes of the north-west have remained alive for traders, adventurers and invaders from ancient times. The main routes on this side were again through numerous passes and valleys: travellers crossing northern Iran and the Oxus region would proceed to Kabul and through the Khyber Pass to the Indus. Those crossing central and south Iran would go to Kandhar, then to the extreme southerly regions of the Indus or Makran and then to the Indus delta. Besides these, many other Passes were used to cross into India, such as the Dorah, Shandur, Karambar, Chillinji, Mintaka and Mustang Passes. An important and frequently used ancient route was via the Hindu Kush, south-east of ancient Bactria, following the northerly line of the Kabul river to Charsada, a historic town north-east of Peshawar. Other important routes were through the Kurram Valley, the Peiwar Pass, the Tochi Valley, the Gumal Valley, Kalat, Las Bela and the Zhob Valley. From Quetta, a south-eastern route entered the plains of Sibi and a western camel route entered Kirman and southern and western Iran. In 1857 Adolphe Schlagentweit started from SuItanpur in Kulu for Yarkand and Kashgar by the Chhangchhinmo Pass over the Karakoram Range and Aksai Chin. Caravan routes operated from Shikarpur to Kandahar through the Bolan Pass and from Dera Ismail Khan to Ghazni via the Ghuleri Pass, and goods were also exported through the Abkhana and Tatra Passes to Afghanistan and Turkestan.

During the closing centuries of the first millenium B.C. the connection between India and West Asia, Africa, Central Asia, and East Europe was mostly through overland north-western routes. Invasions, commerce and human migration occurred via the Iranian plateau and the Oxus valley through these routes; and well known travellers, like the Chinese monk Fah-Hien came to India via Yar- kand and the Indus, and Hiuen Tsiang via the Hindu Kush.


Preface v
Introduction xix
Select Chronology xxxv
1 General Impressions 1
2 Philosophy 15
3 Religion 26
A Hinduism 26
B Buddhism 41
C Jainism 48
D Islam 49
E Christianity and Christian Missionaries 52
4 The People 63
A Royalty 63
B The Common man 72
C Anglo-Indians and Christians 78
D The Parsis 82
E Women 90
F Farmers 99
G Tribals 104
H Coolies and Servants 111
I Fakirs and Sadhus 123
J Jugglers and Snake Charmers 132
K Parmahansas, Bunjaras and The Pindaress 136
5 Social Life 145
A Dances 145
B Festivals 150
C Marriage 157
D Processions 168
E Bazaars 171
F Burning Ghats and Burial Grounds 175
6 Poverty 182
A General 182
B Population 187
C Slavery 188
7 Law and Order 192
A Thugs and Robbers 192
B Convicts and Their Execution 201
C Administration of Justice 211
8 Administration 227
9 Police and Army 229
10 Education 240
11 Commerce 247
12 Customs and Folklore 255
13 Means of Travelling 261
14 Languages 270
15 The Occupations 278
A Professions 278
B Industries 288
16 Medicine 297
17 Astronomy and Astrology 306
18 Flora and Fauna 310
A Irrigation, Forests and Agriculture 310
B Zoology and Animal Husbandry 319
19 The Arts 334
A Paintings 334
B Dress,Fashion And Costumes 336
C Theatre 340
D Jewellery and Precious Stones 345
E Indian Cooking 351
F Music 362
20 Architecture and Monuments 369
21 Wild Life and Sport 382
22 Literature 402
23 Geography 417
A Harbours and Coasts 417
B Cities 420
C Villages 432
D Landscapes 436
E The Himalaya and Other Mountains 442
F Rivers and Bridges 453
G The Monsoon and Rain 460
H Storms & Hurricanes 467
24 History 472
A Ancient 472
B Medieval 474
C Modren 482
Notes on Sources 495
Index 509

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