From Gwalior to Calcutta, 31 January 1893

On the way from Gwalior to Calcutta we traveled through the English North-western provinces, the presidency of Bengal whose capital Calcutta lies in the  Ganges estuary, the most important river of the Indian subcontinent. We finally arrived at the gulf of Bengal as the distance between Calcutta and the sea is more than 160 km. From the plateau of Malwa  we descended to the plain of Yamuna and Ganges, both rivers uniting at Allahabad. Besides from an overview of the agriculture of this area and the administrative division of the North-eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, we had the fleeting opportunity to witness the agricultural richness of the territory we were crossing.

These are part, like the whole of the Indian subcontinent up to the Himalaya and to the Punjab, of the plant kingdom of the Indian savanna. In its North-western part  the most important characteristic agricultural plant is the bean, both the common bean and the small mung bean, in the South-east, i.e. the territory of the Ganges delta with large precipitations, they are bananas, sugar canes, rice and cotton. The cultivation of wheat is particularly intensive on the upper plateau of the Ganges and Yumana. This branch of the agricultural industry of India was of particular interest to me as today Indian wheat is competing on the London world market with European and American wheat. The number of Indians who subsist on wheat — this is the case mostly in the North-western provinces — allows for a comparison to the rice and maize eaters of Bengal and the coastal regions, and to the Indian consumers of barley and sorghum. This allows for a number of observations about the meaning of the saying: „Man is what he eats.“

Fruit plantations too, the half-brother of cropping, occupies an eminent position in a country where many are out of religious conviction vegetarians. I observed with pleasure this center of agriculture and the Indian rice plantation, the increasing number of trees, the great number of mango tree groves during the ride across Bengal, the most populous region of India. A much darker mood caused the numerous poppy fields whose product opium which poisons mind and body is both baneful and profitable, and plays a political role as demonstrated by the opium war between England and China.

The key points on the route from Gwalior to Calcutta, which we pass via Jhansi to Kanpur on the Indian Midland Railway and from Kanpur to Calcutta on the East Indian Railway, are Kanpur, also an important trading station for the military, Allahabad, Mirzapur and Patna. Allahabad, the „city of god“ at the confluence of Yamuna and Ganges, is a strategically and commercially very important but not attractive city. The unassuming native district, the modern English districts and the government buildings of this administrative center of the North-western provinces are the main points of interest in Allahabad. Of particular interest is the city during the time of the new year when a trade fair and the sanctuaries of this pilgrimage location hosts hundreds of thousands of merchants and pilgrims on the banks of the Ganges.  The railway crosses Yamuna on a large bridge which offers a view on the old fort situated at the confluence of the two rivers Yamuna and Ganges.

Mirsapur and Patna are both ancient Mughal cities. The former one due to a large carpet industry and the latter as the center of poppy cultivation in the northern district. Poppy cultivation is particularly strong in the Ganges lowlands. The production and distribution of opium is a monopoly of the British crown, that is why every poppy grower is under exact supervision and has to deliver all the opium produced to the government according to a license and at a fixed price, a relationship that looks similar to our tobacco monopoly regime. The merchant may in exchange for very high taxes and compliance with control measures which are particularly severe in the tributary states, buy the opium only in the government depots. Due to these regulations as well as the restriction of cultivating opium to certain parts of the country the growth of the poppy production is slow and the government can realize such an increase in the selling price of the finished goods that out of a poppy growing region of around 250.000 hectares in the year 1891 a profit of 65,791.170 fl. in Austrian currency is realized; a notable sum but gained out of a rather odious source.Incidentally the profit of the opium monopoly grows at the same pace as the increase of opium use in China.

Links

  • Location: Patna, India
  • ANNO – on 31.01.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. 30 January was the fourth anniversary of the double suicide of crown prince Rudolf in Mayerling. His widow dressed in black paid his remains a visit, all alone.
    • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays the comedy „Ein Erfolg“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater  repeats its combination of „Cavalleria Rusticana“ and „Rouge et Noir“.

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