Journey to Darjeeling, 1897
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A journey to Darjeeling - a letter from Con Hennessy


Constance Elizabeth Hennessy, eldest child of David McIntyre and Lydia Merrington Tredgold, was writing to her sisters Marion and Edith (at the Cape) and brother Kenneth Grant McIntyre (in Kimberley). Con had married Dr Daniel Hennessy in about 1889. He served in India in the RAMC, retiring to the Cape about 1905-6. Their first son died in infancy; while son David Hennessy [the "Davie" of these letters] later lived and died in Ceylon. In a second letter, not included here, there is reference to Mavis McIntyre, but not to Olive, suggesting a date between March 1896 and 1899. The Queen's birthday celebrations also mentioned in that letter may refer to the Jubilee Year, 24 May 1897. There is no mention of the earthquake felt in northern Bengal in Jun 1897 (major landslides damaged Darjeeling's buildings and roads still later, in 1899). Plague, referred to in the second letter, broke out in parts of India throughout the 1890s and peaked in Calcutta in 1900. It is most likely that the two letters date from April and May 1897.


No 1 Bungalow
Lebong !!!!
Nr Darjeeling

April 10th

My very dear people,

I must write to the three of you a joint epistle and have it sent round. I feel as though I could write volumes. Away among "The everlasting hills" - O! What a change from dusty, steamy, noisy, 'smelly' Calcutta! To this pure fresh mountain home. O! for a poet's pen to describe that marvellous journey - magnificent, awe-inspiring, terrific. But to begin at the beginning. We left Fort William on Sunday about 2 o'clock - the heat of course was awful and the drive to Sealdah Station! - well like many drives in Calcutta, but it was all new to me. The railways are very comfortable and there was nothing to see until we came to the Ganges! We had to change into a large river boat and steam up a little way. When I told Davie this was the Ganges River, he remarked "It is much too big for a river, it is a sea!" It is a magnificent volume of water, but apparently nothing but low sandy banks. It was night when we came up it, so we could see very little. Then we got into another train, where we slept as best we could, arriving at half past six at Siliguree, where we changed into that marvellous little mountain train that brought us all the way up the Himalayas into Darjeeling. It is a little two foot gauge, with open carriages, on which are fixed chairs and canvas curtains to let down when it rains. The little engine makes a great fuss snorting and puffing, but does its worth bravely. By the way we changed engines and drivers three of four times coming up. I suppose the strain is too great for one. You begin the ascent very soon after leaving the station and up and up you come, skipping round curves and hanging over precipices, and grander and more magnificent grow the mountains, wooded with beautiful trees, ferns and creepers! O! Mind of man that designed and then dared to carry out marvellous pathway!! What cannot science achieve is one's thought as you climb higher and yet higher. High above and beyond you see a peak towering, and observe quite sarcastically "I suppose we'll be up there soon," and lo! And behold in about half an hour there you are skipping round the apparently inaccessible peak. Higher and even higher - I hardly realize it all when I look back on it, some of the curves the train makes are simply round O you start here under a little tunnel, make a [sketch of a loop] "drie" [draai] and there you cross over on a bridge - the circle is quite small too. Several times you do this kind of thing, always going higher. At other places you come to an apparent stop, but no, you have only to back the whole train this time, forwards, back, forwards [zigzag sketch], and there you are ever so much higher, if it were level ground it would not be half so wonderful. Between times you do this and you find yourself looking down on the lines, ever so far down and wonder how you got there. There are five or six men on the engine, two sit right in front sprinkling sand on the lines all the time, another seems to be oiling it nearly all the time. Then there is the stoker. These are all natives. We were glad to see the engine driver was a white man. I was terribly nervous at times and one can see too much on these open carriages! Of course it is really a very slow train but quite fast enough for my fancy. At one place where the road was pretty wide a native's hat blew off, so he jumps off the train, picks it up and tries to catch up the train again - we thought he might not be able to do it, and he kept on running for some time, but eventually gave it up, the guard only said "serves him right, he'll have to walk now". The natives are entirely different from the miserable Calcutta specimens - much lighter in colour, vigorous mountain men, very like the Japanese in appearance and most of them wear pig-tails. The women are very strong, carrying immense weights on their backs fastened by straps round their foreheads!!! They wear quite different clothing too. Well, we got into the mists and clouds at last - a very different climate from the one we had left the day before - now and then "the mists would roll away" and would catch a glimpse...

11th Thus far yesterday when Daniel came in and the horrid thing began reading my letter aloud so I fled - but to proceed. We eventually got to the highest point, a place called "Ghoom" where we met our servants. We brought the two bearers with us. Before ascending the mountain the train was divided and our servants went on in the first half. It was cold and misty and the poor things looked very miserable. Davie was delighted to see his old bearer, though it was only about six hours since we had seen them last. They are devoted to one another and the old man has been a great comfort to me. Well, from "Ghoom" it is downhill to Darjeeling, so we had a much longer train and I fancy came faster. The first sight of Darjeeling is very beautiful. It is built round the top of a "coppie", quaint looking houses hanging one above the other and small zigzag streets, where the sound of wheels is never heard, people either ride or are carried in "dandies", funny looking things, something like a coffin with a seat in it, only a good deal wider - there are rickshaws too. But only open ox carts for carrying boxes etc and very few of those. Well, we arrived at last and the assistant Surg met us (There are educated coloured men who help in the hospital, and attend to any small case that may come in. The soldiers have to call them sir etc but they in turn have to salute officers). He suggested my going on to Lebong at once in a "dandie", so in got Davie and I and four sturdy mountain men, with a good deal of chattering, hoisted us up on their shoulders. I was put in charge of another hospital man, altho a native, and we began the descent to Lebong. Of the many strange experiences we had gone through that day, perhaps that was the strangest - down, down, terrific steep zigzags we came, wondering how the men could do it. It is very lovely, that mountain path, very. Daniel of course had to stay behind to see about the luggage. The assistant Surg walked down with him afterwards.

12th Lebong is about 1000 feet lower than Darjeeling, so you may imagine what the downward path is like, when it takes only about half an hour to reach this. Well, the "dandie" men eventually deposited us at our own doorstep - and we saw the sweetest little bungalow that ever was built and all to ourselves. If we had to choose from all the bungalows in Lebong I think we should have selected this one. The door was open, a cloth spread, tea-pot etc standing ready and somebody's servant flying around asked whether we would have tea! A fire was burning in one of the rooms, bedsteads, chairs and tables ready, there was even hot water in the basin! The assistant Surg had done all this - of course it was only hospital furniture but such as it was we were very thankful to have it. We have four little rooms, four little fire places, four little bow-windows and four little pantries! There are some nice flower beds, roses and fuchsias in bud, altogether it is a sweet little place. The only drawback is that I am the only lady. There is no village of Lebong, only soldiers' quarters. None of the officers here are married. There is a tea planter who is married, quite close, at least it looks quite close till you begin to walk it and then you go in the usual style, round and round and round. If one had a few butter trees to slide on, one would not take long getting there. We went to call on her today but were not altogether fascinated. She is a pretty woman and I dare say a little spoilt - Ladies are very scarce here. The first night we arrived they asked us both to dine but we were too tired, so they sent us over our dinner, it was awfully good of them. They are having some Christy Minstrels on Friday to amuse the men, they've asked us to come, it ought to be nice. There will be five or six ladies besides myself. They are going to give them an empty bungalow to sleep in as it would be such a journey back to Darjeeling at night. Davie looks so wonderfully well since coming here. The heat was just beginning to tell on him when we left Calcutta. We have much to be thankful for. We have not seen the snows yet! Sad to say, the mountains round here have been hidden in clouds ever since we came here. Kinchinjunga is to be seen from here, but Everest from the other side of Darjeeling only. I hope we shall see them both soon. I think they are very often hidden in the clouds though. I believe one is so high up and so near that one is a little disappointed in the height of these great mountains. Kin is only 40 miles from here I was told. We are going to a place called "Jalapahar" tomorrow to call - I in a "dandie" and Daniel on a pony. I don't like being carried but there is no help for it. I walked up to Darjeeling once and am aching still! It is an awful pull, then we walked about shopping and back again! There are beautiful carved tables etc that one does so long to buy. Daniel did get me one, it is a lovely little thing, we hope to be able to pick up a few more little things by and by. It is so awful buying from these men, one never knows the real value of anything. They generally ask two or three times the value and you have to go on arguing and arguing until you are sick - in the end they always give in, or nearly always. Now I had better bring this rigmarole to a close. D. says no-one will be able to read it! I have said nothing of the tea plantation down the mountain sides at etc. However, goodbye to all. Mind all write me, at once. Much love to everyone.

Your ever loving sister


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