Sir Thomas Munro’s description of Nilgiris

Sir Thomas Munro

A Must Read for every Ootian !!!

Sir Thomas Munro was the first Governor of Madras to visit Nilgiris in September 1826. He blessed Sullivan’s initiative to found a sanitarium in the Nilgiris. He stayed for one day in Kotagiri and three days in Ooty as the guest of Collector John Sullivan. Here Sir Munro describes this visit in letters to his wife.

24th September.—We arrived at the bottom of the Nilgheri hills this morning. Our tents, or rather Sullivan’s, are pitched about a mile from the hills; and the tent in which I am now writing is one of the two sitting tents which sheltered you and me, after many a hot march, when you were first in India. The scenery here is very grand; but you can form a much better idea of it than I can give you, by recollecting what you saw at Gujelhatty. We begin to ascend to-morrow, under the guidance of Sullivan, who met us at Darraporam. It will take about five hours to reach Kotaghery, where we are to be accommodated by Colonel Cubbon and Captain Fyfe. We remain with them the following day. On the 27th we proceed to Cotakamund, where Sullivan lives, and stay with him till the morning of the 30th, when, having seen all the waters of these upper regions, rising at one place as high as eight thousand nine hundred feet above the sea, we shall, with the help of horses and palankins, make a run of forty miles to Goondlapet in Mysore, where we shall find our tents, which went off yesterday by Gujelhatty. On the 1st of October we shall march about twenty-four miles to Sham Raj pet, near Ardenhilli, where the tents we left this morning will be waiting for us. You know the rest of the road by Collegal and the Happy Valley, and Sattigal, and the Falls of the Cavery to Bangalore, which I shall be delighted to see again, and which I shall leave with a heavy heart.

29th September, Whotakamund.—Our party reached Captain Fyfe’s house, at Kotaghery, on the 25th, after a very tiresome ascent and descent of five hours. The house is that which was occupied by Colonel Newal, and which you, I believe, once thought of taking. We found Mrs. F. and her children much improved in their looks and health. We felt the cold much more than I expected. We took a walk of three hours after breakfast; but several of the party, as well as myself, were more sun-burnt than ever we had before been in India. We have walked a great deal, both in the forenoon and in the evening, ever since we came up to the hills. The country round Kotaghery is about six thou sand feet above the sea; it differs from everything you have seen. It has no level ground, but is composed of an assemblage of hills green to the summit, with narrow winding valleys between. The sides of the hills are at present covered with a purple flower, of the size of your Bangalore geraniums, which makes them look as if they were covered with heath. A few hamlets, inhabited by the Bargars, an agricultural race, are scattered on the face of the hills; for they never live either at the bottom or on the summit. The cultivated fields, running up the face of some of the hills to the very top, have a beautiful effect; but the cultivation is thinly spread, and probably does not cover one-tenth of the ground. 

We set out for this place on the 27th at daylight. The distance is about fifteen miles. The ride was, beyond all comparison, the most romantic I ever made. We were never on a level surface, but constantly ascending or descending, winding round hills, and stopping every now and then for a few minutes to rest our horses, who thought it hard work, and to admire the ever-varying scene. Before reaching Sullivan’s house, we came upon the highest ridge of the Nilgheri, rising in general above eight thou sand feet, and many of the peaks from eight thousand three hundred to eight thousand eight hundred feet, which is the elevation of Dodubet, the highest of them all. We dismounted on the top of the ridge, and ascended a hill about three hundred feet above it, from whence we had a view so grand and magnificent, that I shall always regret your not having seen it.

We saw over all Coimbatore, a great part of Mysore and Wynand, and the hills of Malabar. But the district of Whotakamund, every spot of which lay below us like a map, surprised me most: it at once reminded me of Bullim. It is Bullim, but Bullim on a grand scale. The face of the country is covered with the finest verdure, and is undulated in every form. It is composed of numberless green knolls of every shape and size, from an artificial mound to a hill or mountain. They are as smooth as the lawns in an English park, and there is hardly one of them which has not, on one side or other, a mass of dark wood, terminating suddenly as if it had been planted, just in the same way as you must remember to have seen in Bullim. In comparing the two countries, I should say that this was much the grandest, but that Bullim was perhaps the more beautiful; for it is better wooded, and has fine cultivated fields, of which Whotakamund is destitute, as it is inhabited solely by the Todars, a pastoral tribe. But when I look at the fine rich verdure with which this country is everywhere covered, and at the beautiful form of its hills, I begin to think that even in beauty it is superior to Bullim. You must not suppose, that what are called ridges and peaks are rocks. There is hardly a stone to be seen upon them. They are round and smooth, and clothed with firm grass. You may ride over every one of them, even Dodubet himself: they differ from artificial mounds only in their magnitude. There was formerly no water in the scenery here, except some rivulets, until Sullivan made a little loch, about two miles long and a quarter of a mile broad, by damming up a rivulet with an immense mound: it looks like a river, and winds very beautifully among the smooth green hills. After riding five or six miles yesterday afternoon, over the hills and valleys, we embarked in a little boat at the head of the lake, and rowed to the lower end, about a mile and a half from the house. It was beginning to get dark, and very cold, and by the time we got home we were very wet with dew. Nothing surprises me more on these hills than the effect of the cold. It is now two o’clock, the thermometer 62. I am writing in a great coat, and my fingers can hardly hold the pen. I am almost afraid to go to bed on account of the cold. The first night I came up the hills I did not sleep at all. The two last nights I have slept tolerably well, but not comfortably. I have over me, in place of a single sheet, or no sheet at all, as in the low country, a sheet and English blanket, and two quilts, the weight of which op presses me without making me warm. I am therefore glad that this is to be the last night. Were we to remain a week longer, this cold feel would go off. Our party are no doubt more suscep tible to it, from being relaxed by a journey of two months in tents, with the thermometer generally from 95 to 101.—The brightness of the sun here is very remarkable. You have, I think, noticed the brightness of both the sun and the moon at Madras, but you can have no idea how much greater it is here. In the morning, when the sun rises without a cloud, the sky is sparkling with light; the hills appear much nearer than they are; the smallest objects upon them are visible, and there is a dazzling lustre poured upon everything, as if two suns were shining instead of one. I have not seen Mrs. Sullivan, because she is too near her confinement; but I have seen his two children. They are both pretty, particularly the boy, and have as fine complexions as any children in England. I was made very happy last night, by the arrival of your letter of the 25th of May, sent to Penang by the Camden. I had previously got your long letter of the same date; but still it was very satisfactory to get another. It is rather singular that a letter written by you at St. Helena should find me at Whotakamund. I received at the same time a letter, of the 5th of June, from General Walker, telling me of you and Campbell, and expressing regret at your leaving Plantation House so soon. I must now stop, for I have other letters to write before dinner. I have written you so much lately that this may probably be my last letter for some time. I hope you are, by this time, safe with your two sons.

(Thomas Munro died on July 6, 1827, nine months after his visit to the Nilgiris. On the day he died he signed the papers to establish a sanitarium for convalescing soldiers in the Nilgiris)

Dharmalingam Venugopal

The Honorary Director of the Nilgiri Documentation Centre is Dharmalingam Venugopal, a native of Nilgiris, an Economist and an Environmental Activist and founder of Save Nilgiris Campaign and Managing Trustee of Nilgiris Documentation Centre.

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