Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque

30 04 2009

William Dalrymple’s review  of   Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque is enough to make you want to rush right out and buy the book, (or maybe stop by the library first -this is a very expensive book)  then upon returning home sink into your favorite comfy chair with a large warm cup of Earl Grey to read. In meandering through his review and links to the places and times( 1822-1845) that  Fanny Parke’s journals describe – the Churuk Puja for example of which she  said  “I was disgusted but very much interested”  I often felt the same way, intrigued but appalled. We tend to forget how very bitter life was for many in Victorian India in spite of it’s  being picturesque. Alongside the Taj Mahal there was the practice of Thugee , deceptive murder generally by garroting, attributed to  cults  or fraternities of professional assassins who were followers of the Hindu goddess Kali who operated from about 1300 until finally suppressed by the British in 1870.  They believed each murder prevented Kali’s arrival for one millennium. The 1979 Guinness Book of Records state the Thuggee cult was responsible for approximately 2,000,000 deaths.

It was during Fanny Parke’s sojourn in India that Robert Bruce  and his brother Charles of The East Indian Tea Company confirmed that the tea plant was native to Assam and in 1833 they and other pioneers were given the task of clearing land in Assam to make way for tea plantations. Ironically, the company initially insisted on establishing these plantations with 80,000 seedlings grown in  nurseries in Calcutta  from seeds of Chinese tea plants,  then  transplanted to beds under the shade of pruned native Assam tea trees. The Chinese plants struggled in the difficult Assam climate and eventually their cultivation was abandoned. Today India has over 13,000 tea gardens, 600 tea estates  employing over 2 million workers.

Oh, and by the way, during the early part of  Fanny’s stay in India the British Prime Minister  was the second Earl Charles Grey who is traditionally  credited with adding bergamot to black tea. Ummmm.

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