The British, when they set foot in India, were up against a climate most inhospitable to their disposition. The air, water and tropical heat could take a terrible toll. Tombstones in European cemeteries across South Asia reveal the price extracted by inclement weather. No one was spared – young or old, male or female, fresh arrivals or old timers. No wonder then that they had such an abiding love for the hills and mountains of the country. These were their homes away from home. From Himachal in the far north to Tamil Nadu in the far south, hill stations sprang up in quick succession, an attempt to escape the sweltering heat of the plains below. And love for these highlands was reflected on to their native inhabitants. An example are the Dravidian Toda tribe. British travelers and officers seemed to appreciate them as much as they did their abode, the Blue Mountains or Nilgiris. Here are two passages from the book ‘Observation on the Neilgherries, including an account of their Topography, Climate, Soil & Productions on The European Constitution’.

“Nor is the scene less beautiful on a nearer approach; for you then find the green bespangled with a variety of the most beautiful wild flowers, of every diversity of colour; the trees, among which appear the crimson Rhododendron and the white Camelia, varying in shade and richness of foliage; and some covered with moss, assuming all the hoary appearance of winter; while the banks of the rills and streamlets that meander at their base, are lined with the dog-rose and jessamine; and all around are seen the strawberry, blackberry, and numerous other wild fruits, flourishing in spontaneous luxuriance.”

“The appearance of the Todas or Toruwars, who maybe considered the original inhabitants of the hills, is very prepossessing. Generally above the common height, athletic and well made, their bold bearing and open and expressive countenances, lead immediately to the conclusion that they must be of a different race to their neighbours of the same hue, and the question naturally arises, who can they be? The word Toruwars, is the Tamil term for herdsmen. This remnant of a race, perhaps the most extraordinary of any known, does not exceed in number, including both sexes, and of all ages, six hundred.”

These passages appear in the Appendix as part of Extracts from Captain Harkness’ Account of the Inhabitants of the Neilgherry Hills.

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and based on an illustration appearing in ‘Observation on the Neilgherries, including an account of their Topography, Climate, Soil & Productions on The European Constitution’ (1834) by R. Baikie.