Travels in India, Volume II

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Introductory notes

Published by Oxford University Press in 1925,Travels In India, written by Jean Baptiste Tavernier-is an account of the Frenchman’s travails through the sub continent. Tavernier was born in 1605.A gem merchant by profession, he travelled more than 120,000 miles in his six voyages to India and Persia in a span of 38 years.He died in 1689. Selections have been made from Volumes 1 and 2 of Travels in India.Tavernier lays out his routes in detail along with details about the Mughal court in the first volume. In the second volumes he focuses on various topics pertaining to the lifestyle, climate and geography of India. Primary Reading Tavernier,Jean Baptiste,Travels in India,Volume 2, Oxford University Press Suggested Reading Foster, William, Early Travels In India 1583-1619,



LONDON. PUBLISHED BY Oxford University Press 1925
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1. TRAVELS IN INDIA CHAPTER XII Concerning the articles of merchandise yielded by the Empire of the Great Mogul and the Kingdoms of Golconda and Bijapur and other neighbouring territories.
Concerning Silks.

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Kàsimbâzàr, a village in the Kingdom of Bengal, can furnish about twenty-two thousand (22,000) bales of silk annually, each bale weighing one hundred (100) livres. The 22,000 bales weigh 2,200,000 livres at 16 onces to the livre. The Dutch generally took, either for Japan or for Holland, 6000 to 7000 bales of it, and they would have liked to get more, but the merchants of Tartary and of the whole Mogul Empire opposed their doing so, for these merchants took as much as the Dutch, and the balance remained with the people of the country for the manufacture of their own stuffs. All these silks are brought to the Kingdom of Gujarat, and the greater part come to Ahmadàbâd and Surat, where they are Woven into fabrics.

Firstly, carpets of silk and gold, others of silk, gold, and silver, and others altogether of silk, are made in Surat. As for the woollen carpets, they are made at Fatehpur, 12 coss from Agra.

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In the second place, satins with bands of gold and silver, and others with bands of different colours, and others all uniform are made there, and it is the same with the taffetas.

Thirdly, patoles, which are stuffs of silk, very soft, decorated all over with flowers of different colours, are manufactured at Ahmadàbâd. They vary in price from eight (8) to forty (40) rupees the piece. This is one of the profitable investments of the Dutch, who do not permit any member of their Company to engage in private trade in it. They are exported to the Philip pines, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, and other neighbouring countries.

As for crude silks, it should be remarked that none of them are naturally white except that of Palestine, of which even the merchants of Aleppo and Tripoli have difficulty in obtaining a small quantity. Thus the silk of KàsimbAzàr is yellow, as are all the crude silks which come from Persia and Sicily. But the people of KàsimbAzàr know how to whiten theirs with a lye made of the ashes of a tree which is called Adam's fig, which makes it as white as the silk of Palestine. The Dutch carry their silks and the other goods which they obtain in Bengal by the canal which goes from KàsimbAzàr to the Ganges, and this canal is nearly 15 leagues long. There remains an equal distance to descend by the Ganges to Hugly, where they ship their goods on board their vessels.

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2. Concerning Spices.

Cardamom, ginger, pepper, nutmegs, mace, cloves, and cinnamon are the several kinds of spices which are known to us. I place cardamom and ginger as the two first, because cardamom grows in the Kingdom of BIJAPUR and ginger in that of the GREAT MOGUL, and the other kinds of spices are imported from abroad to SURAT, where they constitute an important article of commerce.

Cardamom is the best kind of spice, but is very scarce, and as but a small quantity is grown in the place I have indicated, it is only used in ASIA at the tables of the nobles. 500 livres of cardamom are sold at from 100 to 110 reals.

Ginger comes in large quantities from AHMADABAD, where [Page 11] it grows in greater abundance than in any other part of Asia, and it is difficult to realise the quantity which is exported in a candied condition to foreign countries.

Pepper is of two kinds, one of small size, and the other much larger; these are respectively called small and large pepper. The large kind is chiefly from MALABAR, and TUTICORIN and CALICUT are the towns where it is purchased. Some of it also comes from the Kingdom of BIJAPUR, and is sold at RAJAPUR, a small town of that kingdom. The Dutch who purchase it from the Malabaris do not pay in cash for it, but exchange for it many kinds of merchandise, as cotton, opium, vermilion, and quicksilver, and it is this large pepper which is exported to EUROPE. As for the small pepper which comes from BANTAM, ACHIN, and other places eastwards, it is not sent out of ASIA, where much is consumed, especially by the Muhammadans. For in a pound of small pepper there are double the number of seeds that there are in a pound of the large ; and the more grains in the pillaus, into which they are thrown by the handful, the more are seen, besides which the large pepper is too hot for the mouth. This small pepper, delivered at Surat, has been in some years sold at the rate of 13 or 14 mahmudis the maund, and I have seen it bought at this price by the English, who export it to HORMUZ, BASSORA, and the RED SEA. As for the large [Page 12] pepper which the Hollanders fetch from the coast of MALABAR, 500 livres of it brings them only 38 reals, but on the merchandise which they give in exchange they gain 100 per cent.

One can get it for the equivalent in money of 28 or 30 reals cash, but to purchase it in that way would be much more costly than the Dutch method. As for large pepper, without going beyond the territories of the GREAT MOGUL there is enough to be obtained in the Kingdom of GUJARAT, and it is generally sold at the rate of from 12 to 15 mahmudis the maund. The wood of long pepper costs but four mahmudis. Nutmeg, mace, clove, and cinnamon are the only spices which the Dutch have in their own hands. The three first come from the MOLUCCA Islands, and the fourth, i.e. cinnamon, comes from the island of CEYLON. There is one thing remarkable about the nutmeg, namely, that the tree is never planted. This has been confirmed to me by many persons who have dwelt for many years in the country. They have assured me that when the nuts are ripe certain birds which arrive from the islands to the south swallow them whole, and reject them afterwards without having digested them, and that these nuts, being then covered by a viscous and sticky substance, fall to the ground, take root, and produce trees, which would not happen if they were planted in the ordinary way. I have here a remark to make upon the subject of the Bird of Paradise. These birds, which are very fond of the nutmeg, assemble in numbers in the season to gorge themselves with it, and they arrive in flocks as flights of [Page 13] field-fares do during the vintage. As this nut is strong it intoxicates these birds and causes them to fall dead upon the spot, and immediately the ants which abound in the country eat off their feet. It is on this account that it is commonly said that a Bird of Paradise with feet has never been seen. This is, however, not precisely true, for I have seen three or four with their feet intact, upon which the ants had not had time to operate.

A French merchant, named CONTOUR, sent one which had feet, from ALEPPO, to King Louis XII , who prized it much as it was so beautiful. But notwithstanding all the Dutch can do to prevent it, you can obtain cloves at MACASSAR, in the Isle of CELEBES, without the spice passing through their hands, because the islanders buy in secret from the captains and soldiers of the forts belonging to the Dutch at the places where the cloves grow, taking them in exchange rice and other necessaries of life, without which they would be unable to subsist, being miserably supported. Whilst commerce was vigorously pushed by the English, they acted as though their object was to destroy that of the Dutch. After having bought a parcel of cloves at MACASSAR they sent them to all the places where the Dutch were accustomed to sell them, and giving them at a cheap price, and sometimes even at a loss, by this means they ruined the clove trade of the Dutch. For it is an established custom in INDIA that the first who fixes the price of any article of merchandise constrains all others, by his example, to sell at the same rate during the year. It is for this reason that the Dutch have established a factory at MACASSAR, where their officers raise the price of cloves as much as they can when the King of the Island opens the sale. They make considerable presents to the King in order to induce him to uphold the price, which neither the English nor the Portuguese, in the miserable state in which their affairs are today, are able to prevent.

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Whenever the people of MACASSAR have cloves they pay for the goods brought to them with that spice ; payment is also made with tortoise-shell, which is in great demand in all the Empire of the MOGUL and in EUROPE: it is also made with gold dust, by which there is 6 or 7 per cent to be gained instead of its being lost on the money of the island, although it be gold, because the King adulterates it too much. The four places where cloves grow in abundance are the land of AMBOINE, the land of ELLIAS, the land of SERAM, and the land of Bouro.

The Islands of BANDA, which are six in number, known as NERO, LONTOUR, POULEAY, ROSEGUIN, POLLERON, and GRENAPUIS, bear nutmegs in great abundance. The Island of GRENAPUIS is about leagues in circuit, and culminates in a peak from whence much fire issues. The Island of DAMNE, where the nutmeg also grows in great abundance and of large size, was discovered in the year 1647 by ABEL TASMAN, a Dutch commander.

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3. CHAPTER XV Concerning diamonds, and the mines and rivers where they are found, and especially of the Author's Journey to the Mine of RAMMALOKOTA

THE diamond is the most precious of all stones, and it is the article of trade to which I am most devoted. In order to acquire a thorough knowledge of it I resolved to visit all the mines, and one of the two rivers where it is found ; and as the fear of dangers has never restrained me in any of my journeys, the terrible picture that was drawn of these mines, as being in barbarous countries to which one could not travel except by the most dangerous routes, served neither to terrify me nor to turn me from my intention. I have accordingly been at four mines, of which [Page 42] I am about to give descriptions, and at one of the two rivers whence diamonds are obtained, and I have encountered there neither the difficulties nor the barbarities with which those imperfectly acquainted with the country had sought to terrify me. Thus I am able to claim that I have cleared the way for others, and that I am the first European who has opened the route for the Franks to these mines, which [Page 43] are the only places in the world where the diamond is found.

The first of the mines which I visited is situated in the territory of the King of BIJAPUR in the Province of CARNATIC, and the locality is called RAMULKOTA, situated five days' journey from GOLCONDA, and eight or nine from BIJAPUR. The fact that the two Kings of GOLCONDA and BIJAPUR were formerly subject to the MOGUL, and were then only Governors of the Provinces which they acquired by their revolt, caused it to be said, and makes it said still by some people, that the diamonds come from the Kingdom of the GREAT MOGUL. It is only about 200 years since this mine of RAMULKOTA was discovered, at least so far as I have been able to ascertain from the people of the country. All round the place where the diamonds are found the soil is sandy, and full of rocks and jungle, somewhat comparable to the neighbourhood of FONTAINEBLEAU. There are in these rocks many veins, some of half a finger in width and some of a whole finger ; and the miners have small irons, crooked at the ends, which they thrust into the veins in order to draw from them the sand or earth, which they place in vessels ; and it is in this earth that they afterwards find the [Page 44] diamonds.

But as the veins do not always run straight, and some ascend, while others descend, they are obliged to break the rocks, always following the direction of the veins. After they have opened them out, and have removed the earth or sand which may be there, they then commence to wash it two or three times, and search in it for whatever diamonds it may contain. It is in this mine that the cleanest and whitest watered diamonds are found ; but the evil is that in order to extract the sand more easily from the rocks they strike such blows with a heavy iron crowbar that it fractures the diamonds, and gives rise to flaws. It is for this reason that so many thin stones come from this mine, for when the miners see a stone in which the flaw is of some size, they immediately cleave it, that is to say split it, at which they are much more accomplished than we are. These are the stones which we call thin ("FOIBLE"), which make a great show. If the stone is clean they do not do more than just touch it with the wheel above and below, and do not venture to give it any form, for fear of reducing the weight. But if it has a small flaw, or any spots, or small black or red grit, they cover the whole of the stone with facettes in order that its defects may not be seen, and if it has a very small flaw they conceal it by the edge of one of the facettes. But it should be remarked that the merchant prefers a black point in a stone to a red one. When there is a red one the stone is roasted, and the point becomes black. This trick was at length so well understood by me that when I examined a parcel of stones which came from this mine, and saw that there were facettes on any of them, especially small facettes, I was certain that there was some speck or flaw in the stone.

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4. CHAPTER XVIII The different kinds of Weights for weighing Diamonds at the Mines , the kinds of Gold and Silver in circulation ; the routes by which one is able to travel,and the rule in use for the estimation of the Prices of Diamonds.

I COME now to some details as to the traffic in diamonds, and in order that the reader may understand easily-believing that no one has previously written of this matter .I shall speak in the first instance of the different kinds of weights which are in use, both at the mines and in other places in ASIA. At the mine of RAMULKOTA they weigh by mangelins, and the mangelin is equal to 13/4 carats, that is to say, 7 grains.

At the mine of (GANI or) KOLLUR the same weights are used. At the mine of SOUMELPOUR in BENGAL they weigh by ratis, and the rati is 7/8 ths of a carat, or 3 1/2grains. This last weight is used throughout the whole of the Empire of the GREAT MOGUL.

In the Kingdoms of GOLCONDA and BIJAPUR mangelins are also used, but the mangelin in these places is only 1 3/8 [Page 70] carats.The Portuguese use the same weight name in GOA, but it is then equal to only 5 grains.

I come now to the kinds of money with which diamonds are purchased in INDIA. Firstly, in the Kingdom of BENGAL, in the territories of the Raja of whom I have spoken, as they are included in the dominion of the GREAT MOGUL, payment is made in rupees.

At the two mines which are in the Kingdom of BIJAPUR, in the neighbourhood of RAMULKOTA, payment is made in the new pagodas which the King coins in his own name, being entirely independent of the GREAT MOGUL. The new pagoda does not always bear the same value, for sometimes it is valued at 31/2 rupees, sometimes more and sometimes less, according as it is elevated or depressed by the state of trade, and according as the money-changers arrange matters with the Princes and Governors. At the mine of KOLLUR (or GANI), which belongs to the King of GOLCONDA, payment is made in new pagodas of equal value with those of the King of BIJAPUR. But one has to buy them sometimes at from 1 to 4 per cent premium, because they are of better gold, and because the merchants do not accept others at this mine. These pagodas are made by the English and Dutch, who have obtained from the King, either by agreement or by force, permission to manufacture them, each in their own fortress. And those of the Dutch cost 1 or 2 per cent more than those of the English, because they are of better quality, and the miners also much prefer them. But as the majority of the merchants are influenced by the false reports that the people at the mine are unsophisticated and almost savages, and that, moreover, the routes from GOLCONDA to the mines [Page 71] are very dangerous, they generally remain at GOLCONDA, where those who work the mines have their correspondents to whom they send the diamonds. Payments are made there with old pagodas, well worn, and coined many centuries ago by different Princes, who reigned in INDIA before the Muhammadans gained a footing in the country. These old pagodas are worth 41/2 rupees,i.e, 1 rupee more than the new, although they do not contain more gold, and consequently do not weigh more ; this will be a cause of astonishment if I do not explain the reason. It is that the Shroffs or Changers, in order to induce the King not to have them recoined, pay him annually a large sum, because they themselves thereby derive a considerable profit ; for the merchants never receive these pagodas without the aid of one of these Changers to examine them, some being defaced, others of low standard, others of short weight, so that if one accepted them without this examination he would lose much, and would have the trouble to return them, or perhaps lose from 1 to even 5 or 6 per cent, in addition to which he must pay the Shroffs 1/4th per cent for their trouble. When you pay the miners, they will also only receive these pagodas in presence of the Changer, who points out to them the good and bad, and again takes his 1/4th per cent. But to save time, when you desire to make a payment of 1000 or 2000 pagodas, the Changer, when receiving his dues, encloses them in a little bag, on which he places his seal, and when you wish to pay a merchant for his diamonds you take him, with the bag, to the Changer, who, seeing his own seal intact, assures him that he has examined all the coins, and will be responsible if any do not prove good.

As for rupees, the miners take indifferently those of the GREAT MOGUL and those of the King of GOLCONDA, because those coined by this King would have been the coinage of the GREAT MOGUL if these monarchs had remained on good terms. The natives of INDIA have more intelligence and subtlety than one thinks. As the pagodas are small, thick pieces [Page 72] of gold of the size of the nail of the little finger, and as it is impossible to clip them without it being apparent, they bore small holes in them all round, from whence they extract 3 or 4 sols value of gold dust, and they close them with such skill that there is no appearance of the coins having been touched. Moreover, if you buy anything in a village, or when you cross a river, if you give the boatmen a rupee, they immediately kindle a fire and throw the rupee into it, from whence if it comes out white they accept it, but if black they return it ; for all the silver in INDIA is of the highest quality, and that which is brought from EUROPE has to be taken to the mint to be recoined. I say also that those are very much deceived (as a merchant tried to make me believe in my first journey) who imagine that it answers to take to the mines spices, tobacco, mirrors, and other trifles of that kind to barter for diamonds ; for I have fully proved the contrary, and am able to assert that the merchants at the mine who sell the diamonds require good gold, and the best too.

5. BOOK III Concerning the religion of the Muhammadans and that of the Idolaters of India : the voyage of the Author by sea from SURAT to BATAVIA, and from BATAVIA to HOLLAND ; and of many peculiarities in different Kingdoms of the East

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THE diversity which is found among the Muhammadans does not only consist in the different explanations which they give to their Koran, but also in the different opinions which they have of the first successors of MUHAMMAD. It is from this that two sects, entirely opposed to one another, have sprung; the one calling itself the Sunnis is followed by the Turks, the other the Shias, which is the sect of the Persians. I shall not delay here to say more as to the difference between these two sects, which divide the Muhammadan world; having spoken sufficiently of them in my accounts of PERSIA, and I shall only describe the present condition of this false religion, both in the Empire of the GREAT MocuL and in the Kingdoms of GOLCONDA and BIJAPUR.

At the first establishment of Muhammadanism in INDIA the Christians of the East were very ostentatious but not very devout, and the Idolaters were effeminate people who were unable to make much resistance. Thus it was easy for the Muhammadans to subject both by force of arms. This they did with so much success that many Christians and Idolaters embraced the law of MUHAMMAD.

The GREAT MOGUL with all his Court followed the sect of [Page 138] the Sunnis, the King of GOLCONDA that of the Shiaz, and the King of BIJAPUR had in his territories both Sunnis and Shi'as. The same might also be said of the Court of the GREAT MoGUL, on account of the number of Persians who came to serve in his armies. It is true that although they regarded the Sunnis with horror they nevertheless follow, in outward show, the religion of the Monarch, believing that to make or secure their fortune they might conceal their true belief, and that it sufficed for them to cherish it in their hearts. As for the Kingdom of GOLCONDA, KUTAB SHAH, who reigns at present, maintains with great zeal the law of the Shias, and as the nobles of his Court are nearly all Persians, they observe the customs of the sect of the Shias with the same strictness and the same freedom from restraint as in Persia.

I have elsewhere remarked that of the native Muhammadan subjects of the GREAT MOGUL there are but few in positions of command ; this is the cause why many Persians, oppressed by want, or ambitious of better fortune than that which they can hope for in their own country, go to seek for it in INDIA. Being clever they are successful in finding means to advance themselves in {the profession of) arms, so that in the Empire of the GREAT MoguL, as well as in the Kingdoms of GOLCONDA and BIJAPUR, the Persians are in possession of the highest posts.

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AURANGZEB, especially, shows great zeal for the Sunni sect, of which he is so faithful a follower that he surpasses all his predecessors in external observation of the law, which has been the veil by means of which he has concealed his usurpation of the kingdom. When he took possession of the throne he proclaimed that it was with the design of insisting upon the law of MUHAMMAD being observed in all its strictness, as it had been relaxed during the reigns of SHAH JAHAN his father and JAHANGIR his grandfather. To show himself still more zealous for the law he became a Dervish or Fakir, i.e. a professional beggar, and under this false mantle of piety made his way cleverly to the Empire. Although he had, as I have said, numerous Persians in his service, he did not allow them to celebrate the festival of HosEN and HosAIN, sons of ALI, who were killed by the Sunni's, as I have mentioned in my accounts of PERSIA ; and they themselves, to please the King and advance their own fortunes, made no scruple about conforming themselves externally to the cult and customs of the Sunnis.


IT is estimated that there are in India 800,000 Muhammadan Fakirs, and 1,200,000 among the idolaters, which is an enormous number. They are all vagabonds and idlers, who blind the eyes of the people by a false zeal, and lead them to believe that all that escapes from their own mouths is oracular. There are different kinds of these Muhammadan Fakirs,- some are almost naked, like the Fakirs of the idolaters, who have no [Page 140] regular dwellings, and abandon themselves to all kinds of impurity without any shame. They persuade simple souls that they possess a privilege to do all kinds of evil without sin. There are other Fakirs who are clad in garments of so many pieces of different colours that one is unable to say what they are. These robes extend half way down their legs and conceal the miserable rags which are beneath. These Fakirs generally travel in company, and have a chief or superior over them who is distinguished by his garment, which is poorer and made up of more pieces than those of the others. He, moreover, drags a heavy iron chain which he has attached to one leg; it is 2 cubits long and thick in proportion. When he prays it is with great noise, which he makes with this chain and a loud voice ; this is accompanied by an affected gravity, which attracts the veneration of the people. However, the people bring him and his followers food to eat, which they serve him in the place where he stops, generally some street or public place. He has carpets spread by his disciples, and seats himself on them in order to give audience to those who wish to consult him. On the other hand, his disciples proclaim throughout the country the great virtues of their master and the favours which he receives from God, who reveals to him the most important secrets, and confers upon him the power to aid afflicted persons with good advice. The people give him easy credence, and regard him as a holy man, and come to him with great devotion, and when one of them approaches close to him, he takes the shoes from off his feet and prostrates himself before the Fakir in order to kiss his feet. Then the Fakir, in order to appear humble, extends his arm and gives his hand to be kissed, after which he makes those who come to consult him, sit near him, and he listens to each in turn. He boasts of possessing a prophetic spirit, especially for indicating to women who are sterile the way in which they may obtain children, and how to constrain any one they wish to manifest love for them. There are Fakirs who have more than 200 disciples, whom they assemble by the sound of the drum and a horn similar [Page 141] to the horns of our huntsmen. When marching, the disciples carry their standard, lances, and other arms, which they stick in the ground near their master: when he halts to rest anywhere.

The third kind of these Fakirs of the EAST INDIES consists of those who, being born of poor parents, and wishing to know the law thoroughly, in order to become Mullas or doctors, take up their abode in mosques, where they live on whatever charity is bestowed upon them. They occupy their time in reading the Koran, which they learn by heart, and when they are able to add to this study some little knowledge of natural things, with the example of a good life, according to their ideas, they become heads of mosques, and reach the dignity of Mullas and judges of the law. These Faki'rs have wives, and some, through piety and the great desire they have to imitate MUHAMMAD, have three or four of them, believing that thereby they do God a great service, by being fathers of many children who will follow the law of their Prophet.

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7. CHAPTER XVII Concerning the Kingdom of ASSAM

It was never properly known what the Kingdom of ASSAM was till after that great Captain MIR JUMLA, to whom I have often referred in the history of the Moguls, had assured the Empire to AURANGZEB by the death of all his brothers and the imprisonment of his son. He concluded, that, the war being finished, he would be no longer esteemed at Court [Page 217] as highly as he had been when Commander-in Chief of the armies of AURANGZEB, and all powerful in the Kingdom where he had a great number of supporters. In order, therefore, to retain for himself the command of the troops, he resolved to undertake the conquest of the Kingdom of ASSAM, where he knew he would not meet with much resistance, the country having had no war for 500 or 600 years, and the people being without experience in arms. It is believed that it is this same people who, in ancient times, first discovered gunpowder and guns, which passed from ASSAM to PEGU, and from PEGU to CHINA; this is the reason why the discovery is generally ascribed to the Chinese. MIR JUMLA brought back from this war numerous iron guns, and the gunpowder made in that country is excellent. Its grain is not long as in the Kingdom of BHUTAN, but is round and small like ours, and is much more effective than the other powder. MIR JUMLA left DACCA then with a powerful army for the conquest of the Kingdom of ASSAM. At 5 leagues from DACCA one of the rivers which comes from the lake of CHIAMAY, which like other rivers of INDIA takes different names according to the places it passes, joins an arm of the GANGES, and at the place where these two rivers meet there are forts on each side, both being armed with good pieces of bronze cannon, which shoot at a level with the water. This is where MIR JuMLA embarked, his army ascending the river to the [Page 218] 29th or 30th degree, where the frontier of ASSAM is situated, and thence he led it by land through a country abounding with all the necessaries of life, and with but little means of defence, especially as the people were taken by surprise. As they are all idolaters, the army, which consisted wholly of Muhammadans, did not spare their pagodas, but destroyed them wherever they met with them, burning and sacking all, up to the 35th degree! MIR JUMLA then heard that the King of AssAM was in the field with a larger number of forces than had been expected ; that he had many guns, and an abundance of fireworks, similar to our grenades or nearly so, which are fixed at the end of a stick of the length of a short pike, as I have elsewhere represented, and carry more than 500 paces. MIR JUMLA, having received this intelligence, did not consider it prudent to advance farther, but the principal cause of his return was that the cold season had commenced, and in order to conquer all that country it would have been necessary to go as far as the 45th degree of latitude; this would have involved the loss of his army. For the Indians are so susceptible to cold, and fear it so much, that it is impossible to make them pass the 30th, or at the most the 35th degree, except at the risk of their lives, and of all the servants whom I took from INDIA to PERSIA, it was a great thing for them to come as far as KASVIN, and I never succeeded in taking any of them to TABRIZ. As soon as they saw the mountains of MEDEA covered with snow I had to allow them to return home. As MIR JUMLA was unable to go farther north, he resolved to turn to the south-west, and laid siege to a town called Azoo, which he took in a short time, and found great riches [Page 219] there. Many are of opinion that his original design was merely to take this town and to pillage it, and afterwards return, as he in fact did It is in this town of Azoo that the tombs of the Kings of ASSAM and of all the members of the royal family are situated. Although the Assamese are idolaters, they do not burn the bodies of the defunct, but bury them. They believe that after death they go to another world, where those who have lived well in this world lack nothing, and enjoy all kinds of pleasure; while, on the contrary, those who have lived badly, and have taken the property of others, suffer much, principally hunger and thirst, and that, accordingly, it is prudent to bury something with them to serve them at need. Thus it was that MIR JUMLA found such a quantity of riches at Azoo, since for many centuries every King has had built for himself in the great pagoda a sort of chapel where he was to be buried, and during their lifetime, each of them sent, to be placed in the grave where he was to be buried, a quantity of gold and silver, carpets and other articles. When the body of a dead king is buried in his grave all his most precious possessions are also placed there, as a private [Page 220] idol of gold or silver which he worshipped during life, and all things which it is believed will be required by him in the other world. But that which is most strange, and which savours much of barbarism is, that as soon as the King is dead, some of his most beloved wives and the principal officers of his house kill themselves by means of a poisoned decoction, in order to be interred with him, so that they may serve him in the other world. Besides which an elephant, twelve camels, six horses, and numerous sporting dogs are buried with him, it being believed that all these animals will come to Iif e again, after they are dead, in order to serve the King.

This Kingdom of ASSAM is one of the best countries in Asia, for it produces all that is necessary to the life of man, without there being need to go for anything to the neighbouring States. There are mines of gold. silver, steel, lead, and iron, and much silk, but it is coarse. There is a kind of silk which is produced on trees, and is made by an animal having the form of our silkworm, but it is rounder and remains for a whole year on the trees.The stuffs which are made of this silk are very brilliant, but soon fray and do not last long.

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It is in the southern direction where these silks are produced, and that the gold and silver mines are situated. The country also produces an abundance of shellac, there are two kinds of it. That which is formed on trees is of a red colour, and is what they dye their calicoes and other stuffs with, and when they have extracted this red colour they use the lac to lacquer cabinets and other objects of that kind, and to make Spanish wax.A large quantity of it is exported to CHINA and JAPAN, to be used in the manufacture of cabinets ; it is the best lac in the whole of ASIA for these purposes. As for the gold, no one is permitted to remove it out of the Kingdom, and it is not coined into money, but is kept in large and small ingots, which the people make use of in local trade, not taking it elsewhere ; but as for silver, the King coins it into money of the size and weight of rupees, and of an octagonal shape, and they may be taken outside the Kingdom. Although the country abounds, as I have said, with all things necessary to life, among all articles of food the flesh of the dog is especially esteemed, it is the favourite dish at feasts, and every month, in each town in the Kingdom, the people hold markets where they only sell dogs, which are brought thither from all directions. There are also quantities of vines and good grapes, but no wine, the grapes being merely dried to distil spirits from. Finally, as regards salt, there is none in the Kingdom but what is manufactured, which is done in two ways. The first is to collect vegetable matter which [Page 222] is found in stagnant water, such as ducks and frogs eat. It is dried and burnt, and the ashes derived from it being boiled and strained as is described below, serve as salt. The other method, which is that most commonly followed, is to take some of those large leaves of the kind of fig tree which we call Adam's fig, they are dried in the same manner and burnt, and the ashes from them consist of a kind of salt which is so pungent that it is impossible to eat it unless it is softened, this is done in the following way. The ashes are put into water, where they are stirred about for ten or twelve hours, then this water is strained three times through a cloth and then boiled. As it boils the sediment thickens, and when the water is all consumed, the salt, which is white and fairly good, is found at the bottom of the pot.

It is from these ashes of fig leaves that in this country the lye is made to boil silk, which becomes as white as snow, and if the people of ASSAM had more figs than they have, they would make all their silks white, because white silk is much more valuable than the other, but they have not sufficient to bleach half the silks which are produced in the country.

KEMMEROUF' is the name of the town where the King of ASSAM resides, it is twenty-five or thirty days' journey from that which was formerly the capital of the Kingdom and bore the same name. The King takes no tribute from his people, but all the mines of gold, silver, lead, steel, and iron belong to him, and in order not to oppress his subjects, he only employs the slaves [Page 223] whom he buys from his neighbours for working in the mines. Thus all the peasants of ASSAM are at their ease, and there is scarcely any one who has not a separate house in the middle of his land, a fountain surrounded by trees, and even the majority keep elephants for their wives. These idolaters, unlike those of INDIA, who have but one wife, have four, and when a man marries one, in order that there may be no dispute among them, he says to her,‘I take you to serve me in my household for this purpose,’ and to another, ‘I destine you for another,’ and thus each of these women knows what she has to do in the house. The men and women are of fine build, and of very good blood ; but the people dwelling on the southern frontier are somewhat olive coloured, and are not subject to goitre like those of the north. The latter are not of so fine a build, and the majority of their women have somewhat flat noses. These people of the southern part go about naked, having only a piece of calico with which they cover that which modesty requires them to conceal, with a cap like those English caps, around which they hang an abundance of pigs' teeth. They have their ears pierced so that one might easily pass the thumb through the holes, some carry ornaments of gold in them and others of silver. The men wear their hair down to their shoulders, and the women leave it as long as it can grow. There is in the Kingdom of AssAM, as well as in the Kingdom of BHUTAN, a large trade in tortoise shell bracelets, and sea shells as large as an egg, which are sawn into small circles, but the rich wear bracelets of coral and yellow amber.

[Page 224]

When a man dies all his relatives and friends should come to the interment, and when they place the body in the ground they take off all the bracelets which are on their arms and legs and bury them with the defunct.

[Page 250]


On the 25th of July we left POINT DE GALLE on a different vessel from that upon which we had arrived, because, on its being examined, it was found that it could not make [Page 251] the journey without danger. Accordingly, all the goods were discharged from it and transhipped to that in which we embarked for BATAVIA. On the 2d of June we crossed the line, and on the 6th reached the island called NAZACOS. On the 17th we sighted the coast of SUMATRA, on the 18th the island of INGAGNE, and on the 19th the island of FORTUNE. On the 20th we saw several other small islands, and the coast of JAVA, and among these islands there are three which are called PRINCE'S ISLANDS. On the 21st we saw the island of BANTAM, and on the 22d we anchored in the roads at BATAVIA. On the following day I landed, and went to salute General Vanderlin and M.Caron, the Director General, who was the second person in the council.

On the 25th, two days after my arrival, the General sent one of his guards to invite me to dinner, where there were assembled, M.Caron, two other councillors, the Avocat-Fiscal, the Major, and their wives. Whilst we were at table they conversed about the news from foreign countries, and principally of the court of the King of PERSIA, and after dinner some began to play at backgammon, while awaiting the coolness in order to take exercise outside the town by the river's bank, where there are very fine places for bathing. As for the General, he went to his office, where he asked me to accompany him. After some conversation on indifferent matters he asked me for what purpose.I had come to BATAVIA. I told him that I had principally come to see so renowned a place ; and having had an opportunity of doing service to the Company at the request of the Chief of the factory at VENGURLA, I had been [Page 252] led to undertake the voyage, as he might see for himself by the letter which he had written to him. I told him, at the same time, as the Commander of VENGURLA had requested me, of the discovery which had been made by a caravel of PORTUGAL, which a storm had driven into a bay situated 30 leagues from the CAPE of Good hope

The Commander thought that the General would be able to send a small vessel there from BATAVIA, and that by conveying the news I would do a service to the Company ; and it was also with this in view that he offered me a passage in the vessel which was in the roads at VENGURLA. After I had finished my account of the matter to the General, he thanked me somewhat coldly, as being a thing of small importance, although I have since learnt that he sent to seek for the bay, but the vessel was unable to find it. After about half an hour's interview I left him in his office, into which three councillors entered at the same moment, and as I left he said that if I would wait for a little we should go together to promenade outside the town. I then joined Madame la Generale, and the other ladies who were keeping her company, and one hour afterwards two trumpets commenced to sound. The General and Madame, with four of the wives of the councillors, entered a carriage with six horses, and the councillors rode on horseback. I was allotted a horse with Persian saddle and bridle, the furniture of which was very beautiful. There are always forty or fifty saddle-horses in the stables of the General, for there is not a vessel that does not bring him some, either from ARABIA or PERSIA or other places. A company of cavalry marched in front of the General's carriage, each dragoon having a collar of buffalo skin and long scarlet hose with silver lace, the hat with a bundle of plumes, the great scarf with a fringe of silver, the sword-guard and spurs of massive silver, and all the horses had very beautiful trappings. Three bodyguards marched at each door carrying halberds, and being well clad. Each had a doublet of yellow satin, and the upper part of the hose of scarlet covered with silver lace, and below with yellow silk, [Page 253] and very fine linen. Behind the carriage there marched a company of infantry, besides another which went an hour or two in advance to clear the way. As for the councillors, when they move about, as well as when they are in their houses, they have each two musketeers for their guard, and when they wish for horses the General's equerry sends them what they require. They have also their small boats in order to row about either on the sea, the river, or on the canals, where each of them has his garden. Our promenade was not long, the reason being that when leaving the fort two vessels were seen approaching, no one being able to say what they were. As the General and councillors were impatient to hear the news, they returned to the fort sooner than they had intended ; and as soon as we had re-entered I took leave of the General, the councillors, and the ladies, and withdrew to my lodging. During three or four days I received numerous visits, this caused me no small expenditure, because custom requires that when any one comes to see you you offer him wine. One hundred tcus are soon spent ; for a pint of wine, of about PARIS measure, holds but four glasses. Spanish wine, when cheap, costs an tseu at BATAVIA, Rhine and French wine cost two, and one must pay 40 sols for a pint of beer, whether English or of BRONCEVIMONT.

The greatest joy known to the people of BATAVIA is experienced when vessels come from HOLLAND, for they bring all kinds of drinks, which the publicans buy from the Company, it being permitted also to every private person to buy them. But be it that they find more pleasure in drinking at the publichouses than in their own houses, be it that it is more convenient to them, when they wish to amuse themselves together, they generally make all their rejoicings in these places. It is a time of great festival when these new drinks arrive, and you meet women and girls in the streets who wager you for a pint or two of wine or beer. Whether one loses or gains, out of honour one never allows the women to pay, and there come others in addition at the same time to whom the occasion demands you should drink their healths. This often empties the purses of young people.

This is a selection from the original text


diamonds, religion, spices, trade, travel

Source text

Title: Travels in India, Volume II

Author: Jean Baptiste Tavernier

Editor(s): V. Ball

Publisher: MacMillan and Co.

Publication date: 1889

Original compiled 1676

Original date(s) covered: 1583-1619

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive: Original compiled 1676 Original date(s) covered: 1583-1619

Digital edition

Original author(s): Jean Baptiste Tavernier

Original editor(s): V. Ball

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) Tp
  • 2 ) Page no. B
  • 3 ) Pages 2-3
  • 4 ) Pages 10-14
  • 5 ) Pages 41-44
  • 6 ) Pages 69-72
  • 7 ) Pages 137-141
  • 8 ) Pages 216-224
  • 9 ) pages 250-253


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > non-fiction prose > travel narratives and reports

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.