A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile

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Introductory notes

A Relation of Some Years Travail was published in 1634. It was written by Thomas Herbert. It is a travel narrative relaying the author’s experiences when he was twenty-one. Thomas Herbert was born in 1608. He travelled to India and Persia as a part of Sir Dodomore Cotton’s diplomatic mission to Shah Abbas I. Later in his life he would be the custodian of Charles I during his imprisonment. He died in 1682. Selections have been made from A Relation of Some Years Travail covering the territories of Surat, Diu, Malabar and the Coromandel. Different facets of India are provided to the reader. Primary Reading Herbert,Thomas, A Relation of Some Years Travail,Jacob Bloome. Suggested Reading Foster, William, Early Travels In India 1583-1619,archive.org.

Anno 1626.
Into Afrique and the greater Asia, especially
the Territories of the Persian Monarchie: and
some parts of the Orientall Indies,
and Iles adiacent.
Of their Religion, Language, Habit, Dis-
cent, Ceremonies, and other matters
concerning them.
Together with the proceedings and death of the three
late Ambassadours: Sir D. C. Sir R. S. and the Persian
As also the two great Monarchs, the King of Persia,
and the Great MOGOL.
By T. H. Esquier.
Printed by William Stansby, and Jacob
Bloome, 1634.

PUBLISHED by William Stansby
PUBLISHED by Jacob Bloome
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1. Surat

Surat is scituate within the burning Zone, in the Latitude of twentie one degrees, twenty minutes, in the Kingdome of Guzurat, and tributary to the Great Mogull: tis ten miles from the Bay, and is watered by a River (not so broad as is our Thames) which I imagine derives its originall from some streame of the River Indus.

The City of Surat is for quantity comparable to Plymmouth, her houses of sundried mud, trellized and flat atop: at the South end it enjoyes a Castle planted with great Ordinance and Ammunition, but of small use, in that the River is not navigable, but with [Page 36] Shallops and Frigots, that draw not much water.

There are many large and handsome Houses in it. And at the North-west end the English Merchants have a residence, and under a President: their House is very great and magnificent in bulke and entertainment, for any Forreiner. I am their Debtor for love and courtesie

The Inhabitants are alike in colour, though different in Religion, they are of three severall compositions: Moores, Bannyans, and Persae.

The Moores are Lords, and Supreame ore the rest, their Religion is Mahometicall. They affect much the Language of Persia, which has got the best repute in the Mogols Court, most of whose Sultans and Captaines are by birth Persians, more resolute and victorious than these Indians, and no lesse faithfull to him; although mercenarie.

They regard not Letters, their Armes are Sword and Buckler, Bowes, and Arrowes, Javelins, Knives, and the like. The Indians are sawcie, proud, bloudy, trayterous and cowardly; much addicted to Venery.

The Persae are reliques of the old inhabitants, from Alexanders time, who conquered them. The Bannian Priests called Bramini, are the Pythagorian Sect of the Gymnosophists. They hate Mahumed, and acknowledge one God and Creatour of all things. The better sort are called Mockadams, or Masters; their behaviour very good and tolerable.

I referre the description of their Religion to a Booke late written by Master Lord a Preacher to the Merchants in Surat. His Booke is called A Display of two Sects in India. Persae and Bannyans.

I shall represent the garbe of the Bannyan, that it may the better possesse your imagination.

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2. A Description of the Bannyans in India.

The Bannyans are tawny in complexion, are craftie, faire spoken, exquisite Merchants and superstitious. They weare their haire long, paint their faces, and put Rice upon the paint, a holy remedy for each dayes chances: their habit [Page 38] is a long coat of white quilted Callico, tied under the left side with Ribbands, their head, has a Tulipant or Shash, sometimes of one, sometimes of many colours. They weare shooes without latchets, and often Sandals.

Their Religion is rare and wonderfull, beyond apprehension, and scorne Mahomet. The severall casts of them are Cutteries, Shudderies and Wyses. They never marry out of their owne Triball vocation, as Bannyans, Bannyans; Persae, Persaes; Moores wed Moores, and in their owne Trades. They have many Taylours, but no slaughtermen. For they so much detest the slaughter of any creature, though a Louse, that they not only abhorre to eat it, or destroy it, but buy their lives, of those that would destroy them. Imagining as did Pythagoras, the transmigration of mens soules into other creatures.

They wil not feed on ought has bloud and life. Their food is Rice, Plantaines, and many other dainty fruits, their liquour, water and Rose-water, Sugar and juice of Lemmons, which they drinke out of a spout, and powre it into their mouthes, without touching the pot to avoid pollution, some have beene assest at twenty thousand Mammoodaes, or shillings; by Judges of their owne Religion, for tasting Wine or strong Water.

The two Elements of Fire and Water, are of divine esteeme amongst them, and grieve to see those creatures abused in needlesse, or profane uses. So that at their Funerals, their bodies are incorporated with those sacred flames, which burns to ashes, those corps which duly worshipt this consuming Deitie. They believe no Resurrection of their bodies, therfore give the foure Elements their peculiar dues.

Some of this Sectadore the Trees, and adorne them with Streamers of silke Ribands and the like. Their Priests are of venerable account their, and in some places have the first nights embraces with the Bride, reputing their Issue holier and more fortunate.

They come each morning through the streets, and bestow a Charme upon them, beautifying their faces with streakes of red, blue and yellow paint, on which they affixe Rice, which is the signall of their Baptisme.

The women are of a little better colour, some have lovely countenances, they weare long haire and loose, and yet covered with a fine thinne vaile of Callico Lawne. Their eares hung with five, six, or eight Rings, some so great and ponderous, that their eares are extended very much. They also hang their noses with Rings and jewels of Gold inammeld and set with stones of worth and lustre, the shapes of which you may see elsewhere depicted.

They worship the Devill, in sundry shapes and representations. I have seene some of their Pagothes or Idols, in wood, resembling a man, painted with sundry colours, his legs stradling, very wide, under [Page 39] him two Lampes, not alwayes burning. In other Fanes they have three or five great Pagods, to which they pray, though they be mishapen and horrible.

They adore the fire also, and conceive divine thoughts of Kine and Heifers. Their mariages are sometimes secret, other times performed with much superstition. They hate Poligamy, but so extreamely honour Wedlocke, that they seldome are unmarried at seven yeares of age. The men goe in triumph about the streets one day, and the Bride next, and if it chance, a childe die, nere he be married, the parents of him that died, procure some Damsell (to whom for a Dowrie, they give some Dynaes of Gold to betroth him) to lie one night with the deceased. Their Funerals are these, they bring the dead corps neere to their Churches, where they sacrifice him to ashes, in costly perfumes, in Aromatique Gummes and Spices. Sometimes the woman throwes herselfe into the fire, and burnes together with her husbands carcasse deriving to themselves much reputation and glory amongst the survivers. But at Surat, Brampore, Amadavad, Lohore, Agray or Cabull, where the Moores predominate, they are not suffered, though in other parts of India, towards Bengala and the Coast of Chormandell, they continue that loving custome devoutly to this day, as shall be spoken of in my description of those parts following.

Another Ceremony in Funerall pompe among the Persae is this: They put the dead body into a winding sheet, all the way his kindred beat themselves till they come within fiftie or an hundred paces neere the monument or buriall place, their the Herboods or Priests, oppose them, attired in yellow Skarffes and Turbants, who take the dead body (leaving them their, where they stand, till the action be ended) the Nacesselars, Priests carry it to a little shed, or furnace, and exercise hidden raptures by fire, unto the fire. Which done, they place the corps, a top of a round stone building twelve foot high & eightie about, the entrance only to the Northeast side, where is a small grate, through which they conveigh the body, into that monument: which is flat above, wholy open, and plaistered with smooth white loame, in the midst is a hole, discending to the bottome, which receives that putrefaction and uncleannesse, issuing from the melting bodies, which are laid there naked, and in a twofold roundnesse, exposed to the Sunnes fiery rage, and devouring appetites of Vultures and Cormorants, who usually prey their: tearing their flesh, and disordering it, so that the uglinesse and fearefull stench of the unburied bodies (in some Dormitories three hundred) is so violent, that (unlesse the raritie of wonders urge a Travellour to view them) they are better to be spoken of, then seene. And note that after the corps are laid there, the Persae will never approch to see the buried, nor doe [Page 40] they enquire after them, but grieve exceedingly, that a Christian should goe thither to view them, or tell them of it. The good are laid in one, and the bad in others; all are carried in Iron coffins, because wood is sacred to the fire, which they adore.

These Persae are descended of the ancient Persians, who adored fire. For the Persians, that now inhabit Persia, are extract from Scythia, and came hither with Tamberlaine, or the Turkomans.

A like people now live among the Persians, called Gowers, who were of the old inhabitans. They yet pray to the fire, and are much abased by the Moores.

The utmost point South of this Indian tract is cald Cape Comri or Comrein from the Aequinoctiall eight degrees to the North. That utmost point is in Mallabar, a Kingdome ruled by the Sambreyn or King. On the otherside the point, is the Kingdome of Narsmga Negapatan, and Maesulipatan. In which Countries are found Wonders and heathen Entertainments.

So soone as a stranger arrives, of what Countrey soever, hee shall presently have his choice of many Virgins, and choosing one he fancies, for a small price; she guides him to a lodging, and performes his domestique affaires what ever, at bed and board, all the time of his [Page 41] abode their discharging her duty and privacie very punctually: and he during that season must beware of familiarity with other women, which if he subject himselfe to, she aymes to poyson him.

At his departure, he payes her wages to her parents, she returnes home, with credit and ostentation. Here also, when any Noble or Inferiour person enters wedlocke, he takes it for a courtesie, that any stranger will accept the first nights ceremonie with his Bride.

Some (but most are Peguans) weare bels of gold fixt to their Genitors, within the bell is an Adders tongue dried, which sounds harmoniously.

The women goe most part naked, except a cloth which should cover those parts, made to be private.

In some of these Cities, the Paynym parents, sow up almost the wombe of their female children, which is only then dissected, when she is married.

Their vilest ceremony is this. That at the marriage of a Virgin, the Bridegroome, to honour the Devillish Idoll, brings her afore the Pagode, or Idoll; who commonly is of a tall stature, and shaped ugly, in his privy parts he has a bodkin of gold or silver, an intended Instrument, to violate her chastitie. Which, they suppose obtained, by the Pagotha, such time, as she is forcably put unto his Engine, the the sharpnesse being such, that the bloud issues not only thence, but from other parts of her wounded body, this done, with great joy and applause she returnes to her Pagan husband, and if shee be with childe that yeare, tis supposed the Pagod got it.

The usuall Coine in India, within the Moguls Territories are Pice, Mammoodees, Rowpees, and Dynaes, thicke and round, and engraven with Arabique Sentences (for Mahometisme allow not Images) a Pice is in English money, a half-peny, a Mammoodee is twelve pence, a Rowpee, two shillings three pence, a Dyna thirty shillings, an English shilling valves twentie two Pice, or a Mammoodee and one Pice. A Spanish shilling (which is a fourth part of a Dollar) gives twenty five Pice, a Riall of eight gives five Mammoodees wanting three Pice, and an English twentie shilling peece (too many of which are conveighed among the Indians) will at Surat give twentie two shillings sixe pence, and in Persia twentie five shillings at least.

In Swalley Road (such times, the ships come thither) the Bannyans, have Tents and straw houses pitcht neere the water side in abundance, their they sell Callicoes, Cheney Sattin, Cheney ware, Aggats, Turquesses, Sugar and such like. Many little boyes at your going ashore will desire to doe you daily service, which they will carefully performe for two pence a day, they prattle English and Portugall prettily.

The usuall sort of travell is by Coaches, poorely furnisht and drawne with Oxen and Buffols.

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These people will neither eat nor drinke, with any Christian, yet they will converse and cozen one without scruple: the Devill warrants them. They will not entertaine a stranger to their houses, jealous of their Wives and Daughters; who (as many report) are extreme venerous or lustfull.

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3. The Citie Diu.

Neere this place, along the Gulfe of Persia, is the Citie of Diu, it is in the latitude of twenty two degrees, odde minutes North. It has a Castle of great strength and beautie, built and possest by the Lordly Portugall, tis placed in a small peninsula made by the River Indus, which their ingulfes herselfe into the Indian Seas, after her long and swift descent from Caucasus.

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4. Of Mallabar.

And that we are now in sight of Mallabar, a famous and weal thy part of the Orientall Indies, let the patient Reader suffer me to lead him along in the description of this & other no lesse famous (then honourable Kingdomes, different in Elevation, power, Language, Religion, and other heathen Ceremonies, which tho they proceed from an uncertaine Observation, yet the author can assure him most part truth. And in this may receive some immediate benefit, if by contemplation, hee behold the varietie of temporary blessings, no part in the universe exceeding these, not withheld from Pagan people afforded by Gods alknowing and guiding Providence, which notwithstanding being mixt with unthankfulnesse, damnable Idolatry, and variety of carnall objects turne to their greater distruction, and endlesse miseries. And by these we see Gods infinite mercy towards ourselves, to whom hee has [Page 187] vouchsafed not only a sufficient portion of wealth and worldly pleasures, but enriched us above all, with that invaluable Pearle the Gospell, and benefit of his sonnes satisfaction for our sinnes, by which (though to a Carnalist those triumphs of nature may seeme incomparable) we see our owne happy difference with their conceited Paradice and Trophees of consuming pleasure.

I account so farre of East India, as is from eighteene degrees North latitude to the utmost point cald Cape Comerin, under seven degrees or thereabouts (by the Seacoast)the Kingdome of Mallabar, in the first place presenting it selfe unto description, wherein are many well built Cities and great, as Goa, Dabull, pertaining unto the Portugall, Callicut, Cochin, Cananore, Mangalore and others, it is governed by a King whom they call Samorein, his best sort of people are termed Nairos, the great Samorein or Emperour commonly resides at Cochin, under whom rule many Viceroyes, they are of Mahomets Sect, but dissent much from the Turkes and Persians, and differ much from that kind of Idolatry Lodovicus Vertomanus reports them for. Their colour is blacke (living in the scorching frie of the Torrid Zone) goe naked from the waste upwards, save that their heads are covered with a low Tulipant (or wreath of silke and gold) about their middles, they have a cloth of particoloured plad, like that with us in England.

Their thighes and legs are naked, yet have the poorer sort nothing more then a small vaile over their privities wholy naked elsewhere, their haire is blacke and crispe. And in augmention of fashion, they very orderly cut and pinke their skin of sundry formes in sundry places.

Their Marriages are rare and ceremonious, one same observed from King to Pesant, for who so marries, has not the first nights imbraces with the Bride, but very honestly bestowes her mayden-head on the Bramini (or their Priests) who well performe it. And truly these Idoll Priests are in such great esteeme among them, that it is usuall with them to enter the Kings house or any others, discourse at pleasure with their females, and to use (I might say abuse) them with discretion.

And note that at such time as the Bramini enters, the good man of the house leaves him possession, joying not a little, that the holy (so reputed) man discends to teach and accompany their wives and daughters.

When the King dies, they forbeare to crowne his sonne, but accumulate that honour on his Sisters sonne (and good cause for it) for they say who knowes truly, whether his sonne were of his owne begetting, but the Sisters boy is of his bloud and infallible Discent, whereby they scorne to erre according to their owne assertions.

The women here (as in other places of India, where we travelled) [Page 188] dilacerate their eares to a monstrous proportion, for by the ponderousnesse of their eare Jewels they teare their eares to that capacitie: that I have easily put my arme through their eareholes. The Gentry are stiled Nairos, are a valiant and well made people, pleate their haire very decently, and their naked armes are only clothed with Bracelets of silver and juory, they never walke the streets without Sword and Target, and if any vulgar fellow meet them, they presently shake and vibrate their Swords upon their Shields, crying aloud Nayroe and so obtaine the way without opposition.

But whereas some have reported that no poore man dare looke a Nayro in the face, or meet a Priest or Nairo within fifty paces, thereby securing themselves from the others fury, it may well be it has once beene so, but now it is not altogether true nor fabulous.

In Calicut, a great Citie ten leagues whence we tooke our price, the people are reputed Paynims. For their King adores the Devill (whom they call Deumo) the Chappell where this Monster sits is uncovered, and in height about three yards. As they goe in, the woodden entrance is ingraven with hellish shapes. Within, their beloved Deumo is imperiously inthronized upon a brazen Mount. His head is advanced with a rich Diadem, from his head issue foure great hornes (such as have the Rams of Persia) his eyes gleering, mouth like a port Cullis, beautified with foure tuskes, his nose ugly flat, his looke terrible, hands like clawes, has Lions thighes and legs, and feet not unlike a Monkey. And besides this Grand Pagod are lesser Deumoes glistering like Glowormes. Some of which are pictured devouring soules.

Each morne the Braminy or Priest perfume and wash them, not going away without craving his malediction, humbly prostrate hee requires it (and tis granted him.) For every Moone they solemnely bequeath a living Sacrifice unto their Deumo, which usually is a daintie Cocke. The Priest in his Sacrifice is apparelled in fine Lawne, and with a sharp silver Knife, he nobly destroyes the yeelding Cock, whose warme bloud is offered to the Devill, the Sacrificers armes, and legges are garnished with round silver plates and other trifles, which as he moves makes a gingling noyse. The Ceremony ended, he fils his hands with Rice, and Crab-like goes retrograde from the Idoll, all the way stedfastly fixing his eyes upon his Deumo, when being come to a Lake (like Acheron) there hee embowels his Rice, therewith advanceth his hands above his head, he returns and makes himselfe heire unto the Offerings.

Nor sits the King to meate till such time as the Deumo has it offered by the Preists, and having spread it, with Acheronticke murmors returne it to the King, but what is left is given to the Crowes, [Page 189] whose modest appetites, make those prettie Birds be dedicated to the Devill.

The people in way of mutuall love and amity, use to exchange their wives, with which the women seeme contented, and here Poligamy is not forbidden; for as the men have many Wives, so have the women many Husbands. But the children are given to such the woman fancies and bequeathes unto, and hee is thereto right well contented, nor doubting, nor questioning his best right unto the Infant.

It is an ordinary custome here to wash the body wholy every morne, that done they goe unto the Idoll, where, with unspeakable ill-favoured gestures, and writhing of their mouth and eyes, they continue their invocations wel-nigh an houre, which ceremony is so hideously acted that it raises no small stupefaction in the beholders.

This superstitious people frequently resort to the Citie of Callicute, in the forme of sober Pilgrimage, which Idolatry derives not a little wealth to the Deumo their and his Agents, Concomitants in his knaveries.

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5. A description of Choromandell.

THe Coast of Choromandell stretches, from the point called Cape Comerin, and so runnes along Northerly towards the Bengalan Gulph and Ganges, by the Townes Negapatan, Narsinga, Armagun, Meliapore, Mesulipatan, &c.

At Negapatan and other places inhabit Pagans (howbeit about Meliapor, where lies martyred Saint Thomas, are Christians) and in many other places great Rulers of the Sect of Mahomet and under the Moguls command. The people are of a duskie complexion, and weare little clothing, save what is thin and delicate, Gold nor Copper want [Page 191] they, or fruits, or meates that be right good, the Braminy are with them in great plenty, who very readily teach and instruct the perfect way unto damnation. Their beliefe is beyond their owne expression and others apprehensions, nor use these people Circumcision, which tels me that they love not Mahomet. They allow Poligamy, and in their Weddings affoord observation for a Traveller. The Priests and (to be) married couple, with a faire fruitfull Cow (a beast of Divine repute amongst them) repayres unto the water side, where after Prayers to their Infernall Guiders, they linke their hands uniformely in the Cowes taile, on which the Braminy powres a Violl of hallowed Oile and Water, and after Ceremony drives the Cow into the water, who enters many times so farre that they are covered to the middles in the Sea. During which they hold fast their hands, till the Cow fearing Neptune, wisely returnes, they then disunite themselves, holding that conjunction sacred and powerfull ever after.

Their Epithalamies are done, lets heare their Funerals; such time the Husband dies, he is embalmed, and shortly after, his dearely loving Wife in company of parents and children, wanting no attendance of Musique and Boals Priests, all deckt in neat attire, her head, armes, necke, nose, eares, legs and toes, each charged with Amulets and Bracelets of silver, with other Jewels, her hands hold fragrant flowres, which as shee goes she sweetly gives to all shee meets withall, and which distributed, the Bramini shewes her a Magique glasse, whose art represents unto her, frolique Birds, fragrant trees, and sensuall pleasures, at which view (poore soule) shee grants a modest smile, interpreted, as longing to possesse them, and in her hands they fixe a gilded ball, which (with her body) she rowles in antique forme and order, in the way (still gazing in the mirrour) the Bramini whispers in her eares, telling her of wonderfull matters and ineffable joyes shee should possesse, which so tickle her, as transported she shewes herselfe beyond all measure, so that being arrived, shee sees the fire whereinto her late dead Spouses body is put (a hole of two yards depth and equall widenesse) environed with sweet wood and other perfumes, entranc'd, she sees, she leanes into, she incorporates herselfe with fire and husband (mercilesse too much adored) fire, which leaves nothing extant save fame and ashes, immediatly shee is consumed, and her sacrifice is bettered with a number of Annulets and Jewels, her Kindred throw upon her which done, the living Spectatours returne well satisfied.

But such as deny to burne, are shaven, put away and hated like a Dogge, yea, live hourely in danger to be slaine by their owne issue, a just revenge, for their former too much abused liberty, growne so audaciously impudent, that upon the least distaste nothing but the harmelesse lives of their too much loving Husbands, would satiate [Page 192] their lustfull boldnesse, procured by poyson, till by Parliament this course was taken (to burne their Wives with their dead bodies) to secure themselves from future dangers.

Againe (O griefe to speake it) in these parts, the people are so extreamely Idolatrous, and overswayed by the insatiable gulph of perdition the Devill, that they adore a great massie Copper gilded Idol, whose Statue is gloriously mounted upon a Chariot which mooves with eight mighty wheeles, overlaid with Gold, the ascent up to the Idoll upon the Chariot is spacious and easie by many and enlarging steps, on which sit with sober visage, the Priests and other little Girles who in way of devotion (impure sanctitie) prostiute themselves to the libidinous heat of wicked men, the better thereby to enrich their Pagode, or adored Devill, and for which their dutifulnesse, they are entitled, the Pagodes children: these Nemeses with their Priests give Sacrifices to the Devill (fond zeale of their besotted Parents to destinate their prettie children, from their infancie, to such an abominable libertie.)

The story followes, when the Idoll goes on procession, the prime men of the place assemble together, in company of many others to draw the Chariot, happy is that man or child can lay a hand to help to draw it. For in this his triumphant progresse, many men and women (more forward then wise) throw themselves voluntarily in the Chariots way, who by the ponderousnesse of the Idoll have their poore wretched bodies miserably crusht in pieces, thereby becomming vainglorious Martyrs, but more unhappy men.

Yea more, such is the stupid folly of the men their in these parts, by compelling their Virgins to become base prostitutes (their Religion shadowing all deformities) that tis a great wonder to behold so many Girles of so small modestie, to proffer themselves at such tender yeares.

This is a selection from the original text


entertainment, oil, poison, religion, rice, sea, water, wealth

Source text

Title: A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile

Author: Thomas Herbert

Publisher: William Stansby, Jacob Bloome

Publication date: 1634

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Early English Books Online at http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home. Bibliographic name / number: STC (2nd ed.) / 13190 Physical description: [12], 225, [15] p. : Copy from: Harvard University Library Reel position: STC / 1176:11

Digital edition

Original author(s): Thomas Herbert

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) selections: Surat, baniyans, Diu, Malabar, Choromandel


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.