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Across India by Oliver Optic

Something like it is the peepul


"I

have to observe in the first place that almost one-half of this great region is tropical, though not a square foot of it is within three hundred and fifty miles of the equator. In the Himalaya Mountains we have regions of perpetual snow; and in the country south of them it is more than temperate; it is cold in its season. You can see for yourselves that in a territory extending from the island paradise of Ceylon to the frozen regions of the highest mountain in the world, we have every variety of climate, and consequently about every production that grows on the surface of the earth.

"Our tropical productions are not quite equal to those that grow on the equator. The coffee, sugar, tobacco, and spices are somewhat inferior to those of Java, Sumatra, and Celebes. Rice is the staple food of the common people, and has been raised from prehistoric periods. Maize, which I believe you Americans call Indian corn"--

"Simply corn, if you please," interposed the commander.

"But corn covers grain of all kinds," suggested the doctor.

"Not with us; we call each grain by its own name, and never include them under the name of corn. It is simply the fashion of the country; and if you spoke of corn in Chicago, it would mean maize to the people who heard you."

"I shall know how to speak to an American audience on this subject

hereafter; but _corn_ and millet are raised for the food of some of the animals. Oilseeds, as flax for linseed, are largely exported. The cultivation of wheat has been greatly improved, and all the grains are raised. In the Himalayas, on the borders of China, teas are grown under European direction; and you will excuse me if I suggest that they are better than those of 'the central flowery nation.' Dye-stuffs, indigo, and lac are noted for their quality and their quantity.

"The native flowers are not so rich as you would expect to find; but the white lilies of the water are as pretty as anywhere, and the flowering shrubs are beautiful. Of course, if you went out to walk in the jungle you would find wild-flowers enough to make a bouquet."

"But who would do it?" asked Mr. Woolridge.

"I would for one," replied the doctor. "Why not?"

"The cobra-de-capello!" exclaimed the magnate.

"They are not agreeable companions; but we don't make half so much of them as you do, sir. I will not meddle with this subject, as it is assigned to another, and I have no desire to steal his thunder-box. We have all the flowers of Europe, and probably of America; but they are not indigenous to the soil, though they thrive very well.

"Especially on the coast, but of course not in the north, you will find stately palms of all varieties. The banian tree (the English write it banyan) grows here, and I might talk an hour about it. Something like it is the peepul, or pipal, though its branches do not take root in the ground like the other. Its scientific name is the _Ficus religiosa_; for it is the sacred fig of India, and it is called the bo-tree in Ceylon.

"The peepul is considered sacred by the Hindus, because Vishnu, the Preserver, and the second person in the Brahminical trinity, was born under it. This tree is extensively planted around the temples of the Hindus, and many religious devotees pass their lives under its shade for its sanctifying influence. It is useful for other purposes; for the lac-insect feeds upon its leaves, and the women get a kind of caoutchouc from its sap, which they use as bandoline."


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