April 1883 fell upon them quickly. Earlier in the year they learned their next posting would be in the state of Rajputana. Located in the Aravalli Range, Mount Abu became a Hill Station around 1855. Since then it earned accolades as one of the best sanitoria in India. Built around the shores of an ancient, mountain-top lake, the Mount Abu barracks were 4,000 feet above sea level.
Mhow Station in the early 1900’s showing a Rajputana Malwa Railway train headed by a Class ‘O’ Locomotive. Mhow station looked exactly the same in the 1940’s. Picture provided by Denzil Lobo, currently living in Mhow and author of a book titled ‘A Town Called Mhow’. From Kenneth Staynor’s article.
Once again, rail would be the most efficient way to travel. The Mhow station in Madhya Pradesh looked rather primitive, a simple wooden building with an open-air canteen and two crudely fashioned ticket stalls. Mary stood on the platform with the three children waiting for Jimmy to receive his instructions. The strength of the sun cornered them against the side of the station house where there was still a sliver of shade. Thankfully, Maggie had fallen asleep bundled in her arms. With her free hand Mary grasped one of her toddler’s hands; Kathie did her best to hold the other. Her second child seemed to always be in the middle. “ Kathie, aren’t you a big girl? Hold on carefully now. There are so many people here.” Just three in March, Kathie was already showing signs of taking care of her siblings.
In the distance the loud shriek of the whistle pierced the air followed by the creaking and rumbling along the tracks. The large engine chugged around the bend and approached the station. Billows of steam spewed while the high-pitched screech of the brakes tamed the train and it heaved to a stop. The smell of oil and burnt rubber oppressed the waiting passengers as they bowed their heads away from the gush of air mixed with debris. Uniformed men scattered like fire ants in the heat of mid-day as they rushed to collect their belongings. Jimmy’s eyes gleamed with excitement as he hurried towards his family. Just in time, thought Mary. With these little ones, I need those extra hands to get us all settled. They boarded the train and found bench seats facing each other. The children had taken the places next to the window whilst Jimmy and Mary sat beside the aisle. She could not help but feel content. After the flurry of activity, they could pause. Mary pulled from her bag a lace-trimmed hankie and used it to gently pat her face. She bent down to kiss her daughter and paused briefly to inhale her scent.
The train jolted into motion, straining and lurching to pull the cars into a steady momentum. The whistle sounded again making the little ones laugh out loud as the rail cars forged their way northwest from Mhow. Over the next 350 miles they would pass through many villages where clusters of people gathered. As they pulled into Udaipur, the city of lakes, Mary could hardly move her gaze from the windows. Known as one of the most interesting cities in Rajputana, Udaipur profiled the diversity of the people in India, as well as the novelty of their way of life that Mary so enjoyed. People here were always busy doing something. The aroma of curried stews wafted in from station platforms, and reminded the passengers it had been several hours since their last meal. When the train slowed, the locals hopped aboard to hawk coconuts and other fruit, or fresh baked dough balls. Some of these fortunate vendors earned a few extra pennies for their families before being ousted by the surly staff.
“We’ll take two of those coconuts,” Jimmy said. The man expertly carved openings in the top of the hard shells, and Mary poured the thick milky liquid into their cup. The children took turns sipping while the fellow cracked the shells open to expose the sweet coconut meat. Mary and Jimmy were hard pressed if they spent even pennies, but they indulged the children once or twice along the way. The rail cars were crammed with people and belongings. The air inside the cars was hot and humid. Under layers of travel garments, the simple exertion of breathing caused people’s cheeks to flush. Perspiration gathered into tiny rivulets of moisture which trickled their way down until they were absorbed under the folds of cloth. People fluttered fans in the hope of generating some escape from their discomfort; as desperate moths looking for their path to freedom are drawn to light. Relief from the oppressive heat finally came as the sun dipped in the horizon and the breeze rose across the plain. Cool air flowed through the windows until the brief twilight time descended into utter darkness bringing its blanket of flying insects.
Mary glanced over towards her husband. He was at rest; legs sprawled in front of him as he sat low in his seat with his arm wrapped around Kathie. He cracked his eyes open, and gave Mary a knowing smile. He wasn’t quite sure how to be a family man, but at times like this Mary thanked God for their blessings. Just prior to this move, Jimmy’s brief flirtation with career advancement had collapsed as he was reduced once again to the rank of private. Mary was never certain if the cause could be attributed to Jimmy’s disdain for the military’s rigid structure, or the military’s disdain for her husband. Either way, Mary resigned herself to the choices she made, and prayed for the grace of God to envelope her family.
The Dorans quickly settled into life at Mount Abu Station. The climate was particularly favourable and similar to the temperatures of a pleasant English summer.
St. Anna’s Church served the community faithful to the Roman Catholic doctrine. Established around 1870, the parish gave Mary the support to practice her faith and sustain her courage. Mount Abu attracted mystics over the centuries. Dotted around the crystal blue waters of Nakki Lake were several small Hindu and Jain temples. The whole environment was steeped in religious history.
Thehe soldiers often trained by running four-mile circuits around the lake. Jimmy came home one morning after the Saturday exercises in especially high spirits. “We went around the lake twice this morning. At each of those temples, our group bowed and completed our fitness drill. Did all my prayers for the week, eh, Mary?” Jimmy performed an elaborate bow with his arms spread wide, then rose to face her with a grin stretched from ear to ear.
“How can you say such a thing! You won’t be missing church tomorrow whatever you may think.” Mary shook her head in disbelief. Jimmy could be a scoundrel. She was quite certain he was simply trying to get a rise out of her, but she did not appreciate his humour. Faith was a serious commitment.
In addition to the many smaller temples surrounding the lake, a significant pilgrimage site was located a few miles from their new home.
The Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu
The Dilwara Temple, which in fact consisted of five temples joined together, was ornately carved from white marble. These temples were spiritual in their own way, and for those faithful to the Jain religion, they were as important as cathedrals were to Mary and Jimmy. Elaborate figures and designs decorated every surface of the holy places. The stonework must have taken decades to complete. Mary thought her father would be intrigued by those structures. He spent his career constructing military fortifications. He would marvel at how the Indian people created these places of worship that had been built close to one thousand years ago. Mary could not imagine how it was possible.
“Let’s take the children up to Sunset Point for a picnic after church,” Mary suggested. We can see Toad Hill from there and have a lovely view of the lake. Around Mount Abu huge granite outcrops, smoothly molded into shapes, stood out above the trees. The locals pointed out Toad Hill where one of the giant rocks resembled a toad overlooking Lake Nakki. “We can buy some dates as a special treat for the children” she added. Date palm trees grew all over the area. The sticky fruit was a popular ingredient in many delicacies. Their little ones adored the sweet treat.
“Mary, ’tis a fine idea. The view is quite something, and we’ll likely find a breeze blowing up there. Shall I collect some dates from the commissary this afternoon?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s a very good idea.” Then she added, “Kathie could use an outing. Would you take her along?”
“I’ll freshen up and change my clothes, then take her while the little ones have their afternoon sleep.” Mary felt blessed to be stationed at Mount Abu, such a beautiful and bountiful place. She had secretly hoped Jimmy would thrive here, and he did indeed seem more content.
Author’s Note: Rajputana is located primarily in the area known today as Rajasthan.
For further reference to Mhow, visit http://atowncalledmhow.blogspot.ca/ for published photo and history albums.
You can also read a wonderful description of another traveller’s journey from Mhow to Mount Abu here Mhow to Mt. Abu by train (1943) Kenneth H Staynor
Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue