India and Its Native Princes is a travelogue by French writer Louis-Théophile Marie Rousselet, who arrived in erstwhile Bombay in 1864. It was in the middle of monsoon season and Fort area was in total disarray with its walls completely demolished by the rains. Rousselet makes his way through the pouring rain to the Royal Hotel on 2nd Meadow Street in Fort.
The Royal Hotel was run by the most famous early hotelier in Bombay, Pallonji Pestonji Pochkanawala, also known as old Pallonji. Pallonji ran many of the earliest hotels in Fort, but his flagship property was Adelphi in Byculla. Till the opening of the grand Watson’s in 1871, Pallonji’s hotels were the pride of Bombay and Royal Hotel where Rousselet lived was no exception.
Rousselet’s photographs are today worth a lot of money, but he learned the art form in India. He arrived in Bombay at the age of 19 and stayed on the Subcontinent for six years, travelling to all the important cities and sights, meeting royals and nobility and documenting what he observed. To do justice to the sights he saw, Rousselet started creating visual impressions first through pencil sketches and later, photographs. Many of these photos were converted into woodcut engravings, seen throughout this book.
In the map of India included in Native Princes, we can see the route travelled by Rousselet. Starting in Bombay, he went down south till Calicut. Heading north, he travelled to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Lahore and up to Peshawar. Due east from there, he stopped at Meerut, Lucknow, Patna, Dhaka and Kolkata. Sailing down the Coromandel Coast, he stopped at Cuttack, Madras and Pondicherry before rounding Sri Lanka and heading back out across the Indian Ocean towards Europe. It’s clear from this itinerary that Rousselet was a conscientious traveller who covered a lot of ground from the Himalayas to the Nilgiris, and from east coast to west.
He sums it up in his book, “I had by turns visited the presidency of Bombay, the Deccan, Goojerat [Gujarat], the eighteen independent courts of Rajpootana and Central India, the land of the Bheels [Bhils], and the Gounds [Gonds], the Punjab, the Western Himalayas, Hindostan, Audh [Awadh], Behar [Bihar] and the Bengal. From Ootakamund to Simla, from Peshwar to Dacca [Dhaka], I had traversed this immense country in every direction.”