Mizoram, 1872: Mynadhur
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Mynadhur, the last and most outlying of the tea-gardens, is prettily situated on the left bank of the Barak, where the river, taking a semi-circular bend, leaves a long stretch of tolerably level ground between its banks and the foot of the hills. The garden covers several low tilas, the bungalow crowning one of them ; and beneath this, on the river's bank, are the huts and bazaar of the coolie labourers. There is also a small stockade of ancient bamboos, the weakness and ruinous state of which sufficiently indicate the sense of security felt by the in- habitants of the garden, who, however, have a small police-guard generally stationed there. Though so far removed from all aid, this garden has never, I believe, been attacked by Lushais owing probably to the extreme difficulty of the country between it and their own border.
The General and Staff arrived at Mynadhur, about the 29th November, with one wing of the 44th and the Sappers. The jungle about Mynadhur consisting principally of bamboo, no difficulty was experienced in speedily construct- ing barracks, hospitals, magazines, godowns, and officers' quarters.
Commissariat stores for three months had been collected here, and ordnance and other stores were arriving ; while a fleet of small boats, of the light tonnage necessary for passing the rapids and shallows of the Barak higher up, had been sent down from Sylhet and Cachar.
The boatmen in these districts had the most intense horror of this part of the country, and it was with great difficulty that they were induced to go with their boats ; many preferring to sink them, while they themselves disappeared in some place of concealment till the danger was past.
Meanwhile, the line of telegraph from Cachar had been carried down to Mynadhur ; the telegraph party, under their energetic chief, having brought it over the Buban, in the face of many obstacles. A telegraph office was at once opened; and a daily post was established between Silchar and Mynadhur ; so that by the first week in December, the head-quarters of the Force were in communi- cation with Calcutta, both by telegraph and post.
The road onwards to Tipai Mukh was at once commenced, and some friendly Lushais having re- presented the best route to be on the Munipur bank, the beginning of it was made on that side.
It may be necessary to explain the presence of these Lushais in camp. Mr.Edgar, who was still in Cachar, having sent messages to Sukpilal, was anxiously awaiting their return. Eight Lushais from Poiboi's villages arrived with presents, but they were men of small account and not entrusted with any definite overtures. They said that they had met Raipa, an old Kookie who had been dis- possessed by the Lushais, and who accompanied the column as guide and interpreter. This Raipa was then exploring to find a route, but these men said to Mr. Edgar that he was not likely to find one in the direction taken by him, but that they knew of one by which they would guide the troops, and four of them were sent down for that purpose.
The scenery all up the Barak is extremely beautiful, lofty wooded hills coming down to the water's edge, and receding here and there, so as to afford glimpses of more distant ranges, while large rocks and sandy strips diversify the character of the banks. The river winds about very much, the bends presenting a series of pic- tures, the elements of which, wooded hills, rocks, and water, though ever the same, are constantly varying in arrangement ; and in the varieties of light and shade, each differs from the other in some point of detail, but on the whole all appear equally beautiful. Alligators bask in the sun here and there on the rocks, sliding off lazily into the deep pools beneath when a boat approaching too near rouses them from their slumbers.
As the head-quarters advanced, the regiments in rear followed up in order, each working on a certain portion of the road. The Artillery was left in Cachar till the road to Mynadhur was re- ported fit for elephants, and they did not get the order to march till the 2nd December.
The time, however, was not wasted; the ex- periment of elephants instead of mules, as animals of draught, was to be tried in this campaign; and the gunners not having received their elephants till their arrival in Cachar, they were fully em- ployed in altering and refitting their equipment, many portions of which were entirely novel and untried. The strength of the battery was also made up by drafts from the 42nd and 22nd regi- ments, and these had to be instructed in their new work ; but when the order for the march arrived it found them all ready and in first rate order.
The road onwards from Mynadhur was similar in character to that up to it, precipitous and jungly. Four camps were established between Mynadhur and Tipai Mukh. These camps were numbered from one to four; a large board being nailed up on a tall tree near the entrance to each, with an inscription roughly painted in black, "Station No. 1, &c."
A description of one will suffice for all, as well as for many of the others formed south of Tipai Mukh.
Arrived at the halting place, all the troops went to work cutting down branches of trees and bamboos, collecting leaves, grass, &c. In this work the active little Goorkhas of the 44th N- I., were much more at home than their up-country brethren in arms, who at first used to look help- lessly on, while the former, springing into trees like monkeys, lopped off branches, collected bamboos, &c., and had quickly constructed com- fortable ranges of cantos, with a low raised bamboo floor as a sleeping place, before the others had made up their minds what to do.
All the Sepoys had been supplied with kookries, a peculiar kind of native knife, most effective in cutting jungle when successfully used. The Goorkhas, as a rule, were possessed of their own, but those supplied by Government were soon use- less, often breaking after the first few blows, efficiency having been sacrificed to economy.
A large number of Cachari, Mekir, and Kookie coolies were with the advance, and these men were very expert in cutting jungle and building huts. In an almost incredibly short space of time, they ran up quarters for the General and other officers with him. The framework was fastened together by strips of bark, and the walls consisted of bamboo, leaves, and grass. Each hut was fur- nished with, a standing bedstead, a table and stool of bamboo. Outside was the mess-table, the super- structure of which was formed of split bamboo, supported by legs of rough timber ; and around it were seats constructed also of split bamboo.
It was astonishing how soon a waste, howling wilderness of jungle was transformed into a pleasant camp ; and as abundance of fire- wood was at hand, large camp-fires.were always maintained, which tended to keep these halting-places drier and healthier than might have been expected.
All these stations were situated close to the river's edge'; a position by which an ample supply of water was secured, and the Commissariat's boats were able to provide the troops with the necessary provisions every evening — the coolies being thus set free for road-making. The rapids proved passable for boats up to two hundred maunds, though they were dragged through these with difficulty.
At No. 3, the road again crossed to the Cachar side, and so continued to Tipai Mukh. A floating bridge of ingenious construction provided a con- venient passage across the river at each of the three points where the road changes from one side to the other. The bridge consisted of an octagonal raft of bamboo and matting, slung down stream at two adjacent comers by large cane loops to a very strong rope of cane ; which, firmly fastened at each end to trees on either bank, hung slackly in the water. The raft was worked backwards and forwards by two men hauling the rope through the loops.
General Bourchier reconnoitred Tipai Mukh in person on the 9th, and notwithstanding predictions to the contrary, no stockade or other demonstra- tion of hostility was discovered. The place was found to be admirably suited for a large camp or depot.
It is situated, as its name implies, at the con- fluence of the Tuivai (according to the Lushais, miscalled Tipai by us) or Tipai with the Barak, at the point where the latter, flowing in a south- westerly direction through Munipur, takes a sudden turn northward. At that season of the year the Tuivai was reduced to a small stream of about fifty yards in width, leaving on its southern bank a large stretch of shingly beach, which, with a high sandy plateau, formed a square of some seven acres, bounded on the east and north by the Tuivai, west by the Barak, and south by a steep wooded hill, the end of a spur from a range to the south-west.
Good Camping Ground
North of the Tuivai again, along the left bank of the Barak, was another long strip of sand and shingle, of some ten acres in extent. No doubt when the rains set in, the rivers, swollen and turbulent, rushing violently past their banks, and coming suddenly into collision, cover this bare space with a mass of seething waters ; but in December, when they had sunk to quiet peace- able streams, it afforded us good dry camping ground.
On the south beach. Commissariat and Ord- nance godowns were erected, and the Artillery and Engineer parks found accommodation, while, on the sandy plateau above, officers' quarters, mess, &c., were established.
On the northern strip, Hospitals and Sepoys' lines were built, sufficient space remaining for a camping ground for elephants ; and a light bridge was thrown across the Tipai by the Cachari Kookies. Practical fellows these^ caring little for mathematics and theory. While a scientific officer was calculating, in a hut close by, the strength of timber necessary for the bridge, the weight of troops likely to pass over it, the force of the current, and other considerations to which education and engineering books teach us to attach importance, as necessary to the safe con- struction of a bridge, these Kookies, who had never heard of Tredgold, and probably would not be any handier if they had, had actually built a bridge with the materials, small timber and bamboos, nearest to hand — a bridge built so substantially that it lasted throughout the cam- paign. When the aforesaid Engineer officer came out with his design and calculation, faultless, no doubt, in every detail, we may feel sure he looked rather surprised when he saw his work done for him.
I may here mention another amusing incident.
Colonel Stafford and Captain Harvey, R.E., were talking to a soubadar of the 22nd, when the latter expressed his opinion that if the Lusbais only dammed up the Tipai a few miles above the camp, till a large volume of water had accumulated, and then let it out, it would sweep away the camp entirely.
Captain Harvey said, ** Perhaps the soubadar will be good enough to explain the size of the dam, where it could be constructed to be out of the reach of our troops, and also the amount of . water necessary for this work of annihila- tion."
Here his orderly, with the usual freedom of natives, joined in the conversation by saying, ‘Of what use is it asking the soubadar. Sahib, these questions, only we Sappers know all this kind of work."
Considering that a native Sapper knows very little, if anything, more than an ordinary Sepoy, this calm assumption of superiority was delicious.
A strong picquet was placed on the hill before mentioned, the trees cleared away, and a small field-work thrown up, at an elevation of two hundred feet above the camp, with which it com- municated by a small zigzag trench, which it commanded, as well as a long reach of the Tipai, thus preventing the possibility of a surprise from the south.
A similar work was constructed on the hill to the north-east of the Tuiyai, guarding against attack from that direction. The north end of the camp was further protected by a small trench and breastwork, extending across the strip of sand to the river's edge.
Of course all this laborious work was not accomplished at once, but to prevent confusion, I have described all these details here. The great disadvantage of this camp was that, lying low, surrounded by wooded hills rising above it to a height of twelve hundred feet, every evening as the sun sank behind the western hills, fog and mist slowly settled down upon it, and did not lift till late next morning.
The day after the Greneral made his appearance at Tipai Mukh, a fleet of two hundred boats, laden with stores under the command of Mr. Patch, District Superintendent of Sylhet Police, and escorted by some of the 44th, also arrived.
Mr. Patch's services had been placed specially at the disposal of the Military authorities, and throughout the Expedition he continued to com- mand this Commissariat Fleet, a duty involving hard and monotonous work, which was little likely to be varied by any excitement ; but on the able and zealous performance of which depended much of the success of the Expedition, and this ability and zeal were not wanting.
Having advanced so far, the next thing to be done was to find the onward path and convert it into a road. The General and Colonel Roberts, under the guidance of a Lushai, attempted to explore a road towards Kholel, but it was ex- ceedingly steep and rocky. One of the Lushais then in camp, a Muntri of Poiboi, Darpong by name, stated that if it was made worth his while he might be able to find a better way. Mr. Edgar arrived at Tipai Mukh on the 12th Decem- ber, and hearing what Darpong had said, sent him and Baipa to explore the country.
Mr. Edgar, after his arrival, advised the General to push on to Kholel for the following reasons. While they remained at Tipai, they had not the opportunity of opening communi- cations with friendly or neutral tribes, which would be afforded by occupying Kholel, situated as it was between the villages of Khalsom, Lalbhi, and Sinpaun on the one sid, and Poiboi's on the other; all of which were supposed to come under one or other of the above classifications.
An idea had also become prevalent among the Lushais that the force would never get beyond Tipai Mukh ; but would remain there till negoti- ations were entered into, or some of the tribes submitted. It therefore seemed of great import- ance that an onward move should be made, to convince the Lushais that we really meant to go through their country, and also to force them to adopt some decisive policy towards us.
It was therefore determined to advance on the 16th. A working party had been sent on the 14th to a point about two and a half miles along the elephant track pointed out by Darpong, where was a level piece of ground with two small streams running through it. Here our party camped and set to work on improving the track, and thither the head-quarters proceeded on the 16th.
Difficulties of Construction
As the road had to be explored each day, and the next day's camp ahead settled beforehand^ the advance was necessarily slow. The road, as far as the Senvong range, followed a tolerably easy gradient, and lay through slightly less diffi- cult jungle than had been previously encountered. The principal difficulties which impeded its con- struction arose from the very rocky character of the hill in several places, which necessitated a good deal of blasting. Water was met with in several places.