Mizoram, 1872: The Troops Encamped
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The Troops Encamped
Having so narrowly escaped this danger from fire, and the loss of property which must have followed it, if it had not been got under, and dreading a recurrence of the evil, the General determined to leave the village and to encamp in the open, wherever a good supply of water could be found. A small reconnoitring party, therefore, started early in the morning, and at last found very good camping ground, on the slopes of the hill, about a mile and a half from the village we had occupied, with a very fair spring of water.
The ground for each corps was allotted to it, and soon huts were being constructed or tar- paulins rigged up. To the right and left of the camp stretched the range, rising in the rear to a height of two hundred feet, bleak and rugged. Bare jooms covered with long grass and the stubble of old crops, huge trunks of felled trees lying about in all directions, blackened stumps, and a few tall trees which had escaped the fire and the dad, still standing up out of the stubble — these were the immediate surroundings of the camp.
To the south and east, the view on a fine day is magnificent, an endless sea of hills stretching away as far as the eye can see, lighted up by a thousand soft and delicate tints ; and nearly due south, distant some fourteen miles as the crow flies, are Dilklang and Murklang, towering above their fellows like two giant warders, and guarding the entrance to Lalboora's country. To this pass we gave the name of Lalboora's Gate.
Between this gate and Chelam lie many deep valleys and high ranges, the sides of which are broken by innumerable gloomy gorges and dark ravines. Very dreary and threatening does this country look on a stormy day, and very cold was our camp at night, the thermometer frequently going down as low as 33 degrees, while the ground about our huts, and the waterproof sheets above them, were white with hoar-frost in the mornings.
Strong winds swept up from the deep valley beneath, carrying off our fires in great swirls of sparks, and driving the pungent wood-smoke into our eyes with a force and painfulness that caused hasty flight from our log seats in all directions.
To remedy this, we built semi-circular screens of boughs and grass, about six feet high, round the front of the huts, leaving only a small pas- sage at each end, and after that we could sit round the fire with much more comfort.
After we left the village, some of the men came back to it ; but most of them, with their women and children, remained in the jungles north of the Tuivai stream. From the hill behind the camp we could see, in the evening, the smoke of their fires curling up through the trees on the hill side. They feared to return, as Poiboi was still so undecided, and could not be induced to go in personally to make terms for himself, fearing a similar fate to that of Lalchokla in 1844.
In a little village, however, about four miles from our camp, and on the same range, the people were all living and pursuing their usual occupations. We paid them a visit one day; Captain Cookesley, R.A, taking his camera and tent for photographing.
The villagers were very friendly ; men, women, and children flocked about to see what we had to show them. Binoculars, eye-glasses, tele- scopes, watches, and the camera were all, in turn, the subject of wonder and delight to the simple savages.
In this village we saw a house, in front of which were five tall posts bearing rude repre- sentations of hornbills, thoroughly conventional, the only part in which there was any resemblance being the beak. Above each dangled a circlet of bamboo pendent. For what reason these were placed there we were unable to discover, having, unfortunately, no interpreter with us.
The camera was set up and focussed in the house, and then the Lushais were allowed to file behind it, looking through as they passed, and great was their wonder and delight when they saw the house and their friends about it turned upside down.
Telescopes pleased them very much. Mr. Burland told me that, in his previous expedi- tion with Mr. Edgar, he had shown them his telescope, and making them first look through the eye-piece, said, " When I want to shoot a man, I look through this end, and bring him very close." Then reversing it for them, he added, " But when I see a man wishes to shoot me, I look through it this way, and he is sent so far away that he cannot touch me ;" and they believed this. Seeing so many new and won- derful things they could not understand, this did not appear altogether incredible, as they actually saw the difference in the appearance of objects as seen through each end of the tele- scope.
Revolvers excited their highest admiration, and many would have given almost all they had to become the possessor of one.
Cookesley found it impossible to get figures in his pictures. The noble savage would stand motionless for half-an-hour while the plate was being prepared, but just as the cap was removed, he would calmly stroll right across the picture, and we could not explain to them what they were to do.
We bought some fowls and eggs, which one of their number carried for us, and we returned to camp.
In exploring the village nearest our camp, we found a grave newly made, and remains of a metua, hastily slain, lying near, the head as usual having been placed above. Probably this was the burial-place of some warrior who had died of his wounds, received on the 25th, and whose funereal ceremonies they had only just been able to perform before " the foe and the stranger should tread o'er his head."
In front of the Muntri's house was a large headless monkey stuffed, and sitting on the doorway, his legs sticking out straight before him ; altogether a most ludicrous looking object. This village was more full of fleas than I could have believed any place to be. Even in the middle of the street, they were to be found as plentiful as in the house.
A Captive Brought Into Camp
I sat down in the street for a few minutes to take a sketch, and I found on rising that they were even in possession of my innermost pockets, and added warmth to the colour of my light brown coat.
An old woman, a captive, was found in Chelam and placed under our protection, to be conveyed to Cachar, and on the 7th February a little girl about four years old was brought into camp. She was said to have been brought from the Howlongs by Poiboi or Laboora. Her own account was that she had been taken off from a garden, and she spoke of a white child having been taken away at the same time. She could, when brought in, speak nothing but Lushai.
Orders received from Government directed the two columns to effect a meeting, if possible, before retiring from the country, but added that there might be more important objects for them to carry out, and under any circumstances the columns were to be back at Cachar and Chitta- gong respectively by the 10th March.
From telegrams received from General Brown- low, conveying information of his whereabouts and intended movements, it seemed highly improbable that a junction of the two columns would be effected, and as the reduction of Laboora's people to submission was the most important object for the Left Column to carry out, and the time was run- ning short, the General decided to remain at Chelam till twelve days' supplies were raised there, and then, with the force " flying light " as possible, to make a hurried descent on Lalboora, reduce him to submission, and return at once.
Notice of this intended plan of operations was telegraphed to Brownlow, with the approximate latitude and longitude of Chumfai, and the pro- bable date of arrival there; and also the intimation that on two consecutive nights rockets and blue lights would be fired from our camp, in the hope that, if General Brownlow could see them, com- munication by signalling might be effected.
On the 11th January, Colonel Rattray, with a wing of the 42nd, arrived at Chelam, to occupy the camp, which had been slightly stockaded ; and from the 42nd the strength of the 44th and 22nd was made up to four hundred, who, with the Artillery, formed the force the General intended to take on with him.
Provisions Found In Cave
In order to relieve the Commissariat as far as possible, and to facilitate the return march, all ponies and all servants, except one for each officer, were sent back, to Chepui. All the coolies were employed during the halt in bringing up supplies from the rear.
Rice in large quantities, yams, beans, and many domestic articles were found hidden away about a mile from camp, in a large cave on the hill-side, through which a tiny stream of water trickled; and close to this stream was a small basket, containing a little rice suspended from a small two foot bamboo. On one side of the basket hung a slight diamond-shaped frame- work on which were twisted cotton threads, red, black, and white, the representation of a stockade about a foot high, behind which were arranged little lumps of clay pinched up into the semblance of men without legs, completing the arrangement by which I suppose the Lushais thought to pro- pitiate their gods, and secure their protection for this concealed property.
In this cave was a very fine collection of antlers. Foraging parties also discovered large quantities of rice in many places around ; this was all brought into camp and husked, the Lushais being paid for it at a fair rate.
While still at Chelam we heard that the Munipur contingent had been obliged to retire from Chibu, in consequence of the ever increasing difficulty of getting up supplies, and having lost more than half their number from sickness and desertion.
This, it was feared, might give General Bourchier more trouble in his advance on Chumfai, as the Lushais, released from watching the contingent, would be able to concentrate their forces to oppose our column ; but it was not known what their action would be after we left Chelam.
Rumours reached us of a strongly fortified place not very far from Chelam, where, if we were opposed at all, it was probable that the Lushais would make a stand.
On the 11th Darpong came in with several of his countrymen, and informed us that Lalboora, leaving the village to its fate, had taken refuge among the Pois, and that no further opposition was intended.
Lalboora’s mother, we were also informed, had done all she could from the first to induce her sons to submit, and they had consented to grant all our demands. This was all very satisfactory, but no one knew how far it was reliable, and on the 12th the-force, composed of the troops before detailed, marched from Chelam camp.
Road Beyond Chelam
The weight of the Sepoys baggage was now reduced to one half, the officers' baggage to a couple of blankets as bedding, one change of raiment, and a few cooking utensils. Everyone was pleased to be once more on the move after the nine days' halt, and all were looking forward to a speedy conclusion of the campaign.
Before starting, Mr. Edgar heard that Poiboi had actually come into the village to meet us; but that, having got so &r, his courage again feiled, and the desired interview did not take place.
The road beyond Chelam bore the appearance of being much used, and in the steeper parts steps were cut. One curious fact about the Lushai paths is that, if a tree falls across one, they never take the trouble to remove it, but merely cutting foot-holds in it, allow it to remain where it fell.
About a mile from camp we came to a leafy ravine, with a little stream running through it. It was spanned by a picturesque bridge, formed by the large trunk of a single tree, supported by small trestles with a bamboo roadway, creepers brought down from the trees above serving as additional ties and supports for the handrails.
Not far beyond this we passed the remains of a very large Lushai encampment, and a little further on heard two shots fired in front, and thought we were in for a little excitement. These, however, turned out only to be signal shots from scouts on the watch in the villages ahead, giving intimation that the troops were on the road.
About noon we passed through a village con- taining about thirty-eight houses, called Raimang, prettily situated on the slopes of the hill, crown- ing a very steep precipice. The villagers had gone into the jungle on our approach, but, on signs being made to some who were visible, they returned.
The march thence was continued along the hill- side through extensive jooms, finally descending towards afternoon to the level grassy valley of the Dimlui, a clear, pretty little stream.
Here we were joined by some villagers from Tulcheng, a village a little ahead, which we had seen from Chelam. At this village the General determined to encamp for the night, and after a short halt the force again addressed itself to the hill.
About four P.M. we found ourselves in a deep ravine which had been prepared for a most for- midable defence. A very strong stockade occu- pied an excellent position, commanding the road for two or three hundred yards from the opposite side of the ravine, the passage of which had been rendered almost impossible by a number of large felled trees, so entangled together as completely to impede our route.
The hill to the right ran up to about four or five hundred feet above the road, and on this slope several small stockades and breast-works afforded flank defence to the principal one, and would have rendered very difficult any attempt to turn it ; while it could not have been taken with a rush, as the troops floundering through the dense and tangled mass would have been exposed to fire from the stockade in front, and at the same time to the heavy fire sweeping the ravine from these flankers. Moreover, there was no very suitable position from whence the artillery could have opened fire.
These fortifications had, it was evident, been only recently prepared for the express purpose of opposing our advance, and indeed had not been quite completed when Lalboora made up his mind not to fight. The path had been cleared again when we arrived; and the troops pulled down the principal stockade. Then passing on through a narrow defile, we came upon a second smaller and less strong stockade. The path wound between small eminences, several crowned with timber breastworks, so that if the Lushais had chosen to defend this ravine, we should have had all our work cut out for us; and considering the lateness of the hour at which we arrived, we could hardly have made ourselves masters of the situation be- fore dark.
A Lushai Todtleben
This was the most strongly fortified position we had met with in the country. It was evident, I think, that the Lushais, remarkmg the' compara- tive ease with which we turned a single stockade across the road, treating it with the greatest con- tempt, saw the necessity of some further flank defences ; and certainly the man who chose this position and planned these fortifications might, under more favourable circumstances and among a more civilized people, have become a Todtleben or a Burgoyne.