In the Forbidden Land/Chapter XCIX
- Free at last—Among friends—Forgetting our past troubles—Confiscated baggage returned—A scene with Nerba—Suna's message delivered—How our release was brought about—Across the frontier—Photography at Gungi.
SUCH was our anxiety, when we reached this point, lest something should happen and we should be taken back again, that, as soon as we were across the wooden bridge over the Gakkon, Chanden Sing and I, on perceiving the large Shoka encampment at the foot of the hill, lashed our ponies and ran away from our guard. Thus, galloping our hardest along the high cliff, where hundreds of people live in holes in the clay, we found ourselves at last among friends again. The Shokas, who had come over to this market to exchange their goods with the Tibetans, were astounded when they saw us, recognising us at first with difficulty.
We inquired at once, of course, for Dr. Wilson, and when we found him the good man could, himself, barely recognise us, so changed were we. He seemed deeply moved at seeing our condition.
When the news of our arrival spread in camp, we met with the greatest kindness at the hands of everybody. In a corner of Wilson's tent was a large quantity of candied sugar—several pounds; and so famished was I that I quickly devoured the lot. Later, my Shoka friends brought in all kinds of presents in the shape of eatables, which Rubso, the Doctor's cook, was set to prepare.
The Political Peshkar, Karak Sing, hurried to me with a change of clothes, and other garments were given me by Dr. Wilson. My own ragged attire was literally swarming with vermin; our guard had not allowed us a single change of raiment, nor would they even hear of our washing. It was by a very special favour and on account of its sanctity that we were allowed to plunge in the sacred Mansarowar Lake.
Later in the day my wounds and injuries were examined by Dr. Wilson, who sent his reports to the Government of India, to the Commissioner of Kumaon, and to the Deputy Commissioner at Almora.
Tenderly nursed by Wilson and Karak Sing, and having partaken of plenty of good food, I found my spirits, which had fallen rather low, reviving as if by magic; and, strange to say, after a few hours of happiness, I was already beginning to forget the hardships and suffering I had endured. I remained three days at Taklakot, during which time part of my confiscated baggage was returned by the Tibetans, and, as can well be imagined, I was overjoyed to discover that among the things thus recovered were my diary, note-books, maps and sketches. My firearms, some money, the ring I have before referred to as having been a gift of my mother, several mathematical instruments, collections, over 400 photographic negatives, and various other articles were still missing, but I was glad to get back as much as I did.
To Dr. Wilson's tent came the Tokchim Tarjum, his private secretary Nerba, whom the reader may remember as having played an important part in my tortures, the Jong Pen's secretary, and old Lapsang in a fine green velvet coat with ample sleeves. As can be seen by perusing the Government Enquiry and Report in the Appendix to this book, the above-mentioned Tibetan officers admitted before the Political Peshkar, Dr. Wilson, Pundit Gobaria, and many Shokas, that the account I gave of my tortures—identical with the one in these pages—was correct in every detail. They even professed to be proud of what they had done, and used expressions not at all flattering to the British Government, which they affected to treat with great contempt.
I nearly got the Political Peshkar and the Doctor into a scrape; for my blood, the little I had left, was boiling with rage at hearing the Tibetan insults. The climax came when Nerba refused to give back my mother's ring, which he had upon him. In a passion I seized a knife that was lying by me, and leaped upon Nerba, the ruffian who, besides, had fired at me and had held me by the hair while my eyes were being burnt prior to my abortive execution. Wilson and Karak Sing seized and disarmed me, but there was a general stampede of the Tibetan officers, and thus our interview and negotiations were brought to an abrupt end.
In further conversation I now learnt how my release had been brought about. Dr. Wilson and the Political Peshkar, having received the news that my servants and myself had been beheaded, proceeded across the frontier to make inquiries and try to recover my property. They heard then from the man Suna, whom I had sent from Mansarowar with my message, that I was still a prisoner, covered with wounds, in rags and starving. They had not men enough to force their way further into the country to come and meet me; besides, the Tibetans watched them carefully; but they, together with Pundit Gobaria, made strong representations to the Jong Pen of Taklakot, and, by threatening him that an army would be sent up if I were not set at liberty, they at last obtained from the reluctant Master of the fort a permission that I should be brought into Taklakot. The permission was afterwards withdrawn, but was at last allowed to be carried into execution, and it is entirely due to the good offices and energy of these three gentlemen that I am to-day alive and safe—though not yet sound.
Pundit Gobaria, who will be remembered as having been mentioned in my early chapters, is the most influential Shoka trader in Bhot, and on very friendly terms with the Tibetans. He was the intermediary through whom negotiations were carried on for my immediate release, and it was largely owing to his advice to the Jong Pen that they resulted satisfactorily.
After a brief rest to recover sufficient strength, I recommenced the journey towards India, and, having crossed the Lippu Pass (16,780 feet), found myself at last again on British soil. We descended by slow stages to Gungi, where, in Dr. Wilson's dispensary, I had to halt for a few days on account of my weak condition.
Wilson had here a quantity of my baggage, instruments, cameras, plates, &c., which I had discarded at the beginning of my journey, and I immediately had photographs taken of my two servants and myself, showing our wounds and our shocking general condition. Photographs of my feet, taken more than a month after I had been untied from the rack, showed a considerable swelling, as well as the scars, round the ankle and on the foot where the ropes had cut into my flesh. In the full-face photograph here reproduced can be noticed the injuries to my left eye, as well as the marks of the hot iron on the skin of my forehead and nose. Chanden Sing's legs, which were photographed on the same occasion, though now practically healed, were still much swollen, and the marks can be seen in the illustration where big patches of skin and flesh had been torn away by the lashes, producing nasty wounds.
- Some of the articles missing were some months later recovered by the Government of India. See Appendix.
- Jong Pen = Master of the fort.