In the Forbidden Land/Chapter XII
- Tibetan threats—My birthday—Ravenous dogs—A big dinner—Shoka hospitality.
THE Jong Pen of Taklakot, on hearing of my proposed visit, sent threats that he would confiscate the land of any man who came in my employ, besides menaces of "flogging" and subsequent "beheading" of myself and any one caught with me. Personally I paid little attention to these intimidations.
Consulting the calendar one day—a thing I did with great regularity in these regions—I made out that it was the first of June, and I then remembered that the following day would be my birthday. Feasts were scarce in these high altitudes, and the prospect before me was that they would in the near future be even scarcer. It therefore occurred to me that I could not better while away a day at least of this weary waiting than by treating myself to a real big feast.
Chanden Sing was despatched round the village to summon up to my tent all the local Bunyas (tradespeople). Rice, flour, eight pounds of butter (ghi), a large quantity of lump sugar, pepper, salt, and a fat sheep were purchased. The latter was forthwith beheaded, skinned, and dressed in the approved fashion by the faithful Chanden Sing, who was indeed a jack of all trades.
Unfortunately, I am a careless house or rather tent keeper, and I entrusted my chaprassis with the job of stowing away the provisions, for which purpose a recess under the native low bedstead served to perfection, holding as it did the different-sized vessels, with the bachri (sheep) in pieces, and the rice, flour, butter, etc.
While this was being done, I worked away hard at writing, and getting interested, continued at it till an early hour of the morning; I got tired at last, and, wrapping myself up in my blanket, I soon went to sleep next to a heap of stones piled up by the cautious Chanden Sing.
"Sahib," had been his warning, "there are many hungry dogs about. If they come, here are a few missiles ready for them!" and he pointed at the ammunition.
"All right; good-night."
The wisdom of this was soon apparent, for I had not slept long when I was aroused by the hollow sound of lip-smacking, apparently arising from more than one mouth, accompanied by the movement of the stretched canvas bed on which I was lying. Jumping to my feet, I alighted upon a living mass of unwelcome guests; but before I even realised what had been going on, they had scampered away, the brutes! carrying between their tightly-closed jaws a last mouthful of my dainties.
The ammunition at my disposal was quickly used up—a poor revenge, even when I heard the yell of a dog I happened to hit in the dark. On striking a match, I found the large brass bowls emptied, the rice and flour scattered all over the tent, and the sheep practically vanished.
I determined not to be done out of this piece of indulgence, which now seemed desirable beyond words, although I crawled back into my blanket, and found for a while oblivion in sleep. I was no sooner up in the morning than I planned a new banquet. But in the nick of time, Mr. G., who had gone a march farther, returned with his escort of policemen, moonshees, pundits, and chaprassis.
"Never mind, Landor," said he kindly, when I had told him of my trouble, "you come and dine with me. These chaps shall get you up a special dinner in their own way."
My stores were put under tribute, instead of the native Bunyas, and we had a very excellent meal indeed. We had Bovril soup and Irish stew, roast mutton, potted tongue, roast chicken, gigantic swan eggs poached on anchovy toast, jam omelette, chow-chow preserves, ginger biscuits, boiled rhubarb, and I must not forget, by the way, an excellent plum cake of no small dimensions, crammed full of raisins and candy, which I had brought from Mrs. G. at Almora to her husband, and to which we did, with blessings for her, the fullest justice.
Thanks to Mr. G. and also to the fortunate coincidence of receiving a batch of letters from parents and friends, which reached me on that day by runner from Khela, I do not think that I could have spent a happier birthday anywhere, and I knew well enough that these were to be the last moments of contentment—an end to the fleshpots of Egypt. After this I should be cut off from civilisation, from comfort even in its primitive form; and to emphasise this fact, it happened that on the very morning following my birthday, Mr. G. left and continued his journey to Almora.
The weather was cold and rain fell in torrents, the thermometer being never above 52° during the warmest hours of the day. My soaked tent stood in a regular pool of water, notwithstanding the double trenches round it, and several Shoka gentlemen had before asked me to abandon it and live in a house. They were all most anxious to extend to me hospitality, which I, not wishing to trouble them, and in order at all hazards to be entirely free and unhampered in my actions, courteously but firmly declined. Nevertheless, quite a deputation arrived on June 4, renewing their request; but I was determined to have my way. In vain! They would not see a Sahib under cold canvas while they themselves had comfortable homes. They held a consultation. Unexpectedly, and notwithstanding my remonstrances, my loads were suddenly seized and carried triumphantly on the backs of a long row of powerful Shokas towards the village. I had to follow nolens volens, and from that day on I grew through constant contact daily more convinced of the genuine friendliness and kindheartedness of these people.
To prevent my coming back, they even pulled down the tent, and, wet as it was, carried it away. Zeheram and Jaimal, two leading Shokas, held my hands and patted me on the back as they led me with every sign of courtesy to my new dwelling.
This turned out to be a fine two-storeyed building with nicely carved wooden door and windows coloured red and green. So great was the anxiety and fear of these good people that I should turn back at this juncture, that some twenty outstretched hands seized me by the arms, while others pushed me from behind up a flight of ten or twelve steps into the house, where I found myself the guest of my good friend Zeheram. I was given the front of the first floor, consisting of two large clean rooms, with a very fair native bedstead, a table and two or more moras (round cane stools covered with skin); and I had no sooner realised that I must stay than presents of sweets, preserved fruit, dried dates, and tea were brought for my acceptance—tea made in the Tibetan fashion with butter and salt in it.
Even if at first I had had slight apprehensions at the expression of such very unusual hospitality, these were soon dispelled, and I was proud to be assured by my host that I was the first Englishman (or for that, European or American) who had been allowed to enter the living part of a Shoka house and partake of food in a Shoka dwelling. The opportunity was too good to be lost, and I was sorely tempted to tarry among them, so as really to get an insight into their mode of living, their customs and manners.