CHAPTER I.

PHYSICAL ASPECTUS.

Area and boundaries---General appearance of district---Hills—Rivers—Geology—Climate- Earthquakes—Fauna.

Dimensions and boundarics.

The district of Darrang consists of a narrow strip of plain lying between the Himalayas and the Brahmaputra.It lies between 26O 12/ and 27O 0/ N.and 91O 42/ and 93O 47/ E and is about 130 miles in length.At its eastern extremity the district is only about 12 miles broad.But in its course towards the sea.the Brahmaputra gradually recordes further from the hills and at Tezpur it is 28 miles as the crow flies from the northern boundary,while on the extreme west the plain is about 43 miles wide.The total area of the district is thus some 3,418 square miles.To the north,Darrang is bounded by Bhutan,Towang,a province of Thibet, and the hills occupied by the Aka and Dafla tribes.On the east,it adjoins Lakhimpur;on the south,it is separated by the Brahmaputra from Nowgong;and on the west it is bounded by Kamrup.

The eastern end of the district.

The Gohpur and Behali mauzas, at the eastern end of the district,are very sparely peopled.Near the Brahmaputra,there is,as a rule, a belt of marshy country two or three miles in width,where sandy flats are covered with a dense growth of reeds and grass some ten to fifteen feet in height.There is very little tree growth in this region,though an occasional simul bombax malabaricum is to be seen; But here and there amongst the jungle are to be found bils, and stretches of rich grazing ground(dolonis) in which the cattle can wade knee deep in luscious grass.Near the trunkroad,there are patches of cultivation,but there are places where for a considerable distance this great thoroughfare is shut in on either side by a wall of jungle.Further north the level rises,and the country lying at the foot of the hills is covered with dense evergreen forest.

The Bishnath plain.

West of Behali comes the Bishnath plain, an elevated region which is of older geological formation than the other parts of the district .The hight bank reaches right down to the Brahmaputra,without the intervening belt of inundated land,and the plain itself is too high for the growth of transplanted rice,so that most of it is covered with short turf.The forest still stretches along the foot of the hills,but a portion of it has been cleared and planted out with tea, and the lower land is green with waving rice.

The country between Chutia and Orang.

Between Chatia and the Bhareli there is a good deal of cultivation, and the typical scenery of Assam is to be seen.Rice is grown in graet stretches or pathars,round which are placed the houses of the cultivators;though it is nothouses that one sees but the groves of feathery bamboos,slender palms, and broad-leaved plantains in which they are embedded.West of the Bhareli there is little but jungle till Tezpur itself is reached.BetweenTezpur and the Gabharu civilization is one stretch of rice fields.Further north the the forest has been felled and magnificent tea gardens opened on the higher land but west of the Gabharu population again falls off. Here and there are patches of cultivation, but there are wide stretches of jungle forest near the hills, high reeds and elephant grass along the Brahmaputra,and shorter grass in the centre of the plain.

Mangaldai

In Mangaldai the country falls into three natural divisions. Near the Brahmaputra there are jungle covered flats, on which the villagers raise crops of summer rice, pulse, and mustard.Further inlandas the level rise,there is a rises,there is a rich expanse of rice land dotted over with groves of bamboos and palm trees;while to the north there is the high land inhabited by Kacharis,and now to some extent,planted out with tea.it is pleasant country which the Kacharies have selected for their home.The plain is coverd with short springy turf, and, if in places the jungle is too high to allow a horseman to ride through it, it at any rate serves the useful purpose of affording cover to the partridge and the florican.A few miles to the north the mountains rise like a well from the dead level of the plain , and in the winter time ,thus tops of the highest peaks are often flacked with snow.The soil is lied and sandy ,the roads are generally covered with short grass ,and the traveler ,as he makes his way along this upland country frequently finds himself splashing through the fords which cross the numerous rivers that come hurrying from the hills . The Kachari villages are situated on the higher ground ,but the pig – keeping propensities of their occupants are fatal to the Growth of trees, and, instead of being buried like the houses of the Assamese in a dense dankery of foliage, they stand up sharp and clear against the sky.

The whole of the district has much to appeal to the lover of the picturesque. To the south flows the mighty Brahmaputra, which, when rolling along in flood, seems more like a lake than a more river. On the further bank the view is bounded by the Mikir Hills and the outlying portions of the Assam Range whose forest –clad sides shut in the plain with a soft blue wall. Along the north there is a wall of mountains. On the extreme east the outer range is but some 3,000 feet in height, but north of Tezpur, there is a hill not far beyond the frontier, whose summit is nearly 12,000 feet above the level of the sea. This , however, is as nothing in comparison with three mountains, ranging from 21,000 to 23,000 feet in height, whose snowy peaks stand out sharply in the cold blue sky of a winter's day, and make a fitting background to a charming scene.

Mountain system

Though in most parts of the district the view on a clear day is bounded on either side by hills, there are no hills or mountains of any size within the actual frontiers of Darrang. The most considerable range is a small spur projecting from the Himalayas into the north of the Balipara mauza, round which the Bhareli makes its way into the plains. Two low hills in this range, Bhalukpang and Gosainloga, will be referred to in the following chapter, as the ruins of old forest have been found here buried in the jungle. Along the river from near the station of Tezpur, there is a range of low hil whose summits are from 300 to 450 feet above sea level, West of the steamer ghat is the Auguri Parbat, at whose foot is the small shrine of Bhairab Pod, and beyond it is the Dhenukhana hill, on which there are ruins of stone buildings. East of Tezpur, there is the Bamuni hill on which are the remains of the magnificent stone temple described in the following chapter, while beyond it is the Bhairabi hill, where there is a small shrine sacred to Bhairabi Debi . Close by is a hillock when bears the ominous name of Manukata, for here, tradition has it, human sacrifices were offered in the days of native rule. A little to the east are the Bhomoraguri hills, and beyond them the Rudrapod, so called because in the bed of the Brahmaputra close by there is a rock bearingthe imprint of Siva's (Rudra's) footprint. North of the Rudrapod is the Samdhara hill, on which, in Ahom days, there was a temple. At the south-east corner of the Barchola mauza is the Singri hill, famous for a temple recoverenced by Hindus and Buddhists alike, and, near the Brahmaputra in the Patharughat tahsil, there are eight or nine low hills, on one of which there is a shrine sacred to Ganesh. The only other hills which are found within the district are a few low spurs right on the northern frontier of Mangaldai.

Rivers; the Brahmaputra

The principal river of Darrang is the Brahmaputra which flows right along its southern boundry. Even at this distance from its mouth, the Brahmaputra is an enormous river, and, during the rains, there is an unbroken stretch of water, about four miles in width, from Tezpur to the main bank of Nowgong. This is, however,partly due to the fact that to see the main bank it is necessary to turn to some extent upstream, as a huge sand bank, or chur, has formed opposte the town. These churs are a peculiar and somewhat objectionable feature in the river. Its waters come down loaded with sand and other matter in suspension, and a slight obstruction in the channel is sufficient to cause the sand to be deposited. In an incredibly short space of time an almond- shaped bank appears, which sometimes is washed away by the next flood, sometimes remains to form a considerable island. After a short time these islands are covered by a dense growth of jungle grass, and the main stream of the river not unfrequently changes its course, and shifts from side to side of the broad and sandy strath through which it makes its way.

The Bhareli

The largest river in Darrang itself is the Bhareli, which rises in the Aka Hills and enters the district just to the north of Bhalukpang. It first flows east between two ranges of hills, and then turns sharply to the south, and flows a tortuous course to the Brahmaputra, which it joins about seven miles east of Tezpur town. The gorge through which the river makes its way is of great natural beauty. The hills covered with forest rise steeply from the water's edge, and the noble river hurries on over its rocky bed, now dashing down a rapid and foaming and boiling round a sunken rock, and a non lingering in still deep pools where the mahseer love to lie.

In its course through the plains the Bhareli, not unfrequently, overtops its banks, and, for the greater part of its way, it flows through jungle land. Its principal tributaries are, on the left bank, the Upper, Khari and Bar Dikraj, all of which come to it from the hills, and none of which flow for any distance through British territory. On the right bank there are the Upper and Lower Sonai and the Mansiri, which has numerous feeders from the Bhalukpang range. The Bhareli used originally to fall into the Brahmaputra close by the town of Tezpur, but some time prior to our occupation of the Province, it changed its course and shifted about five miles further east.

In addition to Bhareli there are numerous other rivers which carry off the drainage of the hills into

Other rivers

the Brahmaputa.in the Gohpur mauza the principal stream is the Dubia or Kharo which flows a southerly and westerly course down to the great river. Its largest tributary is the Balijan. The Beheli mauza is watered by the Burai and the Bargang,both of which are considerable rivers; and between the two there is a large number of small streams,or jans, which unite and fall into the Brahmaputra near Behali. In the Chutia tahsil there are no rivers of great size, and the largest streams are the Sadharu, the Ghiladhari, and the Dikrai. West of Tezpur the drainage south of the hills is collected in a small strem called the Dipota, then comes the Sonarupa or Gabharu, the Pachnai, the Dhansiri and the Mangaldai river with its tributary the Noanadi; while on the extreme west, the Barnadi forms for a considerable part of its course the boundary between Darrang and Kamrup. All of these rivers flow a tortuous southerly course from the hills towards the Brahmaputra, and all of them are fed by numerous minor streams, most of which rise inside the district boundary and collect the local drainage. The banks of all these rivers are alternately abrupt and sloping, as the current sets from one side to the other and cuts away the bank where it impinges. The channels are usually sandy, and, during the dry season, all except the Bhareli, the Dhansiri and the Barnadi are fordable. Care must, however, be exercised in essaying the Passage, as quicksands occasionally form in the river bed. Like most hill streams they are subject to strong freshets, and after heavy rain the traveler is liable to be stopped by a sudden rise in the river. The Barnadi,Dhansiri, and Noanadi have all, like the Bhareli, changed their course of recent years, and the villagers do not, as a rule, care to settle in the immediate proximity of the river. The result is that the banks are generally covered with high jungle grass. In the north of Mangaldai, some of the streams which issue from the Himalayas disappear for a time in the light sandy soil, and do not develop a regular channel till they have advanced some distance into the plain. The extent to which these rivers are used as trade routes is described in the section on communications.

Bils and marshes

There is a steady fall in the level of the district towards the Brahmaputra,and there is thus but little tendency for the drainage of the country to collect in lakes and marshes. In the sadr subdivision there are only three bils of sufficient size to justify their being sold as public fisheries, and in mangaldai there are but six. These bils are shallow pools of no great extent which from in depressions in the lower parts of the district, generally near the Brahmaputra in the cold weather they are usually surrounded by a belt of rich green grass which affords the most solendid grazing, and the whole is shut in by a wall of high reeds and elephant grass some ten or fifteen feet in height.

Geology

Almost the whole of the district consists of an alluvial deposit of clay and sand in varying proportions, ranging from pare sand near the Brahmaputra to a caly so stiff that it is quite unfit for cultivation. The Bishnath plain and an elevated tract of land north of known as the high bank are, apparently , the remains of an older alluvium which elsewhere has disappeared. The soil is here distinguished from that of the rest of the plain by its closer texture and reddish colour. The low hills near the Brahmaputra are of gneissic origin,and are largely composed of rocks which make an excellent building stone. Limestone of an inferior quality is found in the Barnadi, and travertine, containing as much as 90 per cent of lime, has been discovered just beyond the British frontier in the beds of the Nanai and Dhansiri rivers. Coal, also, is known to exist outside the northern boundary, in the gorges of the Bargang and the Dikal, but not,it is believed, in valuable quantities or of good quality*. In the days of native rule gold used to be washed from the sands of the Bhareli, the Burai, and the Dhansiri, and it is said that each man would obtain about one ounce of gold in the three months, November to January, during which the work was carried on. Almost as soon as the district came under British rule, the gold washers abandoned this special work, which had been entrusted to them by the Ahom Rajas, and it is said that even in 1835 very little gold was washed for, in pites of a strong demand for the precious metal*. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Bhutias are said to have brought down as much as 200 ounces of gold every cold weather, but practically no gold is exported from the hills along the north at the present day.

Climate

The climate of Darrang does not differ materially from that of the rest of Assam proper from the middle of November till the end of February the weather is all that could be desired . the total rainfall during that period is only about two inches ,the sky is clear,the sun, though bright,has little power,and air is cool and pleasant. In march the temperature begins to rice,but the copious showers of April , when six or seven inches of rain are usually recorded, effectually prevent the development of anything in any way resembling the hot weather of upper India Between May and September the rain fall is fairly heavy , the air becomes surcharged with moisture,and the damp heat is trying alike. to Europeans and to natives The average maximum shade temperature of these five months ranges from 86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit,but ,in an excessively humid atmos pohere,even such a moderate degree of heat has a relaxing effect upon the constitution. In October, the temperature begins to fall and the nights are fairly cool,but the winter does not actually set in till the middle of November. The average maximum and minimum temperature in each month will be found in table I .

The everage monthly rainfall at certain stations will be found in Table II. Near the hills, at Kherkheria on the west and at Gohpur on the east of the district, it is over 100 inches, while at Mangaldai it is only 70 and at Tezpur 73 inches About two-thirds of the total rainfall of the year falls in the four months, May to August.

Storms and floods

Darrang suffers little from destructive storms and floods. The Brahmaputra and many of its tributaries occasionally overflow their banks, but the area subject to inundation is well known, and the villagers do not attempt to cultivate anything more than summer rice or cold weather crops in these flooded tracts. Hail storms occasionally do damage, especially on tea gardens, but destructive cyclones are quite unknown. Thunder storms are common in the rains, but they afford a welcome relief by cooling the overheated atmosphere. Dust storms never occur,as the country is so completely clothed in fresh green vegetation, that dust, the material of these unpleasing phenomena of nature,is not forthcoming.

Earth quakes

But Darrang, like the rest of Assam, is a seismic area, and the crust of the earth from time to time gives evidence of its instability. The Ahom chronicles not unfrequently refer to serious earthquakes; and the army advancing under Mir Jumla to the invasion of Assam was much alarmed by the occurrence of one of these cataclysms of nature.

The earth quake of 1897

The most serious earthquake on record was, however, the one which occurred on June 12th, 1897. This earthquake was felt over an area of 1,750,000 square miles, from Rangoon in the south-east to Kangra in the north-west, from the Himalayas to Masulipatam, and serious damage was done to masonry buildings over an area of 145,000 square miles*. The area of maximum disturnance was a tract of country of the shape of a cocked hat, whose base line ran from Rangpur to Jaintiapur, while the top of the crown was near Barpeta. The effects of the shock in Mangaldai were serious. The dak bungalow and the residence of the Subdivisional Officer were wrecked, the walls of the cutchery and the treasury collapsed, and serious damage was done to the raised roads, which in places were shaken down to the level of the neighbouring fields. In Tezpur itself the dak bungalow, the Deputy Commissioner's bungalow, and the Planters Club were all seriously injured. The greater part of the northern and western walls of the jail were thrown down, the eastern wall of the church collapsed, and the treasury and cutchery both were injured. On the Tezpur- Balipara Railway the permanent way between Sessa and Rangapara was in places shaken level with the plain, and the rails were bent and twisted out of position Fortunately, however, no loss of life occurred, and the actual damage done was small in comparison with the terrible ruin wrought in Gauhati and Shillong.

Fauna

The wild animals of the district include elephants, rhinoceros, bison (bos qaurus), buffalo, tigers, leopards,Bears, wild pig and different kinds of deer, of which the principal varieties are the sambar (cerous unicolour), the burasingha or swamp deer (cervus duranceli), the hog deer (cervus porcinus), the barking deer (cervulus muntjac) and the spotted deer (cervus axis)).

Elephants

Elephants are fairly common, especially nar the hills, and when the crops are ripening do much damange unless the numbers of the herds are regularly kept down. For this purpose the distriet is divided into seven mahals or tracts. The right to hunt in each mahal is sold by action and the lessee is required to pay a royalty of Rs.100 on evry animal captured. The method usually employed is that known as mela shikar . Mahouts mounted on staunch and well- trained elephants pursue the herd which generally takes to flight. The chase is of a most arduous and exeiting character. The Great animals go crashing though the thickest jungle and over rough and treacherous ground at a surprising pace,and the hunter is liable to be torn by the beautiful but thorny cane brake,or were he not very agile, to be swept from his seat by the boughs of an overhanging tree.After a time the younger animals begin to flag and lag behind, and it is then that the opportunity of the pursuercomes.two hunters single out a likely beast, drive their elephants on either side, and deftly throw a noose over its neck. The two ends of the noose are firmly fast ened to the kunkis, as the hunting elephants are called ,and as they close in on either side, the captured animal is unable to escape,or to do much injury to his captors who are generally considerably larger than their victim. The wild elephant is then brought back to camp where it is tied up for a time and gradually tamed.

Forty-six animals were caught in 1902-03,the last year in which the mahals were sold by the Deputy commission er. Rhinoceros live in the swamps that fringe the Brahmaputra, or near the hills, and are now extremely scarce .they breed slowly, and ,as the horn is worth more than its weight in silver, and the flesh is prized as food, they present a tempting mark to the native hunter.wild buffaloes are occasionally found in the same locality, and wild bulls sometimes serve the tame cows that are kept by the Nepalese on the Brahmaputra churs. Bison are generally found near the hills and in the neighbour hood of tree forest ; tigers, leopards and bears are met with in almost every part of the district. Wild animals cause little loss of human life , but, in 1903, are sais to have accounted for over four thousand head of cattle. The number of human beings killed in that year by different animals was as follows:_ elephants 2, tigers 12,bears 9,wild buffaloes 6, wild pigs 5, snaks 14, total 48. rewards were at the same time paid for the destruction of 30 tigers,66 leopards,and 17 bears.

Small game include wild geese and duck, snipe florican (sypheotis bengalensis), black and marsh part ridge, pheasants,jungle fowl, and hares.