Journeys to Keng Tung

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March 11th

March 11th.—Moungkin the Burman tells me that it is fifteen days’ journey for a footman from Kiang Tung to Mone; seven high ranges are crossed besides many small ones between this and the Salwin river. One village Muai Ping; five days out. Cross the Salwin in boats. It is about 300 feet broad. Elephants traverse this route, which is at present considered unsafe by most people. Traders have always avoided it for fear of treachery from the Shans.

The Burman Moungkin came at 11 o’clock to say he had been talking with the Prince’s uncle, whom I visited yesterday. He, the uncle, said,”The English are very bad people: what does this ruffian (meaning me) want here? No one travels in this country for pleasure” (as indeed they certainly would not). Moungkin in a blue funk comes to me. I told him to say I am travelling around to enlarge my mind, and that if my presence is considered an intrusion, I am quite willing to betake myself to a more hospitable country. At 3 o’clock Moungkin came to say the Prince would see me. First we went to the courthouse, a large wooden house on very high poles. At the end of the hall of justice was a large gilded thing that looked like a horse trough with an over- mantle behind it: in front of this and a little lower were two or three little stools which the Shans use for resting their elbows on whilst sitting on the ground. The gilded trough was therefore, I take it, merely a local emblem of justice, and the judges sat in front of it. My friend, the Prince’s uncle, was Lord Chief Justice, and there were three other Judges or Magistrates. He asked my age, and would not believe I was a day under forty, which apparently is the age at which a Shan begins to get a moustache that many an English old lady would put to shame. Next, “My business?” Answer as before. “Had any ‘Magistrate’ sent me?” “How long did it take to get from London (very small print) to Kiang Tung (largest type)?” He then came down and felt me all over, and unearthing my revolver from my pocket, insisted it should be unloaded at once, and not be taken at all into the presence of the Prince. Having a good stout stick and another weapon handy, I unloaded it, but, under pretence of going home with the revolver, reloaded it and hid it in my cummerband.

One cannot be too careful when it is one man against a thousand. On my return the Kashmir chogah was handed round and much admired, and then we went across to the Prince’s palace, a wretched shanty, in no way to be compared to the Zimme Prince’s palace. After passing a broad outer verandah, we came to the audience chamber, which was about 30 feet square, and matted. We all squatted round the edges and waited for His Royal Highness to appear through a curtained door. The furniture and ornaments were a mixed collection of very valuable and very trumpery things. Large vessels of solid gold and silver stood about amongst the rubbish of a Moulmein cheapjack; a few spears and guns hung on the walls, and an English naval officer’s sword on one side of the door, and an Infantry Field officer’s on the other. A gilt couch, with room for two, and a curtain, which could be dropped from the ceiling to hide it, stood in the corner by the door; and in front of it a mattress and some carpets were spread on which the Prince was to sit. He kept us waiting about 15 minutes, during which time both my legs went to sleep. On his entrance the whole crowd prostrated themselves. The Prince is a boy of about 12, a thin-faced, long-nosed, foolish-looking youth. My chogah was presented to him, and then they all began to jaw. I asked if they would like a railway. They said, “No, certainly not.” In this conversation the youth took no part, and was busily engaged in trying to get a peep at the chogah through a hole in the paper cover, as apparently it was not etiquette to open it before the donor. Nothing important was said or done. After I arrived home, a man came to say His Royal Highness wanted to see my gun and pistol. I took them to the palace, but, as H. R. H. was much too exalted a personage to see the weapons in my hands, and as I stoutly refused to let them out of them, the young man had to do without them, and I went away. At Zimme the Prince stood up, shook hands, and was most affable. Here no one approaches within ten paces of the Prince, and only then in the grovelling position peculiar to these nations. To-morrow I am to get a decided answer whether it is to be Kiang Hung or not. I don’t much care really, for I can get pretty full details about that bit, and the French, too, have been over it. Unfortunately Kiang Tung hates China and fears it; whereas Kiang Hung is very friendly with China. Consequently they have got it into their silly old heads that China, and not Bangkok, is my destination, and that I am going to expose the nakedness of their land to the Chinese, or do some other profound devilment. As things stand, I don’t think it would be fair on my orderly and servant to go, except with a caravan. It would not be a matter of taking a considerable risk; it would be going to almost certain destruction, and that won’t help anybody.

Caravans don’t go north of this as a rule for another two months, but ply from here to Zimme or Moulmein and back. However, I may be lucky.From the town to the north end of the valley is about 10 miles and to the south-east it extends 8 miles. The Me Chim river flows through it, and lofty ranges of mountains surround it on all sides. Many small villages are scattered over the valley. The south-east arm is an undulating down, mostly quite bare. From the town to the north and east is a dead level, all paddy land. To south and south-west there are low hills, increasing in size up to the high mountains about 2 1/2 miles off. The country is badly drained, and there are many marshy bits between the low hills and hillocks.The Kiang Tung people are ignorant of the difference between Western nations; even Judge No. 1 did not know whether it was a French or English expedition that passed through to China in 1866.1 owe my safety to this; the Burman Moungkin having told them I came from London: they luckily never associated me with the foreigners at Mandalay and Mone. These people want opening up sadly; they are many steps lower in the scale of civilisation than the Zimmeites. Next Entry