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Kamrup are two similar plateaux of lower elevation. The general
appearance of these table-lands is that of undulating downs. They
are covered with short grass, but destitute both of the dense forest and
of the high jungle with one or other of which waste land in Assam is
almost invariably covered. Here and there are to be seen clumps of
oak and pine, the hills are broken up with deep gorges and smiling
valleys, and the scenery is not unlike that found in many parts of
England. A considerable number of rivers rise in the hills, but are
of little importance as a means of communication within the boun-
daries of the District. The largest streams flowing towards the north
are the Kapili, Barpani, Umiam or Kiling, and Digru, all o*
which fall either direct or through other channels into the Kalang in
Nowgong : and the Khri, which is called the Kulsi in Kamrup. To
the south the best-known rivers are the Eubha, Bogapani, and
Kynchiang or Jadukata. Where they flow through the plateau, the
larger rivers have cut for themselves deep gorges of great beauty, whose
precipitous sides are generally clothed with forest.

The Shillong plateau consists of a great mass of gneiss, which is bare
on the northern border, but in the central region is covered by tran-



KHASI AND JAINTIA HILLS 255

sition or sub-metamorphic rocks. To the south, in contact with the

gneiss and sub-metamorphic, is a great volcanic outburst of trap, which
is stratified and brought to the surface south of Cherrapunji. Still
farther south are Cretaceous and Nummulitic strata, which contain
deposits of coal and lime.

The characteristic trees of the central plateau are those of a tem-
perate zone. At an elevation of 3,000 feet the indigenous pine (Pinus
Khasya) predominates over all other vegetation, and forms almost pure
pine forests. The highest peaks are clothed with fine clumps of oak,
chestnut, magnolia, beech, and other trees, which superstition has
preserved from the axe of the wood-cutter. Azaleas and rhododen-
drons grow wild, and many kinds of beautiful orchids are found in
the woods.

Wild animals include elephants, bison (Bos gaurus), tigers, bears,
leopards, wild dogs, wild buffaloes in the lower ranges, and various
kinds of deer.

The climate is cool and pleasant. In the hottest weather the ther-
mometer at Shillong rarely rises above 80° and in the winter ice
often forms. Snow seldom falls, but this is partly due to the fact
that there is little or no precipitation of moisture in the cold season.
Malaria lurks in the low ranges of hills on the north, but the climate
of the high plateau is extremely healthy, and is admirably adapted to
European constitutions.

There is no station in India where the recorded rainfall is as heavy
as at Cherrapunji, on the southern face of the Khasi Hills. The
average annual fall at this place is 458 inches ; but the clouds are
rapidly drained of their moisture, and at Shillong, which is less than
30 miles away, it is only 82 inches. At Jowai, which lies at about the
same distance south-east of Shillong, the average annual fall is 237
inches. The rainfall has never been recorded in the northern hills,
but it is probably between 80 and 90 inches in the year. The District
has always been subject to earthquakes, but all previous shocks were
thrown into insignificance by the catastrophe of June 12, 1897. The
whole of Shillong was levelled with the ground, masonry houses
collapsed, and roads and bridges were destroyed all over the 1 ^strict.
The total number of lives lost was 916. Most of these casualties
occurred in the cliff villages near Cherrapunji, and were due to the
falling of the hill-sides, which carried villages with them or buried
them in their ruins.

On ethnological grounds there are reasons for supposing that the

Khasis and Syntengs have been established in these hills for many

centuries ; but, living as they did in comparative

... ' . , • • ,,,,•,■ History.

isolation in their mountain strongholds, little is

known of their early history. At the end of the eighteenth century



256 KHASI AND JAINTIA HILLS

they harried the plains on the north and south of the District, and
their raids were thus described by Pemberton in 1835 : —

'They descended into the plains both of Assam and Sylhet, and
ravaged with fire and sword the villages which stretched along the base
of this lofty region. Night was the time almost invariably chosen for
these murderous assaults, when neither sex nor age were spared 1 .'

The Khasi Hills were first visited by Europeans in 1826, when
Mr. David Scott entered into arrangements with the chiefs for the
construction of a road through their territory from Assam into Sylhet.
Work was begun; but in 1829 the Khasis took alarm at the threats
of a Bengali chaprasi, who declared that the hills were to be brought
under taxation. The tribes suddenly rose and massacred two Euro-
pean officers, Lieutenants Bedingfield and Burlton, near Nongkhlao,
with about 60 of their native followers. Military operations were at
once commenced, but were protracted through several seasons, and
it was not till 1833 that the last of the Khasi chiefs tendered his sub-
mission. Engagements were then entered into with the heads of the
various Khasi States. Their independence was recognized, Govern-
ment abstained from imposing any taxation upon their subjects, and
their territories were held to be beyond the borders of British India.
Since that date the history of the Khasi States has been one of peace-
ful development, only checked by the great earthquake of 1897. The
Jaintia Hills lapsed to the British Government in 1835, when the Raja
was deprived of the Jaintia Parganas in the District of Sylhet, on
account of his complicity in the murder of three British subjects. For
the next twenty years the Syntengs, as the inhabitants of the Jaintia
Hills are called, were left almost entirely to their own devices. The
administration was entrusted to their own headmen, who were un-
doubtedly corrupt ; but the only tax levied was that dating from the
Raja's time, which consisted of one male goat from each village. In
i860 a house tax was imposed, as in the other hill tracts of the
Province, and within a few months the people rose in open rebellion.
Fortunately, a large force of troops was close at hand, and before the
revolt could make headway it was stamped out. Scarcely, however,
had the agitation subsided when the income tax was introduced into
the hills. The total amount assessed was only Rs. 1,259, an ^ tne
highest individual assessment Rs. 9 ; but this was enough to irritate
a people who had never been accustomed to pay anything but the
lightest of tribute to their own princes, and who had never been taught
by conquest the extent of the British resources. In January, 1862,
a revolt began ; and, though apparently crushed in four months, it broke
out again, and it was not till November, 1863, that the last of the

1 Report on the Eastern Frontier of British India, by Captain R. B. Pemberton,
p. 221 (Calcutta, 1835).



POPULATJC V



2.S7



leaders surrendered, and the pacification of Jaintia could be said to
be complete. Since that dale a British officer has been posted
in the Jaintia Hills, and the people have given no trouble. Ch< rra
punji was originally selected as the head-quarters of the hills, but the
rainfall was found to be so excessive that the District officer moved
to Shillong in 1864; and Shillong was constituted the head-quarters of
the Administration when Assam was formed into a separate Province
ten years later.

The population of the District, as returned at the last four enumera-
tions, was: (1872) 140,356, (1881) 167,804,(1891) 197,904, and (ii)oi)

202, 2 qo. The slow rate of increase which occurred _ , .
, ■ , t 1 r ,1 Population,

during the last decade was due to the unfavourable

conditions prevailing after the earthquake of 1897. The first two

enumerations were probably incomplete. The District contains two

subdivisions, Shillong and Jowai, with head-quarters at places of

the same names. Shillong (population, 8,384) is the only town, and

there are 1,839 villages.

The following table gives for each subdivision particulars of area,

population, &c, according to the Census of 1901 :—



Subdivision.


V
u

a
3

Coi

c~
— a

cS ~

OJ

u

<


Number of


c

q

s
c






Online LibraryGreat Britain. India OfficeImperial gazetteer of India .. (Volume 15) → online text (page 31 of 50)