James Inglis.

Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier Twelve Years Sporting Reminiscences of an Indigo Planter online

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S., and was found to be eight and a quarter inches wide from the
outside of the first to the outside of the fourth toe. If a tiger has
passed very recently, the prints will be fresh-looking, and if on damp
ground there can be no mistaking them. If it has been raining
recently, we particularly notice whether the rain has obliterated the
track at all, in any place; which would lead us to the conclusion that
the tiger had passed before it rained. If the water has lodged in the
footprint, the tiger has passed after the shower. In fresh prints the
water will be slightly puddly or muddy. In old prints it will be quite
clear; and so on.

The call of the male tiger is quite different from that of the female.
The male calls with a hoarse harsh cry, something between the grunt of
a pig and the bellow of a bull; the call of the tigress is more like
the prolonged mew of a cat much intensified. During the pairing season
the call is sharper and shorter, and ends in a sudden break. At that
time, too, they cry at more frequent intervals. The roar of the tiger
is quite unlike the call. Once heard it is not easily forgotten, The
natives who live in the jungles can tell one tiger from another by
colour, size, &c., and they can even distinguish one animal from
another by his call. It is very absurd to hear a couple of natives get
together and describe the appearance of some tiger they have seen.

In describing a pig, they refer to his height, or the length of his
tusks. They describe a fish by putting their fists together, and
saying he was so thick, _itna mota_. The head of a tiger is always the
most conspicuous part of the body seen in the jungle. They therefore
invariably describe him by his head. One man will hold his two hands
apart about two feet, and say that the head was _itna burra_, that is,
so big. The other, not to be outdone, gives rein to his imagination,
and adds another foot. The first immediately fancies discredit will
attach to his veracity, and vehemently asserts that there must in that
case have been two tigers; and so they go on, till they conclusively
prove, that two tigers there must have been, and indeed, if you let
them go on, they will soon assure you that, besides the pair of
tigers, there must be at least a pair of half-grown cubs. Their
imaginations are very fertile, and you must take the information of a
native as to tigers with a very large pinch of salt.

For successful tiger shooting much depends on the beating. When after
tiger, general firing should on no account be allowed, and the line
should move forward as silently as possible. In light cover, extending
over a large area, the elephants should be kept a considerable
distance apart, but in thick dense cover the line should be quite
close, and beat up slowly and thoroughly, as a tiger may lay up and
allow the line to pass him. On no account should an elephant be let to
lag behind, and no one should be allowed to rush forward or go in
advance. The elephants should move along, steady and even, like a
moving wall, the fastest being on the flanks, and accommodating their
pace to the general rate of progress. No matter what tempting chances
at pig or deer you may have, you must on no account fire except at
tiger.

The captain should be in the centre, and the men on the flanks ought
to be constantly on the _qui vive_, to see that no cunning tiger
outflanks the line. The attention should never wander from the jungle
before you, for at any moment a tiger may get up - and I know of no
sport where it is necessary to be so continuously on the alert. Every
moment is fraught with intense excitement, and when a tiger does
really show his stripes before you, the all-absorbing eager excitement
of a lifetime is packed in a few brief moments. Not a chance should be
thrown away, a long, or even an uncertain shot, is better than none,
and if you make one miss, you may not have another chance again that
day: for the tiger is chary of showing his stripes, and thinks
discretion the better part of valour.

All the line of course are aware, as a rule, when a tiger is on the
move, and a good captain (and Joe S., who generally took the direction
of our beats, could not well be matched) will wheel the line, double,
turn, march, and countermarch, and fairly run the tiger down. At such
a time, although you may not actually see the tiger, the excitement is
tremendous. You stand erect in the howdah, your favourite gun ready;
your attendant behind is as excited as yourself, and sways from side
to side to peer into the gloomy depths of the jungle; in front, the
mahout wriggles on his seat, as if by his motion he could urge the
elephant to a quicker advance. He digs his toes savagely into his
elephant behind the ear; the line is closing up; every eye is fixed on
the moving jungle ahead. The roaring of the flames behind, and the
crashing of the dried reeds as the elephants force their ponderous
frames through the intertwisted stems and foliage, are the only sounds
that greet the ear. Suddenly you see the tawny yellow hide, as the
tiger slouches along. Your gun rings out a reverberating challenge, as
your fatal bullet speeds on its errand. To right and left the echoes
ring, as shot after shot is fired at the bounding robber. Then the
line closes up, and you form a circle round the stricken beast, and
watch his mighty limbs quiver in the death-agony, and as he falls over
dead, and powerless for further harm, you raise the heartfelt,
pulse-stirring cheer, that finds an echo in every brother sportman's
heart.

Disputes sometimes arise as to whose bullet first drew blood. These
are settled by the captain, and from his decision there is no appeal.
Many sportsmen put peculiar marks on their bullets, by which they can
be recognised, which is a good plan. In an exciting scrimmage every
one blazes at the tiger, not one bullet perhaps in five or six takes
effect, and every one is ready to claim the skin, as having been
pierced with his particular bullet. Disputes are not very common, but
an inspection of the wounds, and the bullets found in the body,
generally settle the question. After hearing all the pros and cons,
the captain generally succeeds in awarding the tiger to the right man.

After a successful day, the news rapidly spreads through the adjacent
country, and we may take the line a little out of our way to make a
sort of triumphal procession through the villages. On reaching the
camp there is sure to be a great crowd waiting to see the slain
tigers, the despoilers of the people's flocks and herds.

It is then you hear of all the depredations the dead robber has
committed, and it is then you begin to form some faint conception of
his enormous destructive powers. Villager after villager unfolds a
tale of some favourite heifer, or buffalo, or cow having been struck
down, and the copious vocabulary of Hindostanee Billingsgate is almost
exhausted, and floods of abuse poured out on the prostrate head.

On cutting open the tiger, parasites are frequently found in the
flesh. These are long, white, thread-like worms, and are supposed by
some to be Guinea worms. Huge masses of undigested bone and hair are
sometimes taken from the intestines, shewing that the tiger does not
waste much time on mastication, but tears and eats the flesh in large
masses. The liver is found to have numbers of separate lobes, and the
natives say that this is an infallible test of the age of a tiger, as
a separate lobe forms on the liver for each year of the tiger's life.
I have certainly found young tigers having but two and three lobes,
and old tigers I have found with six, seven, and even eight, but the
statement is entirely unsupported by careful observation, and requires
authentication before it can be accepted.

A reported kill is a pretty certain sign that there are tigers in the
jungle, but there are other signs with which one soon gets familiar.
When, for example, you hear deer calling repeatedly, and see them
constantly on the move, it is a sign that tiger are in the
neighbourhood. When cattle are reluctant to enter the jungle,
restless, and unwilling to graze, you may be sure tiger are somewhere
about, not far away. A kill is often known by the numbers of vultures
that hover about in long, sailing, steady circles. What multitudes of
vultures there are. Overhead, far up in the liquid ether, you see them
circling round and round like dim specks in the distance; farther and
farther away, till they seem like bees, then lessen and fade into the
infinitude of space. No part of the sky is ever free from their
presence. When a kill has been perceived, you see one come flying
along, strong and swift in headlong flight. With the directness of a
thunderbolt he speeds to where his loathsome meal lies sweltering in
the noonday sun. As he comes nearer and nearer, his repulsive looking
body assumes form and substance. The cruel, ugly bald head, drawn
close in between the strong pointed shoulders, the broad powerful
wings, with their wide sweep, measured and slow, bear him swiftly
past. With a curve and a sweep he circles round, down come the long
bony legs, the bald and hideous neck is extended, and with talons
quivering for the rotting flesh, and cruel beak agape, he hurries on
to his repast, the embodiment of everything ghoul-like and ghastly. In
his wake comes another, then twos and threes, anon tens and twenties,
till hundreds have collected, and the ground is covered with the
hissing, tearing, fiercely clawing crowd. It is a horrible sight to
see a heap of vultures battling over a dead bullock. I have seen them
so piled up that the under ones were nearly smothered to death; and
the writhing contortions of the long bare necks, as the fierce brutes
battled with talons and claws, were like the twisting of monster
snakes, or the furious writhing of gorgons and furies over some fated
victim.

It has been a much debated point with sportsmen and naturalists,
whether the eye or the sense of smell guides the vulture to his feast
of carrion. I have often watched them. They scan the vast surface
spread below them with a piercing and never tiring gaze. They observe
each other. When one is seen to cease his steady circling flight, far
up in mid air, and to stretch his broad wings earthwards, the others
know that he has espied a meal, and follow his lead; and these in turn
are followed by others, till from all quarters flock crowds of these
scavengers of the sky. They can detect a dog or jackal from a vast
height, and they know by intuition that, where the carcase is there
will the dogs and jackals be gathered. I think there can be no doubt
that the vision is the sense they are most indebted to for directing
them to their food.

On one occasion I remember seeing a tumultuous heap of them, battling
fiercely, as I have just tried to describe, over the carcases of two
tigers we had killed near Dumdaha. The dead bodies were hidden
partially in a grove of trees, and for a long time there were only
some ten or a dozen vultures near. These gorged themselves so
fearfully, that they could not rise from the ground, but lay with
wings expanded, looking very aldermanic and apoplectic. Bye-and-bye,
however, the rush began, and by the time we had struck the tents,
there could not have been fewer than 150 vultures, hissing and
spitting at each other like angry cats; trampling each other to the
dust to get at the carcases; and tearing wildly with talon and beak
for a place. In a very short time nothing but mangled bones remained.
A great number of the vultures got on to the rotten limb of a huge
mango tree. One other proved the last straw, for down came the rotten
branch and several of the vultures, tearing at each other, fell
heavily to the ground, where they lay quite helpless. As an experiment
we shot a miserable mangy Pariah dog, that was prowling about the
ground seeking garbage and offal. He was shot stone-dead, and for a
time no vulture ventured near. A crow was the first to begin the feast
of death. One of the hungriest of the vultures next approached, and in
a few minutes the yet warm body of the poor dog was torn into a
thousand fragments, till nothing remained but scattered and disjointed
bones.




CHAPTER XXII.


We start for a tiger hunt on the Nepaul frontier. - Indian scenery near
the border. - Lose our way. - Cold night. - The river by night. - Our boat
and boatmen. - Tigers calling on the bank. - An anxious moment. - Fire at
and wound the tigress. - Reach camp. - The Nepaulee's adventure with a
tiger. - The old Major. - His appearance and manners. - The pompous
Jemadar. - Nepaulese proverb. - Firing the jungle. - Start a tiger and
shoot him. - Another in front. - Appearance of the fires by night. - The
tiger escapes. - Too dark to follow up. - Coolie shot by mistake during
a former hunt.

Early in 1875 a military friend of mine was engaged in inspecting the
boundary pillars near my factory, between our territory and that of
Nepaul. Some of the pillars had been cut away by the river, and the
survey map required a little alteration in consequence. Our district
magistrate was in attendance, and sent me an invitation to go up and
spend a week with them in camp. I had no need to send on tents, as
they had every requisite for comfort. I sent off my bed and bedding on
Geerdharee Jha's old elephant, a timid, useless brute, fit neither far
beating jungle nor for carrying a howdah. My horse I sent on to the
ghat or crossing, some ten miles up the river, and after lunch I
started. It was a fine cool afternoon, and it was not long ere I
reached the neighbouring factory of Im[=a]mnugger. Here I had a little
refreshment with Old Tom, and after exchanging greetings, I resumed my
way over a part of the country with which I was totally unacquainted.

I rode on, past villages nestling in the mango groves, past huge
tanks, excavated by the busy labour of generations long since
departed; past decaying temples, overshadowed by mighty tamarind
trees, with the _peepul_ and _pakur_ insinuating their twining roots
amid the shattered and crumbling masonry. In one large village I
passed through the bustling bazaar, where the din, and dust, and
mingled odours, were almost overpowering. The country was now assuming
quite an undulating character. The banks of the creeks were steep and
rugged, and in some cases the water actually tumbled from rock to
rock, with a purling pleasant ripple and plash, a welcome sound to a
Scotch ear, and a pleasant surprise after the dull, dead, leaden,
noiseless flow of the streams further down on the plains.

Far in front lay the gloomy belt of Terai, or border forest, here
called the _morung_, where the British territories had their extreme
limit in that direction. Behind this belt, tier on tier, rose the
mighty ranges of the majestic Himalayas, towering up in solemn
grandeur from the bushy masses of forest-clad hills till their
snow-capped summits seemed to pierce the sky. The country was covered
by green crops, with here and there patches of dingy rice-stubble, and
an occasional stretch of dense grass jungle. Quail, partridge, and
plover rose from the ground in coveys, as my horse cantered through;
and an occasional peafowl or florican scudded across the track as I
ambled onward. I asked at a wretched little accumulation of weavers'
huts where the ghat was, and if my elephant had gone on. To both my
queries I received satisfactory replies, and as the day was now
drawing in, I pushed my nag into a sharp canter and hurried forward.

I soon perceived the bulky outline of my elephant ahead, and on coming
up, found that my men had come too far up the river, had missed the
ghat to which I had sent my spare horse, and were now making for
another ferry still higher up. My horse was jaded, so I got on the
elephant, and made one of the peons lead the horse behind. It was
rapidly getting dark, and the mahout, or elephant driver, a miserable
low caste stupid fellow, evidently knew nothing of the country, and
was going at random. I halted at the next village, got hold of the
chowkeydar, and by a promise of backsheesh, prevailed on him to
accompany us and show us the way. We turned off from the direct
northerly direction in which we had been going, and made straight for
the river, which we could see in the distance, looking chill and grey
in the fast fading twilight. We now got on the sandbanks, and had to
go cautiously for fear of quicksands. By the time we reached the ghat
it was quite dark and growing very cold.

We were quite close to the hills, a heavy dew was falling, and I found
that I should have to float down the liver for a mile, and then pole
up stream in another channel for two miles before I could reach camp.

I got my horse into the boat, ordering the elephant driver to travel
all night if he could, as I should expect my things to be at camp
early in the morning, and the boatmen pushed off the unwieldy
ferry-boat, floating us quietly down the rapid 'drumly' stream. All is
solemnly still and silent on an Indian river at night. The stream is
swift but noiseless. Vast plains and heaps of sand stretch for miles
on either bank. There are no villages near the stream. Faintly, far
away in the distance, you hear a few subdued sounds, the only
evidences of human habitation. There is the tinkle of a cow-bell, the
barking of a pariah dog, the monotonous dub-a-dub-dub of a
timber-toned tom-tom, muffled and slightly mellowed by the distance.
The faint, far cries, and occasional halloos of the herd-boys calling
to each other, gradually cease, but the monotonous dub-a-dub-dub
continues till far into the night.

It was now very cold, and I was glad to borrow a blanket from my peon.
At such a time the pipe is a great solace. It soothes the whole
system, and plunges one into an agreeable dreamy speculative mood,
through which all sorts of fantastic notions resolve. Fancies chase
each other quickly, and old memories rise, bitter or sweet, but all
tinged and tinted by the seductive influence of the magic weed. Hail,
blessed pipe! the invigorator of the weary, the uncomplaining faithful
friend, the consoler of sorrows, and the dispeller of care, the
much-prized companion of the solitary wayfarer!

Now a jackal utters a howl on the bank, as our boat shoots past, and
the diabolical noise is echoed from knoll to knoll, and from ridge to
ridge, as these incarnate devils of the night join in and prolong the
infernal chorus. An occasional splash, as a piece of the bank topples
over into the stream, rouses the cormorant and gull from their placid
dozing on the sandbanks. They squeak and gurgle out an unintelligible
protest, then cosily settle their heads again beneath the sheltering
wing, and sleep the slumber of the dreamless. A sharp sudden plump, or
a lazy surging sound, accompanied by a wheezy blowing sort of hiss,
tells us that a _seelun_ is disporting himself; or that a fat old
'porpus' is bearing his clumsy bulk through the rushing current.

The bank now looms out dark and mysterious, and as we turn the point
another long stretch of the river opens out, reflecting the merry
twinkle of the myriad stars, that glitter sharp and clear millions of
miles overhead. There is now a clattering of bamboo poles. With a
grunt of disgust, and a quick catching of the breath, as the cold
water rushes up against his thighs, one of the boatmen splashes
overboard, and they commence slowly and wearily pushing the boat up
stream. We touch the bank a dozen times. The current swoops down and
turns us round and round. The men have to put their shoulders under
the gunwale, and heave and strain with all their might. The long
bamboo poles are plunged into the dark depths of the river, and the
men puff, and grunt, and blow, as they bend almost to the bottom of
the boat while they push. It is a weary progress. We are dripping wet
with dew. Quite close on the bank we hear the hoarse wailing call of a
tigress. The call of the tiger comes echoing down between the banks.
The men cease poling. I peer forward into the obscurity. My syce pats,
and speaks soothingly to the trembling horse, while my peon with
excited fingers fumbles at the straps of my gun-case. For a moment all
is intensely still.

I whisper to the boatmen to push out a little into the stream. Again
the tigress calls, this time so close to us that we could almost fancy
we could feel her breath. My gun is ready. The syce holds the horse
firmly by the head, and as we leave the bank, we can distinctly see
the outline of some large animal, standing out a dark bulky mass
against the skyline. I take a steady aim and fire. A roar of
astonishment, wrath, and pain follows the report. The horse struggles
and snorts, the boatman calls out 'Oh, my father!' and ejaculates
'hi-hi-hi!' in tones of piled up anguish and apprehension, the peon
cries exultantly 'Wah wah! khodawund, lug, gea,' that bullet has told;
oh your highness! and while the boat rocks violently to and fro, I
abuse the boatmen, slang the syce, and rush to grasp a pole, while the
peon seizes another; for we are drifting rapidly down stream, and may
at any moment strike on a bank and topple over. We can hear by the
growling and commotion on the bank, that my bullet has indeed told,
and that something is hit. We soon get the frightened boatmen quieted
down, and after another hour's weary work we spy the white outline of
the tents above the bank. A lamp shines out a bright welcome; and
although it is nearly twelve at night, the Captain and the magistrate
are discussing hot toddy, and waiting my arrival. My spare horse had
come on from the ghat, the syce had told them I was coming, and they
had been indulging in all sorts of speculations over my non-arrival.

A good supper, and a reeking jorum, soon banished all recollections of
my weary journey, and men were ordered to go out at first break of
dawn, and see about the wounded tiger. In the morning I was gratified
beyond expression to find a fine tigress, measuring 8 feet 3 inches,
had been brought in, the result of my lucky night shot; the marks of a
large tiger were found about the spot, and we determined to beat up
for him, and if possible secure his skin, as we already had that of
his consort.

Captain S. had some work to finish, and my elephant and bearer had not
arrived, so our magistrate and myself walked down to the sandbanks,
and amused ourselves for an hour shooting sandpipers and plover; we
also shot a pair of mallard and a couple of teal, and then went back
to the tents, and were soon busily discussing a hunter's breakfast.
While at our meal, my elephant and things arrived, and just then also,
the 'Major Capt[=a]n,' or Nepaulese functionary, my old friend, came up
with eight elephants, and we hurried out to greet the fat,
merry-featured old man.

What a quaint, genial old customer he looked, as he bowed and salaamed
to us from his elevated seat, his face beaming, and his little
bead-like eyes twinkling with pleasure. He was full of an adventure he
had as he came along. After crossing a brawling mountain-torrent, some
miles from our camp, they entered some dense kair jungle. The kair is
I believe a species of mimosa; it is a hard wood, growing in a thick
scrubby form, with small pointed leaves, a yellowish sort of flower,
and sharp thorns studding its branches; it is a favourite resort for
pig, and although it is difficult to beat on account of the thorns,
tigers are not unfrequently found among the gloomy recesses of a good
kair scrub.

As they entered this jungle, some of the men were loitering behind.
When the elephants had passed about halfway through, the men came
rushing up pell mell, with consternation on their faces, reporting
that a huge tiger had sprung out on them, and carried off one of their
number. The Major and the elephants hurried back, and met the man
limping along, bleeding from several scratches, and with a nasty bite
in his shoulder, but otherwise more frightened than hurt. The tiger
had simply knocked him down, stood over him for a minute, seized him
by the shoulder, and then dashed on through the scrub, leaving him
behind half dead with pain and fear.

It was most amusing to hear the fat little Major relate the story. He
went through all the by-play incident to the piece, and as he got
excited, stood right up on his narrow pad. His gesticulations were
most vehement, and as the elephant was rather unsteady, and his
footing to say the least precarious, he seemed every moment as if he
must topple over. The old warrior, however, was equal to the occasion;
without for an instant abating the vigour of his narrative, he would


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Online LibraryJames InglisSport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier Twelve Years Sporting Reminiscences of an Indigo Planter → online text (page 21 of 25)