The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript - J.H. Hutton's tour diary in the Naga Hills

caption: Description of a megalithic bridge; changing dress among Nagas; visit to Syndai caves
medium: tours
person: Hooker
ethnicgroup: SyntengSema
location: Syndai Um-niakaneh R. Kasomari Jaintia Hills Jowai Jarain Am-Kumbeh Stream
date: 21.10.1925
person: Hutton/ J.H.
date: 7.10.1925-29.10.1925
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
refnum: Hutton Ms. Box 2
text: 21st October
text: To Syndai ll miles and thence on to the cave and back, another 4. Between Jarain and Syndai the Um-niakaneh river is crossed by a much finer megalithic bridge than the one mentioned above. Though like it, it has lost one span. Originally it was either completed or planned to consist of three gothic arches built with enormous blocks of stone, but only one such arch remains and the others either collapsed in construction or afterwards and are now spanned by huge flat slabs, the footway being carried down to the flat slabs by steps from the arch top. This bridge must be the one described by Hooker in his Himalayan Journals (II, ch.xxix). One of the stones used in constructing the arch was 7'10"x2'4 x1'5" and there were others as big, and one of the pointed blocks used in the piers carrying the far side of the arch, five-sided, measured 4'6" along one side and 3' along each of the other four sides and was 3'5" in height. There was no key stone, the point of the arch consisting of a jamb, two blocks on each side meeting there. Some of the blocks were slotted in places. No doubt for man-handling, but it is difficult to conceive how such enormous masses of stones were got to lie so accurately in their proper places. The second span rested at the near end on a pier consisting of a single flat stone place on its edge and measuring 11'3" wide, 8'10 " high and 2' thick, this pier being contiguous to the outer pier of the arch. The other pier was built of huge blocks, like those of the arch, laid in five storeys, so to speak; the remaining pier consisting of odd and broken blocks laid on their sides on an outcrop of rock from the river bed. The second span consisted of two long flat blocks laid side by side and measuring 13'7" in length by 4'7" in width and 1'10" in thickness and 12'10"x5'x2' respectively. The third span was a single huge flat piece measuring 19'10"x8'7"x2'3". The fourth span was broken and is at present crossed by a light timber and corrugated iron footway. The outer pier of the arch was adorned, in what was, or would have been, the angle between the two arches, with a carved rosette of concentric circles and above that appeared a carving of a very horsey-looking lion with a waspish waist prancing in the boughs of a highly conventionalised pine tree. It must be inferred from its tail that it was a lion, and it had a general family likeness to the lions on the Kasomari monoliths and on the Manipur stone. This bridge also is said to have been broken by an elephant. There is obviously something in this elephant tradition. Perhaps the original arched bridge was partially broken down by an elephant - perhaps an arch on the plains side, possibly when still in the course of construction or only just made, and that the slabs were then substituted for the unsatisfactory arches. I do not see how an elephant's passing could conceivably affect the slab spans of this or of the former bridge, and the later breaches must have either been made deliberately by humans, or, which is much more likely, caused by one of the violent earthquakes to which the Khasi and Jaintia Hills are subject.
text: I had to cut away masses of jungle from the piers before I could attempt to photograph the bridge, and I regret to record that this very remarkable monument has obviously been too long neglected. Roots have everywhere forced their way in between the interstices of the blocks of stone and some of the smaller stones are already beginning to work loose. It would be the greatest misfortune if the one remaining arch came down owing to neglect, and it is obviously cheaper to maintain the present bridge by spending a rupee or two yearly on keeping it clear of roots and jungle than to replace it by a new bridge with a vastly greater cost of maintenance. As a matter of fact I should strongly recommend that this and the bridge between Jowai and Jarain, and also the single arched bridge below Syndai over the Am-Kumbeh stream, be declared protected monuments, and that this second bridge be properly cleaned of jungle and examined by a qualified Engineer to see whether any of the cracks which may then appear need cementing. After all, these two bridges will be to future generations of Syntengs what Stonehenge and Avebury are to us, and not as a mere piece of megalithic architecture. This second bridge in particular is a very valuable relic. I hesitate to assert that they are unique, but certainly should not know where to look for anything else of the same sort.
text: In a field by the roadside I saw a Selediang, to give it its Synteng name, familiar in the Naga Hills as a Kohkohpfo. It was just like the Sema one except that a kerosine tin took the place of the bamboo sounding board. An old rain hat also of a Naga pattern swings at the bottom to catch the breeze and make it work. Near Syndai I passed a roofless stone building of unmortared stones which I was assured was erected of old by the Jaintia Rajas. It looks suspiciously European in design, however, having two doorways and four square windows symmetrically arranged, and I learnt later that it was merely an abandoned inspection bungalow. Near it I met two men wearing lengtas, a most refreshing sight. One was only a red handkerchief or duster, but the wearer was, but for it, stripped entirely. The other was worn with a dirty shirt, but as far as I could see, appeared to be the genuine article. I wonder how long it will be before one can traverse the Naga Hills without seeing a lengta or a decent bare body.
text: From Syndai I went down to the famous cave about 2 miles from the Inspection Bungalow. The opening is smallish but there is room enough within and a vast number both of stalagmites and stalactites - some of them smeared with red paints by the Saddhus who come up from the plains in some numbers and worship at these naturally-formed lingam. Even before the cave is reached the rocks among which the path runs become fantastic, for they seem to have been formed of mixed hard and soft stone, of which the later has gone leaving the former looking like gigantic cinders. There is an inscription near the mouth of the cave in Bengali characters and clear enough still, I think, but the light was too bad for me to be able to decipher it, and I had brought nothing to take a rubbing with. It is surmounted by some sort of symbol which I could not make out.
text: In the evening the owner of the cave, a man of Syndai, came to see me. He says that he takes pice from votaries who come to see the cave according to their means, but he refused to take anything from me.