The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book - 'Naga Path', by Ursula Graham Bower, published John Murray 1950

caption: Chapter thirty-four. Magulong
caption: visit to Magulong village hide-out
medium: books
person: Namde/ of MagulongGaidiliu
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: There were three or four days to wait before everything was ready for the ceremony. I had heard vague rumours from the Zemi of a big cave somewhere near Magulong, and, through Namkia, asked Khutuing if he would take us to see it. After a moment's weighing of the request - we found out later why - he said he would; and the next day was fixed for the expedition.
text: We started early, most of the headmen, some of the warriors and several bucks escorting us. Young Namde, the slim, impetuous, fiery boy who had been Magulong's leading scout, attached himself to Tim as a gun-bearer and walked at our heels as impatient as a young leopard of the slow pace. Up the hill we went, climbing through fields to woods, higher and higher; up through the untouched forest, far behind and away, over logs, through underbrush which thinned as we mounted and trees which grew small with the height; till at last we were almost at the summit. It rose in front of us in a dome. On its brow, as we looked at it across a cleft and between the trunks of the trees, were scrubby mountain growths and thin bushes; and, splash upon splash of white in the summer sun, were snow-white rhododendrons - huge white blooms, fading a little now with the season old, but caught and hung everywhere about the barrenness of the peak. They came down in a fringe along the slope; and below the roots the ground, with a slash, ended - down went a wall of rock, water-stained, vertical; down out of sight, into space, down to the dull green of the valley below. As we stood waiting for the guides to move on towards the peak, the man leading us turned and slid over what looked like the edge of the gulf itself.
text: We followed, clawing our way down hand and footholds kicked in a bank of loose earth. They became a ledge, which turned under a rock, and twisting, clinging, we clambered into a cleft. Scrub, gnarled roots, loose scree, scramble and clutch, struggle and hold and pull, round projections and inlets of the mountain-side - goodness knows which way they took us through. A flange of rock stood out from the hill. The path turned left up it, and where it met the edge of the flange there was a small nick over which the guide ahead of me vanished with a vault and a scramble. His head and shoulders reappeared and he gave me a hand over. Right on the edge, in the elbow of the climb, were the remains of a wall; beyond, a rock-shelf led away gently down. Another twenty yards, and the cliff was jutting above us to form a roof. Abruptly Tim and I stopped, and stood staring.
text: The cliff on whose ledge we were curved round in an amphitheatre, closing the head of a wild and tree-filled ravine. In that cliff, immediately before us, was an immense rock- arch. Three hundred feet it spanned from side to side and seventy feet from top to bottom slab. Behind was a wide, shallow cave, flat-roofed and sloping-floored, stained with all shades of grey and earthy-brown. Treetops rose to meet it from the depths below and a thin, bright waterfall splashed down over the mouth and into a shallow pool. Here was the secret hold of the village, where in time of war the whole community hid, men, women, children, pigs and poultry; above and below were cliffs, beyond were crags - there was no entrance but the climb over the rib, where one man at a breastwork could hold off an army. Only once before in the story of Magulong had strangers been allowed to see the place; years ago, as a great honour, they had shown it to Gaidiliu.
text: We reached the cave before the others did, and standing there, saw the long file slipping, with quick and supple gait, down the sloping path. The golden-tawny figures, hard, perfect and Greek, the scarlet cloths and coloured necklaces, the grey-brown background of the weathered rock, were breathless, lovely beauty in the sunlight; blue-green beyond, the forest fell away; and high above, in the last, uplifted cleft of the crags, white rhododendrons tossed against the sky.
text: We sat for a while in the great, grey, golden-lit shelter, watching the little fall glitter and splash in the black basin of rock. Then someone said :
text: " There is a spirit here."
text: " What spirit ? "
text: " We do not know. But we often hear it call."
text: "What sort of call?"
text: I can't explain - let's go along and see- We left the great half-moon cave by the opposite tip to that by which we came, and scrambled incredibly over rock-ledges thick with serow-droppings - the hill must have been alive with the animals. The ground was broken, full of screes; the slopes were almost too steep to stand. High above us still ran an unbroken cliff. Then, as we struggled through a little wood, there was a noise. The man in front of me stopped.
text: " There ! Did you hear ? The spirit."
text: We straightened up and stood holding to the mossy branches of the stunted trees; but it did not call again. We were just at the entrance to a shallow bay, stony and walled with cliff, and we scrambled on into it and out of the wood. On the other side of the bay and thirty yards from us was a steep, bare, scree-strewn slope which ran up between crags and ended in crags again. There was a sharp, harsh cry.
text: " What the devil's that ? " said Tim.
text: One of the men hallooed and the thing squalled back. It seemed to come from the scree, and there were two or three distinct repetitions of it. It might have been a wild-cat, but it was no cry that we knew. Tim looked over the slope with the field-glasses. Though it was close and almost bare of cover, there was nothing at all to be seen. Then it cried again.
text: " Could it be a serow ? " I asked.
text: The Zemi laughed. No, it was no serow. It was no beast that they knew. They had never seen it, but they always heard the cry here, and only here. Nor could Tim, the naturalist, give it a name. It was a puzzle to him. The men shouted to make it answer again, but there was no reply. The thing, whatever it was, had gone.
text: Back we went through the arching wonder of the hold, that superb grey curve framing the greens, the blues, the forests and the hills away to the last pale mists beyond Tamenglong. Out by the narrowing ledge we moved and over the rib, climbing down backwards, carefully, ladderwise. Now not a trace of the hold remained. Then up the earthy slope, with struggle and slip and kick, back to the path again; and down and down through the trees, from mountain forest out to the open fields, to the evening light, to the Barak's deep rift, to the village little and small and pale below; scrambling, running, laughing, hurrying down from an other-world of beauty and air and light to the sad, unkind, impermanent land of men.