During the journey across Assam spotting the exotic tourist spots and places of historical interest in the State one must halt at the Commercial Capital of Assam – the busy town of Tinsukia. Although a quick glance would seem it to be just like a normal modern day city; this place has been an important landmark in the history of Assam. Tinsukia was the capital of the one of the mighty empires of Assam after the Ahoms – the Muttack Kingdom founded by Swargadeo Sarbananda Singha. During his rule Swargadeo Sarbananda Singha instructed his Minister Gopinath Barbaruah to dig a triangular pond which later came to be known as Tinikunia (meaning Triangular) Pukhuri (meaning Pond).
It was in the year 1788 A.D. after the the ‘Moamaria’ uprising that ‘Mezera’ – the powerful leader pro-claiming independence established the Muttack Kingdom with its first capital at ‘Rongagara’ on the banks of the River Dibru and took the name of ‘Sarbananda Singha’. After three years of his reign in the year 1791 A.D. the capital was shifted to ‘Bengmora’ – the present Headquarter of the Tinsukia district. The area of the State was 1800 (Eighteen Hundred) Square Miles.
As a mark of his benevolence the Muttack King Sarbanada Singha had 24 tanks dug out at various places. The Na-Pukhuri (cluster of nine ponds) which was dug in 1792 A.D. is the largest among these tanks. Among these nine ponds, the one situated in the center is the most popular. This tank covers an area of around 11.75 acres and is filled with natural water, which is why it is also called a lake. The District administration of Tinsukia decided to develop this historical site into an amusement park and a tourist spot. A 400 m long tiled pathway and 1200 m of pucca jogging pathway has been constructed along with placement of a number of playing equipment. This park also has a triple cascade fountain in its central area. Remains of the construction from the late 1700’s by the Muttack Kingdom can also be seen here at the pond.
Jungleideas welcomes you to India’s North East to witness the history of the bygone era at the Cluster of Nine Ponds as a symbol of Benevolence – the ‘Na-Pukhuri’, Tinsukia, the State of Assam, Incredible India!
The period of 1939 to 1945 was one of the darkest moments in the history of mankind. It was during this period the world witnessed the Second World War – a state of ‘total war’ where the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. This war brought down the major super powers of the period into ashes. Japan was rocked with the mighty nuclear explosion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it was after the Second World War that the world realized the might of the Americans!
On our journey to bring forth to the World the lost history of the State of Assam and it’s connection with the World during the World War II, we reached the banks of the River Dehing at the tinsel town of Margherita in the north eastern region of India. Our curiosity and interest this time was to find the remains of the 20th General Hospital that was built during the World War II to treat the sick and wounded American soldiers who were on the mission to built one of the most challenging roads across the dense jungles of the Dehing Patkai – the Stilwell (Ledo) Road. The Stilwell Road was built in 1942 under the able guidance of Major General Vinegar Joe Stilwell of the U S Army and its purpose was to restore communication with China after the Imperial Japanese Army had cut supply across the Burma Road. At the time of the War, the engineers of the American army were desperately cutting this new route also called the Ledo Road across the Patkai Mountains for the supply of armed troops, military supplies and food. They had to fight the Japanese resistance as well as bulldoze their way across the dense jungles of the Patkai Mountain Range. Injuries and Casulaities were common and the wounded were brought back to Margherita where they were treated at the 20th General Hospital. The hospital also cared for Chinese soldiers who were serving as screen when the road was pushed forward.
The 20th General Hospital was formed in 1940 when the Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) was asked by the Surgeon General of the United States to organize an Army hospital unit to care for the Allied wounded in the Burma-India theater. But, the unit did not receive orders to leave for Camp Clairbone, Louisiana, until May 15, 1942. It was in March 1943 that the team of qualified doctors and nurses reached Margherita.
When the staff members of the 20th General first arrived in Margherita, there were only three small buildings with concrete floors, tin roofs and open fronts, as well as a group of bamboo huts with dirt floors and lights showing through thatched roofs. But, when the hospital was finally built fully several months later, it had transformed into a first-rate 2500-bed hospital, with 148 buildings covering one and half square miles. It became the largest hospital in the China-India-Burma theater. It also received a rating of “Superior” – the highest possible in annual general inspections.
Approximately 110 nurses and 600 enlisted men comprised this University of Pennsylvania’s hospital unit. Colonel Elias Cooley, a regular Army officer and a graduate of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College, was in command. Lieutenant Colonel Isidor Ravdin, Professor of Surgery at Penn and an authority on the use of blood plasma and sulfa drugs, was the head of the surgical service. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Fitz-Hugh Jr., Clinical Professor of Medicine at Penn, headed the Medical Service. Most of the medic personnel were drawn from Penn faculty, and many of its nurses came from the Philadelphia General, Penn, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Bryn Mawr hospitals.
It was difficult for the Americans to acclimatize and perform well in a region with 120 inches of rainfall per year, humid summers and cold winters. However, with little paraphernalia and with none of the personal comforts to which they are accustomed, they were able to establish a complete hospital unit which contributed not only to the health of the Allied soldiers, but also to advancement of medical science. Beginning with a few shacks, they ended with a fully equipped modern hospital, provided with laboratories, x-ray and blood storage facilities and all other necessities of medical and surgical practice. It was filled almost from the beginning beyond its rated capacity of 1000 beds. At one time, it actually sheltered 2560 patients. During the entire period of activity, it received altogether 73,000 patients, with only a few more than 300 deaths form all cases.
Since the staff at the hospital had strong academic backgrounds, the hospital became a center for weekly professional conferences attended by American, British and Indian officers from other medical installations. Some 100 important medical papers and scientific reports were produced by the 20th General Hospital, including those on scrub typhus and ophthalmology.
The 20th General Hospital was cited by many for its outstanding work. These include Lord Louis Mountbatten, General Vinegar Joe Stillwell, the Commanding Generals of the 1st and the 6th Chinese Armies, etc. The hospital won praise and personal gratitude from Lord Louis Mountbatten. Mountbatten had suffered a painful and serious injury when a low-hanging section of dead bamboo struck him in the eye, causing a hemorrhage, as he drove a jeep along a jungle trail in the North Burma front. He was flown into the hospital where Dr. (Major) Harold Scheie performed delicate treatment to save his sight. Mountbatten lay flat on his back with his eyes bandaged for five days. Afterwards, Scheie accompanied the commander to Delhi and looked after ehe injured eye during the convalescent period. Mountbatten and Dr. Scheie (who died on March 5, 1990) became life long friends. It was Mountbatten who, in August 1972, dedicated the Scheie Eye Institute in Philadephia.
General Raymond Kelser of the Army Veterinary Corps reported to the US Surgeon General Norman Kirk that “the 20th General Hospital would be outstanding anywhere in the world and is the equal of university hospitals”.
As fighting receded from the Assam-Burma region, the Army began to withdraw officers and men needed in other fronts. The hospital closed its medical services in December, 1945, and was decommissioned on December 27.
Jungleideas welcomes you to India’s North East to witness the memoirs of the World War II, Stilwell Road, Margherita and the American Connection – the 20th General Hospital, Margherita, the State of Assam, Incredible India!
Reference: ‘The Philadelphia – Margherita Connection’ – Mr. Jugal Kalita
The Assam Railways and Trading Company Ltd., a pioneer in coal mining business in the North Eastern Region of India, initiated their business interests in this remote corner of the Country sometime during 1881 and people from different parts of India assembled at Margherita, the ‘Coal Queen’ of Assam to serve this British Company who started operation in this locality for exploration of coal and other forest products and this gave birth to a heterogeneous society.
The society though consisting of a handful of population considered themselves as members of the same family.
Inspired by the idea of introducing Durga Puja at Margherita, a few enthusiastic employees of the AR&T Company started this Puja sometime in the year 1909 at a Mandap near the AR&T Company LP School which became the grounds of the present day India Club.
Late Aswini Kumar Deb Roy who was one of the most influential personalities of that time took the initiative and continued with the responsibility for years for the celebration of Durga Puja here with Brojolal Banerjee, Upendrananth Das Gupta, Bhupati Chakraborty, Srish Chandra Das, G K Baruah and others.
Availability of priests to perform the Puja was a problem faced by the organizers and this was eradicated by bringing Sarada Mukhopadhayya and Rakhal Bhattacharjee particularly for this purpose. Mukhopadhaya and Bhattacharjee were engaged from the very inception and after they left, Durgadas Bhattacharjee took the responsibility.
To add to the Grandeur of the Puja and to attract people, amusement in the form of Dance and Cinema were arranged. Staging of dramas by the members of the India Club for all the three (3) days was a highlight of this puja and this continued till the early seventies.
In front of the general office of the AR&T Company, another Puja used to be performed which later amalgamated with the Sarbajanin Durga Puja in 1946. To accommodate people of all sentiments of the practice of goat sacrifices was abolished. But prior to that goats upto a limit of even 300 used to be sacrificed each day.
This festival of the Durga Puja that was started back in 1909 by a group of enthusiastic devotees has since then only grown in stature. With the passage of time this Puja has come to symbolize the true spirit of oneness and brotherhood. Although its grandeur has reached sublime heights over the years the spirit and essence of this Puja have retained the flavors of its inception.
Jungleideas welcomes you to India’s North East to witness the Celebration of Triumph of Good over Evil – the ‘Durga Puja’ and its centenary celebrations at the India Club in the heart of the Coal Queen of Assam, Margherita, the State of Assam, Incredible India!
The history of coal mining in the region of Assam dates back to the later part of the 19th century by the erstwhile Assam Railway and Trading Company (AR&T). A Civil Surgeon, Dr. John Barry White, while founding the Assam Railway and Trading Company played a very significant role in the early development of Assam’s mineral resources including the opening of the Makum Coalfields. Mr. George Turner, a mining engineer from South Staffordshire, also played an important role to transform the jungles and coal outcrops in the area into prosperous collieries in a few years time. Skilled practical miners were first brought from abroad to train Indian Workmen in the “South Staffordshire” method of wining thick coal seams.
The first mining of coal was started in 1882 at Ledo by Railway’s Engineers, when the erstwhile AR&T Company was laying its own Meter Gauge line. In order to increase the output of coal, the following collieries were started: at Tikak (1884), Namdang (1896), Tirap (1904), Baragolai (1909), Tipong (1924) and Namdang Dip (1904). The establishment of these mines were of great importance to the Tea Industry of Assam which hitherto was dependent upon wood fuel. Some indication of the nature of the Makum Coalfields are interpreted in the words of George Turner in 1895:
“Coal has been proved in these hills over the whole length of the Company’s area, and as coal of very nearly similar description is found in the hills twenty miles eastward and thirty miles westward, there can be no doubt of the existence of a large coalfield. The coal in the hills is found at various heights from Zero in the plains lip to 1000 feet above them. The hills conform in longitudinal direction with the strike of the rocks, although they do not form a continuous ridge, being cut through several streams. The coal has a high dip towards the hills, the average being about 1 in 3, but sometimes it is as high as 1 in 2”
All these erstwhile company mines were Nationalized on 1st May, 1973 and vested with the Central Government of India. At present, the entire coal production of North Eastern coalfields comes from Makum coalfield of Margherita Area, comprising of six mine of which Tipong, Ledo/Lachit Khani and Baragolai are underground mines (temporarily suspended due to DGMS violations) and Tirap, Ledo and Tikak are opencast mines. Both productivity and safety in these mines had improved significantly after nationalization.
Coal mining in Assam in extremely difficult. The area represents a typically folded and faulted mountain belt of Tertiary strata bounded by thrusts. the problem frequently encountered are steep inclination of coal seams, complex seam structure like inter-banding, irregular with thickness variations. The seams are highly gassy,susceptibility to spontaneous combustion, friable coal and poor roof and floor conditions.. The Chief Inspector of mines, in his annual report of 1929 referred to these coalfields as being “where the worst natural conditions of all the coal mines in India have to be faced.”
Certain methods of Underground Coal Mining in Makum Coalfields:
Bhaska Method: Blocks of inclined and thick coal seams are developed on Board and Pillar System. The junction of a level gallery and a dip-rise gallery is then widened and heightened by drilling and blasting to form a dome shaped void which is self supported. The dome is kept on widening and heightening till the roof coal starts caving down automatically. As in this method the recovery is low it is no longer practiced.
Tipong Method: Very similar to the Bhaska method of mining in the Tipong Method, between two sub levels, a funnel is made in coal along the dip-rise gallery which is kept unsupported. Then a slot is cut from Hanging Wall to Foot Wall along the dip-rise direction with a limited width to provide a free face. Towards outbye of the slot, rings of drill-holes are made and blasted to make the broken coal flow onto the funnel.
Descending Shield Method: A Coordinated effort with engineers of erstwhile USSR, this method was introduced in 1983-84. A Shield of timber beams, reinforced with Steel, is made and placed horizontally from Hanging Wall to Foot Wall and coal is blasted below the same to make it flow downward. The Shield descends downward making a canopy above the work-persons face. This practice has been discontinued now.
Flexible roofing method: Here, in place of a shield, artificial roofing is made out of MS-strips and wire netting which is hinged at the Hanging Wall at the top of the panel. Blasting and loading is done below artificial roofing. Roof rocks cave down over the artificial roofing and do not get mixed with the blasted coal. Likewise, the whole block is de-coaled below the artificial roofing.
The History of Coal Mining in Assam is put up on an elaborate display at India’s only Coal Museum at Margherita where visitors get to experience the thrill of underground coal mining. Also put up on display are Steam Locomotives built by W G Bagnall of Stafford in the late 1800’s. Operational Steam locomotives of the likes of ‘796’ and ‘DAVID’ are to be found at Tipong Colliery. The Open cast mining experience can be enjoyed at Tirap Colliery that practices the traditional Shovel-Dumper style Open-cast Coal Mining and is a located a little while away from Margherita.
Jungleideas welcomes you to India’s North East to witness the History of Coal Mining at Makum Coalfields, Margherita, the State of Assam, Incredible India!
The period of 1939 to 1945 was one of the darkest moments in the history of mankind. It was during this period the world witnessed the Second World War – a state of “total war” where the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. This war brought down the major super powers of the period into ashes. Japan was rocked with the mighty nuclear explosion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it was after the Second World War that the world realized the might of the Americans!
Though many movies have narrated the incidents of the Second World War and grossed millions at the Box office and many historic sites of the War have turned into places of tourist interest earning revenue to the locals, one such historic location has failed to draw the attention of the world over and thereby gradually lost its grandeur to the passing time. Our teams visit to this land narrated in this writing will try and recreate the moments of the history that this historic place has been witness to.
The British had realized the Economic potentials of the upper Brahmaputra Valley of Assam. When Assam first came under the British rule, it possessed four great assets, land, rivers, forests and minerals, all awaiting development. The British ensured that various skills were imported into Assam to harness the natural resources of the State and they brought in skills like tea making from China and others from Britain. In 1834, the Governor General set up a committee to explore the possibility of tea growing in India. It was found that the tea plant was indigenous to Assam, a discovery followed by the importation of tea makers from China, leading, eventually to the great Tea industry of Assam. This marked the beginning of the rapid industrialization of the State. The British were successful in discovering crude oil and vast coal reserves in Assam that prompted them to establish the Asia’s first oil refinery at Digboi in Assam and introduce underground coal mining at Namdang. The timber reserves added to the national treasury and one of Asia’s oldest Plywood manufacturing facility was set up at Margherita. Although the river route provided an efficient means of transportation, the British laid the tracks for an extensive rain route to run across Assam to enable quick transportation of these Natural resources that had value equivalent to Gold during the time of rapid industrialization.
Apart from these vast natural reserves, the British in collaboration with the Allied Forces realized the boon of the Upper Brahmaputra valley during the World War II during the Japanese blockade of the Burma Road that prompted the Western Allies to build the ‘Stilwell Road’ aka the ‘Ledo Road’ so that they could supply the Chinese as an alternative to the Burma Road. Built under the able guidance of American General Vinegar Joe Stilwell with an army of 15,000 American Soldiers and 35,000 locals, this road having a stretch of over 1079 miles (from Ledo in India to Kunming in China) was completed within 2 years under the most treacherous conditions and this is what makes this road “an Epitome of an American Engineering Marvel”. Although, there was a flip side to this feat as more than 1100 American soldiers and many more locals had to lose their lives in the construction of the Western Allies march to crush the Japanese.
The Historic Lekhapani Railway Station marks the beginning of the Stilwell Road in India which is also the eastern most Railway Station in India. The Lekhapani Railway Station played a pivotal road during the movement of the Allied Armed forces during the Japanese blockade in the World War II.
Also during the World War II the state of Assam, in India’s Eastern Command, was an operational area of the Burma Campaign. Ledo, was on the lines of communication, and a military hospital was established here. Ledo airstrip was an important 2nd World War operational theatre and took an important role to aid the alliance forces in China. The runway is still visible and in good condition.
The World War II might have brought down the will of the Germans and Japanese to be the might of the World but it to be mentioned that all wars lead to destruction of devastating proportion. The World War II too led to the same fate and millions of people were killed around the world that included the soldiers of the Army who laid down their lives to bring peace to the World. The bodies of these brave soldiers were laid to rest across various cemeteries through the World and one of such is the Digboi War Cemetery that was built and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Located very near to the ‘Legendary Oil town of Assam’ – Digboi, this cemetery has about 200 burials mostly of British soldiers who laid their lives during World War II. And truly mentioned in one of the quotes of the cemetery – ‘These graves bear silent testimony to those soldiers, unlisted workers and labourers who ventured into Virgin jungle amid blistering heat and laid down their lives in the line of duty during the Second World War. Whilst part of all forces against the Imperial Japanese Army. THEIR NAME LIVETH FOREVER MORE’
Jungleideas welcomes you to India’s North East to Witness History and Relive the Memoirs of the World War II – the Historic Stilwell Road, the Ledo Airstrip, the Lekhapani Railway Station and the Digboi Cemetery, the State of Assam, Incredible India!