Keng Tung

Quarter Column

Kiang Tung

Kiang Tung, the capital of the Eastern, or trans-Salwin, Shan States, is situated on the north-east slope of the low spurs which run from the lofty western mountains into the Kiang Tung valley. The valley is about 10 miles long by 6 miles broad, and through it, passing one mile to the east of the town, flows the Mecheem river, an insignificant stream, 100 feet broad and 2 feet deep. To the north, east, and west, the valley is one immense paddy-field, intersected here and there by shallow irrigation cuts. To the south and south-west are gently rolling open downs and low grassy hills.

The town consists of detached wooden houses built on the Burmese pattern on piles, imbedded in trees more or less thickly planted. Its greatest length is 1’/a miles and greatest breadth 1 mile, surrounded by a brick wall, built on an earthen parapet. The north and north-eastern parts of the town are most thickly populated; the total population not exceeding 7,000, out of which the proportion of women seems to be abnormally large. With the exception of the two pagodas and a small guest-house, there are no brick or masonry buildings within the walls.

Towards the north corner is situated the Princes palace, a ramshackle, barn- like, collection of wooden houses, surrounded by a brick wall. Close to it is a natural lake, 600 yards long and 300 yards broad, on which wild fowl disport themselves without fear of molestation.

Outside the north-east corner of the wall is the Chinese quarter, as entirely different in character to the main town as the Chinese character is different to that of the Shan. Here the houses are huddled together, and every available yard of ground is utilized, with not a tree or blade of grass amongst them. The houses are not built on piles or of wood, but more economically of mud, with sloping thatched roofs. All intermediate spaces are filled with pens for pigs and cows; and the finest poultry I have seen in any country picks up a living amongst them. Here, as everywherein the East, the Chinaman is thriving and prosperous. The finest cattle, the fattest pigs, poultry that puts the finest English breeds into the shade, and the prettiest women, all are his. This small settlement numbers from 500 to 800, and, in point of wealth, could probably buy up the rest of Kiang Tung.

The roads are narrow and rough, much cut up by rain and trade, and apparently never repaired. The only roads passable for guns are those which, entering at the north-east and south-east faces (vide plan of Kiang Tung), join at the market-place, and thence taking a winding course through the town issue from the north-west face. A loop from this road, also fit for guns, passes the guest-house and Prince’s palace, and skirting the lake, rejoins the main road. All the other roads can however be easily broadened for wheel traffic.

The position of the town has been chosen with great skill, and the wall and parapet which surround it are led along the crests of the low sloping hills amongst which it is built. The splendid parapet and ditch are the works of the great Burman General Along Paiah, who also built the Kiang Hai and Zimme fortifications. His work is always thoroughly and admirably executed, and his sites are chosen with the greatest skill. In a fortnight any one of these three places might be made into an exceedingly strong fortress. This, even after a lapse of 80 years, during which period no repairs of any sort have been executed. Viewed from outside, the parapet in most parts is scarcely visible, the earth from the deep V-shaped ditch having been thrown out almost as much on the glacis as on the grounds. Wall and parapet together stand up about 10 feet above the level of the glacis. The wall is 2 feet thick, and from 4 feet to 6 feet high on the inside face. It is built of small burnt bricks, but is much ruined in parts. The summit of the wall is castellated, and loop-holed at 4 feet intervals, as at Zimme. The parapet on which the wall stands is 10 feet thick at the top.

The ditch is the most formidable part of the defences; it is V-shaped and 25 feet deep, with very steep sides. Unencumbered as I was, and at liberty to choose my own spot, it waswith the greatest difficulty I managed to climb the parapet from the bottom of the ditch. It is 30 feet broad at the top; there is no water in it. At several points there is a break in the ditch, but these parts are covered by marshes. At each gateway an earth causeway crosses the ditch.

There are no bastions; but the skilful manner in which the parapet curves backwards and forwards, following the crests of the undulating low hills causes almost every portion of the wall to be enfiladed.

There is no regular garrison, but each householder is obliged by law to possess a fire-arm. Their instincts are more martial, and they would make better soldiers than the Laos or Siamese. They could turn out about 3,000 armed men from the city itself.

There are 25 cavalrymen mounted on small Shan ponies, about 12l/2 hands high. They are armed with very long lances, topped with very large and gaudy pennons. I never saw them mounted, and they may be considered more as a plaything of the young Prince’s than a body of fighting-men.

The two most vulnerable points in the defences are on the north-east and south-west faces:

(1) To find the weak spot in the north-east face, go to a solitary tree standing in the open paddy fields, about 1 mile north-east of the town. From this point or thereabouts, and looking towards the town, get in line a solitary pointed pillar or small tope, which stands a few hundred yards outside the parapet on that side, and the large gilded pagodas which stands on a hill outside the town on the opposite i.e. south-west face. On this line make the attack.

The attacking force is well covered by a low mound till within 300 yards of the wall, and onwards good cover from view is obtained through scattered bushes and jungle. The weak point is the gateway which lies in a hollow, between two mounds; it is open and undefended, and the wall on each side of it, for 30 yards, is low and out of repair. The parapet is not more than 3 feet high, and there is no ditch. The town, lying as it does on a slope facing north- east, can be shelled from a small earthwork which would have to be constructed in the open paddy-fields, somewhere near the solitary tree above-mentioned. There is a low hill, 1 mile to the eastward across the Mecheem river, from which siege guns could bombard the town, but field guns could not do more than wreck the Chinese quarter and a small portion of the town at that corner.

(2) The second most favourable point for attack is on the south-west face. Here, though the ditch and parapet are most formidable, running along the crest of low hills which are about 100 feet high, yet along the whole face they can be approached under cover of a parallel row of low hills to within 500 yards. From this ridge the supports could, by a heavy fire, keep down the fire from the parapet, and the storming party, owing to the depth and steepness of the intervening valley, would be enabled to reach the defences without much loss. The only points of entry at present are the two gates, both open an undefended, with the ditch bridged by an earth causeway. On the crest of tr ridge, from which the attack is delivered, are two pagodas with poungi house built of brick and capable of being turned into bullet-proof, defensive i offensive works.

An attack from this latter side has several advantages over an attack fro the north-east. The whole advance and manoeuvring of the attacking for being completely masked from the enemies’ view and fire, by the low hi] and undulating downs, which fill the south and south-west sides of the Kia Tung valley. The retreat to the near hills is also cut off, and in all otl directions cavalry can act with great effect, over many miles of open couni between the town and the hills.

The best and healthiest camping ground would be on the undulating downs on both banks of the Mecheem river, from 1 mile to 2 miles east of the town. Both here, and on the paddy fields further north, there is camping ground for a force of any size. Water and grass are plentiful, but fuel is scarce. The river has in many places low, sloping banks, and horses and cattle can be watered without difficulty.

Location of Keng Tung

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