GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (27)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

In his letter, Estêvão Cacela adds that they had waited at Cooch Behar for the entire month of January, as they did not yet know that the companion with whom they planned to travel had in the meantime passed away. In addition, they absolutely needed the services of the interpreter who had been sent to Hugli. When he did not arrive, they decided to leave for Rangamati. They waited a few more days, taking the time to adjust their preparations for the long journey in the mountains, ready to begin on 20 February. The day before, in the evening, the interpreter arrived in Rangamati. “An angel appeared from Heaven,” recalls Cacela. It certainly brought with it the baleful news of the death of Bartolomeu Fonteboa, but his presence opened the possibility of a definitive departure, which would happen on February 21, “the first day of Lent.”

At the exit of Cooch Bihar, ready to travel the ninety kilometers that separate us from Bhutan, we come upon a curious and pertinent road-prevention plaque. Written around illuminating images was the following message to the anonymous motorcyclist: “Helmet versus hell met.” That is, “Either you wear a helmet or you find hell. Choose.” Halfway down the road, the main road to Jaygaon is graciously invaded by a vast grove, the heart of a natural reserve of Bengal tigers, where some elephants, wild boars and Indian bison, called gaurs, are also seeking refuge. At the top of a hill at the northern end of this reserve, very close to the Bhutanese border and at an altitude of 900 meters, rises a mysterious fort. In Buxa, so-called region, armed conflicts ensued between the rulers of Cooch Behar and the king of Bhutan, using this bulwark to protect that section of the Silk Road linking Tibet to India. At the invitation of the lords of the “Cocho,” the British intervened in the dispute and captured the fort that would be formally delivered to them on November 11, 1865, following the Treaty of Sinchula. Soon they changed the structure of wood and bamboo with stone. The Buxa fort was to be used in the 1930s as a high-security prison. It was considered, along with that of Andaman, the most inaccessible in India. Decades later, when Tibet was occupied, hundreds of refugees used it as shelter.

There are several tea plantations on the way to where we find cycling and queuing dozens of wage earners, one hand on the handlebars the other holding the hoe or a child on his lap. Known locally as “tea gardens,” the last of these plantations dub it “Rangamati.” It would have been there that the two stoic missionaries endured the unexpected and painful months of waiting.

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