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PEEP INTO TOORKISTHAN.
BY CAPTAIN ROLLO BURSLEM,
THIRTEENTH PRINCE ALBERT’S LIGHT INFANTRY.
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[Transcriber’s Note: [=a] is representing a-macron, unicode character U0101, and [=A] is representing A-macron, unicode character U0100. This is usually pronounced as a long a.
There are around 240 instances of vowels accented with macrons (straight line above), mostly A-macron or a-macron, with one instance of e-macron, and five instances of u-macron, and one u that should be u-macron(Dao[=u]b) and isn’t (Daoub).
Use of the macron is _not_ consistent throughout the text…
…and the spelling of some place names is not consistent either: e.g. Toorkisth[=an]; Toorkisthan; Toorkistan.
(There are also a number of words with ‘unusual’ spellings.
These spellings I have corrected:
territories for territorities; retrograde for retrogade; amongst for amonst.
These ‘period’ spellings I have left intact:
befel, chace, surprized, loth, gallopped, gallopping, secresy, shew, shewed, shewing, preeminence, handfull, negociation, threshhold, trellice, picketted, barricadoed, compaign.
I have also retained M’Naghten for the modern McNaghten.)]
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[Illustration: Drawn by Mr Gompertz Pelham Richardson Litho. View of the Outer Cave of Yeermallik, shewing the Entrance Hole to the larger Cavern]
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[Illustration: MAP OF CABUL AND THE KOHISTAN WITH THE ROUTE FOR KOOLLUM]
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A PEEP INTO TOORKISTHAN.
BY CAPTAIN ROLLO BURSLEM, THIRTEENTH PRINCE ALBERT’S LIGHT INFANTRY.
RIGHT HON. THE EARL OF CARNARVON, HIGHCLERE CASTLE.
Having received your Lordship’s permission to dedicate to you this my first essay as an Author, I beg to tender my best acknowledgements for the honour, and for the interest you have so kindly expressed in the success of the following pages. Under such favourable auspices a successful result may be confidently anticipated by
Your Lordship’s Obliged and obedient servant,
HAREWOOD LODGE, HAMPSHIRE.
TO THE READER.
The following pages are literally what they profess to be, a record of a few weeks snatched from a soldier’s life in Affghanist[=a]n, and spent in travels through a region which few Europeans have ever visited before. The notes from which it is compiled were written on the desert mountains of Central Asia, with very little opportunity, as will be easily supposed, for study or polish. Under these circumstances, it can hardly be necessary to deprecate the criticism of the reader. Composition is not one of the acquirements usually expected of a soldier. What is looked for in his narrative is not elegance, but plainness. He sees more than other people, but he studies less, and the strangeness of his story must make up for the want of ornament. I can hardly expect but that the reader may consider the style of my chapters inferior to many of those which are supplied to the public by those who are fortunate enough to enjoy good libraries and plenty of leisure; two advantages which a soldier on service seldom experiences. But this I cannot help. Such as they are, I offer him my unadorned notes; and perhaps he will be good enough to let one thing compensate another, and to recollect that if the style of the book is different from what he sometimes sees, yet the scenery is so too. If instead of a poetical composition he gets a straightforward story, yet instead of the Rhine or the Lakes he gets a mountain chain between Independent Tartary and China.
WALMAR BARRACKS, _March_, 1846.
A PEEP INTO TOORKISTH[=A]N.[*]
[* Note: A portion of the following pages in their original form has appeared in the Asiatic Journal.]
During the summer of 1840, the aspect of the political horizon in Affghanist[=a]n afforded but slight grounds for prognosticating the awful catastrophe which two short years after befel the British arms. Dost Mahommed had not yet given himself up, but was a fugitive, and detained by the King of Bokhara, while many of the principal Sirdars had already tendered their allegiance to Shah Sooja: and there was in truth some foundation for the boast that an Englishman might travel in safety from one end of Affghanist[=a]n to the other. An efficient force of tried soldiers occupied Ghuzni, Cabul, Candahar, Jellalabad, and the other strongholds of the country; our outposts were pushed to the north-west some fifty miles beyond Bamee[=a]n, the Khyber and Bolun passes were open, and to the superficial observer all was tranquil. The elements of strife indeed existed, but at the time when I took the ramble which these pages attempt to describe, British power was paramount, and the rumour was already rife of the speedy diminution of the force which supported it.
Notwithstanding the modern rage for exploration, but few of our countrymen have hitherto pierced the stupendous barrier of the Paropamisan range; but the works of Hanway, Forster, Moorcroft, and Trebeck, Masson, and Sir Alexander Burnes, convey most valuable information concerning the wild regions through which they travelled, and I am bound in simple honesty to confess that my little book does not aspire to rank with publications of such standard merit. An author’s apology, however humble and sincere, is seldom attended to and more rarely accepted. Surely I am not wrong in assuming that a feeling of mournful interest will pervade the bosom of those who have the patience to follow my perhaps over-minute description of places whose names may be already familiar to them as connected with the career of those bold spirits who in life devoted their energies to the good of their country and the advancement of science, and who in the hour of disaster, when every hope was dead, met their fate with the unflinching gallantry of soldiers and the patient resignation of Christians.
My lamented friend, Lieutenant Sturt, of the Bengal Engineers, was one of the foremost of those who endeavoured, during the critical situation of the Cabul force previous to its annihilation, to rally the drooping spirits of the soldiers; and without wishing in any way to reflect on others, it may fairly be said that his scientific attainments and personal exertions contributed not a little to those partial successes, which to the sanguine seemed for a moment to restore the favourable aspect of our military position. But I forbear from now dwelling upon these circumstances, lest I might undesignedly give pain to those who still survive the fatal event, merely stating my humble opinion that the memory of any mistake committed, either in a political or military light, will by the noble-minded be drowned in sorrow for the sufferings and death of so many thousands of brave men.
In the month of June, 1840, Lieutenant Sturt was ordered to survey the passes of the Hindoo Koosh, and I obtained leave from my regiment, then in camp at Cabul, for the purpose of accompanying him; my object was simply to seek pleasant adventures; the “_cacoethes ambulandi_” was strong upon me, and I thirsted to visit the capital of ancient Bactria; the circumstances which prevented our reaching Balkh will hereafter be detailed, but the main object of the expedition was attained, as Sturt executed an excellent map of the passes alluded to, and satisfactorily demonstrated that almost all the defiles of this vast chain, or rather group of mountains, may be turned, and that it would require a large and active well-disciplined force to defend the principal ones. I have made every possible inquiry as to the fate of the results of Sturt’s labours, but fear that they too were lost in the dreadful retreat. Whatever still exists must be in the Quarter-Master General’s Department in India, far out of my reach, so that I am obliged again to request the indulgence of my reader for the want of a proper map on which he might, if he felt so inclined, trace our daily progress,[*] and to crave his forgiveness if I occasionally repeat what has been far more ably related by Moorcroft and the other authors whom I have already mentioned.
[* Note: Since receiving the proof sheets for correction I have been kindly supplied by my friend Major Wade with a map taken principally from the one executed by the late Lieutenant Sturt.]
To the traveller whose experience of mountain scenery is confined to Switzerland, the bold rocks and rich though narrow valleys of the frontiers of Toorkisth[=a]n offer all the charms of novelty; the lower ranges of hills are gloomy and shrubless, contrasting strikingly with the dazzling, yet distant splendour of the snowy mountains. It is an extraordinary fact, that throughout the whole extent of country occupied by these under features, which presents every variety of form and geological structure, there are scarcely any hills bearing trees or even shrubs; every valley, however, is intersected by its native stream, which in winter pursues its headlong course with all the impetuosity of a mountain torrent, but in the summer season glides calmly along as in our native meadows.
The multitude and variety of well-preserved fossils which are imbedded in the different strata of the Toorkisth[=a]n hills would amply reward the researches of the Geologist, and to the Numismatologist this portion of Asia proves eminently interesting, Balkh and other localities in its vicinity abounding in ancient coins, gems, and other relics of former days; and I much regret that I was unable to reach the field from whence I expected to gather so rich a harvest.
In accordance with the golden rule of restricting our baggage to the least possible weight and compass, we allowed ourselves but one pony a piece for our necessaries, in addition to what were required for our small tent and cooking utensils, Sturt’s surveying instruments being all carried by Affgh[=a]n porters whom he hired at Cabul for that purpose.
On the 13th of June we commenced our ramble, intending to proceed to Balkh by the road through Bamee[=a]n, as we should then have to traverse the principal passes of the Hindoo Khosh, and our route would be that most likely to be selected by an army either advancing from Bokh[=a]r[=a] on Cabul or moving in the opposite direction. The plundering propensities of the peasantry rendered an escort absolutely necessary, and ours consisted of thirty Affghans belonging to one of Shah Soojah’s regiments, under the command of Captain Hopkins. As Government took this opportunity of sending a lac[*] of rupees for the use of the native troop of Horse-Artillery stationed at Bamee[=a]n, our military force was much increased by the treasure-guard of eighty Sipahis and some remount horses; so that altogether we considered our appearance quite imposing enough to secure us from any insult from the predatory tribes through whose haunts we proposed travelling. Our first day’s march was merely to make a fair start, for we encamped two miles north-west of the city in a grove of mulberry-trees, and the wind, as usual in summer, blowing strong in the day-time, laid the produce at our feet; so that by merely stretching out our hands, we picked up the fruit in abundance; for although the sun was powerful, we preferred the open air under the deep foliage to the closeness of a tent. During the early part of the night an alarm was raised throughout our small camp, and as we knew the vicinity of Cabul to be infested with the most persevering thieves, we naturally enough attributed the disturbance to their unwelcome visit, but it turned out to be only one of the remount horses, which having broken away from his picket was scampering furiously round our tents, knocking over the chairs, tables, and boxes which had been placed in readiness for packing outside the tent door. The neighing of the other horses, and their struggles to get loose and have a fight with their more fortunate companion, added to the braying of donkeys, barking of dogs, and groaning of the camels, gave me the notion of a menagerie in a state of insurrection. The affair looked serious when the animal began to caper amongst Sturt’s instruments, but luckily we secured him before any damage was done, though for some time theodolites, sextants, artificial horizons, telescopes, and compasses were in imminent danger. The worst of an occurrence of this kind is, that your servants once disturbed never think of returning to rest when quiet is restored, but sit up for the remainder of the night, chatting over the event with such warmth and animation, as effectually to keep their master awake as well as each other. We started next morning at four, and marched about six miles and a half, the distances being always measured with a perambulator, the superintending of which gave Sturt considerable trouble, as it was necessary to have an eye perpetually on the men who guided it, lest they should have recourse to the usual practice of _carrying_ the machine, whenever the nature of the ground made that mode of transportation more convenient than _wheeling_. This, together with taking bearings, and the other details of surveying, gave my companion plenty of occupation, not only during the march, but for the rest of the day when halted.
We were now encamped close to a village called Kulla Kazee, a place of no very good repute as regarding honesty; indeed, we were well aware of the predatory propensities of our neighbours; but we seemed destined to experience more annoyance from the great apprehension of being attacked which existed amongst our followers, than from any well-founded anticipation of it; their fears were not totally groundless, as it must be confessed that to a needy and disorganized population the bait of a lac of rupees was very tempting.
[*Note: lac, lakh (-k), n. (Anglo-Ind.). A hundred thousand (usu._ of rupees)_.]
We had chosen a picturesque little garden for our resting place, the treasure and remount horses with the Sipahi guard being encamped about half a mile off to our rear. At about eleven at night the European sergeant in charge of the horses burst into our tent in some consternation, stating that a large band of robbers were descending from the adjacent hills to attack the treasure. Sturt immediately jumped up, and mounting his horse gallopped off to the supposed scene of action. All was quiet _without_ the camp; _within_ there was a terrible bustle, which Sturt at last succeeded in allaying by sending out patrols in various direction, who reported that nothing could be either heard or seen of the dreaded robbers. Being rather averse to these nocturnal diversions, especially as they promised to be of frequent occurrence, I made careful inquiries to ascertain if there were any real foundation for the alarm, but all I could learn was, that the neighbourhood had always been noted for robbers, who hasten towards the point upon the report of any party worth plundering passing near any of their forts. Possibly some robbers had gained intelligence of our treasure, and had actually appeared on the hills, but on discovering the strength of our party had retired.
The next day our route lay through delicious fields of ripening clover, in such profusion that the air was impregnated with its agreeable perfume, to a small fort called Oorghundee, remarkable chiefly for being the head-quarters of the oft-mentioned thieves, of whom I daresay the reader is as tired as we were after the mere dread they inspired had caused us to pass two sleepless nights. But we were now determined to assume a high tone, and summoning the chief of the fort, or, in other words, the biggest villain, into our presence, we declared that in the event of our losing a single article of our property or being annoyed by a night attack, we would retaliate in the morning by cutting the surrounding crops and setting fire to the fort!
The military reader, especially if conversant with some of the peculiarities of eastern discipline, will question how far we should have been justified in carrying our threats into execution. I can assure him we had no such intention; but be that as it may, our threats had the desired effect, and at length we enjoyed an uninterrupted night’s rest.
On the morning of the 16th we proceeded to Koteah Shroof, the whole distance being about ten miles: but the first three brought us to the extremity of the beautiful valley through which we had been travelling ever since we left Cabul. The aspect of the country in the immediate vicinity of our path has been well described by one of the most lamented victims to Affghan ingratitude and treachery. “If the reader can imagine,” writes Sir Alexander Burnes, “a plain about twenty miles in circumference, laid out with gardens and fields in pleasing irregularity, intersected by three rivulets which wind through it by a serpentine course, and dotted with innumerable little forts and villages, he will have before him one of the meadows of Cabul.” To complete the picture the reader must conceive the grey barren hills, which, contrasting strongly with the fertility of the plains they encompass, are themselves overlooked by the eternal snows of the Indian Caucasus. To the English exile these valleys have another attraction, for in the hot plains of Hindoostan artificial grasses are rarely to be found, and the rich scent of luxuriant clover forcibly reminds the wanderer of the sweet-smelling fields of his native land.
But these pleasing associations were soon dispelled by the steep and rugged features of the pass through which we ascended on leaving the plain. It is called the Suffaed K[=a]k or White Earth, and we found by the barometer, that the gorge of the ravine was about a thousand feet above our last encamping ground. The hills on either side were ragged and abrupt, but of insignificant height: the length of the pass itself was about two miles, and from its head to Koteah Shroof the road was stony and difficult; but, as we had been careful at starting not to overload our baggage animals, they got through their work without being much distressed.
I find it difficult to convey to the reader an adequate conception of the strange character of the hilly country we had now entered: no parts of Wales or even the varied groupings of the Swiss mountains offer a correct analogy. After passing the defile of the Suffaed K[=a]k the hills recede to a distance of about two miles on either side of the road, and the whole space thus offered to the labours of the peasant is very highly cultivated; but the barren rocks soon hem in the narrow valley, and as you approach nearer and nearer you find your enchanting gardens transformed into a dreary and desolate defile,–this succession of small plots of fertile ground, alternating with short rugged passes, extends to Julrez, ten miles beyond Koteah Shroof; which latter place is an insignificant fort, situated in the centre of one of the little green spots so pleasingly varying this part of the country.
At Koteah Shroof we gained the banks of the Cabul river, a placid flowing stream, and as the neighbourhood of our camp did not offer any features of peculiar interest, I determined to try my luck in fishing; but first I had to tax my ingenuity for implements, as I had neither rod, line, nor net. A willow stick and a bit of string was all I could command; and yet my primitive apparatus was very successful, for the fish also were primitive, affording me ample sport and taking the bait with extraordinary eagerness. My occupation attracted the attention of a few peasants who gathered round me, and stood wondering what potent charm attached to the string could entice the fish from their native element. I endeavoured to explain the marvel, but was utterly unsuccessful; indeed, the peasants did not accept my explanation, which they evidently considered as a fabrication invented to deceive them and conceal my supernatural powers. The inhabitants of these valleys seemed a simple and inoffensive race, and, as in Europe, their respectful demeanour became more conspicuous as we increased our distance from the capital.
With regard to the state of cultivation of this valley–in which it resembles others generally throughout Affghanistan–wherever there is soil enough to hold the seed, the Affgh[=a]n husbandman appears to make the most of it. We found here and there in profusion the pear, apple, cherry, mulberry, and luxuriant vine, and in some situations wheat, with an under-crop of clover.
On the 17th we proceeded to Julrez, a collection of wretched hovels of no interest, and on the 18th, after a march of ten miles through a succession of valleys and defiles, we reached the Kuzzilbash fort, Suffaed Kulla. About two miles before we arrived at our encamping ground we passed near the Sir-e-chusm or “fountain head,” one of the sources of the Cabul river; it is a large pool stocked with a multitude of enormous fish that are held sacred by the few inhabitants of the adjoining hamlets, and which are daily fed by an aged fanatic, who for many years has devoted himself to their protection. As it would be deemed in the highest degree sacrilegious to eat any of these monsters, they are never molested, and are so tame as to come readily to the hand when offered food. Of course, my necessary compliance with the prejudices of the guardian of the fish prevented the exercise of my Waltonian propensities.
A little further on is a remarkable bourj or _watch-tower_ isolated on a projecting rock, and supposed to have been built for the purpose of giving the chiefs of the little plain below, when at variance with the neighbouring mountaineers, notice of the approaching invader. At this point the valley is extremely narrow, being almost choked up with huge masses of rock hurled by the violence of some convulsion of nature from the sides of the impending precipices.
There are several minor forts in the vicinity of Suffaed Kulla, which is the largest, and is at present occupied by a Kuzzilbash chief, who took advantage a few years ago of the temporary absence of its rightful owner, and acting upon the principle of “might makes right,” possessed himself forcibly of it, and has held it ever since. He treated us with great kindness and attention, sending us most acceptable presents of fruit, with food for our followers and cattle.
We here experienced to a great degree that remarkable daily variation of temperature so peculiar to these regions: in the gully the wind was bleak and cold, but when encamped under the shelter of the fort the heat from the sun’s rays reflected from the smooth surface of the bare rock was so intense that the thermometer rose to 100 of Fahrenheit. While in camp at Cabul I frequently experienced the same rapid change, for it would sometimes be a hard frost at day-break and an Indian summer heat at mid-day.
On the 19th of June we started very early, as the tremendous Oonnye pass rising to the height of 11,400 feet lay before us, and we had a full ten miles march ere we could reach our proposed halting place at the village of Uart. We soon entered the mouth of the pass, which was girt on either side by magnificent precipices; the road was narrow and slippery–of course without even an apology for a parapet–running along a natural ledge on the verge of a perpendicular cliff, and so _sheer_ was the side, that from a horse’s back you might sometimes have dropped a stone into the apparently bottomless ravine–bottomless, for the rays of a noon-day sun have never broken the eternal darkness of the awful chasm beneath. Had horse, camel, or man missed their footing whilst scrambling up the steep and stony pathway, nothing could have saved them from being dashed to pieces. Frequently, when rounding some projecting crag, the small treasure-box fastened on the camel literally overhung the abyss, and I held my breath and the pulsations of my heart increased as I watched horse after horse and camel after camel weather the critical point.
Before we reached Uart a poor woman of the Huzareh tribe (the most persecuted and enslaved throughout these regions) came and complained to us that her child had been seized by a band of plunderers, as she supposed, to be sold into slavery. Sturt immediately despatched a couple of the guard to recover her child if possible, and the poor woman went off with the two soldiers in the full confidence that her escort would be successful. I own that I myself was not so sanguine, but I had yet to learn how much even in these wild mountains the British name was respected. The mother’s hopes were realized, and in the course of the day the child was recovered, having been instantly surrendered on the requisition being made; but I was surprised to see instead of a helpless child a fine handsome well-knit young man. The gratitude of the poor woman was sincere; she had nothing, she said, to offer in return, but prayed that every blessing might descend upon us and our most distant relations; that we might all become great kings; and that finally we might be successful in conquering the country we were proceeding to invade: vain were our endeavours to set before her in their true light the object of our expedition.
We arrived rather late at Uart after a hard day’s work, and were not much gratified by the aspect of our camp, which was disagreeable, from its great elevation and its situation on a bleak table-land, thinly covered with a short grass, with the strong winds of the Hindoo Khoosh sweeping across it.
Here a young woman came to our tent asking permission to avail herself of our protection, as she was proceeding to the frontiers of Toorkisth[=a]n to purchase slave girls for the Cabul market. She accompanied us to Bamee[=a]n, and there remained. I heard afterwards that she did not succeed according to her anticipations, and that on her return to Cabul she died of fever. Our English ideas of slavery drawn from our knowledge of the varied sufferings endured by the thousands who are annually exported from the western shores of Africa, are opposite to those entertained in the east even by the victims themselves. The Asiatic and African slave are alike in name alone; the treatment of the latter in those parts of America where, spite of the progress of civilization and the advancement of true principles of philanthropy over the world, slavery is still tolerated and encouraged, has been too well and too often described for me to venture a word of my own opinion, but in Asia, in many cases, the loss of liberty is hardly felt.
The situation of the domestic slave of Egypt (though, strictly speaking, he must be classed under the head of “African”) is analogous to that observable generally in the east; and I form my opinion partly from an anecdote related to me by my friend Captain Westmacott, of the 37th Native Infantry, who was killed in the retreat from Cabul, which I will venture to repeat as an illustration. He was proceeding by the overland route from England to India, and remained some time in Egypt to view its splendid antiquities. On making inquiries with the object of procuring servants, he was informed that he had better purchase slaves. The civilized notions of my friend revolted at the idea, but he was assured that it was a method very generally adopted, as he would find it extremely difficult to hire servants, and if successful, they would prove the veriest rascals on the face of the earth. He reluctantly consented, and had them purchased. On his departure for India he summoned his slaves, and informed them that as they had behaved themselves well he would give them their freedom. They looked astounded and burst into tears, reminding him that instead of being kind to them he had shewn cruelty, “for where,” said they, “shall we go now? Who will have anything to say to us? We shall starve and die; but if your highness will sell us again, we shall be well fed and clothed.” I confess I do not see why the servants, if they really were so anxious to return to slavery, should not have sold themselves, and pocketed their own value. Throughout Afghanist[=a]n a slave is treated as an humble friend, and is generally found to be faithful and trustworthy.
After surmounting the Oonnye Pass, which is one of the principal defiles of the Hindoo Khoosh, we proceeded on the 20th to Gurdundew[=a]l, a distance from Uart of about six and a half miles. The road was a gradual descent, and very rugged, leading along the bases of barren rocks, till we debouched upon the river Elbon, as it is termed by the natives, but the Helmund or Etymander of the ancients. Even here, where the stream was in its infancy, the current was so strong, that while we were fording it, one of our baggage ponies laden with a tent was carried away by its violence, and, but for the gallant exertions of our tent-pitcher, we should have had to sleep in the open air for the rest of our journey; as it fortunately happened, both animal and load were recovered; and when properly dried, neither one nor the other were a bit the worse for their washing. On the 21st we encamped near the village of Kazee, after a march of nine miles along the right bank of the Helmund, which here flows in a south-westerly direction; we could procure no supplies whatever, either for man or beast, which was the more vexatious as we had a very hard day’s work in prospect for the morrow, and were anxious to recruit ourselves and cattle before attempting it. We managed well enough in spite of our compulsory fast, and on the 22d we reached Kalloo, a distance of twelve miles, after crossing the steep and difficult pass of Hadjekuk, 12,400 feet high; as we approached the summit we found ourselves amongst the snow, and experienced some little inconvenience from a difficulty of respiration; though this pass was even higher than that of Oonnye, it does not possess the same abruptness and boldness of feature which render the latter so interesting and dangerous. The hills near the gorge were so strongly impregnated with iron as sensibly to affect the needle of the theodolite.
Throughout this country, and especially amongst the Uzbegs, there is a fortified wall in the form of a square surrounding each village, with small bastions or towers at the angles. Plunder is so much the order of the day, or rather of the night, that, as a protection, the cattle and every living animal are shut up in these places at sunset; the wicket is locked and barred, and if the villagers happen to have a feud with any of their neighbours, which generally is the case, a watchman is stationed on each bastion. Truly of this land it may be said, that “what one sows another reaps,” for frequently a chief forming a “chuppaeo” or plundering party against his neighbour, if unsuccessful in seizing men to sell for slaves or cattle for use, reaps and carries off the corn. These chuppaeos are considered among the predatory tribes very exciting affairs, as affording opportunities for the young warriors to flesh their maiden swords; but it seldom happens that these encounters are very bloody, as, in the event of one party shewing a determined front, the other generally retreats. The unfortunate Huzareh tribe are constantly the sufferers, and the traveller will recognize more slaves of that than of any other “clan.”
We were now in the vicinity of the Koh-i-baba, a mountain whose granite peaks still towered six thousand feet above us, though our own camp was at least nine thousand above the level of the sea. We determined upon ascending it the following morning, but at first experienced considerable difficulty in procuring guides, not from the natives being either unqualified or unwilling to undertake the task, for they were chiefly hunters, and familiar with the paths they had themselves formed in pursuit of game, but they could not conceive why _we_ should be anxious to climb the difficult height, and therefore were obstinately stupid in refusing to understand the purpose for which we required their services. At length we obtained a guide, and started next morning at half-past five: with considerable fatigue and some little risk we reached the summit after three hours walking, but the magnificent view amply rewarded us for our trouble. The peaks about us were capped with eternal snow; those below were rugged and black. The comparison of the view from the top of a lofty mountain in a hilly country with that of the sea in a storm is old perhaps, but only the truer for that very reason. It was, indeed, as if the hand of God had suddenly arrested and turned to stone varied and fantastic forms of the dark tumultuous waves.
The solemn stillness of these lofty regions was a striking contrast with the busy plains below. The mountains abound in wild sheep, which the hardy hunter pursues for days together, taking with him a slender stock of food, and wrapping his blanket about him at night, when he seeks his resting-place amongst the crevices of these barren rocks. It is seldom that he returns empty-handed if he takes up a good position over-night, for the flocks of wild sheep descend from the least accessible parts at the earliest dawn in search of pasture, and one generally falls a victim to the unerring bullet of the rested Juzzyl. The distant view of the barrier range was beautiful beyond description, for, though the peak on which we stood was the highest for many miles around us, the lofty peaks of the Indian Caucasus were many thousand feet above us. We were now beyond the range of the wild sheep, and not a living creature was to be seen save a majestic eagle, who, deeming _us_ intruders where he was lord of all, sailed up along the sides of the precipitous ravines, sweeping about our heads as he soared upwards, then again wheeling downwards near and nearer, till at length I fancied him within range; but so deceptive was the distance or so defective my aim that he continued unruffled in his course, whilst the sharp crack of the rifle echoed and re-echoed from crag to crag. After satiating our gaze with these wild splendours of creation, a most unsentimental craving of the inward man warned us to descend, and we returned to Kalloo by eleven o’clock to do ample justice to our breakfasts.
We left Kalloo on the 24th, ascending by a rugged broken track to the highest point of the pass, where we came upon a fort surrounded by a small belt of cultivation divided into fields by hedgerows abounding with wild roses. I could hardly have imagined the road practicable for camels, but the cautious though unwieldy animals eventually succeeded in surmounting all difficulties, and arrived late at our encampment near a village called Topechee, the whole distance being ten miles and a half. From the crest of the pass to Topechee was a gradual descent, the road bordering a tremendous fissure, deep and gloomy, along the bottom of which a pelting torrent forced its way. The variegated strata on the mountain side, forming distinct lines of red, yellow, blue, and brown, were very remarkable, and I much regret that I had not time to devote to them most strict examination in a geological point of view.
On the 25th we started for Bamee[=a]n, passing by another Topechee a few miles further on, which is famous for its trout stream. Very few of these fish are found in the country, and only in the streams within a few miles of this spot. They are red-spotted and well-flavoured, and, as the natives do not indulge in the angler’s art, they will rise at any kind of fly and gorge any bait offered. While halting a few minutes at lower Topechee we fell in with an Uzbeg warrior, a most formidable looking personage, armed, in addition to the usual weapons of his country, with a huge bell-mouthed blunderbuss at least three inches in diameter; the individual himself was peaceably enough disposed, and, contrary to the usual habit of Asiatics, made no objections to our examining the small cannon he carried. On inspecting the deadly instrument we discovered it to be loaded to the very muzzle, a mixture of pebbles, slugs, and bits of iron being crammed into the barrel over a charge of a couple of ounces of powder. On our inquiring why it was so heavily charged, the man told us with much naivete, that it was to kill _nine_ men, illustrating the method by which this wholesale destruction was to be accomplished, by planting the butt on his hip and whirling the muzzle from right to left in a horizontal direction across us all, and telling us very pleasantly that if he were to fire we should all fall from the scattering of the different ingredients contained in the blunderbuss; had we not an instant before drawn the charge from which the fellow anticipated such dire effects, we might have felt rather uncomfortable at our relative positions; but I doubt whether the owner had ever had occasion to try the efficacy of his boasted manoeuvre, as he would probably at the first discharge have been killed himself either by the recoil or the bursting of the defective and honey-combed barrel.
The approach to Bamee[=a]n was very singular; the whole face of the hills on either hand was burrowed all over with caves like a huge rabbit-warren. I am informed that these caves are the work of nature, “yet worked, as it were planned,” and are occupied occasionally by travellers both in summer and winter; they are observable in many places in Toorkisth[=a]n, and, when situated high up on the face of the hill, afford a safe retreat for the hunter. The road was tolerably good for the last three miles, running along a narrow valley sprinkled with numerous forts, which are generally occupied by the Huzareh tribes, an ill-featured but athletic race.
I shall not detain the reader by any description either of the wonderful ruins of the ancient city of Goolgoolla or of the gigantic images of Bamee[=a]n, these curiosities having been ably described in Masson’s very interesting work; but I was a good deal amused by the various legends with which the natives are familiar, of one of which, relating to a chalybeate spring in the neighbourhood called the “Dragon’s Mouth,” I shall take the liberty to offer a free version. It was related to me by an old gentleman who brought a few coins to sell, and I listened to him with some patience; but in proportion as the old fellow observed my passive attention did he increase in verbosity and pompous description. I still waited for the _point_ of the story, but my friend, after exhausting his powers of speech and metaphor, was fain to wind up his tale with a most lame and impotent conclusion. I now give it to the reader, not from a wish to punish him as I was punished, but because from the prolixity of the narrator he necessarily most minutely described scenes and customs, which, though they had nothing on earth to do with the “Dragon’s Mouth,” may prove interesting to the reader, as illustrating the peculiarities of the people amongst whom we were now sojourning.
“A TALE OF THE DRAGON’S MOUTH.”
In the reign of Ameer Dost Mahommed Kh[=a]n, when all the pomp and pride of glorious war was in its zenith at C[=a]bul, there lived on the borders of Kulloom and Kundooz, a chieftain named Khan Shereef, whose grandfather had accompanied the illustrious Nadir Shah from Persia in his expedition through Affghanist[=a]n, and followed the fortunes of his royal master, even to the very gates of the imperial Delhi. On his return towards Persia, he had for a time intended to settle in C[=a]bul, but “death, who assaults the walled fort of the chieftain as well as the defenceless hovel of the peasant,” seized him for his own; the father also paid the debt of nature in the capital of Affghanist[=a]n, but not before the young Khan Shereef had seen the light. Growing up to manhood and wearying of the monotonous life a residence in C[=a]bul entailed, he pursued his way across the frontier mountains of Toorkisth[=a]n, and arrived at the court of Meer Moorad Beg. Here he performed good service in the field, and becoming his master’s personal friend and favourite, had a fort and a small portion of territory assigned to him. It was at the court of the Kundooz ruler that he first became acquainted with Zebah, the lovely rose of Cashmere, whom he eventually purchased from her father for his wife.[*] He started with his bride to take possession of his newly-acquired gift, an insulated fortress in the heart of a country abounding in those extensive prairies for which Toorkisth[=a]n is so justly celebrated. On these magnificent savannahs he reared the Toorkman steed, and soon boasted an unrivalled stud.
[* Note: It is customary in this country as well as in other parts of Asia to purchase the young women who may be selected for wives of their relations, the purchase money varying according to the degrees of beauty.] Towards the close of the first year he became a father, an event which was hailed with extravagant joy by all his vassals, the old retainers of his father foretelling the future achievements in the foray of the young Abdoollah Reheem.
A few months had scarcely elapsed, when the anxious mother spied an old crone moving about in the court-yard; their eyes happening to meet, Zebah screamed and fell into a swoon. The young heir was instantly hurried away, but not before the old hag had cast a withering glance on the boy’s beautiful face; every one was now fully convinced that he had been struck by the “evil eye,” which was but too clearly proved by the event, for from that day he sickened and pined away till reduced to a mere skeleton.
Large sums of money were expended by the fond parents in the endeavour to discover a charm to counteract the effects of the “evil eye,” till at length in an auspicious moment it was proposed the boy should try the efficacy of the celebrated water of the “Dragon’s Mouth,” which is situated at the head of the enchanting vale of Bamee[=a]n, just beyond the western limits of Toorkisth[=a]n. The slave girl who proposed this scheme related numerous and wonderful cures effected by the magic waters, and enumerated many hundred individuals, the lame, the blind, the infirm, the rheumatic, and those afflicted with _bad temper_, who had been perfectly cured by either drinking of the water or being immersed in the fountain itself. She would not be positive which mode was the best, but certain she was that the cure was perfect and permanent; she herself had been ugly and cross-tempered, and now she left her audience to judge of her character and appearance. This last proof at once determined the mother to adopt a plan, which after so many unsuccessful attempts she could not but consider as her last resource.
Khan Shereef was not quite so credulous, but what chance has a man alone against his united harem! He was so far influenced by the earnest entreaties of his disconsolate wife, that it was determined in three days he should with a strong cavalcade accompany his darling invalid to the charmed waters of Bamee[=a]n. The Toorkm[=a]n warriors were too religious to doubt the fortunate results of the experiment, and accordingly for the few days which elapsed previous to the setting forth of the expedition the fort was a scene of active preparation. Armour was burnished, swords brightened and fresh ground, juzzyls cleaned and matches got ready, so that they might produce as imposing an effect as possible, not only on the presiding spirit of the fountain, and the very questionable friends through whose territories they were about to pass, but also that they might do due honour to their lord and master.
But before proceeding with my history, I must not omit a more minute description of Khan Shereefs fort. I have already described its locality on the borders of Toorkisth[=a]n. It was situated at the base of a low conical hill, on the summit of which a look-out tower had been erected; this building was in troublesome times occupied by a party of Juzzylchees, who took their station in it, and, fixing their cumbrous pieces on the parapet, watched the approach of any hostile party, and from their commanding and protected position would be enabled to keep in check an enemy attempting to ascend the opposite side of the hill. As the nearest stream of water was full two miles from the fort, the present owner, being a man full of science and mathematical knowledge, had with unparalleled ingenuity sunk a deep and substantial well inside his walls, thus rendering his position infinitely more tenable than if his water-carriers had been daily obliged, as is the case in most places, to run the gauntlet of the enemy’s fire whilst procuring the requisite supply of that indispensable article.
The fort itself was an oblong square, and required three hundred men to man its walls; it was built of mud, with a large bastion at each angle three and four stories high, and loopholed. It had but one gate, on which the nature of the defences afforded means for concentrating a heavy fire. Immediately facing the gate, and detached from buildings of inferior importance, was the Khan’s own residence, and some low flat-roofed houses lining the inside of the whole extent of walls, which afforded a secure shelter to the vassals. The audience-chamber or public sitting-room was so situated that the Kh[=a]n could survey the whole of the interior of his fort whilst squatting on his Persian carpet or reclining on the large soft pillow, which is an indispensable luxury for a grandee of the rank and importance of Kh[=a]n Shereef.
The sides of the apartment consisted of a lattice-work of wood reaching nearly to the ceiling, and connecting the mud pillars which supported the roof; the framework was richly carved, and on slides, so as to enable the owner to increase or diminish the quantity of light and air at his pleasure.
Between the Kh[=a]n’s dwelling and the gate was the mosque, whose minarets towered above the walls and bastions of the fort,–its dome was beautifully proportioned, and inlaid with agate, jasper, and carnelian, besides being wonderfully painted with representations of strange animals unknown to the common people, but which the Moollah affirmed were all taken from the life.
At this time the base of the mosque was occupied by a party of men smoking and passing the Kalee[=a]n to each other; amongst them was one, evidently superior to the rest in age and wisdom, for his opinion was frequently appealed to by all and listened to with much deference. When not called upon to interfere he sat quiet and reserved, and to judge by his countenance was in a melancholy mood. His name was Rhejjub;–he was the oldest retainer of the family, and to him in all cases of emergency did the Kh[=a]n apply for advice, which had never been given without due deliberation and almost prophetic foresight. He had only that morning been deputed to remain and guard the fort during the absence of his master, and although he knew it to be a post of honor and trust, yet he could not but consider it an effeminate duty to be left guardian of the Koch-khanah or _family_, and superintendent of the _un_chosen of the band. With him, “to hear was to obey,” still he envied those who had been selected to accompany their lord. Old Rhejjub had been a great traveller in his day; had wandered over many portions of Arabia, and visited the holy city of Mecca; thus gaining the valuable privileges of a Suyud or _holy man_, which title alone was a passport and safeguard amongst even the lawless Ghilgyes and Khyberr[=e]es of Affghanist[=a]n, it being a greater crime for a man to kill a Suyud than even his own father. Thus, whenever a Chuppao or other warlike expedition was in contemplation, Rhejjub was invariably despatched to reconnoitre and obtain information, and being a man of a shrewd turn of mind, and calculating all chances during his homeward journey, was always prepared after detailing his news to give a sound opinion as to the best plan to be pursued.
At early dawn of the proposed day of departure the whole party were summoned by the Muezzin’s call to offer up prayers for their safe arrival at the “Dragon’s Mouth,” for the effectual cure of the young Abdoollah, and his happy return to his fond mother. Before mounting, was performed the ceremony of taking from its resting place the famous sword given to the Kh[=a]n’s grandfather by Nadir Shah himself. The blade was of Damascus steel, and valued alone at one hundred tomauns;[*] the ivory handle was ornamented with precious stones, and the pommel was one large emerald of great beauty and value. The scabbard was of shagreen finely embroidered in gold. This precious weapon the Suyud had the enviable office of presenting to his chief unsheathed, whilst the aged Moollah who stood by read aloud the inlaid Arabic inscription on the blade, “May this always prove as true a friend to thee as it has been to the donor.” The Kh[=a]n received the valued heir-loom with all due respect, and kissing the weapon sheathed and fixed it firmly to his belt.
[* Note: Tomaun, twenty rupees or about L2.]
All necessary preparations for the departure being now completed, the camel destined for the accommodation of the invalid was brought to the door of the palace, conducted by a favourite Arab who had for many years filled the office of head Surwan or _camel-driver_. The colour of the animal was almost white, and the large gold embroidered housings swept the ground; on either side was fixed a wicker-basket lined and covered with red cloth, and furnished with soft cushions; one of these held the young Kh[=a]n, whilst the other was occupied by the nurse who was the original promoter of the expedition. At length the word to march was given, and the escort consisting of sixty horsemen galloped forth. Khan Shereef himself was clad in a coat of mail, and wore a circular steel head-piece, in which were three receptacles for as many heron plumes; a light matchlock, the barrel of which, inlaid with gold, was slung across his shoulder; attached to his sword-belt were the usual priming and loading powder-flasks made of buffalo’s hide, with tobacco-pouch and bullet-holder of Russia leather worked with gold thread; and the equipment was completed by the Affgh[=a]n boots drawn up over the loose trousers reaching to the knee, with sharp-pointed heels serving for spurs.
The procession moved on, the escort forming an advance and rear-guard, the chief galloping sometimes in front of the party, and now walking his Toorkm[=a]n steed alongside the richly caparisoned camel with its precious burthen.
Occasionally a horseman would dash out from the ranks in chace of a wild goat or sheep crossing the little frequented road, or, dismounting and giving his horse in charge of a comrade, would make a detour on foot in the hope of getting a shot at a chichore.[*] The tedious hours of march were thus wiled away till they reached the “Dundun Shikkun Kotul” or _tooth-breaking_ pass, when the horsemen assumed a more steady demeanour. They were now within forty miles of the celebrated spring, which they hoped to reach on the following day.
[* Note: This is a species of partridge very abundant throughout Toorkistan.]
The Dragon’s Mouth is situated four or five miles to the north-west of Bamee[=a]n, high up in the mountains in the direction of the Yookaoolung country. After a toilsome and somewhat perilous ascent the traveller finds himself at the edge of a deep ravine–or rather fissure in the rock, for the width at the top is seldom more than twelve feet–the sides presenting a ferruginous appearance, with tints varying from extremely dark to lighter shades, by reason of the soil being so strongly impregnated with ore. The low gurgling of the wonder-working stream might be heard issuing from the depths of the dark abysm.
Below, and at the only point of feasible approach for the disease-stricken, is a large cave, where the water bubbles up warm, and forming innumerable small whirlpools before it breaks again into a stream, and mingles its waters with those of a torrent below.
Here, at the base of a large fragment of rock, almost entirely covered with Arabic inscriptions and quotations from the Kor[=a]n alluding to the healing powers of the well and the mercy of God, Khan Shereef and his now dismounted followers offered up prayers for success. Suddenly a huge mass of rock detaching itself from the mountain side thundered down the steep; it was hailed by all as a good omen, and the Moollah declaring that “now or never” was the auspicious moment, the child was taken from the arms of the now trembling nurse and immersed in the turbid waters. Hope elevated the breasts of the father and of the attendants, nor was that feeling fallacious, for on the following morning the invalid was pronounced decidedly better, and was again taken to the cavern, and again, with sanguine prayers and invocations, dipped into the pool.
Khan Shereef, feeling assured that he could now do no more, and trusting to the goodness of Providence, ordered a retrograde movement, and in a few days arrived at his castle with the infant nearly restored to health. A few years after the young Abdoollah was a healthy active boy, indulging in the sports of the field, and anxiously awaiting the time when he should be of sufficient age to join in the more exciting scenes of the chuppao. The old nurse, the proposer of the successful scheme, was highly honoured, and became chief attendant in the seraglio, which office she holds to this day.
“And now,” concluded the old gentleman, “if my lord will choose to purchase these beautiful coins, he shall have them for whatever price his generosity may think fit to put upon them.”
The force stationed at Bamee[=a]n consisted, at the time we were there, of a troop of native horse artillery and a regiment of Goorkahs in the service of Shah Seujah.
On our arrival, Dr. Lord, the political agent, sent us a polite note of invitation to pitch our tents near his fort, and (we) become his guests during our stay; we remained with him till the 29th, and were much gratified by his kind attention.
The quiet demeanour of the natives here was very remarkable, and as we can hardly attribute the circumstance to an inherent pacific disposition, we must the more appreciate the wonderful address displayed by the political agent in his dealings with the various parties, who in these remote mountains, as well as in more civilised countries, are ever ready to quarrel with each other, and only suspend their animosity when a common powerful enemy is to be resisted or a helpless stranger to be plundered. As it was, we reaped considerable benefit from the favourable impression made on the peasants by the authorities, for we were enabled to go out shooting, alone, and even wander unarmed amongst the hills without experiencing the slightest insult or incivility.
Indeed, at the period of which I am writing, there seemed to have been a pause in the wild passions of the Affgh[=a]ns throughout the country, which was perhaps one of the fatal causes which lulled us into that dangerous feeling of security, from whence we were awoke by the most dreadful disaster that has ever befallen the British arms. Poor Dr. Lord was killed at Purwan Durrah during the short campaign in the Kohistan under Sir Robert Sale; and the other British officer, Dr. Grant, who was the medical attache to the mission, disappeared during the retreat from Charrik[=a]r in 1841, and has never been heard of since.
On the 29th June we left Bamee[=a]n for Surruk Durrah (red valley), which is situated at the mouth of the gorge; it is a place of no importance, but the face of the impending hills has a most extraordinary appearance from the fanciful shapes of the harder rocks which jut out from the clayey sides of the mountains.
Here it was that Colonel Dennie, of the 13th, who afterwards fell at Jell[=a]labad, with a small force of a few hundred men, completely routed the Ex-Ameer Dost Mahommed Kh[=a]n, who was accompanied by all the principal Uzbeg chiefs and the famous Meer Walli of Kulloom.
A report reached the gallant Colonel in the morning, that the enemy had taken up a position at the head of the Bamee[=a]n valley; he immediately ordered a reconnoitring party to proceed in that direction, for the purpose of ascertaining whether there was any foundation for the alarm, and accompanied them himself; he was rather astonished on perceiving the enemy debouching from the hills in great force; the odds were fearfully against him in numbers, but, like a good soldier, he at once decided upon attacking without delay. He immediately opened a fire on them from his two guns, under the able superintendence of Lieut. McKenzie, and then dashing forward, drove them back with great slaughter into the narrow gorge, from whence they again attempted to advance, but were again beaten back, till at length they lost courage and broke away in every direction.
On the 30th we marched to Akrob[=a]d, a distance of ten miles. On leaving Surruk Durrah we entered the narrow gorge before alluded to; it is five miles long, and has precipitous sides, at the bottom of which rushed a foaming torrent: the formation of the hills was slate with a superstratum of limestone. On emerging from the Akrob[=a]d Pass, where there was not a breath to disturb the meagre foliage, we were suddenly surprized by a bleak piercing wind, which we were told invariably blew across the table land on which the fort is built. Although in the height of summer, the wind was intensely cold, and we were glad to take into wear the scanty supply of winter clothing which we had brought with us in case of emergency. Out of the stream running in front of the fort in less than an hour I managed to take a few well-flavoured trout, which swallowed my bait most greedily. From Surruk Durrah to Akrob[=a]d the road was, comparatively speaking, good, it being under the superintendence of Lieut. Broadfoot, who had been directed to make it practicable for artillery as far as Sygh[=a]n; he had made good progress in his work, and at the period I write of, it was a very fair military road as far as Akrob[=a]d. Poor Broadfoot was slain in the gallant and desperate charge made by the officers of the 2d Bengal Cavalry at Purw[=a]n Durrah, of which I hope in the proper place to be able to give the reader a slight description.
The hills about Akrob[=a]d are so situated as to form a funnel for all the winds of the snowy range, rendering the temperature of the little table-land bitterly cold both in summer and winter–so much so in winter, that the Huz[=a]reh inhabitants desert the fort in autumn for some more sheltered locality, and return again with the spring.
We now entered Toorkisth[=a]n, the pass of Akrob[=a]d dividing it from Affghanist[=a]n. Should the traveller form his opinion of the country beyond by the specimen now before us, he would be loth indeed to proceed, for a more dismal corner can hardly be conceived. The outline of the adjacent mountains was dreary and uninviting, with very little cultivation in the valley, which also bore a most desolate aspect–it was barren and unpromising, without participating in the wild and grand features which generally characterize these regions. Fuel was with difficulty procured, and our camp was but scantily furnished with even the most necessary supplies.
On the 1st of July we left this sad region, and pitched our tents some five miles further onwards, in a pleasant meadow, where we met a brother of Dost Mahommed, the well-known Sird[=a]r Jubber Kh[=a]n, who arrived in the course of the day from the interior of Toorkist[=a]n, and encamped close to us. He was then on his way to Cabul, having in charge the women and children belonging to the seraglio of the ex-king. He invited us to pay him a visit, which we did in uniform, and found him an agreeable old gentleman, with manners far more polished than the generality of his countrymen, who, though not deficient in a certain national savage grace, frequently shock our European notions of propriety by their open disregard of what we are accustomed to consider the decencies of society; but Jubber Kh[=a]n seemed to have all the good qualities and few of the vices so prevalent in the Affgh[=a]n character. No doubt that superior polish of manner was derived from his more extensive intercourse with Europeans. During our visit he presented us each with a small silver Mahommedan coin, saying at the same time with peculiar grace and dignity that he was now a poor man, and entirely dependent on the generosity of the British; that the coin was of no intrinsic value, but still he hoped we would remember the donor. Much as we respected the character of our host, I could not but regret that he had not yet picked up the English habit of sitting on a chair; for what with tight pantaloons and a stiff uniform, I got so numbed by sitting cross-legged like a tailor, that when the interview was over I could not rise from my cramped position without assistance, much to the amusement of Jubber Kh[=a]n, whose oriental gravity was entirely upset.
I was informed that on being requested by the British authorities to deliver up the family of his brother, he boldly refused, stating that they were given into his charge, and that he deemed it a sacred trust not to be betrayed by any consideration of personal advantage. It will be gratifying to the reader to know that this manly refusal did not operate to his prejudice in the opinions of those to whom it was made. He subsequently obtained from the Dost permission to comply with the demand, and was now on his journey for that purpose; but though he professed to have every confidence in our honour and generous kindness with regard to the females, he appeared somewhat anxious as to the influence which his previous refusal might have with reference to his own treatment. Jubber Kh[=a]n’s name was in great repute amongst the Affgh[=a]ns, who, all wild and savage as they are, still have sufficient feeling to admire in others those virtues which are so rarely met with amongst themselves: he is considered an able politician also, as well as the poor man’s friend–high and low find him equally easy of access, and he is the general mediator in quarrels between the different chiefs, and the principal counsellor in the national debates.
Whilst encamped here the united seraglios of Dost Mahommed and Jubber Kh[=a]n passed in front of our tents, on their way to K[=a]bul. It was a very large procession, consisting of nearly eighty camel loads of fair ones of every age and quality. Each camel was furnished on either side with a large pannier, and in each pannier was a lady–weight against weight. The presence of Englishmen so much excited their curiosity that we were enabled to enjoy a nearer and better view of the beauties than strict decorum would have justified, and it may not perhaps be uninteresting to my fair readers, if, turning to advantage this slight impropriety, I here take the liberty of describing as much as I could observe of the very remarkable travelling costume of the female Affgh[=a]n aristocracy. When in public the highborn Affgh[=a]n lady is so completely enveloped by her large veil (literally sheet), that the person is entirely concealed from head to foot; there are two eyelet holes in that part of the sheet which covers the face, admitting air and light, and affording to the fair one, herself unseen, a tolerable view of external objects. I trust I may be permitted without indiscretion to remove this shroud and give some slight description of the costume.
Over a short white under-garment, whose name of Kammese[*] sufficiently denotes its use, is a Peir[=a]n or jacket, which amongst the higher classes is made of Bokh[=a]ra cloth, or not unfrequently of Russian broad cloth, brought overland through Bokh[=a]ra. This garment is generally of some glaring gaudy colour, red or bright yellow, richly embroidered either in silk or gold; it is very like the Turkish jacket, but the inner side of the sleeve is open, and merely confined at the wrist with hooks and eyes. A pair of loose trousers, gathered at the waist with a running silken cord, and large at the ankle, forms a prominent feature in the costume, and is made either of calico, shawl-cloth, or Cachmere brocade, according to the finances of the wearer. Instead of stockings they wear a kind of awkward-looking linen bag, yellow or red, soled with thick cloth or felt, the top being edged with shawl-cloth. The shoes are similar to the Turkish slipper, with the usual Affgh[=a]n high-pointed heels tipped with iron; and as these articles must from their shape be an impediment to walking, I presume that the real use to which they are generally put must have given rise to the common expression in Hindoost[=a]n for any punishment inflicted, the term being “jutte mar,” literally, beating with the shoe. The weapon put to this purpose would be very formidable, and I have little doubt that the beauties of the harem keep their lords in high discipline by merely threatening with such an instrument.
[* Note: Anglice, Chemise. It may fairly be inferred that the name of this under-garment is derived from the word mentioned in the text; and doubtless there are many words in our own as well as in other modern languages that may equally be traced to Asia; for instance, Sheittan, Satan.]
On the head of the Affgh[=a]n female is worn a small skull cap, keeping in place the hair in front, which is parted, laid flat, and stiffened with gum, while the rest hangs in long plaits down the back.
Next day we left for Sygh[=a]n, and after a march of about fifteen miles pitched our tents in the vicinity of the principal fort. The whole journey was through a deep defile, except about half-way, when we came upon a small but well cultivated plain, with a fort in the centre. The contrast was pleasing after travelling so many miles amidst the dark overhanging crags, threatening destruction on the passer-by; but this relief was of short duration, for after two miles it gradually contracted, and formed a continuation of the defile down to the valley of Sygh[=a]n.
The fort is on a small hill detached from the main range, but easily commanded, though it is said for ages to have been deemed impregnable, till some chief more knowing than his neighbours hit upon the very obvious expedient of lining the overhanging range with Juzzylchees, and picking off every individual who ventured to appear on the battlements. It is now in our possession, and occupied by two companies of Sepoys; and though the place might be seriously annoyed by musketry from the adjacent hills, still the sides of those hills are so rocky and precipitous that cannon could not be brought to bear from the summit without immense labour.
These hills are composed of sandstone and indurated clay, in which numerous fossils abound.
The valley along which we proceeded produces many varieties of fruit, and is rich in the cultivation of artificial grasses, lucerne being the most abundant.
On arriving at our encamping ground on the 3rd of July, about four miles and a half beyond Sygh[=a]n, a poor villager, a vassal of Mahommed Ali Beg’s, to whom the fort of Sygh[=a]n belonged previous to its cession to the British, came to complain that some of our baggage animals had injured one of his fields by trampling down his grain. Upon enquiry his story was found to be correct. Mahommed Ali Beg happened to be paying us a visit when the man presented himself, and wished to drive the poor fellow away to prevent his troubling us; and great indeed was the wonder and astonishment shewn by all the natives about us when Sturt desired that the peasant should receive ten rupees as compensation for the damage done to his crops.
Loud were the praises bestowed upon our _extraordinary_ justice; and Mahommed Ali Beg, forgetting the line of conduct he had but a moment before advocated, delivered the following expression of his reformed opinion in a loud pompous tone, whilst his followers listened, open-mouthed, to the eloquence of their now scrupulous chief: “Although the Feringhis have invaded our country they never commit any act of injustice;” then, having delivered himself of this inconsistent speech, he lifted a straw from the ground, and turning round to his audience, continued: “they don’t rob us even of the value of _that_; they pay for every thing, even for the damage done by their followers.” Corporal Trim’s hat falling to the ground was nothing to the effect produced by the comparison of the straw; but, alas for human nature! I had but too strong grounds for suspecting that, of the ten rupees awarded to the peasant, seven were claimed by Ali for having induced the Feringhis to listen to the claim!!
The surrounding hills have here as at Surruk Durrah the appearance of ruined castles, with donjon or keep and tower; they forcibly reminded me of the “Castle of St. John,” in Scott’s Bridal of Triermain, but my visions of Merlin and fair maidens awoken from their charmed slumbers were destroyed by the sight of a little purling brook which promised me a few hours angling. Nor was I disappointed; for in a short time I (being unprovided with my fishing basket) filled two towels full of fish, and congratulated myself on my sport; however, to use an old phrase, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and so we found it, for when brought to table “my catch” fell far short of our epicurean anticipations, and I almost regretted that I had not continued my dreams instead of disturbing the finny tribe.
A complaint was made to us in the course of the day, that an Huzareh female, returning to her own country with one attendant, had been seized and carried away to one of the adjacent forts, where she was detained; and our interference was requested with a view to obtaining her release. We were of course most anxious to help the poor woman, especially as it appeared from what was reported to us that there were not the slightest grounds for the outrage, beyond the helplessness of her situation and the natural cupidity of the robber chief of the fort; but, unfortunately, we were travelling without credentials, the Envoy having declined to furnish us, lest the inhabitants should fancy that we were vested with any political power; and therefore we could not interfere, and what became of her I know not, though we were afterwards told that on her resigning her trinkets as her ransom she would be released. Indeed the personal ornaments of the petty chiefs are generally the point of some lawless proceeding like the one alluded to, as they are seldom possessed of sufficient capital in specie to purchase jewels, but exchange their grain and fruits for clothes and precious stones. I have mentioned the above circumstance to give the reader some notion of the lawless state of society, deeming it out of keeping with the humble character of this simple narrative, and perhaps beyond the ability of the writer, to enter more minutely into the various causes which have contributed to bring the country into so unhappy a state.
On the 4th July our route lay across the Dundun Shikkun. Kotul, or “tooth-breaking pass,” and a truly formidable one it is for beasts of burden, especially the declivity on the northern side. Very few venture upon the descent without dismounting, for the surface of the rock is so smooth and slippery, that the animals can with difficulty keep their legs even when led, and many teeth, both of man and horse, have been broken before reaching the bottom.
The valley of K[=a]mmurd lying at the foot of the northern side of the pass has a very fertile appearance, and orchards of different descriptions of fruit-trees are interspersed throughout the cultivation. The fort of the principal chief, named Uzzuttoollah Beg, from whom we received a visit, is high up the valley, and there are two others of minor importance on either bank of the river, lower down and together.
Uzzuttoollah Beg was in appearance a very fine old man with an imposing white beard; he was six feet high, large boned and muscular, and by far the most powerful and stately looking personage we had hitherto met; but he was a shrewd wicked old fellow, and when the star of British prosperity began to wane, proved himself a dangerous enemy. His own vassals, from whom he exacted the strictest obedience, stood in great awe of him. He came merely, he said, to pay his respects, to chat over political affairs, and to inquire from us whether the English intended giving up his valley to the Meer Walli of Koollum. We could give him no information as to the intentions of Government. “Khoob (well,)” answered he, “if such really be the case, the Meer Walli may seize me if he is able, provided _you_ keep aloof; the Meer has tried that game before now, but did not succeed; on two separate occasions he has visited my fort in an unceremonious manner, and with hostile intent; but, gentlemen, there are two sides to a fort, the inside and the out. I was in–the Meer was out, and I kept him there; till, (suffering no other inconvenience myself than the deprivation from riding for a few days,) by keeping up a constant fire on his ragamuffins, I one fine day compelled him to beat his retreat:” and so saying, he stroked his beard with much complacency, evidently considering it and its owner the two greatest wonders of the Toorkisth[=a]n world.
It may be as well to remark here, that in these valleys as throughout Affghanist[=a]n in general, the forts are made of mud, the walls being of great strength and thickness; they are built gradually, and it takes many months to erect a wall twenty feet high, as each layer of mud is allowed to bake and harden in the sun before the next is superimposed. Now, as none of the chiefs possess cannon, except the Meer Walli and Moorad Beg of Koondooz, it is almost impossible to gain an entry into a well-constructed fort, except by treachery; and even the few honey-combed pieces of small calibre possessed by the above chieftains would not have much effect against the massive ramparts.
But the Uzbegs have a method of undermining the bastion, by turning the course of some convenient stream right under the very base; this gradually softens the lower stratum of mud, and diminishing its tenacity, the whole fabric comes tumbling down from its own weight. They also have frequently recourse to mining, but for either method to succeed the defenders cannot be on the alert.
A man who had been engaged in an operation of the latter kind, by which the fort of Badjgh[=a]r was once taken, explained to me the plan adopted, which bears a rude analogy to the modern plan of mining under the glacis to the foot of the counterscarp.
To-day a horseman came into our camp at about 3 P.M. with letters from Bamee[=a]n; he had left early in the morning, and thus accomplished a journey of fifty miles with the same horse, over two severe passes, and through a succession of difficult defiles. On alighting, he tied his horse to the branch of a tree, merely loosening the girths, but not intending to give him food till the evening. The horses are habituated to the want of any midday feeding, and at night and morning seldom get grain. But the dried lucerne and other artificial grasses with which they are supplied must afford them sufficient nourishment, as they are generally in very good working condition; they are undersized, but very sure-footed; it is indeed astonishing over what fearful ground they will carry their riders. The yabboo is a different style of animal, heavier built and slower; its pace is an amble, by means of which it will get over an immense distance, but it is not so sure-footed.
I remarked that aged horses were very rarely met with, and on inquiring the reason, was informed that the horses were all so violently worked when young as soon to break down, after which they are slaughtered and made into _kabobs_. I was assured that the eating-shops of Cabul and Kandah[=a]r always require a great supply of horseflesh, which is much liked by the natives, and when well seasoned with spices is not to be distinguished from other animal food.
At this station fruit was in great profusion; I observed that the sides of a barren hill near our camp were of a bright yellow tint for upwards of a mile and a half, and on approaching to discover the cause, I found the whole space covered with apricots placed side by side to dry in the sun. I tasted some of them, which had apparently only just been gathered, and found them very well flavoured, though generally speaking I must allow that the fruits of these valleys are inferior to those of Europe, with the exception of the grape, which is unequalled. But the grape and apricot are not the only fruits which flourish in this green spot surrounded by barren rocks,–the walnut, the peach, mulberry, apple, and cherry, also come to perfection in their respective seasons.
At sunset Uzzuttoollah Beg sent us a plentiful supply of fruit, grain for our cattle, and flour for the servants, regretting at the same time that he was not able to send us sheep enough for the whole party. When he came to take leave, we told him we had received more than we expected or required, and begged his acceptance of a loonghee or _headdress_ in remembrance of us. He was much gratified with the trifle, it being of Peshawurree muslin, a kind much sought after and prized by the Uzbegs. He immediately took off his own turban, which was indeed rather the worse for wear, and binding the new one round his head, declared with a self-satisfied look, that “it would be exceedingly becoming.” He then arose, and probably to shew his knowledge of European breeding, gave me such a manly shake of the hand as made me expect to see the blood start from the tips of my fingers. I am not sure, with all due respect for the good old custom of shaking hands, that I should not have preferred submitting to the Uzbeg mode of salutation. On approaching an equal, the arms of both are thrown transversely across the shoulders and body, like the preparatory attitude of wrestlers in some parts of England, then, placing breast to breast, the usual form of “salaam aleikoom” is given in a slow measured tone. But on horseback the inferior dismounts, and, according to the degree of rank, touches or embraces the stirrup.
The valley of Kammurd is of an oblong form flanked by stupendous mountains; the enormous barrier of the Dundun Shikkun almost precludes the possibility of bringing cannon from the south, although one gun is known to have been dragged over by sheer manual labour; it was brought by Dost Mahommed from Cabul to quell some refractory chiefs, the carriage being taken to pieces, and the gun fastened by ropes in the hollowed trunk of a tree.
On the 5th of July we reached Piedb[=a]gh, five miles further down the valley, which gradually decreased in breadth, seldom exceeding two hundred yards, and sometimes contracting to fifty. Along the banks of a muddy river flowing through the centre of the narrow vale, the sycamore tree was very luxuriant, and two or three forts formed a chain of communication from one end of the cultivated land to the other. Piedb[=a]gh, as its name implies, is a complete orchard, _piedan_ meaning perpetual, and b[=a]gh, garden; from a distance it looks like a thick wood with the turrets of the forts overtopping the dark foliage. We took advantage of the quiet beauty of this spot to give our horses a day’s rest, and lucky it was for us we had at Bamee[=a]n exchanged for stout yaboos the unwieldy camels which we had brought from Cabul; the yaboos get over the ground twice as fast as the camel, and for mountainous districts are infinitely preferable to the “ship of the desert.”
It was lucky also that we had not burdened ourselves with bedsteads or charpoys, as they are called in the East (literally “_four feet_”); they would have inconvenienced us much; and we should, probably, have been forced to abandon them on the road, the pathways along the glens being often so narrow, and so encumbered with the detritus from the overhanging mountains, as to make it necessary to pack our baggage very compactly; inattention to this important point in mountain travelling is sometimes followed by very serious consequences, for the chair or bedstead, projecting far beyond the centre of gravity of the unfortunate animal, catches against a corner of rock, and both load and pony run imminent risk of being hurled into the abyss below. We were now so inured to sleeping on the ground, that had it not been for the multitudes of fleas we should never have felt the want of a more elevated sleeping place. The animal and vegetable character of Piedb[=a]gh may be stated in a few words–apricots and fleas are in abundance, the former very large sized, and the latter healthy.
In the course of my journal I hope to be able to relate the circumstances of a very pretty little affair which occurred here, some months after we passed through, between two companies of Shah Soojah’s Goorkah regiment and the inhabitants of the neighbouring forts. The Goorkahs, upholding their well-known character, fought desperately against an overwhelming force; they would have suffered severely but for the able conduct of their leader, who was an European non-commissioned officer and quarter-master sergeant of the corps; his manoeuvring would have done credit to many an older soldier.
On the 7th July we quitted Piedb[=a]gh for Badjgh[=a]r, the most westerly of our advanced posts; it was occupied at the period of which I write by Captain Hay, and was the head-quarters of the Goorkah battalion. The hills from a little above Piedb[=a]gh encroach so much upon the valley as to reduce it to little more than a ravine forming two gigantic walls, that on the right being inaccessible save to the wild goat, whilst the left-hand boundary, though still precipitous, may be surmounted by active light-armed troops. On emerging from the orchards we came upon a grass meadow extending to the fort of Badjgh[=a]r, which is again situate at the mouth of a defile leading to M[=a]ther, the route we eventually pursued. The fort is capable of containing about two hundred men; when first taken possession of it was literally choked with filth and abominations of all kinds, but the industry of the little garrison had succeeded in giving it an air of cleanliness and comfort. As a military position it is most faulty, and it is really astonishing to conceive how heedless those who fixed upon it as a post of such importance must have been of the manifold weakness of the place; from the surrounding heights it has the appearance of being situated in a deep dyke; it is completely hemmed in, and juzzaelmen occupying the adjacent hills could easily find cover from whence they might pour in so destructive a fire as to render the place untenable. In addition to these defects, the fort of Badjgh[=a]r is unprovided with a well within its defences; this, as has before been remarked, is a common case, but still it would materially affect the integrity of a force within, as they would be reduced to the necessity of frequent sallies to the neighbouring stream to obtain water.
We found Capt. Hay in no enviable position; he had but one European to assist him in his various important duties; the three or four officers who were nominally attached to the corps being either on detachment or other military employ, so that with such slender aid as one European sergeant, it was very hard work for him to keep up discipline amongst a brave but half savage band, to provide for their subsistence, keep a sharp look-out on his front and flanks, and remain on good terms with the neighbouring chiefs, whose conflicting interests, lawless propensities, and savage nature were continually requiring his mediation or interference.
“_Quem deus vult perdere prius dementat_” is an old saw most applicable to the conduct, or rather want of conduct of the “powers that were” during the spring of 1841, and the state of the important outpost of Badjgh[=a]r is a type of the condition of most of the detached posts throughout the kingdom of Cabul; the dreadful catastrophe which ushered in the year 1842 is but too unanswerable a proof of the opinion I here express; and though innumerable instances of individual gallantry as well amongst the unlettered privates as the superior officers have thrown a halo round their bloody graves, the stern truth still forces itself upon us, that the temporary eclipse of British glory was not the consequences of events beyond the power of human wisdom to foresee or ward off, but the natural results of an overweening confidence in our power, and of an infatuated blindness to the sure indications of the coming storm which for many months before it burst darkened our political horizon.
It will easily be believed that the various duties entailed upon Capt. Hay left him but little time for scientific researches, yet this indefatigable officer had already made a fine collection of geological specimens from the adjacent hills. I regret that circumstances prevent me from giving any of the useful information which his industry supplied. I am only able to say, that the fossils were generally found in tertiary deposits, and were plentiful in quantity, but the variety was not great. He had at the time of our visit made, likewise, considerable progress in putting his position into as good a state of defence as circumstances allowed; of course he had not means to defilade his fort, but he had erected a breastwork four feet and a half high across the defile, which would certainly be of great use in checking any body of horsemen who might advance from the north, at least for a time sufficient to enable the garrison to prepare for an attack. The fort seemed a focus for all the rays of the sun, and was intensely hot, the thermometer ranging from 95 to 110 in the shade; nor was the situation healthy, for a great many Goorkahs were in hospital, and all were more or less debilitated from the effects of the climate.
Whilst at Badjgh[=a]r we made the acquaintance of one of the chiefs, Suyed Mahommed of the Dushti Suffaed or _white desert_, through whose country we eventually travelled; we found him an easy good-tempered man, well inclined towards the British, but grasping and avaricious. Throughout our intercourse with him he behaved well, but he took occasion frequently to remind us we were not to forget that he looked for a reward; still, in summing his character, I must say he was superior to his “order;” for, either from the wish to lead a quiet life or from his limited means and unwarlike disposition, he was not given to feuds or chuppaos like his neighbours. He sent rather a characteristic letter to Shah Pursund Kh[=a]n, a chief whose dominions were also on our line of route, recommending us to his notice, but concluding by telling him to judge of us and act according to our merits.
On the 9th July we bade our kind friend Capt. Hay farewell, and many were the prayers offered up for our safe return; the Goorkah soldiers even accompanied us for three or four miles. Sturt had not been supplied with any introductory letters from Sir William M’Naghten, although he was sent on duty, for it was uncertain what kind of a reception we might meet with amongst the chiefs of Toorkisth[=a]n, and it was therefore deemed unadvisable to give us the character of accredited agents, which would necessarily tend to mix us up with politics. Though this plan may have been very wise on the part of Government, yet it by no means contributed to our comfort, as we found ourselves frequently the objects of suspicion. Some of the chiefs plainly said, “you are come to survey our country, and eventually to take possession;” but most of them cared very little whether we came as friends or foes: they had little to lose and everything to gain by a _row_. With a few of the more influential chiefs the case was different; if we had caused Dost Mahommed, the all powerful Ameer of C[=a]bul, to become a fugitive, what chance had they if our views led us across the Hindoo Khoosh? Such was their mode of reasoning; but it must be confessed that they were ignorant of the immense advantage the rugged nature of their barren land would give them over a regular army, and thus they were unable to form an idea of the value of the resistance which a few determined mountaineers might oppose. Amongst other wild schemes, I fancy that the idea was once entertained, or at all events the question was mooted, of sending a force to Bokh[=a]r[=a] to procure the release of poor Stoddart. Without dwelling upon the enormous sacrifice of life and treasure which such an expedition of magnitude sufficient to ensure success would entail, I may be permitted to point out what from personal observation I have been led to consider as the “least impossible” route. The line I should recommend would be the one we pursued as far as Koollum, when the force should so shape its route as to avoid the great sandy desert, which extends for three hundred and fifty miles from Koollum to Bokh[=a]r[=a], by keeping to the north, and “striking” the Oxus, which is navigable for boats of heavy burthen for many hundred miles above the capital. But even on this plan we must suppose the force to have already surmounted the thousand and one passes which occur between Cabul and Koollum. Much has been printed and a great deal more written and wisely left _un_printed concerning the practicability of these routes for a modern army; it savours of a useless truism to state, that if the government making the attempt has resources sufficient in men, transport, and treasure, and dwells not upon the sacrifice of these three necessaries for an army, the thing may be done; but I can hardly conceive any crisis in political affairs which could render such a measure advantageous to the party undertaking it. The advancing force will always suffer, whether it be Russia advancing upon India, or India advancing towards Europe. The hand of God has fixed the tremendous barrier; woe to him who would despise the warning.
Our route lay along the usual green vale so often described, bounded by barren hills, over which a few inhabitants might occasionally be seen stalking along in their dark-coloured garments, which harmonized with the sombre character of the country. We pitched our tents near the little fort of M[=a]ther, about five miles from our last encampment, and situate at the foot of the Kara Kotul, or _black pass_. Our resting place afforded nothing remarkable; and indeed I feel that some apology is due to my readers for the unavoidable sameness of the details of this part of our journey; but I am in hopes that this very defect, though it render the perusal of my journal still heavier, will assist in conveying an accurate idea of the nature of the country; it is not my fault if we met with no adventures, no hairbreadth escapes, or perilous encounters. I must once more crave indulgence.
The Affgh[=a]n soldiers of our escort did not much relish the discipline I enforced. A complaint was made to me in the course of the day by a peasant, that these warriors had most unceremoniously broken down hedges, and entering his apricot orchard, had commenced appropriating the fruit, responding to his remonstrances with threats and oaths. I thought this a fine opportunity to read my savages a lecture on the advantages of discipline and regular pay. I asked them whether they were not now much better off than when employed by their own countrymen, and whether they expected to be treated as regular soldiers, and still be allowed to plunder the inoffensive inhabitants? One of the men, who was evidently an orator, listened to me with more attention than the rest, but with a look of evident impatience for the conclusion of my harangue, that he too might show how well he could reason. “My lord,” said the man, putting himself into an attitude worthy of the Conciliation-Hall, to say nothing of St. Stephen’s, “my lord, on the whole your speech is very excellent: your pay is good–the best, no doubt, and very regular; we have not hitherto been accustomed to such treatment; though you brought the evil the remedy has come with it; your arrival in C[=a]bul has so raised the price of provisions that we could not live on Affgh[=a]n pay; we have, therefore, entered the service of the foreigner; but had we received the same wages we now get from you, we should in our own service have been gentlemen.” Here the orator made a pause, but soon imagining from my silence that his speech was unobjectionable, he boldly continued; “but there is one powerful argument in favour of the Ameer’s service, _he_ always allowed us on the line of march to plunder from every one; we have been brought up in this _principle(!!)_ since we were children, and we find it very difficult to refrain from what has so long been an established practice amongst us: we are soldiers, sir, and it is not much each man takes; but the British are so strict, that they will protect a villager or even a stranger:” this last sentence was evidently pronounced under a deep sense of unmerited oppression. “But,” continued he, “look at that apricot orchard on the right, how ripe and tempting is the fruit; if we were not under your orders, those trees would in a moment be as bare as the palm of my hand.” But I remarked, “would not the owners turn out and have a fight; is it not better to go through a strange country peaceably and making friends?” “_They_ fight,” answered my hero; “oh! they are Uzbegs and no men, more like women–one Affghan can beat three Uzbegs.” I was not quite satisfied how far the vaunted pay and discipline would prevail over the natural lawless propensities of _my army_, and in order not to try their insubordination too much, I conceived that a compromise would be the wisest plan, and giving them a few rupees, I desired them to make the most they could out of them. Off they went highly delighted with the results of the interview, clapping their orator on the back, crying out _sh[=a]bash, sh[=a]bash, bravo, bravo_, and evidently believing the gift of the rupees as entirely due to the eloquence of their comrade. They are a simple people with all their savage characteristics, but it is very sad to contemplate a whole nation as a race of systematic plunderers.
In the afternoon the chief of M[=a]ther called to pay his respects, bringing a present of fruit and sheep’s milk; the latter I found so palatable, that I constantly drank it afterwards; it is considered very nutritious, and is a common beverage in Toorkisth[=a]n, where the sheep are milked regularly three times a day. Goats are very scarce, cows not to be seen, but the sheep’s milk affords nourishment in various forms, of which the most common is a kind of sour cheese, being little better than curdled milk and salt. Tea is also a favourite drink, but is taken without sugar or milk; the former is too expensive for the poorer classes, and all prefer it without the latter. Sometimes a mixture such as would create dismay at an English tea-table is handed round, consisting principally of tea-leaves, salt, and fat, like very weak and very greasy soup, and to an European palate most nauseous. We could never reconcile our ideas to its being a delicacy. Tea is to be procured in all large towns hereabouts, of all qualities and at every price; at C[=a]bul the highest price for tea is L5 sterling for a couple of pounds’ weight; but this is of very rare quality, and the leaf so fine and fragrant that a mere pinch suffices a moderate party.
What would our tea-drinking old ladies say for a few pounds of that delicious treasure? This superfine leaf reaches Cabul from China through Thibet, always maintaining its price; but it is almost impossible to procure it unadulterated, as it is generally mixed by the merchants with the lesser priced kind. The most acceptable present which a traveller could offer in Toorkisth[=a]n would be _fire-arms_ or _tea_; the latter is a luxury they indulge in to excess, taking it after every meal; but they seldom are enabled to procure it without the lawless assistance of the former.
On leaving M[=a]ther we commenced the ascent of the Kara Kotul or Black Pass, which lasted for seven long miles and was very fatiguing. The large masses of rock on either side the pathway were of a deep brown colour. From the length and steepness of the ascent, this pass must be higher than any we had hitherto surmounted; the descent on the other side is difficult in proportion. The approach to Doa[=u]b is through one of the most romantic glens conceivable. It is here that the Koollum river takes its rise; it flows due north and soon reaches a mountain meadow, where it unites with another stream coming from the east, whence the name of the Doa[=u]b (two waters) is given to this district. In this defile are scattered huge rocks, which have been dislodged from the overhanging precipices by the effects of frost or convulsions of the elements: in vain do these masses obstruct the progress of the waters of this river. The torrent dashing in cataracts over some of the large boulders and eddying round the base of others, pursues an agitated course until it reaches the desert, through which it glides more calmly, and combines with the Oxus beyond Koollum, whence the confluent waters proceed uninterruptedly to the sea of Aral.
The banks of this river differ from those of the mountain streams in general; they were decked with the most beautiful wild flowers, which bloomed luxuriantly on the bushes, and growing from the deep clefts in the rock, scented the air with their perfume.
The glen is here so filled with large blocks of granite, that to accomplish our passage through it, it was necessary to transfer by manual labour the loads of the baggage animals across the obstructing masses: the difficulties we encountered, and more particularly the romantic scene itself, are still imprinted on my memory.
The wind whistling round the jutting points, the dashing of the waters, and the cries of one of the most timid of our followers, who to save himself from wet feet had mounted an overladen pony, and was now in imminent danger both of Scylla and Charybdis, added to the interest of the picture; but, occasionally, the reverberation caused by the fragments of rock, which, detaching themselves from the upper regions, came tumbling down, not far from where we stood, warned us not to dwell upon the spot. We took the hint, and hastily extricating man and beast, though not until they had experienced a severe ducking, we proceeded onwards to where the waters enclose within their fertilizing arms the grassy fields of the mountain Doa[=u]b. Here it was that we caught the first glimpse of the extensive plains where the Toorkm[=a]n mares are turned out to graze; those in foal are left for several months; and after foaling, the animals are put into smaller pastures provided with enclosures, where they are shut up at night. The extent of the larger savannahs is very great, some of them exceeding twenty miles, and the horses that are allowed to range in them become so shy, that their owners only can approach them, and the animals are considered safe from depredators.
As we gradually emerged from the hard bosom of the mountains, we were struck with the simple beauty of this little garden of nature. The vale is triangular, its greatest breadth being about five miles; its whole extent is covered with a rich turf, intermingled by just sufficient cultivated land as to supply the inhabitants with grain. Every wild flower that enlivens our English meads grew here luxuriantly, while the two streams crept along on either side like silver threads bordering a jewelled carpet. This gay and brilliant sight was enhanced by the lofty range of dark frowning hills which encompassed it. It was worthy of being sung as the “Loveliest vale in Toorkisth[=a]n.”
I have already mentioned that we had received a letter to Shah Pursund Kh[=a]n, the chief of the Doa[=u]b, who accordingly came out to welcome us to his territory; he embraced us in the Uzbeg fashion, telling us in eastern phraseology “to consider his dominion as our own, and that we might command all he possessed.” After many compliments of this nature, he inquired with some bluntness whither we were bound and what our object was? We answered him, that we were proceeding to Koollum, and were anxious to get as much information as he would be good enough to afford us concerning so beautiful a portion of the globe, and we wished to survey its particular features. “Mind,” rejoined he, “that the chief of Heibuk and the Meer Walli of Koollum are my enemies, and may be yours.” “If,” answered Sturt, “we shall meet with the same reception from them as we have hitherto enjoyed from all other chiefs whose possessions we have had occasion to trespass upon during our journeyings, we cannot complain of want of either kindness or hospitality; for as travellers we come, and once eating the ‘salt of an Uzbeg,’ we know that none would dishonour himself by acting the traitor.” “True,” retorted the kh[=a]n, “but he who is your friend while in his dominions will rob you as soon as you set your foot across his frontier.” We were not much pleased at this prospect, as we knew he spoke truth when declaring himself at enmity with the surrounding chiefs, but “sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,” so we made up our minds to take what advantage we could of his friendly disposition towards us, and trust to our good fortune and the “chapter of accidents” for our future safety. Shah Pursund Kh[=a]n did not confine his kindness to words, for he sent us an ample supply of flour and clarified butter for our followers, grass and corn for our cattle, and a sheep for ourselves; these sheep are of the Doomba species, with large tails weighing several pounds, which are considered the most delicate part of the animal. He also sent us from his harem an enormous dish of foul[=a]deh, made of wheat boiled to a jelly and strained, and when eaten with sugar and milk palatable and nutritious.
The following morning, as we were preparing to start, I happened to enter into conversation with an aged moollah, the solitary cicerone of the Doa[=u]b, who gave us a brief but very extraordinary account of a cavern about seven miles off; our curiosity was so much excited by the marvellous details we heard, that we determined to delay our departure for the purpose of ascertaining how much of his story was due to the wild imagination of our informant. We accordingly gave orders to unsaddle, and communicated our intentions to the khan. At first he strongly urged us not to put our plan into execution, declaring that the cave was the domicile of the evil one, and that no stranger who had presumed to intrude upon the privacy of the awful inhabitant had ever returned to tell of what he had seen. It will easily be imagined that these warnings only made us more determined upon visiting the spot. At length, finding our resolution immovable, the kh[=a]n, much to our astonishment, declared that it was not from personal fear, but from anxiety for our safety that he had endeavoured to deter us, but that, as we were obstinate, he would at least afford us the advantage of his protection, and accompany us, I confess we were not sanguine in our expectations that he would keep his word, and were not a little surprised to see him shortly after issue forth from his fort fully armed, and accompanied by his principal followers. We immediately made all necessary preparations, and started on our visit to his satanic majesty.
A bridle-path conducted us for some miles along the edge of a gentle stream, whose banks were clothed with long luxuriant grass extending on either side for a few hundred yards; we proceeded rapidly at first, keeping our horses at a hand gallop, as the path was smooth, and also to escape from the myriads of forest-flies or blood-suckers which were perpetually hovering around us, and irritating our cattle almost to madness whenever we were obliged to slacken our pace; our tormentors, however, did not pursue us beyond the limits of the pasture land, so that we were glad to exchange the beauties of the prairie for the stony barren ground which succeeded it. We soon reached the base of a hill from whence the wished-for cavern was visible, situated about half-way up its face. We were now obliged to dismount, and leaving our horses under the charge of an Uzbeg, who could hardly conceal his delight at being selected for the least dangerous duty, we commenced the ascent.
During our ride I had endeavoured to gather a few more particulars concerning the dreaded cavern, and as might have been expected, the anticipated horrors dwindled away considerably as we approached it; still enough of the marvellous remained to keep my curiosity on the stretch. Shah Pursund Kh[=a]n confessed that he was not positive that the devil actually lived there, but still, he said, it was very probable; he had first heard of the existence of the cave when he obtained possession of the Do[=a]ub twelve years ago, from the very moollah who was our informant. Urged by a curiosity similar to our own, he had ventured some little distance inside, but suddenly he came upon the print of a naked foot, and beside it another extraordinary impression, which he suspected to be from the foot of sheittan (the devil) himself; quite satisfied that he had gone far enough, he retreated precipitately, and from that day to this had never intruded again. He argued that any _human_ being living in the cave would require sustenance, and of course would purchase it at his fort, which was the only one where the necessaries of life could be procured for many miles around; but he knew every one who came to him, and no stranger had ever come on such an errand; he therefore concluded with an appealing look to the moollah who was with us. The moollah, however, had a tale of his own to tell, and seemed to have no great respect for the superstitious fears of his patron. “The name of the cavern is Yeerm[=a]lik, and the fact of the matter is this,” said he, settling himself in his saddle for a long story. “In the time of the invasion, six hundred years ago, of Genghis Kh[=a]n the Tartar, seven hundred men of the Huzareh tribe, with their wives and families and a stock of provisions, took possession of this cavern, hoping to escape the fury of the ruthless invader, and never stirred beyond its mouth. But the cruel Genghis, after wasting the country with fire and sword, set on foot a strict search for such of the unfortunate inhabitants as had fled from his tyranny. His bloodhounds soon scented the wretched Huzarehs, and a strong party was sent to drive them from their place of refuge. But despair lent to the besieged a courage which was not the characteristic of their tribe, and knowing that, if taken alive, a lingering torture and cruel death would be their fate, they resolved to make good their defence at every hazard. The mouth of the cave was small, and no sooner did the invaders rush in than they were cut down by those inside; in vain were more men thrust in to take the place of those slain; the advantages of position were too great, and they were obliged at length to desist. But Genghis was not to be balked of his victims, and his devilish cunning suggested the expedient of lighting straw at the mouth of the cave to suffocate those inside, but the size of the place prevented his plan from taking effect; so he at last commanded a large fragment of rock to be rolled to the mouth of the cavern, adding another as a support, and having thus effectually barred their exit, he cruelly abandoned them to their fate. Of course the whole party suffered a miserable death, and it is perhaps the spirits of the murdered men that, wandering about and haunting it, have given a suspicious character to the place; but,” concluded he, rather dogmatically, “the devil _does not_ live there now–it is too cold!!”[*]
[* Note: Those who have been familiarized to the atrocities perpetrated by the French in Algeria will not feel the horror that the moollah’s tale would otherwise have excited; the similarity of these outrages to humanity is so striking, that I quote a passage extracted from the French paper, “The National,” which will speak for itself.
“The National gives a frightful picture of Marshal Bugeaud’s doings in Africa. According to the accounts published by this paper, fifty prisoners were one day shot in cold blood–thirteen villages burned–the Dahra massacre acted over again, for it appears that a portion of a tribe having hid themselves in a cave, the same means were resorted to exactly as those employed by Colonel Pelissier, and all smoked and baked to death. The Marshal himself is the author of all these horrors–his last triumph was a monster razzia–he has ordered the most strict secresy as to his barbarous proceedings; and the writer of the accounts calls him a second Attila, for he puts all to the sword and fire, sparing only women and children.”]
After scrambling over loose stones, climbing up precipices, and crawling round the projecting rocks, which consumed an hour, we found ourselves on a small ledge in front of the outer aperture, which was nearly circular and about fifty feet high. We were now in a cavern apparently of no great extent, and as I could not discover any other passage, I began to fancy that it was for this paltry hole we had undergone so much fatigue, and had had our expectations raised so high. I was about to give utterance to my disappointment, when I perceived the Uzbegs preparing their torches and arranging the line of march, in which it seemed that no one was anxious to take precedence. I now began to look about me, in the hope that there was something more to be seen, and was delighted to observe one adventurous hero with a torch disappear behind some masses of rock. We all followed our leader, and it was with great difficulty that, one by one, we managed to squeeze ourselves through a narrow gap between two jagged rocks, which I presume I am to consider as the identical ones that were rolled to the mouth six hundred years ago at the stern command of the Tartar Attila.
I confess that hitherto I had treated the moollah’s account as an idle tale; my unbelief, however, was quickly removed, for just as we entered the narrow passage the light of the torches was for an instant thrown upon a group of human skeletons. I saw them but for an instant, and the sight was quite sufficient to raise my drooping curiosity to its former pitch.
We proceeded down the sloping shaft, occasionally bruising ourselves against its jagged sides, until our leader suddenly came to a dead halt. I was next to him, and coming up as close as I could, I found that one step further would have precipitated the adventurous guide into an abyss, the bottom and sides of which were undistinguishable; after gazing for a moment into this apparently insurmountable obstacle to our further progress, I could just perceive a narrow ledge about sixteen feet below me, that the eye could trace for a few yards only, beyond which it was lost in the deep gloom surrounding us. Our conductor had already made up his mind what to do: he proceeded to unwind his long narrow turban composed of cotton cloth, and called to his comrades to do the same; by joining these together they formed a kind of rope by means of which we gradually lowered each other, till at last a party ten in number were safely landed on the ledge. We left a couple of men to haul us up on our return, and proceeded on our way, groping along the brink of the yawning chasm. Every now and then loose stones set in motion by our feet would slip into this bottomless pit, and we could hear them bounding down from ledge to ledge, smashing themselves into a thousand fragments, till the echoes so often repeated were like the independent file-firing of a battalion of infantry. Sometimes the narrow path would be covered for a distance of many feet with a smooth coat of ice, and then it was indeed dangerous. After moving on in this way for some minutes, the road gradually widened till we found ourselves on the damp and dripping flooring of a chamber of unknown dimensions; the torch light was not strong enough to enable us to conceive the size of this subterraneous hall, but all around us lay scattered melancholy proofs that there was some sad foundation for the moollah’s story. Hundreds of human skeletons were strewed around; as far as the eye could penetrate these mournful relics presented themselves; they were very perfect, and had evidently not been disturbed since death; some had more the appearance of the shrivelled-up remains which we find in the Morgue on the road to the Grand St. Bernard, and lay about us in all the varied positions induced by their miserable fate. Here, it seemed that a group had, while sufficient strength yet remained, huddled themselves together, as if to keep up the vital warmth of which death so slowly and yet so surely was depriving them; a little farther on was a figure in a sitting posture, with two infants still clasped in its bony arms; and then again the eye would fall upon some solitary figure with outstretched limbs, as if courting that death which on the instant