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A Peep into Toorkisthhan by Rollo Burslem

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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.)]

* * * * *

[Illustration: Drawn by Mr Gompertz Pelham Richardson Litho. View of
the Outer Cave of Yeermallik, shewing the Entrance Hole to the larger

* * * * *


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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,




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

WALMAR BARRACKS, _March_, 1846.


[* 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

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

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


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

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

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.



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

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

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

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

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

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

[* 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,

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[* 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

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