George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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to help, and was unremitting in his efforts to start me
off for Chitral, while the clerks in the Agency gave me
Kashmiri " chapplies," or sandals, with leather stockings,
to replace my lost boots. In a few days we were again
in a position to march.

Leaving Gilgit on August 24th, Chitrc41 was reached
on September 15th, without our having experienced any
difficulties on the road. The baggage, consisting of
twenty-seven loads, was carried by Balti coolies engaged
at Gilgit. My idea was to take all these loads to
Kiimdesh, if it were possible to do so, and then send the
porters back at once to their homes in Kashmir. I then
intended to try and get a house in Kdmdesh in which
to store my goods, and for all subsequent journeys to
rely upon the five permanent Balti servants, with what-



EQUIPMENT FOK THE MARCH 41

ever other help was locally obtainable. This, indeed,
was the only possible plan. The experience of relying
upon Kc4firs to carry my baggage had been instructive,
though painful, and was not to be repeated. My entire
party, including myself, amounted only to ten persons,
which was the utmost number for which food could be
ensured. As a matter of fact, the five Baltis always
had to carry the baggage without any help, except on
one or two rare occasions. This compelled me always
to cut down our travelling outfit to its lowest possible
dimensions, and often necessitated my leaving the tent
behind ; for if ever any of the Baltis fell sick or got over-
worked, it was impossible to supply his place and get it
carried, and uncomfortable as the arrangement was, it was
nevertheless better to abandon the tent than to part with
any other portion of my marching equipment.



CHAPTEK IV

The narrative continued — Leave Chitral — Change of route— Rumour about
Dir fanatics — Shah Baba, the Mulla of Dir — Hostile intentions — The
Mehtar's opposition — Final stipulation — Distrust of my objects— His
suspicion of the Government of India — His dread of Afghanistan — His
British- Kashmir subsidy — His endeavours to defeat my plans — His
indecision.

From the 15th to the 21st of September, I remained at
Chitral as the guest of the Mehtar Aman-iil-]Miilk, who
treated me with consistent kindness.

My original intention of marching straight to Kamdesh
with all my baggage by Kila Drosh and the Kalash
Tillage of Utzim, the road I had formerly traversed,
had now to be altered for two reasons. First, there were
secret rumours about that a small band of Dir fanatics
had set out with the intention of intercepting me on the
farther side of Utziin ; and second, none of the Kamdesh
headmen had come to Chitral to meet me.

There were no means of verifying the rumour about
the Dir fanatics. The story was circumstantially told me
by a man who had every reason to wish me well, and he
himself appeared to be convinced of the truth of his
narrative. It was to the effect that the irreconcilable
Mulla of Dir, Shah Baba, had sworn twelve men on the
Kuran to waylay me on the road between Utziin and
Gourdesh, at some spot in the thick forest on the moun-
tain ridge which is traversed by the Patkun Pass. The
men, it was said, had been given rifles, on the under-



DISQUIETING RUMOUES 43

standing that all were eventually to be returned, except
in the event of a successful ending to the expedition, in
which case the man who actually fired the lucky shot was
to be allowed to retain his weapon, while the others were
to be given small allotments of land. Umrd Khan of
Jandtil was said to be cognisant of the plot. Of the
party sent out on this business, a large proportion were
understood to be recent converts of Shah Baba's ; such
men are generally held to be extremely fanatical. They
had been incited to attack me, so it was said, by the
assurances they received that my mission was not only
hostile to their religion, but must interfere with their
material prosperity also, because my real object was
an unavowed attempt to get possession of all the Narsut
country on behalf of the Government of India. My
informant added that the chief desire of the instigators
of the plot was seriously to compromise the Mehtar of
Chitral in the eyes of the English Government, it being
thought that he would be held personally responsible for
anything untoward which might happen to me.

All this news was given to me secretly, and somewhat
dramatically. The narrator had been resident in Jandul
for some months, and was believed to have enjoyed some
share of the confidence of Umrd Khan while there. It
was impossible to find out the exact degree of credence
which should be given to the man's statements. If he
merely concocted the story to demonstrate his personal
devotion to me, in the hope of immediate or future
reward, he had at any rate learnt his lesson carefully
and cleverly, and he stuck to the details consistently.
However, it was not a matter of supreme importance. I
had no particular wish to travel by any special road ;



44 TIIK KAFIllS OF Till'] HINDU-KUSH

indeed, it would be pleasant to discover another and
easier route to Kdmdesh ; but the chief reason which
made me change my plans was that none of the Kd-m
Kafirs had come to meet me at Chitrdl. This looked
rather ominous, especially to Sayed Shdh, who confessed
that he did not like the situation at all. He was
obviously nervous and unwilling to leave Chitral, so it
was decided that he should be put in charge of the
bulk of the baggage, and be left behind in Chitrdl,
while I pushed on through Aiiin and Bomboret into
the Kafir valley of Pittigul, and discovered for myself
the true position of affairs.

I told the Mehtar of my intention, which he objected
to very strongly, but finding me fixed in my determina-
tion he suggested sending one of his own sons, and
a suitable escort to guard me as far as Kamdesh, and
at once bring us back to Chitrdl.

The chief of the Lutdeh Kafirs, Kan Mara, with five or
six followers, was with the Mehtar at the time, and the
latter, who had now grown very old, tried hard to
persuade the Kafir to go with me, and, taking advan-
tage of my supposed ignorance of the country, to lead
me to Lutdeh instead of Kamdesh, and finally to send
me back again within ten days to Chitral. Kdn Mdra
saw the impossibility of carrying out such a childish
scheme, and laughingly declined to have anything to
do with it. The poor old Mehtar then got more and
more depressed ; he refused his food, and shed bitter
tears at my pertinacity. He pathetically remarked to
his courtiers that 25,000 rupees a year depended on
my safety.

Finally, being at his wits' end, he implored me to



OPPOSITION OF THE MEHTAIl 45

sign a paper exonerating him from anything which
might befall me, and stating clearly that my contem-
plated journey was to be undertaken in direct opposi-
tion to his wishes and advice. Although it was an
obvious risk to put my name to a document which
might seem to give the Mehtar a free hand to intrigue
against me to his heart's content, it nevertheless seemed
best to comply with his wishes, for it was certain he
must be well acquainted with the firmness of character
possessed by Colonel Durand, who was on his way back to
Gilgit, and must consequently recognise that, document
or no document, it would be dangerous to his interests
could it ever be proved that he had a hand in any
such intrigue against me as was so lamentably successful
against poor Hayward in Yasin, in which the Mehtar was
suspected of being concerned. So I signed the paper.

As a last move in the game, the Mehtar sent me over
letters said to have been written by Umni Khan, which
stated that the latter intended to attack the Bashgul
Kdfirs at once. The Mirza who brought the letters ex-
plained that they had been intercepted on the road.
They appeared to be forgeries, but I sent back word to
the Mehtar that, in my opinion, if any letters of Umra
Khan were ever captured, they had been written with
the intention of being seized, and that we were both of
us so well acquainted with the peculiar character of the
chief of Jandiil, that we might fairly infer that if he had
written declaring his intention of attacking the Kdfirs,
then his real object must certainly be to attack some one
else in a precisely opposite direction, and that conse-
quently Swat was probably at that moment in imminent
danger of an early invasion from Jandiil.



46 Till'] kAfIRS of the HINDU-KUSH

The Mehtiir having exhausted all his arguments against
my leaving Chitr^l, made a final stipulation that his son
Ghulam Dastgir, with a strong following, should accom-
pany me over the pass and into the Pittigul Valley. His
selection of this particular son indicated that he still
hoped that something might yet be arranged to prevent
my remaining in Kafiristan, but as it was impolitic to
begin wearying discussions all over again, I contented
myself with warmly thanking him for his anxiety on my
behalf. We parted from one another most amicably.

The old Mehtar, Aman-ul-Mulk, was torn by conflict-
ing counsels. He disliked my journey and thoroughly
distrusted its objects. He always, to the end of his days,
regarded the Government of India with grave suspicion,
and sincerely believed that its real desire was to extend
its sovereignty over Chitrd-l, over Kafiristan, and over all
the neighbouring districts south of the Hindu-Kush.
His great fear of the power of the Amir of Kabul origi-
nally impelled him to seek an alliance with Kashmir, his
dread of the Afghans being even greater than his suspi-
cion of the English, and their feudatory the Maharaja of
Kashmir, The Mehtar's overtures had resulted, after a
time, in his receiving a yearly subsidy of money and
other presents, first from the Kashmir Durbar, and
subsequently from the Government of India as well.
Avarice rarely diminishes with age, and the British-Kash-
mir subsidy had gradually become such an important
item in the Chitrdl state revenue, that if anything had
occurred to jeopardise or stop it, the ]Mehtar would have
been heart-broken.

His final resolve was sufficiently astute for so old a
man. He decided first of all to try everything in his



HIS VAEIOUS SCHEMES 47

power to prevent me from going to Kafiristan at all, but
failing in that attempt, he still trusted in his ability to
induce the Kd,firs to rob, ill-use, and cast me naked out
of their country, and in that way afford him an opportu-
nity of playing a characteristic manoeuvre. He would
receive me with indignation and compassion, while at
the same time he would make urgent application to the
Government of India for more rifles and further subsidies,
with which he hoped, while nominally avenging my
wrongs, to conquer for himself the whole of the Bashgul
Valley, and thus effectually prevent the Ki'ifirs from
coquetting ever again with British officers. But age had
unsteadied his once firm will, and there is more than a
suspicion that on several occasions his impatience to
carry out the alternative part of his scheme led him to
disregard my personal safety altogether, and made him
merely desirous of finding a pretext for sending an armed
force, paid and equipped by the Government of India,
into Kafiristdn, to avenge my actual death, which was to
be brought about by means of intrigues from Chitrdl.
The Mehtar had, however, got beyond carrying out a
continuous and persistent line of policy. He kept shift-
ing and re-sorting his cards, which his trembling hands
could not prevent even the simplest and most unobser-
vant from seeing.

In our personal intercourse, I believe the Mehtar al-
ways had kindly feelings towards me, but that, of course,
would not prevent him for a moment from sacrificing me,
if he thought it the best policy for Chitrdl. He is dead
now, but he will always remain in my memory as the
wreck of a truly remarkable man.



CHAPTER V

Tlie narrative continued — Start from Chitrdl — Gliulam Dustgir — Aiiin — Bom-
boret — The Bomboret River — Bridges — Kalash dance — Tong Chandlu —
The Parpit Pass — The Pittigul Valley — Troubles — Dismissal of the
Chitrdl Prince — Village of Pittigul — Trouble with Torag Merak and
Chandlu — Shernialik's Indian presents — Blackmailing- — The Bashgul
Valley — Bridges — Kamu — Pleasure of chief men at my visit — Restrained
curiosity — Kamu to Binaram — Kamdesh — Welcome from headmen —
Their anxiety for me to take a wife.

Leaving most of the baggage behind in the care of
Sayed Shah, we started from Chitral on September 22,
with a few coolies only. A message had been previously
sent to warn the Kamdesh people of my arrival in
Chitrdl, but no reply had been received, nor had my
messenger returned. The Lutdeh chief Kan Mdra, and
several of his fellow-tribesmen, travelled with me on their
homeward journey, while the Mehtar's son Ghuldm
Dastgir, with an armed retinue, composed my escort.

This young Chitrali prince, or Mehtar Jao, was an
interesting personage. Owing to his mother being a
woman of inferior birth, he occupied a lower position
in the Chitral social scale than some of the Mehtar's
other sons. He was, and is, a man of great astuteness
and cunning, and this is probably the reason he still
survives so many of his brothers, who have murdered
one another, or have been otherwise slain within the
last four years. This young man, Ghulam Dastgir, was
a fine polo-player, a keen hunter, and untiring on the



A CHITRALT PRINCE 49

hillside. He was a gallant-looking youth, but an utter
barbarian at heart, horribly cruel, as all the Chitral
princes seem to be, and incurably vicious. Neverthe-
less, his Oriental tact and polite genial manners made
him a pleasant companion on a journey. He was
wonderfully inquisitive, and his naive questions about
England and the British Constitution were very amusing.
The British Parliament was a stumbling-block to his
understanding, and the reason there was never any
fighting and murdering amongst brothers for the succes-
sion to the throne or to property was to him evidently
as absurd as it was unnatural.

We travelled by Aiiin and the Kalash village of Bom-
boret, and thence over a comparatively low but steep pass
to the Kafir valley of Pittigul. We reached Kamdesh on
October i, having been somewhat delayed on our journey
by certain occurrences.

On the road to Aiim, Shermalik and the man Mian
Gul, who had joined me at Chitrdl with the kerosene
oil, which he had brought up from Peshawar, relieved
the monotony of the journey along the bank by occa-
sionally lagging behind, and then swimming down the
river in mid - stream, passing us with great velocity.
They put their clothes inside the inflated goat-skins
which supported them, or else carried them piled up
on their heads, which were high up out of the water.
Kafirs and others are very expert in this kind of swim-
ming, and on these inflated skins can easily swim goats
and sheep over a river. Mian Gul was said to have
reduced the practice to a science, and wonderful talcs
were told of his prowess in that respect. Shermalik
gravely informed me that Mian Gul could take two



50 THE KAFIRS OF THE HINDU-KUSH

unwilling cows across a river at one time by means of
an inflated goat-skin ; but the truth of the statement
is open to doubt.

Immediately after leaving Aiun, a ludicrous thing
happened. I was practising measuring distances by
counting my pony's strides, and by shifting pebbles
from one hand to the other, to mark scores and hun-
dreds. With my mind intently fixed on my occupation,
I did not perceive that the man who was running in
front to show the way along a broad deep irrigation
channel was leading me under a huge rock where there
was no room for my pony. The first intimation I had
of it was my coming into violent contact with the
rock, which striking me heavily in the thigh, hurled
both pony and rider into the watercourse ignominiously.
No harm was done, except that it was not pleasant to
begin a march with a ducking. A large number of
Kafirs were accompanying me from Chitral on their
road to Lutdeh. They were most sympathetic ; indeed
far too much so, as all one wished for just then was
solitude. We followed the Bomboret river track the
whole way, the coolies going by an upper road. We
must have crossed and recrossed the river at least twenty
times, always by means of a single-pole bridge. It was
difficult to preserve the balance on the narrow slippery
pole, which was continually shifting about. The water
was running down at a great pace, washing over the frail
bridge. It was impossible for me to maintain my foot-
hold on it at all, and there had always to be a man in
front and another behind to get me across. The Kafirs
and Chitralis were as much at home on the single pine
branch as if they were on solid rock, and we passed



A KALASH DANCE 51

over every time without mishap. The Bomboret torrent
at that season of the year is fordable, though with diffi-
culty, and some unfortunate cows going the same way as
myself were continually being swept down-stream, and
battered against the rocks at the fording-places.

When we got to Bomboret, we found Shermalik's
brother and three companions there. They had gone
to meet us at Utziln, but hearing of our change of
march, they had changed their direction also, and
hurried to join us. They reported that everything
was satisfactory when they left Kamdesh some days
previously.

In the evening the Mehtar Jao provided a Kalash
dance for our entertainment. The music consisted of
feeble pipes supplemented by cat-calls. The appearance
of the witch-like old women dancing heavily their pecu-
liar polka dance-step, singly or in pairs, was strange,
almost weird. They wore their national costume, a
tunic, not unlike that worn by the Sid;h Posh women,
but much longer, and a peculiar and very eflfective
cloth cap, reaching to the shoulders and sewn all over
with cowrie shells. Sometimes they danced in pairs,
side by side, with arms round one another's waists,
at others they formed in a line, each woman's right
hand on her neighbour's left shoulder, and her left arm
round the waist of the woman on the other side of
her. Then led by a woman carrying a spear, the whole
line edged round a group of men which surrounded
the musicians, and helped them by a monotonous cliant
in time with the drums, and by a rhythmic slapping
of hands. One or two men were with the women in
line. What pleased the Mehtar Jao best was a dance



52 THE kAfIRS of THE HINDU-KUSH

of little boys, who bobbed about like corks with the
ordinary Kalash step enlivened so as to be almost
unrecognisable.

The next morning one of the headmen of the Kam,
named Tong Chandlu, put in an appearance. He made
no excuses for the absence of the representatives of his
tribe on my arrival at Chitn'il, but brought me greetings
from Dan Malik and the High Priest. He then began
informing everybody, in most energetic tones, that I
ought not to be allowed to go to Kdmdesh at all, with-
out first giving the Kafirs rifles and money. This did
not sound encouraging. It turned out afterwards that,
having missed me, he had gone to Chitral, where the
Mehtar had promised him a glorious robe and a gold
turban if he succeeded in stopping my journey to
Ki'imdesh. Kan Mara, and his large following of
Lutdeh (Katir) men, left me at Bomboret, to proceed
by the Shawal Pass to their own country. They had
been very friendly, and, in bidding me good-bye, they
warmly invited me to visit them whenever I was able
to do so.

The next march was delightful, and lay through a
forest of beautiful cedars, which was only in places thick
enough to block out the view of the many-coloured
hill slopes, with the bright sun glorifying their autumn
tints. We could only make a short march on account
of the trouble in getting supplies. Ghulam Dastgir
whiled aw^ay the afternoon and evening seated on a
goat-herd's house-top, making my Balti coolies, and
everybody else he could catch, dance incessantly, in
the intervals when he was not praying. One could
not help thinking how well Ghulam's religion suited



TONG CHANDLU QUARRELS WITH THE PATH AN 53

him, since its ceremonies could fill up so much of the
spare time of an unoccupied, illiterate man. On the
26th October we crossed the Parpit Pass into the Kafir
valley of Pittigul. This pass is not very high, being
under 14,000 feet, but it is said by the Kafirs to be
notorious for giving people headaches. This was cer-
tainly true in my case, the reason probably being that it
is very steep. Foolishly allowing myself to be over-
persuaded by Shermalik and a friend of his, we started
from the top to find a short cut for ourselves, with
the result that we reached camp long after dark. Every-
thing had arrived safely ; but, in my absence, Tong
Chandlu had been with difficulty prevented from attack-
ing my servant, Mir Alam, with a spear. There had
been some dispute about the best site to pitch my tent.
The Pathan and the Kdfir had come to loggerheads, abuse
had been freely interchanged, and my man had been
very near to being murdered. Mir Alam had to be
sternly reproved for so stupidly engaging in a quaiTel,
and I resolved to keep him always with me, for the next
few days at any rate. Our troubles began the moment we
entered the Pittigul Valley. Extortionate demands were
made for food, which had to be acceded to, yet on the
following morning the money was returned with a brief
remark that it was altogether insufficient. When we
attempted to reason with the Kafir seller, he and his
companions burst forth into loud complaints. They
wanted to know why they were not given large sums
for their sheep and goats, and presented with rifles,
robes, and money, as they alleged Colonel Lockhart
had paid for supplies, and had given presents at Lutdeh.
They finally became sullen and very angry. It soon



54 THE kAfIRS OF TIfE HINDU-KUSH

became clear that Ghulam Uastgir and his Chitralis
were trying to embarrass me by playing on the cupidity
of the Kafirs ; so I sent for the Chitral prince, and then
and there politely but firmly insisted on his saying
good-bye and returning to his own country. In vain
he protested that he must remain with me, that the
orders of his father were explicit on the point, and must
be obeyed. He urged that, at any rate, the Chitrali guard
might remain to protect me, even if his own society were
distasteful and displeasing. As I remained politely im-
pervious to all his arguments, he had at length to give
way with as good a grace as he could assume, but he
left me very reluctantly to start on his homeward journey
to Chitral. I then informed the importunate Kafir head-
man tliat the prices he had rejected so scornfully were
in themselves extortionate, in my opinion, and that the
animals purchased should be paid for after the whole
matter had been discussed and settled in Kamdesh.
With this assurance he seemed to be fairly content, but
there were more serious troubles ahead.

The village of Pittigul is the headquarters of Torag
Merak, the wildest and the most impracticable of all
the headmen, and the same individual who gave me so
much trouble on my first visit to Kafiristan, when he
left me altogether as soon as he had obtained money
to arrange for my transport. On the present occasion
he was violent and most outrageous in his demands.
He continually threatened my coolies and servants, and,
in conjunction with Tong Chandlu, made things most
uncomfortable. He wound up by declaring that we
must remain where we were for the present, as he re-
quired time to decide whether he should let us go on.



A VIOLENT HEADMAN



55



or should insist on our returning to Chitriil by the road
we came. Torag Merak afterwards confessed that he
had been promised a thousand rupees by Ghuhim
Dastgir, on behalf of the Mehtar, if he succeeded in
preventing me from
going farther into
the country. At this
j uncture anotherhcad-
man arrived from
Kamdesh, while a
large number of Kafirs
were hanging about
my camp. Shermalik
was one march be-
hind, ministering to
an unfortunate hill
pony I had foolishly
attempted to bring
into the valley. I
kept cool and very
quiet, but refused to
give way to any single
demand advanced by
Torag Merak. On the
following day Sher-
malik caught me up.
I made him display

all his presents to the assembled tribesmen, fire his rifle at
a distant mark on the hillside, exhibit his derringer, and
then relate truthfully to his fellows how he had been
invariably treated by the Franks in India. His account
of the kindness and honour he had received made a pro-



Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 4 of 38)