George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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found impression on liis audience. They appeared to feel
a glow of reflected pride on learning that Shermalik used
to ride about on horseback like a Chitrali prince, while
their eyes glistened wistfully as he spread out his
gorgeous robes and other finery for their inspection.
The rifle was greatly admired, its mechanism being
gazed at in a kind of respectful awe. Finally, the latest
arrival from Kdmdesh, a well-known headman, sprang
to his feet, and, after making many panegyrics on my
generosity, exclaimed excitedly that every one of the
beautiful garments exposed to view was worth at least
eight or ten cows. On this Torag Merak came to me
hurriedly and breathlessly to say that I ought to start
at once for K^mdesh, and stay there all the winter,
or for as long as the place pleased me, and that when
I went back to India he would send his own nephew
to accompany me. Everything being now satisfactorily
arranged to all appearance, it was decided that early
the following morning my little party should resume
its journey. The Kafirs became friendly and helpful,
chatty and inquisitive, without being troublesome. We
all sat round the camp-fire, talking cheerily till late into
the night.

In the early morning we found most of the Kafirs had
already started on ahead, being probably impatient to
get to their homes to relate the important and interest-
ing news they had to tell about the Frank and his
followers. Among the few that remained behind were
Torag Merak and Tong Chandlu. For some reason or
other, these two men had undergone another change
in opinion during the night. The reason for their dis-
content was not obvious, but I have a suspicion that


they stole two sheep of mine, which were said to liave
broken away during the night, and that this successful
theft had whetted their appetite for plunder. They kept
interfering with the loads, saying that they were too
heavy or were badly fastened. As no Kjifirs were to
carry any of my baggage, these comments were altogether
gratuitous. They probably thought my boxes were filled
with rupees, and wished to try their weight. Finally,
my servant, Mir Alam, irritated by their remarks, re-
turned a petulant answer. This seems to have been
what they were waiting for. In an instant they threw
themselves into a furious rage, drew their daggers, and
began shouting out abuse. I believe now that the whole
scene was arranged as a final attempt at blackmailing,
for when they perceived me unmoved at the sight of
their violence, and prepared to defend my servant if
necessary with my double-barrelled pistol, which the
occasion had compelled me to handle somewhat ostenta-
tiously, they gradually let their wrath subside, sheathed
their daggers, and even made some sort of sullen excuse
that my servant was chiefly to blame for what had
occurred, because he had begun by abusing them. This
was quite untrue. The young Pathan had indeed for
a moment hurled back defiance when Torag Merak had
infuriated him by vile abuse in far too fluent Pashtu,
but the boy had at once pulled himself together, and
refrained from adding a single word when the actual
crisis occurred.

However, this was the last of our troubles. Torag
Merak remained behind at Pittigul, and was still scowl-
ing and growling as we moved oil". The other man,
'Long Chandlu, went with me, and except that he was


unusually silent on the road, gave no sign that he was
not perfectly contented.

The Pittigul Valley, into which we had crossed from
the Bomboret Valley of Chitral, runs down from a ridge
traversed by a road called by the Kdfirs the Manjam
Pass, which leads to the country of the Lutdeh people,
of whom the chief is Kan Mara, already referred to. At
its lower end the Pittigul Valley debouches into the
Bashgul Valley, its waters flowing into the Bashgul
river on its left bank, about four miles from Kamu as
the crow flies. At the upper part the valley is rough
and stony. Lower down the road is merely a track
bordering the stream of a narrow, greatly winding valley,
which runs down between steep, in places almost vertical,
rocky slopes. The bordering hills come down to the
water's edge, and are covered with pines, occasional
deodars (cedars), ilex, willow, walnut, and horse-chestnut
trees. Boulders and tree trunks encumber the water-
way. The path is in places very difficult, running along
ledges of rock, widened here and there by timber sup-
ports placed together in the roughest way, or traversing
smooth rock surfaces which give little or no foot-hold.
In the intervals between such places it winds through
coarse grass, and over stony tracks or between boulders.

High up in the Pittigul Valley the bridges are un-
important. They consist merely of one or two poles
stretched across the stream and placed on convenient
supporting stones. Lower down, where the stream in-
creases in breadth, they are more carefully constructed.
The superior variety are all built on a rough cantilever
principle, which reaches its highest development at a
bridge over the Pittigul river close to its mouth, and



is identical in form with the best bridjj^es in the Bashirul
Valley. The piers of these structures are neatly and
strongly built, the cantilevers being kept in position by
heavy stones. The roadway is, however, too narrow for



\ kAi-ik i;kidgic.

people unaccustomed to cross swift-flowing- mountain
rivers by means of a wooden trough high above the
water, and usually under two feet in breadth, wliile its
sides are not more than nine inches high. Indeed, those
bridges look more like aqueducts for irrigation ])urposes


thau what they really are ; but they are strong and well
designed, their only fault being the extreme narrowness
of the roadway and the lowness of its parapets.

Near the village of Kamii, where we made our next
halt, the people flocked out to meet us ; indeed, the
reception given me at this place might almost be called
enthusiastic. Two of the chief men of Kamu came for
a long talk. They declared that my staying in their
valley would give the greatest pleasure to all, as now
Umra Khan would certainly abstain from his threatened
attack on the Kilfirs. It was easy to perceive that all
the Kam had a wholesome fear of the Khan of Jandiil.
Supplies were brought readily, and the people, with un-
expected politeness, refrained from being too pressing
in their burning curiosity about me. Then and after-
wards the Kafirs always withdrew to a distance when,
at a certain time in the afternoon, as at the end of a
march, my bath was being got ready. They appeared
to attach an exaggerated importance to the proceeding,
and possibly considered it as a half-religious function.
In the restraint the Kamu men placed on their insati-
able Kafir curiosity I was glad to perceive a distinct
feeling of friendliness towards me. On September 30th
we made a short march to the little hamlet of Binaram,
a collection of houses about a mile and a half from
Kamdesh. This place was Shermalik's home, and his
relatives claimed the right of entertaining me on the
first day of my arrival at the headquarters of the tribe.
We were received wdth respectful kindness by troops of
Kafirs, men, women, and children, who escorted us up
the steep hill on the top of which Bindram is perched.
Everybody was anxious to carry something for us ; not


the loads, of course, as that would imply some measure of
degradation, but small articles, such as guns, sticks, and
superfluous clothing, were eagerly seized and proudly
carried on before. We were most hospitably entertained,
all offers of payment for provisions being politely but
firmly declined. Shermalik's treasures were once more
exhibited and admired, a tall man putting on the vest-
ments, one by one, to show them off with proper effect.
The people were outspoken in their expressions of aston-
ishment and delight at the gaudy Peshawar *' chappans "
(long loose robes).

On the following day we moved into Kamdesh, and
pitched near the east division of the village. Crowds
of people came to smile upon us in a friendly manner.
A kind of deputation of the headmen, led by Dan Malik
and the priest, warmly welcomed me, and expressed the
hope that my stay amongst them would extend over three
or four years at least. They declared that, if I would
only take the daughter of some headman as my wife,
their satisfaction would be complete, for then they would
surely know that my real desire was to remain with them.
I was not at all prepared for such a friendly reception,
the offer of a wufe being as unexpected as it was
probably unprecedented. My reply was couched in
appropriate terms, and the wife difficulty was got over
without offence by my referring to the diiierence in our
respective national marriage customs. They then sug-
gested that I should send for a woman of my own race
from India as soon as possible. They obviously placed
a curious importance on my getting married. "S^'e wore
shown great hospitality, and every one was most kind
and obliging.


Geographical position of Kafiristan— Boundaries— Rivers— Imr^'s sacred stone
—Village of Tsaru— Shaikhs— Isolation of tribes in winter— Passes-
Altitude— Ravines— Trees— Fish— Game-birds— Climate— Rainfall.

Having brought the narrative of my visit to Kafiiistdn
up to the time of my second arrival in Kcimdesh, it
seems advisable to pause in the story, and first give
some description of Kafiristan and its people, so that
the remainder of the book may be clearly intelligible to
the reader. Many of the facts now recorded were not
known to me until after a residence of some months
in the country, but, for the reason mentioned, it seems
advisable to insert them in this place.

Kafiristan, then, is a geographical expression used to
describe a small but little known tract of country which
is enclosed between the dominions of H.H. the Amir
of Kabul and those of the Mehtar of Chitrdl. The word
" Kafiristan " literally means the land of the infidel,
an appellation given to the country by its Musalman
neighbours because the inhabitants are idol-worshippers.
Its position is included between latitude 34° 30' and
latitude 36°, and from about longitude 70° to longitude
71° 30'. The western frontier being very imperfectly
known and somewhat ill-defined, it is difficult to esti-
mate accurately the size of the country. Its greatest
extent is from east to west at latitude 35^ 10' ; its
greatest breadth is probably at longitude 71°. Its map


area may be put down as somewhere about 5000 square

Its boundaries are Badakhshan on the north ; the
Lutkho valley of Chitral on the north-east ; Chitnil
proper and Lower Chitrd-1 on the east ; the Kunar valley
on the south-east. The boundary on the south is Afghan-
istan proper ; and on the west, the ranges above the
Nijrao and Panjsher valleys of Afghanistan, The poli-
tical boundaries of Kafiristan are Chitrdl and the Kunar
valley on the east, and the territories of H.H. the Amir
of Kabul on all other sides.

On the north, the Minjan valley of Badakhshan, which
has of late years come under the rule of the Afghan
Governor of Badakhshdn, appears to dip down, so to
speak, into the heart of Kdfiristan. This valley has
never been traversed by any explorer, and my own visit
to it was extremely short. My opinion as to its direction
is based on the statements made to me by Kafirs, and
by other natives of the neighbouring districts, and on
conversations with several Minjanis.

All the Kafiristan rivers find their way into the Kabul
river, either directly to the south, as in the case of the
Alingar, or after mingling their waters with those of the
Kunar river at Arandii and at Chighar Sarai. At Arandii
the Bashgul river empties itself into the Kunar. The
Bashgul draws its highest waters from three main
sources, at the head of the valley of the same name.
Of these three sources, the stream coming directly from
the Manddl is only the second in volume. As it
descends, it passes, near its source, through a lake of
considerable size and a tarn, and then receives on cither
hand babbling rills, streams, and mountain torrents. Of


these the first of any importance is the Skorigul water,
which falls into the main stream just above the village
of Pshiii. The next is the Manangul, which empties
itself into the Bashgul at Lutdeh or Bragamatdl. The
pleasant river then pursues its quiet course undisturbed
by the riotous streams from the side valleys, and winds
past Bddamuk, Oulagul, and Purstam, gradually changing
its character in its naiTOwing rocky bed, until at Sunra,
on the confines of the Katir and Madugal countries, it
assumes many of the features of a cataract. It becomes
a raging torrent in a dark narrow valley, where it dashes
against the huge boulders which obstruct its course, and
flings high its spray with deafening uproar. There, as
in several other places where the tortured water foams
and lashes itself against the rocks on its margin and in
its bed, the river is beautiful beyond description. Tree
trunks encumber the waterway, jam against the rocks,
pile up in picturesque confusion, or hurry round and
round in the swirl of many a backwater. It races past
Bagalgrom and the great spur on which Kdmdesh is
built, receiving at the village of Urmir the torrent from
the Kungani Pass and the drainage of the Nichingul
Valley. Below Kamu it is joined on its left bank by
the Pittigul river, which has its origin near the Manjdm
Pass, by the Gourdesh Valley stream, and by many others
of all degrees of importance below those particularly
named, and ends, as before stated, in the Kunar river
at Arandii.

The Presun river is formed by the Wezgul drainage,
which includes that of the pass leading to the Skorigul,
that of the Mdmi Pass, which leads to the Baprok Valley,
and that of the Uzhamezhalgul, up which is the road to


the Kimgani Pass. Just below the Uzhamezhalgul it is
joined on the right bank by a considerable stream from
the Shidgiil, up which valley there is no road, the stream
rising in a cul-de-sac of lofty, unscalable hills. At the
village of Shtevgrom the Presun river is joined by the
mountain stream from the Kamah Pass, and flows placidly
down the valley through meadow-land set aside for the
service of Imra, and past all the other Presun villages.
After passing the last, Pushkigrom, it makes an abrupt
turn, which was the limit of my journey, and enters (I
was told) the Tsdrugul or Tsdru country. Some little
distance lower down, now named the Tsi'irugul river, it
receives on its right the Kti river, which drains the small
valley of the same name. The point of junction is a
very sacred place in the Kdfir imagination. On the
narrow tongue of land, which separates the rivers just
before they mingle, there is a rocky ridge, where the
gods were wont to assemble, and a peculiarly sacred
stone, placed there by Imra.

The village of Tsdru, most difficult to approach, is on
the right bank about half a mile lower down, and nearly
opposite, the Amzhi Valley, belonging to the Wai tribe,
empties its drainage into the main stream. The Ts^ru
river is also said to be joined by the two Ashkun
rivers, the upper falling into the Kti river, the lower,
which drains the Ashkun valley, inhabited by Shaikhs,
(Kdfirs " 'verted " to Muhammadanism), joining the Tsaru/\
river direct. A short distance below the village of Tsjlru,
is a Wai village, the inhabitants of which have recently
turned Musalmdns ; and somewhere near that village the
Wai river joins the Tsdru, which emerges from Kdfiristdn
and falls into the Kunar at Chighar Sarai. This river,


which 1 have designated the Presungul or Tsarugul
river, which flows into the Kunar at Chighar Sarai, is
often called the P^ch, and is referred to by Bellew and
Lumsden as the Kamah, a very good name, inasmuch as
it flows along the main road from the Kamah Pass to
Chighar Sarai. It might seem advisable to give this river
a single appellation. We might call it the Pech, a fairly
well-known name, or Kamah, a very good and conve-
nient one ; but to prevent confusion, it will be inscribed
on my map as the Pech or Kamah river.

Concerning the Alingar or Kao, the stream which
empties itself to the south into the Kabul river, I know
nothing except by hearsay. My informant told me that
the main western valley of Kafiristan was inhabited by
the Kamgul branch of the Katirs, and that it was large,
and maintained a numerous population. Its river, after
receiving many side streams, was joined by the Kulam
Valley streams from the left, and ended in the Kabul
river at Laghman. The Kulam river is probably much
shorter than the Eamgul river, for the valley of the
former only contains four villages, as against the twenty
or thirty which are said to exist in the Ramgul country.

To speak generally, Kd^firistan consists of an irregular
series of main valleys, for the most part deep, narrow,
and tortuous, into which a varying number of still deeper,
narrower, and more difficult valleys, ravines, and glens
pour their torrent waters. The mountain ranges which
separate the main drainage valleys from one another are
all of them of considerable altitude, rugged and toilsome.

During the winter, Kafiristfin is practically converted
into a number of isolated communities with no means of
inter- communication. Take for example the Bashgul


Valley. During the times the hills are under snow,
the only way to reach the Katir people who inhabit the
upper part of the district is to travel from the Kunar
Valley through the territory first of the Kam and then of
the Madugal tribe. If either of these two tribes is at
war with the Katirs, the latter are completely isolated
from the rest of the world until the passes open in the
spring. The inhabitants of Viron or Presun are similarly
cut off from the surrounding tribes, for the only entrance
to their country when the passes are closed is up the
Puch or Kamah river, which flows into the Kunar at
Chighar Sarai. All the passes which lead from Badakh-
shan into Kafiristan appear to be over 15,000 feet in alti-
tude. I have only explored the Mandal and the Kamah.
These two were both above the height mentioned, but
were said to be the lowest of the series. On the Chitnil
side the roads over the enclosing ranges are somewhat
less elevated, but are still very high, and are completely
closed by snow in the winter. There is one low ridge,
only 8400 feet high, the Patkun Pass, between the Kalash
village of Utziin and Gourdesh, but even that is impass-
able for two or three months every winter.

Some of the ravines up which regular roads run are of
the most romantic and picturesque description ; others
are bare, rocky defiles. Indeed, almost every kind of
mountain scenery is to be met with in Kafiristan, from
silent peaks and naked ridges, snowfields and glaciers, to
thickly wooded slopes echoing to the bleat of fiocks, and
wild vine and pomegranate thickets, bordering tumul-
tuous little streams.

At the lower elevations the hillsides are well covered
with wild olives and evergreen oaks ; very many kinds


of fruit-trees, walnuts, mulberries, apricots, grapes and
apples, are met with near the villages or growing by the
roadside, while splendid horse-chestnuts and other shade
trees afford pleasant resting-places from the sun in the
hot months. At somewhat higher elevations, say from
5000 to 8000 or 9000 feet, there are dense pine and
cedar forests. They contain large numbers of magnifi-
cent trees, which even a tired-out hungry traveller cannot
pass without admiration. Higher still, the pines cease,
the hills become bare, rocky, shaly ; the juniper cedar
and the wild rhubarb are succeeded by willows, birches,
and similar trees, while still higher, say over 13,000 feet,
there is no vegetation of any kind except rough grasses
and mosses. Numerous wild flowers are met with at dif-
ferent altitudes. The rivers teem with fish which no
Kafir could be persuaded to eat. The people declare
that fish live on dirt, and shudder at the idea of using
them for food, as we would shudder at the idea of eating
rats. Immense numbers of "chikor," the red-legged par-
tridges, as well as pigeons and doves, are to be seen, and
large numbers of gaudy, " manal " pheasants. The chief
wild animals are the " markhor," which are extremely
numerous, the "uiial" (wild sheep), leopards and bears.
I do not think there are any ibex ; none has ever come
under my observation, nor has one ever been described
to me.

The climate of Kafiristdn naturally varies with the
altitude, but it is very hot in the summer months at
all elevations. In high valleys, such as Presungul, and
at Ahmad Diwana, the winter is certainly rigorous.
When I was about to leave the former country, a little
deputation of the Presuns came to me with a request.


which illustrates, not only their simplicity of character,
but also the severity of their winters. They begged me
to ask Imrd (God) to make their country a little warmer.
During the winter of 1890-91 at Kdmdesh (elevation
6100 feet), there was an excessive amount of snow, but
the thermometer never showed a low^er temperature than
1 7° F. below the freezing-point.

In some of the K^fir valleys the absence of wind is
remarkable. On this account low temperatures can be
borne without discomfort. In the Kunar Valley, which
is wet and windy in the winter, but where snow, if it
falls, quickly melts, the sensation of cold is certainly
greater than at Kamdesh, for instance, where the thermo-
meter is actually much lower.

The rainfall in Kafiristan is probably greater than in
Chitrdl, but is insufficient for the requirements of the
crops, and has to be supplemented by a somewhat ela-
borate irrigation system.

The Kafirs do not call the Bashgul Valley by that
name — it is a Chitrdli word. Indeed, the Chitnilis
continually refer to all Kd-firs as " Bashgulis," as though
the two words were synonymous. In the Bashgul Valley
there is a village called Bazgul, which may have been
the origin of the name now given to the whole of
Kdfiristan by the Chitralis. The Kdfirs themselves have
no single designation for their country. They call
different parts of it after the name of the different
tribes that inhabit it. Thus, the upper part of the
Bashgul Valley is called Katirgul (Lutdch in Chitnlli,
or Kamtoz in Pushtu), the middle portion Mumiln
(Madugiil in Chitrali), and the lower part Kam (Kam-
desh in Chitrali, or Kamoz in Bushtu).


The differentia of religion — The Siah-Posh and the Safed-Posh — Classifica-
tion of Kafirs — Tribes of the Siah-Posh — The Presun — The Wai and
the Ashkun — Origin of slaves — Bashgul tribes — The Kam — Inter-tribal
enmities — The tribe an aggregate of clans — Government of the clans.

KAfiristan, at the present day, is divided among certain
tribes who differ from one another in language, dress,
and manners and customs. Indeed, the only connection
which they have with one another is in the fact that all
alike are non-Musalman. This sole peculiarity, which
they have in common, may not be long maintained.

/ Along the fringes of Kdfiristdn are numerous villager
of Kafirs who have changed their ancient religion
and have accepted Islam. These converts are known
locally as *' Shaikhs." But it is not only on the border-
land of their own ancestral country that these Shaikhs
are to be met with. Close to Kdmdesh, the chief

\^ village and the tribal headquarters of the K4m, are two
small hamlets ; one almost exactly opposite, across the
Bashgul river, is called Agatsi ; the other, on the left
bank of the Nichingul torrent, is known as Agaru.
Both these little settlements are inhabited by Kam
people who have become Musalmans. Agatsi is a quiet
peaceful place, occupied by people who are of the Bilez-
hedari clan of the Kam, while xlgaru is a most trouble-
some nest of thieving rascals, who belong by birth to the
Utahd^ri, the priestly clan. The Kamdesh villagers have


assured me that they would gladly be rid of the xlgaru
folk ; but on account of their relationships, they can be

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 5 of 38)