Lawrence John Lumley Dundas Zetland.

An Eastern miscellany online

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tion of low mud huts, which in this case were
rapidly falling into decay ; the headman, who had
been given some money by the Government a
year before, with a view to the improvement
of his village, having promptly decamped and
bolted into Afghanistan, money and all, where
he had remained under the protection of the
Amir ever since.

At 9 A.M. on the 12th I started for Kishingi,
our next halt. The road was still, as it had



92 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

been the whole way since leaving the high-road
about six miles from Quetta, a mere camel-track.
At one place, a pass among some low hills, we
came across a small pool of water and had lunch,
after which we cantered on again till we reached
camp at Kishingi, about twenty-four miles. There
was no village here, but a small mud fort in
process of building.

On the 13th we started as usual about 9
o'clock, and after covering some miles, reached
the edge of the plateau along which the track
had run since leaving Quetta. From here our
path descended somewhat abruptly through a
labyrinth of small hills and knolls, among which
it wound till it debouched on to the plain on
which Nushki stands. I inquired the name of
the defile by which we had descended ; but all
that I could make out from my followers was
that it was "khand," which is merely the
" Pushtu " word for a pass, so I conclude that
it has no name.

On reaching the plain we were met by a
party of about twenty men in many-coloured
garments and mounted on gaily caparisoned
steeds, with wonderful saddle-cloths of gorgeous
design and colour — the aristocracy of the Nushki
district.

A little farther on we came in sig-ht of
Nushki itself It appeared to be little more



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 93

than a glorified edition of all the other villages
we had seen, — the same one-storey mud houses,
though with something more like method dis-
played in the ground -plan of the place. A
broad street led through the centre, faced at
the far end by a large rectangular building,
also of mud, which contained the police lines,
the levy lines, and the post-office. A short way
from the main street, and clear of the town,
stands a hospital, and beyond this again a cara-
vanserai for the use of " kafilahs " or caravans ;
these with about 120 shops go to make the
town of Nushki, which all told probably consists
of about 200 houses. The population is at present
hardly in proportion to the size of the town, as
I was informed that it was only about 250
people ; but the place is young, the land having
been but lately acquired by Government ; and
considering that three or four years ago there
was nothing, the progress made must be con-
sidered fair. Along one side of the town flows
a small stream, the Kaisar, which forms the
water-supply of the place, and growing on its
banks were to be seen about a dozen trees,
scattered here and there, in clumps of two or
three, looking quaintly out of place amid the
surrounding chaos of sand and stone. Passing
through the town we emerged on the far side
to find camp pitched at the foot of a small hill.



94 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

Over the plain to the north, and clearly visible
from our camp, could be seen what appeared to
be a small mound of rock, but what was in
reality a hill of considerable size, on the top
of which stands a stone, one of the boundary
pillars between the lands of his Highness the
Amir of Afghanistan and Baluchistan, beyond
which lies forbidden ground ; but with the ex-
ception of this, the objects of interest at Nushki
are few, and there is nothing to induce one
to prolong one's stay further than is actually
necessary to rest the camels.

The future growth and prosperity of Nushki
must depend upon whether it or Quetta is to
be the starting-point of caravans to cross the
desolate stretches which lie between it and
Sistan. At present kafilahs make it a halting-
place, as they have perforce to go on to Quetta ;
but it appeared to me as I came along that a
line from Quetta would be by no means an
impossible undertaking, and in the event of
such a line being constructed, Nushki would un-
doubtedly become a large and flourishing place.
Whether the water-supply would under such
altered circumstances be equal to the demand is
another matter.

That Nushki is a far more suitable starting-
point and terminus to the caravan route than
Quetta must be perfectly obvious to any one who



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 95

has seen the two places : the large, open stretches
round Nushki, capable of affording ample grazing
for any number of camels, being wanting at Quetta ;
while standing as it does on the plain, at the same
level practically as the whole of the route to
Sistan, the assent of over 2000 feet to the Quetta
plateau, most unsuitable to camel transport, is
obviated. Since I was at Nushki, sanction has
been given for a survey to be made with a view
to building a line from Quetta, so that we may
hope before long to see Nushki constituted the
terminus of the caravan route. ^

We started off again on the morning of the 15th,
our way lying south-west over a perfectly flat
plain towards a mountain -peak, Sheikh Husain,
which stood up from the plain to a height of up-
wards of 7000 feet above sea-level, beneath whose
jet-black sides lay our next camp. Before long we
became enveloped in a thick white mist — a most
unusual phenomenon I should imagine in this
burnt-up corner of the earth — which obliterated
everything most effectually, and the next thing
we did was to get off the track. This was by no
means difficult, as everything looked exactly the
same in the fog, and there was absolutely nothing
to guide us. The track, too, was merely marked
off from the rest of the plain by a broken line
of small stones, and here and there by a very

^ The line in question has since been built.



96 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

shallow ditch, and it was some time before any
of us realised that we were oif it. When it
cleared at about midday, we found we were a
good deal north-west of where we ought to have
been, with the result that we did not get into
camp till after 4 o'clock. We ought, I believe,
to have passed at least two villages on the w^ay ;
but owing to the fog, we had missed them both,
and for all I saw the country might have been
totally devoid of human habitation.

From the foot of Sheikh Husain the road took
us along close under the Kharan mountains, while
to the north stretched miles of sand, covered with
stunted tamarisk, and broken here and there in
the far distance by low hills. On the 17th we
camped at Kuchaki Chah, a small thana and well
in the middle of a dreary plain of black gravel
at the foot of the mountains, at which dismal
spot I was most reluctantly compelled to halt
owing to an attack of fever ; but I was sufficiently
recovered to go on again on the 19th, when we
reached Padag. The weather was boisterous and
most unpleasant, rain being varied by severe gales
of wind. After spending a few days in an un-
successful search for ibex in the Kharan hills, I
reached the next thana, Yadgar Chah, on the 24th.

A long march of thirty-one miles or thereabouts
brought me to Dalbandin. The track led through
collections of yellow sandhills, from which it would



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 97

emerge here and there on to vast level stretches
of sun-baked earth, over which it ran in an absol-
utely straight line far as the eye could see. The
physical aspect of the country showed little change,
though as we approached Dalbandin the Kharan
hills receded to the south, and the Chagai hills
came into view on the north. Technically the
country through which the route passes cannot
be described as a desert, there being sufHcient
grazing to support life — camel-life at least — in
many parts, and in a few places even a possibility
of cultivation ; nor is it composed of the dreaded
sea of yellow sand which constitutes the genuine
desert, such as exists not very far north of the
present trade route ; but after a desert, I should
imagine a country such as this, consisting of
deserted tracts of sand, earth, or gravel, whose
hideous monotony remains unbroken except by a
vision of hills, mere excrescences apparently of
the unvaried plain, is the most dreary and unin-
teresting to travel over.

Dalbandin mav be described as the end of the
first section of the road from Nushki, and bowing
down before the god " dastur " (custom), in spite
of their having had an easy time, I allowed the
camels and men to halt, in order that they should
have no possible reason for grumbling. The post
differs little from others along the road, except
that a bungalow for travellers has been erected,

G



98 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

and the thana, which is a large one, contains a
post-office. The water is good and is brought
by a "karez" from the hills on the north.

In the neighbourhood of the thana an attempt
was being made to grow dates, and about a
hundred young date-palms had, I was told, been
planted ; but whether the conditions which accord-
ing to the proverb are necessary, that they must
be grown with their feet in water and their heads
in fire, will be realised, remains to be seen.

The weather, which, ever since I had left
Nushki, had been most disagreeable, now became
what I had been led to believe I should experience
the whole way — cold and brilliant star-lit nights,
and cloudless skies by day ; indeed, it was cold
enough up to ten o'clock to make one look forward
to the warmth of midday ; but from then on to
sunset it was as pleasant as one could wish, the
sun's rays being quite hot enough in the middle
of the day.

From Dalbandin the road led at times through
ground broken by low ridges and mounds, at
others over great plains of black gravel, where
vegetation all but ceased, and then again over
stretches of sand and stony ground, where tamarisk
and dwarf palm grew. At Yujaki, about thirty
miles from Dalbandin, where I camped on the
27th, there was no thana, but a single shed,
roughly built of unshaped stone, and used pre-



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 99

sumably as a shelter by the post -carriers and
passing caravans. The water, too, was brackish ;
but, having been informed of this before leaving
Dalbandin, I had brought several skinfuls of sweet
water with me, which was sufficient for drinking
purposes till I reached good water again at Merui.

Merui, about twenty-one miles on, consists of
a thana and bungalow, situated among some low,
bare hills, with stunted tamarisk and dwarf palms
growing at the foot of them. Here, too, is a post-
office where the post-bag from Quetta to Sistan
and vice versa is opened, and letters can be posted
and received. I was also able to obtain welcome
supplies in the way of fowls and eggs from the
"munshi" (post-master) in charge, and barley
and " atta " for the ponies and men.

From Merui the track lay through much the
same sort of country, running at times between
low ridges of barren hills and across broad dips
having the appearance of long-dried-up river beds,
where tamarisk and dwarf palm flourished ; at
others, over vast plains where vegetation ceased,
and nothing was to be seen but huge expanses
of black gravel and rock, parched and shimmering
in the sun. As we approached Chah Sandan,
our next camp, mountains appeared to the north,
with jagged, broken outline of naked rock, stand-
ing out sharp and clear against the blue of the
cloudless sky. At the end of a march of about



100 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

twenty-one miles I found a somewhat dilapidated-
looking thana by the roadside, in the midst of
a level plain of stone and gravel, sparsely covered
with stunted tamarisk and other dried-up scrub :
not much to look at, and for the most part so
burnt and withered as to be ready to fall to dust
at a touch, but sufficient seemingly for the camels
to graze on.

I was now 276 miles from Quetta, and halted
on the 30th to rest the camels. The road, as
will have been gathered, is a sufficiently dreary
one, and little in the way of human life is to
be met with ; an occasional kafilah, travelling
at slow, monotonous pace towards Quetta, and
sometimes a small company of men on camels
or on foot, marching in the same direction as
myself, the latter pilgrims for the most part, on
their way to the holy city of Mashhad. Near
Kuchaki Chah I met a kafilah of about thirty
camels from Sistan ; at Yadgar Chah was a larger
kafilah of Pathans, who had come from Herat
through Sistan, with loads of dried fruit and
other merchandise, and were on their way to
Quetta ; at Dalbandin there was a dealer with
a string of horses, and shortly before reaching
Merui I had come across a kafilah of from fifty
to sixty camels from Sistan, also travelling east.
One feature of every kafilah, and every collection
of travellers that I came across, was noticeable.



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 101

and that was that a certain number, if not the
whole of the party, carried arms of some sort or
another — a precaution born of experience in these
byways of the East — from rifles to huge scimitar-
shaped swords. Frequently men were to be seen
carrying guns of the most wonderful and obsolete
pattern, and I could not help wondering who, in
the event of their having to be discharged, would
receive the greater damage — the man at the stock
or the man at the muzzle end.

From Chah Sandan to Tratoh, a distance of
twenty - four miles, the road lay over a vast
plain of black gravel, with a horizon on the
south and west like the sea, but broken on
the north by rocky hills. I found little to call
for remark as I rode along this dreary waste.
Vegetation there was none, but here and there
curious excrescences of sand caught the eye :
low, rounded mounds sometimes in irregular
patches, but more often in regular lines, looking
from afar like chains of entrenchments stretching
across the plain. Beyond this nothing but miles
and miles of black gravel, the dreary monotony
of which was enhanced by a leaden sky over-
head. Camp was pitched near a well of brackish
water ; and the thana, a rectangular enclosure of
the usual mud bricks, divided into two by a wall
across the centre, contained a few low and gloomy
rooms in one half, the abode of a daflidar and a



102 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

few sowars. Close to this enclosure a large
circle of huge sacks, arranged in pairs, and the
presence of recumbent forms wrapped up in huge
" poshtins " (sheep - skin coats), which on closer
inspection proved to be sleeping humanity, indi-
cated the presence of a kafilah, and the number
of sacks, that it consisted of thirty or forty
camels. " Sistanis on their way to Quetta with
loads of wool" was the answer to my inquiries.
Rain came on soon after midday, and continued
steadily till 10 p.m., when it ceased, leaving a
cold, white mist, which hung like a pall over
Tratoh, as I left on the morning of the 2nd.
It turned out to be quite local, however, and I
soon cantered out of it into a clear and cloud-
less atmosphere beyond. The same level plain
lay before me, losing itself in an unbounded
horizon to the south, but still broken by low
rocky hills on the north. Far away to the
south-west a low range of hills became visible,
appearing a dull blue grey through the dim
haze of distance, while to the right of them
rested what I took to be a small white cloud,
on the edge of the plain. As w-e got farther
west, however, far from being a fleecy white
cloud, it resolved itself into a glittering snow-
clad peak, which on inquiry I found to be the
Kuh - i - Tuftan, a peak of 12,681 feet, on the
Perso-Baluch border. The absence of vegfetation



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 103

was again noticeable during the day, but at
Kundi, twenty- two miles from Tratoh, sand was
again in evidence, and the ground was covered
with a low scrub growing in tufts, and called
by my Baluchis " ktrart." One would imagine
from its dusty, burned - up appearance, that it
was anything but palatable ; but the camels
seemed to find it good enough.

There is little that calls for remark on the
road from Kundi to Mashki Chah, my next
camp. Close to Kundi stunted tamarisk was
again to be seen ; but this was soon left behind,
and the road resumed its monotonous course
over plains of stone and gravel. Towards the
end of the day's march, it approached a low
range of hills, whose gaunt ribs of rock projected
through masses of sand, and shortly before reach-
ing camp we were winding about among low hills
of sand and g-ravel at the foot of the ransi'e.
Mashki Chah consists of a well and thana, and
a few palm trees, surrounded by rocky peaks,
rising in fantastic shapes from the low range at
the foot of which it is situated ; and, taking into
consideration the nature of the country which
encompasses it on every side, one might be for-
given for considering it almost picturesque.

From here the first few miles led over ground
broken by low hills and ridges, but before long
we were again travelling over a level plain, skirt-



104 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

ing a low range of hills on the north. A distance
of some miles over the level, with nothing to aftbrd
relief to the eye wearied with continual scenes of
dreary desolation, brought us again to a maze of
low mounds and ridges, among which we twisted
and turned till we reached the wells and small
mud shelter of Ware Chah.

From local information I gathered that wild
asses used to roam over the plains in this neigh-
bourhood, in considerable numbers, but that the
advent of the caravan route had driven them
away, and they had been rarely seen in the
vicinity of late. They were, however, so my
informant gave me to understand, still to be
found in fair numbers not far from Kirtaka —
a post on the route three days' journey farther
on — and he knew of two having been shot during
the last month.

From Ware Chah the road differed little from
the previous march, though leading through a
country more uniformly hilly, as it drew towards
the Saindak mountains and the Persian border.
To the south the twin peaks of the Kuh-i-Tuftan
rose sharp and clear, glittering with their mantle
of snow in the glare of the midday sun. The
corpses of two camels by the wayside, in a state
of rapid decomposition, and already but little
removed from gaunt, white skeletons, seemed
but a fitting adjunct to the dreary and forbid-



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 105

ding aspect of the country which forced itself
upon our attention for a distance of twenty-three
miles, till the thana of Makak Karez, becoming
suddenly visible round a corner, proclaimed the
day's march at an end. The water-supply here
is brought, as the name of the place implies, by
means of a " karez " from some hills near by,
and it was a relief to find that it was sweet,
for at the last four stages it had been very
salt.

A ride of eleven miles brought me to Saindak
at the foot of the mountains on the Persian border,
where I found a well and spacious rectangular
courtyard, containing at one end eight or nine
rooms, including a post-office. On all sides bare
hills rose up in rugged, irregular shapes, streaked
with odd seams of colour, from brick red and
salmon pink to purple and sombre black.

Both men and beasts were ready for a rest, so
I halted here on the 7th. Not far from the thana
stood a few huts, the first thing I had seen in
the shape of a village on the road since leaving
the foot of Sheikh Husain.

The road from Sainduk to Kirtaka — seventeen
miles — lay for the first few miles among the hills
of a spur projecting from the main range, whence
it emerged on to the edge of a vast plain — the
skirts of the real desert, which lies to the north-
east. Along the fringe of this plain, and skirting



106 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

the hills on the west, it ran in a north-westerly
direction to Kirtaka, the usual building on the
edge of a patch of yellow grass.

From Mohammed Reza Chah, seventeen miles
beyond Kirtaka, a vile apology for a road pursued
its way along the foot of the hills, from which
great furrows ran down to the plain, cutting the
track at right angles, and giving it the appearance
of an angry sea troubled by a heavy ground-swell
more than anything else. Along this we walked
and cantered alternately, and at the end of a
couple of hours came upon a kafilah of seventy
or eighty camels bringing loads of wool and almonds
from Mashhad. Another hour of uninterrupted
going, and a large white stone became visible
standing upright on the plain about 100 yards
from the track. At this point three countries
meet — Baluchistan, Persia, and Afghanistan — the
forbidden lands of his Highness, Habibullah Khan,
stretching away to the north-east. A few hundred
yards below this, the road left its course along the
foot of the mountains, and entered them, winding
thence amongst the precipitous cliffs and jagged
peaks of the many - coloured Kuh-i-Malik Siah,
till it reached Killa Robat on the Perso-Baluch
boundary. The thana here was a substantial one
and a bungalow, then being built, should very
soon be ready for the accommodation of travellers.
I found a kafilah, also from Mashhad, carrying



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 107

loads similar to the one I had already passed on
the road.

Halting a day at Robat, I left for Hurmak on
the 12th, by a road taking a fairly level course
through the Kuh-i-Malik Siah, keeping just on the
Persian side of the boundary, and running now
due north. Occasionally glimpses of the real desert
to the east could be seen through openings in the
hills, but otherwise there was little of interest, and
an uneventful march of seventeen miles brought
us to camp, pitched on the edge of a large patch
of tamarisk jungle, and close to some springs of
excellent water. From Hurmak the road took
us down a dried-up river bed, and emerging from
the mountains, led over a huge stony plain with
an unbounded horizon on the north and east.
Some miles of sand took the place of stone, and
stunted tamarisk sprang up all round. At one
place we came to a fair-sized stretch of water,
but beyond this there was nothing to mark time
or distance, and we reached camp at Nawad Chah
after a march of about twenty-four miles. This
is a new well, dug within the last few weeks, to
shorten the long march to Girdi Thana, and a
small domed mud house had also been erected.

Girdi Thana is not far from Nawad Chah,
probably not more than six or seven miles, and
the road, or rather track, connecting them lies
over an absolute level, covered plentifully with



108 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

tamarisk. From here, dotted all over the plain,
are to be seen the remains of ancient cities, all
deserted and fallen into decay. I visited one
within a couple of miles of camp, and found walls
and the lower parts of houses standing, but the
whole had the appearance of having been long
deserted, owing to the domes having all fallen
in, and to drifts of sand having been blown
against the walls. From the latter I could see
with my glasses any number of similar ruins,
dotted over the plain in every direction, some
of which have, I believe, been deserted for many
years. My escort told me that the villages all
round had been deserted for over 200 years ; but
though some have undoubtedly been deserted as
long or longer, I have good reason to believe
that the majority were left by the inhabitants
owing to changes in the course of the Helmand
depriving them of their water-supply about thirty-
five years ago. The early history of many must
date back for centuries, for coins and seals of
Greek and Assyrian times are dug up by the
natives, and legend credits them with being the
birthplace of E-ustam, greatest hero of Persian
myth.

From Girdi Thana to Asak Chah, a march of
twenty-two miles, the track lies over the same
interminable plain, with an unbounded horizon
on all sides, except where the thin line of the



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 109

Kuh-i-Malik Siah is still visible to the south. As
we got farther, vegetation became thinner and
scarcer, till at times we were traversing huge
wastes of soil, hard and smooth as asphalt, w^hich
extended as far as the eye could see in every
direction. About fifteen miles on we came to a
large deserted village, in a state of fair preserva-
tion, called Hauzdar. Some of the upper storeys
of the houses were still standing, and from one
of these I obtained a view over the whole village,
a mass of broken-down and decaying domes and
walls. The outside walls were intact, and still



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