An excellent track--A quaint rock--A salt
rivulet--Laskerisha--Mahommed Raza-chah--Beluch encampment--The
horrors of photography--Maternal love--A track to
Mirjawa--Kirtaka--Direct track to Sher-i-Nasrya--Track to
Cabul--Sand-hills--A wide river bed--A high yellow
pillar--Undulating track--Ten sharp-pointed peaks.
From Robat (altitude 3,480 feet) we took the capital road which followed a dry river bed until we got quite away from the hills. When the track turned south-east a beautiful view of the Afghan desert south of the Halmund, was obtained to the north-east, while south-south-east (180°, bearings magnetic) stood a high peak, the Saindak Mount. We first skirted very rugged mountains to the south-west which were brilliant in colour and had many peaks fluted by water erosion. Sand-hills gradually dwindled away, leaving long, flat-topped sand-banks invariably facing north. To the south was quite a high sand mountain.
A quaint rock resembling a huge camel's head could be seen to our left above a hill. Then, six miles from Robat, sand-hills began again. The track here lay only a few yards from the Afghan boundary which was marked by stone cairns, six feet high, painted white. To the south was a rugged chain of mountains with low sand-hills before it, and to the north across the Afghan border could now be plainly seen the interesting salt deposit of God-i-Zirreh, and another whose name I do not know. I crossed into Afghan territory with the object of visiting them, and a description will be found in the next chapter.
I returned into Beluchistan to the spot, 14 miles from Robat, where a small salt rivulet swelled by tributaries, descends from the mountains to the south and west. When in flood this stream, which must be enormously enlarged, carries down a great quantity of tamarisk wood, much of which could be seen deposited a long distance from the water's normal banks.
The road stretched in front of us in a perfectly straight line, with neat stone borders on either side, and one got so tired of seeing that line in front of one's nose that one welcomed the smallest change--even a slight ascent or a curve--in its endless, monotonous straightness. We came by and by to a little ascent--quite steep enough for camels. We could have easily avoided it by leaving the road and making a detour at the foot of the hill close to the Afghan boundary. Some caravans do.
From the highest point of the road as we looked back to the north-north-west we saw behind us sand hills, that showed traces of being still much at the mercy of the wind. Further behind, still north-north-west, was a high pointed peak, and then a long blue chain extending from south-west to north-east just rising out of the sand mist. The highest peaks were at the most extreme north-east point. Then the mountains became lower and lower, and the horizon met the flat long line of the desert.
A fine view of the Afghan desert, with its two extensive salt deposits, can be obtained from Laskerisha, a name given to a brackish well on the hill side (3,590 feet) with a ditch and hollow next to it for the convenience of camels. A triangular unroofed shelter has been erected some 80 feet below the well on the hill slope, and other wells have been bored close by, the water of which is undrinkable. This was the highest point of the road 3,590 feet, on that march. Before reaching it we saw a castle-like structure surmounting a peak of the mountain that we had been following to the south; there appeared to be actual windows in it, showing the light through, and a track leading up to it. Unfortunately, the sun--quite blinding--was just behind it when I passed it, and I could not well ascertain with my telescope whether it was a natural formation of rock or a real ancient fortress, nor could I get any information on the subject from the natives, and it was too far out of my track for me to go and visit it.
On our descent on the south-east side of the hill we came across semi-spherical sand mounds in great numbers; the mountains on our right were apparently of volcanic formation. They were very highly coloured, generally bright red with green summits; then there were mountains deep red all over, and further on stood one green from top to bottom, although there was not a thread of vegetation upon it. At the foot of the mountains on the edge of the desert were a few dried up tamarisks.
We stopped at Mahommed Raza-chah, where there are five wells, three of good water and two brackish ones. There was a mere mud thana at this place, but wood and bricks were being brought up to construct a bungalow.
A number of Beluch were encamped here in their little black tents, hardly five feet high, and with one side of the tent raised up on two sticks. The interior of the tents seemed to be a mass of rags and dirt, among which some primitive implements, such as a wooden pestle and mortar, for pounding wheat, and a bowl or two, could be detected. Otherwise they were most miserable. The tents seemed mostly in the possession of women, children and decrepit old men, the younger folks seeking a livelier life further afield. It is often in the most humble places, however, that one finds unexpected charms.
On the alarm being given that an intruding stranger was at hand the women hastily shut up all the tents, and a picturesque old fellow stalked me about, seeming to become extremely anxious when I was photographing, a proceeding which he did not quite understand. A young man on a camel was coming towards us singing, and inside one of the tents I heard a great commotion evidently caused by the approaching voice. An old woman, in fact, peeped out from a fissure and gave a powerful squeak. She leapt out excitedly, nearly tearing down the whole tent in the process, and, crying bitter tears, rushed with extended arms towards the camel man.
The young fellow having hastily dismounted, a most touching scene of motherly affection ensued, for, as the old man explained to me, he was her son. The poor shrivelled creature threw her arms around his neck and kissed him fondly, first on one cheek and then upon the other, after which, having affectionately taken his face between her hands, she impressed another long, long kiss in the middle of his forehead. She caressed him to her heart's content, the boy looking quite pathetically graceful and reverent under the circumstances. A similar treatment was meted out to him by his sisters, and they all shed tears of delight at seeing one another. Family affection, as well as affection among tribesmen, is indeed extraordinarily effusive and genuine among Beluch of all classes.
The women I saw at this camp wore a sort of long shirt with a sash, and had broad bead and shell bracelets round their wrists.
Mahommed Raza-chah was 3,820 feet above sea level, and the track from this point went south east (to 110° bearings magnetic). There was a duffadar in charge of two stations with four sawars and four camels. It was all one could do upon this road to find anything of some interest, barring the geological formation of the country and the movement of the sand, which rather began to pall upon one after months of nothing else, and when one came across a patch of tamarisk trees a little taller than usual one could not take one's eyes off them, they seemed such interesting objects in the monotonous marches.
Twelve miles from Mahommed Raza, tamarisks seemed to flourish, for water was to be found some twenty feet below the surface. A well had been bored for the use of caravans, and the water was quite good. The track was somewhat undulating in this portion of the journey, rising, however, to no greater elevation than 100 feet, but quite steep enough for camels.
About eleven miles from Mahommed Raza-chah, a track diverged to Mirjawa. One noticed on the mountains to our right (south-west) a superabundance of tamarisk, the cause of this abnormal vegetation being undoubtedly long streaks of moisture filtering through the sand. No actual water, however, was visible flowing, not even along a deep channel which bore the marks of having been cut by it, and in which salt deposits were to be seen on the surface soil.
Kirtaka, the next rest-house, was by no means an attractive place, but was interesting, inasmuch as, besides the track over the mountains leading to Mirjawa, a direct route went from this point to Sher-i-Nasrya in Sistan, which city could be reached in three days, by crossing Afghan territory, and cutting off the long westerly detour via Robat--the Malek-Siah; and yet another track to Cabul, the capital of Afghanistan, which could be reached in twenty days. The latter track was said to be absolutely waterless for the first three days' march, no wells and therefore no villages being found, but after three days, on striking the Halmund, plenty of water, fuel, and food could be obtained, and plenty of people were to be met with.
South-east of the old towered enclosure, which had five rooms, a new bungalow of two rooms and bathrooms, with kitchen buildings apart behind, was being built. It was sheltered by a rugged background of mountains of no great height, but picturesque enough and highly coloured when the sun shone upon them. Being, however, well rounded and looking like petrified accumulations of sand, they did not quite compare in interest with the fantastic cutting edges of the Malek-Siah and neighbouring ranges. They formed the southern barrier to the Beluchistan extension of the Afghan desert.
The altitude of Kirtaka was 3,710 feet.
There was a curious Beluch grave here made of white stones with an edge of grey pebbles, and a circle round it, with a smaller outer kneeling place, such as may be seen in the numerous Mesjids so common all over the country, the various styles of which will be duly described in a subsequent chapter.
Innumerable sand hills and, in fact, a long hill range some 350 feet high stood to the west in front of the rocky mountains behind. These caused a great many ups and downs on the track, the principal heights I measured being: 3,800 feet, 3,700 feet, 3,420 feet (8 miles from Kirtaka), this latter altitude where the road lay close to the mountains. Beyond this point the track was south-east (125° bearings magnetic) with picturesque mountains on the east-south-east and high red sand hills in the east, one isolated high black hill lying in the desert beyond. A very pointed conical hill was noticeable, and another like a small replica of Fujisan of Japan fame. This latter hill was in Afghan territory. A number of great rocky pillars stood upright above the hill tops. Twelve miles from Kirtaka we crossed a river bed 150 feet wide, which lost itself in the Afghan desert. Then a mile further we came to another river bed.
The track here (about 13 miles from Kirtaka) turned south-west following the river bed, then due south, where among the mountains we saw a huge pillar of a brilliant yellow colour and over 50 feet high, standing up by the roadside. The illustration gives a fair idea of it. To the south-east in the direction of our track, which for a change was quite tortuous, were mounds of sand and debris. The red rock of the mountains seemed crumbling towards the east, whereas the hills to the west were well rounded and padded with sand and gravel.
We went over a low pass 3,810 feet, and then along a flat basin with hills to the south-east, and outlets both to the south-east and east. We had descended to 3,680 feet, but had to go up another pass 4,060 feet, the highest we had so far encountered. Innumerable yellow sand hills were before us to the north-north-east, and here we were on a sort of flat sandy plateau, three-quarters of a mile wide and a mile and a half long. Ten sharp-pointed peaks could be counted to the south-south-east, high mountains were before us to the south-east, and a long range beyond them east-south-east. Sand dunes, shaped like the back of a whale were to the east, and a remarkable spherical mount south-south-east directly in front of the ten peaks. We arrived at Saindak.