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Chapter 33

Mushki-Chah--A Ziarat--Beluch dwellings--The Beluch and the
camera--Characteristics of Beluch--Three wells of good water at
Kundi--The Kuh-i-Sultan and the "Spear of the Sultan"--A big
Ziarat at Kundi--Nineteen hours on the saddle--Tretoh--Cold
wind--Parallel rows of sand barchans--Startling effect of
mirage--Chah Sandan--Brahui salutation--Belind Khan and his good
points--A respected officer--Praying at the Ziarat.

Mushki-Chah (3,570 feet) is rather more interesting than other stations we had passed, because of the greater number of Beluch one saw about. Here, too, however, one's sojourning had to be curtailed, for unluckily the water was not only brackish--to which one does not object so much--but had a sulphurous taste, with a sickening smell--not dissimilar from that of an old-fashioned hospital ward, when the windows have not been opened for several days. Otherwise it had no drawback.

There were four filthy pools from which water was obtainable and which reminded us of a previous experience at Girdi in Sistan. The water of one well had a nasty green coating on the surface; the second was of a deep yellow colour. The other two wells were slightly cleaner but they, too, were of a suspicious colour--that of strong tea. A cluster of a dozen palm trees or so had grown near this water, and a little way beyond on a sand and gravel bank was a Ziarat with a low surrounding wall of black stones.

The Ziarat was of an ovoid shape, it just missed being circular, about 18 feet long and 16 feet broad. An entrance had been made to the east and a sort of altar constructed to the west by north west--which is about the accurate direction of Mecca from this spot. A high pole on which flew red, white, and blue rags was fixed into the altar. The altar--if one may call it so--was a mass of blocks of beautifully coloured marble. Some pieces resembled the best Sienna marble, others were capriciously streaked in white and dark brown; other large pieces were quite transparent and resembled large blocks of camphor or ice. Others were more granular, like lumps of frozen snow. Then there were some lovely bits of a greenish yellow marble and some brown. These beautiful stones and pieces of marble were brought to these Ziarats from great distances by devotees. Stones reduced by nature into queer shapes, hollowed for instance by the action of sand or water, perfectly spherical, or strikingly coloured were favourite offerings.

At this particular Ziarat, a small marble mortar with pestle and a marble hammer, occupied the most prominent place. A flint arrow head was also in evidence. Further was perched a curious doll with a string and charm round its neck, and some chips of beautiful transparent streaked yellow marble like bits of lemon. From the pole hung a circle of wood and horns, as well as coarse wooden imitations of horned animals' skulls. Offerings of palm leaves had also been deposited.

West of the Ziarat was a small semicircular Mesjid of brown stone, with a few white marble pieces to the north by north-west, and, further, long heaps of stones extending in a north by north-west direction. The last one was in the shape of a grave with a high white stone pillar to the south.

The new bungalow, of which the foundations were just being laid, will be erected near this Ziarat.

Quite a number of Beluch were settled at Mushki-Chah, and some lived in small quadrangular mud houses, with a black tent stretched over the walls to act as roof; or else they had put up coarse huts made of branches of tamarisk and thatched with palm tree leaves and tamarisk, in which they lived--apparently in the most abject poverty. Yet, although these residences were often not higher than five or six feet, their owners did not lack pride. In Beluchistan as in England, the home of a man is his castle. The Beluch, however--most unlike the English--would not let anybody who did not belong to his creed go into it.

The occupations of the stay-at-home people did not seem to have an excess of variety, and consisted mainly of plaiting fuses for their matchlocks, keeping the threads tightly stretched by means of a wooden bow. There were but few coarse implements inside their huts, and a bag or two with grain. A long matchlock and a sword or two lay in a corner in most dwellings, and that was about all.

The house of the chief was somewhat more elaborate, having trunks of palm trees inserted vertically into the stone wall to strengthen it. It had a mud and stone enclosing wall, and trophies of heads of dumbahs near the flat roof. In one room of this dwelling lived the family, in the other the animals. An out-of-door enclosure for horses was also noticeable. Two mud huts were next to it.

The thatched semispherical huts of palm tree leaves and tamarisk were also interesting, as was the windmill, identical with those already seen in Sistan.

On my arrival at Mushki-Chah two large tents had been placed at my disposal--the first time I had been under a tent on this journey--and I received a great many callers. A very amusing incident occurred when I asked an old Beluch and his two sons to sit for their photographs. They put on a sarcastic smile and said they would rather die a natural death than be taken. The old man, who said he had heard all about "the black boxes," as he styled cameras, and all the mischief they could do, complained that since one or two sahibs had passed along the route carrying "black boxes" a great many Beluch had been taken ill, had misfortunes of all kinds, and those who actually had the camera pointed at them had died from the effects. One sahib had offered him, personally, a bag of silver if he would only sit for his picture, but "No, sir, not I!" said the father, as he shook his head and scratched his beard; and "No, sir, not we!" echoed the grinning youths, "never shall we be taken!"

Before they knew where they were, and without any suspicion on their part, I had, by a dodge of my own, taken three photographs of them, the best of which is reproduced facing page 350.

They were rather characteristic types of the lower class Beluch of northern Beluchistan. They possessed very quick, bright, shining eyes, dark complexions and long noses, very broad at the base. The mouth was generally the worst feature in their faces, the upper lip being drawn very tight over the teeth and giving rather a brutal expression to their countenances. The men were very powerfully built, thick-set, with ribs well covered with muscle and fat, powerful, coarse wrists and ankles, and square-shaped hands with short stumpy thumbs.

Their attire was simple; a sort of long white cotton blouse buttoned over the right shoulder and ample trousers of the same material. Many, however, wore a felt "overcoat"--or rather, "overskin," for there was no other garment underneath. A white turban was worn wound round the head.

A duffadar, six sawars and six camels were stationed at Mushki-Chah.

I left Mushki-Chah on January 21st at 3.30 a.m., my camels with loads having started some hours previously, and our way lay for eight miles due east, first over sand hills and undulations, then on a perfectly straight and level track. To the south we had a barren waste of flat desert. We then veered east-south-east (110° b.m.), and fifteen miles off turned slightly further to the south-east (120° b.m.). To the north-north-east we had a mountain range.

On nearing Kundi we found tamarisk plentiful and good grazing for camels. Some of the tamarisk trees were 10 feet high. The march was a very cold one, a north-north-west gale blowing fiercely and penetrating right through our clothes and flesh to the marrow of our bones.

Three wells of good water were found 1¼ miles before reaching Kundi. The rest-house was uninhabited and fast tumbling down. In 21 miles 1,100 yards we had slightly risen to 3,660 feet, and this point is one which remains well impressed on one's mind, partly on account of the splendid view obtained of the Sultan Mountains to the north-east--a gloomy black mass with the highest peak of a light red colour. The Kuh-i-Sultan is a most weirdly fantastic mountain range. Sir Charles McGregor, who saw these mountains from a distance, speaks of them as the "oddest-looking mountains he had ever seen."

But the best description is that given by Major A. H. MacMahon, who was, I believe, the first European to explore the range. Approaching it from the north he, too, was struck by the grotesque shape of its numerous sharp peaks; above all by the Neza-i-Sultan--"the spear of the Sultan"--an enormous rocky pillar of hard conglomerate, roughly resembling a slender sugar-loaf with tapering summit, and precipitous sides, that rise on the crest line of the range.

"The fissures," MacMahon says, "made by rain and weather action down its sides give it a fluted appearance from a distance. We expected to find a high natural pillar, but were not prepared for the stupendous size of the reality. Judging from its width at the base, which is over 100 yards in diameter, the height must be no less than from 500 to 800 feet. The Sultan, in whose honour this range is named, is an ancient mythical celebrity, who is said to be buried in the vicinity of the mountains. His full name is Sultan-i-Pir-Khaisar, and he is the patron saint of Beluch robbers. Hence these mountains have a reputation as a robber resort. The Sultan Mountains abound in the assafoetida plant, and in the summer months traders come in numbers from Afghanistan to collect it."

I was in a great hurry to return to England, and could not afford the detour entailed by going near enough to photograph the "Spear." Besides, Major MacMahon gives a capital photograph of it in the Royal Geographical Society's Journal.

At Kundi, a big Ziarat, with many trunks of tamarisk trees, some 10 feet high, supporting bleached horns, has been erected to the Kuh-i-Sultan. Hundreds of beautiful pieces of marble and alabaster of all sizes, colours and shapes have been deposited here, as usual, but the sand is fast covering the whole Ziarat.

From Kundi the track, which has come in a south-east-east (120° b.m.) direction, now turned sharply to north-east (60° b.m.). Ten high mud and stone neshans--or Tejia (cairns) as they are called by the Beluch--have been erected to warn the traveller. Four curious mounds with tufts of high tamarisk trees upon them are to be seen at Kundi. There is fair grazing for camels all along. One is specially attracted by the peculiar stones corroded into all sorts of shapes, strewn all over the ground.

We made a double march on that day, and--barring the quaint Sultan Mountains which we saw all along--had but a very flat uninteresting country all round.

We arrived during the evening at Tretoh, having been nineteen hours on the saddle. It was bitterly cold at night, the drop in the temperature being very great immediately after the sun went down. At this station, too, the water tasted very bad--almost undrinkable--but was not necessarily unwholesome. We were glad to get into the thana and light up a big fire in the centre of one of the mud rooms, but no sooner had we done this than it got so hot that I had to find a cooler abode in the new bungalow in course of construction, which had not yet a roof.

It was always a marvel to me how the natives could stand the great heat in the rooms with no draught for the smoke and heat to get away. It positively roasted one alive, but my men seemed to revel in it. On the other hand they suffered from the cold to a degree that was also unaccountable to me. On many occasions I have heard my camel-driver moan from pain in his frozen toes and fingers, but, true enough, when out in the open desert the wind was rather penetrating, and his clothes, barring a waistcoat, consisted of thin white cotton garments. Personally, I never had occasion to make a change in my tropical clothing (I could not if I had wanted to), nor did I ever once have to use an overcoat. But--I seldom know what it is to feel cold.

We delayed our departure the next morning to see if the gale would abate, but at 10 a.m. we had to venture out. One was rather at the mercy of the wind on the hump of the camel. It did blow! The wind hampered the camels greatly and was a nuisance all round, as one could only by an effort remain on the saddle. The flying sand filled one's eyes and ears, and the wind catching the brim of one's hat made such a hissing noise that one had to find a more comfortable headgear by wrapping up one's head in a blanket.

The desert was here absolutely flat, with some grazing for camels (kirri). We were going north-east-east (70° b.m.) amid low sand hillocks and sand banks, and the Sultan Mountain still on our left in all its glory. To the north-east (55° b.m.) we had another mountain mass lower than the Sultan and not nearly so picturesque, and before us, on going over a gentle incline some 35 ft. above the level of the plain (about 13 miles from Tretoh), three long rows of bright yellow, flat-topped, crescent-shaped sand-hills stretching for several miles from north to south were disclosed. These three rows of barchans were parallel, and at intervals of about from 300 yards to 500 yards from one another. The barchans averaged from 50 ft. to 100 ft. in height. Another row of them stretched along the foot of the mountain range to the north and extended from north-west to south-east.

The cause of these extensive parallel rows of barchans was to be found in gaps in the hills to the north between the Sultan, the next range, and two intervening obstacles in the shape of a low mound and a great rock, the sand being blown through the interstices and gradually accumulating in the plain on the south.

On that march we saw a most extraordinary effect of mirage. To the east (100° b.m.) the peculiar flat-topped Gat (or Gut) Mountain, which looked like a gigantic lamp-shade, could be seen apparently suspended in the air. The illusion was perfect, and most startling to any one with teetotal habits. Of course the optical illusion was caused by the different temperatures in the layers of air directly over the earth's surface and the one above it. Where the two layers met they deviated at an angle, or practically interrupted what would, under ordinary circumstances, be direct rays of vision. (The same effect, in other words, as produced by placing a stick vertically in water.) The real horizon was obliterated, as well as the lower part of the mountain, by the white haze caused by the warm lower layer of air.

Some nineteen miles from Tretoh, where the hill range to the north became low, a few sand hills were to be seen, then where another gap existed in the range yet another long row of barchans stretched southwards. A mile or so beyond this spot a long sand and gravel bank stretched across the plain from north-north-east to south-south-west and near Chah Sandan another similar bank existed, fifty feet high, parallel to the first.

At Chah Sandan (altitude 3,380 ft.) we were most enthusiastically received by the duffadar, who was politeness itself. The Beluch salutation is somewhat lengthy. In the Ba-roh-iya or Brahui language, as spoken in north Beluchistan where I was travelling, it sounds thus:--"Shar joroz druakha joroz haire meretus me murev huaja khana," after which the persons greeting seize each other's hands and raise them to the forehead, bowing low. Inquiries follow about the mulk or countries one has crossed on one's journey, and whether the people have treated one kindly.

The duffadar at Chah Sandan was an Afghan, Belind Khan by name, and had the following good points about him. He was a most sportsmanlike fellow; was very bright, civil and intelligent, and owned chickens that laid delicious eggs. He possessed a beautiful dog to which he was passionately attached, and he and his brother had a greater capacity for tea than almost any men I have known. Above all, Belind Khan had intense admiration for the British and what they did, and as for Captain Webb-Ware, his superior officer, he pronounced him to be the greatest "Bahadur" that ever lived. "Even in my own country (Afghanistan)," he exclaimed, raising his right hand in the air, "there is no 'Bahadur' like him!"

This was not pure flattery but it was truly meant, and it was most pleasant to find that such was the opinion, not only of Belind Khan, but of every one of Captain Webb-Ware's subordinates on the entire length of the road from the frontier to Quetta.

There is a thana of three rooms at Chah Sandan and a Ziarat to the Sultan Mountain. I took a photograph of Belind Khan making his salaams in the Ziarat, the altar of which was made of a pile of white marble pieces and rounded stones with sticks on which horns and a red rag had been fixed.

Chah Sandan possessed three wells of excellent water. The distance from Tretoh to Chah Sandan was 23 miles 760 yards.