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Chapter 34

The picturesque Gat mountain--Strange-looking
mountains--Mirui--White covered country--Sotag--Desolate shed at
Chakal--The Karenghi rirri deadly plant--The Mesjid or
Masit--Their characteristics--The religion of
Beluch--Sects--Superstitions--The symbol of evil--A knife
"possessed"--A Beluch's idea of a filter.

Due east of Chah Sandan was the Gat mountain, this time, as there was no mirage, duly resting upon the desert. It was a most attractive looking mountain, and quite one of the most striking sights in the scenery upon the Nushki-Robat road.

Five miles from Chah Sandan we again struck high, flat-topped sandbanks, and a great many conical sand hills. Ten miles off we went through a cut in the hills near which are to be found a well of brackish water and a great many palm trees, of two kinds (Pish and Metah). Big tamarisks (kirri) were also abundant, and there was good grazing for camels, regheth being plentiful. Near the salt well stood a gigantic palm tree.

We had come east-north-east (70° b.m.) from Chah Sandan, and from this, our nearest point to the Gat mountain, the track turned east-south-east (110° b.m.). One really had to halt to look at the Gat, it was so impressive. Two enormous blocks of rock several hundred feet high, one, roughly speaking, of a quadrangular shape (to the north) and one rectangular (to the south), were joined on the east side by a perpendicular wall of solid rock. Up to about two-thirds of the height of the mountain these huge blocks had accumulations of debris and sand, forming a slanting pad all round except on the west side, where there was a sort of hollow recess.

There was a large plain with good camel grazing to the east-south-east, bounded from east to south by a semicircle of low hills.

After leaving Gat there was nothing of interest on the march. Another extensive sand bank, 50 feet high, forming the eastern part of the hilly semicircle above mentioned, was crossed, then we were in a barren valley. Further on, however, after going over yet another sand dune (extending from north to south) we entered one more plain, this time absolutely covered with low palm trees. From this plain we began to rise in order to cross the hill range that stood before us, and here there were innumerable sand hills and sand banks, the latter facing north.

Near Mirui one found one's self among strange-looking mountains, some like huge waves of sand, debris, and shale; one to the left, a huge flat-topped mass in horizontal well-marked strata, while further on was a third, a most perfect cone. Behind this to the south lay a mass of lower pointed conical sand hills.

Mirui being one of the more important stages on the road, a most comfortable large bungalow has been erected here, like the one at Robat, with four rooms and four bath rooms, kitchens, etc. The water is very good at this place; there is a shop with the usual supplies for caravans, and a staff consisting of a jemadar, a duffadar, one postal moonshee, seven sawars, four hasildars, one havildar. The bungalow at Mirui is most picturesquely situated among the quaint mountains, and the six-roomed thana some little distance below, against the mountain side, looks quite formidable. It not only has high towers at the corners of the wall, but possesses an additional watch tower erected on the top of the mountain, commanding a fine view of the country around. Before it, surrounded by hills, spreads a valley from north to south, which the track crosses in a south-south-west direction among palms and plentiful high tamarisks.

The bungalow stood at an altitude of 3,500 feet, the valley where the thana was situated was one hundred feet lower (3,400 feet), and the steep although not high pass by which we left the valley 3,550 feet.

A short zig-zag led us into a second valley with a sand bank barring our way directly in front to the south-east (125° b.m.), the direction of the track. For a change we had high precipitous cliffs on the north and a low range of sand hills extending from north-north-east to south-south-west. Two very lofty isolated peaks broke the monotony of the horizon line to the north-east (to 70° and 80° respectively). Having crossed a third and a fourth plain, two barren, the other at the foot of a sandbank with plenty of tamarisk, the track, which for a short distance went east, turned suddenly to the north-east (70° b.m.).

We had now a great expanse of open country before us with abundant tamarisk, palm trees, and eshwark, which made capital grazing for camels. Three high red mounds stood respectively to the south-east, south, and south-west, while almost north (350°) the two high pointed conical peaks we had observed on the previous march were again visible. On the south-east there was quite a high mountain range.

This was a region of sand banks, all facing north, only one out of the lot spreading in a south-south-west direction, and of semi-spherical sand hills which were also numerous.

On getting near Sotag the sandy ground was so covered with gypsum that for some distance it looked just as if it had snowed. The photograph reproduced in the illustration gives a good idea of the scenery in that part.

Some three and a half miles from Sotag a gap in the hills afforded a view of an extensive plain to the south, with innumerable reddish-yellow sand hills, and a range of high mountains far away beyond. From this point the track rises gently over an undulation about 88 feet higher than the plain, and on the other side undulations continue, and nothing whatever is to be seen except the same range of hills to the south, with its peaks assuming pyramidical shapes toward the eastern portion.

We passed the salt well of Jujiki about half way between the two stations, and arrived at the desolate shed of Chakal at nine in the evening, where the thatched roofs of two out of three of the rooms had been torn down to supply fuel to travellers. There is only a salt well at this place, but some two miles off the road a well of good water has been dug, near which a new bungalow has been erected.

But as we arrived late, having done a double march--

Mirui to Sotag       12 miles 1,320 yards
Sotag to Chakal      14   "     220   "
          Total      26 miles 1,540 yards

--and as I intended moreover continuing to Dalbandin after three hours' rest, I did not avail myself of the convenience. We had carried a supply of good water with us. There was no wood here nor grazing for camels, but both fuel and food for the animals can be obtained at the Bungalow.

Chakal was at the identical altitude of Mirui, 3,600 feet.

My camels with loads left at midnight, and some two hours later I followed. This was a most uninteresting march in a north-east by east (70°) direction with sand hills on either side of the track, and high distant mountains to the south--a red stretch of flat sand between extending all along from north-east to south-west. When there were no more sand hills we came to sand banks, which made the track undulating like a switchback railway.

Our attention was drawn to a curious plant with a fruit resembling small oranges lying upon the ground and called by the natives karenghi rirri. There were hundreds of these fruit about, but Mahommed, who had great local botanical knowledge, advised me not to eat them because their poison was deadly, and we did not care to experiment in order to test the accuracy of his statement.

All along this Robat-Nushki route one finds a great many Mesjids (or Masit, as the word is pronounced by the Beluch). The Mesjid or Masit is a sort of temporary praying spot where good Mussulmans say their prayers at sunrise or sunset, and answers the purpose--if one may be allowed the expression--of an open-air mosque! The Mesjid may be simple or elaborate, small or big, according to devoutness, patience and materials at hand, but its most frequent shape is circular, or at least more or less regularly curved, and its material, stones, or if stones are not obtainable, sand or mud banked up. Looking to the west towards Mecca is a stone higher than the others, and in the more elaborate Mesjids, such as the one shown in the illustration, a proper kneeling-place to fit the knees is made on the western side, with a stone in the centre to mark the exact direction of Mecca. A "revered tomb" is duly placed in the centre of the larger Mesjids, and an entrance way into them bordered with stones is always present. To enter the Mesjid by stepping over the ledge from any other side would be considered irreverent. The interior is always cleared of all stones and made as smooth as practicable.

There are Mesjids just big enough for one man, these being frequently made by caravan men to say their prayers; and there are large ones for the use of several people. The praying spot to the west is, however, generally only big enough for one at a time.

(Between Kishingi and Morad Khan Kella.)]

Then there are the more ornamental constructions which had a neatly made wall of white marble enclosed in a case of black stones, a high black pillar to the west and two small white marble ones by its side. The entrance in this case was to the east with a stone slab across it which was raised when entering the Mesjid.

One Mesjid, or more, are generally to be found near burial places. Occasionally I have seen large square or rectangular ones, but they are not quite so common as those of a rounded shape. In some cases the Mesjid consists of a mere semicircle facing towards the west.

The Beluch, as every one knows, is a Suni Mussulman and nourishes a hatred for the Shia sect, but although very observant of certain rites pertaining to the religion of Mahommed, the Beluch is not bigoted in religious matters, and this is probably due to the fact that mullahs, saiyads, fakirs or other such religious officials and fanatics are seldom to be encountered among the Beluch in Northern Beluchistan.

Far south in Makran matters are different; the people are more fanatical, and several religious sects, such as the Rafais--a sect which proves its faith in the prophet by self-inflicted tortures--the Khwajah and the Zikris are found, as well as the "Biadhiah," who are despised as heretics by both Suni and Shia Mussulmans, and who fully reciprocate the hatred. Unlike other true Mussulmans, these Biadhiahs indulge in intoxicants and are very slack in religious observances.

But the Brahuis--with whom I mostly came in contact in the North--although not very strict, are certainly most reverent and generally not intemperate. They have no actual mosques wherein to go and pray, but worship in the improvised Mesjids which I have described. In fact, the word Mesjid merely means "a place of worship."

Superstition is generally rampant in people leading a somewhat wild life of adventure. Some of the legends of the good and evil gins, or spirits and peris, fairies, are very quaint. The belief in the magic power of spells and charms is also deeply rooted.

Captain Webb-Ware told me two rather amusing instances of superstition. One day he was out stalking in the hills near Dalbandin, when he came across a snake (ekis carinata). The Beluch shikars who were with him refused to go on and sat down for half an hour waiting for the evil influences--of which the snake was a palpable symbol--to vanish.

On another occasion one of his men dropped his knife--a knife which, by the way, he had found on the road. The Beluch got off his camel and stalked the knife as it lay on the ground, and when within a few feet of it he let fly a stone at it--or as near it as he could. This was, he explained, to hit and hurt the "pal" which was in the knife, by which he meant that the knife was "possessed," and a positive proof of it lay in the fact that he had dropped it on no less than three separate occasions.

There was a certain humour in the remark made by a Beluch at Isa Tahir to Captain Webb-Ware when he saw the captain's servant, with an efficient filter, reduce the filthily slimy water of the only local pool into water as clear as crystal. He rushed to the captain in a state of great concern and anxiety.

"Sahib," he said, "do you know what your servant is doing? He is taking all the colour, all the strength, and all the smell out of the water that you are going to drink!"