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Chapter 40

The fast growing city of Nushki--The Tashil--the
Tashildar--Beluch law--Hospital--Pneumonia and consumption--Lawn
tennis--The Nushki Bazaar--Satisfactory trade returns--The
projected Quetta-Nushki Railway--A great future for Nushki--An
extension to Sistan necessary--Also a telegraph--Preferable
routes for a railway to Sistan--From Nushki to Kishingi--A
curious Mesjid--Mudonek Ateng Mountain--A fast of twenty-five
days--The Chiltan and Takatu Mts.--The Gurghena tribe--Huts and
tents--Beluch hospitality--Villages.

Let us take a walk through the fast growing city of Nushki. Half a dozen years ago there was next to nothing here, but now we have a beautiful Tashil--a large walled enclosure, with a portico all round inside and circular towers at the four corners. The actual Tashil office, occupying the north-east corner, has a most business-like appearance, with handsome iron despatch-boxes, clocks that mark each a different time, but look most imposing all the same, and folio-documents folded in two and carefully arranged in piles upon the floor by the side of wise-looking clerks squatting in their midst. The Tashildar himself, Sardar Mahommed Yuzaf Khan Popalzai, is a much respected man of Afghan birth, of the Bamezi Popalzai Durranis, or descendants of the tribe reigning in Cabul before Mahommed Zeis took the throne, when his ancestors and the Saddo Zeis were forcibly banished from the country.

The Tashildar, a most intelligent officer, seems to understand the Beluch chiefs thoroughly, treats them with extreme consideration--in private life dealing with them as honoured guests, and politically as Government subjects who must adhere to their loyalty to the King.

There are also within the Tashil wall a post and telegraph office and a treasury, a neat little red brick building, with strong iron gates and huge padlocks. Prisons are on either side of the treasury, so that one single sentry may keep an eye on both the prisoners and the local Government funds.

When I visited the place an old man in chains was squatting in the sun outside his cell. I inquired what crime he had committed. His daughter, they said, was betrothed to a young man, and at the time appointed for the marriage the old man did not bring the girl to the bridegroom as stipulated. He had consequently already been here in prison for two months to pay for his folly, and would possibly have to remain some months longer, for, according to Beluch law--which is in force here--such a crime deserves severe punishment.

Another prisoner--a cattle lifter--had a most hideously criminal head. Prisoners were very well cared for, had nice clean cells given them, and were provided with plenty of food and blankets.

The Tashil establishment consisted of one Tashildar, one Sarishtedar (clerk who reads papers), one Judicial Moharrir, one Kanungo (revenue clerk), three patwaris, one accountant in treasury and one treasurer, one chaprassi, one petition writer, one levy moonshee, one post and telegraph master, one postman, one hospital assistant, one compounder, three servants.

Next to the Tashil was the thana and Police-station, with a police thanedar, one sergeant and nine (Punjab) constables, as well as a levy jemadar with one duffadar and ten sawars.

There is a practical little hospital at Nushki, with eight beds and a dispensary, but the health of the place seemed very good, and there were no patients when I visited it. Moreover, it seems that the Beluch prefer to be given medicine and remain in their dwellings, except in cases of very severe illness. The principal ailments from which they suffer are small-pox, measles, and scurvy, which in various stages is most prevalent among the Beluch. Chest complaints are unknown among them while they live out in the open air, but when they are forcibly confined to rooms, for instance as prisoners, they generally die of pneumonia or develop consumption.

Two caravanserais are found at Nushki, one for traders from Sistan, and one for caravans from Quetta, and a mosque, so that the place is quite a self-contained little town.

In front of the hospital one is rather staggered by finding an actual tennis court laid down according to the most precise rules, and no doubt in course of time we may expect golf links and ping-pong tournaments which will mark further steps towards the Anglicisation of that district. But personally I was more interested in the local bazaar, counting already 150 shops.

The Nushki bazaar is along a wide road kept tidy and clean, and the place boasts of butcher-shops, a washerman, one tailor marked by smallpox and one who is not; ghi merchants with large round casks outside their doors; cloth merchants; blacksmiths and grain shops. In a back street--for, indeed, Nushki boasts already of two streets parallel with the main thoroughfare--under a red flag hoisted over the premises is an eating house--a restaurant for natives. The merchants are mostly Hindoos from Sind.

The land on which the shops have been built has practically been given free by the Government on condition that, if required back again at a future date, the builder of the house upon the land reclaimed is entitled, as an indemnity, only to the restitution of the wood employed in the construction of the house--the chief item of expense in Nushki constructions.

Cotton goods, blue, red and white, seem to command the greatest sale of any articles in Nushki, after which the local trade consists of wheat, almonds, barley, carpets (from Sistan), wool, kanawes (cloth from Meshed), and cloths imported from England, mostly cheap cottons; camels, dates, etc.

The transit trade of Nushki is, however, very considerable. The Government returns of the trade that passed through Nushki during the year from April, 1900, to April, 1901, showed an aggregate of Rs.1,534,452, against Rs.1,235,411 for the preceding twelve months, while two years before (1898-1899) the returns barely amounted to Rs.728,082. Last year, 1901, the trade returns made a further jump upwards in the nine months from April to the end of December, 1901, the imports amounting to Rs.680,615, and the exports Rs.925,190, or an aggregate of Rs.1,605,805, which is very satisfactory indeed.

So much has been written of late about Nushki, especially in connection with the new railway, that I have very little to add. I most certainly think that, strategically and commercially, Nushki is bound to become a very important centre, and, as far as trade goes, eventually to supplant Quetta altogether, owing to its more convenient position. The projected railway from Quetta to Nushki will be a great boon to caravans, both from Afghanistan and Persia, because the severe cold of Quetta makes it very difficult for camels to proceed there in winter, and camel drivers have a great objection to taking their animals there.

For any one looking ahead at the future and not so much at the present, it seems, however, almost a pity that the newly sanctioned railway should not join Nushki with Shikarpur or Sibi instead of Quetta, which would have avoided a great and apparently almost useless detour. Nushki will be found to develop so fast and so greatly that, sooner or later, it will have to be connected in a more direct line with more important trading centres than Quetta. Quetta is not a trading centre of any importance, and is merely a military station leading nowhere into British territory in a direct line.

However, even the Quetta-Nushki railway is better than nothing, and will certainly have a beneficial effect upon the country it will pass through. From a military point of view the railway as far as Nushki only is practically useless. It is only a distance of some ninety odd miles, through good country with plenty of water and some grazing.

In England one reads in the papers and hears people talk of this railway as the Quetta-Sistan Railway, and people seem to be under the impression that Nushki is on the Persian border. It should be clearly understood that from Nushki to Sistan (Sher-i-Nasrya) the distance, through practically desert country and scanty water, is over 500 miles. To my mind it is in the Robat-Nushki portion of that distance, where travelling is difficult, and for troops almost impossible, that a railway is mostly needed. I have gone to much trouble, and risked boring the reader, to give all the differential altitudes upon the portion of the road between Robat and Nushki, and it will be seen that hardly anywhere does the track rise suddenly to more than 50 or 100 feet at most. The ground could easily be made solid enough to lay a line upon; tanks for the water supply might be established at various stations, and a railway could be built with no trouble and comparatively small expense.

Again, for the trade of Southern Persia, Robat would, I think, be a fairly good terminus on the Perso-Beluch frontier; but, in order to compete with Russia in Sistan and Khorassan, it would be a very good thing if the Government could enter into an arrangement with Afghanistan, so that if such a railway were built it should strike from Dalbandin across the desert up to the Southern bank of the Halmund, and have Sher-i-Nasrya in Sistan for its terminus. This would do away almost altogether--except in a small section--with the difficulty of the water, and would shorten the distance by at least one quarter.

The idea one often hears that it would be dangerous to construct such a railway, because it would be to open a passage for Russia into India, is too ridiculous to be argued about. It might be pointed out that the Russians on their side seem not to reciprocate the fear of our invading their country, for they are pushing their railways from the north as far as they can towards the Persian frontier, and it is stated that a concession has been obtained by them for a railway line to Meshed.

But, either via Robat or the Halmund, the principal point is that if we do not wish to lose Southern Persia we must push the railway with the utmost speed, at least as far as the frontier. Anything, in such a case, is better than nothing, and most undoubtedly a telegraph line should be established without delay--possibly as far as the Sher-i-Nasrya Consulate. Matters are much more urgent than we in England think, and if warning is not taken we shall only have ourselves to blame for the consequences.

From Nushki I went to a great extent along the line which is to be followed by the future railway. It seemed very sensibly traced, avoiding expensive difficulties, such as tunnels, as much as possible, but of course this railway has to go over a good portion of mountainous country and cannot be built on the cheap.

I left Nushki on the 31st, following a limpid stream of water, and we began a zig-zag ascent of the mountains before us to the east, leaving behind to the north-east in a valley a large camp of railway engineers and surveyors. After some two miles we reached a broad valley, and we continued to rise until we had reached the pass, 4,820 feet. On the other side we descended only 75 feet to a plain--a plateau, with hill ranges rising on it, and a barrier of higher mountains behind. The vegetation here was quite different from anything we had met in the desert, and kotor was plentiful--a plant, the Beluch say, eaten by no animal. Tamarisk seemed to flourish--it is a wonderful plant that flourishes almost everywhere.

The plain was subdivided into three. In the first portion, four miles wide, and one broad, the monguli shrub was abundant, and, like the kotor, was pronounced a useless plant, despised by all beasts. In the second plain we found more kotor, and in the last--very sandy--a lot of tamarisk. The ground was cut about by numerous dry water-channels, and after a very easy march of some eleven miles we came to the bungalow of Kishingi, having ascended from 3,745 feet at the Nushki Tashil to 4,720 feet at the Kishingi rest-house. We had seen a great many white pillar posts indicating the line of the future railroad.

We had now quite a different type of rest-houses--two-storied, and very nice too, the two rooms being comfortably enough furnished. A caravanserai was attached to the bungalow.

Still going east we crossed another narrow valley, through which the railway was traced, and after going over a pass 5,250 feet we were in a valley with a lot of johr growing upon it--a plant which the Beluch say is deadly to man and beast alike. On the top of the pass we saw a Mesjid, and several more were found on descending on the other side as well as a graveyard.

A curious white Mesjid was to be seen here shaped like an 8, and erected on the site where a Beluch had been killed. A conical mountain to the south, the Mudonek Ateng, was famous, my camel driver told me, because a Beluch fakir is said to have remained on the top of it for 25 days without food or water. A small stone shelter could be seen on the top of the mountain, which, they say, had been the fakir's abode during his long fast.

There is very little of special interest on this well-known part of the route near Quetta. We rose for several miles to a higher pass (5,700 feet), and were then on a higher flat plateau with a high range stretching half-way across it from south-south-east to north-north-west. One's attention was at once drawn to the north-east by two renowned peaks in British Beluchistan, the Chiltan, and further off the Takatu Mount. At their foot on the other side lay Quetta. In front of these we had the Hilti range stretching north-west to south-east, ending in Mount Barag on the north, and the two Askhan hills.

This part seemed more populated, and we left to the east the tribe of Gurghena, comprising four villages at intervals of about one mile from one another. The last was situated in the wide valley to the west of the Hilti range. Other villages could be seen further in the valley extending towards the south, which were supplied with water by a river flowing along the valley. A few ghedan, or low grass huts, were scattered about the valley, and some black tents 5½ feet high, with one side raised like an awning by means of sticks. A pen for sheep was erected near them with tamarisk branches and sticks.

We were very thirsty and went to one of these tents. The woman who occupied it gave us some water, but, although in abject poverty, angrily refused to accept a silver coin in payment, saying that Beluch cannot be paid for hospitality. Water costs nothing. God gives water for all the people alike, and, if they were to accept payment, misfortune would fall upon them.

Further on we passed the village of Paden, with cultivation all round and plenty of water. The chief had quite an imposing residence, with a tower and castellated entrance gate, and the characteristic cylindrical mangers for horses in front of his dwelling. But although more elaborate, even this house--the largest I had seen--was absolutely devoid of windows, except for a loop-hole to the east of the tower, which I think was more for defensive purposes than for ventilation's sake.

The village of Kardegap was seen next, and we arrived at Morad Khan Kella (5,500 feet) twenty-four miles from our last camp.