« AnteriorContinuar »
debt; and was about to return immediately home, to convey to India thirty horses which he had purchased for that market,
when his partner told him of a foreigner's being in the city in distress, and brought him to see us.'— He had lately returned from India, and it was a great satisfaction to hear him run over the names of Mr Elphinstone, Sir John Malcolm, and other gentlemen, known for the high offices they held in India. Mr E. had given his brother's son a handful of money for answering a few questions ; Mr Cole of Mysore had bought a horse from him ; Hunter Sahib of Mutchleebunder had given him a rifle; we were a most excellent tribe, who never gave our words falsely, and please God, he would take my debts upon his head and shoulders, and convey me safely to Hindostan.'— Having engaged to serve us, he would listen to none of his friend's remonstrances, but calling upon our creditors, struck hands with them for our debts, and sought for one who would give us money on the best terms.'— With Syed Muheen Shah we travelled safely from Herat to Dehlee. I could not, in words, express the kindness and delicacy of this man's conduct towards us during the whole of the journey. Wherever he met friends, they laboured to convince him that I was an impostor; and he was exposed to extreme vexation and danger on our account; yet he never relaxed in his endeavours to promote my safety and comfort; he paid all our expenses, and avoided alluding to my debt to him.':-Vol. ii., pp. 40, 42.
Under the guidance of this worthy man, he proceeded by Girishk, through the Afghan country, to the neighbourhood of Candahar.
• The route by which we came from Herat to Candahar,' says he, • has not, I believe, been travelled by any other European. It is reputed to be the most difficult, because the most hilly of the three roads, but a little labour would make it an easy one.'— During our journey we met very few of the inhabitants of the country, and were able to form but an imperfect notion of the extent of the population ; in the day time we scarcely saw any body, but at night lights would shine out all round us from distant khails, or sheep folds ; near some of the usual halting places are found khails, from which travellers obtain flour or bread, and grain for their horses ; but the body of the people, divided into small pastoral societies, wander with their flocks in the broad valleys away from the road. Still, however, judging from the barren appearance of the country, and from the circumstance of so little of it being cultivated, and also from the general result of our enquiries, I should say that the country between Herat and Candahar is but scantily populated.' – The Afghans are all for a far niente life, and dwelling under rude felt tents, they are content to live poorly, so that they may live idly and independently. They are clothed coarsely ; gaily when they can afford it, but always dirtily, and their fare is very simple. The common food of the Afghans is kooroot, hard pressed salted curds, which are scraped and boiled up with butter, and eaten with unleavened bread. They never tire of this food ; and it is amusing to see the eagerness with which a party will get
round a bowl, break their bread into it, and then thrust their huge fingers into the mess. I heard a man, who had been eating little else all his life, exclaim with a sigh of sincerity, after licking his fingers, “ Hei kooroot ! by Heaven it is a good thing, kooroot !'
On leaving the neighbourhood of Candahar, where he was much reduced by sickness, the route which he followed as far as the Indus, and on even to Buhawulpoor, was one yet untrodden by any of our travellers. Instead of following the usual eastern road by Ghazni and Caubul, the syed's way led him to the south-east. Crossing the Khojeh Amran hills, he descended into the valley of Pisheen, where he found himself at home in the midst of his tribe and family. The strangers were here hospitably entertained for several days, when their pleasure was interrupted by the arrival of a party of four men, sent by Abdoolla Khan, the hakim or governor of the country, whose stronghold they had passed, to demand that the strangers, who were of course considered by him as a fair object of extortion, should be given up, as being Jews. The travellers were hid in the interior of the house ; instant preparations were made for resuming the journey ; the messengers were cajoled with fair words, and the holy syed
swore, and I believe got a friend or two to back his oath, that we were Indian Hajees who had gone on to Quetta, and assuring the myrmidons that they might tell their master he had also marched that way, since he certainly would do so on the morrow, he bribed, blessed, and dismissed them, esteeming a false oath in such a case no more perjury, than justifiable homicide murder.' The state of society in these countries is such that, however much virtue may be admired in the abstract, it is thought imprudent generally to practise it. A wise parent gives his son a sort of Janus education, telling him of a few virtues, but initiating him into the mysteries of every vice, in order that he may be a match for his demoralized neighbours; and thus nearly every person commences life, prepared to be faithful to his friends, and an honest man or a rogue to the world, as it may be.'—Vol. ii., pp. 177–9.
It is impossible to accompany the party minutely on their route. Suffice it to say that they now hastened forward on their way, and in the course of their journey crossed several ranges of hills; the first of them, such as the ranges of Ajrum and Musailaigh, parallel to those of Khojeh Amran, and separated from each other, some by narrow valleys, others by wider and barren plains. On arriving at Quetta, the capital of the Belooche province of Shaul, they halted nine days, waiting for more force to protect them on the road. Meanwhile they were introduced to the governor, who had been in India, - and gave the most sensible proof of his knowledge of English customs, by inviting me to cement our friendship by eating a meal together. Our repast consisted of fowl-soup, which was served in a large pewter bowl: we partook of the liquid portion by making temporary spoons of bits of bread as thin as pancakes, which were sent out to us hot and hot from the within." I have been particular in noticing occasions on which we got any thing very good to eat, because they were of sufficiently rare occurrence to make us consider them dies festi. Occasionally we got meat, but our usual fare was boiled rice or vetch, which we ate with cakes of heavy unleavened bread, and if we thought of breakfast for the morrow, we put a flap of the latter into our holsters or breeches-pocket. However, we generally contrived to cook a kettleful of tea, which made amends for the badness of a dinner, and was most refreshing after a long march.'-P. 205.
Soon after leaving Quetta, the chains of hills became more complicated, though most of them, it seems, easy to pass or march round. The most difficult is that of the Kurklekkee hills, about thirty miles off, where begins the formidable pass of Bolaun, rendered dangerous by the vicinity of the adjoining tribe of Cawkers. At the entrance of the valley a careful watch was kept during the night.
• Before it was light next morning the whole camp was astir, and when all were ready, the order of march was arranged. The riders who had firearms forming an advance and rearguard, while the grooms, leading the horses and camels, walked together in a body on foot. From the valley in which we had slept, we at once entered the close defile of Bolaun. At first there was but breadth for a dozen horsemen between the rocks, which rose like walls on either side to a great height. Afterwards the road lay broadly between the mountains, occasionally opening out. It was like the beach of a sea formed of loose pebbly stones and sand, and it ran in sharp angles from one hundred to two hundred yards in length. This was the style of the pass for ten miles to Ser-e-khujoor. The minutest description could hardly convey a just idea of its strength; it is a defile which a regiment of brave men could defend against an army. - At Ser-e-khujoor the hills broke off from the road, but they still commanded it for nineteen more miles, and the same beach-like road lay between steep banks, as if it were the bed of a deep but dried river.'—- At Beebeenaunee the mountains parted off to the right and left, and here ended the defile of Bolaun. When we were safely at the end of the dreaded pass, Muheen Shah called a halt, and recited a short prayer, which was answered by two shouts that made the hills ring again.'-P.219.
But a more dangerous obstacle presents itself farther on, at the Pass of Cundye, when, after crossing numerous ponds of clear water, the road is blocked up by a lake, only to be passed after a circuit amidst the craggy path in the rocks. In summer the sun, acting on these pent up waters causes so pestilent an air, that the road between Quetta and Dauder is shut. It is then necessary to take the road by Moostung and Kelate Naseer. The travellers having continued their course to Dauder and Bagh, after some marches, entered the province of Sind, and reached Shikarpoor, a distance of about three hundred and ninety miles from Candahar.
About fifteen miles from Shikarpoor, they were ferried across the noble stream of the Indus, which, with its numerous navigable tributary rivers, though they now flow desolate and waste through barbarous lands, may one day be destined to convey wealth, and plenty, and civilisation into the heart of Asia, as nature seems to have intended. On reaching the farther shore they proceeded by Khirepoor and Rohree, passing in sight of the ruins of Bukker, so celebrated in Indian history, and travelled on by Cawnpore, Ahmedpore, and Buhawulpore, a distance of nearly three hundred miles, where they fell into the route of Mr Elphinstone. The road from that place to Hissar, where the volumes close, is sufficiently known.
It may be observed, that the whole tract of country from Candahar, wild and uncultivated and hilly as it is, is one through which it would seem that an army, lightly equipped, could march during a great part of the year, supposing that they carried with them their provisions and stores. But this in reality is saying little. The road presents, in a military point of view, many difficulties, and particular defiles where a small force could, for a time, check the largest army. To cross the Indus without preserving the command of the navigation of the river would be a desperate enterprise. It is not indeed such obstacles that can check an intelligent and determined invader on the one hand; nor on the other will a sagacious general opposed to him entirely rely on natural barriers, however useful, in a military point of view, they may be. No country ever was, or ever will be, successfully defended by rivers, or mountains, or walls, but by the bold and hardy spirit behind them, that renders these obstacles, dead and worthless of themselves, living and effectual.
Mr Conolly's reflections and observations on his long route, very naturally turned his thoughts to the subject of the overland invasion of India, and he examines the route by Khiva and Balkh, and that by Asterabad and Candahar at some length. He thinks the latter the more probable, with the assistance of Persia ; but justly concludes that though the undertaking is practicable, so far as regards the natural obstacles of the country,--the difficulties in the supply of provisions for the army, and its beasts of burden, would be excessive; that the mortality of a northern army, on descending into the hot plains on the Indus, would be extreme; and that the army in advance must always run the most imminent risk of being cut off from its reserve.
We have already given our opinion on the subject of the overland invasion of India, oftener perhaps than the feasibility of the project seemed to demand; but the scheme itself has been presented at various times, and under various points of view. It is generally brought forward at some moment of temporary alarm, to add to our confusion and embarrassment. The truth is, that it is a project addressed to our timidity, and the details of which never have been presented in a tangible shape, so as to justify our fears, and the unmeasured expense into which they have led
The most permanently dangerous plan might be the possession by an enemy of some rich provinces on or near the Oxus ; but this supposes the labour and policy of years. Indeed the plan can never, as seems vainly to have been supposed, be effected by any thing in the nature of a coup de main. A march of some thousand miles, through a foreign country, is fatal to such a supposition. The plan, the preparations, the march, are works of time, and must be known long beforehand, and may be guarded against. All that has ever been attempted to be shown to justify alarm, is, that the physical difficulties of the march could, under the most favourable circumstances, be overcome.
But the moral and political impediments, more unsurmountable still, are left untouched. We must not suppose our enemy to be divested of
He too must have his fears and misgivings, and will not be blind to evident danger. He must see difficulties of every description ; a march of unparalleled length and labour, through the country of barbarians, who, however ready they may have been at the outset to promise every thing to a powerful neighbour, are always broken into parties and factions, and in case of any serious reverse, would unite with pleasure to plunder and extirpate their unsuccessful allies. This description applies alike to every step of the journey, whether through Persia, or through the country of the Usbegs, the Afghans, or Seiks: the army cannot be a small one, it must be the grand army of Russia, first to furnish men for the concentrated moving force, and next to keep up a communication of posts, and to overawe the country through which it has passed, so as to secure a supply of provisions in a region of hills and desert, and, if required, to make retreat possible. Where there are so many pretenders to the crown as in Persia and in Afghanistan, a diversion in the rear of the moving force, so as at least to harass outposts, and to cut off supplies, may always be secured with very little exertion; and after all the risks and toils of this unheard of route, supposing it accomplished, a regular army and an organized resistance awaits them, conducted by officers of skill, who would be possessed of all the resources that national wealth and intel