Thursday, December 18, 2008
Mir Samir and ascent of P500. After years when it was too dangerous to enter the mountains of Afghanistan, New Zealander Bob McKerrow and Englishmen Ian Clarke and Jon Tinker headed for Mir Samir in the Hindu Kush. McKerrow is head of the International Red Cross in Afghanistan and Clarke is a former Royal Marie, now head of the Halo Trust mine clearance organisation in Afghanistan. Tinker has worked in the country a number of times in the last seven years.The three climbers set out from Kabaul on September 23, 1994, acclimatizing near the Salang Pass before setting out for Parian in the upper Panjchir.
Acclimatizing near the Salang Pass. Bob McKerrow on ski. Photo: Bob McKerrow
There four horses were hired to carry food and equipment up the Chamar valley to base camp at 3,400 m.Clarke's skills were put to the test when the saw air-dropped scatterable anti-personnel mines.They established a high camp at 4,300 m on September 29.Because of the deep snow, the two Englishmen made slow progress the next day to bivouac at 4,900 meters on an unclimbed snow route on the southwest face of Mir Samir. On October 1 they made a summit attempt.but unseasonable deep snow turned the back at 5200 meters, soime 600 meters from the summit. While Clarke and Tinker were climbing Mir Samir, McKerrow climbed an unclimbed peak at approximately 5000 metres, a prominent feature when viewed from the Chamar Valley
Eric Newby on their attempt on Mir Samir in 1956. Here is an extract from his obituary in the New York Times, October 24, 2006
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1956, Mr. Newby set out on the trip that would make him famous: a voyage by station wagon, foot and horseback to climb Mir Samir, a 20,000-foot peak in Nuristan, a wild region in northeastern Afghanistan. The fact that he had never climbed a mountain did not deter him in the slightest.
Mr. Newby chronicled the trip in “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush,” published in Britain by Secker & Warburg in 1958 and in the United States by Doubleday the next year. As in all his work, the narrative was marked by genial self-effacement and overwhelming understatement.
Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review in 1959, William O. Douglas, a noted travel memoirist who by day was a justice of the United States Supreme Court, called the book “a chatty, humorous and perceptive account.”
He added: “Even the unsanitary hotel accommodations, the infected drinking water, the unpalatable food, the inevitable dysentery are lively, amusing, laughable episodes.”
Monday, December 15, 2008
Orogenic processes are still active as evidenced by seismic vibrations taking place in Af-ghanistan's mountains, in particular in the eastern part of the Hindu Kush and its foothills. Kabul lies in a most active seismic zone.
Due to a diversified geological structure Afghanistan is quite rich in mineral resources, which include deposits of uranium, crude oil, gas, iron ore, copper, chromium, zinc and lead, beryl, barite as well as gold, precious and semi-precious stones.
The relief of the high Afghan mountains is youthful; narrow valleys and steep, rugged peaks are there characteristic features; in many places the effect of glaciers is evident. To the west the mountains become lower and their slopes gentler, they often turn into plateaus with the surrounding peaks protruding above them. In a dry climate the steep peaks are well preserved, but the slopes are covered by the weathered rock. The valleys are often closed by alluvial cones, while numerous faults are clearly marked in the relief. Dunes of wandering sands have developed in the sand deserts (National Atlas of DR of Afghanistan)
For centuries Afghanistan has been known for its quality gemstones, particularly lapis lazuli. However in recent years, there have been significant finds of fine emeralds, tourmaline, kun-zite and very recently, rubies.
Emeralds come mainly from the Panjshir valley. Considerably quantities of blue, pink and green tourmaline, as well as significant amounts of kunzite and some aquamarine, have been taken from the pegmatites of the Nuristan region. Smaller quantities of fine ruby have been discovered in the Sarobi area. In addition, there have been small finds of garnet, amethyst, spinel and morganite.
An expert on Afghan Gems, Gary Bowersox, from Honolulu, Hawaii, believes the prospects for future production of emeralds and pegmatite gems, are excellent.
Most of the recently produced gems have come from the north-eastern part of Afghanistan, Badakhshan, Kunar, Laghman, Kabul and Nangahar provinces. In recent years the Hindu Kush and Karakoram range in Pakistan have yeilded spectacular finds of gemstones. These gem bearing regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan "are located in one of the most geologically dynamic regions of the world - at the juncture along which the Indo-Pakistan and Asian crustal plates collided to give rise to the Himalayas. The geology of this region is quite com-plex, and it has been investigated in detail only recently.These investigations indicate that the Hindu Kush area represents the western end of a succession on important gem-producing re-gions that stretch all along the Himalayas through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and into Burma. " A Status Report on gemstones From Afghanistan. by Gary Bowersox. Gems and Gemology Winter 1985 Due to the insecurity and remote of these sites in Afghanistan most of the gems are smuggled across the border into Pakistan's north-west frontier province.
The soils in the high mountains are desert-steppe or meadow-steppe; in the river valleys the
soils are alluvial or meadow-alluvial: Serozems and brown desert soils cover large portions of the country in the north and south; loess is also found in the north. The deserts are covered by sand and regs.
Afghanistan's vegitation is mostly that typical of semi-deserts and steppes. Ephemerid vegeta-tion grows in the sandy semi-deserts and halophilous vegetation is found in the salt semi-deserts. the most common trees on more humid soils are oaks, ashes, willows, poplars, planes and fruits trees in orcahrds. Forests of the Himalyan type, including evergreen oak woods, grow in the borderland between Afghanistan and pakistan (in Nuristan and Paktia) lying at an altitude up to 2400m above sea level. Pines, spruces and cedars grow at an altitude of 3500m. Alpine meadows extend above that level. The slopes of the Tirbandi Turkistan are covered by pistachio woods.
The fauna of Afghanistan is similar to that of Central Asia and the Mediterranean sub-kingdom of Palaeoarctica. Beast of prey, like the snow leopard, the brown bear, the wolf, the striped hyena, the jackal, the fox live in the mountains. Hoofed mammals are represented by Marco Polo sheep, the goitered gazelle and the ibex. Numerous species of birds, rodents, rep-tiles and amphibians have been recorded. There are also many insects
Afghanistan has mainly a dry, continental climate. The amplitude of temperature between day and night is very large. The great variety of terrain elevation results in different climatic types. Areas, such as north-eastern and central Afghanistan, lying over 2,400 m have long winters (over 6 months). at an altitude of 1300-2400m (eg the zone of Kabul) the climate is temperate or almost temperate, four seasons are clearly marked, and annual precipitation is up to 400mm.
The zone at an altitude between 900 and 1300m is characterized by hot summers and annual precipitation below 200 mm. In areas lying at an altitude below 900 m it is less than 100 mm and the climate is dry and hot. Some small portions in the country's east (Jalalabad, Xost) are influenced by south-eastern monsoons and the climate is subtropical. the highest temperature was recorded in Zaranj (51oC,) the lowest in Sharak (-52.2oC) The higest amount of precipi-tation (1212 mm) was noted on the station Salangi Samali, the lowest was measured in Zaranj (34 mm)
In 1996 when the author was working in Afghanistan, he noticed climate change was having an effect on Afghanistan's weather patterns. Here is a quote from the New York Times:
The arrival of spring each year melts the snow on the vast Hindu Kush mountain range, causing rivers to swell and burst their banks. But this year, the heavy rains have combined to produce the worst flooding for decades.
Afghanistan, torn by 17 years of civil war, has no functioning central Government, with parts of the country controlled by various warring Islamic factions. Deforestation, poor water management and over-grazing are blamed for the ecological problem.
"We are seeing provinces, which were once rich in forests, virtually stripped down to nothing," Mr. McKerrow said. "Grasses and alpine vegetation have been removed because people are either grazing or ploughing right up to the snowline."
"The whole Hindu-Kush is being denuded of forest cover," he added. "The mountains can no longer cope." Global warming, he said, had changed Afghanistan's weather patterns, producing unseasonal rain. In Badakshan, it has rained continuously for three months.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Hsuan Tsang was the last traveller to record Afghanistan before the coming of Islam. Up un-til his visit. "the cycle of invasion, expansion, and decline had been regular, as one empire succeeded another in the virile north, only to dissipate its resources of strength in the vast enervating plains of India," wrote Fraser-Tytler. However while Hsuan Tsang was writing about the peaceful Kabul valley, in the middle if the seventh century, Arabs carrying the new and zealous faith of Islam reached Persia and an-other group coming from Basra reached Sistan and soon took control of large part of Western and south Afghanistan and the ruling Sassanians suffered a major defeat in 642. However from the north came equally commited Turkish Moslems and conflict grew between the two races. The approached Kabul via Kandahar and Ghazni, where they fought zealous defenders, who put up brave resistance. However Kabul was stoutly defending itself from the Moslem invaders under the leadership of a Turkish King, known by many names including Kabul Shahi, Turki Shahi or the Ratbil Shahan. The King had been partly Hinduised and fought gallantly against the Moslem invaders, resisting so strongly that their epics are recorded in Islamic literature.Kabul, mountain fortress capital of the Hindu Kush, was finally captured in 664 after a full year of siege.This clash between Arabs and Turks wasn't settled until the middle of the eighth century under the Turkish General Abu Muslim who brought stability to the regions of the Hindu Kush. However in the next 100 years the combined influence of the Arabs and Turks succeeded in dominating the old faiths, particularly Bhuddism, except for that pocket of resistance in Kafirstan where their animist beliefs remained.A rather peaceful period followed under the Caliph Harun-al-Rashid (785-809) and his son Mamun who encouraged the arts and sciences flourished and Merv and Samarkand. There fol-lowed an unsettled period when the Saminids extended their influence across to India, but as their influence declined, Hinduism challenged the Moslem faith and appeared for the last time in the Kabul Valley. From the Kabul valley the ruler of the Punjab, Jaipal pushed his religious doctrine towards Ghazni, he met a rising Islamic dynasty which was to change the course of history. King or Sultan Mahmud. Although the Arab conquistadors had brought Is-lam to the Sind region of India some three hundred years before, it never spread.King Mahmud (Turk)of Ghazni was a strong leader and in words of Fraser Tytler, whose iconoclastic zeal was to carry fire and sword deep into Hindu India and to pave the way for the domination of his Islamic successors.But like so many rulers, on his death the dynasty faltered, and was taken over by the Turks. Then we see the short domination of the mountain people from south-east of Herat who established the House of Ghor and who dominated the twelfth century and their territory stretched well into India and ruled the much coverted Delhi.. At the beginning of the 13th century a new race came to Afghanistan from eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, they were the Khwarizm, a Turkish race.. They established a Kingdom in Bamian and from there ruled Kabul. This peaceful time didn't last long before the heart of central Asia was ripped out by Genghis Khan and his Mongol hoardes who came from the north of China and by 1218 AD reached Central Asia.
GENGHIS KHAN - An apostle of extremes.Ghengis Khan with 100,000 mounted mehad reached Balkh by 1220 destroying everything and everyone in their wake. Jalal-ad-Din, the son of Sultan Muhammad who ruled the Kha-warizm empire, from Ghazni, managed to unite many tribes from the area and decided to defend against the invading Mongols. He advanced to the confluence of the Panjshir and Ghorband Rivers where a bloody battle ensued against Genghis Khan and his army of 30,000 skilled horsemen. Imagine the scene, 30,000 wild mongol horsemen on one side of the Panjcher River lusting for blood and on the other a more civilised army recently brought together. The beginning of the 13th century saw sweeping changes in Central Asia - not to mention Russia - for this was the time of the great Mongol migration. Unlike the Scythians, Sarma-tians, Huns and Turks who preceded them, these barbarians who erupted from the far-off borders of Manchuria were of an entirely different race. Round-headed, yellow-skinned, with slanting eyes and high cheek-bones, they were related to the peoples of northern China and Korea, although they spoke a Turkic language. They were also indescribably dirty and malodorous, for water was something they regarded as too precious to be waster on personal hygiene. They were not a hirsute people, but so infested were they with lice that their chests ap-peared to be thickly covered in hair.The astonishing conquests of Ghenghis Khan swept aside several empires and innumerable petty kingdoms, and brought all countries from the Black Sea to the Yellow Sea under direct Mongol control by the end of the first quarter of the thirteenth century. The unstoppable Mongol tide continued under his successors. Baghdad fell in 1258, the Sung capital of Hang-chow on 1276. In Europe the Mongol empire-the largest in history-extended as far as Poland and Hungary, taking in most of Russia on the way.The Mongols had been completely unlettered but now, with the help of the astute, Eastern Turks, they set about writing their own language down, using the Uighur script. This fruitful collaboration, accom-panied by intermarriage, was in time to produce a new hybrid master race and a new world leader, Tamerlane, but in the meantime a Mongol emperor sat on the illustrious throne of China and entertained curios visitors from distant Europe. Kublai Khan, grandson of Ghenghis, had become the Great Khan, or Chief of all the Mongol clans, in 1260. Karakoram, in Mongolia, was the headquarters of the huge empire, to which all clan leaders were summoned periodically etc etc. p 12Chingis Khaan Ghengis Khan Kublai Khan (grandson of Gheghis Khan)In 1218 Ghneghis Khan invades transoxiana 1227 he dies in 1996 (Christchurch Press) 2 Jan 1996, said: While other media groups were naming their man of the year, the "Washington Post" was thinking big yesterday and going right for the "Man of the Millennium", And the winner is...Genghis Khan.the newspaper gave the nod to the 13th century Mongol conqueror as "an apostle of extremes..who embodies the half-civilised, half-savage duality of the human race."
MARCO POLO 1256-1324
When on his death bed, friends asked Marco to "correct the book by removing everything that was not actual fact. To which he replied that he had not told one-half of what he really had seen."Most of this is from The Travels of Marco Polo, translated by John Frampton. Editor.N.M. Penzer, MA FRGS, 1929, The Argonaut Press, London. Includes recent in-formation provided by Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin and others. Clears up earlier confusion on his route through Afghanistan.In 1299 a remarkable book was published in Italy that stirred much of Europe and aroused in-terest in the mysterious lands of the Orient. With the all encompassing title "The Description of the World", an enticing prologue written by an Italian writer Rustichello of Pisa, announced what the great Venetian traveller, Marco Polo, had done in the past quarter century."It must be known then that from the creation of Adam to the present day, no man, whether pagan, or Saracen, or Christian, or other, of whatever progeny or generation he may have been, ever saw or inquired into so many and such great things as Marco Polo.The book described Polo's travels covering 24 years and 20,000 miles (change to km). Young Marco was barely 15 years of age when he left Venice in 1271 with his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo.Sailed from Venice to Turkey, and headed overland. Mt Araat, three Magi Tombs in Persia, oil near the Capsian Sea and comes via Tun and Kain in modern-day Khorasan province of Iran to Afghanistan Route through Afghanistan: Crosses from Persia in the Nemeksar ( Salt Namaskar's in Herat province) Herat, or some other place near or in the Paropamisus range Firuz-Kuh (Firozkohi)-Band-i-Turkestan - Maimana - Sapurgan (Shibarghan). From Sapurgan Polo went to Balc (Balkh), the "Baldach" of Frampton; thence to Dograna, the idetification of which is still uncertain...then to Kunduz andTalikan. Three days from Talikan to Kishm, and three more days from Kishm to Badakshan. Polo travels E.N.E. for 12 days to Vokhan (Wakhan), and thence another 3 days north-east to the plain of the great Pa-mir. The French text merely tell us that Polo found a fine river running through a plain, but Rasmusio also mention "a great lake." This could be either Lake Victoria or Lake Chakmak, but it is probably the former (see Stein, Innermost Asia, Vol II pp 858 et seq., also Ancient Khotan, Vol 1 pp. 30 et seq.; and Serindia, Vol 1. p 65. He now describes a twelve days' de-sert ride across the plain, followed by another 40 days of continuous desert tracts without any green thing to relieve the dreariness and monotony. To this country he gave the name of Bolor.In the Frampton Elizabethan translation of the Travels of Marco Polo he writes of great detail about the "Citie of Baldach", known now as Balkh, Sempergayme (aslo refrred to other writ-ers as Sapurgan, but is modern day Shibergan Thaychan, (Talikan), Ballafia, (Badashan, now modern day Badakhshan) Vochaym or Vokhayn(Wakhann) mountaine called Plauor, his first reference to the Pamir (check p 181)Gian Battista Ramusio published two versions of Marco Polos travels in 1550 and 1556, which was translated by Marsden in 1818, gives greater detail on Balashan, (Badakhshan)
The Mogul Empire (AD 1504-1747) Babur Zahiru'd- din Muhammad Babur Padshah Ghazi, popularly known as Babur, was the first of the Moghul rulers In his memoirs, ' Babu-Nama' which he wrote in Turki, he reveals his ex-tensive knowledge of the mountains of Central Asia, particularly Afghanistan.Barbur was born in Farghana in 1483 and was a descendent of Tamerlane's third son.. His bi-ographer describes his race as Turk and later refers to him being Uzbek -Turk . By the fif-teenth century both Turks and Mongols had been interrmixing for some time.He described his birth place thus:Farghana is situated in the fifth climate and at the limit of settled habitation. On the east it has Kashgar; on the west, Samarkand; on the south, the mountains of Badakshan border; on the north, though in former times there must have been towns such as Almaligh. Almatu and Yangi, which they write Taraz, at the present time all is desolate, no settled population what-ever remaining, because of the Mughuls and the Auzbegs. In June 1494 at the age of 12, Babur became the ruler of Farghana. For the next seven years he struggled to take the alluring city of Samarkand, Timur's former capital. .In 1500 at the age of 19 Babur took Samarkand and a year later loses through unreliable friends and ruthless op-ponents thwarted his desire to hold it long termDuring these apprenticeship years, he travelled extensively and these journeys equipped him for the arduous life ahead. In the opening section of his autobiography his reference points are mountains. "Farghana is a small country,... It is girt round by mountains except on the west..and refers to local mountains Bara Koh . He frequently refers to the his southern refer-ence points the mountains of Badakshan and later ... " In the mountains round Farghana are excellent summer-pastures (yilaq) In late August 1500, Babur left the town of Kesh and travels over one of the most difficult passes en route to AuratipaNext we were for going up the valley of the Kam torrent and over the Sara-taq pass (da-ban)...we entered a valley and made our way up it. On its steep and narrow roads and at its sharp and preciptitous saddles many horses and camels were left. Before we reached the Sara-taq pass we had (in 25m.) to make three or four night halts. A pass! and what a pass! Never was such a steep and narrow pass seen; never were traversed such ravines and preci-pices. Those dangerous narrows and sudden falls, those perilous heights and knife edge sad-dles, we got through with much difficulty and suffering, with countless hardships and miser-ies.In the summer of 1504 at the age of 22, Babur left his homeland hoping to join his uncle Husain Beg Baiqara, the ruler Herat the leading Asian city in art, literature, philosophy and religion. On leaving his homeland he describes that poignant moment."Those who. hoping in me, went with me into exile, were, small and great, between 2 and 300; they were almost on foot, had walking staves in their hands, brogues on their feet, and long coats on their shoulders. So destitute were we that we had but two tents (chadar) amongst us; my own used to be pitched for my mother, and they set an alachug at each stage for me to sit in."He crossed the Oxus in June and regained hope in Hisar country when he learns that the cow-ardly and aging ruler Khusrau Shah is losing control of his territory. Nearly all the followers of Khusrau Shah join Babur as he changes plans from visiting Herat and decides to head for Kabul.Babur makes his first crossing of the Hindu Kush in Autumn 1504 via the Qipchak (Cha-hardar) Pass from the Surkhab River and descended into the Ghorband Valley. He soon takes Kabul Typical is his section on Mountain Passes into Kabul:The country of Kabul is a fastness hard for foreign foe to make his way into.The Hindu Kush mountains, which separate Kabul from Balkh, Qunduz and Badakhshan, are crossed by seven roads. Three of these lead out of Panjshir, viz. Khawak, the uppermost Tul, the next lower, and Bazarak. Of the passes on them, the one on the Tul road is the best, but the road itself is rather the longest whence, seemingly, it is called Tul. Bazarak is the most di-rect; like the Tul, it leads over into Sar-i-rab; as it passes through Parandi, local people call its main pass, the Parandi. Another road leads up through Parwan; it has seven minor passes, known as Haft-bacha (Seven-younglings), between the main pass (Baj-gah). It is joinded at its main pass by two roads from Andar-ab, which go on to Parwan by it. This is a road full of dif-ficulties. Out of Ghur-bund, again, three roads lead over. The next one to Parwan, known as the Yang-yul pass (New-road), goes through Walian to Khinjan; next above this is the Qip-chaq road, crossing to where the water of Andar-ab meets meets the Surkh-ab (Qizil-su); this also is an excellent road; and the third leads over the Shibr-tu; those crossing by this in the heats take their way by Bamian and Saighan, but those crossing it in winter, go on by Ab-dara (Water valley). Shibr-tu excepted, all the Hindu-kush roads are closed for three or four months in winter, because no road through a vally-bottom is passable when the water are high. If any-one thinks to cross the Hindu-kush at that time, over the mountains instead of through a valley-bottom, is journey is hard indeed. The time to cross is the three of four au-tumn months when the snow is less and the water are low. Whether on mountains or in the valley-bottoms, Kafir highwaymen are not few.The road from Kabul into Khurasan passes through Qandahar, it is quite level without a pass.Four roads leads into Kabul from the Hindustan side; one by a rather low pass through the Khaibar mountains, another by way of Bangash, another by way of Naghr (var. Naghz), and another through Farmul;; the passes being low also in the three last-named.In his book Babur-Nama he describes with great details his favourite city Kabul, the moun-tains, routes and passes, flora, fauna, the ethic tribes. Of Kabul he says, " It has a very pleasant climate; if the world has another so pleasant, it is not known. Even in the heats, one cannot sleep at nights without a fur-coat. Although the snow in most places lies deep in winter, the cold is not excessive...."Baburs travels in the mountain are legendary. In May 1506 he set out to fight the Uzbeks in the north and goes via the Ghorband valley over the Shibr-tu Pass , then the pass of the Little-Dome (Gumbazak-kutal) through Saighan then over the Dandan-Shikan Pass and camped in the meadows of Kahmard. Bibaur then moves to Khurasan via the Ajar valley and crosses the upper Balkh river at Balkh-Ab. Camps awhile at Saf Hill to Gorziwan, Almar, Qaisar, Chechaktu. Morghab to the Bam Valley.After meeting various rulers in the region he travelled to Herat an enjoys the spectacle and splendid architecture created by his forebears. Although persuded to stay the winter in the Herat region, Babur decides to head back to Kabul because he was worried that some of his enemys might vtake the city in his absence. The winter came and heavy snow feel on the moungtains between Herat and Kabul. On Dec 24 1506, Babur left Herat and was soon con-fronted by a sheet of snow from Khwajagan and as he got near to Chachcharan, the snow was above the horses knees. The story becomes a mountain travellers nightmare. Chest deep snow, progress 2 miles a day, frostbitten hands and feet. Babur writes:" Much misery and hardship were endured in those few days, more than at any time of my life. In that stress I composed the following opening couplet:Is there one cruel turn of Fortune's wheel unseen of me ?Is there a pang, a grief my wounded heart has missed.For nearly w eek Babur and a his tough band of men stamped chest-deep snow down for 6 or 7 metres, before being exhausted. then the lead would change After 10 to 20 men had stamped the snow, the horses would be led. After a few steps the horse would sink up to the stirrups. After four days the got out of that depressing place and reached a large cave below the Zirrin Pass.In 1525, he left Kabul for India and from then on Delhi and Agra became his capitals. He never lost his love for Kabul and requested that on his death, he be buried there. He was bur-ied on the western slopes of the mountain called Sher-i- Darwaza.Later "In India, meanwhile, Babur's grandson - the Emperor Akbar- was bringing Mogul rule to its zenith. By the end of the sixteenth cebtury he had established a sound administrative framework, while peerless cities like Agra and fatepur Sikri claimed the artistic glories of his reign. Far away in London, however, the East India Company was founded in 1600, with profound implications for the future of the sub-comtinent.
Posted by Bob McKerrow at 3:39 AM
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
I LIVED IN NEW DELHI FOR SIX YEARS AND GOT TO KNOW WILLIAM DALRYMPLE. OUR BOYS WERE IN THE SAME CLASS AT THE bRITISH SCHOOL. I HAVE FOLLOWED WILLIAM'S WRITING WITH GREAT INTEREST AND FEEL THIS ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE OBSERVER ON 30 NOVEMBER, ANSWERS A FEW QUESTIONS MANY OF US STILL HAVE ABOUT THE MUMBAI'S ATROCITIES.
The Observer, Sunday November 30 2008
Three weeks ago, in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar, I met a young surgeon named Dr Iqbal Saleem. Iqbal described to me how on 11 August this year, Indian security forces entered the hospital where he was fighting to save the lives of unarmed civilian protesters who had been shot earlier that day by the Indian army. The operating theatre had been tear-gassed and the wards riddled with bullets, creating panic and injuring several of the nurses. Iqbal had trained at the Apollo hospital in Delhi and said he harboured no hatred against Hindus or Indians. But the incident had profoundly disgusted him and the unrepentant actions of the security forces, combined with the indifference of the Indian media, had convinced him that Kashmir needed its independence.
I thought back to this conversation last week, when news came in that the murderous attackers of Mumbai had brutally assaulted the city's hospitals in addition to the more obvious Islamist targets of five-star hotels, Jewish centres and cafes frequented by Americans and Brits. Since then, the links between the Mumbai attacks and the separatist struggle in Kashmir have become ever more explicit. There now seems to be a growing consensus that the operation is linked to the Pakistan-based jihadi outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose leader, Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed, operates openly from his base at Muridhke outside Lahore.
This probable Pakistani origin of the Mumbai attacks, and the links to Kashmir-focused jihadi groups, means that the horrific events have to be seen in the context of the wider disaster of Western policy in the region since 9/11. The abject failure of the Bush administration to woo the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan away from the Islamists and, instead, managing to convince many of them of the hostility of the West towards all Muslim aspirations, has now led to a gathering catastrophe in Afghanistan where the once-hated Taliban are now again at the gates of Kabul.
Meanwhile, the blowback from that Afghan conflict in Pakistan has meant that Asif Ali Zardari's government has now lost control of much of the North West Frontier Province, in addition to the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, while religious and political extremism flourishes as never before.
Pakistan's most intractable problem remains the relationship of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) over the last 25 years with myriad jihadi groups. Once, the ISI believed that they could use jihadis for their own ends, but the Islamists have increasingly followed their own agendas, to the extent that they now feel capable of launching well-equipped and well-trained armies into Indian territory, as happened so dramatically in Mumbai.
Visiting Pakistan last week, it was clear that much of the north of the country was slipping out of government control. While it is unlikely that Zardari's government had any direct link to the Mumbai attacks, there is every reason to believe that its failure effectively to crack down on the country's jihadi network, and its equivocation with figures such as Hafiz Muhammad Syed, means that atrocities of the kind we saw last week are likely to continue.
India meanwhile continues to make matters worse by its ill-treatment of the people of Kashmir, which has handed to the jihadis an entire generation of educated, angry middle-class Muslims. One of the clean-shaven boys who attacked CST railway station - now named by the Indian media as Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amin Kasab, from Faridkot in the Pakistani Punjab - was wearing a Versace T-shirt. The other boys in the operation wore jeans and Nikes and were described by eyewitnesses as chikna or well-off. These were not poor, madrasah-educated Pakistanis from the villages, brainwashed by mullahs, but angry and well-educated, middle-class kids furious at the gross injustice they perceive being done to Muslims by Israel, the US, the UK and India in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir respectively.
If Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is the most emotive issue for Muslims in the Middle East, then India's treatment of the people of Kashmir plays a similar role among South-Asian Muslims. At the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the state should logically have gone to Pakistan. However, the pro-Indian sympathies of the state's Hindu Maharajah, as well as the Kashmiri origins of the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, led to the state passing instead to India - on the condition that the Kashmiris retained a degree of autonomy.
Successive Indian governments, however, refused to honour their constitutional commitments to the state. The referendum, promised by Nehru at the UN, on whether the state would remain part of India, was never held. Following the shameless rigging of the 1987 local elections, Kashmiri leaders went underground. Soon after, bombings and assassination began, assisted by Pakistan's ISI which ramped up the conflict by sending over the border thousands of heavily armed jihadis.
India, meanwhile, responded with great brutality to the insurgency. Half-a-million Indian soldiers and paramilitaries were dispatched to garrison the valley. There were mass arrests and much violence against ordinary civilians, little of which was ever investigated, either by the government or the Indian media. Two torture centres were set up - Papa 1 and Papa 2 - into which large numbers of local people would 'disappear'. In all, some 70,000 people have now lost their lives in the conflict. India and Pakistan have fought three inconclusive wars over Kashmir, while a fourth mini-war came alarmingly close to igniting a nuclear exchange between the two countries in 1999. Now, after the Mumbai attacks, Kashmir looks likely to derail yet again the burgeoning peace process between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir continues to divide the establishment of Pakistan more than any other issue. Zardari might publicly announce that he doesn't want to let Kashmir get in the way of improved relations between India and Pakistan, but Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is officially banned, continues to function under the name of Jama'at al-Dawa, and Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed continues openly to incite strikes against Indian and Western targets. At one recent meeting, he proclaimed that 'Christians, Jews and Hindus are enemies of Islam' and added that it was the aim of the Lashkar to 'unfurl the green flag of Islam in Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi'.
Sayeed also proclaims that the former princely state of what he calls 'Hyderabad Deccan' is also a part of Pakistan, which may explain the claim of responsibility for the attacks by a previously unknown group named the Deccan Mujahideen. It is clear Sayeed appears to operate with a measure of patronage from the Pakistani establishment and the Zardari government recently cleared the purchase of a bulletproof Land Cruiser for him. When Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was yesterday asked on Indian TV whether Pakistan would now arrest Sayeed, he dodged the question answering: 'We have to recognise that there are elements in every society that can act on their own.'
In the months ahead, we are likely to see a security crackdown in India and huge pressure applied to Pakistan to match its pro-Indian and pro-Western rhetoric with real action against the country's jihadi groups. But there is unlikely to be peace in South Asia until the demands of the Kashmiris are in some measure addressed and the swamp of grievance in Srinagar somehow drained. Until then, the Mumbai massacres may be a harbinger of more violence to come.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Climbing with Bruce Watson from Hokitika, in the Kohi Anjuman Range in August 1996. We were at about 5000 metres when I took the photo. Photo Bob McKerrow
It is a warm sunny day in Christchurch, New Zealand, the 15th of November 2008. I have been back in New Zealand for four days which has given me a chance to put together and publish a few articles I wrote when I lived, worked, trekked and climbed in Afghanistan in 1976, again from 1993-96 and visited in 2003-04 and 05. I also spent two years working in neighbouring Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan and was able to visit the Afghan borders and look into Afghanistan and study the complexities of the mountain systems. See map of Afghanistan below.
I was fortunate to be able to do some climbs in Afghanistan, as well as some mountain skiing between 1994 and 1996 and the article Various Short Walks in the Hindu Kush can be read on my blog: http://bobmckerrow.blogspot.com/2008/02/various-short-walks-in-hindu-kush.html
Bob McKerrow on skiis in the western Hindu Kush an hour or so from the Salang Pass. January 1996. Photo: Bob McKerrow
I hope this article adds something to the knowledge of the Mountains of Afghanistan.
Writers and geographers have wrestled with descriptions and the location of the high Hindu Kush. It has been called the solar plexus of Asia, the Pamir Knot and in the second century was thought to be the source of the Nile by the Greek geographer, Ptolemy. Afghanistan is roughly quadrilateral in shape, with the long finger called the Wakhan stretching east wards.
A satellite image of the Hindu Kush taken in 2006
Afghanistan is a land-locked country lying between 29o 35' and 38o 40' northern latitude and between 60o 31' and 75o 00' eastern longitude on the mountainous and desert areas where the Iranian plateau borders with the mountainous systems of Central Asia.
The country is bounded on the north by the countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (9238km), on the north-east by China (96km) and India ? (102)km, on the south and east by Pakistan (2310), and on the west by Iran (925 km)
The cover of the book I wrote on Afghanistan. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The system of folded mountains is quite complex and erratic, but generally run north-east to south-west. The north-east and central parts of Afghanistan make up a huge highland area covering over half the country with an average altitude of 2000 metres. The dominant mourn-tain system in Afghanistan is the Hindu Kush which commences in the extreme north-eastern corner of the Wakhan corridor and stretches in a south-westerly direction for more than 700 km finishing at the Shibar Pass. On the western side of the Shibar Pass the Kohi Baba curves south-westwards and can almost be called an extension of the Hindu Kush. This huge mountainous region descends on all sides quite abruptly to flatter regions, except to the north-east where it becomes the Pamirs.
To the north the Hindu Kush falls into the plains of Bactria which stretches as far as the Amu Darya (The Oxus River). East it drops to the Indus basin, to the south is the dry deserts of Seistan and Garmsers and to the west, about 140km from the border of Iran the mountains de-scend into the steppes and Namaksars (salty deserts) of Herat province. The huge tract of land north of the Hindu Kush
The boundaries of Afghanistan have changed dramatically in the last 200 years. At the start of the 19th century, Afghanistan stretched from Meshad to Kashmir, from the Oxus to the Satlej River and to the Arabian Sea. This greater Afghanistan was built by Ahmad Shah Durrani (1747-1773) and was known as the Durrani Empire.
Unfortunately, the British colonialists in playing the great game and wanting to feed their politician's paranoia of the Russians, placed a buffer between Lahore and the Afghan border. The north-west frontier province was carved out of eastern Afghanistan and was incorporated it into the Indian Empire. In placing this formidable barrier between themselves and Russia, they left the highest peak of the Hindu Kush, Tirich Mir in India, now Pakistan. As most Afghans still regard everything in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province across to the Indus as rightly belonging to them and knowing that the 100 year agreement (forced upon Abdur Rahman Khan in 1893) over the artificial border known as the Durrand Line has expired, they believe one day they will get back all their lands illegally seized by the British.
Early writers refer to the the area where the Hindu Kush abuts the Pamirs as the Pamir Knot. or the solar plexus of the mountain system of Asia. Lowell Thomas saw it thus:
The system of folded mountain ranges that spans Asia from east to west radiates out from the Pamir knot, " a region of wilderness, of rock and wind and dizzy peaks." Westward it extends from the Hindu Kush to the Elburz Mountains, south of the Caspian Sea, and to the Zagros Mountains that form Iran's southern frontier. Branching out from the Hindu Kush to the south and east are the four major ranges-the Karakorams, Himalayas, Altyn Tagh, and Kunluns, which continue into China as the Tsinling Mountains. To the north range the Tien Shan and the Atlai mountains, the latter extending from the Gobi Desert to the southern edge of Siberia
This photo shows what early explorers called the Pamir Knot. The coming together of the Pamirs, Hindu Kush and Karakoram Ranges
The English explorer Colonel Schomberg describes the meeting point of the world's great ranges.
"As the traveller climbs up to the passes on the frontier, he gazes over an expanse of snow and rock. To the east are the Karakorams, the Kun Lun, and the Himalayas: to the west and north are the Hindu Kush and the down-like windswept Pamirs. To the south are the great snow ranges of gilgit and Kashmir. He has reached the solar plexus of the mountain system of Asia, baffling and most repelleFor the purpose of defining the Hindu Kush, I use Moham-med Ali's definitions, the the Oriental Hindu Kush and the Occidental Hindu Kush. Mohammed Ali was a former Professor of History, Kabul, and a prolific writer of books on Afghani-stan.
In deciding where the two divisions occur I amalgamate both Mohammed Ali's and Ludmig Adamec's dividing lines, the Khawak Pass. However Adamec goes further and divides it into three sections, the eastern from the Pamirs to the Dorah Pass, the central from the Dorah to the Khawak; and the western from the Khawak pass to the termination of the range near the Shibar Pass.
Hindu Kush ( Oriental)
The start of the Hindu Kush oriental. A view of peaks near Noshaq taken from the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Starting on the north-eastern extremity of the Wakhan corridor where the Pamirs abut from the north and the Karakorams from the south east, this is the meeting place of four countries: Remote, mysterious and seldom visited the countries of Tajikistan, China, Pakistan and of course Afghanistan meet. With its starting point in the Wakhan, the Oriental Hindu Kush con-tinues through Badakshan to the Khawak Pass in the Panjcher Valley, the graveyards of thousands of young Greek soldiers, who were led by Alexander the Great in the spring of 327 BC over the Khawak Pass. The soldiers died, frozen to rocks as they dropped from cold, exhaustion and frostbite.
It contains the highest mountains in Afghanistan. Noshaq, 7485 metres is the highest point, of the Afghan Hindu Kush.
In an area surrounding Noshaq are many peaks over 7000 metres. The highest peak in the south eastern limit of this Oriental Hindu Kush is Mir Samir, 5,800m, made famous by Eric Newby in his book "A Short Walk in The Hindu Kush," based on his eccentric journey in 1956 with Hugh Carless. Mir Samir is a magnificent peak, close to the Chamar Pass, and a two to three day walk from the Khawak Pass. I attempted to climb this peak in 1995 and climbed an unclimbed 5000 metre peak nearby.This is the upper part of the scenic Panjcher valley and contains the Anjoman Pass, 4200 metres which conects the Panjcher valley to Badakshan. This pass I have crosed four times and affords one of the most spectuacular views of the Hindu Kush, and the Tirch Mir can be seen in the distance in Pakistan.
A Lake in northern Badakshan near the Tajik border
A subsidiary range runs south off the Hindu Kush into Nuristan and another to the north the Khuajeh Mohammad Range with peaks up to 5,800 metres.
Hindu Kush (Occidental)
The road leading to the Salang Pass, which has the highest road tunnel in the world. It conects Kabul and the Shomali plains to the plains of Bactria. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The western section of the Hindu Kush starts at the Khawak pass and continues another 200 km to the Shibar Pass in a south westerly direction. Halfway between the Khawak and Shibar passes is the Salang Pass and the Salang tunnel, supposedly the highest road tunnel in the world. There is no peak over 5200 metres in this section, but what it lacks in height, it makes up with spectacular scenery and hospitable mountain people, particularly in the lower Panjcher valley.
The Hindu Kush occidental, was first named by Persians in their language of the Avesta, well before the coming of Alexander of Macedonia. They called it Paropanisadae, and means, a mountain loftier than the ceiling of even an eagle's flight. Alexander's men graecised it to Paropanisus. However it seems the Persian and the Greeks, were referring to the part of the Hindu Kush seen from Koh Daman, the plains north of Kabul, and is what we call, the Hindu Kush Occidental. The sheer size of the Hindu Kush is hard to gauge from a map. From 1993 to 1996 I criss-crossed the Hindu Kush countless times in the course of my work and the best viewpoint always was flying south to north over the Salang Pass at over 20,000 feet early in the morning. From the air, the Salang Pass appears in the middle of the mountain massif. To the north-east the Panjcher valley, narrow at the start and broadening later, dominates the low foreground. Thousands of peaks, increasing in height towards the eastern horizon dominate the jagged landscape. Two peaks are easily recognisable, Mir Samir on the southern side of the Panjcher and to the north, Kohi Bandak. As your viewing perspective nears the eastern horizon a jumble of indistinquisable high peaks merge into a mysterious white world. The width of the range is astounding, over 190 km including the subsidiary ranges.
To the west the Hindu Kush diminishes in height and later merges imperceptibly into the Kohi Baba which in turns spreads in all directions into the wild and desolate tablelands known as Hazarajat. From the air the snowcovered tablelands look as though the concave mountain faces have been shaped by an ice-cream scoop. Standing alone to the west-north-west is the Turand-i-Turkestan, isolated. impressive and clearly separate from any other range, except for a spur running south-east, named the Hesar Range.
The author wearing a turban at a wedding ceremony in the mountainous Panjcher valley. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Starting 25km south-west of Bamian, it extends in an westerly direction for 120 kilometres miles, curving like a boomerang. From the air its looks like an extension of the Hindu Kush with its highest peak Falodi 5135 metres prominent in the centre of the range. South and south west of the Kohi Baba is a very mountainous plateau area from which various tributaries of the Helmand river starts. To the north-west of the Kohi Baba is a mountain range from which the fist trickles of the Balkh River start. The peaks reach 4555 metres in height and appear from the air as a continumn of the Kohi Baba.
The Kohi Baba is in the centre of a region that early Afghan geographers described as the Central Block of Hazarajat. A number of explorers and geographers have likened it to Tibet. Mohammad Ali's description cannot be bettered. "This is a vast table land extending from Herat to Kabul and from Ghazni to Bamian. It is a high, bleak, and intensely inhospitable country, where snow lies for a greater part of the year, and where little or no fruit is grown, and the cultivation is confined to the narrow banks of rivers and streams. This irregular table-land has been scored and eroded for centuries by river action. From here emerge some of the greatest rivers of Afghanistan. To the north the river Khulm (Tashqurghan) and the Balkh take a hurried start for the plains of Bactria; westward the Hari Rud streams off to Herat; south-ward extend the long curving lines of the Helmand, Harut, Khash Rud and Arghandab, and eastward flows the Kabul with its various branches. A rugged mountain mass, called the Koh-i-Baba and Firoz Koh, the lineal continuation of the Hindu Kush."
Camel trains carrying loads in the Central Hindu Kush, near Hazarjat. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The southern extremity of Hazarajat are Shah Massoud and Kafar Jar Gah ranges which run along the southern border of Oruzgan provinces.
To the west of the Kohi Baba is a twin range named the Firoz Koh. It runs parallel to the Tir-band-i-Turkestan, which lies to the north. The northern branch of the Firoz Koh is called the Safid Koh (the white mountain) and the southern branch is called the Siah Koh (the black mountain) It lies within the Hazarajat region.
The name Parapomisus is a confusing name and it pops up in history books going back as far as Alexander the Great. One writer says " Continuing meanwhile his own advance, Alexander arrived at the foot of the colossal mountain-barrier, the chain of the Paropanisos, which separates Kabul from Bactria.
The natives designation was Parapamisos, or, as Ptolemy more correctly transliterates it, Paropanisos. "(J.W. M'Crindle) In the course of time this range gets shifted to the west. Ali describes it as " a small range lying to the the extreme west, between the districts of Herat and Badghis. Its local name is Siah Babuk.".
Ludwig Adamec in his Historical Dictionary seems to agree with modern maps: He spells it Paropamisus and says" the name given by Western writers to the Safid Kuh and Band-i-Baba, the range bounding on the Hari Rud (q.v.) valley on the north." A number of cartographers, particualrly the Polish during the Soviet occupation, leave the name off the map altogether and stick to the more specific ranges, the Safid Koh and Band-i-Baba.
The Paropamisus is specatcular when driving from Qala-i-Nau to Herat. It takes on the appearance of the Italian Dolomites with it sheer-sided pinnacles. The Sabzak Pass is the main pass and is usually cut off in the winter.
This impressive range forms a mountain border between southern Fariab and Sar-e pol and the northern border for Badghis and Ghor provinces with peaks reaching up to 4161 metres. Approached from the north, the Turband -i-Turkestan breaks the lunar-like landscape of Fariab province by providing a stately-white mountain range that dominates the high south-ern horizon. A number of villages at altitudes of 2000 metres are inhabited by mountain Tajiks who plough and plant the treeless mountainsides with a hardy variety of wheat. Pockets of Hazara and Uzbeks families also live in the villages at slightly lesser altitudes. The Tur-band-i-Turkestan is frequently racked by earthquakes, and is situated on an active faultline. At its eastern extermity an outlying range, the Hesar mountains run south easterly where the bor-ders of Ghor, Sar-e-pol meet Bamian province. The highest point of this range is 4539 m.
Lowell Thomas writes about the early history of the geography. "The source of the Nile and the location of the Mountains of the Moon were two of the earliest geographical enigmas. Both puzzles lasted into the nineteenth century, for not until central Africa had been penetrated and mapped did it become possible to solve them. ..... In the second century AD., Ptolemy, with the accumulated wisdom of the astronomer, mathematician and geographer, was more positive.In the fourth century BC., Alexander the Great had consulted the oracle of Jupiter (Amen-Ra) in the Siwa oasis of Egypt about the success of his expedition into the East-and about the sources of the Nile (which he thought he had found in the Hindu Kush mountains of Asia, near the headwaters of the Indus River.
It's a wonder Alexander knew where he was at the time, because he referred to the Hindu Kush as the Caucasus. On later maps they were referred to as the Indicus Caucasus. Probably, "Caucasus" was bandied about in the same way the name "Alps" is to-day, Aristotle further confused the issue by calling the Hindu Kush the Asiatic Parnassus. According to Babur, founder of the Mogul Empire, Hindu Kush means "Dead Hindu." Today we render it "Hindu Death."
Possibly the most photographed mountain range in Afghanistan for from most parts of Kabul the north-west skyline is dominated by Kohi Paghman, a jagged range with summits reaching almost 5000 metres. Kohi Paghman forms part of Kohi Daman, Daman meaning skirt, a skirt of mountains that circle the north of Kabul. On a winter's day there is cannot be a more impressive capital city view in the world than standing in the mountain Lion capital Kabul, looking at the ring of mountains in all directions, the most prominent being Kohi Paghman.
Bushkashi, the mountain metaphor. It is a wild game played on horseback where a goat is used as a ball. Photo: Bob McKerrow
From the village of Paghman a main river valley leads up and forks, one valley leads into Parwan and thence, Bamian, (a well known packing route) the other into Wardak province.
This was the favourite region of the first Mogul Emporer, Babur. Here he wrote his poems, held wine parties, visited friends and soaked in the beauty.
Speen Gar and Safed Koh
This is an off shoot of the Sulaiman range. Sikkaram, its highest peak, is 15,600 feet.A magnificent range when cloaked with winter snow and from the air and ground it dominates the landscape of Nangahar provinces and acts as a divide between Nangahar, Lowgar and Paktia provinces. There is a discernable pass between the eastern Speengar and the connecting range, the Safed Koh, (not to be confused with the Safed Koh in the Parapomisus, which divides Nangahar province from Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. The Safed Koh curves from its predominent west-east direction to the north east as it descends down to and finishes at at the lengendary Khyber Pass.
When flying from Jalalabad to Kabul's Bagram airport it is possible to see the Speengar and the Safed Koh to the south and to the north a craggy range running from Assadabad in Kunar province to near the town of Metarlam in Laghman province. The south-western end of the Kashmund range drops into the southern end of the Alingar valley which leads to the high peaks of Nuristan. Further westwards is the fertile Tagrab valley which has an impressive un-named twin peak with a spot height of 4420 , trees cling to its steep sides up to 3,500 m. In winter the twin summits look similar to New Zealand's magnificent ice peak, Mt Tasman and its lesser peak of Silberhorn.
This range is the barrier between the Indus basin and the Helmand River. It starts in Paktia Province at the Shutur Gardan pass 11,200 feet and runs in a south-south-easterly direction where it takes on additional names, the Mangal and Jadran hills. The highest points reach up to 12,000 feet. It is likely the mountain range got its name from the Sulaiman Khel Ghilzais, the name of the tribe whose land it passes through. There is another range of this name which runs along the Baluchstan-Punjab border.
The bones of thousands of over-ambitous conquerors and their followers lie strewn across the heights of the Hindu Kush as they tried to take Afghanistan, but few were able to hold the mountain lands for long as the Soviets found out in the 1980's. This current war, like so many earlier ones against Persian, British and Russian armies, will be decided in the mountain valleys and passes where fanatical warriors momentarily put aside tribal feuds and joined together, displaying a unique brand of mountain guerrilla warfare which is based on hawk-like instincts, circle, swoop and loot. The spoils of war provide important resources. Of all the mountain passes in Afghanistan, the Khyber pass has a long history of conquests and death.
There are thousands of significant mountain passes dotted throughout the country and it is not possible to name them all. However, the important ones have been mentioned in this article already.
The road winds up to the Khyber Pass, Landi Khotal and Torkham.
The most famous of them all is the Khyber Pass as it is weakest chink in the great chain of mountains stretching across India, Pakistan and Afghanistan is the most famous of all passes in Asia, the Khyber Pass. Lowell Thomas describes the Khyber's strategic importance:
"The fabled Khyber cuts through the mountains south of the Hindu Kush, west of the Pamir Knot, connects the northern frontier of West Pakistan with Afghanistan, and links Turkestan in Central Asia with the subcontinent of Hindustan."
Afghanistan and the Khyber Pass became the nineteenth century's legendary Northwest Frontier, patrolled by British military units like the Bengal Lancers. Campaigning through the "hills," their deeds of glory provided colorful material for Rudyard Kipling. In his "Arithmetic on the Frontier," Kipling paid tribute to the price paid by those early "few" with slightly racist overtones, not uncommon of that ear.: "
With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troopships bring us one by one
At vast expense of time and steam
To slay Afridis where they run.
The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap, alas! as we are dear
Landi Kotal Cemetery
A reminder of the huge loss of life can be seen today, when you head towards the Khyber Pass you pass the Landi Kotal Cemetery where soldiers of the British Army, mainly from 1879-80 (Second Afghan War) and 1898 and 1919 (Third Afghan War), are buried. Many regiments and battalions are represented here. Two stone obelisks stand in the middle each bearing a plaque. The inscription on one is almost faded and the other records: "Sacred to the memory of the British soldiers of all ranks who lie buried near this spot 187 of whom died at Landi Kotal from the result of wounds received in action and from disease during the Afghan Campaign of 1879-80 and the remainder since the reoccupation of the Khyber in 1898"
Wherever you are in Afghanistan it is impossible to escape the influence of the mountains. The success of crops depends on adequate winter snows, millions of sheep, goat and cattle rely on the lush summer alpine grazing for their survival, the country's economy depends on the gemstones lodged in deep mountain recesses, transportation is reliant on the condition of the alpine passes, avalanches, spring snow melt and the resultant floods can wipe out a village and its total crops with a flick of its icy tail.
And, with the heavy deforestation and overgrazing up to the snowline all year round, local eco-systems and the biodiversity have been so impacted that the mountain habitat is degrading so quickly that landslides, flooding from bursting natural dams caused by blocked rivers, have wreaked havoc in mountain regions. Local mountain inhabitants complain that changing weather patterns are affecting their lifestyle. The result is a major ecological disaster occuring in the Hindu Kush.
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