1902 Encyclopedia > Afghanistan > Afghanistan - Rivers

(Part 3)

(3) Afghanistan - Rivers

RIVERS. – Next to the Kabul river in importance, and probably much exceeding it in volume as it certainly does in length, is the Helmand (Etymander), the only considerable river in its latitude from the Tigris to the Indus. The Helmand has its highest sources in the Koh-I-Baba and Paghman hills, between Kabul and Bamian. Its succeeding course is through the least known tract of Afghanistan, chiefly occupied by Hazaras; indeed, for a length of nearly 300 miles no European has seen the river. This unvisited space terminates at Girishk, where the river is crossed by the principal route from Heart to Kandahar. Till about 40 miles above Girishk the character of the Helmand is mid to be that of a mountain river, flowing, between scarped rocks, and obstructed by enormous boulders. At that point it enters on a flat country, and extends over a gravelly bed. Here, also, it begins to be used in irrigation. Forty-five miles below Girishk the Helmand receives its greatest tributary, the Arghand-ab, coming past Kandahar from the high Ghilzai country. It here becomes a very considerable river, said to have a width of 300 or 400 yards, and a depth of 9 to 12 feet. But this cannot be at all seasons, as there are fords at long intervals as far down as Pulalik, 100 miles from the mouth. The desert draws near the left bank in the lower course, and for the last 150 miles the moving sands approach within 1x
The course of the river is more or less south-west from its source till in Seistan it approaches meridian 62°, when it turns nearly north, and so flows on for 70 or 80 miles, till it falls into the lake of Seistan by various mouths. The whole length of the river, measured as before, is about 615 miles. Ferrier considers that it has water enough for navigation at all seasons, from Girishk downwards. At present boats are rarely seen, and those in use are most clumsy; rafts are employed for crossing.

Arghand-ab. – Of this tributary of the Helmand little is known except in its lower course. It rises in the Hazara country, N.W. of Ghazni. It is said to be shallow, and to run nearly dry in height of summer; but when its depth exceeds 3 feet its great rapidity makes it a serious obstacle to travelers. In its lower course it is much used for irrigation, and the valley is cultivated and populous; yet the water is said to be somewhat brackish. Its course may be reckoned about 235 miles.

It is doubtful whether the ancient Arachotus is to be identified with the Arghand-ab or with its chief confluent the Tarnak, which joins it on the left about 30 miles S.W. of Kandahar. The two rivers run nearly parallel, inclosing the backbone of the Ghilzai plateau. The Tarnak is much the shorter (length about 197 miles) and less copious. The ruins at Ulan Robat, supposed to represent the city Arachosia, are in its basin; and the late known as Ab-I-Istada, the most probable representative of Lake Arachotus, is near the head of the Tarnak, though not communicating with it. The Tarnak is dammed for irrigation at intervals, and in the hot season almost exhausted. There is a good deal of cultivation along the river, but few villages. The high road from Kabul to Kandahar passes this way (another reason for supposing the Tarnak to be Arachotus), and the people live off the road to eschew the onerous duties of hospitality.

The Lora is the most southerly river of Afghanistan, and may be regarded as belonging to the Helmand basin, though it is not known that its waters ever reach that river. It rises near the Kand and Joba peaks in a branch of the Dulimani, and flows nearly east, passing through the large valley of Pishin, but lying too deep for irrigation. The river has a course of nearly 200 miles, and considerable breadth, but is never for a week together unfordable. In the Shorawak district (long. 65 o – 66 o ) a good deal of irrigation is drawn from it. The river is said to terminate in a lake, on the verge of the sandy desert.

Rivers belonging to the basin of Seistan and the Lower Helmand are the Khash-Rud, the Farrah-Rud, and Harut.

The Khash-rud rises in or near the southern slopes of Siah-Koh (Black Mountain), which forms the southern wall of the valley of Heart, and flows south, in flood reaching the Lake of Seistan, but generally exhausted in irrigation. It is named from Khash, a village in the Seistan plain. In the dry season it is everywhere fordable, but in floods caravans may be detained by it several days.

The Farrah river flows from the same quarter, and has the same character in floods. It is a larger stream, and at Farrah is said to have a width of 150 yards, with 2 feet of water, and a clear, swift stream. In flood, Khanikoff was struck with the resemblance of this river, rolling its yellow waves violently between steep banks of clay, to the Cyrus at Tiffis.

The Harut rises in the mountains S.E. of Heart, and has a course of about 245 miles to the Lake of Seistan. Canals from it supply abundant irrigation to the plains of Sabzvar and Anardarah. The river forms a true delta with fifteen branches, giving rise to marsh and much vegetation, especially tamarisk, willow, and poplar. The Harut receives in the plain a considerable affluent, the Khushkek river.

It is possible that confusion of the name of this river with the Hari-Rud, or river of Herat, led to the long prevalent mistake that the latter river flowed south into the Seistan Lake – a mistake as old as Ptolemy, if his Aria Lacus be (as it seems) that of Seistan.

The Hari-rud is formed by two chief confluents in the lofty Hazara country, not far from the sources of the river of Balkh. Its early course is, for more than 100 miles and as far as the village of Jaor, westward, at a height of many thousand feet above the sea. It then descends rapidly (it is said with cataracts), but continues in the same direction, receiving numerous streams, to Obeh, where much water begins to be drawn off. Sixty-five miles further it flows past Heart, 3 miles to the south of the city. Hereabouts the Kandahar road crosses the river by a masonry bridge of 26 arches. Near this fifteen deep canals are drawn off. A few miles below Heart the river begins to turn N.W.; and after passing for many miles through a woody tract, abounding in game, in which are the preserves of the Heart princes, at the ancient and now nearly deserted town of Kassan, 70 miles from Heart, it turns due north. Though the drainage brought down by this river must be large, so much is drawn off that, below Heart, reaches of it are at times quite dry. Below Kassan it receives fresh supplies, and eventually the Meshed stream. It flows on towards Sarakhs, and dwindles away; but accurate information regarding it is still wanting. The channel is shown, in a map lately published, as passing Sarakhs for some 250 miles, and ending in a swamp adjoining the Daman-I-Koh, on the border of the Turkman desert.

Of the rivers that run towards the Indus, south of the Kabul river, the chief are the Kurram and the Gomal.

The Kurram drains the southern flanks of Safed Koh. The middle valley of Kurram, forming the district so called, is highly irrigated, well peopled, and crowded with small fortified villages, orchards, and groves, to which a fine background is afforded by the dark pine forests and alpine snows of Safed Koh. The beauty and climate of the valley attracted some of the Mogul emperors of Delhi, and the remains exist of a garden of Shah Jahan’s. The river passes the British frontier, and enters the plain country a few miles above Banu, spreading into a wide bed of sand and boulders, till it joins the Indus near Isa-Khel, after a course of more than 200 miles. By the Kurram valley is one of the best routes from India into Afghanistan. It was traveled by Major Lumsden’s party in 1857-58.

The Gomal, rising in the Sulimani mountains, though in length equal to the Kurram, and draining, with its tributaries, a much larger area, its little more than a winter torrent, diminishing to a mere rivulet, till December, when it begins to swell. At it exit into the plain of the Derajat a local chief threw a dam across its channel; and it is now only in very wet seasons that its waters reach the Indus, near Dera Ismael Khan. Not long before leaving the hills it receives from the S.W. a tributary, the Zhob, of nearly equal length and size, coming from the vicinity of the Kand and Joba peaks, in long 68 o.

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