(6) Afghanistan - Climate
CLIMATE. The variety of climate is immense, as might be expected. At Kabul, and over all the northern part of the country to the descent at Gandamak, winter is rigorous, but especially so on the high Arachosian playeau. In Kabul the snow lies for two or three months; the people seldom leave their houses, and sleep close to stoves. At Ghazni the snow has been known to lie long beyond the vernal equinox; the thermometer sinks to 10° and 15° below zero (Fahr.); and tradition related the entire destruction of the population of Ghazni by snow-storms more than once.
At Jalalabad the winter and the climate generally assume an Indian character, and the hot weather sometimes brings the fatal simum. The summer heat is great everywhere in Afghanistan, but most of all in the districts bordering on the Indus, especially Sewi, on the lower Helmand, and in Seistan. All over Kandahar province the summer heat is intense, and the simum is not unknown. The hot season throughout the "Khorasan" part of the country is rendered more trying by frequent dust-storms and fiery winds; whilst the bare rocky ridges that traverse the country, absorbing heat by day and radiating it by night, render the summer nights most oppressive. At Girishk, Ferrier records the thermometer in August to have reached 118° to 120° (Fahr.) in the shade. At Kabul the summer sun has much of its Indian power, though the heat is tempered occasionally by breezes from Hindu Kush, and the nights are usually cool. Baber says that, even in summer, one could not sleep at Kabul without a sheepskin, but this seems exaggerated. At Kandahar snow seldom falls on the plains or lower hills; when it does, it melts at once.
At Herat, though 800 feet lower than Kandahar, the summer climate appears to be more temperate; and, in fact, the climate altogether is one of the most agreeable in Asia. In July, Ferrier says he found the heat never to pass 98° , and rarely 91° to 93° (Fahr.) These are not low figures, but must be compared with his register at Girishk, just given. From May to September the wind blows from the N.W. with great violence, and this extends across the country to Kandahar. The winter is tolerably mild; snow melts as it falls, and even on the mountains does not lie long. Three years out of four at Herat it does not freeze hard enough for the people to store ice; yet it was not very far from Herat, and could not have been at a greatly higher level (at Kafir Kala, near Kassan) that, in 1750, Ahmed Shahs army, retreating from Persia, is said to have lost 18,000 men from cold in a single night.
The summer rains that accompany the S.W. monsoon in India, beating along the southern slopes of the Himalya, travel up the Kabul valley, at least to Laghman, though they are more clearly felt in Najaur and Pankkora, under the high spurs of the Hindu Kush, and in the eastern branches of Safed Koh. Rain also falls at this season at the head of Kurram valley. South of this the Sulimani mountains may be taken as the western limit of the monsoons action. It is quite unfelt in the rest of Afghanista, in which, as in all the west of Asia, the winter rains are the most considerable. The spring rain, though less copious, is more important to agriculture than the winter rain, unless where the latter falls in the form of snow. Speaking generally, the Afghanistan climate is a dry one. The sun shines with splendour for three-fourths of the year, and the nights are even more beautiful than the days. Marked characteristics are the great differences of summer and winter temperature and of day and night temperature, as well as the extent to which change of climate can be attained by slight change of place. As Baber again says of Kabul, at one days journey from it you may find a place where snow never falls, and at two hours journey, a place where snow almost never melts.
The Afghans vaunt the salubrity and charm of some local climates, as of the Tobah hills above Kakar country, and of some of the high valets of the Safed Koh.
The people have by no means that immunity from disease which the bright dry character of the climate and the fine physical aspect of a large proportion of them might lead us to expect. Intermittent and remittent fevers are very prevalent; bowel complaints are common, and often fatal in the autumn. The universal custom of sleeping on the house-top in summer promotes rheumatic and neuralgic affections; and in the Koh Daman of Kabul, which the natives regard as having the finest of climates, the mortality from fever and bowel complaint, between July and October, is great; the immoderate use of fruit predisposing to such ailments. Stone is frequent; eye disease is very common, as are haemorrhaidal affections and syphilitic diseases in repulsive forms. A peculiar skin disease of syphilitic origin prevails at Kandahar, and native physicians there are said by Bellew to admit that hardly one person in twenty is free from the taint in some form.
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Afghanistan - Table of Contents