1902 Encyclopedia > Hindu Kush

Hindu Kush




HINDU KUSH is a title applied to the line of alpine watershed stretching W.S.W. from the southern margin of Pamir, the Caucasus of Alexander's historians, which divides Afghanistan in a general sense from Afghan Turkestan, and the basin of the Cabul river from the basin of the Oxus. Looking towards the heart of a map of Asia, the eye is caught by that remarkable point where the great highland seems clenched as it were to a knot, whence expand in different directions (1) to east and south-east the great Tibetan plateau, (2) to north that of Pamir, and (3) to west that of Khorasan and Persia. Between the diverging masses run up the great basins of the Indus, the Yarkand river, and the Oxus. Some dim memory of these great features perhaps, trans-formed and transplanted further east, appears in the cosmography of the Puranas, in which the mythical Ganges falling on Mount Meru divides into four great rivers flowing to the cardinal points.

This is the first impression. But, imperfectty as we yet know the mountain structure, the more we learn the more evanescent becomes this idea of triplicity as typifying the true skeleton. This node is in fact the place of contact or intersection of two great elevations :—(1) of the Himalaya, of which the axial lines approach in a direction from S.E. to N.W.; and (2) of the Thian-Shan and allied ranges, of which the axial lines run from E.N.E. to W.S.W. The parallelism of Hindu Kush seems to attach it to the latter system.

The definition of geographical features must often be in part arbitrary, but that of Hindu Kush fairly coincides with natural limits. On the east we take it as commencing at the Baroghil Pass, leading from the high valley of Little Pamir south into the valley of Kashgar or Chitral. Just east of this is a cluster of peaks of great altitude, but their alignment attaches them to the great Gilgit range of the Himalaya (Miiztagh of some maps, Dapsang of Bichthofen). On the west we regard Hindu Kush as including and terminating at the Hajjigak Passes, those most commonly used between Cabul and Turkestan. West of this the range continues as a watershed of considerable altitude, but with a partial change of direction and loss of true alpine character. In maps this prolongation is styled Koh-i-Baba. Properly Koh-i-Baba is the name of a conspicuous three-peaked mountain rising over the Hajjigak Pass, to a height of at least 16,500 feet, which we regard as the terminal prominence of Hindu Kush, though it is in truth also isolated from the higher summits to the eastward, which especially claim that name, by a considerable interval of tamer mountain, rounded and naked.

The total length of Hindu Kush as thus defined is 365 miles. Towards the eastern extremity the watershed per-haps emerges little from the table-land, for the Baroghil Pass is of singularly easy acclivity on both sides, and no prominent summits adjoin it on the west. But for the rest of its extent the mountain tract of Hindu Kush realizes the popular idea of an alpine chain, i.e., of an unpierced mountain barrier whose passes are never far below the line of perpetual snow, and whose highest peaks are never very far from the watershed.
The general altitude of the " cols " or passes runs from 12,000 to 13,000 feet. We give those that have been calculated (besides which some 20 or 22 are known more vaguely), beginning from the east:—

Long. Feet.
1. Baroghil Pass 73°26' 12,000
2. Nuksan „ 71°37' 17,000
3. Dora „ 71°24' 16,000-16,500
4. Khawak ,, 69°39' 13,200
5. Sar-ulang „ 68°47' 12,000
6. Kushan ,, 68°40' 15,000
7. Irak „ 67°52' 12,900
8. Kahi „ (on Hajjigak Road) 67°45' 12,480

The three highest (2, 3, 6) do not rest upon any observations of barometer or boiling point, but on other and looser data. Of the height of the peaks we have nothing definite. Captain Burslem, who ascended Koh-i-Baba with Lieutenant Sturt in 1840, speaks of seeing the lofty peaks to the eastward " many thousand feet " above, and Burnes uses similar language. The great peak near the Kushan Pass, sometimes specially called Hindu Kush, which is seen at once from Cabul on the south and from Kunduz on the north, is probably not less than 20,000 feet high. Much further east the estimated heights of passes 2 and 3 indicate probable summits of as great altitude. A. great mountain due north of Chitral, called Tirich Mir, and said to be visible from a great part of Kafiristan and from Zebak in Badakhshan, is estimated by Major Biddulph, who alone has seen it, at the enormous height of 27,000 feet, but General Walker reduces this to 23,000 with a0).

Apart from this exceptional peak we shall form a just conception of the calibre of Hindu Kush among the ranges of the world if we class it with the French and Swiss Alps in extent and mass, but with greater average altitude. We have only one report of a glacier, viz., on the Nuksin Pass, No. 2 in the list of heights above.

The idea of a distinct southern range running parallel to Hindu Kush, north of the Cabul river, which Wood calls " the Himalaya," is founded on misconception. But peaks have been measured on the spurs which run south on both sides of the Kunar river. They rise to near 19,000 feet on the left bank, east of Chitral, descending to 11,800 near the Afghan boundary. In Kafiristan there are peaks on these spurs of 16,600 and 16,800 feet, and even within 25 miles of the Cabul river are some as high as 14,000 feet.





On the south side of Hindu Kush the earliest sources of the Helmand are in the gorges up which the Koh-i-Baba passes mount. All the rest of the range drains on that side to the Cabul river, and so to the Indus. On the north all the drainage reaches the Oxus.

Both hydrographic features and the limits of our knowledge conveniently divide the Hindu Kush into three sections.

(1.) Beginning from the east, in the first section, drainage southward is into the Chitral valley, and forms the great, perhaps greatest, contributary to the Cabul river, known as the Kunar or Beilam (probably Choaspes and Malamanthus of the ancients). The highest part of this basin is known as Chitral Bald (upper), and is politically united to Yasin in the Gilgit basin (see GILGIT). It consists of two or three confluent valleys, some of them thick with villages, whose continuous cultivation, supported by copious springs, extends far up the hill-sides. Mastiij, the chief place, stands 7500 feet high, in 36° 10' N. lat. Twenty miles farther down is the boundary of Lower Chitral or Kashgar. This forms a state of which the chief or king (he is styled " Badshah") resides at Chitral town (height 5200 feet, 35° 53' N. lat.). The people are Moslem, apparently a converted section of the neighbouring Kafirs, and speaking a kindred dialect of Sanskritic affinity. Fruit is good, including fine grapes, and the wine was once famous. Chitral is the Bolor of Chinese geography, the misplacement of which so long perplexed and vitiated the geography of the Pamir highlands. The name Balaur medieevally covered a larger tract, probably the whole of the then pagan country from Khawak Pass to the Indus. Below Chitral the valley narrows, and is shut in by Kafir villages in nominal subjection to the small state of Asmar (35° 4' N. lat.). Afghan territory begins at Maraora, 20 miles farther down. On the north of this section most part of the drainage flows directly into the Little Pamir stream of the Oxus, or into the Panja, the union of the streams from Little and Great Pamir. We have accounts of no passes immediately west of Baroghil, though certainly they exist. From Avi, near the boundary of Upper and Lower Kashgar, a pass crosses (about 72° E. long.) to Ishtragh on the Panja. At the western limit of the section are the lofty passes of Nuksan, Kharteza, Agram, and Dora, which lead through the Badakhshan canton of Zebak to the Vardoj branch of the Kokcha or river of Badakhshan. On the "Nuksan" (quasi Via Mala) in descending towards Chitral the traveller is girt with a leathern kilt, and slides down the snow. Ponies, with feet tied, are rolled down. '' By these processes," says the native authority, "both men and beasts generally reach the bottom in safety."

(2.) The next section is that of which we know least. It embraces on the south Kafiristan, never yet penetrated by European traveller. There is a pass south to Kafiristan from Zebak and Sanglich, and one from Kuran, probably several more. The chief streams southward are that of Pech, joining the Kunar river at Chigar Serai (Chaghanserai of Sultan Baber), and the Alingar and Alishang, which unite in Laghman, formerly Lamghan (Lambagai of Ptolemy), and join the Cabul river at Charbagh above Jalalabad. West of Kafiristan are the Afghanized valleys of Tagao and Nijrao, hardly better known, and occupied largely by Pashais, a people seemingly akin to the Kafirs. On the north side the valleys form mir-ships or cantons among the congeries of small states owning allegiance to Badakhshan, and several of them having their peculiar dialect of old Persian affinity. One of these valleys is Kuran, down which flows the Jerm branch of the Kokcha. It is a wild glen near the borders of Kafiristan, coupled in a local rhyme with the jaws of hell, but which in the 8th century was of sufficient substance as a state to send a mission of homage to the Chinese court,—such disproportionate pretensions being probably due to its containing the mines of lazuli, famous for ages, commemorated by Marco Polo, and visited by Lieutenant Wood in 1838. Adjoining this are Mungan and Anjuman, high valley cantons of which we barely know the names. Their streams chiefly bear north-west, and join the river of Taljkan, which carries them to the river of Kunduz, and so into the Oxus about 68° 18' E. long.

(3.) The last section extends from the borders of Kafiristan to the Koh-i-Baba. On the south, the drainage, is received by two catch-ment channels flowing parallel to the watershed in opposite directions,—the Panjhir (or Panjshir) from the east, and the Ghorband tiver from the west, meeting near Charikar and flowing S.S.E. to meet the river from Cabul. The Panjhir valley is populous and fruitful, with irrigated orchards and mulberry gardens, the chief support of the people, though these, of Pashai kindred, have for ages borne a repute for ruthless turbulence. It contains silver-mines, worked at an early date, and early Mahometan coins bear the mint marks of secluded towns like Panjhir and Andarab,—the latter place north of the mountains, head of a canton subject of Kunduz. From the Panjhir to the Andarab valley lead at least seven passes. The chief of these is Khawak, crossed by Wood from the north in 1838, and nearly 1200 years before (644) by Hwen-Tsang from the south. The Tul Pass, a loop to this, was crossed by the great Timur on his advance to India (1398). From the Ghor-band valley there are also seven or more passes ; two ascend from Parwan, one of which, Sar-aulang, was attempted unsuccessfully by Wood and Lord in November 1837,—since crossed and surveyed by Havildar Hyder Shah (1870). Kushan Pass, under the great peak, was ascended by Leech and Lord in October 1837. Four of the Ghorband passes descend on the lower Andarab valley, two more on the Surkhab river, coming from the valleys about Bamian. The last, the pass of Shibr, ascends from the top of Ghorband valley, and descends on that of Bamian near the castle of Zohak. This was crossed by Hwen-Tsang in approaching India (630), and by Timur on his return (1399), and was commonly used by Baber, who calls it Shibrtu. There remain the Koh-i-Baba passes of Irak, Hajjigak, and Pusht-i-Hajjigak. These are all approached from Cabul by the upper valley of the Cabul river and headwaters of the Helmand. The first Brigadier Dennie's force crossed to Bamian in 1840, before fighting Dost Mahommed on that famous site; Burnes (1832), Wood and Lord (1837), Griffith (1840), and others at that time crossed the Hajjigak, the best known of all the passes. North of the mountains the Andarab river and the Surkhab form catchments like Panjhir and Ghorband rivers on the south. Uniting near Ghori they form the river of Kunduz or Akserai (called by Baber Doghaba) flowing north to the Oxus. Hazaras (see vol. i. p. 235) are the chief occupants of this section in its western portion. Further east on the north side the higher valleys are occupied by tribes of old Tajik lineage, mixed more and more with Uzbeks and other Turki people as the Kokcha is approached (see also vol. i. p. 241 sq.).

Geology.—Information is most scanty, and applies only to the western extremities of Hindu Kush. On the Kushan Pass Lord speaks of the lower parts as consisting of micaceous schist, black slate with occasional bursts of granite, then mica slate and gneiss, and the summits of the pass and range of a granite core shooting up in precipitous peaks. On the Koh-i-Baba, also, Griffith speaks of the lower mass as predominantly of slaty formations; the summits of coarse quartzose grey granite, and of very compact brown quartzose rock. In the Irak Pass, and at Zoh&k, are masses of conglomerate. Limestone occurs in the upper part of the valley of Parwan, exhibiting large cavities, in one of which the stream is engulfed for two miles ; also higher up the Ghorband valley, where a magnificent natural cavern occurs. Limestone occurs also on the Hajjigak Pass; and we hear of another great cavern near Doab, north of Bamian. Eruptive deposits occur in Ghorband valley towards Char-deh, and these recur at Bamian. Richthofen has sup-posed, from Chinese analogies, that the multitude of arti-ficial caves and cave dwellings about Bamian indicate a loess deposit; such details as we have seem hardly to corroborate this.





The region is rich in minerals. Iron is abundant and widely diffused. Villages called Ahangirdn (of the "ironworkers ") are numerous. There is a rich black ore on the Hajjigak Pass, but fuel is entirely absent. Iron is also made at several places in Badakhshan, and of excellent quality in Bajaur east of the Kunar river. The districts adjoining the Jerm and Vardoj rivers are called Yamghan, which is popularlyinterpreted asHamah-Kdn ("All-Mines") from its various mineral wealth. Copper mines (not worked) exist here and also in Chitral. Antimony is found in Ghorband, and accurate Griffith speaks of ore of antimony forming boulders and even "a large mountain" on the top of Hajjigak. Lead is found in Ghorband and in Yamghan. Sulphate of zinc occurs in Ghorband; silver, as above mentioned, at the head of Panjhir; rock-salt on the borders of Badakhshan and Kunduz (mentioned by Marco Polo); sulphur in Yamghan and Sanglich (north of the Dora Pass); sal-ammoniac in Kuran. Orpiment is exported from Chitral, a fact mentioned also by Hwen-Tsang. The lazuli of Kuran has been spoken of.

Zoology.—Of this we have not space to speak, nor accurate material. Afghanistan lies on the borders of the Oriental and Palaearctic regions (vol. vii. p. 269), and partakes in degree of both; but the Hindu Kush is to a certain extent a boundary between them. Thus it limits the genus Salmo, which is found in no Indian or Persian, stream, but immediately on crossing the passes. The late estimable Russian traveller Fedchenko thought he had first discovered trout in Turkestan, but they were frequently caught by English officers at Bamian in 1840, and Marco Polo mentions them in Badakhshan.

Vegetation.—The only basis for a view of this would be Griffith's collections near Koh-i-Baba and in the Kunar valley, but they have not been analysed in such a sense. These general remarks by Hooker and Thomson are, however, apposite :—" The collections of Griffith, besides containing an immense number of Persian and European plants which find their eastern limits within the British territory, are rich in Himalayan forms which advance no farther west; and, what is of still greater importance, they contain many species common both to Europe and the Himalaya, but which, from mere differences induced by local causes in these two distant countries, might not be imagined to have a common origin, did not the Afghanistan specimens blend their characters or show the transition between them." —Flora Indica, i. 85, 86.

Historical Notices.—We have said that Hindu Kush is the Caucasus of Alexander's historians. It is also included in the Paropamisus, though the latter term embraces more, Caucasus being apparently used only when the alpine barrier is in question. Whether the name was given in mere vanity to the barrier which Alexander passed (as Arrian and others repeatedly allege), or was founded also on some verbal confusion, we cannot say. It was no doubt regarded (and perhaps not altogether untruly) as a part of a great alpine zone believed to traverse Asia from west to east, whether called Taurus, Caucasus, or Imaus. Arrian himself applies Caucasus distinctly to the Himalaya also. The applica-tion of the name Tanais to the Sir seems to indicate a real confusion with Colchian Caucasus. Alexander, after building an Alexandria at its foot (probably at Hupian near Charikar), crossed into Bactria, first reaching Drapsaca, or Adrapsa. This has been interpreted as Andarab, in which case he probably crossed the Khawak Pass, but the identity is uncertain. The ancient Zend name is, according to Eawlinson, Paresina, the essential part of Paropamisus; this accounts for the great Asiatic Parnassus of Aristotle, and the PTio-lo-sin-a of Hwen Tsang.

The name Hindu Kush does not appear, so far as we can ascertain, in any of the earlier Arab geographers. But it is used by Ibn Batuta, who crossed (c. 1332) from Andarab, and he gives the explanation of the name which, however doubtful, is still popular, as (Pers.) Hindu-Killer,'' because of the number of Indian slaves who perished in passing" its snows. Baber always calls the range Hindu Kush, and the way in which he speaks of it shows clearly that it was a range that was meant, not a solitary pass or peak (according to modern local use, as alleged by Elphinstone and Burnes). Probably, however, the title was confined to the section from Khawak to Koh-i-Baba (see Baber, pp. 136, 139). The name has by some later Oriental writers been modified into Hindu Koh (mountain), but this is factitious, and throws no more light on the origin of the title. The name seems to have become known to European geographers by the Oriental translations of the two Petis de la Croix, and was taken up by Delisle and D'Anville. Kennell and Elphinstone familiarized it, and Wilford wilfordized about it. Burnes first crossed the range (1832). A British force was stationed at Bamian beyond it in 1840, with an outpost at Saighan.

The Hindu Kush, formidable as it seems, and often as it has been the limit between petty states, has hardly ever been the boundary of a considerable power. Greeks, White Huns, Samanidae of Bokhara, Ghaznevides, Mongols, Timur and Timuridae, down to Saddozais and Barakzais, have ruled both sides of this great alpine chain. (H. Y.)


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