1902 Encyclopedia > Afghanistan > Afghanistan - Natural Divisions

(Part 2)

(2) Aghanistan - Natural Divisions

NATURAL DIVISIONS. – Of these, this Kabul basin (1.) forms the first. As others we may discriminate – (2.) The lofty central part of the table-land on which stand Ghazni and Kala’t-I-Ghilzai, embracing the upper valleys of ancient Arachosia; (3.) The upper Helmand basin; (4.) The lower Helmand basin, embracing Girishk, Kandahar, and the Afghan portion of Seistan; (5.) The basin of the Heart river; and (6.) The eastern part of the table-land, draining by streams, chiefly occasional torrents, towards the Indus.

Kabul Basin. – Its northern limit is the range of Hindu Kush, a name which properly applies to the lofty, snow-clad crest due north of Kabul, and perhaps especially to one pass and peak. But it has been conveniently extended to the whole line of alpine watershed, stretching westward from the southern end of Pamir, and represents the Caucasus of Alexander’s historians. Its peaks throughout probably rise to the region of perpetual snow, and even on most of the passes beds of snow occur at all seasons, and, on some, glaciers. We find no precise height stated for any of its peaks, but the highest probably attain to at least 20,000 or 21,000 feet. The height of the Kushan Pass is estimated by Lord at 15,000 feet.

The Kabul river (the ancient Kophes) is the most important rivers of Afghanistan. It may be considered as fully formed about 30 miles east of Kabul, by the junction thereabouts (the confluence does not seem to have been fixed by any traveler) of the following streams: - (a.) The Kabul stream, rising in the Unai pass towards the Helmand , which, after passing through the city, has been joined by the Logar river flowing north from the skirts of the Ghilzai plateau; (b.) A river bringing down from the valleys Ghorband, Parwan, and Panjshir, a large part of the drainage of Hindu Kush, and watering the fruitful plain of Daman-I-Koh (the "Hill-skirt"), intersected by innumerable brooks, and studded with vineyards, gardens, and fortalices. This river was formerly called Baran, a name apparently obsolete, but desirable to maintain; (c.) The river of Tagao, coming down from the spurs of Hindu Kush on the Kafir borders.

Some 30 miles further east, the Alishang enters on the left bank, from Laghman, above which this river and its confluents drain western KAFITISTAN. Twenty miles further, and not far beyond Jalalabad, the Kabul river receives from the same side a confluent entitled, as regards length, to count as main stream. In some older maps this bears the name of Kama, from a place near the confluence, and in more recent ones Kuner, from a district on its lower course. Higher it is called the river of Kashkar, and the Beilam. It seems to be the Choaspes, and perhaps the Malamantus of the ancients. It rises in small lake near the borders of Pamir, and flows in a south-west direction through the length of Kashkar or Chitral, an independent valley-state, whose soil lies at a height of 6000 to 11,000 feet. The whole length of the river to its confluence with the Kabul river cannot be less than 250 miles, i.e. about 80 miles longer than that regarded as the main stream, measured to its most remote source.

The basin of the Kabul river is enclosed at the head by the Paghman range, an offshoot of Hindu Kush, which divides the Kabul valleys from the Helmand. Up the head-waters of the stream that passes Kabul, leads the chief road to Turkestan, crossing for a brief space into the Helmand basin by the easy pass of Unai (11,320 feet), and then over the Koh-I-Baba, or western extension of Hindu Kush, by the Hajjigak passes (12,190 and 12,480 feet), to Bamian.

The most conspicuous southern limit of the Kabul basin is the Safed Koh, Spin-gar of the Afghans (White Mountain," not to be confounded with the western Safed Koh already named), an alpine chain, reaching, in its highest summit, Sita ram, to a height of 15,622 feet, and the eastern ramifications of which extend to the Indus at and below Attok. Among the spurs of this range are those formidable passes between Kabul and Jalalabad in which the disasters of 1841-42 culminated, as well as the famous Khybar passes between Jalalabad and Peshawar. This southern watershed formed by the Safed Koh is so much nearer the Kabul river than that on the north, that the tributaries from this side, though numerous, are individually insignificant.

After flowing 60 miles )in direct measurement) eastward from the Kuner confluence, the Kabul river issues from the mountains which have hemmed it in, and enters the plain of Peshawar, receiving, soon after, the combined rivers of Swat (Soastus) and Panjkora (Guroeus), two of the great valleys of the Yusufzai. This combined river is called by the Afghans Landai Sin or Little river, in distinction from the Abba Sin or Indus, and the name seems often to adhere to the lower course of the Kabul river. Both rivers on entering the plain ramify, in delta fashion, into many natural channels, increased in number by artificial cuts for irrigation. Finally the river enters the Indus immediately above the gorge at Attok.

The lowest ford on the Kabul river is a bad one, near Jalalabad, only passable in the dry season. Below the Kuner confluence the river is deep and copious, crossed by ferries only, except at Naoshera, below Peshawar, when there is usually a bridge of boats. The rapid current is unfavourable to navigation, but from Jalalabad downward the river can float boats of 50 tons, and is often descended by rafts on blown skins. The whgole course of the river, measured by a five-mile opening of the compasses, is as follows: - From source of Kabul stream in Unai pass to Attok, 250 miles; from source either of Logar or of Panjshir to the same, 290 miles; from source of Kashkar river to the same, 370 miles.

A marked natural division of the Kabul basin occur near Gandamak, above Jalalabad, where a sudden descent takes effect from a minimum elevation of 5000 feet to one of only 2000. the Emperor Babers says of this: - "The moment you descend, you see quite another world. The timber is different; its grains are of another sort; its animal are of a different species; and the manners and customs of its inhabitants are of a different kind." Burnes, on his first journey, left the wheat harvest in progress at Jalalabad, and found the crop at Gandamak, only 25 miles distant, but 3 inches above ground. Here, in truth, nature has planted the gates of India. The valleys of the upper basin, though still in the height of summer affects by a sun of fierce power, recall the climate and products of the finest part of temperate Europe; the region below is a chain of narrow, low, and hot plains, with climate and vegetation of an Indian character.

Accounts of Kabul strike us by apparent contradiction. Some give scarcely any impression but that of extreme ruggedness and desolation, awful defiles, and bare black crags; others dwell on the abounding orchards, green sward, charming dells, and purling streams. But both aspects are characteristic. The higher spurs, both of Hindu Kush and Safed Koh, are often clad with grand forests of pine, oak, and other alpine trees, and resemble the wooded ranges of Himalya. But the lower hills generally are utterly woodless, and almost entirely naked. In the bottoms, often watered by clear and copious streams, we have those beauties of verdure and fertility on which some writers dwell, and which derive new charms from contrast with the excessive sterility of the hills that frame them.

We cannot speak at equal length of the other natural divisions of Afghanistan, but some chief points will be noticed with the rivers. In general the remainder of the country, regarded by the Afghans as included in Khorasan exhibits neither the savage sublimity of the defiles of the Kabul region, the alpine forests of its higher ranges, nor its nests of rich vegetation in the valleys, save in the north-east part adjoining Safed Koh, where these characters still adhere, and in some exceptional localities, such as the valley of Heart, which is matchless in richness of cultivation. Generally the characteristics of this country are elevated plateaux of sandy or gravelly surface, broken by ranges of rocky hills, and often expanding in wide spaces of arid waste, which terminate to the south-west in a regular desert of shifting sand. Even in cultivated parts there is a singular absence of trees, and when the crops are not visible this imparts an aspect of great desolation and emptiness to the landscape. Natural wood, however, is found in some parts of West Afghanistan, as in the almost tropical delta of the Helmand, in the Ghur territory, and on the Heart river below Heart. Generally, indeed, in such cases the trees appear to be mimosas, tamarisks, and the like, with little body of foliage.

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