1902 Encyclopedia > Afghanistan > Afghanistan - Provinces and Towns

(Part 5)

(5) Afghanistan - Provinces and Towns

PROVINCES AND TOWNS. – The chief political divisions of Afghanistan in recent times are stated to be Kabul, Jalalabad, Ghazni, Kandahar, Herat, and AFGHAN TURKESTAN (q.v.), to which are sometimes added the command of the Ghilzais and the Hazaras. This list seems to omit the unruly districts of the eastern table-land, such as Kurram, Khost, &c. But we must not look for the precision of European eadministration in such a case.

In addition to KABUL, GHAZNI, KANDAHAR, HERAT, described under those articles, there are not many places in Afghanistan to be called towns. We notice the following: -

Jalalabad lies, at a height of 1946 feet, in a plain on the south of the Kabul river. It is by road 100 miles form Kabul, and 91 from Peshawar. Between it and Peshawar intervene the Khybar and other adjoining passes; between it and Kabul the passes of Kagdalak, Khurd-Kabul, &c. The place has been visited by no known European since Sir G. Pollock’s expedition in 1842. As it then existed, the town, though its walls had an extent of 2100 yards, contained only 300 houses, and a permanent population of 2000. The walls formed an irregular quadrilateral in a ruinous state, surrounded on all sides by buildings, gardens, the remains of the ancient walls, &c., affording cover to an assailant, the town walls were destroyed by Pollock, but have probably been restored.

The highly-cultivated plain is, according to Wood, 25 miles in length by 3 or 4 miles in breadth; the central part covered with villages, castles, and gardens. It is abundantly watered.

The province under Jalalabad is about 80 miles in length by 35 in width, and includes the large district of Laghman, north of the Kabul river, as well as that on the south, which is called Nangnihar. The former name, properly Lamghan, the seat of the ancient Lampagoe, is absurdly derived by the Mahommedans from the patriarch Lamech, whose tomb they profess to show; the latter name is interpreted (in mixed Oushtu and Arabic) to mean "nine rivers," an etymology supported by the numerous streams. The word is, however, really a distortion of the ancient Indian name Nagarahara, borne by a city in this plain long before Islam, and believed to have been the Nagara or Dionysopolis of Ptolemy. Many topes and other Buddhist traces exist in the valley, but there are no unruined buildings of any moment. Abber laid out fine gardens here; and his grandson (Jalaluddin) Akbar built Jalalabad. Hindus form a considerable part of the town population, and have a large temple. The most notable point in the history of Jalalabad is the stout and famous defence made there, from November 1841 till April 1842, by Sir Robert Sale.

Istalif is a town in the Koh Daman, 20 miles N.N.W. of Kabul, which was stormed and destroyed, 29th September 1842, by a force under General M’Caskill, to punish the towns-people for the massacre of the garrison at Vharika, and for harbouriung the murderers of Burnes. The place in singularly picturesque and beautiful. The rude houses rise in terrace over terrace on the mountain-side, forming a pyramid, crowned by a shrine embosomed in a fine clump of planes. The dell below, traversed by a clear rapid stream, both sides of which are clothed with vineyard and orchards, opens out to the great plain of the Daman-I-Koh, rich with trees and cultivation, and dotted with turreted castles, beyond these are rocky ridges, and over all the eternal snows of Hindu Kush. Nearly every householder has his garden with a tower, to which the families repair in the fruit season, closing their houses in the town. The town is estimated, with seven villages depending on it, to contain about 18,000 souls.

Charikar (population 5000) lies about 20 miles north of Istalif, at the north end of Koh Daman, and watered by a canal from the Ghorband branch of the Baran river Hereabouts must have been the Triodon, or meeting of the three roads from Bactia, spoken of by Strabo and Pliny. It is still the seat of the customs levied on trade with Turkestan, and also of the governor of the Kohistan or hill country of Kabul, and is a place of considerable trade with there regions to the north. During the British occupation a political agent (Major Eldred Pottinger, famous in the defence of Herat) was posted here with a Gurkha corps under Captain Codrington and Lieutenant Haughton. In the revolt of 1841, after severe fighting, they attempted to make theur way to Kabul, and a great part was cut off. Pottinger, Haughton (with the loss of an arm), and one sepoy only, reached the city then; though many were afterwards recovered.

Kala’t-I-Ghilzai has no town, but it a fortress of some importance on the right bank of the Tarnak, on the road between Ghazni and Kandahar, 89 miles from the latter, and at a height of 5773 feet. The repulse of the Afghans in 1842 by a sepoy garrison under captain Craigie, was one of the most brilliant feats of that war.

Girishk is also a fort rather than a town, the latter being insignificant. It is important for its position on the high road between Kandahar and Herat, commanding the ordinary passage and summer ford of the Helmand. It was held by the British from 1839 till August 1842, but during the latter nine months, amid great difficulties, by a native garrison only, under a gallant Indian soldier, Balwant Singh.

Farrah belongs to the Seistan basin, and stands on the river that bears its name, and on one of the main routes from Herat to Kandahar, 164 miles from the former, 236 miles from the latter. The place is enclosed by a huge earthen rampart, crowned with towers, and surrounded by a wide and deep ditch, which can be flooded, and with a covered way. It has the form of a parallelogram, running north and south, and only two gates. As a military position it is of great importance, but it is excessively unhealthy. Though the place would easily contain 4500 houses, there were but 60 habitable when Ferrier was there is 1845, not was there much change for the better when Colonel Pelly passed in 1858. Farrah is a place of great antiquity; certainly, it would seem, the Phra of Isidore of Charax (1st century), and possibly Prophthasia, though this is more probably to be sought in the great ruins of Pesharwaran, farther south, near Lash. According to Ferrier, who alludes to "ancient chronicles and traditions," the city on the present site within the great rampart was sacked by the armies of Chinghiz, and the survivors transported to another position, one hour further north, where there are now many ruins and bricks of immense size (a yard square), with cuneiform letters, showing that site again to be vastly older than Chinghiz. The population came back to the southern site after the destruction of the mediaeval city by Shah Abbas, and the city propered again till its bloody siege by Nadir Shah. Since then, under constant attacks, it has declined, and in 1837 the remaining population, amounting to 6000, was carried off to Kandahar. Such are the vicissitudes of a city on this unhappy frontier.

Sabzuar, the name of which is a corruption of old Persian, Isphizar, "horse-pastures," is another important strategic point, 93 miles from Herat and 71 miles north of Farrah, in similar decay to the latter. The present fort, which in 1845 contained a small bazaar and 100 houses, must once have been the citadel of a large city, now represented by extensive suburbs, partly in ruins. Water is conducted from the Herut by numerous canals, which also protect the approaches.

Zarni is a town in the famous but little known country of Ghur, to the east of Herat, the cradle of a monarchy (the Ghurid dynasty) which supplanted the Ghaznevdes, and ruled over an extensive dominion, including all Afghanistan, for several generations. Zarni, according to Ferrier, was the old capital of Ghur. Ruins abound; the town itself is small, and enclosed by a wall in decay. It lies in a pleasant valley, through which fine streams wind, said to abound with trout. The hills around are covered with trees, luxuriantly festooned with vines. The population in 1845 was about 1200, among whom Ferrier noticed (a remarkable circumstance) some Gheber families. The bulk of the people are Suris and Taimunis, apparently both very old Persian tribes.

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