In search of something new and different (but actually old,) and not set practically within shouting range of the previous two books, I decided on a whim to pick up Capt. Alexander Burnes’s Travels into Bokhara: Being an account of a Journey from India to Cabool, Tartary and Persia. Also, narrative of a Voyage on the Indus from the Sea to Lahore, published in 1834. According to Wikipedia:
At the age of sixteen, Alexander joined the army of the East India Company and while serving in India, he learned Hindi and Persian, and obtained an appointment as interpreter at Surat in 1822. Transferred to Kutch in 1826 as assistant to the political agent, he took an interest in the history and geography of north-western India and the adjacent countries, which had not yet been thoroughly explored by the British, then he went to Afghanistan. …
His proposal in 1829 to undertake a journey of exploration through the valley of the Indus River was approved and in 1831 his and Henry Pottinger‘s surveys of the Indus river would prepare the way for a future assault on the Sind to clear a path towards Central Asia. In the same year he arrived in Lahore with a present of horses from King William IV to MaharajaRanjit Singh. The British claimed that the horses would not survive the overland journey, so they were allowed to transport the horses up the Indus and used the opportunity to secretly survey the river. In the following years, in company with Mohan Lal, his travels continued through Afghanistan across the Hindu Kush to Bukhara (in what is modern Uzbekistan) and Persia.
The narrative which he published on his visit to England in 1834 added immensely to contemporary knowledge of these countries, and was one of the most popular books of the time.
The book reads like excerpts from Burnes’s personal journal, edited for interest. It is sorely in need of illustrations (or at least, the version on the internet does; perhaps the original had some that weren’t uploaded,) so I’m going to try to add some. It’s been difficult picking which parts to excerpt, so I make no guarantees that I’ve picked the best or most important bits. As usual, I am using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.
“Among the timid navigators of the East, the Ability of mariner of Cutch is truly adventurous; he voyages to Arabia, the Red Sea, and the coast of Zanguebar in Africa, bravely stretching out on the ocean after quitting his native shore. The “moallim” or pilot determines his position by an altitude at noon or by the stars at night, with a rude quadrant. Coarse charts depict to him the bearings of his destination, and, by long-tried seamanship, he weathers, in an undecked boat with a huge lateen sail, the dangers and tornadoes of the Indian Ocean. This use of the quadrant was taught by a native of Cutch, who made a voyage to Holland in the middle of last century, and returned, “in a green old age,” to enlighten his country with the arts and sciences of Europe. … For a trifling reward, a Cutch mariner will put to sea in the rainy season, and the adventurous feeling is encouraged by the Hindoo merchants of Mandivee, an enterprising and speculating body of men. …
“There are many spots on [the river’s] banks hallowed in the estimation of the people. Cotasir and Narainseer are places of pilgrimage to the Hindoo, and stand upon it and the western promontory of Cutch. Opposite them lies the cupola of Rao Kanoje, beneath which there rests a saint, revered by the Mahommedans. To defraud this personage of frankincense, grain, oil, and money, in navigating the Koree, would entail, it is superstitiously believed, certain shipwreck. In the reverence we recognise the dangers and fear of the mariner. There is a great contrast between the shores of Sinde and Cutch; the one is flat and depressed, nearly to a level with the sea, while the hills of Cutch rise in wild and volcanic cones, which meet the eye long after the coast has faded from the view.”
EvX: This is one of those places where ethnonymic shift makes my work difficult. You try Googling “Cotasir” or “Rao Kanoje” and see if you find any information about these places.
“Rao” appears to be a noble title, and I have found a “Rao Khengarji” who was the “first Rao of Cutch,” but Wikipedia has no pictures. So I have picked a picture of a ruined Hindu temple from the area that might be relevant.
Burnes then quotes from Quintus Curtius on the surprising tides:
“About the third hour, the ocean, according to a regular alternation, began to flow in furiously, driving back the river. The river, at first, resisted; then impressed with a new force, rushed upwards with more impetuosity than torrents descend a precipitous channel. The mass on board, unacquainted with the nature of the tide, saw only prodigies and symbols of the wrath of the gods. Ever and anon the sea swelled; and on plains, recently dry, descended a diffused flood. The vessels lifted from their stations, and the whole fleet dispersed; those who had debarked, in terror and astonishment at the calamity, ran from all quarters towards the ships. … Vessels dash together, and oars are by turns snatched away, to impel other galleys. A spectator would not imagine a fleet carrying the same army; but hostile navies commencing a battle. * * * * Now the tide had inundated all the fields skirting the river, only tops of knolls rising above it like little islands ; to these, from the evacuated ships, the majority swam in consternation. The dispersed fleet was partly riding in deep water, where the land was depressed into dells; and partly resting on shoals, where the tide had covered elevated ground; suddenly breaks on the Macedonians a new alarm more vivid than the former. The sea began to ebb; the deluge, with a violent drain, to retreat into the fritli,* disclosing tracts just before deeply buried. Unbayed, the ships pitched some upon their prows, others upon their sides.”
*EvX: fritli is likely a word that was incorrectly rendered when the book was digitized–I suspect it means “froth”.
“The fields were strewed with baggage, arms, loose planks, and fragments of oars. The soldiers scarcely believed what they suffered and witnessed. Shipwrecks on dry land, the sea in a river. Nor yet ended their unhappiness; for ignorant that the speedy return of the tide would set their ships afloat, they predicted to themselves famine and death.”
EvX: At any rate, they try to get permission to head up the river, but are turned back.
“…here our civilities ended. By the way we were met by several “dingies” full of armed men, and at night were hailed by one of them, to know how many troops we had on board. We replied, that we had not even a musket. “The evil is done,” rejoined a rude Belooche soldier, “you have seen our country; but we have four thousand men ready for action!” To this vain-glorious observation succeeded torrents of abuse; and when we reached the mouth of the river, the party fired their matchlocks over us…”
“On the 10th of February we again set sail for Sinde; but at midnight, on the 14th, were overtaken by a fearful tempest, which scattered our little fleet. Two of the vessels were dismasted; we lost our small boat, split our sails, sprung a leak; and, after being buffeted about for some days by the fury of the winds and waves, succeeded in getting an observation of the sun, which enabled us to steer our course, and finally conducted us in safety to Sinde. One of the other four boats alone followed us. …”
EvX: After much negotiation, (including being told that the river is only a few feet deep,) Burnes is finally allowed to take his boats up the Indus. Burnes complains about the duplicitousness of the Ameer of Sind, who was afraid that Burnes was essentially a spy and would use information he gathered about the Indus to help the British invade–which is, of course, exactly what happened. Even if the Ameer was impolite, he was also correct.
“A week’s stay was agreeably spent in examining Tatta and the objects of curiosity which surround it. The city stands at a distance of three miles from the Indus. It is celebrated in the history of the East. Its commercial prosperity passed away with the empire of Delhi, and its ruin has been completed since it fell under the iron despotism of the present rulers of Sinde. It does not contain a population of 15,000 souls; and of the houses scattered about its ruins, one half are destitute of inhabitants. It is said, that the dissentions between the last and present dynasties, which led to Sinde being overrun by the Afghans, terrified the merchants of the city, who fled the country at that time, and have had no encouragement to return. Of the weavers of “loongees” (a kind of silk and cotton manufacture), for which this place was once so famous, but 125 families remain. There are not forty merchants in the city. …
“On our return, we saw much of the people, who were disposed from the first to treat us more kindly than the government. Their notions regarding us were strange: some asked us why we allowed dogs to clean our hands after a meal, and if we indiscriminately ate cats and mice, as well as pigs. They complained much of their rulers, and the ruinous and oppressive system of taxation to which they were subjected, as it deterred them from cultivating any considerable portion of land. Immense tracts of the richest soil lie in a state of nature, between Tatta and the sea, overgrown with tamarisk shrubs, which attain, in some places, the height of twenty feet, and, threading into one another, form impervious thickets. At other places, we passed extensive plains of hard-caked clay, with remains of ditches and aqueducts, now neglected. …
“The boats of the Indus are not unlike China junks, very capacious, but most unwieldy. They are floating houses; and with ourselves we transported the boatmen, their wives and families, kids and fowls. When there is no wind, they are pulled up against the stream, by ropes attached to the mast-head, at the rate of a mile and a half an hour; but with a breeze, they set a large square-sail, and advance double the distance. …
“A Syud stood on the water’s edge, and gazed with astonishment. He turned to his companion as we passed, and, in the hearing of one of our party, said, “Alas! Sinde is now gone, since the English have seen the river, which is the road to its conquest.” If such an event do happen, I am certain that the body of the people will hail the happy day; but it will be an evil one for the Syuds, …
“I followed up the interview by sending the government presents which I had brought for his Highness: they consisted of various articles of European manufacture, — a gun, a brace of pistols, a gold watch, two telescopes, a clock, some English shawls and cloths, with two pair of elegant cut glass candlesticks and shades. Some Persian works beautifully lithographed in Bombay, and a map of the World and Hindoostan, in Persian characters, completed the gift. …
“Meer Nusseer Khan, the son of the Ameer, presented me with a handsome Damascus sword, which had a scabbard of red velvet ornamented with gold; his father sent me a purse of fifteen hundred rupees, with an apology, that he had not a blade mounted as he desired, and begged I would accept the value of one. After all the inconvenience to which we had been subjected, we hardly expected such a reception at Hydrabad. …
“On the capital itself, I can add little to the Hydrabad accounts which are already on record. It does not contain a population of twenty thousand souls, who live in houses, or rather huts, built of mud. The residence of the chief himself is a comfortless miserable dwelling. The fort, as well as the town, stands on a rocky hillock; and the former is a mere shell, partly surrounded by a ditch, about ten feet wide and eight deep, over which there is a wooden bridge. The walls are about twenty-five feet high, built of brick, and fast going to decay. Hydrabad is a place of no strength, and might readily be captured by escalade. In the centre of the fort there is a massive tower, unconnected with the works,
which overlooks the surrounding country. Here are deposited a great portion of the riches of Sinde. …
“Sehwun has considerable celebrity and sanctity from the tomb of a holy saint of Khorasan, by name Lal Shah Baz, who was interred here about 600 years ago. The shrine stands in the centre of the town, and rests under a lofty dome at one end of a quadrangular building, which is handsomely ornamented by blue painted slabs, like Dutch tiles, that give it a rich appearance. A cloth of gold, with two other successive palls of red silk, are suspended over the sepulchre, and on the walls which surround it are inscribed in large Arabic letters the praises of the deceased, and extracts from the Koran. Ostrich eggs, peacocks’ feathers, beads, flowers, &c. complete the furniture of this holy spot; and pigeons, the emblems of peace, are encouraged to perch on the cloths which shade the remains of departed virtue.
“The miracles of Lal Shah Baz are endless, if you believe the people. The Indus is subject to his commands, and no vessel dares to pass his shrine without making a propitiatory offering at his tomb. Thousands of pilgrims flock to the consecrated spot, and the monarchs of Cabool and India have often visited the sanctuary. The drums which proclaim the majesty of the saint are a gift from the renowned persecutor Alla-o-deen, who reigned a. d. 1212; and the gate, which is of silver, attests the homage and devotion of a deceased Ameer of Sinde. The needy are daily supplied with food from the charity of the stranger; but the universal bounty has corrupted the manners of the inhabitants, who are a worthless and indolent set of men.
“The Hindoo joins with the Mahommedan in his veneration of the saint, and artfully insinuates “Lal” to be a Hindoo name, and that the Mahommedans have associated with the faith of their prophet the god of an infidel creed. …
“We halted four days at Sehwun. The climate was most sultry and oppressive: the thermo-
meter stood at 112°, and did not fall below 100° at midnight, owing to scorching winds from the west, where the country is bleak and mountainous. …”
EvX: If I lived somewhere that was still 100 degrees out past midnight, I think I’d be “worthless and indolent,” too.
Seriously, I think the “people move around more in cooler climates because they aren’t going to die of heat exhaustion” theory of civilization has a lot going for it. I don’t know how humans are supposed to do anything useful in extreme heat.
“With the better orders of society we had frequent intercourse and conversation. … They were full of enquiries regarding our customs. Our Khyrpoor friend, Mahomed Gohur, was particularly horrified at our arrangements for getting a wife, and begged me in future to let my beard grow. … I delighted to hear him sing the praises of the soldiers of Sinde, who, he said, differed from all the world in thinking it an honour to fight on foot. The feelings of pity which some of the people displayed for us were amusing: they were shocked to hear that we cleaned our teeth with hogs’ bristles. I was frequently asked to lay aside the English saddle, which they considered quite unworthy, and worse than a seat on the bare back of the horse. …
“The Beloochees are a particularly savage race of people, but they are brave barbarians. From childhood they are brought up in arms; and I have seen some of the sons of chiefs who had not attained the age of four or five years strutting about with a shield and a sword of small size, given by the parents to instil into them, at that early period, the relish for war.
“This tribe composes but a small portion of the Sindian population; and while they are execrated by the peaceable classes of the community for their imperious conduct, they, on the other hand, hate the princes by whom they are governed. It would be difficult to conceive a more unpopular rule, with all classes of their subjects, than that of the Ameers of Sinde: nor is the feeling disguised ; many a fervent hope did we hear expressed, in every part of the country, that we were the forerunners of conquest, the advance-guard of a conquering army.
“The persons of the Ameers are secure from danger by the number of slaves which they entertain around their persons. These people are called “Khaskelees,” and enjoy the confidence of their masters, with a considerable share of power : they are hereditary slaves, and a distinct class of the community, who marry only among themselves. …”
EvX: so far I haven’t been able to find anything else on the “Khaskelees,” but apparently Pakistan, India, Haiti, and Mauritania rank very high in numbers/percentage of the population currently enslaved.
“The ladies were more curious than their husbands. They wear ear-rings of large dimensions, with turquoises suspended or fixed to them; for these stones are of little value in the vicinity of Khorasan. Among the women, I should note the Syudanees, or Bebees, the female descendants of Mahommed: they go about veiled, or rather with a long white robe thrown over their entire body, having netted orifices before the eyes and mouth. They are all beggars, and very vociferous in their demands for alms: one set of them, (for they go about in troops,) when they found I did not readily meet their demands, produced a written paper from the shrine of Lal ShahBaz, at Sehwun, to hasten my charity! Father Manrique, in his journey by the Indus some centuries ago, complains “of the frail fair ones” who molested him by the way.
“… some of the principal merchants of Bhawulpoor, who had followed the Khan. The intelligence of these people, and extent of their travels, surprised me. Most of them had traversed the kingdom of Cabool, and visited Balkli and Bokhara: some had been as far as Astracan; and they used the names of these towns with a familiarity as if they had been in India. They had met Russian merchants at Bokhara, but assured me that they never came to the eastward of that city. The intervening countries they represented as perfectly safe, and bestowed the highest commendations on Dost Mahommed, of Cabool, and the Uzbeks, who encouraged commercial communication. These merchants are chiefly Hindoos, whose disposition peculiarly adapts them for the patient and painstaking vocation of a foreign merchant. Some of them are Jews, who retain the marks of their nation in all countries and places. …”
EvX: According to Wikipedia:
The history of Jews in Pakistan dates at least as far back as 1839. Various estimates suggest that there were about 1,000 Jews living in Karachi at the beginning of the twentieth century, mostly Bene Israel Jews from Maharashtra, India. A substantial community lived in Rawalpindi. A smaller community of Jews also lived in Peshawar. The Bene Israel Jews of India were concentrated in Karachi. According to Bene Israel human rights lawyer, Levi M. Sankar, there are no indigenous Jews remaining in Pakistan.
Since “Travels into Bokhara” was published in 1834, I think this needs to be revised.Given the trade routes, I think it likely that Jews have been in the area of modern day Pakistan since sometime around the rise and fall of the Persian Empire.
I’m going to stop here for now. See you next Friday.