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"A Ride to India Across Persia & Baluchistan" -
(excerpt)

by Harry De Windt (1891)



If Harry de Windt, that dashing 19th century Long Rider, had been allowed to follow his original plan, he would have galloped to India via the Central Asian satraps of His Imperial Russian Highness.  When suspicious St. Petersburg put a halt to Harry’s Russian route, the intrepid equestrian explorer determined to reach his goal via the Shah’s empire instead.

What followed was a ride to remember as Harry de Windt, lecturer, author, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and equestrian explorer par excellence, saddled up in 1890 and set off to examine the forgotten corners of Persia and Baluchistan.

Captain Harry Willes Darell de Windt (Paris, 1856 - 1933) was the ADC to the Rajah of Sarawak, an explorer and author of many books about his travels (overland from Paris to New York via Siberia, Peking to Paris, Russia to India via Persia, Trough Savage Europe), to name a few.

The following is an excerpt from his journal, with accounts of local customs in Baluchistan some of which were completely barbaric.



"The country between Gajjar and Jebri, which was reached next day, is bare and sterile, notwithstanding that, at the latter place, water is seldom scarce, even in the dryest seasons." Photo courtesy Baloch Online


In the matter of births and marriages the Baluchis, being of the
Mohammedan religion, regulate their ceremonies mainly according to the Koran. Marriage is attended with great festivities. The first step s the "zang," or betrothal, which is regarded as of a very sacred nature, the final rite being known as "nikkar." On the wedding-day the bridegroom, gorgeously arrayed, and mounted on his best horse or camel, proceeds with his friends to a "ziarat," or shrine, there to implore a blessing, after which the "winnis," or marriage, is gone through by a moullah. On the birth of a child there is also much feasting. The fourth day after birth a name is given to the infant, and on the sixth an entertainment to friends. The following day the rite of circumcision ("kattam") is performed, though not always, this being sometimes postponed for a year or more.
On this occasion (as at a death) large distributions of food are made to the poor.

The country between Gajjar and Jebri, which was reached next day, is bare and sterile, notwithstanding that, at the latter place, water is seldom scarce, even in the dryest seasons. The plain, which consists of loose, drifting sand, with intervals of hard, stony ground, is called Kandari. The cold here in the months of January and February is intense. We passed some curious cave dwellings in the side of the caravan-track, in which the natives take refuge from the icy blasts that sweep across here in winter. They are formed by digging holes eight to ten feet deep. These are rudely thatched over with palm leaves, bits of stick, and plaited straw, thus forming a warm and comfortable shelter.



"My genial old host had himself given a good deal of trouble to the Kelat Government in his younge days, and told me with evident pride that he had led many a chupao in the good old days..." Photo courtesy Baloch Online


The Chief of Jebri, one Chabas Khan, rode out to meet me, clad in a long gown of golden thread, which, flashing in the sun, was
discernible a couple of miles off. Jebri contains about four hundred inhabitants, and is a neatly built village, protected by a large mud fort, and a garrison of twenty Baluchis armed with Snider rifles. Chabas, who was very proud of his village, informed me that his rule extended over a considerable extent of country, containing a population of over 20,000. Many of his subjects were natives of Seistan, Kharan, and Shotrawak, all Afghan border districts, and gave him at times no little trouble. The Jebri fort had been attacked only a year previous to my visit, but Chabas (who I afterwards heard at Kelat is a renowned fire-
eater) gave the rebels such a warm reception that there has been no outbreak since.

My genial old host had himself given a good deal of trouble to the Kelat Government in his younge days, and told me with evident pride that he had led many a chupao in the good old days. The savage and predatory character of the Baluchi was formerly well exemplified in these lawless incursions, when large tracts of country were pillaged and devastated and the most unheard-of cruelties practised. Chupaos are now a thing of the past. Pottinger, who traversed this country in the last century, and had more than one unpleasant rencontre with these armed bands, thus describes one of these plundering expeditions--



"The depredators are usually mounted on camels, and furnished, according to the distance they have to go, with food, consisting of dates, goat's milk, and cheese. " Photo courtesy Baloch Online


"The depredators are usually mounted on camels, and furnished, according to the distance they have to go, with food, consisting of dates, goat's milk, and cheese. They also carry water in a small skin-bag, if requisite, which is often the case if the expedition is prolonged. When all is prepared the band sets off and marches incessantly till within a few miles of where the chupao is to commence, and then halts in some unfrequented spot to rest their camels. On the approach of night they mount again, and, as soon as the inhabitants of a village have retired to rest, begin their attack by burning, destroying, and carrying off whatever comes in their way.
They never think of resting for one moment during the chupao, but ride on over the territory on which it is made at the rate of eighty or ninety miles a day, until they have loaded their camels with as much pillage as they can possibly remove; and as they are very expert in the management of their animals, each man on an average will have charge of ten or twelve. If practicable, they make a circuit which enables them to return by a different route. This affords a double prospect of plunder and also misleads those who pursue the robbers--a step generally taken, though with little effect, when a sufficient body of men can be collected for that purpose."



".The kindly old chief now pressed my acceptance of a fine fat goat--a very acceptable gift, considering the impoverished condition of the camp larder." Photo courtesy Baloch Online


"In these desperate undertakings the predatory robbers are not always successful, and when any of them chance to fall into the hands of exasperated villagers, they are mutilated and put mercilessly to death. The fact," concludes Pottinger, "of these plundering expeditions being an institution in Baluchistan must serve to show how slight is the power wielded by the paramount rulers, and what risks to the safety of both person and property must be run by those engaged in the business of trade in such a country." ..........

Chabas visited me towards evening, accompanied by his son, a clever-looking, bright-eyed lad about fifteen years old. Noticing that he wore a belt and buckle of the 66th Regiment, I inquired where he had procured it, and was told that it had been purchased from a Gwarjak man, who brought it down from Kharan shortly after the fatal disaster to the regiment at Maiwand. The kindly old chief now pressed my acceptance of a fine fat goat--a very acceptable gift, considering the impoverished condition of the camp larder. We then visited the fort and village, under his guidance.



" .......but his fort, which was, indeed, the only structure worthy of the name met with between Quetta and the sea.."


Jebri and its neighbourhood are well cultivated. The system ofagriculture practised in this part of Baluchistan is simple, buteffective, the fields being divided off by ridges of earth and raised embankments to an accurate level. They are then further subdivided longitudinally by ridges thrown up about seven or eight paces apart. This is done for purposes of irrigation. The soil is then ploughed an manured, the former operation being generally carried on by means of bullocks. Tracts of land not irrigated by streams, but which are dependent on rain and the rivulets which come down from the hillsides after it, are called "kash-kawa," and are found scattered about the valleys here and there near the tent-encampments of the nomad tribes, who plough a piece of land, sow it, and return to gather in the crop when it is matured. .......

Jebri Fort stands on a steep hillock about fifty feet in height. From here a good view was obtainable of the surrounding country. Immediately below were pretty gardens or enclosed
spaces, sown in the centre with maize, wheat, and tobacco, and surrounded by plum and pomegranate trees and date palms. There is a considerable trade in the latter between here and Beila, which perhaps accounted for the myriads of flies which here, as at Gajjar, proved a source of great annoyance. In Chabas's garden were roses and other flowers, some remarkably fine vines, and a number of mulberry trees. The grounds were well and neatly laid out with paths, grass plots, and artificial streams, upon which I complimented the old man; but he would talk of nothing but his fort, which was, indeed, the only structure worthy of the name met with between Quetta and the sea. In the evening his son brought me a delicious dish of preserved apricots and cream, for which I presented him with three rupees, one of which he instantly returned. It is considered, by Baluchis, extremely unlucky to give or accept an odd number of coins.



" Art and industry are, as well as trade, practically at a standstill in the Khan's city, though a handsome embroidery, peculiar to Kelat, is made by the women, and fetches high prices in India..... " Photo courtesy Baloch Online


…. The bazaar, through which we passed on our way to the Mir, does not seem a very busy one. Although not a public or religious holiday, many of the stalls were closed. Kelat was once the great channel for merchandise from Kandahar and Cabul to India, but the caravan trade is now insignificant. There is in the season a considerable traffic in dates, but that is all, for the roads to Persia and Afghanistan are very unsafe. Only a few weeks previous to my visit, a Kelat merchant, proceeding with a large caravan to Kerman, in Persia, was robbed and murdered in the frontier district west of Kharan. Few now attempt the journey, most of the goods being sent to Quetta, and thence by rail to various parts of India, by sea to Persia.

Art and industry are, as well as trade, practically at a standstill in the Khan's city, though a handsome embroidery, peculiar to
Kelat, is made by the women, and fetches high prices in India, while some of the natives are clever at brass work and ironmongery. Noticing a Russian samovar in one of the shops, I entered and inquired of the owner (through the Wazir) how it had reached Kelat. "From Russia," was the reply, "via Meshed, Herat, and Kandahar. There is a good caravan-road the whole way," added the Baluchi, taking down a small brass shield from a peg in the wall. "This came from Bokhara, via Cabul, only ten days, ago; but trade is not what it was." "Would there be any difficulty in making that journey?" I asked. "For you--a Englishman--yes," said the man, with a queer smile, and was continuing, when "The Khan will be growing impatient," broke in the Wazir, taking my hand and leading me hurriedly into the street.........





"The Khan of Kelat very rarely leaves his palace, and is seldom seen abroad in the streets of Kelat except on Fridays, when he goes to the mosque on foot, attended by an escort armed to the teeth. " Photo courtesy Baloch Online


The Khan of Kelat very rarely leaves his palace, and is seldom seen abroad in the streets of Kelat except on Fridays, when he goes to the mosque on foot, attended by an escort armed to the teeth. He is said to live in constant dread of assassination, for his cruel, rapacious character has made him universally detested in and around the capital. His one thought in life is money and the increase of his income, which, with the yearly sum allowed him by the British Government, may be put down at considerably over L30,000 per annum. A thorough miser, the Khan does not, like most Eastern potentates, pass the hours of night surrounded by the beauties of the harem, but securely locked in with his money-bags in a small, comfortless room on the roof of his palace.

……… Two instances of the way in which justice is carried out happened just before I arrived at Kelat. In the one, a young Baluch woman was found by her husband, a soldier, under circumstances which admitted no doubt of her infidelity.
Upon discovery, which took place at night, the infuriated husband rushed off to the guard-house for his weapon. During his absence the woman urged her lover, who was well armed, to meet and slay him in the darkness. Under pretence of so doing the gay Lothario left his paramour, but, fearful of consequences, made off to Quetta.

On his return home the husband used no violence, simply handing his wife over to the guard to be dealt with according to law. Brought before the Khan the next day, she was lucky enough to find that monarch in a good temper. Her beauty probably obtained the free pardon accorded her, and an order that her husband was also to condone her offence. The latter said not a word, took her quietly home in the evening, and cut her throat from ear to ear. The Khan, on hearing of the murder next day, made no remonstrance, nor was the offender punished. He was an Afghan.



" The few women I saw at Kelat were distinctly good looking, far more so than those further south. Most of them have an Italian type of face, and large dark eyes, with sweeping lashes.,..." Photo courtesy Baloch Online


The second case is even more disgraceful. One of the Khan's own suite,a well-known libertine and drunkard, contracted an alliance with a young girl of eighteen. He had endeavoured in vain to marry her younger sister, almost a child, and so beautiful that she was known for many miles round the city as the "Pearl of Kelat."

Six weeks after marriage this ruffian, in a fit of drunken frenzy caused by jealousy, almost decapitated his wife with a tulwar, and afterwards mutilated her body past recognition. The shrieks of the poor woman having summoned the neighbours, he was seized, bound, and led before the Khan, who at once sentenced him to death. The execution was fixed for sunrise the following day. At midnight, however, a messenger appeared at the gates of the Mir with a canvas bag containing two thousand rupees. "Tell him he is free," said the ruler of Kelat. "And if he sends in another thousand, I will order the younger sister to marry him." The money was paid, and the poor child handed over to the tender mercies of the human devil who had so ruthlessly butchered her sister.
I have mentioned that Azim Khan showed me a sword of beautiful workmanship. It had, the very morning of my visit to the palace, cut down and hacked to pieces a waiting-maid, not sixteen years old, in the Khan's harem. I myself saw the corpse of the poor girl the same evening, as it was being carried outside the walls for interment.

This, then, is the state of things existing at Kelat, not a hundred miles from the British outposts; this the enlightened sovereign who has been made "Companion of the Star of India," an order which, among his own people, he affects to look upon with the greatest contempt.

The few women I saw at Kelat were distinctly good looking, far more so than those further south. Most of them have an Italian type of face,olive complexion, and large dark eyes, with sweeping lashes. But very few wore the hideous nose-rings so common at Beila and Sonmiani. Morality is at a discount in the capital, and prostitution common.