Hindu Kush

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Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Hindu Kush

(Mountains of the Moon). — This great range, known to the ancient geographers as the ' Indian Caucasus,' may be said to start from a point near 37° N. and 74° 38' E., where the Himalayan system finds its north-western termination in a mass of towering peaks, and to extend south-westwards across North-Eastern Afghanistan to about 34° 30' N. and 68° 15' E. The first spur which it throws off to the north is from the vicinity of Tirich Mir, in the north-western corner of Chitral. Starting in a westerly direction, this spur takes a north- ward curve and then again runs westward, dividing the Oxus from the Kokcha : this may be termed the Badakhshan ridge. To the east of the Khawak pass, another spur runs north, and then sprays out north-east and north-west, separating the Kokcha drainage from that of the Kunduz : this may be called the Kokcha ridge. From the Khawak pass a branch goes north-west towards Kunduz or Kataghan, where it ends, forming the Kunduz ridge; There is another spur, running ahiiost parallel with this, which may be called the Khawak ridge. A fifth spur is the Koh-i-Changur, which divides the Kunduz (or Surkhab) from the Tashkurghan river. West of the Dorah pass a region of spurs is thrown out to the south, which form the Kafiristan watersheds ; and west again of these a great spur divides Panjshir from Kafiristan.

The general elevation of the Hindu Kush from its eastern extremity to the Khawak may be taken as between 14,500 and 18,000 feet, while there are numerous peaks of between 20,000 and 25,000 feet. The range is everywhere jagged, precipitous, and arid : it is destitute of trees, and there is but little grass or herbage. Above 15,000 feet snow is perpetual. A more inhospitable region it is difficult to imagine, but the scenery is often sublime.

No table-lands like those of Tibet support the northern sides of the Hindu Kush, which sinks abruptly into the low plains of Turkistan. Until recently, information about the Hindu Kush, and the entire mountain system of which it forms a part, has been extremely defective. But the inaccurate narratives of Moorcroft, Vigne, and others have been amplified, corrected, and partly superseded by the investigation of Sir Douglas Forsyth's mission of 1873, and by the still more recent Russo- Afghan Boundary Commission in 1884-6 and Sir William Lock- hart's mission in 1885. In the eastern Hindu Kush region political relations with the tribes have been established on a firm basis, and the country right up to Kafiristan is no longer a terra incognita. Some of the valleys of Kafirist^an also have been visited by Sir (leorge Robertson. The term ' Hindu Kush' was said by Sir A. Burnes to be unknown to the Afghans ; but it is admitted by the same writer that there is a particular peak, and also a pass, bearing the name.

^A systematic survey of the rocks of the Hindu Kush has never been made ; but isolated observations at different times show that intrusive granitic and accompanying basic igneous rocks, resembling those of the crystalline axis of the Himalayas, are associated with schists, quartzites, slates, and limestones of the kind better known in the regions of Kashmir, Baltistan, &c. The limestones of Chitral are of unusual importance, on account of their including fossils which show their age to be Devonian. The association of this limest(Mie with a purple sand- stone and a boulder-bed is very similar Id that which is known as tiir ' CoiUiibulcd by Mr. 'l". II. Holland, Director, Geological Survey ot India.

infra-trias series in parts of the North-Western Himalayas; and as these rocks appear to be unfossiliferous, the Chitral fossils afford an index, by analogy, to their age also. Owing to the way in which the limestones of the Hindu Kush have been altered by igneous intrusions, it is impossible to say what systems are represented ; but, besides the Devonian of Chitral on the southern and south-eastern slopes, it is probable that the Permian and younger rocks known in Afghan terri- tory extended into the range, and became folded and altered by the granitic intrusions which Griesbach ^ regarded as mainly Cretaceous in age. The folding system has a general west-south-west, east-north- east trend.

As usual with areas of this kind in the Himalayan region, where igneous rocks of various kinds are found intruded into pre-existing sediments, small quantities of gold are obtained in the rivers which cut through and sift the minerals obtained by the action of the weather on the metamorphosed area.

The fauna and flora of the Eastern Hindu Kush are similar to those of the Himalayas lying within the same latitudes. In this region are found the wild goat, the snow ounce, and the wild dog, this last being sometimes met with in packs. Among the snow and ice, the ibex, the red bear, and the snow-cock share a rarely broken solitude. Wild sheep are numerous below the glacial region.

The inhabitants of the Hindu Kush are of mixed races, languages, and religions, and possess different political and domestic institutions. The valleys and gorges, many of them extremely fertile, contain the great majority of the inhabitants, but some of the cave-dwellings of the mountaineers called forth the admiration of Marco Polo. The eastern valley communities average from 200 to 4,000 people, who maintain an attitude of independence towards their neighbours. Many centuries have passed since the original inhabitants of the central and western mountains were either converted to Muhammadanism and absorbed by their conquerors, or were driven out and forced to flee to less accessible valleys. The Safis, who now dwell in the mountains north of Jalalabad, are probably allied by descent to their eastern neighbours in Kafiri- STAN. In the Northern Hindu Kush the Tajiks are probably descended from an old Iranian stock who were the original occupants of that region. The Badakhshis of the hills are Shiahs, while those of the plain country are principally Sunnis. Traces of fire-worship have been found in a few places. In Wakhan, and in Hunza, YasTn, and the adjacent valleys, there is a distinct sect, called Mughlis or Maulais, who are connected by Sir H. Yule with the mediaeval ' Assassins,' and with the Druses of the Lebanon. What their origin or beliefs are, it is

' C. L. Griesbach, 'Field Notes from Afghanistan,' Records, Geological Stirvcy of India, vol. xx, parts i and ii. difficult to discover. They hold ' that a man should conceal his faith and his women,' but they are known to believe in the transmigration of souls. It is also known that they pay tithes to the Agha Khan of Bombay as their spiritual leader. They hold Sunni and Shiah Muham- madans in equal contempt : the Sunni is a dog and the Shiah an ass. They revere the Kaldm-i-Fir, a Persian work shown only to men of the Maulai faith, instead of the Koran. They drink wine, and their spiritual guides do not profess celibacy. The Persian account of the sect is, that it was founded in 1496 by Mir Sham-ud-din, who in that year came to Kashmir out of Irak, and whose followers took the name of Nur Bakhsh {Hlhiminaii). The Mughli or Nur Bakhsh tenets are also prevalent in Baltistan.

In the Eastern Hindu Kush the people may be divided into four distinct castes or classes : namely, Ronos, Shins, Yashkuns, and the low castes, such as Doms, Kramins, Shoto, &c. The terms Dard and Dardistan have been applied by Dr. Leitner to several of the tribes and the valleys they inhabit. The latter term is merely a convenient expression embracing a large tract of country inhabited by cognate races. It applies to all the country lying between Kafiristan on the west and Kashmir and Kagan on the east. The religion of all at the present time is an easy-going species of Muhammadanism, said to have been introduced in the course of the fourteenth century, and particularly noticed by Marco Polo. That the former religion of the western por- tion of this region was a form of Hinduism, and not of Buddhism, there can be little doubt. The preservation of a caste system, and the sanctity of the cow among the Shins, point to this conclusion, while no traditional reverence survives for the Buddhist remains still to be found in the country.

In spite of the general conversion of the tribes to Islam, archaic semi-religious festivals, mostly connected with agriculture, are still observed in many parts, more or less in accordance with ancient customs. The mountain villages where Shins are in the majority retain a trace of former idolatry in the sacred stones set up, in one form or another, in almost every hamlet. An oath sworn over such a stone is held to be absolutely binding. In disposition the people are tractable, good-tem[)ered, fond of rejoicing and nu'irN-making, neither cruel nor quarrelsome, and they submit readily to constituted authority. Hawk- ing, dancing, and |)olo are universal amusements, but i)olo is rarely played north of the Hindu Kush. Polygamy and concubinage are practised by all who can afford it, and the right of divorce is somewhat freely exercised. Infidelity is extremely common, and the men show none of the jealousy of their wives usual in Muhammadan communities. Apparently morality was still more lax formerly than it is now. Islam has not yet brought about the seclusion of women, who mix freely with men on all occasions.

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