THE THUI AND SHANDUR PASSES
LIEUT. G. C. CLARK.
IN AUGUST and September 1930, Captain Trevelyan, the Military Assistant to the Political Agent in Gilgit, and I went on a short tour from Gilgit to Chitral territory and back. The normal line of communication between these places is by the Shandur pass. There are however two or three other routes available and we therefore decided to enter the Yarkhun valley from Yasin by the Thui pass and, marching south to Mastuj, leave Chitral territory by Sor Laspur and the Shandur pass. The whole route has, of course, been explored, but the Thui pass is not often used by Europeans.
We left Gilgit on the 17th August and, marching by the usual stages, arrived at Yasin, a distance of 83 miles, on the 20th. Yasin is one of the politically administered ilaqas of the Gilgit Agency. On our arrival there we were met by the Governor Khan Bahadur Shah Abdul Rahman, a member of the old ruling family of Khush- wakhts. Formerly the district of Yasin covered a much larger area, but some, years ago it was split up into the existing two divisions of Yasin and Kuh-Ghizar, each of which has now a separate governor.
The history of Yasin is steeped in intrigue, murder and sudden death. It was at Darkot, a small village at the head of the main valley of Yasin, that the explorer Hay ward was treacherously murdered in 1870. Close to the rest-house at the village of Yasin there is a large boulder on which Hayward carved his initials, which can still be seen together with an undecipherable mark which may be a date. The boulder is near the site of his camp and, looking at the steep rocky hill-side close behind and at the open plain in front, one wonders whether he had thoughts even then of possible treachery, and for this reason had purposely selected a good position on which to pitch his tent.
That evening we invited the Governor and an old crony of his, Pir Jalali Shah by name, to dinner, being afterwards entertained for an hour or so by the usual country dancing. The Pir, who resembles nothing more closely than an old Highland shepherd, is an amusing old character, and I could not help wondering how much of his time is spent in administering to the spiritual needs of his flock, for I never saw him without a hawk on his wrist and a couple of dogs following at his heels.
Our next day’s march was one of only twelve miles to a village called Harf, in the Thui nullah. For the first six miles of this the road runs across a large plain, the Dasht-i-Taus, or Plain of the Peacock. At one time this used to be a barren stretch, but it has been brought under cultivation through the efforts of the Governor, who is constructing water-channels to irrigate it from the Thui stream.
In the middle of this plain we passed what are supposed to be the ruins of an old Chinese fort, whose outline can be seen from the stone walls which are still standing to an average height of about four feet. Presumably before getting as far as this the Chinese army had had its fill of fighting, for the story goes that both the Chinese and the Yasinis determined that the final decision should be made, not by a pitched battle, but by a test of strength between champions selected from each of the two armies. On the appointed day the Yasin army collected on the far side of the valley about eight hundred yards from the fort. The ball was opened by the strong man from China, who, seizing a yak, flung it across the valley into the middle of the Yasin host. It might have been thought that such a feat would have easily won the day for China, but the champion of Yasin was undaunted and, tearing up a walnut tree by its roots, he hurled it back into the fort. To this the Chinese could return no answer and, confessing themselves beaten, they retired without further bloodshed.
A little further on we could see on the far side of the valley the village of Sundi, above which juts a small rocky eminence called Maduri. This was the scene in days gone by of the massacre by Kashmiri troops of a vast number of Yasinis, on the only occasion when the former have invaded the country. Gauhar Aman, an old thorn in the flesh of Kashmir, who had sacked Gilgit and watched its garrison perish in the flames of its burning fort, was dead. His successor, Mulk Aman, was away in Chitral with the majority of his fighting men, when the Kashmir commander at Gilgit, seizing his opportunity for revenge, marched his army into Yasin. Unable to defend their country, the local people fled to Maduri and took refuge on its rock, but their water ran out and they were finally forced to surrender. Those of the prisoners who were not killed outright were taken away, men, women and children, and sold into slavery. There is still, I believe, a small colony in Kashmir of the descendents of these people, for the Governor of Yasin relates how he was on one occasion greeted at Astor by an old woman who was herself one of the unfortunate survivors of that black day. Such was war in this corner of the world ; and it is small wonder that incidents such as the above have left memories that still rankle in the minds of the descendants of the sufferers.
The village of Harf, where we camped in a small orchard of apricot and mulberry trees, is on the right bank of the Thui stream. The scenery is hardly impressive, for the low conglomerate hill-sides which enclose the valley, shut of the views of the high mountains which are actually close at hand. Only by looking up the nullah can one get any idea of the country which is to be traversed in that direction, where one can see the precipitous rock-faces of the hills closing in on either side some six miles away.
The track from Harf continues up the right bank of the stream for about four miles and passes through pleasant cultivated country. On the left bank, about two miles above Harf, a nullah comes in, and at the head of this there is a practicable pass leading into Darkot. At a point where another nullah, leading into the Nasbar nullah, enters on the right bank, the road crosses the Thui stream by a rough cantilever bridge. For the rest of the march to Ramach, eleven miles from Harf, where we camped for the night, the path followed the left bank. In this last stretch there is very little cultivation and we pitched our tents on the edge of a small birch wood whence we could look up the nullah towards the pass and see the white snout of the glacier which descends from that direction. The nullah has now narrowed, and while the hills on the left bank are certainly steep, those on the right are precipitous, and would be a perfect paradise for rock climbers.
In August the Thui pass, which we were about to cross, is comparatively free from snow, being only 14,700 feet above sea-level. There was therefore no need for a very early start next morning. When we awoke, however, we found that the weather had changed and there were low clouds and mist over the pass. In the vain hope that it would clear we waited till half-past seven before marching; but the clouds came lower and we had the misfortune of losing the magnificent views of rock and ice which, I believe, can be had on the way up.
The route up lies almost entirely on the left bank of the nullah- a point which is not brought out clearly in the Survey of India maps of the area. On these the route is shown as winding about up the glacier. For about two miles above Ramach the track is very easy until, a short distance above the goatherds’ encampment of Shakhtoli, we had to climb on to the snout of the glacier, and traverse its surface for some three hundred yards or so, before getting off the ice to the left lateral moraine. This diversion is essential in order to avoid the stream which comes in on the left bank and disappears under the glacier. For the next two or three miles we followed the moraine to a point where the glacier makes a wide bay into the left bank. Here we again had to traverse ice for about three-quarters of a mile before reaching the moraine once more. Into this bay, on the left bank, flows a nullah called Kalandar Ghum, which derives its name from the fact that an adventurous shikari, one Kalandar, never returned from an expedition into its interior.
After passing this bay the track climbs steeply for about two hundred feet up the grassy slopes on the left bank, and for a mile and a half the going is very easy to a point where the valley forks. For about three-quarters of a mile below this fork the glacier no longer fills the whole valley. Here it is formed entirely by small glaciers descending steep nullahs on the right bank. The glaciers which exist high up in the small tributaries on the left bank fail to reach the bottom of the main valley. It is for this reason that the route up this side is so easy.
The route to the pass leads up the right branch of this fork. Here for about a thousand feet we zig-zagged up a steep shale slope until the gradient became flatter, and at a point about eight miles from Kama eh the summit of the pass was reached.
It was unfortunate that the day was so cloudy, for the views must be magnificent on a fine day, though I doubt whether any are very extensive. Almost the whole length of the right bank is a series of precipitous rocky cliffs, in whose steep side nullahs we could catch glimpses of ice-falls which appeared as though they might come crashing down any moment. The left bank is more open, and had the weather been fine, we should have obtained views of Daspar, the 21,000-foot peak which overshadows Darkot, and perhaps of the mountains, running up to over 22,000 feet, which were about ten miles to our north.
The pass is well defined and we did not take long to run down the 800-foot shale slope which begins the descent on the far side. At the bottom of this slope a glacier enters from the right and the track, bending to the left, follows the left lateral moraine for about six hundred yards until the snout is reached. After following the left bank of the stream issuing from this glacier for about a mile we came on another glacier, this time entering from the left. By following the right moraine of this we crossed to the grassy right bank of the valley which we followed to the Galach nullah. Here we camped for the night in a birch-forest. From Ramach to Galach we estimated the distance to be about 15 miles ; it took our coolies about 12 hours to cover the ground. The pass can, I think, be classed as easy, though, until the snows melt, it would certainly be trying for laden coolies. Earlier in the year one would probably have to shorten the march over the pass by camping at Shakhtoli (on the Yasin side) and as far above Galach as possible on the Chitral side. In both cases arrangements would have to be made for fuel.
We were now of course in Chitral territory. About four miles below our camp, the Gazin nullah by which we had descended from the Thui pass, joined the Yarkhun river. Next day our camp marched a very short distance to Warsam village, while Trevelyan and I made a detour in order to have a look at an old defensive position, or Darband, which used to be occupied by the local people in the event of an invading force coming up the Yarkhun valley.
This valley is wide and our marches as far as Mastuj, which we reached on the 26th August, were devoid of interest. The country is similar to that in the Gilgit Agency, though there appears to be more water available in the side nullahs for cultivation purposes. From Warsam our first stage was to Brep, 19 miles ; the second to Mastuj, 14 miles. There we were most hospitably entertained by the Shahzada Sahib, Muhammad Nasir-ul-Mulk, who made us exceedingly comfortable in his guest-house, in addition to mounting us for a game of polo in the afternoon and entertaining us with dancing in the evening.
To the north of Mastuj, on the left bank of the river, there is a wide open plain which is frequented by duck in the autumn during their southerly migration. Apparently they do not, however, return by this route northwards, but prefer the way up the Turikho valley on their way back in the spring. This struck me as interesting, for it is a repetition of what happens in the Gilgit Agency. There the duck move southwards in the autumn by the Hunza valley, and return in the spring by Yasin. A possible explanation of this may be that when going south they choose the Hunza and Yarkhun valleys because the passes at their heads, the Kilik (or Mintaka) and Baroghil, are the broad obvious routes to take, while those leading into the Yasin and Turikho valleys are less open. On their return, however, the duck arrive at the junctions of the Gilgit and Hunza valleys in one case, and of the Turikho and Yarkhun rivers in the other. At these points the Hunza and Yarkhun valleys are narrower and less conspicuous than the others, and the duck therefore select what appear to them at the time to be the more open routes and so migrate northwards by Yasin and the Turikho.
At Mastuj the Laspur river joins the Yarkhun and our road turned up the valley of the former. As we left Mastuj we had a marvellous view down the Yarkhun valley to Tirich Mir, whose snowy peak seemed to be suspended in the air, her lower slopes in the early morning haze, having assumed a blue tint which merged into the sky.
For about six miles the road runs along the right bank of the Laspur river, traversing the position at Chakalwat where, in 1895, Colonel Kelly’s force, marching to the relief of Chitral, was opposed by some of the enemy who were investing our small garrison at Mastuj. Below Gasht village we crossed to the left bank by a good suspension bridge and for the next few miles passed through barren country, until we reached the open plain at Bahman. Into this area flow several considerable side streams, the most important of which is the Phargam, at whose head lies a pass leading to Chitral itself.
The horse-coping instinct always being strong in anyone with Irish blood in his veins, the march was enlivened by Trevelyan’s attempts to buy a pony, and when we finally arrived at our camp at Sor Laspur we had no fewer than three quadrupeds tethered in the neighbourhood, all of whose owners were out to rob the stranger within their gates.
From Sor Laspur our next stage, over the Shandur pass, was one of 21 miles to Tehru, a village in the Political ilaqa of Ghizar of the Gilgit Agency. The son of the Hakim of Laspur, who was accompanying us, put everyone in a good temper at the start by attempting to ride over a very rickety bridge. The whole thing collapsed and in the colossal splash which followed nothing could be made out except legs waving frantically in the air. Luckily no damage was done.
From Sor Laspur to the crest of the Shandur pass the Survey of India map gives the difference in height as 3500 feet. I do not think it can be as much as this, for we reached the top in an hour and ten minutes. The crest is difficult to fix by eye for the road runs for some miles in a series of wide basins divided from each other by low ridges. On the open area at the top of the pass there are two lakes, one of fair size ; on its edge we saw a wolf, paying no attention to a small herd of half-breed yak which were grazing on the grassy plain. There was also a flight of about twenty duck, which may have belonged to the pochard family, but it was impossible to distinguish them clearly.
On the far side of the pass there is a sudden descent to the Langar plain, an area covered with stunted bushes and excellent grass on which many herds of goats, sheep, half-breed yaks and ponies were grazing. At the foot of the descent is Langar, a normal camping- ground for travellers using the pass ; but as this is only about eleven miles from Sor Laspur, we pushed on another ten miles to Tehru, passing on the way the village and nullah of Chamarkand. At the head of this nullah lies a pass, slightly higher than the Shandur, leading to the northern end of the Mastuj plain in the Yarkhun valley.
The main part of our tour was now over and for the next few days we took things easily, moving camp to the village of Ghizar 4 miles and again to Chashi lake, 7 miles, while we spent our time fishing. Though we caught nothing large, there were plenty of small fish to be had, and our best basket for an evening rise to one rod was 15 fish killed, weighing 12| lbs., with an equal number of smaller ones returned.
From Chashi we marched to Pingal, 10 miles, where we were once more back on the old familiar road to Gupis and Gilgit, the remaining 93 miles to the latter being done in four days. On the whole tour we were away from Gilgit for twenty days, during which we covered a distance of just on 320 miles.
Owing to an unfortunate mistake the programme of our tour sent out before our departure from Gilgit, had been misread, and we descended from the Thui pass quite unheralded into the Yarkhun valley. In consequence the local inhabitants might well have been excused had any delay occurred in providing transport. Nevertheless we had not the slightest trouble and everything was found as quickly and as readily as if our coming had been known weeks before. In a country where wood and supplies are by no means easily come by it was very pleasant to see such a state of affairs, and it was most refreshing to find that the traditional hospitality of the mountain tribesmen is not yet a thing of the past and that they are still only too pleased to welcome an officer touring in their country. Throughout the whole journey we had not the slightest trouble anywhere, and both Trevelyan and I are exceedingly grateful for the kindness shown us during the short part of our tour in Chitral.