Documents and Excerpts:
Coming Round the Mountain
Eric Newby, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (chapter 13), Pan, London, 1958, pp.162-167.

Eric Newby served with the Black Watch and the Special Boat Service in World War II, after which he spent a decade working in women's fashion. Belatedly admitting that he was in the wrong line of work, he travelled to the Nuristan province of Afghanistan in 1956, later writing "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush", a book based on his travels.

This excerpt comes from chapter 13, "Coming Round the Mountain", and describes part of Newby's travels with fellow Englishman Hugh Carless.
This passage contains foreign words which, in the original text, contain numerous diacritics. Except for underlined letters, it has been necessary to omit these diacritics.




We were accompanied up the Chamir Valley by a Tajik to whom some strange mutation had given pink eyes and a blond moustache. With this Albino, the Thanador (literally the Keeper of Nothingness) of the Nawak Pass, the keeper of the Pass retained at a salary of 500 Afghanis a year to over-see it, we never got on good terms. He came at his own request, 'to protect us from brigands' as he put it. How he was to do this unarmed without recourse to bribery was not clear.
His name was Abdullah, The Slave of God (it was unseemly, as he backfired like an early motor-car all the way up the valley). Shir Muhammad and Badar Khan ragged him unmercifully at the frequent halts he insisted on making at the nomad encampments to eat mast, for he was a greedy man.
'Look at his face.'
'Look at his hair.'
'Look at his eyebrows.' He had no eyebrows.
'Like a bastard German.'
'O, Abdullah, who was your father?'
And so on.
Abdul Ghiyas took little part in these pleasantries. He was in his element. Down by the river the Pathan women, beautiful savage-looking creatures, were washing clothes. Now as Hugh had predicted he vanished into the tents on one pretext or another, ostensibly to gather information, having first warned the laundresses to veil themselves.
The Chamar was a wide glen, more colourful than the Darra Samir, with grass of many different shades of green and full of tall hollyhocks in flower. The nomad tents were everywhere and there were sheep high on the mountains. At seven we rested at a small hamlet of bothies, Dal Liazi. Behind us, above Parian, we could see the way to the Nawak Pass with Orsaqao, the big brown mountain which it crossed, with a serpent of snow wriggling across it.
It was an interrupted journey. At the instigation of Abdullah we had stopped at seven, at eight we stopped again and this time everyone disappeared into the tents for half an hour, leaving Hugh and myself outside with the horses, fuming and sizzling in the heat. But when he wanted to stop at nine, even Abdul Ghiyas protested.
'O thou German,' said the drivers.
'My mother was a Kafir.'
'Ha!'
Like small boys at prep school, they mocked him. From now on he sulked.
As we climbed, the country became more and more wild, the tents of the Chanzai Pathans, in which the drivers had been assuaging themselves, less frequent. From the rocks on either side marmots whistled at us officiously like ginger-headed referees. Here the horses stopped continuously to eat wormwood, artemisia absinthium, a root for which they had a morbid claiming.
After five hours on the road we came to the mouth of a great cloud-filled glen stretching to the west.
'East glacier,' said Hugh, 'we're nearly there. Pity about the cloud.'
As we stood there peering, it began to lift. Soon we could see most of the north face of the mountain as far as the rock wall, and the summit, a snow-covered cone with what seemed a possible route along the ridge to it. Our spirits rose. 'If we can only get to the ridge we can make it,' we said.
With the cloud breaking up and lifting fast, the whole mountain seemed on fire; the cloud swirled like smoke about the lower slopes and drove over the ridge clinging to the pinnacles. From out of the glen came a chill wind and the rumble of falling rock. It was like a battlefield stripped of corpses by Valkyries. In spite of the heat of the valley we shivered.
'If the south face is no good we can always come back and try here,' said Hugh. As always he seemed unconscious of the effect he created by such a remark.
Ahead of us in the main valley a waterfall tumbled down over a landslide of rocks; climbing up beside it we rounded the easternmost bastion of the mountain and entered the upper valley of the Chamar.
We felt like dwarfs. On our right the whole southern aspect of Mir Samir revealed itself: the east ridge like a high garden wall topped with broken glass; the snow-covered summit; the glaciers receding far up under the base of the mountain in the summer heat; and below them the moraines, wildernesses of rock pouring down to the first pasture, with the river running through it, a wide shallow stream fed by innumerable rivulets. To the east the mountains rose straight up to a level 17,000 feet, then, rising and falling like a great dipper, encircled by the head of the valley, forming the final wall of the south-west glacier where we had made our unsuccessful effort among the ice toadstools on the other side two days before.
'On the other side of that,' said Hugh, pointing to the sheer wall with patches of snow on it to the east, 'is Nuristan.' It was a lonely place; the last nomad tents were far down the valley in the meadow below the waterfall. Here there was only one solitary aylaq, a wall of stones built against an overhanging rock and roofed over with turf, the property of the headman of Shahr i Boland, a Tajik village we had passed in Parian on the way to the Chamar. The shepherd was the headman's son. As we came, more dead than alive with our tongues lolling, to the camping place on a stretch of turf hemmed in by square boulders, he appeared with a bowl of mast, wearing long robes and a skull cap, the image of Alec Guinness disguised as a Cardinal.
It was midday. The light was blinding. To escape it we crawled into clefts in the rocks and lay there in shadow, each at a different level, in our own little boxes, like a chest of drawers.
As soon as he had eaten, the Thanador of the Nawak Pass went off without a word to anyone.
'What's wrong with him?'
'He's in a huff because they kept calling him a German.'
'Well, it is rather insulting. I wouldn't like it myself.'
'But he was such a bore.'
All through the afternoon we rested, moving from rock to rock to escape the sun as it spied us out. Hugh read The Hound of the Baskervilles; I studied a grammar of the Kafir language. Apart from the pamplets on mountaineering, this was the only serious book the expedition possessed. (Put to other uses our library was disappearing at an alarming rate.) Both of us had already read all John Buchan, who in the circumstances in which we found ourselves had been found wanting, the mock-modesty of his heroes becoming only too apparent, the temptation to transport them in the imagination to the Hindu Kush too great to resist. Remarks something like 'Though I say it who shouldn't, I'm a pretty good mountaineer, but this was the hardest graft I ever remember,' cut very little ice with people in our position about to embark on a similar venture with no qualifications at all.
Notes on the Bashgali (Kafir) Language, by Colonel J. Davidson of the Indian Staff Corps, Calcutta, 1901, had been assembled by the author after a two-year sojourn in Chitral with the assistance of two Kafirs of the Bashgali tribe and consisted of a grammar of the language and a collection of sentences. I had not shown this book to Hugh. He had been pretty scathing about my attempts to learn Persian, no easy matter in my thirty-sixth year, confronted by Tajiks who at any rate had their own ideas on how it should be spoken.
I had schemed to memorise a number of expressions in the Kafir language and surprise Hugh when we met up with the people, but, in the midst of all our other preoccupations, the book had been lost in one of the innumerable sacks; now with Nuristan just over the mountain, it was discovered in the bottom of the rice sack, where it had been ever since I had visited the market in Kabul.
Reading the 1,744 sentences with their English equivalents, I began to form a disturbing impression of the waking life of the Bashgali Kafirs.
'Shtal latta wos ba padre u prett tu nashtonti mrlosh. Do you know what that is?'
It was too late to surprise Hugh with a sudden knowledge of the lanugage.
'What?'
'In Bashgali it's "If you have had diarrhoea many days you will surely die."'
'That's not much use,' he said. He wanted to get on with Conan Doyle.
'What about this then? Bilugh ao na pi bilosh. It means, "Don't drink much water; otherwise you won't be able to travel."'
'I want to get on with my book.'
Wishing that Hyde-Clark had been there to share my felicity I continued to mouth phrases aloud until Hugh moved away to another rock, unable to concentrate. Some of the opening gambits the Bashgalis allowed themselves in the conversation game were quite shattering. Ini ash ptul p'mich e manchi mrisht waria'm. ' I saw a corpse in a field this morning', and Tu chi se biss gur biti? 'How long have you had a goitre?', or even Ia juk noi bazisna prelom. 'My girl is a bride.'
Even the most casual remarks let drop by this remarkable people had the impact of a sledgehammer. Tu tott baglo piltia. 'Thy father fell into the river.' I non angur ai; tu ta duts angur ai. 'I have nine fingers; you have ten.' Or manchi aiyo; buri aish kutt. 'A dwarf has come to ask for food.' And Ia chitt bitto tu jarlom, 'I have an intention to kill you', to which the reply came pat, Tu bilugh le biwida manchi assish, 'You are a very kind-hearted man.'
Their country seemed a place where the elements had an almost supernatural fury: Dum allangiti atsiti i sundi basna bra. 'A gust of wind came and took away all my clothes', and where nature was implacable and cruel: Zhi mare badist ta wo ayo kakkok damiti gwa. 'A lammergeier came down from the sky and took off my cock.' Perhaps it was such misfortunes that had made the inhabitants so petulant: Tu biluk wari walal manchi assish. 'You are a very jabbering man.' Tu kai duga ia ushpe pa vich: tu ia oren vichiba o tu jarlam. 'Why are you pushing me? If you push me I will do for you.'
A race difficult to ingratiate oneself with by small talk: To'st kazhir krui p'pti ta chuk zhi prots asht? 'How many black spots are there on your white dog's back?' was the friendly inquiry to which came the chilling reply: Ia krui brobar adr rang azza: shtring na ass. 'He is a yellow dog all over, and not spotted.'
Perhaps the best part was the appendix which referred to other books dealing with the Kafir languages. One passage extracted from a book1 by a Russian savant, a M. Terentief, gave a translation of what he said was the Lord's Prayer in the language of the Bolors or Siah-Posh Kafirs:
Babo vetu osezulvini. Malipatve egobunkvele egamalako Ubukumkani bako mabuphike. Intando yako mayenzibe. Emkhlya beni, nyengokuba isenziva egulvini. Sipe namglya nye ukutiye kvetu kvemikhla igemikhla. Usikcolele izono zetu, nyengokuba nati siksolela abo basonaio tina. Unga singekisi ekulingveli zusisindise enkokhlakalveni, ngokuba bubobako ubukumkhani namandkhla nobungkvalisa, kude kude igunapakade. Amene.
'It does not agree with the Waigal or Bashgal dialect as recorded in any book which I have seen,' the Colonel wrote rather plaintively. 'There are no diacritical marks.'
But later in a supplementary appendix he was able to add a dry footnote to the effect that since writing the above a copy of the translation had been submitted by Dr Grierson, the distinguished editor of the Linguistic Survey of India, to Professor Khun of Munich who pronounced that it was an incorrect copy of the version of the Lord's Prayer in the language of the Amazulla Kaffirs of South Africa.

1. M. A. Terentief, Russia and England in Asia, 1875. Transl. by Dankes, Calcutta, 1876.




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