Source: the Internet Archive version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. The somewhat rough OCR text has been proof-read against the text images, and section headings have been added. — George P. Landow]

The Khyber Pass [is] one of the only two doors into India.

Decorated initial T

he Khyber Pass may be said, generally speaking, to commence at Jamrood, ten miles west of Peshawur, and to extend as far as Dhaka, a distance of about thirty-three miles. The actual entrance to the defile, however, is at Kadam, a place three miles west of Jamrood, which is a small village, surrounded by a mud wall. There still exist the ruins of an old Sikh fort binlt in 1837, after the defeat of the Afghan army on the adjacent plains by the Khalsa army under Hurree Singh. Within 1000 yards of Kadam the gorge narrows to 150 yards, with steep precipitous cliffs on either hand. Between this and the Afghan frontier fort of Ali Musjid, distant about ten miles, the mountains on either hand are about 1500 ft. in height, Slaty, bare, and to all appearance inaccessible; the width of the pass varies from 290 to 40 feet. For a distance of two miles and a half beyond Ali Musjid the pass retains its difficult character. It then enters the Lela Beg Valley, about six miles in length, with an average breadth of a mile and a half. The western end of the valley, however, finds the road entering a still narrower defile, there being scarcely room for two camels to pass each other. The Lundi Khana Pass is distant from this point about a mile and a half; the ascent over it is narrow, rugged, steep, and generally the most difiicult part of the road; guns could not be drawn here except by men, and then only after an improvement of the track. The descent, however, is along a well-made road, and is not so difficult. On the west side of the pass the mountains gradually open out and lose much of their inaccessible nature. Dhaka is distant about eight m1les, and here the defile ends. Difficult as the Khyber is to force, it is evident that what Wade and Pollock did many years ago can, if necessary, be done again. Moreover, our knowledge of these mountain ranges has much improved of late years, and several roads are well known which completely turn Ali Musjid, the most formidable obstacle between Peshawur and Jellalabad. Among these is the Tatara road, which enters the hills about nine miles north of Jamrood and joins the main route at Dhaka; the Kadapa road and one for lightly-equipped columns, and doubtless would be made use of were we compelled to force the Khyber. That the Khyber Pass presents but slight difficulty to a well-handled force is evident from the fact that in 1839 Colonel Wade forced it at the head of an irregular contingent, penetrating from Peshawur to Jellalabad, with a loss of but 180 men. In 1842 General Pollock forced it by shelling the heights from the ravines below, while two columns of twelve companies each on either flank pushed the enemy from ridge to ridge. His casualties were 128. On his return march he lost but fifty-six men.

It must be home in mind that the tribes residing in the Pass and its immediate vicinity, though nominally owing allegiance to the Ameer of Afghanistan, are yet powerful enough to demand and to obtain subsidies from him in return for the privilege they grant in permitting the highway to be made use of. In the time of the Durani kings the Maliks of the Khyber received 130,000 rupees per annum. After the annexation of Peshawur by the Sikhs, Dost Mahomed paid them only 20,000. During our occupation of Cabul, 1h'I}‘.J-42, we paid them 125,000 rupees annually; and after our witlidrawal Dost Mahomed continued a payment of 27,000. At his death these allowances were stopped, nor has Shere Ali renewed them. Consequently, his hold on the Afridi and Shiuwarri tribes, who virtually hold the pass from Jamrood to Dhaka, has been much weakened. Once through the pass, there appears small reason to believe we should be unable to keep it open for the free transmission of supplies. Fortified posts at judiciously selected spots, coupled with liberal douceurs to the neighbouring cliieftains, is all that is requisite. The forcing of the Khyber and the necessary construction of a road practicable for wheeled traffic to Cabul would be but the commencement of an Afghan war. The fortresses of Jellalabad, Cabul, and (illll7.l'iPi3 would have to he reduced. Of their present condition little is known ; but the Afghan rulers have spent much labour and money in perfecting their defences.

The boundary line of British territory runs between Jamrood and Peshawur. It is understood that Sir Neville Chamberlain, the British Envoy, had crossed the frontier on his late mission to Cabul, and that his way was not stopped, according to the telegrams, till he reached the mouth of the Pass. One of our Illustrations therefore represents the scene of this event, the importance of which, relative to future history, time only can determine. Jamrood was erected by the former ruler of the Punjaub, Runjeet Singh, as a sentry-box to watch the mouth of the Pass. It was too small for that purpose in British possession, and it has been left to go to ruin. The station of Peshawur now serves the same purpose for which Jamrood did before, and is the principal military station on the frontier. The Khyber Pass being one of the only two doors into India, Peshawur, as the guard-house on its inner side, becomes of necessity a place of very great importance. There is a large fort at Peshawur, otherwise it is not fortified ; but, in the event of invasion, the town could easily be put into a state of defence. An army coming into India by the Khyber would have to force the Pass, and then to reduce Peshawur, before advancing on the Indus, which is about twenty miles away, and is commanded by the Fort of Attack.

With the prospect of war, and of an advance upon Cabul through the defiles of the Khyber, the character of the tribes there becomes a point of some interest. They are all, in the true sense of the word, Highlanders, strong, active, and warlike, and they live in clans. They are usually armed with some weapon or another, at every moment, so that quarrels are often settled on the spot in a summary fashion, which leads to feuds and to wars of one clan with another. The Afghans have a tradition that they are descended from Saul, and they call themselves the “Beni Israel”—that is, the “Children of Israel.” There is something of a Jewish type in many of their faces, and Jewish names are common ; but these names might be derived since the Mohammedan conquest. One of the tribes of the Khyber is called the “Yusuf-zais,” or “Sons of Joseph.’ The “Afreedis” and “Kookie-Khails” are the names of clans in the same region, which one often hears mentioned at Peshawur. They are very anxious, at all times, to take service in the Indian army; but their fighting quahties are such that the authorities avoid having more than a certain proportion of them in our regiments. The fierce “Khaïls,” or tribes of that district, are one of the dangers which a force passing through the Khyber has to calculate on. They live among the mountains, and wherever there is a commanding point they can seize upon it; and as they fight deserately, they make every post of the road cost dear with the blood shed in forcing a passage. Such people, hanging about on the line of march, can swoop down like hawks upon stragglers; and their longknives are deadly weapons. If they are still anxious for service, the best plan, if we are to have war, would be to enlist most of them on our side.

Watch-Tower in the Khyber Pass. William Simpson. 1878. Click on image to enlarge it

It may be remembered that it was in the region of the Khyber Pass that Lord Clyde first won high military distinction. It was for service in that region he received the honour of the K.G.B. and became Sir Colin Campbell. Lord Clyde was at Peshawur with Lord Canning in 1860, at the time when our Artist, Mr. William Simpson, was there, havin just paid a visit to the Khyber. One evening Lord Clyde was ooking over Mr. Simpson's sketch-book, and, seeing the original from which our Illustration of an Outlook House is drawn, he said that those outlook houses were originally an idea of his own. He then explained how the outlying sentries in the Afghan War were sometimes found dead in the morning, stabbed to the heart by the fierce Khyberees; and how, for their safety, a line of these houses was consequently put up. The outlook house is loop-holed all round, so that it not only commands the view, but has military command of the space about it. There is no means of getting up into the upper part except by the ladder, which those on duty can pull up after them—a very simple arrangement to accomplish the object desired. This idea may have been taken from tho martello towers of our south coast, or from the Border towers or “peels” of Tweedside. [326-27]

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Last modified 19 August 2018