Himalayan Journal vol.02
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (PAUL BAUER.*)
    (DR. A. M. HERON.)
    (L. R. FAWCUS)
  5. THE SHYOK FLOOD, 1929
    (J. P. GUNN)
    (LIEUT. J. B. P. ANGWIN.)
    (DR. E. F. NEVE.)
    (LIEUT. D. M. BURN.)
    (W. E. BUCHANAN)
    (H. M. GLOVER.)
    (Captain J. BARRON.)
    (Captain A. A. RUSSELL.)
  16. NOTES


Captain A. A. RUSSELL.

(Being extracts from the diary of a journey to Chinese Turkistan in 1927.)

THOUGH the reading of a diary must always have more interest for its author, to whom the record of each day's adventures brings back scenes and emotions which can never be properly conveyed in words, yet a story, written on the spot, even if it is not a gem of literature, must surely give a truer picture than an account written some time afterwards. A brief introduction to the people mentioned is necessary.

Nadir Beg belonged to the British Consulate-General at Kashgar. Major Gillan, the Consul-General, very kindly placed his services at my disposal. Nadir had previously been with the Eoosevelt and Morden expeditions and had got an utterly false idea into his head that he was a shikari.

Aibash was a local man of Subashi who, like Nadir, imagined himself a shikari. No one knew less about the game. I called him " Eyewash."

Abu Khan was a local man of Kara-su and the only one who knew anything about shikar. He was unfortunately imprisoned by the Amban of Tashkurgan for allowing some smugglers to cross the Eussian border. The Amban had given strict orders that no one was to cross the frontier while I was in the vicinity.

Sohbat Khan was a Yusufzai Pathan of the Guides Infantry, whom Major Sandeman very kindly arranged to let me have. He and Ilyas Khan, my Pathan servant, were treasures.

Tuesday, 19th July. Started off from Sarik-Kara Su with Nadir and Abu Khan on yaks at 3-30 a.m. The plan was to go along the hills, climb the high one, 16,142 feet (38°22' N., 74°51' E.), overlooking Tok-terek, and then descend to the new camping-ground in Tok-terek nullah. The baggage was to go by the path starting at 8-30 a.m.

At 6-30 a.m. we commenced to climb the big hill-about two thousand feet of very steep and difficult going. We got to the top about 10 o'clock. It was deep snow here. The view was truly magnificent. In every direction an endless vista of snow-clad mountain peaks. There was a slight haze, but still one could see about seventy or eighty miles. I took my bearings and set my map on a flat rock. Looking west and north-west into Russian territory I saw the Kaufmann peak, 23,000 feet,* and Kizil Aghin peak, 21,420 feet beyond the Great Kara-Kul, and the Balauti peak beyond Murghabi, the Russian Pamir Post on the Murghab, about forty-five miles to the west. Murghabi is connected with civilization by a telegraph line. I felt a great desire to see how life in a Russian frontier post compared with that in ours, but it could not be. To the south-west I could see the peaks of the Great Pamir above Lake Victoria on the Afghan border, and to the south the Hindu Kush, looking quite insignificant amongst all these giants. Looking east, the great mass shown on the map as the Kashgar range rose up before me ; to the north-east is Kungur, 25,140 feet, beyond which lies the Gez river route, a dangerous journey through stupendous canyons. It is said to be impossible at this time of year, yet the dak-runners still go that way, as it is the most direct route to Kashgar from Tashkurgan. Due west the entrance to the Kara-tash pass, 16,338 feet, could be seen ; this was my way to Kashgar ; it looked very inhospitable. To the south of the Kara-tash and much nearer was Muztagh Ata, the <c Father of Ice-Mountains," 24,388 feet. It stands alone and seems to dominate the whole world. The local inhabitants say that it is the haunt of demons.

Away below us we saw the camp-it had arrived sooner than I expected. Abu Khan spotted a herd of poli in the distance-he has the most wonderful eyesight and generally spots things long before anybody else. As the wind was favourable and the poli were in a fairly get-at-able place, I determined to try and stalk them. It was a long and difficult stalk taking five hours-and then I had to give up, as the wind, that fickle companion, changed right round and blew down the valley straight towards the quarry. I turned and fled.

One phase of the stalk was most exciting. I was working my way down the edge of the stream when two ewes appeared about200 yards on my right front. There was no cover ahead and I had to pass them. If they spotted me where I was they would run straight down and alarm the big fellows. I crawled on my stomach inch by inch for what seemed an eternity, but was really about an hour. Every time one of them raised her head I lay like a rock, till after satisfying herself that I was a rock, she went on grazing. In this way I passed within forty yards of them. Then I got up and walked on. It was ludicrous to see their surprise ; but I had ceased to care, for I was between them and the ones that mattered, and as soon as the " ladies " had recovered from their shock, they scampered off in the opposite direction. Later I found myself in a somewhat similar position-a herd of small rams on my left front and a large herd of ewes with young ones on my right front. I waited for two hours till they had grazed their way to a safe distance.

* Now known to the Russians as " Peak Lenin." Its latest height value is 23,392 feet. The first ascent was made in 1928 by a party of climbers of the Russo-German Alai-Pamir Expedition who reached the summit by the eastern arete (Dent. Forschung, Vol. 10, 1929). The latest height value of Kizil Aghin is 21,325 feet.-Ed.

Having found Abu Khan, after giving up the stalk, I hastened back to where Nadir had brought down the yaks. Abu Khan said it would be best to go over the Kotal to the right and round the big hill as there was a lot of snow on the direct route and it was getting late. The route we chose turned out to be very bad ; we scrambled up and slithered down the most terrifying mountain-sides. Those yaks were marvellous-one would not have thought it possible for anything but a goat to have gone over such ground. We got in at 9-15 p.m. about .an hour after dark. The men were greatly relieved to see us.

Wednesday, 20th July. Had a " Europe morning " this morning. Started off at 10 o'clock for the ridge overlooking the jilga where we tried so hard yesterday, intending only to see if the herd was still there. The yaks were very bad and we had to climb the last three- quarters of a mile on foot. I was just clambering over the ridge to get a view into the nullah when I spotted our friends lying on the edge of the snow not four hundred yards away. Nadir, who was labouring up behind, very nearly blundered into it. I intimated to him with a significant gesture that I would have had much pleasure in cutting his throat if he had scared them off. However, the animals were still there when I looked again and I commenced the stalk straight away. It was a simple matter to get within two hundred yards but impossible to get nearer than that, so I collected my wind, took a careful aim at the biggest, fired, and had the mortification to see my bullet strike the snow a foot short. I seized the bolt to reload and the cartridge jammed. I struggled with it and in about thirty seconds got it out, bent nearly double. The poli had disappeared, so I hastened to the spot where I saw them last and found them collected in the nullah below. I fired four more shots at the biggest and brought him down at 400 yards. Nadir and Abu Khan told me afterwards that they thought I would break my neck the way I went hurtling down the hill-side after those poli. Within about three minutes of the death, the birds of prey appeared circling high above us, watching and waiting. We only took the head and skin, as the yaks were far too feeble to reach this spot. It was not much of a head, 44 inches, but it was a beginning. We got home at 7-30 p.m. and I told them they could halal a sheep to celebrate the occasion.

Thursday, 21 st July. Spent the morning skinning and dressing the head. A crowd of local Khirghiz collected and took a deep interest in all the proceedings. After lunch I struck camp and marched to Tok-terek North. Saw several quite good poli on the way but my rifle was with the baggage some way behind and they would not wait. Had to bring a second akoi (Khirghiz tent) here for the Begs and the yak-owners, as there is no habitation within miles.- I asked the Subashi Beg why he did not bring a couple of cow yaks for milk and he explained that only women knew how to milk a cow. I offered to teach him, but he was not having any.

The men have at last learned to pitch my tent properly. They never seemed able to get the pegs in the proper alignment. Nadir, the other day, when I pointed out that the canvas would certainly tear with the pegs as he had put them, protested that his life would be forfeit if it did. My remark that my tent was infinitely more valuable than his paltry life filled him with admiration.

Friday, 22nd July. Set off on foot at 5-15 a.m. with Aibash, the new local man. To-day was merely a reconnaissance up the Tok-terek jilga. We had gone about two miles when we were both startled by a plaintive bleat close behind us. This was the Beg's pet lamb which had broken loose and followed us. It had to be caught and tied up somehow or else we had to go home. There followed the funniest scene imaginable. Aibash, who looks exactly like Grock, went through all sorts of strange contortions, sometimes crouching like a Japanese wrestler, sometimes on all fours making a noise like a hubble-bubble ; but always just as he was about to grab the beast, it skipped out of reach. I am afraid I did not assist much : I was helpless with laughter. At last with a lightning dive Aibash grabbed it by the hind leg. We tied it up and spread a red cummerbund near it to frighten off any beast of prey that should come prowling round. After this interlude we proceeded on our way. About a mile further on I was much annoyed to find the Beg's camels and yaks grazing in a most promising part of the jilga, while further on at the head was another herd of yaks.

Saw nine poli up a side stream but only two were any size and they were no bigger than the one I had shot : so I left them and came home. Somebody had come and fetched the lamb in our absence.

Sent Nadir and Aibash off the way we came yesterday to see if they could spot anything. Nadir reported that they found nine poli not far off, but could not tell their size.

A chilly night; the wind rising and the clouds coming low on the hills. How nice to be comfortably ensconced by a cheery English fireside instead of in a wee tent on the bleak mountain-side !

Saturday, 23rd July. Set off at 4-30 a.m. on yaks up the nullah where we saw some poli on Thursday. Found nine on a very difficult bit of ground. The approach which offered the best chance of success was straight up the ravine below them, but the wind would not allow of this. I waited three hours for it to change but as it showed no signs of doing so, I decided to go up the opposite side of the shoulder. Half-way up the wind veered, so I then tried to get right above them ; but it was no good, the devil was in the wind to-day-it started blowing in the opposite direction. It was too late to turn back and I went on in the faint hope that the wind might have eddied off the place where the poli were ; but it had not, and when I finally peered over a rock, there was no sign of them.

As Aibash and I were labouring up the hill I spotted four big poli on the hill opposite. On continuing our climb they spotted us and the last we saw of them was disappearing over the sky line. To add to our misery it began to snow.

Found some magnificent primulas, with a scent like primroses, and brought a large bunch home.

Sunday, 24th July. Another early start. Got off just as the light was beginning to come over the hills. The higher ground was all covered with snow but most of it had melted down below. About two miles from camp we blundered into four poli feeding low down. Needless to say, they were off like the wind. I have come to the conclusion that Nadir and Aibash are worse than useless. They boost along on yaks making the hell of a noise and suddenly stop and point out a herd of poli more often than not disappearing over a mountain top. Neither know how to make use of the wind.

Came across a young poli about three or four days old. It had overslept itself and did not wake up till we were quite close. It trotted off bleating like a lamb in response to Aibash's life-like imitation.

The Subashi Beg whom I bad sent off for khabar came back this evening and informed me that no poli had been seen and all the nullahs round about Subashi were full of Khirghiz flocks. I sent him off with a flea in his ear and told him to try again. The local Sarikoli appears to be singularly lacking in initiative and quite incapable of any effort.

Monday, 25th July. Took the bivouac tent, bedding and tiffin basket, and camped at a spot about four miles up the jilga. The place I chose was about half-way up a little side nullah in a bend well sheltered from all sides, and by going about fifty paces up the hill-side one could get an excellent view of all the nullahs coming into the main basin of Tok-terek at this point. On the way up we saw several herds of poli, but all the animals had small " heads 99 or were females, except those in one large herd which I spotted away up the biggest of the subsidiary nullahs. It was too late to stalk them as the wind had already changed. The time-table seems to be as follows : From 3-45 a.m. to 5-45 a.m. it blows down the nullahs, from 5-45 to 6-15 there is a lull, and from 6-15 it either veers right round or chops and changes in the most bewildering manner.

We watched that large herd of poli all day-I counted thirty-two animals, of which twelve were big " heads "-one exceptionally big, I should say at least sixty inches. I looked at him longingly and my mouth watered. In the evening they came down the nullah and, with the last flicker of light at 7-30 p.m., I saw them reach the hill-side opposite us. Knowing that they would lie up somewhere near there for the night, I planned to stalk them next morning from the dry bed of a hill torrent which came down about 300 yards to the east and below where I last saw them.

Aibash and I did not get much sleep that night. It was snowing and bitterly cold. I dared not light a fire as the poli were in the only place from which the camp was visible.

Tuesday, 26th July. I rose at 2-30 a.m. and set off alone at 3 o'clock. It was difficult picking one's way amongst the boulders in the pitch darkness and I had to be particularly careful not to knock my rifle. I reached the place in the dry bed of the burn that I had fixed on the evening before just as the first grey light turned the world into ghost-land. I crouched breathlessly peering into the half-light, imagining every rock was a poli, a leopard or a bear. Suddenly I saw a shadowy object on the hill-side about 200 yards above me and up wind begin to move. It came down the sky-line, a poli. Then followed a procession, sometimes a single one, sometimes three or four-every one silhouetted against the sky as he passed. It was too dark to distinguish the big fellow and I waited until they had all passed- about a quarter of an hour-then crept down and across to a little spur overlooking the nullah where I heard stones rattling about. Knowing that there was good grass there I felt I really had the old man this time. On peering over I found that instead of feeding on the rich grass they had gone a little way up the opposite hill-side and were already out of safe range. At the same time I was horrified to see a black figure stalking along the same hill-side straight towards them ! It was that prince of fools, Aibash, who had come out to see the fun. I was powerless to warn him and I knew that if they did not spot him they were bound to get his wind. So I just waited and watched the tragedy. Aibash got to within about 80 yards of them before they got his wind. He never saw them till they were about three-quarters of a mile away, when he waved to me frantically to inform me of his great discovery ! When he eventually came down I told him in mixed Persian, Pushtu, Hindustani and English, what I thought of him. But as he only speaks Turki, in which language I don't know a single swear word, I'm afraid a great deal of it was lost on him. Poor old man I He may have been a famous shikari once- which I can scarcely believe-but since he married three wives I am afraid he has lost his prowess on the hill. I think the cold last night may have numbed his brain. He dithered all morning, left my camera in one place and my waterproof in another, and jolly nearly set my tent on fire fooling about with the candle-lamp."

After the herd was alarmed it split into two-a few smaller ones going up a side nullah and the big ones going up the one they came down yesterday. I followed them for a bit, but the wind changed and I had to give up. However I spotted them later in the morning, away far up, also another lot with some quite shootable heads on the hill-side down the main valley. So I have decided to remain another night, but Aibash is to remain in the base camp and Sohbat come in his place. I left Nadir, who arrived with the yaks at 7 a.m., two hours before he was due, to watch the herds with the telescope, and came down to my base camp for a bath and hot meal.-

On my return I went up the hill-side with Sohbat to where Nadir was. He had lost sight of the big herd, but, as we were looking round, the four that had been lying up on the hill-side came down to the stream. The wind was a little uncertain, but I decided to go straight for them. It was a short and exciting chase. I got to within 80 yards of them, dropped one just as they were moving off and another 400 yards away in the stream. The first, I regret to say, was smaller than I thought, and I decided not to keep the head though the Khirghiz took the rest with the greatest of pleasure. The second was not very much bigger-42 inches-but I kept him in case I failed to get a better. Sohbat enjoyed the tamasha hugely-he saw the whole show from the hill-top.

When we got back to the tent we saw a large herd looking at us from the top of the ridge overlooking the camp. I did not see any worth shooting though Nadir swore there were some. After Nadir and the Khirghiz had gone with the yaks, Sohbat and I were making tea when we suddenly found ourselves invaded by two-humped camels. Sohbat got up and clapped his hands and they galloped off, their great ungainly bodies going up and down like boats on a rough sea. These brutes are half wild. The Khirghiz leave them to graze in these out-of- the-way jilgas for months on end and the sight of the tent and the fire was evidently too much for their curiosity.

Wednesday, 27th July. Got up at 2-15 a.m., made some tea and boiled a couple of eggs-a vast improvement on yesterday's cold fare ! Started off at 3 a.m. and walked as fast as I could in the dark, getting about three-quarters of the way up the nullah where the big herd was yesterday, before the light came. I then proceeded to search the ground with my glasses, but saw not a sign of the poli. When it got lighter I went on and found all the tracks leading up the left of the three upper nullahs, and over the watershed into Russian territory. I could not make out what had driven them away-my shots yesterday evening were too far off to be heard here. Searching round I found the tracks of a yak coming down the middle nullah only a short distance and then returning. The tracks were last night's and I believe this was another of the " Bolo's " spies sent to see what I was doing. The same happened at the last place-only that time we saw the man. He was on a yak, came just over the border and then returned-no apparent reason at all. I should have very much liked to catch one of the lads and send him down to the Amban. My friend would have eaten him alive.

On returning down the big nullah I suddenly spotted a large herd crossing in front of me. There were some quite good-looking heads amongst them. The wind had fortunately changed, so I waited till they had got behind a shoulder and then doubled forward for all I was worth. Unfortunately I had not seen some ewes which had not yet crossed the nullah, and these, as soon as they saw me, gave the alarm to the main herd. I had two snaps at the biggest I could see and laid him low ; but it was a marvel I hit him as I had not an ounce of breath left in me. He also did not have much of a head- 42 ½ inches.

When Nadir arrived with the yaks at 8-30 we packed up and marched down to the base. After a short rest there we marched to Subashi, arriving at 5-30 p.m. The Subashi Beg was most attentive. Not having found me a good head I suppose he wanted to try and make up for it. He led me to a very superior akoi where his wife gave me tea, mostly cream, and fried cakes.

To-morrow we start for Kashgar.