Afghanistan Exploration

By | December 16, 2021

The first news spread in Western culture about Afghānistān dates back to over twenty-two centuries ago, after Alexander of Macedon had traveled in every direction the country and the neighboring districts for almost four years (330-327 BC). Arrived there from the Persian territories to the SE. of the Caspian, descended from the Arius valley (today Herī Rūd) to the central lowland where the Erymanthos (now Helmand or Hilmend) flows, then going up the course of this river, and probably by the usual current route of Qandahār, it reached the valley of the Kophes (today Kābul), heart of the country. Returning there two years later, after the long war waged in Bactriana and Sogdiana (to N. of the Hindū Kush), he took the moves from here in 327 towards India. The bulk of the army followed the direct route from the Kābul valley to the Indus through the pass now known as Khaibar; while Alexander himself with the light troops covered the left flank, crossing the districts of Kāfiristān and Qohistān. The last military event was the capture of the fortress of Aornos near the Indus, whose position was determined with certainty by Sir Aurel Stein in 1926. After the campaign of Alexander, for many centuries there is no longer any widespread news of Afghānistān. The busiest route between Anterior Asia and India passed more to S., via Makrān and Belūcistān; and the crossings of the Afghānistān, of which the history of the explorations can take note, are very rare. In the century XIV Ibn Baṭṭūṭah passed through it, coming from Bukhārā through the Hindū Kush (which he first remembers with this name) and heading towards India (1333); three centuries later (1602-3), in reverse, the Jesuit Benedetto Goës, going from India to Yārkand, but did not survive to describe his journey. In 1782-3 George Foster, an officer of the East India Company, returning by land,

On the principles of the century XIX, the dangerous conquest plans of Napoleon I persuaded England to study the weak points of the NW frontier. of India. Therefore in 1808-9 he was sent on a political mission to Kābul Mountstuart Elphinstone, together with some specialists, who studied the country under various aspects. In 1810, Captain Christie traveled through the Hilmend valley, the Seistān (or Sīstān) and the Herāt region, reporting the first news of the ruins of medieval cities in the Seistān. For Afghanistan 1998, please check

More important is the journey of W. Moorcroft, English, and G. Trebeck, German, fake horse merchants, who in 1824, returning from Ladlak, wanted to go to Bukhārā by the Afghānistān route. Having reached Kābul from Peshāwar, they reached the countries of Afghan Turkestān for Bāmyān; taken prisoner by Murād Beg, only in February (825 were they able to resume their journey and reach Bukhārā. On their return, both travelers perished in Afghan Turkestān, for a cause that has never been properly clarified. The Moorcroft notes, together with the reports of a few years later of the Lord and of the Wood, are still of great value for the knowledge of the general characters of Badakhshān and of the countries along the mū Daryā east of Balkh.

In 1826 Lieutenant Conolly repeated the Foster’s journey in reverse and with a slightly different itinerary, going from England to India. But the travels of the American Ch. Masson, the most persistent explorer of the region, are worth much more at that time. He arrived in Kābul in the autumn of 1826, from Peshāwar; he left for Qandahār, returning to India for Belūcistān. He traveled in Pathanian costume, but without disguising his race of white man, on foot, without money, living with the people, and gathering a rich folkloristic harvest and copious notes of all kinds. In 1832 he returned to Kābul, a few days after the arrival of three Englishmen, the archaeologist Gerard, the rev. J. Wolff and Lieutenant Burnes: the latter returning from Bukhārā, where he had gone the year before from Kābul, crossing the cities of Afghan Turkestān, wearing the habit of the indigenous people like other time travelers and living among them without the encumbrance of a field of their own. Continuing Masson joined a military expedition and from Bāmyān visited the very little known Hilmend basin, then barely returning to Kābul in late winter. From here he continued his research until 1838, putting together a rich numismatic collection, a precious contribution to our knowledge of the history of Central Asia.

Other explorers of these years are the archaeologist M. Honigberger and GT Vigne, the explorer of Baltistān and Ladak, who in 1836, departing from Derā Ismā‛īl Khān on the Indus, crossed the frontier chains for a very long way. interesting, reaching Ghaznī. In 1837, Lieutenant E. Pottinger, the first European, traveled the land of the Hazāra, a difficult mountainous region between Kābul and Herāt. In the following year, Captain Burnes (v.) Returned to Kābul on an official mission and sent Dr. Lord with Lieutenant Wood in Badakhshān. The latter were able to reach Qunduz by the Bāmyān route, despite the winter season, and Wood gave the first description of the road that joins Kābul with the Afghan Turkestān through the Hindū Kush (today there are communication routes viable by cars). From Qunduz the Wood left again heading towards E. to Ṭāliqān and Fāidābād, from where it explored the Kōkciah valley and the other unknown Hindū Kush passes leading to Chitral (Čitrāl). At the end of January he undertook his famous exploration from above Āmū Daryā (v.pāmir). Called back to Kābul, the two explored still other nearby stretches of the Hindu Kush chains.

During the English war occupation of Afghānistān in 1839, Lieutenant JS Broadfoot, after having explored a good part of the country to S. di Ghaznī, retraced the Vigne itinerary in the opposite direction, from Ghaznī to the Indus, reporting many new geographical data, so that he remained the major authority for the knowledge of the central Afghan tribes, especially those inhabiting the elevated regions to the SE. by Ghaznī.

The most adventurous exploration of Afghānistān is undoubtedly that of the French JP Ferrier, an erudite and competent observer, a mediocre geographer. Arriving from Baghdād to Herāt in 1845, he headed from here to N., crossing the Bābā pass, then to the NE., Through the high basin of the Murghāb and the entire Fīrūz-kūhī plateau. Arrested on the way and forced to return to Herāt, he later left for S. to reach Qandahār and the Punjab (Pangiāb), but, robbed and mistreated by fanatical tribes of western Afghānistān, he was rejected in Girishk. After other vicissitudes, he was able with better luck to travel along the Hilmend planes for a long time, reaching as far as the Seistān and Farāh, noting ancient archaeological documents. His story, although not the whole itinerary could be identified,

The Afghan mission of 1857-58, directed by Major Lumsden, collected geographic, cartographic and scientific data; among which the observations of HW Bellew are noteworthy. He also took part in another mission under F. Pollock in 1872 in Seistān, where Sir FJ Goldsmid also went the same year, for studies concerning the installation of Indo-European telegraph lines.

The government of India did not fail to make use of the work of specially trained Indian topographers in Afghānistān, as in other regions hostile or closed to Europe; such Mīrzā Shugiā ‛, who in 1868 crossed all of Badakhshān, going from Kābul to Pāmir, and Ḥaider Shāh, who in 1870 reached Badakhishān from Peshāwar via the Chitral (Čitrāl) route and in 1872-1873 traveled there other roads, pushing beyond the mū Daryā.

In 1878-79 a Russian mission was sent to Kābul under General Stoletoff. He arrived there from Samarkand, by the mū Daryā, Tāsh-Qūrghān, Bāmyān, and followed the itineraries of Ferrier and Burnes. The Afghan war of 1879-80 and the campaign of 1981 in the Wazīrīstān gave occasion to extensive topographical and cartographic works, under the direction of Sir Thomas Holdich, especially in the region of the Khaibar pass and in the Wazīrīstān.

WW Mc Nair was the first European to enter Swāt and Citrāl, in 1883, as a Mohammedan. Two years later the Lockhart mission to Citrāl and to part of the Kāfiristān took place; Colonel Woodthorpe, pushing further exploration, collected important geographic data on Hindu Kush. Finally, it is worth mentioning the journey undertaken at the end of 1885 by the officers JP Maitland and MG Talbot, who conducted a triangulation from Herāt to Bāmyān and from Bāmyān to Tāsh-Qurghān and Mazār-i-Sharīf, in Afghan Turkestān.

In the meantime, a series of works had begun caused by the need to make Russia recognize a precise limit in its expansion towards India. For this reason, under the direction of Sir Th. Holdich, the Indian triangulation was extended across the English Belūcistān up to the Hilmend and the marshes of the Seistān, then towards the north up to the Hindū Kush, completing, together with the Russian topographers, the entire survey of the region between upper Murghāb and Āmū Daryā. The works lasted until the autumn of 1866. Ten years later the narrow area of ​​land to S. dell’Āmū Daryā was also delimited by the Russians and the English, for which the Afghan territory penetrates into Pāmir, up to the border of China.

In the interval between the two Russo-English missions, the eastern borders between Afghānistān and Belūcistān were marked, and between 1894 and 1896 the southern ones; the survey of the territories occupied by independent tribes east of Afghānistān was completed in 1896. In the Kāfiristān he had previously delved much deeper than Lockhart GS Robertson, reporting interesting ethnographic data. Finally, in 1903, GP Tate undertook to survey the Seistān and the complicated Persian-Afghan border crossing it, taking more than two years of work (Mission AH Mc Mahon). Once the delimitation of the Afghan territory ended and the political interest ceased, the geographic interest also faded, until the outbreak of the European war. This provoked the German mission of O.

With the recognition of the political independence of Afghānistān, after the last war of 1919, the country entered into direct relations with civilized nations and welcomed their representatives, so that a rapid completion of its knowledge is to be expected.

The greatest geographical gaps, which remain to be filled, are in Badakhshān, whose minute exploration will be of the greatest interest; then a good part of the high Hilmend basin remains to be explored in the Hazāra country, and the regions to the NW. and to SE. of the direct route between Ghaznī and Qandahār.

Afghanistan Exploration