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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell

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Gertrude Bell
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1 entry, paper

Sat 24. [24 January 1903] Went in to say goodbye to the Russells
and photographed the armed guard houses on the Circular Road. Off
at about 10, cloudy weather but pleasant, to Kohat. We drove through
the Peshawar oasis which is all set with trees and cornfields and out
into the plain. We were in a tonga and changed horses 4 times during
the 40 miles. It was about 20 to the foot of the hills. After the oasis we
crosed a wide flat open country very sparsely cultivated, with a few
trees, very few, and thorny bushes and a blue green spurge like thing.
Occasional mud forts and one or two villages walled round and with
watch towers and here and there a detached house or guardhouse,
pyramidal with the top cut off, the door some ten ft from the ground,
approached by a ladder. All sorts of people on the road; we saw
some little Mongolian Central Asiatics, 2 men in white shirts, dark blue
coats and snow leopard skins over their shoulders, trains of transport
mules, caravans of camels and bullocks and buffaloes carrying
packs. The clouds lifted and a beautiful light came over the wide
circle of hills, the highest of which were snow capped. After about 18
miles we came to our frontier post garrisoned by Afridi rifles. We had
already left the entirely flat country and got into a series of huge
furrows which looked like moraines but I doubt if the hills behind are
high enough. Another mile took us to the gates of the pass. The road
now led by a twisting valley between extremely steep barren rocky
hills. The bottom of the valley was all cultivated and thick set with mud
villages, each one walled and surmounted by watchtowers loopholed
for rifles. Every separate house, outside a village, was defended in
the same fashion. Occasionally we came to big graveyards, the
mounds being protected by small stones laid together and 2 upright
stones set at the head and foot on top of the mound. Some had long
poles at the head hung with coloured rags. They don't last long; the
earth washes away between the stones and the mounds soon
become shapeless. We saw a wild raven. The road was full of traffic,
amongst which were a number of our transport. The women are
scarcely veiled. They wear trousers, a black tunic edged with scarlet
embroidery and a black and white thing over their heads. Some have
silver ornaments across the breast or coins sewn onto the cap and
falling on the forehead. The men wear mostly white cotton, mud
colour with dirt. Most of them have the Afghan sidelocks. Round a
corner the valley opened out and stretched up to the foot of snow hills;
it was all full of walled villages. But we turned to the W and climbed up
500 ft or so to the top of a ridge on which was our frontier fort. From
here we had a fine view over the plain and the oasis of Kohat ringed
round on 3 sides by hills. We crossed about 10 or 12 miles of Afridi
country. The water parting is higher on this side, 1000 ft or so above
the plain. A splendid road took us down and even the Afridi road isn't
at all bad, and we got into Kohat about 4. Most excellent DB where we
established ourselves and had a good tea. Walked out to the town.
Kohat is a most charming place; the cantonments delightful, trees and
flowers and even running water, and cornfields. We walked all
through the native town - stocked with all sorts of people - Sikhs and
Gurkhas of our regiments stationed here. The change from Peshawar
is most curious. The menace of the frontier is gone - Kohat is off the
line. Lovely hills round; the clouds had blown up but the sunset light
was very fine. A charming Sikh boy walked round after us - I hope he
found us entertaining. Many of the Afridis are quite fair - I saw one
redbearded man (not henna!) and several fairskinned and very like
us. Capt. Venour said he had some men in the Khyber Rifles not to be
distinguished from Englishmen.

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