CHAPTER X. BALUCHISTAN - GWARJAK.
Most European travellers through this desolate land have testified to the fact that the most commendable trait in the Baluch is his practice of hospitality, or "zang," as it is called. As among the Arabs, a guest is held sacred, save by some of the wilder tribes on the Afghan frontier, who, though they respect a stranger actually under their roof, will rob and murder him without scruple as soon as he has departed. The natives of Kanero and Dhaira (the two villages lying between Noundra and Gwarjak) were, though civil, evidently not best pleased at our appearance, but the sight of a well-armed escort prevented any open demonstration of ill feeling.
The first day's work after Noundra was rough, so much so that the camels could scarcely struggle through the deep sand, or surmount the steep, pathless ridges of slippery rock that barred our progress every two or three miles. Though the greater part of the journey lay through deep, drifting sand, the soil in places was hard and stony, and here the babul tree and feesh palm grew freely, also a pretty star-shaped yellow flower, called by Baluchis the "jour." This plant is poisonous to camels, but, strangely enough, harmless to sheep, goats, and other animals.
For a desert-journey, we had little to complain of as regards actual discomfort. There were no mosquitoes or sandflies, and the heat, though severe, was never excessive save for a couple of hours or so at midday, when enforced imprisonment in a thin canvas tent became rather trying. There was absolutely no shade - not a tree of any kind visible from the day we left Beila till our arrival at Dhaira about midday on the 31st of March. Scarcity of water was our greatest difficulty. At Noundra it had been salt and brackish; at Kanero we searched in vain for a well. Had we known that a couple of days' march distant lay a land "with milk and honey blest," this would have inconvenienced us but little. The fact, however, that only three barrels of the precious liquid remained caused me some anxiety, especially as the first well upon which we could rely was at Gwarjak, nearly sixty miles distant.
The sight of Dhaira, on the morning of the 31st, relieved us of all further anxiety. This fertile plain, about fifteen miles long by ten broad, is bounded on the north-west by a chain of limestone mountains, the name of which I was unable to ascertain. Here for the second time since Beila we found a village and traces of inhabitants, the former encircled for a considerable distance by fields of maize and barley, enclosed by neat banks and hedges - a grateful contrast to the desolate waste behind us. It was the most perfect oasis imaginable. Shady forest trees and shrubs surrounded us on every side, a clear stream of running water fringed with ferns and wild flowers rippled through our camp, while the poor half-starved horses of the escort revelled in the long, rich grass. Hard by a cluster of three or four leaf huts, half hidden in a grove of date palms, lay (part of) the little village of Dhaira, deserted at this busy hour of the day save by women and children. The latter fled upon our arrival, and did not reappear until the evening, when the return of the men reassured them sufficiently to approach our tents and look upon the strange and unwelcome features of the Farangi without fear.
From here, by advice of the Wazir of Beila, a messenger was despatched to Malak, at Gwarjak, twenty miles distant, requesting permission to travel through his dominions. I resolved to proceed no further without the chief's sanction, or to afford him in any way an excuse for making himself unpleasant. In the mean time, arms and accoutrements were looked to, and the escort cleaned and smartened up as well as circumstances would permit. The natives overcame their shyness next morning, and brought us goat's milk and "rogan," or clarified butter. The Baluchis seldom eat meat, their food principally consisting of cakes or bread made of grain, with buttermilk and rice. A favourite preparation known as "shalansh," and called "krout" by the Afghans, is made by boiling buttermilk till the original quantity is reduced by half. The remainder is then strained through a thick felt bag, in the sun. When the draining ceases, the mass in the bag is formed into small lumps dried hard by the sun's rays. When required for use these lumps are pounded and placed in warm water, where they are worked by the hands until dissolved. The thickened fluid is then boiled with rogan and eaten with bread.
Assafoetida, indigenous to the country, is largely used among all classes for flavouring dishes. So much is this noxious plant liked by Baluchis, that it goes by the name of "khush-khorak," or pleasant food. At Kelat, in the palace of the Khan, I was offered it pickled, but it is usually eaten stewed in butter.
About midday, to my great surprise, Malak made his appearance in person, mounted on a good-looking chestnut stallion, its bridle and saddle adorned with gold and silver trappings. Four attendants followed on sorry-looking steeds. The chief, a tall, well-built fellow, about thirty years of age, with a sulky, sinister cast of countenance, was clad in a bright green satin jacket, white and gold turban, loose dark-blue trousers, and embroidered slippers. The loss of one eye gave him a still more unpleasant expression, a lock of coarse black hair being dragged over the face to conceal the disfigurement. The whole party were armed to the teeth, and carried guns, shields, and revolvers.