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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Illustration The Track between Nushki and Kishingi


England one reads in the papers and hears people talk of this railway as the Quetta-Sistan Railway, and people seem to be under the impression that Nushki is on the Persian border. It should be clearly understood that from Nushki to Sistan (Sher-i-Nasrya) the distance, through practically desert country and scanty water, is over 500 miles. To my mind it is in the Robat-Nushki portion of that distance, where travelling is difficult, and for troops almost impossible, that a railway is mostly needed. I have gone to much trouble, and risked boring the reader, to give all the differential altitudes upon the portion of the road between Robat and Nushki, and it will be seen that hardly anywhere does the track rise suddenly to more than 50 or 100 feet at most. The ground could easily be made solid enough to lay a line upon; tanks for the water supply might be established at various stations, and a railway could be built with no trouble and comparatively small expense.

Again, for the trade of Southern Persia, Robat would, I think, be a fairly good terminus on the Perso-Beluch frontier; but, in order to compete with Russia in Sistan and Khorassan, it would be a very good thing if the Government could enter into an arrangement with Afghanistan, so that if such a railway were built it should strike from Dalbandin across the desert up to the Southern bank of the Halmund, and have Sher-i-Nasrya in Sistan for its terminus. This would do away almost altogether--except

in a small section--with the difficulty of the water, and would shorten the distance by at least one quarter.

The idea one often hears that it would be dangerous to construct such a railway, because it would be to open a passage for Russia into India, is too ridiculous to be argued about. It might be pointed out that the Russians on their side seem not to reciprocate the fear of our invading their country, for they are pushing their railways from the north as far as they can towards the Persian frontier, and it is stated that a concession has been obtained by them for a railway line to Meshed.

But, either _via_ Robat or the Halmund, the principal point is that if we do not wish to lose Southern Persia we must push the railway with the utmost speed, at least as far as the frontier. Anything, in such a case, is better than nothing, and most undoubtedly a telegraph line should be established without delay--possibly as far as the Sher-i-Nasrya Consulate. Matters are much more urgent than we in England think, and if warning is not taken we shall only have ourselves to blame for the consequences.

From Nushki I went to a great extent along the line which is to be followed by the future railway. It seemed very sensibly traced, avoiding expensive difficulties, such as tunnels, as much as possible, but of course this railway has to go over a good portion of mountainous country and cannot be built on the cheap.

[Illustration: The Track between Nushki and Kishingi.]

I left Nushki on the 31st, following a limpid stream of water, and we began a zig-zag ascent of the mountains before us to the east, leaving behind to the north-east in a valley a large camp of railway engineers and surveyors. After some two miles we reached a broad valley, and we continued to rise until we had reached the pass, 4,820 feet. On the other side we descended only 75 feet to a plain--a plateau, with hill ranges rising on it, and a barrier of higher mountains behind. The vegetation here was quite different from anything we had met in the desert, and _kotor_ was plentiful--a plant, the Beluch say, eaten by no animal. Tamarisk seemed to flourish--it is a wonderful plant that flourishes almost everywhere.

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