At the Court of the Amîr: A Narrative

At the Court of the Amîr: A Narrative

John Alfred Gray
John Alfred Gray

Author: Gray, John Alfred
‘Abd al-Rahman Khan
Amir of Afghanistan
Afghanistan — History
At the Court of the Amîr: A Narrative
The cover image was modified by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.
Portraits and photographs are linked to higher-resolution versions of the images.


The Amîr of Afghanistan,
from a painting by the Author.



Late Surgeon to H.H. The Amîr of Afghanistan


Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen
[All Rights Reserved]


I would not have thought of inflicting a book on my long-suffering fellow-countrymen, but for the wish expressed by my publishers: for

“Every fool describes in these bright days
His wondrous journey to some Foreign Court.”

In Afghanistan however, difficult of access, and hence comparatively unknown, there have been, since that strong man Amîr Abdurrahman ascended the Throne, such remarkable changes in the administration of the country, and such strides towards civilization, that it was thought a narrative of life there, throwing, possibly, some light on the personality of the Monarch, and on the “bent” of the people, might be of general interest.
The book has been written in the intervals of professional work, and, with its shortcomings of diction and style, the only merit it can claim—that of “local colour”—is due to the fact that it was compiled from the letters I wrote from Afghanistan to her who is now my wife.
Wadham Lodge,
Uxbridge Road,
Ealing, W.


On the Road to Kabul 1
The start and the wherefore. Unsettled condition of Afghanistan. Departure from Peshawur. Jumrûd Fort and the Watch-tower. The Afghan guard. The Khyber defile. Eccentricities of Rosinante. Lunch at Ali Musjid. Pathan villages. Pathans, their appearance and customs. Arrival at Landi-Kotal Serai. The Shenwari country. Caravan of Traders. Dakka. Dangers of the Kabul River. Mussaks. Camp at Bassawal. Chahardeh. Mountain road by the river. Distant view of Jelalabad.
Arrival at Kabul 16
Arrival at Jelalabad, Reception by the Governor. The Palace. The Town. The Plain. Quarters in the Guest Pavilion. The friendly Khan. Tattang and the gunpowder factory. The Royal gardens at Nimla. The Suffêd Koh Mountains. Arboreal distribution in Afghanistan. Gundamuk. Assassination of Cavagnari: details of the plot. The “Red bridge.” Commencement of mountainous ascent to Kabul. Jigdilik. Massacre of British in 1837. Former dangers of the valley of Katasang. Enterprising peasants. Tomb in the Sei Baba valley. Burial customs. The Lataband Pass and the Iron Cage. Distant view of Kabul. The Amîr’s projected road at Lataband. The approach to Kabul. The Lahore Gate.
The Reception 31
Position of Kabul. Its defences. Amîr’s opinion of the Founders of his Capital. Entry into Kabul. Aspect of the Townsmen. Arrival at the Arm Foundry. Visit of the Afghan Official. His appearance. Absence of Amîr. To be received at the Palace by the Princes. The approach to the Palace. The Amîr’s Pavilion. Page boys. The Princes Habibullah and Nasrullah. The Reception. Internal arrangement of Pavilion. The earthquake. Abrupt ending of the Reception. Other buildings in the Palace.
Afghan Hospitals 41
The first attendance at an Afghan Hospital. Its arrangement. The drugs and instruments. The Patients. An Interpreter presents himself. Dispensers. Marvellous recovery of the Page boy. Its effect. Buildings near the Hospital. The Durbar Hall and Guest House. The Sherpûr Military Hospital. Lord Roberts and the Sherpûr Cantonment. Adventure with an Afghan soldier. Arrangement of the In-patient Hospital. Diet of Patients. Attendance of Hakims. Storekeepers and their ways.
Afghan Dwellings 53
The Residential streets of Kabul. Their appearance and arrangement. The Police. Criminal Punishments. The Houses. Their internal arrangement. Precautions to ensure privacy. Manner of building for the rich and for the poor. Effect of rain and earthquake. The warming of houses in winter. Afternoon teas. Bath-houses. The Afghan bath.
The Kabul Bazaars 68
The unpopular Governor and his toothache. The meeting in the Erg Bazaar. Appearance of the Kabul Bazaars. The shops and their contents. Boots, shoes, and cobblers. Copper workers. The tinning of cooking pots. Impromptu tobacco pipes. Tobacco smoking by the Royal Family. Silk and cotton. “Bargaining.” “Restaurants.” Tea drinking. Confectioners. The baker’s oven. Flour mills. The butcher’s shop. Postîns and their cost. Furs. Ironmongers. Arms. “The German sword.” The Afghan tulwar. Rifles and pistols. Bows. Silver and gold-smiths. Caps and turbans. Embroidery. Grocers: tea, sugar, soap, and candles, and where they come from. Fruiterers. Tailors. “The Railway Guard.” Costume of the Kabuli townsmen. Personal effect of the Amîr on costume. Drug shops.
Ethics 90
Sir S. Pyne’s adventure in the Kabul river. The Tower on the bank. Minars of Alexander. Mahomedan Mosques. The cry of the Priest. Prayers and Religious Processions. Afghan conception of God. Religious and non-Religious Afghans. The schoolhouse and the lessons. Priests. Sêyids: descendants of the Prophet. The lunatic Sêyid. The Hafiz who was fined. The Dipsomaniac. The Chief of the Police and his ways. Danger of prescribing for a prisoner. “The Thing that walks at night.” The end of the Naib. Death-bed services. The Governor of Bamian. Courtship and weddings among the Afghans. The formal proposal by a Superior Officer. The wedding of Prince Habibullah. Priests as healers of the sick. The “Evil Eye.” Ghosts.
Afghan Surgeons and Physicians 115
Accidents from machinery in motion. The “dressers of wounds” in Afghanistan. Their methods of treating wounds, and the results of the same. The “Barber surgeons.” Tooth drawing and bleeding. The Hindustani “Doctors.” “Eye Doctors” and their work. The Hakims or Native Physicians. Treatment of disease by the People. Aspect in which European Physicians are viewed by the different Classes.
The March to Turkestan 129
Jealousy and its results. Sport among the Afghans. The “Sportsmen” among the mountains. Order to join the Amîr in Turkestan. Preparations. Camp at Chiltan. The Banquet. The Nautch dance. Among the Hindu Kush mountains. The camp in the Hazara country. Courtesy of Jan Mahomed. Mountain paths. Iron spring. The underground river and the Amîr’s offer. The Red mountain and the Deserted City. Camp in the Valley of Bamian. The English prisoners of 1837. The Petrified Dragon. The Colossal Idols: The Cave-dwellers. The Pass of the “Tooth-breaker.” Ghuzniguk. Story of Ishak’s rebellion. Tash Kurghán: the Shave and the Hospital. “The Valley of Death.” The Plains of Turkestan and the heat thereof. The Mirage. Arrival at Mazar. The House. Story of the death of Amîr Shere Ali.
The Amîr 157
To be “presented.” The Palace Gardens. The Amîr. Questions asked by His Highness. Punishment of rebellious in Afghanistan. Asiatic motives from European standpoint. Amîr’s arrangement for my safety. Bazaars and houses of Mazar. The Suburbs. The Military Hospital. The Patients. Afghan appreciation of European medical treatment. The two chief Hakims. Hindustani intrigue. Amîr’s sense of Justice. The Trial. A Courtier’s influence. The guard of the Amîr’s table.
Life in Turkestan 176
General Nassir Khan. The Belgian’s Request. Escape of Allah Nûr: his Capture. The Amîr’s Decision. The Turkestan Commander-in-Chief. Operation on Allah Nûr. The Armenian’s Comments. Illness of Hadji Jan Mahomed. Excursion to Takh-ta-Pûl. Fortune-telling among the Afghans. The Policeman-cook and the Lunch. Balkh. The Mosque at Mazar-i-Sherif and its Miracles. Called to His Highness. The Cool-air Pavilion. Illness of the British Agent: the Armenian’s advice: the Answer from the Amîr. Brigadier Hadji-Gul Khan. Afghan Endurance of Suffering. Euclid and Cards.
The Inhabitants of Afghanistan 193
Slaves in Kabul: prisoners of war and others. The frequent rebellions. The different nationalities in Afghanistan. Origin of the Afghan race. The Turk Sabaktakin. Mahmûd of Ghuzni. Buddhism displaced by Mahomedanism. Border Afghans. Duranis. Ghilzais. Founding of a Dynasty of Afghan Kings. Ahmad Shah. Timûr Shah. The Sons of Timûr. Zaman Shah. The Afghan “Warwick.” Execution of Paînda. Rebellion of the Shah’s brother. Mahmûd Shah. Another brother rebels. Shujah-ul-Mulk crowned: deposed by the Barakzai chief. Exile of Shujah. The Koh-i-nûr. The Puppet-king and the Barakzai Wazir. Murder of the Wazir. The Wazir’s brother becomes Amîr. The first Afghan War. Rule of Dôst Mahomed: A Standing Army established. Accession of Shere Ali. Amîr Afzal Khan. Abdurrahman. The Ghilzais. Border Pathans, Afridis, Shinwaris. The Hazaras. Turkomans, Usbàks. The Christian Church.
The Birth of Prince Mahomed Omer 210
Hazara slaves, Kaffir slaves, and others. Court Pages. High positions occupied by slaves. Price of slaves. Wife and children of Hazara Chief in slavery. Illness of the Hostage of an Afghan Chief. Abdur Rashid down with fever. Own illness and the aches thereof. The British Agent’s postal arrangements. Postage in Afghanistan. Power of annoying possessed by Interpreters. The Chief Bugler. The Page boy and the Sirdar. The Page boy and the Amîr. The uproar on September 15th. Congratulations to the Sultana. The crowd outside the Harem Serai. The Sultana’s reply. Matter of succession complicated. Surgical operations. The Priest with a blemish: his request. The Amîr’s reply. The operation. The Mirza’s comments.
The Rearing of the Infant Prince 225
The Amîr’s autograph letter. Medical consultation concerning the rearing of the Prince. Conflicting customs of the Orient and the Occident. Conservative nurses. The “Hakim fair to see”: the patient. Lessons in Persian and in English. Portrait painting. Dietary difficulties. Gracious acts of His Highness. Amîr’s letter of condolence. The Royal visit by deputy. Congratulations of the British Agent. Accident to the favourite Page. The khirgar. Attempt upon the life of the Amîr. An earthquake. Afghan appreciation of pictures and jokes. Generosity of the Amîr. The first winter Durbar. The Royal costume. The Amîr’s question: the Parable. The dining-room. The guests. The breakfast. The press of State business. Amîr’s thoughtful kindness. Visit to the Commander-in-Chief. The ride to the Hospital. Adventure with the “fool horse.” Hospital patients in winter. “Two much and three much.”
The Amîr’s Conversation 251
Sent for to the Palace. Fragility of Europeans. The Amîr’s postîn. The Bedchamber. The King’s evening costume. The guests. The Amîr’s illness. School in the Durbar-room. The Amîr’s conversation. Khans: the water supply of London: plurality of wives. The Amîr is bled. His Highness a physician in Turkestan. Drawing. The Amîr’s portrait. Amîr’s choice of costume. The Shah of Persia. Portraits of the Shah. The rupee and the Queen’s portrait. Cigar holders. Concerning Afghan hillmen. Dinner. The Amîr’s domestic habits. Amîr’s consideration for subordinates. European customs. The new Kabul. Native drugs. Soup and beef tea. The paper trick. The Kafir Page. European correspondence. Vaccination of Prince Mahomed Omer. Afghan women. The Prince’s house. The Prince. The operation. Abdul Wahid. Afghan desire for vaccination. The Armenian’s useful sagacity. An Afghan superstition. The Agent’s secretary. His comments upon Bret Harte: the meaning of “By Jove.” European “divorce” from an Oriental point of view.
The First Sitting 272
Morning prayers. Early tea. Breakfast. The first sitting for the Amîr’s portrait. The Courtier’s criticism. The Amîr’s rebuke. The Deputation. Conversation with the Amîr: the climate of England and Australia. Awe of the Courtiers. The favourite Page boy’s privileges. Serious incident at a sitting. The Captain’s toothache. Present of a rifle from the Amîr. The shooting expedition and its dangers. Courage of the “Burma policeman.” The eccentric rider. The singing Afghan. The scenery of Mazar. Salutations in the market place. The meeting with Prince Amin Ullah.
The Amîr As an Art Critic 282
The “villain” cook. Mental effect of a cold in the head. Portrait of the infant Prince. The Amîr’s reflection in the window. The Amîr as an Art Critic. Salaams to the King’s Portrait. The Amîr’s toilet. A shooting expedition. The mud of Mazar. The Armenian’s comments. The sample case of cigars. The Amîr’s handwriting. A sunset.
The Levee on New Year’s Day 293
The Mahomedan New Year’s Eve. Presents. The “Izzat” medal. Coinage of Afghanistan: Rupees: Pice: the “Tilla.” Levee on New Year’s Day. The guests: Maleks and Governors: the British Agent. Presents to the Amîr. Chess as played in Afghanistan. The Amîr as a Pathologist. The steam-engine pony. Sight-seeing with the Princes. The Temple of Mazar. The booths at the entrance to the Temple. The Park of Mazar. Native music. The Afghan dance. Kabuli wrestling.
The Young Princes 308
Infant Prince as the Sultana’s Deputy. Reception by the Prince: the pavilion: the guard: costume. Visit to Prince Hafiz Ullah. Her Majesty’s photograph. Lunch with the Prince in the Palace Gardens. The “Royal manner.” The mother of Prince Hafiz Ullah. A drawing of the Prince. Adventure with the fat General. The power of the Amîr’s name. The Amîr as a Consulting Surgeon. The Fast of Ramazàn. Overdose of tobacco. The Evening Durbar. Danger if a King fasts; “Marazàn.” The Durbar. The surgical operation: attempted vendetta. Flowers in the Palace. The Usbàk’s artistic design. The Amîr’s diary. The present of sugar. Official notice of return march to Kabul. The “Cracker.” End of Ramazàn. The guard of Amazons.
The Return Journey to Kabul 324
Loading up. The first camp. Tropical heat: the whirlwind. The Amîr’s khirgar. Scanty rations. Midnight marching. Dangers in the pitchy darkness. Impure water. Daybreak. The second camp. Lost on the plains. Naibabad: the rain. The march to Tash Kurghan. The Khulm Pass. Sight seeing from the house tops. The Durbar. Punishment of the unjust townsfolk. The Amîr’s health. The eclipse of the sun. On the march again: the dust: jammed in the valleys. Ghuzniguk. An Afghan “Good Samaritan.” A poisonous sting: the Amîr’s remedy. A block on the road. The tiger valley. Haibuk. Adventure with the elephant: the somnolent Afghan. The aqueduct. Discomforts of a camp in an orchard.
The Arrival in Kabul 345
The Durbar in Haibuk. “Rustom’s throne.” The ancient caves. The wounded Governor: Kabul dentistry. The erring Hakim. Courtesy of His Highness. “Microbes.” Elephant riding. A grateful peasant. Dangerous passes. The Durbar at Shush-Bûrjah: the hot river. Accidents on the “Tooth-breaker.” Akrab-Abad. The camp of the camels. A pet dog. Evil results of “temper.” A cheap banquet. Coal. Arrival of Englishmen. Durbar at Kalai Kasi. The Amîr again as a physician. Approach to Kabul. Reception by the Princes. The “High garden.” The Pavilion. Malek the Page. Arrival of the Amîr. The Reception. Arrival at the Workshops. Hospitality.
Life in Kabul 361
The Îd festival: salaam to the Amîr: the educating of Afghans. Products of the Workshops. Royal lunch at Endekki: the Invitation: the Brougham: the Palace: the Drawing-room: the Piano. Evening illumination of gardens: dinner. The unreliable Interpreter. A night at the Palace. Commencement of intrigue. Gifts to the Amîr. The rebuke to Prince Nasrullah. Noah’s Ark: the nodding images. Illness again: the Amîr’s advice. An afternoon call. Illness of the Amîr: the visit: His Highness’s question: the Amîr’s good breeding. An earthquake. Report on Kabul brandy: Mr. Pyne’s opinion: the Amîr’s perplexity. The Hindu’s objection. The mysterious midnight noise: the solution of the mystery. Mumps. The wedding of Prince Nasrullah: invitation from the Sultana: the Fête: a band of pipers. The Prince and his bride. Overwork at the Hospital. One of the troubles of a Ruler. Scenery near Bala Hissar. The Amîr duck shooting. The sick chief: his imprudence: his amusements. The will of the clan.
The Amîr’s Illness 381
Sent for to the Palace. The Amîr’s health: the Liniment. Questions in chemistry. Early breakfast at the Palace. A courtier as a waiter. Called to Prince Aziz Ullah: his illness. Illness of the Deputy Commander-in-Chief. A visit to Prince Mahomed Omer. The Queen’s brougham: her Reverend Uncle. The Jelalabad official and his promise. Dinner with Mr. Pyne. Death of Prince Aziz Ullah. The Chief ill again. The weather. The silence at the Palace. December 2nd: the Call. Th

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