Bala Hissar Fortress in Kabul

Bala Hissar Fortress in Kabul

Ancient fortress Bala Hissar, overlooking Kabul, Afghanistan.

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The ancient walls of Kabul begin at Bala Hissar, the ancient citadel or High Fort. Seven meters; 23 ft. high and 3.7 m; 12 ft. thick, with strategically positioned sentry towers, the walls are generally assigned to the turbulent Hephthalite period during the 5th century A. D. Succeeding dynasties added and repaired them down through the 18th century.

Kabul’s Bala Hissar, rising 150 feet above the plain, witnessed most of the exciting events of Afghanistan’s history up until the spring of 1880. Babur, founder of the Moghul Empire of India, lived here early in the 16th century. He loved it well, did much to embellish it, and wrote poetry extolling its commanding view. Succeeding dings alternately ruled from it or languished in its dungeons. Then, on that fateful day in September 1879, a British Representative, Sir Louis Cavagnari, and his escort, were cut down in one of its palaces on the southern side. This vivid protest against British interference in Afghan affairs brought a British army to occupy the Bala Hissar, hang rebellious chieftains from gallows erected in its courtyards, and to close its story the following spring when they demolished it as “a lasting memorial of our ability to avenge our countrymen” (General Robertson).”

From Dupree, N.H. An Historical Guide to Afghanistan, Kabul, 1977, p. 83

From public domain:

Excerpts from A Journal of the Disasters in Affghanistan, 1841-1842 by Florentia Sale:

Bala Hissar. Upper citadel—royal palace.


The Bala Hissar is surrendered to Akbar

9th.—Capt. Mackenzie arrived; and brought some newspapers and letters,—those which we have been expecting back from the Sirdar: and we strongly suspect that he has kept many. Mackenzie assures us that Futteh Jung has surrendered the Bala Hissar to Akbar Khan; who has demanded all his treasure, as the first step he takes.

There seems to have been no military necessity for the surrender. One bourj had been mined; but traverses might have been thrown up to render the place perfectly secure from any Affghan attack. It is probable that the Arabs were intimidated by the effect of the mine; that being a species of warfare they particularly dread. Futteh Jung had held out for a month—the time, it is said, he had promised to do so; and Pollock’s force not moving to his succour, he probably became disheartened. He now has not {368} only lost his treasure; but it is likely he may lose his life also: for he never can feel safe whilst in the power of Akbar and Mahommed Shah. The latter resides in the Bala Hissar; the former in the Shōr Bazar. Both Mahommed Shah and Sultan Jan were wounded in the explosion of the bourj, by stones falling on their heads.

Pollock’s force is suffering from sickness; occasioned by the great heat of Jellalabad.

Col. Parsons’ arrangements only extend to camels and carriage cattle as far as Peshawer. Capt. Mackeson, with great difficulty, prevailed on them to go as far as Jellalabad; but no further: and immense exertions have been made to enable the force to leave that place. The arrangements are, we hear, nearly completed: but now that Akbar has money (18 lakhs, it is said) at his command, he may raise troops to harass ours.

Gen. Nott is said still to be encamped on this side of Khelat-i-Gilzie. A week or ten days ago, one brigade might have taken Cabul without opposition.

The Affghans are very jealous of any people coming to us; lest we should obtain information. A young man of great respectability, who came to bring some things for Capt. Johnson a few days since, has been fined 6000 rupees; and in addition to that has been tortured, and had all his nails torn out.

{369}10th.—A slight earthquake in the morning; and four shocks during the night.

11th.—Our guard is increased by thirty men.

The fruit in the garden is sold to a Khoord; who says, if we will pay him a few rupees, we may eat any we like: but the grapes are sour, and will not be ripe for these six weeks at least. The sour plums make preserves.

It appears very uncertain what power Akbar really possesses. The Kuzzilbashes occupy the gate which commands their quarter. Mahommed Shah Khan has one. Futteh Jung is still king, and lives in the interior of the Bala Hissar. Akbar still inhabits a house in the Shōr Bazar.

12th.—A Hindostanee was severely beaten at the gate; being suspected of bringing in news.

13th.—A Peshawer-i-Suwar was beaten, and had his horse taken from him, for attempting to come here: if he had any letters, they were not discovered.

Various reports to-day: some, that our troops are at Gundamuk; and others that the forces both at Jellalabad and at Kandahar, &c . are all retreating to the provinces, and leaving us to enjoy the gentle mercies of our captors.

14th.—Ali Mahommed Khan says that we shall not leave this fort: that even if Akbar meditated our removal, the various tribes, by whom we are {370} surrounded, would look to their own interests; and interfere to get us into their own hands. This agrees with what Dost Mahommed Khan told us at Zanduh; that the Sirdar had been peremptory in ordering our removal to Cabul; but that he had, in so doing, committed a great mistake; as he would probably find out in three or four days after our arrival at the capital; and when it would be too late to rectify his error.

15th.—In consequence of having yesterday given a rupee to the Khoordish Baghwan, he had this evening two dallies of the finest mulberries the garden produced (the Bédanas) ready for us: nicely cooled by the rill of the stream, and covered with a shower of roses. We filled our basket; and sat and ate the fruit under the vines; and look forward to delicious sherbet from the flowers to-morrow.

16th.—Towards morning we were awakened by such a noise, that we could not possibly imagine it to be less than a chupao: on inquiry it proved to be a row between an ayah and a bearer.

The on-dit of to-day is, that 4000 Sikhs are to hold Jellalabad, whilst our troops come up to Cabul. The Affghans say that eight of our regiments are at Gundamuk. On the arrival of the force it is expected by the Affghans that Akbar and Mahommed Shah will flee; but that very few of {371} their followers will accompany them. They will take us with them; either to Mecca or Room! By the latter they mean Constantinople.

They tell us that Futteh Jung is a prisoner.

Late in the evening news arrived that Kamran (who, by-the-bye, we heard was put to death by his minister, Yai Mahommed, some time since) is coming with an army from Herat; to form a coalition with Futteh Jung, Akbar, the Ghilzyes, and all the Affghan chiefs. They are to go down and fight our force: if they are successful, we are to remain as we are; if not, to be sent viâ Charekar to Turkistan.

A report prevalent amongst the Affghans that our force has marched from Jellalabad; and that we consequently shall soon be removed from hence.

The Prince Futteh Jung is still in confinement. Mahommed Akbar Khan, Mahommed Shah Khan, and the Ghilzye chiefs, are bent on having him put to death. Zeman Shah Khan, and the more moderate party, oppose it: not from affection for us or him, but as a measure of better policy. The Ghazeeas, however, are determined to steep the chiefs as deeply in blood as they can, to prevent the possibility of their making any terms with us. They say the captives shall not be taken away from Cabul; and that if the Sirdar or any {372} of the Ghilzye chiefs attempt to fly, they will put them to death.

Zeman Khan wishes the Sirdar to send him to Jellalabad to treat; taking the captives with him. This Akbar will not hear of: and they have had a quarrel, ending in a fight. The sound of cannon has been heard; also vollies of musketry. A grand battle is to come off on Sunday.

18th.—Waterloo day.—It seems that we are to be sent viâ the Kohistan to Bokhara. Mackenzie writes, that we are to be prepared for a sudden move.

19th.—A letter is said to have arrived from Gen. Pollock to Akbar; who, with Futteh Jung and all the chiefs, is going in four days to Jellalabad to salaam. The Ameer is on his way up to resume the throne.

21st.—Henry’s birthday; celebrated by a great battle in Cabul; in which Akbar has been victorious; though he has lost from sixty to eighty men.

Zeman Shah Khan is said to have been made prisoner, with both his sons.

Another report states, they have all three escaped: also, that Zeman was surrounded in a fort, but contrived to get away from it. He had eighteen guns out; and the Sirdar had as many: {373} the latter is going down to Jellalabad, to give battle to the English force there.

22d.—Various reports to-day:—That Zeman Khan lost fifteen guns yesterday, and all his treasure:—that to-morrow there will be a great fight between the Sirdar and Khan Shireen Khan.

Later accounts in the evening state that Khan Shireen has made his salaam; and that we are to go to the Bala Hissar. Plenty of firing heard by us: said by some to be fighting; by others to be salutes in honour of Futteh Jung being declared king.

23d.—The Dost is not to come up until after the rains. No chance of our removal at present.

25th.—Mackenzie and Troup arrived.

Colonel Palmer is said to have been tortured at Ghuznee. Mohun Lull has been seized, and tortured. Humza Khan has been imprisoned by the Sirdar. Ali Bega, Naïb Shureef, and Jan Fishan Khan have fled: the latter’s two sons have been murdered. Osman Khan (the late wuzeer) has been seized by Akbar. Nott is said to have returned to Kandahar; after putting to death all his Affghan captives, and blowing up Kelat-i-Ghilzie. This seems (if true) to be a strange proceeding, if we are to retain the country; as the fortress was but just completed; and was considered {374} an indispensable site for a granary and depôt of troops. Major Rawlinson’s opinion is, that our troops will all be withdrawn in the autumn: but this does not square with the order, received by Ali Bega from Dallas, to lay in all the provisions he can possibly store in Cabul.

Ali Mahommed tells us that the Khyberries have risen; and that we have sent two regiments and two guns against them: but there is an inkling that more guns have arrived at Jellalabad; and therefore we might have sent a force to protect them on their way up. They say, also, that Pollock has actually moved up as far as Gundamuk; and there is a report that our men at Buddeeabad have been set at liberty by our troops; who blew up the fort, and also that at Tighree.

26th.—A report that 10,000 Sikhs have come up from Peshawer; that they are in the Lughman valley; have destroyed Tighree; and, fearing a chupao on Buddeeabad, all the prisoners there were brought away: they were fed on bread and water only after we left them. The day after our departure, Mrs. Wade (wife of a sergeant) changed her attire, threw off the European dress, and adopted the costume of the Mussulmans; and, professing to have changed her creed also, consorted with the Nazir of our inveterate enemy, Mahommed Shah Khan; and gave information of some {375} plans laid by the men for their escape; which nearly caused them all to have their throats cut. Having reported to her Affghan paramour the manner in which her husband had secreted some gold mohurs in his jorabs, he was of course plundered of them. The Hindostanees were stripped of every article of clothing they possessed; and had even the rags taken off their sores, to ascertain there was no money concealed: they were then turned out. Some got to Jellalabad; through the kindness of a Hindu Bunneah, who sent them down on a jhala; others have been made slaves. Of the unfortunate servants, Mrs. Sturt and I left behind us, we have no tidings.

The Europeans found it dreadfully hot at Buddeeabad; and most of them were attacked by fever: their only remedy being bleeding with a penknife; in which Mr. Blewitt was very successful. One man (Sergt. Reynolds), who was left there with a broken arm, died of lockjaw.

Sergt. Fare brought with him the colour of the 44th which has been before mentioned. A few days after Capt. Souter’s arrival at Buddeeabad, Brig. Shelton expressed a wish that the colour should be given to his servant. (Moore, of the 44th); for the purpose of sewing it in a piece of cloth; and to keep it in his possession. Previous to our quitting Buddeeabad, the Brigadier suggested {376} that the colour should be left with Sergt. Fare; who, with the party that was left at the fort, would, it was expected, be released before those who proceeded to Cabul. Sergt. Fare kept the colour concealed by wrapping it round him; and when he joined us here (at Shewakee) he made it over to Gen. Shelton; who retains it in his possession.

Of so incorrect a personage as Mrs. Wade I shall only further say, that she is at Mahommed Shah Khan’s fort with her Affghan lover; and has taken with her young Stoker. As he is the son of a man in Sale’s regiment, I am doing all I can to get the Sirdar (through Capt. Troup’s entreaty) to have him brought here; and again placed under Mrs. Burnes’s care. She and her infant are looking very miserable, as are most of the men.

Col. Stoddart and Capt. Arthur Conolly are prisoners at Bokhara. The latter had been enthusiastically employed in endeavouring to effect the release of the slaves in Kokan. The king of Bokhara conquered the chief of that country; and placed Conolly in confinement at Bokhara. He and his fellow-prisoner, by the last accounts, had been 126 days confined in a dungeon underground, without light: they had never changed their clothes, nor washed; and their food was let down {377} to them once in four or five days. A native, who had compassion on them, received a message through the person who took their food to them; and through him Conolly has communicated with his family here; who, alas! are now powerless to assist him.

We ate the first really ripe apricots (zerdaloos) and cherries (gulas) brought in from the city: but the produce of the Kohistan, the aloo baloo, or sour wild cherry, in the garden, is now pretty ripe; and the apricots and some of the green plums are ripening. The peach of this garden is very inferior to what I used to purchase last year. The best apricot in it is the white one; it is called kysee; and has a flavour of rose-water.

The red plum is not permitted to ripen properly: it has some flavour; and is called turnasook. The green plum looks something like a greengage; but has no flavour except that of eau sucrée.

It is said, on the authority of Sergt. Wade,—who was informed by his wife, who professed to have her information from Mahommed Shah Khan’s family,—that we are all going to be sent to Bokhara. There is also a report, not however traceable to any foundation, that Pollock’s force is not to move upwards until the middle of August.

28th.—An earthquake about 11 A.M., and another {378} about 9 P.M.; sufficient both times to make the roof creak.

We have heard from undoubted authority that Mahommed Akbar Khan said in the durbar, before he left Cabul to follow our troops in January, that it was his intention to go and kuttle kurra, or cut the throats of all our force; and, after that, let THEM beware,—meaning the chiefs. He seems to be now verifying his promise; and is, by all accounts, squeezing as much wealth as he can out of all those who are in his power; and disgusting every one of them.

29th.—Jan Fishan Khan has escaped to Jellalabad. Khan Shireen Khan, and many of those friendly to the English, have retired into the hills.

30th.—Troup left us; taking part of my journal, and plenty of letters; as it is said he is to be sent to Jellalabad. Mackenzie is ill with fever; and unable to go with him.

July 1st.—The Sirdar has promised that Stoker shall be sent back to us; but he has not yet arrived.

3rd.—Troup arrived; and brought us a comb and two caps from Mahommed Rufeek. The Sirdar still talks of sending him to Jellalabad; but says he must wait four or five days, as he, the Sirdar, is busy collecting his revenue. The hostages {379} are all coming here to-morrow or next day. I fear their arrival will crowd us very much; and at present we have Mackenzie, Waller, and Melville laid up with fever.

Timor Shah says that if the English will support him on his father’s throne, well and good; if not, that he will prefer going to Loodianah, on a pension.

A man has just come in, and reports that our troops are in the Lughman valley. We conclude they are foraging parties, collecting grain.

4th.—The Cabullees say they will cut Akbar in pieces, before they will permit us to be taken away. The hostages are sold to Akbar for 400 gold mohurs.

Sultan Khan, said to be made Sirdar-i-Sirdaran.

5th.—The Wuzeer Akbar Khan went to reside in the Bala Hissar. Troup, who left us, had to follow him there with Pottinger.

6th.—All the hostages are to come here; except Conolly, who is to remain with the Wuzeer in the Bala Hissar. There are reports that our troops have left Kandahar; having received a number of camels from Sindh. When the cossid started, they had made three marches hither-wards. As a cossid takes eight or ten days to come, they must have left Kandahar about the 26th or 28th. They have twenty-two marches {380} thence to Cabul; which, with the detention at Ghuznee, and on the road, if they have any fighting, will retard the arrival of the force until from the 25th instant to the 1st of August.

Akbar has ordered the ditch round the Bala Hissar to be cleaned out; and proposes sending 6000 men, under Mahommed Shah Khan, to occupy the passes between this place and Jellalabad. But his grand battle is to take place here, on the plain in front of the Bala Hissar. Akbar has ordered every one to be fined who addresses him, or speaks of him, otherwise than as the wuzeer. Mrs. Burnes’ child died; and was buried under the hill: the service was performed by Mr. Eyre.

The ascent to Bala Maidan was long, but not difficult; and the view from the top of it, looking down on the plain above named, was very pretty; comprising a narrow {415} valley, thickly studded with forts and diversified by cultivation; with lines of willows and poplars marking the water cuts; which here serve as hedgerows. We were taken to a fort; but not admitted into it: and after a time had tents pitched for us. Lady Macnaghten, Mrs. Boyd and three children, Mrs. Mainwaring and child, Mrs. Sturt and child, and I, occupied one division of a Sipahee’s pall: there was another tent for the other ladies; two more for the gentlemen, and one for the sick soldiers.

Posted by K. Horn on 2008-01-03 22:49:04

Tagged: , Afghanistan , Picnik , ancient , fort , Kabul , palace , Silk Road , edit , opph

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